WE’VE ARRIVED IN FRANCE!!!! It’s Interim Week for MVPS which means that groups of high schoolers and faculty are off to different places around the world for a week of learning while immersed in cultural experiences. Personally I’m on the France trip where we will be spending 7 days in Paris and Normandy this week.
We landed at 5:30am and have been going non stop ever since, so I’m exhausted and jet lagged like everyone else; therefore this post will be short. I’d also like to preface this post by saying that like most of my posts, I wasn’t required by any teacher to write this as a form of assessment, but I will be reflecting on my learning adventures throughout the week.
First off, it goes without saying that the food was AMAZING!!! I’ve had a lot of oddly timed meals since getting to the airport at 2pm on Friday, but ever since arriving in France we’ve been eating some amazing breads, cheeses, and meats as expected.
However, my favorite part of the day was exploring the catacombs. Even though we had to wait in line for about 3 hours in fairly chilly weather (we did take turns leaving the line for another pastry thankfully), the catacombs of Paris were entirely worth the wait. It was incredible to see the walls of bones still perfectly stacked up after hundreds of years. And also, being 1 of 3 AP Latin student and having 2 of us plus our teacher on this trip, I actually really enjoyed getting to translate some of the written pieces in the tunnels.
No one really speaks Latin anymore, and people constantly say it’s a pointless language to take, but I enjoy the stories, culture, and history we get to learn from reading ancient works. However, there aren’t many chances we have to actually practice Latin in the “real world,” so it was really fun to get to be one of 3 people nerding out about being able to actually understand some of what was written on the walls. It was also really gratifying to know after taking Latin for 6 years that there’s clear evidence we’ve improved, because now we can somewhat translate on site things we’ve never seen before. A grade only tells you so much about your abilities, but being able to actually apply what you learn while out in the “real world” is so much more fun and proving of your knowledge growth over time.
Needless to say, the trip’s off to a great start and I know there’s more greatness to come!
For the past three days I got the honor and privilege to work along side some of the most inspiring students I’ve ever met from around the country. What did these students have in common? They are all proud, passionate leaders in the movement to transform education so that in the very near future everyone can have a learner-centered education. And to think that the attendees at this conference were just a small hand full of the learners involved in this movement is inspiring.
42 students and some smaller number of adults, were gathered from 15 different schools across 13 different states for a conference called SparkHouse hosted by Education Reimagined held in Washington D.C. The coolest part about this conference was that it was specifically designed so that there would be more students then adults. (But we made sure to clarify on multiple occasions that everyone in the room was a learner. I’m always saying that everyone can be a student, a teacher, and a mentor at different times in their lives because we are all life long learners.)
The last few days I’ve posted reflections about the day (Learner-Centered Commonalities and Inspiring Minds United At Last ), but today I’d like to really reflect on my take aways overall and next steps. (I’ll admit, there is probably much more I could say on this topic and I’m sure I’m forgetting important things, but this is my best stab at it.)
Relationships are key in a learner-centered environment: between students, teachers, families, and the community; every student needs to have the feeling of being known, heard, and cared about at a personal level for the best learning to occur
Defining vs distinguishing: you can’t define something (such as “learner-centered”) with examples, but you can distinguish what does and what does not fall into a certain category by having conversations to establish a common understanding
We need more common language: every learner-centered school is a little bit different though we share the same values. The hard part about this is that because the programs are different we use different language to describe the experiences (this week alone I heard about design thinking, project based learning, masteries, cardinal academy, capstones, extended learning opportunities, etc…) the problem with this is that it gets very confusing to convince people to join a movement while constantly trying to describe all of these different words which essentially just become jargon.
How might we develop a glossary of common language so that we can distinguish between different types of experiences while still being able to provide clarity and unity for the movement?
Detecting the presence of leadership: There is a kind of speaking and listening (communicating) that causes people to be engaged and united around a common goal that is for “we” (not “me”) in a safe space; the people are then energized and feel a part of something bigger than anyone of us and it’s for everyone
Creative ways to get credit: I love the opportunities I’m given by being a student at MVPS however, there are many times where I feel like I’m facing a two worlds struggle because there simply isn’t enough time in the day to dive deeply into my project work and extra curricular activities which I’m passionate about while also spending the required amount of time in core classes to gain graduation credits. The interesting thing I realized while at this conference is that many schools are giving students core credits for their big scale project work that may even take place off campus. (Like getting credit for working in a Kroger and Bank run by the school, or getting credits for participating on the robotics team, or getting credits while being certified as a chef or nursing assistant, or getting credit for an internship that takes place a few times a week during the day.) There are a lot of interesting ideas about creative ways to give credit for large scale project work outside of just credit in the sense of acknowledgment that you’re doing something awesome and gaining skills that will make a cool story to talk about. It seems like a nice baby step in the right direction is to start finding new paths that students can take to gain credits for the learning done from large scale project work (such as Innovation Diploma work or even electives and clubs perhaps).
If not now, then when? If not you, then who?: I can’t remember what TEDTalk I watched that had this quote, but some of us from MVPS brought it up at the conference because it accurately describes the mood most of us felt once we were “done.” We gathered an incredible group of people together and that alone has been a huge takeaway. I now know more about so many interesting types of learner-centered models and we have also formed a powerful community of students that are ready to work together to push this movement forward. Every great moment in history starts with a gathering of people.
At the end of the conference the group came together to start discussing next steps and what we would like our role to be in this movement. I’m happy to say that we’ve already started to take action on a few ideas, and we’ve also been thinking about several others that may be a little over the mountains right now.
Next steps in progress:
GroupChat/Communications: first off, it’s important to us that we stay connected, so the team of learners at this conference established a group chat with everyone on it so that we can update, support, and ideate with each other as we go back to our respective schools
Student Voice Edition Magazine/Reflections: as of earlier today I challenged everyone to also write/draw/record a reflection about their experience with learner-centered education, how they felt about the past few days, what their most excited for next, what’s the biggest thing they’d like to change, etc. then the idea is to compile these reflections into a singular magazine to showcase this new unified student voice group that has been created over these past few days. Luckily a bunch of people were also interested, so I think we’ve officially gotten the ball rolling!
Video Re-cap: throughout the three days, a professional video team recorded us as we worked and had some interviews with people as well, and the plan is for everyone to share this video with other people to help spread the word about the work being done across the country already with at least these 15 schools
T-Shirt Word of Mouth: everyone who can has agreed to wear our #SparkHouse shirts this coming Monday as a conversation starter to talk about what we did while we were away from our typical school day
Over the mountain thinking:
Pitching at our school: everyone walked away from the conference with at least one new cool idea for their personal school based off of what other schools were doing, so an interesting next step would be for everyone to actually pitch to their admin about a new idea for their school to prototype with
Exchange program: we send teachers to learn from work being done by other schools, but what if we had an exchange program for students where students would spend a few days shadowing students from another school to learn about other learner-centered models; student voices are powerful, so imagine how powerful it would be if a student in Georgia could come back from 3 days (arbitrary number for now) spent at a school in New York and say that they found this other schools way of teaching to be really inspiring? That would say a lot. Plus it would be fun for us students interested in learning more about different types of education!
The glossary: I talked earlier about the need to develop more common language, so one idea I left the conference with is the idea of creating a learner-centered education glossary to help distinguish between different ways we classify models of education. If each student at this conference were to help make a glossary for their specific school, then we put those together, I’m sure we’d find some interesting overlaps and have interesting discussions about what’s worth distinguishing between and it could help provide clarity to the movement in theory.
Student run conference: everyone’s always saying that student voices are some of the most powerful ones, and I believe that every student at this conference has the leadership potential to facilitate a conference. So one over the mountain idea that I proposed was for every school group from the conference to facilitate their own conference similar to SparkHouse. We would use the event to get more learners involved in the movement from people that are already hooked to people who come from a traditional school and don’t know much about the new possibilities some schools are making possible.
Overall I was thrilled to take part in this event and have left being more inspired than ever. I’d like to believe that I’ve been involved in this movement for some time now with my blog and twitter presence in this world of education transformation; however, this experiance was amazing to me because it’s the first time I really felt like their were more student voices out there being heard. There are obviously students at my school and others that are supportive of this kind of learning, but not everyone is as passionate about really being involved in the behind the scenes promotion and development work alongside the adults, which is understandable. I’m also sure there are more student involved in the movement that I’ve yet to meet. But I now feel like more students are starting to get involved and I think that’s going to be game changing, especially now that I feel connected to a strong united community of the 42 students I just spent the last three days with. (Not to mention all of the adults that have been super supportive and instrumental in making these connections happen and successful).
When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, “Where’s the evidence of this working?” but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working. Everyday I feel like I know myself a little bit better and am improving my skills as a learner a little bit more due to the opportunities I have to take ownership of my learning and blur the lines between school and the real world.
We as students have inherited a certain type of world, and we have something to say about it. The educational world has been the same for decades, but we are living in a new world so it’s time that education was reimagined, redesigned, and reinvented into a learner-centered model. I feel empowered as a learner to work to push the education transformation movement forward, and I’m excited about all of the possibilities of the future. I imagine a world where one day every student experiences learner-centered education each and everyday, and I believe this future is a very realistic world.
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
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:
each learner is unique
learning is natural
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.
This 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:
added information with all of the Marta train routes onto our map
added detail to our small area comprehensive plan
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)
gained insights from several intercept interviews and observations of morning carpool
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.
Today was our first Family Fun Day of the year at the Jump Start. We have a big open gym free to the public for a few hours where we also have snacks, smoothies, games, and exhibitions through out the event. My job is always to make smoothies in the back-which are pretty delicious if I do say so myself.
While making smoothies this time, I accidentally cut my finger a little while trying to cut a lemon. I’m fine, but I realized that I think this is the first time I’ve ever cut myself with a knife. It seems weird that I’ve lasted this long, but I’m pretty sure it’s my first time.
Last night I posted about how senior year brings a lot of “last times,” but my accident today reminded me that there are also still a myriad of “first times” that I’ve yet to experiance: My first time at a high school dance; my first time co-writing and directing a play; my first time traveling with school internationally (hopefully…); my first time competing in the one act play against different schools; my first college application submission; the list goes on with things just in this year alone that I know will be a “first time” experiance.
When some doors close, others are just waiting to be opened.
Yay another opening night that went well! Tonight was the middle school production of The Lion King Jr. and it was really fun! (I mean who can’t have fun doing The Lion King???)
Obviously it wasn’t perfect, but hey it’s a middle school show, and the cast shows a lot of potential as they continue to grow as actors and actresses. I’m glad that I got to be a part of it because I’ve had a fun time up on stage with these young talents dancing and singing to some of the greatest Disney songs out there.
I made some mistakes myself tonight, but what I realized is how much I’ve grown since my days as a middle schooler. Once upon a time when I made a mistake in a show, it was pretty obvious and I would be very upset about it afterwards and sometimes it would effect the rest of the show. However, tonight when I messed up, I think I covered it pretty well. Then I was able to brush it off once I got off stage knowing that I did my best to correct the mistake and it didn’t dramatically effect anything and kept moving forward. (I entered a scene early but played it off by turning around and jumping back off confidently. My mom even thought that was actually suppose to happen, and trust me she would be quick to tell me if she knew it was wrong.) Now hopefully I’ll not make the mistake tomorrow.
I guess I really have learned to fail-up in the last few years. 🙂
Backstage I found myself doing some coaching for other kids tonight that were much more dissatisfied with their minor slip ups. To be fair, they have spent much more time on this show and I know I get more upset when I’ve put a lot of effort into making something great and then it isn’t up to my standards. However, I’ve also seen the rehearsal’s and know that they weren’t the most focused group, which also reminded me of how much I’ve grown in terms of focus in the last few years. I now rehearse everyday after school for 3 hours plus many Saturdays as appose to twice a week for 2 hours each, and even with the extra time we have to be even more focused and on point to make sure every detail is worked up as best as we can.
The process of growing up fascinates me, especially because of how often I’m working with younger kids. It’s weird to think about myself growing up too…
It’s been a busy few weeks. Since I last posted I’ve been working at the Stanford d.School, wondering the city of San Francisco, at a Disney hotel, exploring Universal, sick in bed, discovering new facts at interactive museums, catching up on reading, and in general having fun with family and friends relaxing and trying not to worry about school. I’ve dropped the ball on blogging for various reasons, but that is irrelevant right now because inspiration hit me and I’ve finally reached a point where I simply must write.
While in San Fran (though really I was in Palo Alto most of the time…) I did write some posts, but due to internet issues at the time they never made there way online yet.
Rather than multiple posts I shall put the summaries here of our work on the design challenge “HMW establish friendships and build community at Stanford?”
San Fran Day 1
Today was our first day in San Francisco and I’m so excited to be back here again! The city is so much fun! All the bright colors, interesting street people, and pretty scenery just makes me so happy.
Today was our “chill day “ since we only just got into the city and everyone is still adjusting to the time difference. We did a lot of exploring today. We started out just doing a lot of walking to our hotel and then to the pier to visit the Exploritorium. We came to this same interactive museum last year as well and it’s really cool to get to play with all of the science, math, and psychology interactive exhibits.
(Small tangent, this place also has one of the biggest Pi Day celebrations in the country at least, and there is free admission and a bunch of pi activities to do. One year I would love to be in San Fran for Pi Day just to see this supposedly epic event. This year is actually the 28th time they are celebrating apparently.)
One thing at the museum that I didn’t notice last year is that they have a moving sign up front that is constantly changing what it says. At one point in time, it read, “You can’t fail a museum.” I really liked this because it showed how the Exploritorium is really meant to be a place to wander and wonder and simple have fun learning about new things. There is no number or letter attached to anything. There is no sense of “failure” because no matter what you do at a station, you will either learn what works or 10,000 ways that don’t (just like Thomas Jefferson inventing the lightbulb.)
I wonder what schools could learn from the design of the Exploritorium. I know we need to have some form of feedback at school, which is not present at the Exploritorium, but what if we had a section of school that was more like a museum with various interactive exhibits set up. A place where you could wander in everyday and learn something new. Learning without the stress of grades is great.
San Fran Day 2
IDEO and d.School all in one day!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Today was fantastic so many great ideas in such a short amount of time!
We talked about everything from a bathroom note board, to a hackathon bike race, to how to build trust between high schoolers and college reps.
I think what I enjoyed most about today was giving feedback to grad students on their prototypes for trying to figure out how to relieve stress from students trying to go to college.
It’s cool to see ideas that other people have about education transformation and I was making sure to take notes on ideas that connect to ours.
I’ve noticed that most ID members have gotten a lot more comfortable with giving feedback which was very evident today. Everyone was “in the zone” so to say; we seemed comfortable and confident with what we were talking about and how we were explaining our thoughts.
It seems like we gave valuable feedback, but I wish we could have gotten to hear their team’s meeting about what they thought after our feedback. I would like to know if our feedback was actually valuable to them rather than just basing it off of our own observations.
We also did some quick interviews with people today around campus. That was particularly interesting because we don’t often get to experience what it’s like to go out into the “real world” and just ask strangers questions to try to empathize better with our users. Usually it’s someone we know that we’ve been emailing with for a while and then finally get one 30 minute conversation with. There was no real planning on our part with these interviews though (the facilitators at the d.School had talked with the dorm leaders who had talked to the student, but we personally had not connected with any of the students before). We talked less and did more and it was fun, informative, and got us moving further faster I think.
Overall day 2 was fantastic!
San Fran Day 3
Wow today was a full day.
We were talking with college students, doing fun team building dances, unpacking interviews and working a lot on trying to find insights.
It was tiring.
While there is a lot I could talk about tonight, what I’d like to dive in on is how I realized how important it is to have breaks in our day.
When we’re always working non-stop, then it can be hard to really process everything, and your energy level slowly dies down. We’ve had some long days this week so far, and while I’ve appreciated the amount of time we’ve had to work, I wonder if we will have more moments this week where we break out from working. Times to just do weird fun stuff as a team.
We did a dance exercise today, which I can only describe as a leadership exercise that forced us to be goofy and follow each other anyway. We were working with our teams and changing up who was the leader to lead our team in dance moves. This was so much fun and I think we got to know our mini teams better, but I hope we get to have similar experiences with all of the ID family. I think every group can always grow with their understanding and comfort level with each other.
Now I didn’t keep up with blogging after day 3, so I’ll just do a quick recap of my overall thoughts.
To be completely honest (as I like to be), I had many points of frustration. I think this is natural, I’d be lying to say that everything was good and dandy 100% of the time with anything I do. I think the hardest part was being in a place where not everyone sees the same potential in a group of high schoolers as our facilitators and teachers at MVPS do. We are given so much respect at MVPS that it’s hard to leave that environment and remember that not all of the rest of the world thinks of high schoolers as active and involved members of a community. This struggle personally came up for me a few times along with the normal working on a team struggles.
However, these were all minor things compared to the over all experience and everything we gained from it.
The theme of the week was “fail forward” which reminded me of a MVPS phrase we like to say, “fail up”; they essentially mean the same thing, which is a reminder that you have to learn from failures, in order to achieve success. So don’t shut down when you fail, instead lean in and like a clown at a circus, even when you fall you get up and say “ta-da!” I thought it was really neat to hear someone else talk about a mindset that we also have as a norm when doing work.
Some other big take aways were how we learned a lot of new helpful tools and coaching prompts for going through the design process. Another big success was that a lot of ID members seemed to take on new roles while we were at Stanford, and really come out of their comfort zones in positive ways; several people also had “aha” moments where they maybe understood a part of the design process better than they once did. I also think a huge take away was just the number of great ideas generated while we were there. I hope some of these ideas will maybe be adapted a little and implemented at MVPS.
I could tell that all of these take aways helped bring our ID family closer together, and I
hope to see some of these take aways help inspire our work as we continue this year and beyond.
What’s really blowing my mind still is that we had this opportunity. Ya we are a bunch of high schoolers, but we are a bunch of high schoolers that just spent a week with Stanford students thinking up big ideas to problems that are affecting real people. Too bad this wasn’t school all of the time.