Last week involved dozens of hours of learning and networking with thought leaders around the country working towards transforming the education system. While I reflected each night of the conference, I also decided this week to put together a presentation of some of the biggest trends and takeaways I noticed from the conference. The intent of this presentation is so that I can share highlights from the conference with the rest of the Trailblazers Production Team since I was the only member able to attend; however, I thought I would also share it publically if anyone else was curious about the happenings at iNACOl (at least from the sessions I attended).
There’s always value in revisiting conversations. Today at SparkHouse I got the opportunity to re-experience a conversation around distinctions which I thoroughly enjoyed beause it’s one of my favorites. (This link actually connects to my post from Day 1 of SparkHouse 1 from two years ago, and it’s funny now looking back on that day compared to today and how many similar thoughts I had.)
I loved this conversation and many others of the day and was inspired as always by the energy of young learners gathered together to discuss what education could look like in a learner-centered paradigm.
However, what really stood out to me today, because it was unusual and disheartening, was when I heard a learner say they think their environment is too untraditional sometimes and should have more busy work in order to be prepared for college.
My heart was actually broken.
And I believe that the fact that a statement like this could come up at a gathering of learners from all learner-centered schools goes to show how we still have so much further to go in transforming the education system paradigm.
So despite it being 11:45pm after a long day of heavy thinking, high energy, and additionally having to do psych homework even while traveling, I needed to take time to reflect and respond to this comment because it’s been bugging me all day.
First off, I just have to ask, what does it say about our education system when students think college is all about busy work and doing busy work is what prepares you for college?
Second off, I don’t believe we should be conforming and confining k-12 education to doing things only based on what “colleges want.”
This comment was made innocently and honestly and while I don’t agree with the statement if you look deeper into what was being implied, the real problem being described is valid to address: learner-centered high schools and most colleges do not work off of the same paradigm. Therefore, this creates dissonance for everyone involved in our education system– students, parents, teachers, faculty, admissions reps, professors, etc. The proposed expectations, purpose, and methodology behind teaching in these two worlds (learner-centered high school and traditional college) are foundationally different, which can make communication and movement between the worlds challenging.
Moving from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard. I know because that’s my current reality. The thing is, the reason it isn’t easy has nothing to do with “being prepared.”
The number 1 question I have gotten asked since entering college is:
“Did you feel like your high school prepared you to do well in college?”
YES!!! – That’s my short answer.
The long answer is that I’ve felt more than prepared because of all of the skills I learned that are actually useful for life, unlike just learning how to be a really good test taker.
Because being prepared for college is about more than being ready to take tests.
Being prepared for college means that you are mature and responsible enough to live on your own and take ownership of your learning. Being prepared for college means you have a keen sense of self-awareness in order to make informed decisions about your future. Being prepared for college means you are able to clearly and strategically plan and articulate your goals and curiosities to advisors, professors, job interviewers, etc.
You would think it would be obvious that college is about more than just test taking, but apparently, it isn’t because that’s all I seem to get asked about. And yet, while actually in college, I have plenty of advisors telling me almost daily “GPA doesn’t really matter beyond getting your first job/internship- then it’s all about networking, experience, and selling yourself based on your skills.”
So when I say, “switching from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard,” I say that because it’s hard to deal with the culture change. It’s hard to move into a reality where your voice is no longer heard, where you can’t easily pitch new ideas to leadership, where you get lectured at and talked down to constantly, where you are more frequently viewed as a statistic rather than as a holistic person. That’s hard.
It’s not hard to learn how to take tests. Plus every professor is typically a little bit different. For example, one of my current classes does pretty much all assessing online, so all you have to figure out is that the homework questions and practice problems are all potential test problems, then you’re pretty much guaranteed an A on every test. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some hard tests in college, but that’s just because it’s new material and challenging. The test wouldn’t be any easier if I had done more busy work and test taking during high school.
So back to this issue of the dissonance between learner-centered high schools and traditional colleges. Something that extends this challenge is that we too often try to silo our education system by looking at just k-12 or just higher education.
If we are going to “transform the education system” that takes the ENTIRE SYSTEM.
We can’t ignore the fact that the education system doesn’t stop at high school graduation for the majority of learners.
So in order to bridge the gaps between the two worlds, one student today proposed, “We should have more busy work,” and I propose an alternative: Colleges also need to change their education system.
And I’d like to believe the alternative is the more likely option because it’s the more promising option. When I talk to college admissions reps, a student from a learner-centered high school is the ideal college candidate. They are mature and responsible. They have a keen sense of self-awareness. They can clearly and strategically plan and articulate their goals and curiosities. And they have all sorts of stories and evidence of their experiences that they can share to prove this learning.
However, as more and more learners start to graduate from learner-centered environments, I imagine there will be more and more pushback about why we have to then transition into a traditional college environment. Then these great, college and life ready learners will find alternative solutions of their own. They’ll attend the hand full of non-traditional colleges, or they’ll just continue on with internships from high school, or they’ll study in a different country, or something I’ve not even thought of. Colleges will have to change if they want these great learners in their learning environments.
That’s my hope/belief at least. I hope this process moves father than I anticipate, though unfortunately, bureaucracy and the fear of risks seem to be much more present struggles for colleges to overcome.
I could talk on and on about this struggle of learner-centered high school to traditional college, and to be honest I didn’t even go to one of the more unique high schools out there. There’s so much to be said about transcripts, assessment methods and “How do colleges interpret them?”, my advice to learners making the transition, my desire for a working compilation of non-traditional colleges, etc.
However, the important point here is that it is all a conversation. If you are aware of the two world struggle then you are already making the first step towards being able to respond to the struggle. But I want to make explicitly clear that I don’t, by any means, think the correct response is “Let’s be a little more traditional to prepare for college.”
Struggles are solved by compromise, not conformity.
I have felt beyond prepared for college because of my learner-centered experiences. And even now being in college and knowing what it’s like, I would never trade those experiences for the opportunity to have had more time to practice taking standardized tests to, “Get used to them for college.” Switching worlds is hard, but not because of the tests, it’s because of the culture.
Weirdly enough, upon further reflection, I’m actually glad that this comment was made about wanting busy work to be prepared for college. It brought up a very important question for education in terms of how we distinguish “college ready” from “not college ready” and definitely challenged me to think carefully about my own distinguishment for this topic and even on distinguishing “learner-centered education” as a whole.
This is now my 3rd year as a cohort member of the Innovation Diploma and everyday I’m noticing new ways that we have grown overtime.
Just today we were having a”Team Up” moment as we know are calling it, where we all gathered to debrief on where we are at and where we need to be at by tomorrow. We quickly identified that there was some miscommunication in terms of what everyone believed to be our definition of done for the current project we are working on. (The topic of the project is irrelevant for the purpose of this post, but in case you’re curious, we are working getting more traffic and awareness of our outdoor classrooms.) After coming to this realization, we talked things through as a team and were able to come to a consensus and decide on how to proceed.
I’m not really sure how to describe this process we went through, but after this Team Up took place, some of our observing faculty members commented on how fascinating it was to watch us. They said that it was really impressive to see a group of students lead this process of critical thinking about clarifying their task to help a client.
I found this funny because I hadn’t even thought about how it may seem impressive that we were able to have that conversation. To me those deep and messy conversations have become normal, but it wasn’t always this way. Thinking about it now, I realize we’ve grown into being able to have these conversations. With experiance being thrown into high stress, real world, situations with real stakes, we’ve learned how to better navigate the bends in the river.
It’s amazing how we change overtime without even noticing it sometimes, but then we look back and realize just how far we’ve come.
Another fun day in the great city of NYC! I woke up late today, but to my surprise my grandma already had an idea for today, since our previous plans of visiting Hampshire College got delayed until Monday due to transportation. We ended up deciding to get dressed up and head down to midtown and see if we could get last minute tickets to a matinee for some show.
As awesome as luck can be, we ended up getting seats for “The Waitress” despite arriving
at the theater only 15 minutes before show time! It’s unlike most Broadway musicals because it’s very real; there’s no flying or make believe lands or seemingly impossible plot lines. The show is about a fantastic pie maker and waitress who’s in a bad marriage, has an unwanted pregnancy, an affair with her married doctor, and is really just searching for a way to make a happy life for herself and her baby on the way.
The show was touching and had a very talented ensemble, but what really inspired me today was right after the show. Being an actress herself, my aunt has come to know many people in the theater industry. In fact her ex-boyfriend who she’s still good friends with, is the conductor for the “Book of Mormon” currently, and he seems to know people in everything. Between the two of them, they knew several people in the show we saw this afternoon and after a few texts and phone calls, we were able to arrange for us to go backstage with the male lead.
What inspired me about this situation is how it’s such a small world in the theater industry. Everyone seems to know someone else, and most everyone is happy to do a favor for a friend. It’s just such a tight group of people that you’d be kind of surprised. Plus even if people don’t know each other, theater people are some of the most open and naturally collaborative people I know. (Most of the time, there are always exceptions…)
The connections today, as well as my work with “PAINted“ this week, even gave me an idea for next year’s hopeful new theater club some of my friends are trying to start. The idea is for one of the things for us to do next year is to spend time seeing shows at other high schools to try to build our own community of theater students in Atlanta.
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.
It’s almost here!!! Fuse16 starts tomorrow at 8:30am and I’m so pumped to get this launch this plane! My tool kit is all packed, my MoVe talk is prepped, and even had a great conversation with Grant Lichtman and the Bolles School today to get those design thinker thoughts flowing even more! It’s time ignite the fuse!
Today was the official last day of school for everyone at MVPS, which also means that we have officially finished a full year of the first ever student designed AP course!!! The Collab Course adventure has come to an end in some ways, but in other ways our adventure has only just begun. So for my final assignment I have created the MoVe Talk (Moment of Visible Empathy) below to capture a snapshot of what I have taken away from this experiance. I didn’t get feedback on this talk (which is a rare and nerve racking thing for me to do), because I just wanted to share my personal raw thoughts about the opportunity to own my learning in a way unlike any other. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy my reflection of this glimpse at the future of education:
I love it when “class” stops being defined by what subject you are talking about.
Today in AP Lang Kat and I made an interesting choice. Rather than spending the period looking up old AP essays and spending a class analyzing and outlining one of them, we instead decided to join the Latin 3 class going on during the same period. But don’t get me wrong, I feel that we were still preparing for our exam next week in a very productive way.
We joined the Latin class because we knew that today they were giving speeches to defend Verres in a law suit where the great orator Cicero was the prosecutor. When the trial originally took place, Cicero’s speech was so amazing that Verres’ lawyer, Quintus Hortensius who was one of the greatest lawyers of his time, told him to pleed guilty because there was no way they could win the case against Cicero and the defense speech was never given. Therefore, the Latin assignment was to write the unread speech to defend Verres.
The problem is, that Verres really did do some pretty awful things like crucifying Romans and stealing from sacred buildings, so writing a good speech comes entirely down to your use of rhetorical devices. (It’s at this point that a light bulb may be going off saying, “Oh here’s the connection back to AP Lang!”)
Yes, indeed, rather than looking up essays online, Kat and I listened in on about 5 different speeches and outlines/took notes on each of them as if we were going to write a rhetorical analysis essay about how the speaker used rhetorical devices to support their argument.
It was so much fun!!! We got to listen to some hysterical speeches while learning a little Latin and history, while participating in discussions with a larger group, while all the while practicing our rhetorical analysis skills. (Because like I said the case wasn’t one you’re meant to win, you are just meant to throw some crazy arguments together and try to make them sound good.)
Kat and I were even given a refresher on some devices that we had forgotten about because we hadn’t seen them used in a while. Plus I think joining the Latin class helped make us outline at a rapid fire pace because new people kept presenting, so I bet we had far more essay analysis done by the end then we would have otherwise; it’s just so easy to waste a little time here and there looking and deciding what to read or thinking about other big things coming up.
Overall today’s Latin-AP Lang mash up just reminded me how powerful learning can be when you cross disciplines and add a little layer of entertainment to your work.
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!)
Today in ID I got the opportunity to video chat with a group of students at a school in London. Their teachers had heard about the Innovation Diploma and had been in contact with our facilitators for a while, and after we had a time change mis-communication the first time, we had to reschedule the video chat for today.
I think it went rather well, and it was cool to know students across the world are taking such an interest in our work. (Even if they were mainly pulled in by a teacher because they were students she knew could ask good questions.)
What I always forget though, is how different our education system is from other countries. For example, they have to take a standardized end of the year exam, so even if they try to create unique programs at their school, they are required to take certain test in order to pass a grade and eventually go to college. This makes things much harder for them, from what we could tell, in terms of trying to change the way they run their school.
We are so often talking about the flaws with American education and how we want to change so many things, that we often forget that we actually still have things pretty well off. We are lucky to have the education system that we have, even if we can (and plan to) make it even better.