Punishment Paradigm in Education

In psych class, we are currently learning about “learning.” In particular, I was reading tonight about reinforcement and punishment.

I was really surprised by how much of what I was learning directly refuted the way our school system operates in regards to discipline.

The short summary of my reading is that punishment only really works if it occurs right after the undesired behavior. If it is delayed, then there could be mixed associations about what behavior caused the punishment. For example, if a child cheats and then days later admits to cheating and gets punished for it, then the kid is being encouraged to not admit to cheating in the future and instead lie because their goal always is to avoid punishment. The kid is not actually taught how to improve by being punished, instead, they are taught what not to do, and therefore, are basically just being taught to learn how to not get caught.

I can’t think of many times in education where punishment is not delayed from the time of the undesired behavior; therefore, punishment almost always is not going to do the best job at teaching a child to change the behavior.

Instead, psychology would suggest reinforcing desired behavior oppose to using punishment techniques. This can be hard to do because punishment is a more natural response, which my family has experienced while trying to use this technique to train our puppy… However, despite the challenges, it seems odd to me that I don’t see more prototypes of this technique being experimented with in schools. I’ve heard of a few ideas, like yoga instead of detention, but on the whole, it seems that most schools tend to stick with traditional punishments like missing recess, suspension, detention, busy work, etc.

Furthermore, only slightly related, but very interesting to me, the textbook also discussed the ineffectiveness of physical punishment; spanking being the primary focus of the material.

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We were provided with this visual of the locations where spanking has been made illegal in school and homes. What I found interesting is that if I was asked to name areas I consider to have better public school systems, there is a correlation to the extent which spanking is not tolerated. It was one of those things I read and thought, “Well I’m not surprised, but I can’t believe it!” The idea that in the US children can still be legally spanked in school just feels wrong… (Must be honest, I’ve not done further research on this fact and the study in our book was conducted 2015-16, so perhaps this is not up to date information, but still only two years ago feels crazy enough.)

We know so much about learning that it constantly baffles me when I discover more and more ways that our education system doesn’t incorporate concepts we know to be true.

 

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From Fear to Greatness

Being a coach 100% makes me a better educator.

I understand the worry that comes along with the responsibility of teaching and training kids.

The wonder about if you’re good enough to be leading them. The confusion when you can’t put well to words what you want from them. The sadness that comes when you see a child that looks as if she is going to burst into tears over a comment you made when all you were doing was trying to give constructive feedback. The actual tears you see sometimes…

Then there is the ever-present challenge of keeping up with new times, new drills, and new standards of excellence. That moment when you learn a level has completely changed their expectations for an event and you get vexed beyond belief because for the past few years you’ve been leading the kids entering this level down an entirely different path. Then you try to throw in some new drills into your class and you’re thinking it’ll be great – just like how you saw it at that conference you attended!- but it never is. Instead, the kids try out your new drill and it just looks all wrong, so you try to make corrects but can’t tell if it’s even worth continuing with this new drill. Did I explain it poorly? Am I not remembering the technique right? Was it too advanced for their skill level? Did I push them too far too fast? Or do they just need to get in more repetitions? Well now we’ve used up all of our time on this event today and I don’t even know if I just wasted the last 45 minutes or am making progress in a great new area that we’ve not trained as effectively before.

Honestly, time is the worst. Do you spend a little time on every event today, or do the kids really need to focus on just one event they’re weak at? Do I even have this option? Is today’s schedule set in stone because there are too many different groups moving around or do I have flexibility with my time? How do we balance learning new skills while also practising their routines necessary for the next competition? When is there next competition anyway; are they really ready for it? Am I wasting time explaining so many directions? Should I be doing our normal warm-up for consistency and time effectiveness or mixing it up so different skills are worked? Does it take more time to set up these stations then they’re worth doing? How much time is left before we have to rotate? What happens when they come to this event with a different leader next time and the kids get confused with new directions and expectations? Are the kids progressing at a reasonable pace? Is anyone falling behind? Is anyone being held back?

So ya, I can empathize with teachers. I know all of those worries and concerns and feel them while maybe not daily, at least bi-weekly, but I’m often thinking about this work much more often than just while I’m in the gym. Half of the time I ride Marta I’m listening to potential gymnastics music or choreographing new routines based on the skills I know kids have/expect them to have come performance time.

While I understand and constantly am faced with these concerns, I also can respect the bigger picture. USA Gymnastics completely changed lower level vaulting progressions this year. It’s a pain in the butt because now we’re having to teach all of these new vaults to children and we feel less confident in how these new changes play into our personal philosophies. But at the same time, the changes are mostly good for the greater whole of trying to improve American gymnastics.

And fears of if you’re good enough to be a leader, while perhaps valid, are also in a way trivial. Whether you feel good enough or not, you’re what these kids got. So either step up or step down, either way, get out of the way because these kids are coming and have expectations of you. So make it up, make mistakes, make saves. Try something new, and give it adequate time in the experimenting phase before judging it’s worth as a drill or skill. When you’re stuck or need a second to catch your breath or even just help with setting up, let the kids lead- they’ll surprise you. Learn from those around you and don’t be afraid of a “double spot” or an extra hand to help out; we tell kids it’s okay if you need a little extra help getting a new skill, so it should be okay for us too.

Fears, nerves, and concerns can drive us to great things if we can accept their validity and then move on to push past them; sometimes it just takes time, creativity, and a little extra help every now and then.

 

Decreasing Choking Under Pressure

I love when homework is actually really interesting!

We didn’t have psych class today because our teacher was out to due to religious reasons, so instead she had us watch two videos on our own and write an essay about what we found interesting and do some critical thinking about the two. I found one of the videos pretty annoying, and honestly still a bit annoyed that all of this work took almost three times as much time as the class normally would’ve; however, the second video I actually really enjoyed.

It was called “Power of the Human Brain” and some of the video I had already learned about before, like the concept of using a “memory palace” to better remember long random lists which is a technique mental athletes use. But I also learned some new stuff that really closely ties in with learning and memory and education practices in general which I found particularly interesting.

For example, there was a study done to see if we can train our brain to be less likely to “choke” under pressure. Turns out, the emotional part of our brain is right next to the working memory part. So when we get overly anxious or stressed, the emotional part of our brain can literally cloud up the working memory by overwhelming it with too many signals that take up brain power. Therefore, the study had half of a class take 10 minutes to reflect before taking a test about how they were feeling and get all there worries out, and the other half of the class just sat there. The half of the class who did the pre-writing ended up on average outperforming the control group by half a letter grade. The theory is that the kids who did the writing essentially “out loaded” their worries onto the paper and therefore, lessened the space they were taking up in the brain which allowed for the working memory to work more optimally.

Now I didn’t spend the time to look any deeper into this study or others about this topic after watching the video, but I still think the findings are pretty awesome- especially as a kid who is not the best test taker compared to what I feel my understanding of information is. I’m definitely going to try this pre-writing technique out and believe teachers should really try implementing this practice in classrooms as well. Getting learners to practice reflecting, creating a less stressed out environment, and having better performance result; sounds like a lot of wins for so little work.

Stumped on a Song

One of my summers jobs is finding and editing floor music for all of our gymnasts for the next competition season; then I go on to choreograph the routines for most of the girls and start teaching them when I get back from travelling.

One of the things I find most interesting about this job is how every gymnast has their own style. I never took music theory or anything like that, so I’m actually pretty horrible at trying to describe types/styles/genres of music, but somehow I’m able to watch a gymnast and listen to different pieces of music and connect the dots. It’s one of those weird skills you can’t really describe how you learned it but somehow over the years, you pick it up from being in the environment long enough.

I can typically predict the kind of music gymnasts will have (when they eventually get to the level where they have unique routines) by the time they reach our second lowest level. I don’t usually need to figure music out that early, so I don’t waste time thinking about it often, but occasionally we have girls we know will progress fast so I have to work fast to figure out their style to keep up. Occasionally though, I get stumped.

I spent today working on my goal for the week: editing all the music for next season. I successfully have finished all of the editing (including for one girl I learned a few hours ago is actually quitting so that was frustrating…) except for one gymnast. This girl has had me stumped for years now, in fact even when she was at our second-lowest level I was stumped with who to partner her with for their floor routine. She’s a talented gymnast and a pretty solid dancer that could honestly do a lot of different styles if she wanted to, but I always struggle every year with figuring out the best fit for her. I know what things don’t work/what she doesn’t like, but it’s hard to look for songs based just on what you know what won’t work.

It’s been a frustrating process because every time I let myself go on the hunt for a song, I find myself an hour later not really anywhere closer to figuring out my puzzle. I’ve tried using my design thinking practices of doing empathy interviews- I talked to this gymnasts and others about what they like and dislike based on their style of gymnastics, and I’ve talked with other coaches as well. These interviews didn’t really get me any closer to success and basically only solidified my assumptions based on watching their gymnastics.

So maybe I should just try experimenting. I’m thinking now (as in literally in this moment because blogging for me is really just me talking through my own thoughts in real time) I could try just playing different kinds of music and seeing if the girls can improv to different songs and see what happens. I’ve vaguely thought about this before, but my worry is the kids will shy away or get overly goofy about it because improv isn’t something gymnasts typically do. However, at this point, I guess it could be worth a try until I think of some other way to get unstumped or somehow that perfect song comes up in my constant searching.

Make Your Mark Event

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Don’t you just love it when something you’ve been working really hard on for a long time goes well?!

First a short backstory:

Last year after mine and Kat’s first semester AP Lang showcase, we got a good amount of feedback from others as well as each other about trying to brainstorm more ways that we could have larger conversations with people. Rather than just the digital conversations we have, we have been trying to find ways to have discussions face-to-face because it often brings another layer to the dialogue.

Then over winter break Kat and I read The Great Gatsby which sent us on a path of curiosity about the ideology behind the “American Dream” and dreams, success, and achievement in general. After analyzing a number of videos, articles, poems, pictures, short stories, and even a few songs, Kat and I managed to pick 6 that we wanted to write dialectical journal entries on. (You can see more about the assignment here.) By the end of that week we had a big discussion with each other about things that became clearer, patterns we’ve observed, and questions that came up from our research.

What we realized is that the American Dream is such a controversial topic with a lot of interesting perspectives and other elements that can come up.

This leads me to today where we had our very first (of many I suspect) “Make Your Mark Event”. (The name is in prototype mode still so that may change, but for now it’s sticking with me.)

We started with an email and a question: “Dreams: What do you want your mark to be?” We sent this email out to the entire high school (faculty included), with a sign up genius attached. On it was room for 10 students and 6 faculty members to select themselves to join this non required event; you have no idea how happy we were when all 16 spots were full. (And we had close to that many end up coming in the end- though not all were originally signed up.)

Now on the one hand we obviously wanted to just be able to have a discussion with more people, but being the ambitious people that we are, we had a few other goals in mind as well. We purposefully  invited both students and teachers to this event because we wanted to challenge the norm that kids are always the students and adults are always the teachers. We brought students and faculty members into the same room because we wanted to hear perspectives from multiple different people, but either way, we the “students” were going to be leading this conversation.

Another goal of ours was to challenge the norms on what a discussion can look like. We wanted to get people up on their feet, talking in small and large groups, brainstorming their own questions so they would take ownership of the conversation, and we wanted their to be some physical take away.

So this is a snap shot of our flow: We started with the pizza and some light conversation;t hen played a John Green video to get people thinking; then broke into groups to brainstorm questions; rotated groups to chose some of our favorite questions; had about a 15 minute discussion; then we even added a bit of a makers challenge at the end where we made our own stamps that represented what we want “our mark” to be.

And I think everything went rather well. Everyone seemed engaged and enjoying themselves. I know we got a good bit of feedback specifically about how people really liked the stamp activity as a take away; they said there was a clear connection to the topic, though the transition could have been smoother, and it was something they weren’t expecting but had fun with!

However, I do think for the future we could improve it by spending more time in the discussion portion. A lot of people liked the conversation, and they wished we would have more time so that we could go even deeper into some of the questions.

 One of my big take aways in terms of the conversation itself is this idea of how the American Dream has changed over time and while it seems that “The American Dream” has typically been more based on a capitalistic market where the goal is to have a lot of money. However, the dream is changing and now people are less concerned with trying to attain this one dream and instead want to focus more on their individual uniqueness and achieve recognition in their field of interest despite having or not having money. Money does not mean success or happiness necessarily. Then the question becomes how does society help people achieve success now that the dream has changed? The overall consensus seemed to be that society as a whole, and education as a whole, does not yet provide this support; however, even some students mentioned things about MVPS, like iProject and ID that do seem to really support the new dream for students to have freedom to explore their personal dreams which are often not the same as their neighbors.

What made me most happy about today though, was that several people asked about doing it again! Someone even said, “What if every Friday we just had deep conversations about life while eating pizza?!” I’m so excited that people enjoyed today, and I think Kat and I have both agreed that we want to do another so I’m excited to see how we tweak things to make the next one even better!

Taking Control of My Learning

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Well I was very ready to finally get out of the house a little more today. Of all places, I ended up at school again. Even though it is summer, I’ve been at school quite a bit. I will be there again tomorrow and all of next week, so at this point teachers that see me there have moved past asking “What are you doing here when you don’t have to be?” and now they just say “Hi Anya, nice to see you again.” I just find it funny how it’s officially not new news anymore for me to be at school a bunch.

I was really happy all day today for some reason. Getting that scene change out of the house I think was just really nice because I showed up at school happy and ready to work.

Kat and I had a great 3 hour work session too. After speaking with a few teachers on their way out to lunch, we went into the ID room and got busy making our thinking visual which was amazingly helpful!

I haven’t really blogged about the coVenture we’ve been working on because I haven’t known what words to use, but I think I’m getting a better handle on it now and was really excited after working today. Seeing as we’ve been talking about it with various individuals so much more frequently now, I think its time to try to give an overview of how we are going about on our daunting process to design a course.

Next year the English course I’m going to take is AP Language and Composition, which is the course all juniors at MVPS take if they are on the AP level. However, 2 of us that will be juniors in the Innovation Diploma will not be taking the the same AP Lang course as the other AP Lang students. Why? Well because Kat and I are currently working on designing our own AP Lang collab-course which we will be taking next year.

So the reason we call it a collab-course is because it isn’t exactly an independent study because there will be 2 of us and we will be working closely with various teachers and hopefully some mentors outside of MVPS if we can get people on board; however, there will not be one teacher that has created a syllabus that they will then use to help teach us throughout the year like your typical school course. In this collab-course the 2 of us are actually in the process of creating our own syllabus (that’s right student’s are making the syllabus #mindblown right?) that we will then submit to the college board  to get approval for our AP course, and then we will take the AP Lang text at the end of the year.

For me there are a few key reasons I was inspired to work on this venture:

  1. I love testing the water with the possibilities to school learning. Have you ever created the syllabus for a course you will later take? It seems a little paradoxical to create the teaching guide for something you haven’t yet learned, but that is what we are working on doing right now because we really want to lead by example with what “taking control of your learning” could look like. Don’t get me wrong there have definitely had some struggles and confusing moments, but so far we’ve been doing pretty well. I’ve never heard of something like this collab-course, but I wanted to be on that team of people that test it out because every great innovation has to start somewhere so why not now and why not with me? This is an innovation in process and with my passion of education redesign, I needed to be a part of this one. 🙂
  2. The need for truly meaningful work. Overall I really enjoy school, but there are definitely times where I don’t feel like I’m doing the most meaningful work in terms of what I’m passionate about. With this collab-course we are getting to actually say “This is what we want and hope to learn by the end of this course,” and then shape the activities we do based off of those concepts. All of those times we’ve said that we “want to do meaningful work” while in school classes, well now is our chance to try and create those activities that we would consider to be meaningful work. We get to pioneer some of our own teaching method ideas and see if they actually work which is really exciting.
  3. The freedom and choice. We don’t have a singular teacher for this class. We are the deciders for what we want to work on, plus we are a class of 2, so that means we can be flexible to our personal passions with what we learn. For example, an idea that we’ve talked about is not necessarily meeting every day every week. This isn’t set and stone yet, but if we did do this, it would give us flex time in our day to continue ID work, to observe other classes maybe, to personally work on AP Lang work, or in my case perhaps go to more band classes! We can also take time to learn through specific lenses like education and innovation at times because we know we are all passionate about that. We have so much freedom and choice with how we learn that just feels awesome. Now of course with freedom and choice comes responsibility, and I also predict this course will help all of us develop our responsibility skills even further because we are going to be held accountable still with learning certain AP Lang specific skills in order to take the test at the end of the year and also simply to pass 11th grade.

I’ve been getting really excited about this course especially as we further create the syllabus. None of us have ever created a syllabus before, and obviously we are getting some help from mentors of ours, but it has been kind of cool to dive into completely uncharted waters and just mess around to figure out something that works. What we came up with I think is pretty cool.

To start we knew we needed to discover what even an AP Lang course is all about because we’ve never taken the course so we know nothing about it. We interviewed some of the different English teachers at school, researched on the college board, and even talked to some people that took AP Lang in the past to get a better idea of the course and to empathize with some of the people we may future work with.

Then we’ve since moved on into the experimenting phase where we currently are. We’ve been doing a ton of brainstorming. After a while we thought, “well we have a years worth of learning to plan for, why not structure it like telling a story?” We ran with this idea and it lead us to an interesting concept of using the Hero’s Journey as our guide for the syllabus, and we’ve been using design thinking to help us create it.

The Hero’s Journey is basically the stereotypical plot line to a lot of great books. You start in the ordinary and known world, then there is a call to adventure. After the hero refuses the call they meet a mentor and then cross the threshold into the unknown, special world. There is a road of trials where the hero is challenged and tested as they approach the “dragon’s den”. Eventually the hero has some great revelation or ordeal that is life changing. Then after seizing the treasure the hero starts on their road back where eventually there is some great reflection as the hero returns once again to the ordinary world back at home.

We want our AP Lang collab-course to be a great story when we are done, so we figured we should write the syllabus (#thescript) like the Hero’s journey because it makes for great stories.

The units themselves have even been created based on the Hero’s Journey. (Keep in mind this is still a work in progress and we’re currently workshopping some of the names, but because I like thinking in terms of the process I think it is important to share and gain feedback early so we fail fast rather than right before we try to produce. #thinkinglikeadesigner )

Unit 1 covers up until the “call to adventure” and it’s titled “The Power of Words.” Then Unit 2: “The Art of Innovation” is up until “crossing the threshold”. Unit 3: “Exploring new Frontiers” takes us up to the “ordeal” which also leads us to the end of semester 1. Over Winter Break starts Unit 4: “Kick-Starting” which get’s us to “seizing the treasure”. Unit 5: “Taking a Stand” leads us on our “journey home” and through our big “resurrection”. Until finally we get Unit 6: “Bringing it All Together” where we return home with the treasure of our new found knowledge from the year.

This big metaphor has been really helpful so far. Once again because of our design work we thought, “let’s make it visual.” So we made a big hero’s journey circle with pictures, labels, sticky notes, and color coded string and push pins. (It looks absolutely fantastic!) We’ve been dividing up the circle and using it almost like a circular calendar to figure out how long each unit should be, where breaks should fall, what kinds of essential questions we want to be learning about (#startwithquestions), and what types of activities we should be doing in the different units. This is all based on the amount of time we have in a school year and approximately how long we think each section should take based on how much space the corresponding Hero’s Journey sections take up on the circle.

It hasn’t only been helpful, but it’s been fun! (Thus I was still happy all day after working on a syllabus for 3 hours!)

And that’s just a snippet of what we’ve come up with, but it’s been pretty exciting so far and I’m loving the concept of a course being like a big story for learning. I’ve also been amazed with how design thinking has been so easily incorporated and so immensely helpful with trying to figure out how to navigate through uncharted waters. Plus these uncharted waters is something that may seem tedious like designing a syllabus; I mean I know they aren’t typically fun to read, so I feel like I shouldn’t be having so much fun making one.

Now I’m pumped to keep working tomorrow!

Questioning Rules

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(Earth Houses from the movie “Garbage Warrior”.)

Today we went on several field trips. Why can’t we go on more field trips at school; who cares how old we are? We like to get out and explore outside of a classroom.

One of the places we went was the Duke Smart House. This house has 10 students living in it, and it is an interactive living laboratory. The entire house is extremely eco-friendly, and it is designed in a way where it can be taken apart and redesigned easily. The students living there can actually take apart walls and ceilings and reprogram wires to test and experiment on the house.

This was a pretty cool thing to see, even if we weren’t there for very long. Plus, the entire idea for this interactive living space came from a student who stayed after he graduated to design and build it.

Then at night we watched a video about a guy who had ideas for houses that you could live in without needing anyone else. It made its own food, water, heating, cooling, and energy. However, the city ended up taking away his architecture license because he was breaking all sorts of laws with things you “have to have” in a house. (Basically the things listed above along with roads and some laws about owning the land.)

Eventually, after years of being denied at the state level, and working in other countries to build these houses out of plastic and glass bottles, tires packed with mud and clay, cans, wood and other natural materials, he was granted access to use an area of land as a test site for houses.

These are both great examples of what people can do if given room for failure and testing. Walking back from our last class time today one of my friends said, “The biggest thing I got out of that movie was questioning rules.”

I agree, and I don’t think this has to be on a legal level; what about school rules and norms? Why does society believe that certain things have to be done a certain way, and that is the only way?

What if there were no block schedules and “class periods”? What if subjects didn’t exists? What if school didn’t take place in just 1 building? What if students could change their school at a foundation level? What if teachers worked with students on projects? What if different ages worked together? What if grades didn’t mean anything? What if awards reflected impact?

What if we changed the notion of the word “school”?