Learner-Centered Commonalities

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I don’t even know where to begin to describe how awesome today was!!! Learners from around the country gathered together talking about our unique learner-centered educations, and the conversations were mind blowing.

After sharing short presentations about our schools, we specifically focused today on what things are similar and different across the 15 different schools in order to get a clearer idea of how to describe learner-centered education by distinguishing traditional vs non-traditional (learner-centered) school aspects.

When trying to figure out what makes a learner-centered school my team came up with these commonalities:

  • hands on learning in the real world
  • self-paced learning
  • strong relationships between students and teachers
  • different forms of assessment then just a 0-100% scale
  • an emphasis on skills not just content learning
  • interacting and engaging with the community
  • students take ownership and are passionate about their work
  • flexible and interactive learning environments

However, I also noticed some big differences though between my school (MVPS) and some of the other schools here. The biggest one is that a lot of these other schools have a huge emphasis on the importance on internships and award graduation credits for internships as well as other specialty programs. For example, I heard of multiple schools were students can take a class offered at school where they actually get certified as a nursing assistant, or a chef, or coding languages and they not only get certifications and skills needed to go into these fields in the workforce, but they also get high school credit for it! It seems like a crazy idea, but in my opinion it’s just crazy awesome!

After we created lists similar to the one above in small groups, we came together as a full group and read through part of the document that Education Reimagined has been developing as somewhat of a north star to help share with others about this transformative movement. The quick summary of the main points is:

  1. each learner is unique
  2. learning is natural
  3. learning can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone

While I can’t find a link or picture to the rest of these three points, here is a link to more about how the Education Reimagined team has been envisioning this movement which we read before coming this week. Part of why we were gathered here this week has also been to help refine some of this thought process; thusly, there was a big discussion today the need for adding potentially two new points to more clearly address the relationships between who we often call students and teachers, and also to describe the culture of a learner-centered school. I was more participating then note-taking during this discussion, but there are some great quotes on twitter I’d encourage anyone interested to read.

I think a big takeaway from this discussion was the general notion that we all have insider language we use at our schools, but really they are all just different ways of naming similar types of ways to learn. The language is less important than the meanings of the words. To convince people that a new idea is a good idea, you need to expose them to stories and immerse them in situations where they experiance this new way of learning for themselves and observe the benefits.

I was really inspired today by all of the students who are clearly all motivated and driven learners doing awesome work. Everyone here just “get’s it” as we said in an actual conversation I had earlier. It’s as if all of us here have experienced being around other students that just go through school like it’s a chore and have had those classes stuck in a traditional mindset, and yet everyone here see’s the possibilities for the future and is working to make it a reality. We don’t have to convince each other that a change is needed, we just agree and talk about how we’ve worked to provide our voice.

I’m still just so grateful that Education Reimagined decided to have this conference for the first time with students, because it’s been wonderful getting to hear from more students out there that I can really relate to and talk to about transforming education.

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.

Theater Changing Lives

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The set of “Painted.”

The biggest change for me between the school year to summer is that I go from being in the theater 15 hours a week to practically none at all. It’s a hard transition, and now that there are only a few weeks until school starts, I can’t wait to start my last season as an MVPAllStar.

I love going to NYC, because I always get to see at least one show, often more, and lucky for me, I’m in NYC now!!! I already have plans to see several shows this week. Tomorrow I think I’m seeing “Something Rotten” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.” Plus this trip to NYC is extra special because I’m getting to be the assistant stage manager for a show called “Painted” that my aunt co-wrote, directed, and is performing in off Broadway.

It’s a one act short play that speaks about gender roles and how people should be able to express themselves however they want to. Her play is a part of a big event she helped create where lots of young adults will be exhibiting art work they did on the topic. The project started when my aunt and her friend spoke at her old performing arts school after a the Westboro Baptist Church came and protested outside the school.  After speaking at the school, she and her friend ended up creating an after school program and it’s now evolved into this big show Friday night!

I was at rehearsal all day today and am super excited for Friday because the show is really saying something important. I was running lights and sound after working on finishing the set today, which will never feel the same as actually being on stage myself, but I’m happy to be a part of the show and back in the theater in any way I can. I love the theater; it changes lives each and every day.

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.

The First Step to 21st Century Education

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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.

 

Taking Ownership

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:

 

Prototyping Routines

images-2.jpgFor the past few years now, I’m constantly having moments where I catch myself thinking like a designer. Today I observed this happening while choreographing new gymnastics routines.

Creating a new routine is dependent on good prototyping. If I hear a song a couple of times, I can just get on the floor and improv a routine fairly well; however, more often than not, my first creation is not my best work. I can spend hours on one routine fine tuning every movement and still end up deciding on a different idea just moments later. In order to fully figure out what works best, I have to constantly test out the routine to see how even little adjustments affect the routine as a whole.

I have also found, like any idea, time is often the secret sauce that makes an idea great. I have to constantly have a song running through my head and mull over a routine for a few days if I wish to really get my best work. Furthermore, sometimes it’s a matter of waiting for inspiration; sometimes I just find myself so absorbed in a song that I have to choreograph a routine because it’s just bursting out of me. If you don’t act upon the inspiration, then the idea will be lost which would be a terrible set back.

A gymnastics routine prototype also has to be heavily user focused because every gymnast is different. When I create  a routine I can no longer be myself, I must imagine myself as the user and create the routine according to that child’s strengths and style. Then in the end, after a routine is finalized, it still may not be perfect and I can’t know until I start teaching a gymnast and seeing how the routine “fits” them. Sometime this means that I have to make on the spot changes because parts of the prototype just don’t work the best with that gymnast; everything is always in the best interest of the user, otherwise the product is no good.

I am a gymnastics designer; routines are my prototypes and gymnasts are my users, and with time, empathy, and iterations I help create something beautiful.