I Am a Designer

IMG_7447What feels like a very long time ago, I had to start writing my Common App essay for college. Back when I did start brainstorming what to write about, I turned immediately to my blog; it’s been amazing to have a an entire collection of reflections from some of the most memorable things that have happened over the years. It only seemed right that now, now that I’m finally decided on a college and graduated high school, that I should officially post my Common App essay:

 

Common App Prompt 3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

I am a designer. Anyone can be a designer. You don’t need a fancy degree or a Mona Lisa to prove it. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.” This was the message I delivered to inspire creative confidence to a “young” audience of design thinkers. Let me set the stage.

The summer after sophomore year, I earned the opportunity to be one of four guest speakers at an annual summer conference called Fuse, facilitated by the Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation. This event gathers 110 educators, business leaders, social innovators, change agents and dreamers from around the world to make an impact while learning more deeply as design thinkers. A slide deck appears on stage and the attendees saw the peculiar twitter handle @Pinyabananas, then a single spot light illuminated me- a 16 year old girl with her hair in a scrunchie. As a speaker, I delivered a 10 minute presentation similar to a TEDTalk where I shared about “Thinking Like a Designer.” My role: to get the room full of educators excited and confident in their abilities to spend three days problem solving for four different non-profit organizations. As the only speaker under the age of 30, the one with the least formal schooling and lacking the series of credentials and accomplishments of the other speakers, I was nervous.

Being an actress, I’ve been up on stage dozens of times in front of audiences larger than 110 people. I’m comfortable with public speaking, but this experience was different. This time I was the only student; specifically chosen because the organization believes that I have a story and ideas that educators should hear. Typically, it’s assumed that anyone still in secondary schooling has much to learn and not much to teach. When asked to speak, I was tasked with representing not only myself, but all students– to prove that we can have insightful thoughts worth sharing in serious conversations about the future.

I got up on stage vulnerable yet confident, and shared what I believe to be a recipe for success: to have community involvement, work with a #fuse15 MoVe Talkpurpose, a mentor to guide you, a mindshift to turn problems into opportunities, and a bias towards action. I challenged the entire audience to say the opening lines of this essay with me: “I am a designer.” To my surprise, when I repeated this statement, a chorus joined me; 110 educators accepted the challenge proposed by a 16 year-old girl to think like designers.

Age doesn’t have to be a limiter in life. If I am willing to take action for a cause that I care deeply about, then anything is possible. After my talk I had a number of educators come up to me and say, “You are inspiring!,” “I can’t believe you’re only 16,” “Thank you for giving me the confidence to do this.” Later that night my phone was blowing up with the number of twitter notifications I was getting from people commenting, liking, and retweeting things about my talk; our head of school even said, “Sounds like the takeaway of the night was from @Pinyabananas ‘I am a designer.’” It was a crazy night for me; it’s hard to believe it really happened.

This talk has since been used at a number of other workshops, some of which I probably don’t even know about. I remember researching myself online one day and found a link to a presentation by a professor in England who used the video of my talk! I am still astonished to think that my work had such an impact, and have continued to use my digital presence through daily blogging and tweeting as a mouthpiece for students around the country who remain silent school consumers. Anyone can be a designer. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.”

reMoVe10

After months of data collecting and interviewing, the reMoVe10 team finally had our big presentation to our City of Sandy Springs clients, representatives from Georgia Clean Commute, and a handful of MVPS admin!!

Background

Spark:

No one likes sitting in traffic. It waste time, energy, and money and it is only getting worse each year. Early September of 2016 representatives from the City of Sandy Spring
contacted the Innovation Diploma to partner with us as consultants in a Design Brief in order to achieve the city goal to decrease traffic in the city by 10%.

Goal:

Lead conversations and experiments at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School to decrease traffic in the school community by 10%. Then using MVPS as a small area case study group, develop traffic recommendations for schools in the Sandy Springs area and the city as a whole.

1101161046.jpgPartners:

  • City of Sandy Springs council (Client)
  • Mount Vernon Presbyterian School
  • Georgia Commute Options

Data Collection

The first phase of our work was to better understand our community by learning how and where from people commute to school. In order to do this, we compiled data from our school directory, manually counted cars coming into the school early in the morning, and observed traffic patterns during our morning and afternoon carpool. Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 1.03.34 PM.png

After working with our school’s registrar, we were able to take information we had gathered and develop this visual of where our families come from.

 

unnamed-1.jpgWe also created this info-graphic which we sent out to the MVPS community to gain support and focus group partners for the movement. We learned that we currently have 662 cars coming into MVPS every morning. Based on estimates for the growth of our school, we should have around 770 cars by the year 2020 when our new high school building is finished being built. With this projected growth rate, it’s imperative that we act now to decrease traffic. If we successfully cut traffic down by 10% now, then we will be decreasing the number of future cars by 180 cars, decreasing pollution by 2,730 lbs of CO2, and saving 5,000 minutes of time commuting as a community (based on the average distances families currently travel from in order to get to MVPS).

Focus Group Insights

After collecting numerical data, the reMoVe10 team wanted to reach out to members of the MVPS community to better understand the MVPS carpool process from the primary users. After sending out our info-graphic, we gathered two parent/faculty focus groups to speak to where we discovered that the Lower School carpool line was more congested than the Upper School since less lower school students stay after school for sports and clubs. We then met with two fourth grade groups and two kindergarden groups in order to hear from the students about how they get to their cars in the afternoon.

Here were some of our take aways:

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Next Steps:

 

Removing traffic in an area doesn’t take a revolutionary idea. There are some rather simple things that we can do as a community to decrease traffic. The key is communication and everyone getting passionate and involved in the movement.

The reMoVe10 team is partnering with Georgia Commute Options, a government funded program that promotes taking cleaner routes to school and work by providing incentives and help with finding carpool partners. Our team plans to give presentations to parent and student drivers in the upcoming weeks to get them excited and signed up with the free Georgia Commute Options app that gives members access to these benefits. We then will work with the organization to see how traffic is effected based on the number of people with the app associated with the Mount Vernon community.

The team will also explore more ways to promote alternative travel options in order to decrease the number of cars on the road. We already have a hashtag (#reMoVe10) and several blog posts on our Innovation Diploma website, and will do a deeper dive into other forms of effective mass communication techniques.

Reflection

The reMoVe10 team has come a long way in the past few months (this link goes to my blog posts along the journey). As a team we had various struggles with communication along the way; people would be absent and not notify anyone as to why, people would wonder out of the work space without a reason, people would not answer texts, etc. While this was very frustrating in the moment, we grew a lot with being able to confront these situations. We had many “come to Jesus moments” where we would talk about these problems and establish a new plan, and by the end of the semester everyone was doing a much better job at communicating with only minor hiccups.

It’s really hard to call a fellow teammate out, but when doing real world work, it is a necessary uncomfortably moment. If problems aren’t addressed, then they will keep happening, and that creates an unhealthy work environment. I think one of the places I grew most as a leader on this team was by being able to facilitate these necessary conversations that no one really wanted to have.

Even in the last week leading up to our big presentation we were struggling to bring things together. We realized that there is a lot of empathy work that we could have done earlier in the process. Our focus group meetings happened back to back only a few weeks before our final deadline, and it was great that they happened, but we realized the insights we identified would have been valuable at an earlier point in time. Furthermore, there are more people that we would have liked to talk to and we should have observed carpool more often, and now we’re having to go back and make up for what we really should have done earlier in the process. The jump from researching to empathizing is often the hardest hurdle to get over in my opinion, and our team truly experienced this. It was most evident in our practice pitch we gave two days before the big presentation, that we had some gaps in our project. However, we were able to pull it all together in the final hours and shifted the focus of our presentation to highlight the great work we had done. In every project it’s easy to later identify things you wish you would have done, but that shouldn’t discredit what you did do, and I was really proud of the quality of the presentation we gave in the end. Our clients even said, “This is better that some of the presentations we hear from adults that we pay to do this kind of work!”

A big part of the purpose of our presentation was to just get the right people in the room to make connections between all of the partners we’ve been working with. We achieved this goal better than we could have planned for; there were people still talking about the possibilities our work has brought up for nearly an hour after we thanked people for coming and said we were finished with their time. These conversations made me really excited with where this project could go in the upcoming months.

Our team had originally planned on disbanding after this presentation and not working 100% on this project (though we would do monthly check ins to keep up with the work). However, after the success and momentum the reMoVe10 movement gained after this presentation, we realized that we can’t stop now. The team is still in the process of figuring out who and how everyone will  be involved  next year, but I can guarantee the project will not die with the end of a semester.

 

Kick it into Gear

IMG_6161.JPGThis Tuesday we have another client meeting with our partners from the City of Sandy Springs so it’s been a crazy week for our project team. The main things we’ve accomplished since our last meeting are as follows:

  1. added information with all of the Marta train routes onto our map
  2. added detail to our small area comprehensive plan
  3. developed an info-graphic describing the project which will be launched to the MVPS community November 2nd to gain awareness, support, and partners from parents especially (hopefully unless something changes between now and then)
  4. gained insights from several intercept interviews and observations of morning carpool
  5. have gotten into contact with people from the regional Travel Demand Management (TDM) department and have a meeting set up for November 10th to learn more about their work with traffic in Atlanta 

With our second client meeting coming up, I think it’s a good time for me to reflect on how I’ve been doing on a few of our standards of professional excellence that we have in the Innovation Diploma (ID). In ID we believe strongly in our motto “We are not a class. We’re a start up.” With this said, we do not have grades for ID; there is no number you can assign to our progress and performance in the program. However, like any business we have assessments (like our upcoming client meeting for example) and we gain feedback (from ourself, our team, and our facilitators), and we have standards of excellence so that everyone in ID knows what’s expected of them and how to be successful in the program.

Our collection of standards is based on five key skills we call the 5C’s: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Craftsmanship.

I believe I’ve been preforming strongly in the area of Collaboration-Leadership and Initiative. I’ve consistently demonstrated a clear understanding of the teams work and vision, and have served as project manager to help clarify roles and responsibilities to my team members. Furthermore, I’ve been a spokesperson for all of ID during tour days for our school and have learned to clearly articulate the work we have done so far to people who know nothing about ID let alone the work my team specifically is doing.

That said, there is no perfect leader. There are always ways to improve, and I think it’s time that I start pushing myself even more about what it means to be a leader. A leader not only has a clear understanding of the teams work, but a great leader is able to also coach others to start becoming more of a leader. I’ve been starting to do this by slowly having other team members take over as the point of contact for certain external experts, but I’m sure there are more ways I can get better at stepping down sometimes; after all I graduate next year…

I also need to work on growing in the area of Creativity- Openness and Courage to Explore. As a team we’re starting to get into a rut where we’re too caught up on the data and research. We are having a hard time moving into the empathy phase of the design challenge which we need to get to in order to identify the true heart of the problem. I need to work on exploring ideas outside of just the general problem of “traffic” so we can figure out where this project is going. Right now we have lots of numbers and graphs of our population and times when traffic is bad, and I even got to school before 7:15 on Friday to take observational notes on carpool all morning from a haystack outside by drop off; however, we have yet to truly identify the problem as a team. We know traffic is bad, but why? I don’t think we know why yet which is a problem at this point in the game.

I’m excited about the work our team did in the last few weeks, but in the last few days I’ve realized that I don’t think we’re at the point in our project where we should be. We should have more user insights, which we talked about needing after the last client meeting, and the work we did was in hopes of developing focus groups, but we never actually created those meetings. We’ve been working hard on this info-graphic that will be sent out to parents so they learn about the project and hopefully agree to meet with us, but we misjudged the amount of time it would take us to make a high-quality product so those meetings are yet to happen. I am though, still proud of the info-graphic work and think it did need to be iterated since it’s our one big shot to send something out in the newsletter to the community. Looking back, what I would have done differently would be to find a different way to get the information we needed.

This didn’t hit me until a few days ago but now it makes me realize we need to kick it in gear and I don’t know how to communicate that to the rest of my team because I don’t think everyone feels this way.

I wonder if our clients will call us out on this because sometimes I find that adults get too caught up in the novelty of students doing this kind of work and don’t call us out the way they would with adults they may work with.

Introducing Public Buggy; Jam

IMG_6038.JPGNew year, new team, new venture.

The past two years in the Innovation Diploma I have been a part of a lot of projects driven by students observations that lead to ventures. For example the Co-Venture to re-design our iStudio space and last year’s ReSpIn team working on creating a recycling system in the middle school.

This year I’m moving into the world of Design Briefs.

In its inaugural year, iDiploma was incredibly successful in “consultivation” work (consult + innovation) where we invited members from the Mount Vernon community to bring a problem or opportunity to be workshopped in a 90 minute design thinking session. The partners we had for those sessions left with plausible and implementable solutions, and our learners became much more comfortable with their design thinking muscles. This year, we committed to incorporate even bigger and longer term projects via “Design Briefs” that IMG_6047.JPGanyone in the community can generate. Essentially, we’re creating a pool of potential projects that are not out of a textbook or dreamed up by a teacher, but instead projects that are generated out of need in the community.- MVIFI.org

Last year a team of ID cohort members worked on a Design Brief with Jeff Garrison, from S.J. Collins Enterprise, to design a pocket park in a new Whole Foods development which they named: Peachtree Station.  Last year’s Design Brief was so successful that this year, after a mini-internal Design Brief for practice, we have jumped right into 4 different Design Briefs scheduled to conclude around January at the latest. IMG_6049.JPG

I am a member of team PB;J which stands for Public Buggy Jam team. We are working with the mayor of Sandy Springs to reduce traffic in the city by a hopeful 10%. To start, we are
using Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (MVPS) as a test group because it is a controlled environment. Our goal is to create a traffic reduction plan for MVPS that could serve as an example for other schools in the area as well. The hypothesis is that if enough schools work on reducing their traffic, we will impact the overall Sandy Springs traffic problems as well.

This team was assembled almost two weeks ago now, and so far we have made great progress crafting team norms, goals, timelines, and essential questions.

Currently we have been working on:Trello PB;J.png

  • planning out our time line and learning to use Trello as a task management tool
  • researching what a professional Traffic Reduction Plan looks like and outlining what type of information we will need to provide
  •  learning how to use Raspberry Pi to gain experimental data where we count the number of cars entering and leaving MVPS and time-stamping each car
  • reaching out to MVPS admin to see what data already exists in terms of demographic questions we’ve had
  • set up some norms:the first 15 minutes on Monday’s we will discuss goals and duties for the week IMG_6045.JPG
    • the last 30 minutes on Monday we will spend with the entire ID cohort to make sure we keep everyone in the loop and have some community amongst the full team
    • PB;J team will write one blog post a week updating our progress and we will rotate who does the weekly blog (I was this week), and all of our posts will be archived on the Innovation Diploma website run by us high schoolers
    • and we decided to use the phrase “let’s tune in” if we notice that some of us are getting distracted and need to focus back in on our work

For only almost two weeks of school, I’m pretty happy with where we have come as a team and am excited to see where this venture goes.

 

Take Learning Outside Initiative

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Background

Some of the faculty of Mount Vernon Presbyterian School came to the Innovation Diploma Pixar Cohort (members in their 2nd or 3rd year of the program) with the challenge of: How might we gain more traffic and awareness for the two outdoor classrooms on campus? We then had two weeks to go through the process of human centered problem solving to then pitch to our clients various high res prototypes that have potential for immediate implementation.

Key skills developed

  • bias towards action
  • craftsmanship of prototypes and presentation
  • time management
  • impromptu short interviewing
  • communication

Project Details

Phase One: Discovery and Empathy

With only two weeks to interview, research, ideate, prototype, and pitch ideas to our client, the Pixar team had to work quickly and efficiently. After some initial discussion, we divided our team into four sub committees right off the back:

  1. Research Team: Why should we care about going outside?
  2. Interview Team: What are the needs/concerns of MVPS community members?
  3. Branding Team: How might we spread awareness about the spaces with well crafted branding strategies?
  4. Cleaning Team: How might we make the spaces inviting enough for people to want to come into it once we spread the word about it’s existence?

After a week working on these sub committees the team re-grouped to share powerful insights:

Research

  • A study performed by the University of Illinois found that students’ capacity to pay attention increased 13 percent if they had a green view outside their classroom window
  • The Hollywood elementary study found as much, as the number of on-task students increased when the education moved outside.
  • Studies have shown a 27% increase in science testing scores with plenty of time outside
(link to studies)

Interview

  • 57% of the 51 students interviewed have only been in the outdoor classroom once
    since starting high school at MVPS
  • Teachers are concerned with:
    • bugs/whether
    • logistics: taking attendance, time spent getting there and back to classroom, carrying stuff
    • a way to capture work: internet, white board, flip board, etc.
    • needing a table top
    • distractions: worried students will be distracted by the “newness” of outside
  • Several teacher concerns were assumption based:
    • internet does in fact work outside
    • it takes about 2 minutes to get outside from the third floor if the class chooses to meet in their room rather than right outside
  • More new teachers to the school were more curious, interested, and excited about using the outdoor space while a large amount of teachers at the school for even just a year were incline to say something to the extent of “I don’t think it will work for the type of class I teach”

Branding

  • the word “classroom” has a certain connotation to a type of learning environment
  • outside learning is a different kind of learning and therefore the space needs a new name

Cleaning

  • cleaned up lot’s of trash and power washed the amphitheater seating
  • discovered mold under the top layer of mulch and the wooden tables

Phase Two: Experiment and Produce

Based on these insights from week one, we spent week two creating new teams to develop a total of 7 prototypes, and a team of two worked to better craft our story and presentation for our pitch. The final prototypes were as followed:

  1. camping chairs in the area for more comfortable seating
  2. colorful signs to promote the space and creativity
  3. words of wisdom promoting the use of the outdoors written on communal white boards and chalk boards around the high school
  4. developed 2 different versions of digital signage to be showcased in the lobby of the building
  5. 3 different versions of a water bottle with a sticker and note encouraging and reminding teachers to take advantage of the outdoor space
  6. 2 large posters with quotes about the value of outdoor learning
  7. 3 different versions of a portable lap desk with a white board surface to meet the need of not having enough surfaces for writing on

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1RSzUNl4q0xmeITpOYiT-WM_Knd9wmjiAmnNae1u8T_E/pub?start=true&loop=true&delayms=5000


Reflection and Client Feedback

Team

Being the first design brief of the year, and many member’s first ever design brief, and having such a short time frame, I believe the Pixar team did remarkably well. Our clients found the level of quantity and quality of our prototypes remarkable, and everyone was ready to further implement the ideas which shows a great level of empathy and understanding of the problem.

At the beginning of the process, most of us, myself included, were not found of the idea of going outside for class. We found it cumbersome and not exceptionally beneficial, and thus we were not thrilled about working on this challenge that went against our own beliefs. However, I was proud that our team was able to go through a mind-shift and focus on the fact that despite our feelings towards the challenge, our clients asked something of us and we needed to put our feelings aside in order to deliver.

Once aside our feelings, we still had a lack of communication in terms of what our goal was for the end of the two weeks. Some members were ready to start digging up mulch and give the area a complete upgrade because they thought that was what needed to happen in order to get more people in the space by the end of two weeks. This bias towards action was incredible, but it actually had to be dialed back some because our goal, as we clarified about two days before our deadline, was just to have small prototypes and concepts with a strong pitch for our client who could then implement the ideas if proven necessary. Once this clarifier meeting took place, the team made great strides in the last 48 hours before the deadline; working like a well oiled machine to be ready before our final pitch.

In the future, it would have been great if this clarifying meeting happened earlier on so that we could have been as productive as we were in the last two days for the entire timeline of the project; however, sometimes you don’t know you need a large group meet up until you get far enough a long for clear confusion. Based on the insight from this design brief, in our next team we plan to establish early on a clear understanding of the goal, the timeline, and tasks that need to be completed, and who is responsible for each task.

Even though for this challenge success didn’t include changing mulch, the amount of bias towards action was phenomenal during this challenge. This is a huge improvement from when we started in the Innovation Diploma and would spend weeks discussing ideas and never really take action and get working in the real dirt. We would not have been able to develop 7 well crafted prototypes if it hadn’t been for the level of agency and craftsmanship the team had as a whole.

Personal

I typically have a hard time with having a bias towards action because I’m a person that really likes to try and think through all of the details, but for this project I think I improved some. During part one of the challenge I was on the interview team, and while normally we would spend a lot of time carefully choosing interviewees and crafting emails to schedule a chance to talk, for this project we only had two weeks so we didn’t have time to go through the longer more detailed process. None of our interviews were scheduled and instead I literally walked around looking for students and teachers that weren’t in class and asking them to have impromptu 5-10 minute interviews with me. I even successfully convinced one teacher to have one of their classes outside during my free time so that I could observe the process of the class going to the space and then capturing how they interacted with it.

Another mindset I’ve been trying to embrace is the idea of making my work visible. For this project I worked on that by getting everyone to create visual representations of the key insights taken away from each teacher interview. Then I helped lead the team in synthesizing our insights to create one composite user (also with a visual representation) which we used to share out with the full group at the start of week two. To accompany our composite teacher user, we also had graphs of the student data collected which shows how we’ve grown with our ability to think visibly and also our ability to use technology to make our work at a higher quality level.

Going along with the theme of higher quality of work, I was incredibly impressed mine and my co-presenter’s ability to put together a high caliber presentation in mainly just two hours. The presentation had limited words on slides, edited pictures for ascetic purposes, the entire slide deck had an evident theme to help with the flow between slides, and the work was well synthesized to pair down all of the research, insights, and prototyping work we had done into one pitch around 15 minutes. Typically I wish that we would have rehearsed the pitch better and had the prototype speakers more confident and clear in their role, but I am impressed with the work we presented in a limited timeframe and our clients had no expressed negative comments on the presentation its self.


Next Steps

The pitch was successful and prototypes are ready to be implemented, though technically our team has met our goal and deadline. Some prototypes remain in action such as the camping chairs and words of wisdom around the school, but some still need a little iterating and communicating with various people in order to have them implemented. Our team of 16 has completed this project, but a few may select to continue working with the client to finish the implementation process. I do not currently plan to continue with this team, though if that is where I am most needed in our start-up, then that is where I will continue to work.

Maker Culture

I’m a person who often gets involved in big time consuming projects that require lots of planning and organization. I love getting involved in these big projects, but at the same time it can feel like you’re walking on a treadmill: you just keep moving but you aren’t getting anywhere new.

This year I want to develop a better habit of taking action faster by focusing on more “small hacks.” Little short term projects that expose me to new skills while helping to change some small things that might otherwise get overlooked as not being a “big enough problem.” Making the life of even just one person a little bit better is still making an impact.

As part of my role as the Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation (MVIFI) Fellow, I work closely with the MVIFI Nucleus team and today I had a lunch meeting with them. This meeting was primarily about the Maker, Design, and Engineering programs we have been building at MVPS. A good chunk of the meeting was focused on how to get more people to take ownership and agency over the idea that they too can be a maker despite age, experiance, or teaching discipline.

This gave me an idea.

We have a maker’s space on both the lower and upper school campuses (Studio(i) and The Hive) where we have all sorts of tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, CNC machines, andIMG_20160405_072616 more that anyone can learn to use whenever they’d like to. Access to these tools is incredible because it means that we can develop high res prototypes in all sorts of mediums. Yet this is an opportunity that isn’t taken advantage of by nearly as many students and teachers as you would think– yet.

I personally do not even know how to use several of the tools that are available to me as part of the Mount Vernon community, and I want to change that. So I intend to start taking time every week to learn a new tool. While I’m learning, I hope to then make something related to different content areas which I can then give to various teachers in order to help encourage them to also use The Hive and to perhaps spread the maker mindset into their classrooms as well.

A maker, in my opinion, is someone who tinkers around with different materials and has a bias towards action in order to develop physical products. The maker culture therefore, is really centered around trying to make your thinking visible, which is something that is relevant and should be emphasized in all content areas. I want to live in a community of people who not only talk about big ideas, but a community of people who can build those ideas out and make them a reality.

In my experiance, schools want their students to be life long learners that feel empowered to take action. How do we teach the mindset of taking action? We teach students how to have a makers mindset. And this isn’t just the job of “Maker, Design, and Engineering teachers,” because in order for something to become a part of a communities culture, everyone must embody the mindset. It is everyone’s responsibility to embrace and spread the maker culture. 

 

Not Ready to Leave k-12

I’m currently in Baltimore with my great grandma who can not remember her wifi password, so it seems that I may not be able to blog the rest of the week after tonight so hopefully this will be Clz-q9bXIAAsBe_.jpggood…

The last two days I have spent college touring at 3 different schools, and the process has been both fun, tiring, inspiring, and a tad frustrating. What I’ve realized is just how amazing my high school experiance has been.

I’ve gotten to work on real world projects with business leaders; I’ve gotten to learn how to use tools most barely get to use in college at all; I’ve gotten to help shape my own learning journey immensely; I’ve gotten to travel around the country to explore new communities; I’ve gotten to lead my own research projects and even speak at multiple conferences due to my work. I’ve gotten to do a lot of things that most colleges try to pitch to you to get excited about, and talk about these things as something you may get to do eventually and should really look forward to learning more about the possibilities.

I don’t need to be pitched to about why these experiences and resources are great, I’ve already been sold on the fact that education is changing and that real world experiences are what we need to be challenges with; I’ve known and been living this life for the past 3 years… If I’m doing project work like this now, why can’t I continue it in college, why must I wait for a potential future?

What frustrates me most about the college process is that I don’t want to start over my education journey which is what it kind of feels like is the only option, because I haven’t been able to find a single school yet that offers the opportunities I’ve been given due to being a member of the Innovation Diploma.

I want a school that has renovated spaces that are flexible, hands-on, and collaboration centered. I want a school that has a maker space where I can learn how to use tools, and have the freedom to try designing my own ideas and bring them to life. I want a school that has a program(s) set up where I can continue to work with experts and visionaries in entrepreneurship, education, business, and community leadership. I want a school where I work alongside of my teachers in work and play to the extent of playing wacky card tournaments together. I want a school where I feel confident that I will continue to enhance my ability to associate, question, observe, network, and experiment. I want a school that gives me the freedom, support, and resources to wonder and wander on whatever learning path is best for my personal journey.

I love and value everything Mount Vernon has offered me, and I just want a school that allows me to continue to further my work and learning but at an even more advanced level. Is that so much to ask?

The more I research and visit colleges, the more it seems like k-12 education is actually way ahead of the game when it comes to 21st century learning, and yet it still has so much to improve on. Why is higher education so behind on 21st century learning?

Sure there are “innovative colleges,” and truthfully I’ve been intrigued by many schools in different ways, but most of them only offer a select amount of opportunities compared to my current school. In order to pick a school I have to choose between a maker space, or hackathon competitions, or 21st century buildings, or interdisciplinary classes. I want a school that says “yes and” to all of these things just like my high school.

Most students are ready to get out of high school as fast as possible. Some go as far as to count down the days until graduation, even just when they start freshman year. I however, am not ready to leave because I know what an insanely valuable experiance I’ve gotten due to the Innovation Diploma, MVIFI, and MVPS’ general design thinker culture that embraces new ideas and makes them happen fast.

I’m not ready to leave high school because, while I like schools and have many on my list that I’m interested in, I haven’t yet found a school that I truly believe will take all of my high school opportunities and experiences to the next level; which I feel like should say something about education…

Power of Story-Typing

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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.

Glad to be Exhausted

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Wow I’m exhausted after today. I always forget how tiring design thinking can be until I spend a day going through a challenge and then stop, only to find myself drifting off to sleep.

The reason I find it so exhausting is because design thinking requires so much constant energy and brain power. You are constantly trying to keep moving forward and observing, analyzing, empathizing, synthesizing, prototyping, iterating, interviewing, pitching, storytelling, etc. (Not in any particular order.) Not to mention the entire time you are working with several other people that you’re trying to learn more about in order to best work together and keep the whole team on track and moving in a positive direction; which sometimes means pivoting your idea and going back 5 steps in order to move forward 10.

At the end of day 2 of fuse16 today, I looked around and you could see how tired everyone was. Everyone was excited about their prototypes and empowered by the users, and that just makes it all the more tiring, because when you’re invested in a project you give it your all and that is what makes design thinking tiring. At least we’re tired for a good cause though, so it’s like a good tired. Like when you just played an intense game of soccer with no subs, so you feel as if you’re about to pass out; however, your team won because you stayed in the entire time so at the same time you’re on cloud 9 by the end of the game because you accomplished what seemed impossible!

I always say, even half a day of design thinking makes me more tired at the end of the day then just a normal day of classes. However, I wouldn’t trade that half of a day to not be tired, because the feeling I get from seeing my work impact my user is worth every minute of stretching our brain muscles to the max.

So I’m glad that I can barely hold my eyes open right now, because that means we had a great day of meaningful working.

No More Hesitation

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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.