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!

The Outlier

imgres.pngEvery now and then someone reminds me that what I’ve done on this blog isn’t as normal as it’s come to be in my life. It isn’t “normal” for most 15 year olds to just decide one day that they are going to start a blog and write everyday for 100 days, and then decide to continue the challenge for over 2 years. But for me it is “normal,” because it’s the reality of my life as I’ve come to know it.

What was it inside of me that urged me to take on this challenge? Why was/am I not “normal”?

I have nothing against being the outlier, but I’m just deeply curious as to what it is about me that makes me this way.

People will say things to me about being extraordinary, and wanting to clone me, and asking how to find more kids like me, etc. But to me, this is just me. I don’t have any answer as to why I’m this way, though I would like to know.

I’m really not trying to narcotic or pompous or anything like that, so I really hope it isn’t coming off that way. I’m just generally curious as to why I, and others like me such as my friends Kat and Marz who have been on many adventures with me, tend to act in desired ways that are very different from the average teenager. Creating and often posting to our own blogs is just one of these ways.

What is it about us that makes us this way? And what about kids that are not so motivated to just decide to do things like constantly write, how might they gain the same skills in communication, self-confidence, and empathy without that same motivation to take action on their own? Is there really a way to teach motivation? I have no idea.

To this day I remember in freshman English class when a student asked, “How do you get a good work ethic?” The student was genuinely curious because he knew he didn’t have one, though he also understood the importance of having one. Everyone in the room was stumped as to the answer to the question.

It can’t possibly be some trait that some people are born with and others are not. I also refuse to believe that self-motivation and a good work ethic are something that you either have or don’t have by a certain age and that’s that. Skills can always be built and improved upon just as there may come a time when an old house has to be renovated to keep from falling apart, and yet I have no idea how to build these skills.

Sometime I wish someone would pick my brain harder to help me grapple with why I’ve turned out the way I am. There is only so much questioning I can can ask myself. Sometimes questions are best answered when someone else does the questioning. I don’t know why I’m the way I am, but I’d love to find out and hopefully somehow use that knowledge to inform ideas on teaching and education.

Power of Story-Typing

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

That’s a wrap! Fuse16 is officially over after a jam packed week of design thinking, everyone has started to head back to where ever they traveled from around the world. In my opinion this year was the best one yet with prototypes and pitches that were clear, creatively, implementable, and meeting the user needs with flying colors!

What I think really made this year so great was the intentional focus on story-typing: prototyping the story. Story telling is at the heart of design thinking because it’s how we share empathy to a wide number of people! A good pitch needs to tell the audience about your user and why their needs are important enough to design for while also telling the story of your idea and showing why it’s a great solution to help your user. Everything is a story!

This year we made it really clear that the story is the most important part of your idea by giving teams ample specific time to craft and perfect the story component of their idea. This made for final pitches that blew us all away, especially the users! When a user asks if they can share their email with you to literally implement your idea as soon as possible, you know you’ve had a successful pitch– a successful story.

A good story can change the world, so it’s worth spending a lot of time crafting the best story you can. This final day of fuse16 proved that story-typing makes for some kick butt final pitches even for a group of mainly first time DTers! And I know that after fuse16, everyone will have some great stories to bring back home and truly change the world by transforming education for a better tomorrow.

No More Hesitation

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New faces, new stories, new possibilities; fuse16 day 1 is done and it was such a great hit!

For those of you that didn’t get to join in on the fun this year, here’s a quick summary of today’s flow:

We love to throw people right into the deep end by starting this morning off with a design thinking flashlab, where we went through an entire lap of design thinking in just a few hours. From there we had lots of opportunities to eat, question, and mingle and finished the night with some powerful MoVe (moment of visible empathy) talks given by our 4 non-profit partners and 4 people from MVPS.

One of the things I love most about fuse is the opportunity to meet so many new passionate people in one place at one time. I had so many MoVeing (I crack myself up) conversations with people today about all sorts of things from blogging, to theater, to foreign language, to gymnastics, and then of course many conversations about design thinking and how it’s impacted my life. (Especially after giving my MoVe Talk: Thinking Like a Designer— this is actually last year, but it’s the same talk minus one slide and a years more worth of public speaking and natural improv with the audience.)

I love the chance to network with so many people and I’m honored that so many people care about my opinions. What I’ve realized from today is that even in just the last year, I’ve grown to be so much more comfortable with design thinking and the language that accompanies it.

While coaching I’m not always turning to another to ask a million questions about it I’m going about things right; instead I’m being asked questions. In conversations people have caught me saying “design slang” terms like “I wonder” and “what if” and “discovery and empathy work” naturally in response to questions not necessarily about DT directly. Being one of, if not the only student, in the room has become normal to me; in fact, today I was actually pushing my little sister to go join in with the adults since this was her first time in a situation like that. (I also told her to get use to it since she’s joining ID next year.)

In my MoVe Talk I mention how there is no perfect designer, but the best we can do is to continually practice and you will find yourself more naturally feeling and acting like a designer. I wrote up this MoVe a year ago when I had first noticed myself subconsciously thinking like a designer, and now, a year later, I feel this statement is even more true. Last year I was just realizing that I am a designer and everyone else can be one too, and going back to freshman year I was just learning what design thinking even was. The year before that, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about what it meant to think like a designer. But now, in just 3 years, I don’t think I hesitate at all to say that I’m a designer. All that’s changed is that I’ve had more experiences to build confidence and competence.

It’s always nice to get a reminder that makes you look back on where you were to make you realize just how far you’ve come.

 

The First Step to 21st Century Education

taking-steps.jpg

I’ve had a a fantastic week at the beach with my friends on the lovely island of Sanibel. Even despite the tropical storm that came in, we had a lot of fun on the beach, in the pool, biking around, playing games, reading, and just hanging out and talking together.

I was reading Future Wise over this vacation and thus thinking more about the future of education– yes, even while on vacation these are the things I think about, I know I’m weird that way. I have realized that even though it is summer I find myself constantly thinking about school. I find myself not always being “productive” over the summer which is odd to me because I typically am very consumed with school work, self selected work, meetings, clubs, theater, acro, band, etc. What I’ve noticed is that I am very fond of school.

This isn’t really surprising to me because I’ve always rather enjoyed school. When I was younger I would say I love school without a second of hesitation. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself more annoyed with school and always waiting for the next holiday break or even just the weekend during the school year. So really I guess what I miss isn’t quite school, but really I miss the company of fellow learners working, discussing, and creating new ideas together; I don’t miss all of school as I use to back in elementary school.

This made me wonder: “Why is it that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less fond of school is so many ways?” My hypothesis is that I don’t like school as much as I use to because school is no longer just about the fun and wonder of learning, but now it has become a stressful climb for “success”- however we might define that.

Thinking like the designer I believe myself to be, I decided to test my hypothesis about how stressful school is to older students.

I send a text to 13 students currently in high school and 2 in college from a total of 7 different schools across 3 different states asking this question: “What are specific examples of things that make you stressed, and why do you think they make you stressed?” Then I waited to see if their answer would have something to do with school, even though I specifically did not ask, “What makes you stressed at school?”

I did not provide any explanation as to why I was asking the question until after they had answered, if they asked, because I did not want to influence their answers in any way. Though in honesty, I did not get responses from everyone (it is summer after all and people are concerned with other things as expected though I only missed a few), the results to my small test were overwhelmingly inline with my hypothesis.

Most students responded with something having to do with school being the cause of their stress. The results varied between stress when teachers all assign big things due on the same day causing students to loose sleep, and when core classes and extra curricular events battle for time priority, and having pressure intentionally or unintentionally placed on them to get certain grades, and a myriad of answers about the struggles of figuring out where to go to college (these responses in particular often had many layers to them with everything from researching, to financial problems, to parental influence, to feeling confused, to fears about the general future of their existence riding on this one major decision- you get the idea).

Now I will say that there were other things that came up in my conversations about stress. Not everyone mentioned school at first at least, but as soon as I explained my hypothesis about school stress, 100% of those students acknowledged that school stress is a major problem and gave ample examples to support the claim.

I know this was a small little test with not the most scientific report, but I’m confident that if I was to expand my pool of users, I would find that a majority of upper level students get overwhelmingly stressed about school.

This is a problem.

Why do we let stress overwhelm school students? How can we expect students to become life long learners when they associate learning, which is most closely associated with school, to their primary source of stress? How might we make learning fun again?

One of my good friends from Nerd Camp whom I asked this question to, discussed for a while with me about how much we both love learning and yet how school has taken away from that love a little more every year. When I asked her why she thinks that is she gave a response that I believe to be sadly accurate:

“Learning isn’t really encouraged in school, success is.”

However, as another one of my Nerd Camp friends pointed out,

“And a lot of the time you can succeed in school without learning anything.”

As we have grown older school has become about getting good grades, so we can get into a good college, so we can get a good job, so we can have a good life; the idea of going to school because we love to learn and explore and wonder and just have fun being curious has been lost.

I know that these feelings and goals are not in any school’s motto, learning plan, or mission statement, but if this is what students’ are feeling then does it really matter what’s written on paper or proclaimed to audiences?

In my opinion, any school’s true goal is to create life long learners by preparing them with “lifeworthy” and “lifeready” knowledge, skills, and wisdom. But what distinguishes a lifelong learner from just another student at a school, is that a lifelong learner continues to seek out new knowledge and skills and wisdom even after primary education is complete, because lifelong learners find unwavering joy in learning. 

Stress can easily shatter joy; if we wish to guide students to find joy in learning, then we must find ways to eliminate some of the stress found in school- no matter the school you attend. That is the first step that needs to be taken on the path to 21st century education.

 

Learning in the Rain

IMG_5428.JPG

Six Flags in rain and Frozen on ice- it’s been a great day!

Today was Physics Day at Six Flags and all of the Calculus students at MVPS got the opportunity to spend the day there! Our teacher makes a deal with her Calc classes every year that if we stay on track and get all of the material we need to cover finished before the end of the year, then we get to go to Six Flags. Normally we would go on math day which is next Friday, however, that day is an important school wide event that we can’t miss so we went on Physics Day.

Part of this deal is also that we have to fill out the packet that Six Flags gives to honor the day which asks questions about various rides, and we use this as a quiz grade. Because it was Physics Day, the questions were primarily physics questions and the hardest math we did was multiply. The thing is, I’m not in a physics class currently so I have not learned many of the concepts discussed on the packet. Luckily we were working on these packets in groups, and I was working with some of my senior friends who are in AP Physics so they were able to teach me some quick physics things.

I learned about the difference between centripetal and centrifugal forces and how to calculate them. I learned about frequency calculations and hertz vs rpm. I learned more about kinetic and potential energy (I know it from a chemistry perspective but not physics really). Plus I learned many other little things. I find it funny because people would think “oh you’re going to Six Flags and are going to miss a whole day of learning in all of your classes,” but the truth is, while we are missing out on “school classes” so to say, we are not missing out on learning. In fact I enjoyed learning some physics today, and found it very helpful that I got to learn it from older students that are in that class. It also meant that they had to make sure they remembered things so they would check each other by asking more questions.

My learning was not hindered by taking a day trip to Six Flags with the Calculus students. I never would have learned as much about physics had I stayed, so in fact by taking “a day off” I was able to further my learning and curiosities about topics that are new to me. I learned in more than just physics too. We also talked about economics, and AP Literature, and calculus AB/BC, and even a little bit of Latin came up at one point.

Despite the rain and waiting in line for 40 minutes to buy lunch, I thought to day was a great school day at Six Flags.

 

 

(And I didn’t mention it further, but I also spent tonight at Frozen on Ice with one of my best friends which was a blast and I liked the way the opening sentence sounded!)