The Independent Project

The past few weeks I have been conversing with Mary and Cali Ragland, two seniors from Perkiomen Valley High School in Pennsylvania. These two are are currently taking an independent study course around the essential question: “How might we design an educational system that best meets the 21st learner’s needs by valuing curiosity?” They reached out to me after having been introduced by a teacher to some of my blog posts and learning about my work in the Education Transformation Movement. Furthermore, my work designing the AP Lang Collab Course last year, where I co-developed an AP Language and Composition course, was intriguing to them because they wanted to learn about how to push through the “dark night of the soul” in the life of an self-guided project.

These two have been doing some great work interviewing teachers and students and pulling away key insights about the role of curiosity in education. I especially love the quote that they describe as really encompassing what made them interested in education transformation:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – W.B. Yeats

I would definitely encourage reading more about their work on their blog:  Curiosity in Education. Personally, talking to these two has been great because it’s reminded me of how far I’ve come in the past few years, and reminded me how important it is for me to always go back to where I started- this blog.

Senior year has made blogging very difficult because I have spent most of my “non homework writing time” working on college essays and scholarship applications. Then when I kind of have “free time” (which basically just means I have finished homework and have no planed activities or meetings at the time) I find myself wanting to savor the moment to take a break from intense mindfulness. However, I know how important it is to blog to not only share my story with others, but to reflect for myself and capture my learning journey. After all, I started this blog for me -not because I wanted hundreds of followers or felt like my voice was something that just had to be heard by others- I started it because of what I thought was a silly challenge to observe and reflect on the world more intently.

In fact, I haven’t blogged in so long that I haven’t yet reflected on the fact that I was approved to embark on another curriculum creation opportunity by designing my own Independent Project!!

For my last semester of high school I am exploring the connection point between film, change theory, and education which will also apply towards my last needed half of a social sciences credit. Often times social science credits are just assumed to be a history course, whether it be world history, US history, economics, US government, etc. However, social sciences by definition are “social” meaning, about human society and social relationships and how they function, which does explicitly mean just IMG_6689.JPG“history.”

I say “just history” because I believe everything involves some understanding of history, because everything has a history and thus History is Everywhere. An essential question to all learning is, “How can we use the knowledge we have gathered over time (the past) in order to better understand and design for our present and future?”

So yes I believe you could call my course a “history course” because I’m definitely researching the past. However, for my particular project, I really wanted to explore society from the perspective of how we create change in society to then apply this knowledge in the world of education. The final product of this work will be a high quality documentary video focused on the Innovation Diploma and the moment that I call the “clicking moment”; that moment when students realize that the world is changing and education should be too, and they start to take ownership of their learning in order to make a difference now, not “when they are grown up.”

Now the main reason I haven’t mentioned this project yet is because it was a last minute project that got put into double time in order to come to life. At the end of last semester I knew I wanted to devote more time second semester to exploring and contributing to the education transformation movement. However, I’m always so busy and yet their is a finite amount of time in the day. I had to figure out what in my daily schedule could give a little time. What I realized is that what I wanted to work on would likely hit a lot of social science credits, so we thought, “What if this was my ‘history’ class?”

I worked on overdrive with my mentors in order to put together a document to pitch the idea of an Independent Project to our administration. The end of the semester though was a very crazy time for me both in and out of school, so I got approved with the intent of needing the first few weeks of second semester to still work on the planning details.

 

One of the first tasks I had was to figure out how I would devote my ID time, especially after the reMoVe10 design brief gained so much momentum after first semester. The design brief given to us by the Mayor of Sandy Springs, was designed to be a project we worked on during a single semester. However, our school admin, representatives from the Sandy Springs Council, and our new partners at Georgia Commute Options all got so fired up about the work we’ve been doing, that we realized this project needed to continue. 16387341_10154593513538277_4820722959124524604_n.jpg

Because of this decision to change the scope of the project, our team had to look back at our team roles and norms and decide how best to continue based on plans that were already set for second semester. I already had plans to work on my Independent Project work, and another team mate was already in the process of another design brief opportunity. Therefore, we added a new member to our team, and I used the month of January to waning out of my position as team leader to make a smoother transition for the new team. My plan is to continue to work with the reMoVe10 team, but more as a consultant for them to help give feedback and provide assistance at specific events.

{Small necessary tangent: This last month was honestly really hard for me, because I naturally find myself in a leadership role in the sense of “project manager,” so it was challenging to work on stepping back and being a leader by pushing others to take a leadership role. However, I think it was something important for me to work on because part of a leaders role should always be to coach others to lead.}

IMG_6691.JPGWhile continuing to work with the reMoVe10 team this past month, I used 4th period (my Independent Project time) to start further brainstorming what my video will look like, while getting a Film Course 101 tutorial from a mentor, and continuing to find ways I can discover and experiment with changes in education specifically in regards to the role of student voice. So far I’m diving deep into essential questions such as “What motivates people to learn?” “Where does ‘passion’ fit into education?” and “What gives students agency?” as my design drivers, though I believe as I start to interview people the story line will become even more clear.

I’ve learned that with documentaries one of the best things to do is to just press record and start filming. So now that I’ve officially had my last day full time with the reMoVe10 team (last Wednesday) I’ve been gearing up to dive all in on this Independent Project using my 8 hours and 40 minutes a week (between ID time and my new Independent Project specific time) to research, film, and synthesize information about the social science of education change. We pushed “purchase” on some new awesome film equipment yesterday, and now the fun (and intense) work is about to really start!

I’m Not a Professional

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Today was one of the rare occasion this year where I actually left school at the normal time because I was not needed in rehearsal or for anything else at school today.

So while I was waiting to get picked up I went and watched soccer for a little, and even though the girls team was only stretching while I was there, it made me miss soccer a lot. I haven’t played in forever! This is like the longest I’ve gone without playing since I was 3 I think and it’s just weird. I didn’t notice how much I missed it until I went outside on a nice day like this and was imagining, “aw it would feel so great to run around and play some…”

I know I’d get exhausted and sweaty and practice would be a butt with my throat in its current state of potentially sick and a bit of allergies, but I still would like to play again.

It’s annoying because I love soccer and want to play but in seems that anything you participate in during high school is expected to be like professional level commitment. I’m interested in a lot of different things, and I love just trying stuff out and having fun exploring curiosities; however, I do not have the time to participate in all of my curiosities at a professional level.

I hear schools around the world talk about “having room to fail” or “having the space to explore curiosities” or “having built out time in the day for relaxing time.” However sometimes I question how much these phrases are put into practice. My best friend put it great when she said,

“It feels like we have to involve ourselves in everything so deeply in high school and nothing is just for kicks anymore.”

We aren’t professionals, and not all of us want to be professionals. For those of us that don’t know, how do we start figuring it out if we don’t have times to just try out new things.

During our “free time” a lot of people have meetings or make up quizzes or tutorials to get to. We had to discuss in a cappella today about how we plan on continuing since we never have everyone there and it just reminded me of how busy we are, but those of us that truly care find the time. Even during our break/club time on Monday’s and Friday’s most of us just get ready for the next class and talk a little, which is fun, but I wonder what it would be like if we had to go outside- like in middle school.

Personally I feel like I never see the sun anymore because I’m in the school building from 7:30am-6pm just about everyday. Today was so pretty outside and I would have missed it. I don’t want to miss it but I struggle to get myself out there.

Among other things, I wish we had intramural sports teams. A place for people that want to try something new or just want to have some fun doing something they love without giving it a full time commitment. I don’t have the time for soccer every day for 3 hours after school, but I’d love if we had little scrimmages maybe on a Saturday or around 6 once a weeknight.

Not everything you do has to be all about winning. Why can’t some things just be for fun? I happen to know several girls quit the soccer team this year because they noticed from the start that it was more intense then they wanted. I respect deeply those players that want to get really good at honing their skills so they can win some games and maybe go to the playoffs, but I also know there are some girls who don’t make the team or who simply don’t want the same things from the sport and I wish there was space for us to still have fun doing something we love.

The natural thing I think to myself after rereading this post, as if it wasn’t me who wrote it, would be to say “Well that’s going to take extra people and organizing and equipment, but why don’t you try to start?” The thing is, I don’t have the time to do work on that endeavor, so for now I just get to be a little upset and through out my ideas on my blog. Story of my life.

Product vs. Social Innovation

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Finals time gets really hectic and I was so happy about AP Lang last Thursday at the end of the day, that I almost forgot to blog about how great a day it was for my coVenture ReSpIn (#mvrecycles) team!

(As a disclaimer, I have not included much background to this venture because I have several past posts about it. If you have not been keeping up with my past posts about the RISE Sustainability System and our are team, ReSpIn, then I would strongly encourage you to read some of the posts in the link above because I fear I use a bit too much insider language. I’ve done this though because I expect this post to be long without all of the background.)

While talking to Mr. Jones one day, a MVPS parent that also works as a venture investor, Mr. Edwards noticed a connection between my team’s work and one of the projects Mr. Jones has become invested in. (I don’t know how much I’m actually allowed to say about that project so I’m just not going to say specifics. The important part is just that this is how we made the connection with Mr. Jones.)

Through this connection we were able to schedule a meeting with Mr. Jones for last Thursday and it was really helpful in moving our work forward.

For the past week our team has been working on our half scale model of our product using cardboard as our new material due to our purposeful pivot about 2 weeks ago. The prototype isn’t quite complete yet because what we ended up realizing is that it is a lot harder and time consuming to put together a working prototype when you have to do everything manually; luckily the full scale version will be more precise and faster because we will use a CNC machine (as of now this is the plan at least). However, our RISE Sustainability System has been put together enough to the point where we were able to show Mr. Jones how it will work and explain what the need is for our system.

“…there are similar products to ours in existence, but what is different about our product is that we want it to be more than just a space saving waste system. We want our product to actually be part of a system that inspires conversations and learning around recycling and if we are able to make it out of cardboard it will be the most sustainable, portable, and easiest for a class of any age to assemble; plus there isn’t yet one out there made of cardboard to our knowledge.” – Purposeful Pivoting (The Life of Pinya)

Mr. Jones seemed to really love our concept, especially with how we hope to find a way to incorporate the building of the RISE into different classes curriculums. A key component to our system is that we want our system to help foster and support learning about recycling by having a class interact with it, we do not want teachers feeling like it is a burden and time waster to put it together as a class. How this will look is still in early modes of brainstorming though.

Mr. Jones also had a lot of great feedback for us that has helped our team discover our next steps. I learned so much that I think it’s best to first high light my biggest take aways from this meeting:

  • our product is more of a social innovation than a product innovation
  • it’s okay to not do all of the work inside of the core team, just know your assets and how to use them to your advantage then figure out what/who else you need to accomplish your goal
  • key components of a business plan

In ID for the past month at least, we have been broken up into 3 main groups: design brief team, product innovation team, and then us the ReSpIn team. (To learn more about the module set up, one of my facilitators Meg Cureton has a nice post about it this current module.)

My team, ReSpIn, has been kind of on our own, but we’ve been more closely involved with the product innovation team learning about how products get innovated by first being copied, then transformed, then combined together. No ideas are original in today’s 21st century, but ideas can be improved upon and remixed to create a new useful and innovative tool for people to use.
Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 10.19.08 AM.pngWe’ve been with this group because up until a few days before last Thursday, we have thought that our project was under the category of product innovation since at first it started with us just re-designing the waste bin. But in the past week or so we’ve been realizing that the problem we truly want to solve for is actually more of a social innovation, requiring us to help change a cultural mindset around recycling.

After talking with Mr. Jones, our team all agreed that our problem requires a social innovation; however, the first problem still stands that the middle schooler (our primary/initial users) do not actually have recycling bins and the reason is partially because they take up too much space. Therefore, some sort of product innovation is needed to solve the overarching problem of making sustainability a part of our DNA at MVPS, so our work has not been in vain, there is just much more to be done.

Once it was determined that we are working on both a product and social innovation, we started talking about how our team has recognized our own knowledge gaps on the product innovation side of things. We still do not fully know how to work the machines we would need, we have limited computer science knowledge, and we only have one team member that’s really good  with CAD which has made the process slower.

However, we’ve been realizing something important: it is okay to not do all of the work on a project, sometimes we have to outsource work to get the job done best. I know that personally this is something I’ve always struggled with; it seems like when we do a project, we have to be the only one’s to work on the project. This isn’t true though, nor is it practical. Not everyone is good at everything, so if you are able to acknowledge what your team is good at, then you can use your skills and figure out who else you could get to help with the parts of the project you aren’t as skilled in.

Our team has a lot of experience with social innovation. Working with people, gaining empathy, discovering needs, figuring out ways to hack a culture, discovering little insights to lead to a big change- this is the stuff we strive with in my opinion. Now not to say the product design isn’t important, but we’ve spent most of this year working at that side of things and feel that we are now in a position to acknowledge that maybe someone else would be more apt to continue this side of the work.

Continuing forward, we hope to partner with Mr. Edward’s Technology, Engineering, and Design (TED) class and have them help us develop the product design for the RISE. The cool thing about this partnership is that it will basically be the opposite role to what the Design Brief ID team is working on currently; we will be the clients rather than the hired consultants. (This is still barely developed though, so one of our first next steps is figuring out how this partnership will work.)

Meanwhile, when the TED class takes over more of the product design, the core ReSpIn team hopes to continue more of the social innovation side of things. We plan to talk to more students, teachers, custodians, and external companies to work on how we might have the RISE Sustainability System incorporate into class curriculum and how we might gain further support and funding to eventually market the product (assuming all goes well). Mr. Jones gave us some great starting points with companies to research and the team has agreed to look into those more over the winter break.

Mr. Jones also told us how most companies would expect a business plan when being pitched an idea like this. To be honest we haven’t learned much about formal business plans in the past, so it was really informative when he helped go through what would be in a typical business plan:

  • who the target market is
  • what the need is for the product/system
  • description about what it is/how it works
  • how you are going to get what you don’t have (money, supplies, skills, tools, etc…)
  • what is the plan to actually role this out onto market
    • (he also gave us great advice about how no project ever goes according to plan, but you still need some starting plan with how  you are going to test the product and who you will talk to for feedback on the product, etc…)
  • financial direction
    • for commercial products: what is the cost compared to revenue
    • for social products: what is the goal and how will it be measured? how is the end social impact justifying the need for the cost to implement it?
      • tips for figuring out cost:
        • know what you think it will cost you
        • discover what the average user will actually pay for a product like yours
        • then find a way to make sure there is a large gap between these two prices where it costs you less then they will buy it for

When Mr. Jones talked about these key components to a business plan, our team was happy to realize that we know a lot of this information already, but now we need to actually compile it together into a more formal write up. Mr. Jones also brought up a good point to us about how one of our key assets is that we are a team of students and companies are always trying to reach the next generation, so by partnering with us they could potentially reach a larger audience. I thought this was nice to hear because sometimes we always expect that we will get turned away because we are students, but that isn’t always the case; if you can make a convincing argument for why your idea is needed and why you need to work on it, someone will support you despite your age.

I think the last two weeks especially has provided our coVenture team with a lot of valuable insights about product innovation versus social innovation, the value of knowing what skills your team possesses, and how to partner with others to get more done faster. I’m excited for what the future holds next!

The Two Worlds’ Struggles

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Today has been amazing!!!!!! I didn’t even care that I had to wake up at 8am on a Saturday to go into school because I was that excited to go!!! THE FIRST COAT OF PAINT IN THE ISTUDIO IS DONE!!!!!!!!! Not to mention I had drama rehearsal as well and we got through blocking all of act 1!!!!! I love productive days. 🙂

It is especially nice for the iStudio because it feels like we are finally reaching the produce stage which seems to so often be talked about, but never really reached. Well, in ID we are going to finish this! It is happening now and it makes me happy!

However, now I’m back at home and I’m a little stuck in thought, so I thought I’d write to maybe get unstuck.

At MVPS we have what we call the “Prefect System”. This is a form of student government that we have in place, but it is different from our typical president, vice president, and secretary for each grade level. The Prefects can only be juniors and seniors and they all have specific roles: Head(Senior only), Ambassador, Student Spirit, Student Life, Environmental, Communications, Unity, Outreach, and Spiritual Life.

Since 7th grade, when I really started to learn about the Prefects since I was on the same campus as them, my friends and I have always envisioned all being Prefects together. (Writing this has actually been reminding me of a past blog post of mine when talking about what we called the “Nerd Revolution” and rereading this post reminded of a goal of mine about helping my grade act like a team.)

It is time for Prefect applications for next year to be submitted and I have been filling out my form. After some debating of order, I’ve decided that my top 3 choices are Communications, Unity, and Environmental.

Communications because, if not evident from all of my work blogging, I like communicating and find sharing stories and getting student voice involved in school to really be important. Unity because I love working with kids of all ages and am always thinking of ways to get collaboration between different ages, because everyone can be a student, teacher, mentor, and team mate despite your age. Environmental because I think there could be loads of connections to ventures I want to work on in the future like the cafe and roof top garden ideas.

Here is the thing though, I’m having trouble articulating my reasoning for wanting to be Prefect.

On the application there are three questions you have to answer:

  1. What does being a servant leader mean to you and how would you lead others?
  2. Why do you want to be a student leader?
  3. As a Prefect, what specifically would you like to accomplish?

The first two of these questions were easy for me to answer because I’m always talking and thinking about what it means to be a leader, and developing skills for how to be a good leader. Then the “student leader” part connected perfectly with my thoughts about student voice. However, I’ve been getting stuck with what to write for the last part.

This is what I have so far:

My goal for high school is to help establish a culture at MVPS that resembles those of innovative businesses; thus creating a community that is constantly sharing ideas and taking action to make impacts on peoples lives. Something I find important to share is that I plan on working towards this goal whether or not I become a Prefect myself; however,

See I know what my goal is, and I know that the point of this goal is that I wish to pursue it no matter what. However, because I feel this way, I don’t know what to write after “however”. I don’t know why being a Prefect is such an intriguing idea to me.

This is putting me back in the mindset of living in two worlds: there is nothing saying I have to become a prefect to achieve my goals, but because I live in the system still, I want to be a Prefect, but why?

I feel like part of it is honestly just for recognition; to be one of those 9 people recognized by the school constantly as a leader in their respective areas. I’m an actor, and won’t lie, I enjoy the spotlight at the right times. Plus as I said, a lot of this is work I want to achieve anyway, so part of me thinks “why not just apply to then get the title by doing the same work?”

Another part is that I can’t imagine myself not applying to be a Prefect. I mean, like I said, I’ve envisioned myself being a Prefect because they are school leaders, and even current and past Prefects have said that I would make a good one. I mean I like to consider myself a leader and want to be involved with the school, and when you put those things together people always think, “well become a Prefect because that is what they do.”

I would also like to think that being a Prefect would somehow help me with my goals in a way that I couldn’t do without being a Prefect, but I haven’t figured out why I think that. I mean I can’t prove it would be easier to organize teams of people. I can’t prove my ideas would be able to get to an action level quicker due to constant meetings with Ms. Parker and the other Prefects. These are all things I would like to think, but I still can’t feel completely honest about writing them down on my application.

I almost feel like I’m somehow going against my own beliefs about hacking and not needing “permission” from a teacher to pursue a goal by wanting to be a Prefect and following the system in this way. Part of me feels like I’m letting someone down with either decision: to be, or not to be a Prefect.

I can’t prove in any way how it would quantitatively help me to be Prefect in order to achieve my goals. But I still want to be one. Is that wrong? I don’t really want to be asking others for their opinions on my future, but I think trying to keep this conversation in just my head isn’t healthy for my mind.

So I don’t know exactly what I’m asking for, but I need advice; two heads are better than one when trying to solve a problem.

Sense of Closure

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Welcome to Nightvale finally got to have its opening night that we have been waiting so long for!!!! It even went surprisingly well which was nice. Everyone that came said it was cool and different and they really enjoyed it which is always great to hear, but we still have one more show and tonight was definitely not flawless so we need to keep focused.

It is amazing how great it feels when you “finish” something. I say finish in quotations because we know there is another show, and like most things, even after it is “done” conversations about it continue so it really lives on. The difference is that if our show were to be canceled tomorrow for some unknown reason, while we would be upset, I would still have felt the sense of closure to the show since we actually preformed it in front of an audience.

This sense of closure reinsures me of how badly I want to see the iStudio coVenture follow through. I’m not the best at following through on ideas which is why I really think that success will be seeing an idea in a more completed stage before getting involved in something new.

Today we story boarded one sentence from our reflections yesterday, and I decided to storyboard the “grand opening”. I had kind of figured this out yesterday, so my story board matched the rest of my blog from yesterday pretty well I would say.

I also want to clarify that it isn’t that I want to just get something done for the sake of getting something done, but I care about trying to create an innovative culture at MVPS and I believe that finishing the iStudio is really an actionable goal that can be achieved in the limited time we have left together this year. Next year the journey to creating this innovative culture will continue, but in a new way; the iStudio will be done and I envision the cafe/coffee house being a venture of the near but distant future.