Improv Rules for Life

I’ve officially pushed submit on all of my college applications!!!!!!!! Technically this happened a few nights ago, and I still have a few portfolio pieces left to submit, but everything required is finished which is exciting!! I didn’t blog about CxWb-RGUQAEV88c.jpgit earlier because I’ve been on the road since Thursday night in order to interview at 3 of my 5 schools which are all in the north east… Currently I’m in Pennsylvania with 1/3 interviews done. (And I must say I think the first went rather well.)

Even though I’ve already hit submit, over the past few years I’ve come to learn my strengths and weaknesses well and I know that I’m much better at talking than CxbPibbWIAAzx1w.jpgwriting .(Even though my writing has improved tremendously since I started blogging.) However, despite knowing myself better, I still don’t know where I most want to go to college yet. There are just so many options and different factors, and it’s so hard to really know the culture of a school without immersing yourself in it first- a luxury I don’t have when looking at colleges.

It’s times like this- when I feel completely lost in a situation- that I feel grateful for being in drama and thus constantly learning about improv. In fact, last week was show week for our 2nd theater production of the year which was an improv meets comedy sketch variety show called “A Night of Stars.”

There’s a lot we can learn from improv- no matter who you are. I like to call these key learning moments the “Improv Rules for Life.”

  1. Jump In & Have Fun: Improv, like life, can feel scary and uncomfortable, but the only way to stop feeling uncomfortable and move past the fear of the unknownCwNYjOcWcAEPQ5n.jpg is to jump in and try it out. Put yourself out there and over time it will stop feeling so scary. One of the hardest parts of taking the first step is often just standing up, but once you’re up it’s a lot easier to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep having fun and you’ll be fine.
  2. Go All Out / Believe in Yourself: Make big choices and commit to them! If you are going to use a toy horse as a tennis racket, then you have to do everything in your power to really make that horse seem like a racket. You have to convince yourself of your choices before your audience will ever believe you, so if you start swinging a toy horse around like you truly believe it’s a racket then you’re audience won’t even think about calling it a horse.
  3. Listen and Respond: Help you’re partners out!!! It’s hard to constantly come up with ideas all on your own, so listen to the people you are working with and work off of each other. Listen to what they suggest and respond to it with a new suggest that adds to what they said. When everyone helps each other out, things get most exciting.
  4. Think Positive / “Yes And…”: Saying negative words like “no, but, death, etc” is the fastest way to kill a scene and put your stage partner in a really difficult CxdYOfFVEAA9OUe.jpgposition. Keep conversations light hearted and agree with your partners; it will make for a much more interesting conversation with some crazy ideas being easily generated.
  5. Fail-Up : Push the editor off your shoulder. Don’t be afraid to fail, because it’s inevitable that you’ll mess up at some point in time. Just keep trying your hardest and commit to everything you do, that way when you fail, it’s a spectacular failure that you can later laugh about because it was just that horrendous. The best improvers still fail, but when they fail, they laugh it off and keep moving forward- sometimes it even becomes a part of a later sketch. It’s true that if you don’t try you won’t fail, but you also won’t succeed that way.

CxQy931WIAA_633.jpgWhen thinking of college, and many difficult and potentially uncomfortable life situations, I try to remember these improv rules for life. I’m never going to feel 100% ready, but eventually I’m just going to need to jump in, go all out and believe in myself, learn to respond in my new situations, think positively and don’t shut down new ideas, and remember that the fear of failure should never stop me from dreaming big and committing to my actions.

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Dis-Connect

I made a promise to myself what feels like a long time ago to not only blog about the successful things in my life, but to also mention the un-successful moments.

If you only reflect on your successes, then you aren’t learning as much as you could be… You can’t just completely let go of un-successes because then you can’t use them to fuel better actions next time, but you also can’t dwell on them to the point of madness; it’s when you find the balance that you can learn.” – My Un-Success Reflection (The Life of Pinya) 

I wish to honor my previous promise to myself, so here is a story of an un-success of the past few weeks.

For the past few weeks I’ve been working with a team of Innovation Diploma members as consultants for the City of Sandy Springs to decreases traffic at MVPS by 10% (#reMoVe10). The hypothesis is that if we can develop a plan to decrease traffic at our school, then we could create a plan that could be replicated at other schools too. If enough schools decreased their own traffic, then the traffic in Sandy Springs during rush hour times would decrease as well. It’s a lofty goal, but I think we’re on a good path right now.

Our first client meeting went very well two weeks ago; however, the days leading up to that meeting were not so great. Our team has had some major communication problems lately. We’ve done a good job of dividing up responsibilities, but apparently we didn’t do a good job of checking in to make sure everyone was on the same page about why we were doing certain things.

One day I was meeting with a faculty member that has been acting as an external mentor to our team, and when I got back half of our team of 4 was missing. No one knew where they went. We were searching around the school and texting them and then finally we learned that they were out counting cars in the parking lot. We had discussed the value of taking observational data multiple times, so the idea was valid, but not at 10:15 when there isn’t any traffic in and out of the school… Somehow this idea wasn’t communicated well. Moreover, the reason they said they were out there is because they discovered they wouldn’t be able to get a piece of technology working in time for our meeting, so they didn’t know what to do and thought counting cars would be productive.

On the one hand I’m grateful to have a team where members are trying to take initiative and go out and do and observe things rather than always working on a computer; however, this was a major fail-up moment because the data they got from counting cars was information we could have concluded by just sending a quick email to find out how many teachers and students have on campus parking spots, so an entire day was just wasted by half of the team. Furthermore, when one member was asked questions by the facilitators, the member was not able to answer questions about why we were even having a client meeting later that week let alone answer questions about what we were going to talk to them about.

Overhearing this conversation was when it hit me that we really had a problem and part of this is on me.

The team has established that I’m project manager, so this un-success day made me realize that if that’s going to be my role, then I need to do a better job of helping to make sure that everyone understands not only what needs to be done and who needs to do it, but also understand why we are doing it.

I also felt bad because when I later talked to these members about why they thought it would be a good idea to wonder off to count cars without telling anyone, they said they were scared to tell me that they wouldn’t be able to have the tech devise working in time. They had underestimated how difficult the task would be, but they knew the importance of that task, so they were trying to at least get some number so they went out to manually count cars.

I don’t want people to be scared to tell me things, and I’m glad at least that they told me that they were. I tried explaining that I’d never be mad about them not being able to do something based on their skills as long as they were honest about their capabilities upfront so we can plan accordingly as a team. The issue was that they were the only ones with knowledge about the technology since they were working with it, so when they said they could have their experiment up and running by that day, we assumed it would be done. It was frustrating then when the task wasn’t done because for the past few weeks we had been reassured that the timeline was an accurate assessment of when we thought we could have things accomplished by. How do I make it so that people aren’t afraid to tell me when things are not going as planned? I’ve noticed this problem outside of ID too and don’t know what to do about it, because I don’t mean to come off as intimidating but know that I can sometimes according to others.

I’m not really sure if I’m explaining this situation very clearly which is kind of ironic since the whole problem had to do with poor communication between our team. However, at least I can say that we’ve grown some from these hiccups since we’ve learned and improved in some ways.

Our team was able to turn things around before our client meeting, and that went really well! The meeting helped our team we focus and gain clarity in our group understanding of our mission and next steps which was very helpful, plus we impressed our clients which is nice. I hope that my teammates are no longer or at least getting to be less scared to tell me when things aren’t going as planned because I know a team needs to have lots of trust in one another; I don’t know how to help with this yet though. I also think entire team now sees the real importance of being honest and upfront about each of our capabilities that way we don’t have another situation where we essentially waste an entire days worth of work…

At the same time though, we’ve still had a couple instances where teammates will wonder off without telling anyone and not come back for a while, so I know we still have a ways to grow as a team in our communication. This whole post has actually made me realize more-so that our team probably needs a good heart-to-heart conversation, but I’ve never been good about making that happen even when noticing that it needs to; it’s probably the area I most need to grow in terms of responsibilities of a project manager. In school typically the job of bringing a team together to acknowledge dis-connects is done by a teacher or some other adult, and it’s not something you ever get taught despite it being a crucial part of team work. Guess it’s time to learn.

Growing from Mistakes

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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…

ID and the d.School

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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

CcWIqrQWIAAwCux.jpgToday 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.
CcU_AhQUUAAse33.jpg(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. TherCcVjr92UUAAmzLY.jpge 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! CcZkU3SXIAEP3TT.jpg

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.

CclIt1oWwAEADMZ.jpgWe 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.

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We saw David Kelley!

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.

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Paper plate awards for everyone! (I got the “mathlete” award cus I was memorizing pi all week, but also playing some intense ultimate frisbee; which I learned at nerd camp!) 

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

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We got official d.School pins as well as our own awesome mustaches as inspired by David Kelley. 

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.

Not All at Once

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I’ve been starting to notice this year how we have really been trying to incorporate aspects of design thinking into even the more “traditional” classes. Which is great! I mean it’s nice to know that teachers recognize the value of using design thinking as a tool and want to use it in their classes even if only portions at a time.

However, design challenges can really get intense; they are a lot of hard work and you are often exhausted when you finish one. Even just having Innovation Diploma time all Thursday morning can sometimes leave me pretty pooped afterwards because you build up and use a ton of energy mentally and even physically some of the time.

Now I’m that person that loves to get involved in tons of things; I’m a multipotentialite as I say. So it’s really easy for me to get curious and want to be involved in new design challenges when they come. (Just today in ID I was having to make a difficult decision as to what path I want to take for ID now that officially our design challenge module on healthy living  is over; however, I decided to continue working with a sub set of my design team on our challenge but now as an official coVenture.)

The problem is, that due to the nature of design challenges, you can’t work on a ton at once because each requires a great deal of focus and time commitment.

With this all said, I love how teachers are starting to incorporate design thinking and design challenges into their classrooms, but I’m also a little worried. If I was trying to work on a separate design challenge in each of my 7 periods, then none of them would really be all that great. It’s just not possible to spend the amount of time necessary to do a meaningful design challenge on that many different challenges at once.

So as we grow as a school and community of learners, I wonder how in the future classes might start to collaborate more so that students can maybe be working on 1 or 2 design challenges at once, but they explore aspects of their topic through the lens of different classes. Then students could focus their energies more specifically on challenges, and maybe it would also help teachers to have someone else to help plan with for facilitation purposes; I’ve rarely seen a design challenge facilitated by just one person.

A great example of something like this in action is a redesign the bike challenge created by 3 MVPS teachers combining the Engineering and Tech, AP Physics, and Algebra 2 classes. While I’m not in any of these classes myself, I’ve been reading some of the teachers blog posts about it and was a little more than jealous of the students that did get to participate. From what I’ve heard, there were definitely some struggles with it as expected with any first iteration, but it was a great start that I hope to see iterations on for the future that maybe even involve different classes for new challenges next time.

I wonder what the future of designing thinking in classrooms looks like. I imagine a future where one day there doesn’t even have to be the division of “classrooms”.

Comfort with a Fail Up Mindset

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I hate grades.

I don’t hate feedback or rubrics or growth measurement tools as a whole, but I hate grades. I know I’ve talked about this before; about how humans are more than a symbol, and how important feedback is, and how I believe the future of education must include a limitless growth measurement system. (Actually I didn’t truly process just how much I’ve talked about grades until looking for a few blog posts to tag on this post and realized I had a ton of posts on grades.)

I think the biggest thing that bugs me about grades is that I feel that they limit my drive to be creative because I don’t feel comfortable to put the possibility of failure aside.

When I try to be more creative and do something new for a project, it doesn’t always work out correctly. That’s life. When you try new things, eventually you will fail. That’s why at MVPS we always talk about “failing up”, because we know failure will come eventually in any authentic process, and you can’t necessarily control that; however, you can control how you react to the failure. By failing up it means that you will learn from your failure, and take feedback from the failure to improve your next iteration on an idea.

Failure is valuable. I often learn more from failures than successes. However, grading systems are not designed to allow comfort to fail up.

When your idea for a project doesn’t work- doesn’t fulfill the intended goal you were trying to achieve- you don’t get a good grade. That’s just how it works. Grading systems only look at the final product and access if you achieved your intended goal on the first try. So why try something new if there is at least a 50% chance that something won’t work and then your grade will suffer? Why look for a creative opportunity if you know you have a better chance at being successful, in terms of grades at least, with your old traditional way? Why take the time and effort to do something big and exciting, if a small and non-standoutish presentation is more likely to check the boxes of “what you have to do”?

I live for the creative and different moments in life. I want to try out new ideas for completing assignments. I want to make things exciting and engaging for others.

But when I try and it doesn’t work, I get a worse grade and I don’t feel motivated to try again. I don’t feel like I got feedback on what to do next time to make it better, I just feel like I know this didn’t work. I feel disgruntled because I know I worked hard and know teachers appreciate us trying to think creativly, but my grade doesn’t tell me anything about what I did, or the difficulty of what I tried to do.

And I really hope I’m not communicating this type of perspective like, “wow I totally didn’t deserve the grade I just got. What was the teacher thinking? This is dumb, I hate grades.” Because that isn’t at all what I’m saying!

In fact, given the grading system as it is, I think the grade is accurate, and not even horrible. And I love the teacher that this project was for. Plus I totally understand the feedback provided to my partner and I, and I know now that the presentation formate we choose didn’t quite teach the class the best. It just makes me feel more hesitant about trying new things, because the truth of the situation is that as far as school is concerned, grades matter.

I just wish grades made me truly feel that it was okay to “fail up.”

New Season, New Rules, and Newbees

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I’m not a great singer, and I know this. However, I love band and being in musicals, so I would really like to improve my singing capabilities. So now, officially as of today, I’ve joined the new a cappella club at MVPS.

We were talking about what to name ourselves and it just made me think about all of the big choices that have to be made when starting a team. Or even when continuing a team but for a new season.

We’ve been in the process of organizing Kemps Khoas club stuff for what will now be our 3rd season, and every year we have new challenges because we try to make new tweaks to better the experience for everyone. Since year one, based on feedback from players, we have more than doubled the size of our tournament, we have made more concrete rules, we have changed the system for creating teams, we’ve added some fun all play days, we’ve gotten more efficient at scheduling game times and dealers, we have an official council helping to organize and make decisions, and this year we will even have a snazzy trophy being designed that will be 3D printed for our champions.

Every year, while the game has stayed the same, the full program as you may call it, has had to change to keep up with what is and isn’t working and to take account for the newbees that join each year, many that have never even heard of Kemps before.

After today, I realized how stinking similar this process is going to be (but on a much large scale) for ID as we start to experience it for multiple years now. We made it through a year, and it was great, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve upon the system. In fact, it means we have to change the system because now, like in Kemps, we have newbees, many that are still trying to figure out how they fit into ID.

One change we made for Kemps this year is that we are requiring people who signed up at the club fair to come to at least one of our 3 info meetings in September to show that they really are dedicated and want to play. At these sessions we informed the returning people on the changes we’ve made for this year, and for the newbees we do the same, but we also have to teach them how to even play at all.

After our first info session which was held yesterday, I realized that it probably wasn’t super efficient with having both newbees and oldies there at the same time because the way I needed to present the information was very different. I tried to explain to the oldies first so that way they could move on to other work if they didn’t want to stick around to play practice games. The newbees were still in the area when I was explaining the changes to the oldies, but to them it all sounded like jargon at that point because at that point they didn’t know the basics of how to play so they didn’t have the content for the ideas to latch onto (so I assume based on observations at least). Therefore, in the end I actually had to repeat myself a little so that the newbees could better understand after they were given more content.

I notice the fail up opportunities in this system, but I also recognize that we’ve still made an improvement even from last year. Last year, if you didn’t know how to play then you had to taken upon yourself to reach out to someone that did know in order to learn and rules and regulations were emailed to everyone in a google doc, which most people didn’t really read… Therefore, a lot of people played their first ever match during the tournament, and big overarching things to know about the club, were mainly spread by word of mouth we discovered. We took these observations to try and make improvements this year, but with new ideas will always come new obstacles to jump over.

And now is about when I’m realizing, ID is facing similar challenges. With year 2 we have many new ideas being experimented with due to observations and discoveries from year one. However, we also have the added ball in our jugglers hands, of having a large group of newbees that have to first learn the content of the game in order to understand the whole game process. As an oldie now to this process, I may not need to relearn the entire game, but I still need to understand the changed rules which can sometimes require a little backtracking and relearning in a new way to come to a better understanding in the end.

In ID today we what some may consider a “serious talk”. We had everyone seated down in the conference room and our mentors discussed with us how they don’t see “the light in 100% of our eyes”, meaning not everyone has been keeping up with the responsibilities we all agreed to keep up with as a member of the Innovation Diploma. So they read some passages, and showed us some video clips, all with the intent of making us think about what we want to get out of ID and about what we can do to help make sure everyone feels successful at the end of the year.

I’m going to be honest, I blanked when reflecting on my definition of success in ID for me personally. I don’t know what success will look like because I’m not even sure on what my goals are yet. I have a problem, that most everyone is well aware of at least from the Disney Cohort, where I get involved in a bunch of things, but never dedicate specific focus to do one thing really well. This makes defining goals extremely difficult for me. And I think this is why I have better success when working on a team.

For example, while Kemps club was my idea/brain baby creation, it was the motivation from my peers that really inspired me to get it started. Year one it wasn’t even a real club. I had suggested the idea at the end of 8th grade, and then the next year, while playing during lunch one day, the idea came up again. So my friends and I pulled out a computer and started making a draft of what the letter would look like that we would send to teachers, since almost none of them had ever played/heard of Kemps before. The letter amused us so much that we all agreed we should actually make it happen. That’s team decision, which almost felt like a challenge and thusly a new obligation to complete it in a way, is what motivated me to start the steps needed to make the first year tournament a thing. Then after that first success, the next year we were able to up our game with a new challenge: make it an official MVPS club. This years main challenge is to gain participation and excitement to start thinking about how to keep the club going after my grade (which includes most of the club currently) graduates high school.

I also find that when I make my challenges more public, I feel more obligated and dedicated to get them done. Even when I first started this blog, it all started due to first a challenge, and then my first post where I shared my challenge, and once that happened I felt obligated to my followers and also to myself to prove I could complete the challenge. I can often feel the moment when I take ownership of a project/venture, because in that moment is when I feel energized to see it all the way through. It’s the moment of no going back. To reach that point though, there is often a lot of struggle and doubt where it’s the support of others and reminder of a goal that keeps pushing me forward.

I remember going through these moments even with mine and Kat’s AP Lang Collab-Course. At first the class was just an idea. I got on board more as a “why not? The opportunity seems like a good solution based on my needs, so sure I’ll go for it.” Then slowly as more people started to get interested and ask questions about the idea, and we really started to immerse ourselves into the venture, we got to the point where we now feel immensely proud about how it’s even a thing at all! Since we are only a team of 2, rather than most of our support coming from a team mate, we really had to put a lot of trust in our mentors and I think that’s what made us successful in the end.

At fuse15 during my MoVe Talk I talked about how important the role of a mentor is to thinking like a designer. I believe so strongly in this! All of the time I look back on my high school experience and just think, “I don’t know how I would have gotten through that without such awesome mentors.” Kat and I based our course off of The Hero’s Journey, and an early step on that journey is specifically dedicated to “meeting the mentor” because every great hero has a mentor. Just like Mr. Miagi, mentor’s often use some wacky plan or analogy, like constantly referencing The Lion King when talking about school struggles, or having students do improv for a whole week of class, or going on tangents in other languages and subjects, or letting students dress up in wacky costumes to intensely debate a case for an ancient and dead warrior, or starting off a new semester by playing cranium. To some, these methods may seem insane and not make much sense, but if you trust the mentor and wait out the process with full dedication, eventually the method to the madness becomes clear and it turns out that all of these crazy methods have immensely helped my learning.

Games, systems, and new organizations, they can all be tricky to develop at first, and future years always bring new obstacles with every new opportunity. However, with support, commitment, and trust, success can be found.

From Camp to School

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Wow it feels like it’s been forever since I last blogged because so much was going on with so many late nights. I’m officially back at home now for the rest of the summer (which is basically just a week that is flying by). I’m also now in my new house as of 12:30am last night/this morning.

I must say it’s pretty weird coming home to a new home where you can’t even find everything yet.

My last few nights at Yale were great too! The last full day we had all of our big projects coming to an end in the moment of truths. First up was our sea perch competition. We had designed both a surface and underwater robot that had to be able to collect tennis balls as well as ping pong balls for the surface one. These robots were made out of pvc pipes, zip ties, limited duck tape (which had to last all 10 days for every project by the way), a wooden dowel, some netting, and then everything that went with the 6 motors and control box (6 total so we split them 3 on each robot).

Our design did not work out very well… We got some balls on the top, but none underwater because the robot itself flipped upside down a few times and I also don’t know if we had made the best decisions for who was controlling them. It really stunk that we weren’t able to test while building and also we didn’t even get to test ours in the kiddy pool the night before because our motors hadn’t finished drying onto the sea perches fast enough. The experience reminded me of the value of prototyping and testing as well as how to be creative when given limited supplies.

Later that day we also had our product pitch presentation where we pitched “The All-Year-Lawn Mower”. This machine would act similarly to a roomba but for the outdoors. It would be 2.5-1.5 ft wide and would use ultrasonic sensor technology to complete one of 5 tasks at a time: mow your lawn (mow mode), blow snow off of your driveway (snow mode), fertilize your lawn (grow mode), weed spray your lawn (no-no grow mode), or salt your driveway (no-no snow mode).

In my opinion this was the biggest project we did since we had to also create a design document and presentation (as well as a commercial) for our product. For us this project was a lot more challenging then the sea perch because it was more complicated and harder for us to make decisions since there were so many more possibilities about what we wanted to design. In the end we pulled it together and gave a pretty solid presentation. Our product was probably the most complicated and I think that was more evident when people started to question us. (It’s amazing how much harsher your peers like to be then the judges  because everyone wants to win.)

At the end of the night we had a leadership session called “What I Discovered”. We walked in semi-silently because we didn’t quite realize that we were suppose to be silent and our instructor then told us how interesting it was that people so naturally want to resist silence but that’s often when we can further understand ourselves.

After that he pretty much just opened up the floor for anyone to speak. It was interesting for me because I think often times in small groups I’m fairly quick to step up at least after a little if not first. However, this night I didn’t step up to speak, but the important thing was that I was okay with that decision. Our instructor talked about how often people that got up didn’t think they said what they meant, and sometimes those that didn’t then regret what they said, but sometimes you may be just ok with whatever choice you made.

On this particular night I was quite aware of what I was thinking and feeling and I quite honestly couldn’t think of anything to say. NSLC was a fantastic experience and I learned a lot about engineering, but I didn’t really feel like I “discovered” anything significant. I was reminded of some past ideas, but nothing was super new to me. Which I guess was kind of a discovery in itself because I realized how well exposed in leadership I’ve been becoming lately which is pretty cool, but I hadn’t even thought of that until just now. In that moment I was perfectly okay with the silence which was kind of something new for me so it stood out in an interesting kind of way.

On our last day we finally got to discover who won which events from our full competition that was taking place throughout our stay. We knew we had won some of the smaller more team oriented events like minute to win it and mission impossible, but we also knew we lost some big ones like trebuchets and probably sea perch and weren’t sure about others. We ended up coming in last for sea perch (which we expected based on the what the other teams said about how they did), and we came in second on our product pitch which was a big one. Overall we came in second which may not be first, but it still means we beat two other teams so that’s pretty good still!

There was absolutely no prize for coming in any position, but it’s amazing how hard the teams worked to try and win. In the right situations a little competition really can do a lot to motivate kids and I’m always wondering how we could better use this human instinct in the class room without it being detrimental to anyones feelings in the long run.

NSLC was a fantastic experience and I’m really glad I got to go because it really helped give me a better understanding of engineering and introduced me to a lot of important engineering skills. While no where close to TIP emotional level for me, it was sad to say good bye to such great friends and TAs. We had a random group of people show up from all over the country for this event, and yet we bonded so closely so quickly. Many people said they felt more comfortable there then back at school, but it doesn’t have to be that way. School is practically a random group of people as well, so who is to say that the underlying level of trust and comfort with your peers can’t be the same? Why do connections form so easily at camp? I think it may be because there is focus on more than just gaining task oriented skills, but also a focus on creating bonds through leadership sessions and just general moments dedicated to fun.

What if school was more like camp? Both are experiences where students learn and work as a team with others, but what if school had more moments dedicated to just fun? Moments where students could let go of the stress of the classroom and focus on being a kid creating trusting relationships with there peers and dare I say, “their team”. Would students feel more comfortable and  trusting of their peers? Who knows until someone’s brave enough to try?

Conflict To Progress

I really wanted to blog last night, but then we had a team struggle where we really needed all hands on deck to work some stuff out. Our group conversation went on until 12:30 at which point I dropped out and went to sleep since we had to wake up at 5:45am, but there are always though few people in a group that don’t sleep and they finished off what needed to be done.

It was kind of interesting to see our team work through our last minute problem where we needed a new idea and summary written that night. I found even more interesting since what I was going to blog about was our leadership lecture last night titled “From Breakdown to Breakthrough!”

Based on a book written by Patrick Bencioni, there are 5 main causes for dysfunctions of a team: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

We even talked about the fundamental question to all of this: “Why do we work in teams?” There are two main reasons we work in teams when you really condense things down: a) for more hands b) for more minds. I’d argue that the second one is more important. There are sometimes when you need a team simply because the project is too big for you alone and you need more man power, but more of the time we work in teams in order to get more opinions, ideas, and even sometimes just to have confirmation on plans. Pulling minds together is what makes a team unique and effective in my opinion.

However, when working with others, one of the things that helps most is to know what people need and how to identify conflict. People need comfort, support, to know they won’t be fired for failure (#failup), and room to risk take and innovate. (There were so many things in this lecture that just made me go, “Yup, there’s those MVPS Mindsets.”) These elements will all help eliminate the 5 main disfunction’s as well as the 4 horsemen of teams: contempt, criticism (including sarcasm which brought about an interesting conversation around joking sarcasm potentially still being negative), defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Now no one I know of can just decide “You know I’m not going to demonstrate any of these ideas anymore”– I’m decently sure it’s impossible actually. However, by knowing what to look out for it can help a team avoid breakdowns in which a team stops moving forward. The questions isn’t “How do we avoid conflict?”, but instead the question is, “How do we deal with and manage conflict to preserve relationships?” Conflict is pretty much inevitable, but conflict doesn’t have to lead to a breakdown. Sometimes conflict is exactly what is needed to move a project forward because conflict occurs when someone is brave enough to challenge an opinion, and when this happens it leads to a discussion that if handled correctly could potentially improve a product for the future.

To try and work though conflict productively, our lecture leader gave some tips. It helps to be specific with responsibilities upfront so everyone knows who is responsible for what. Then clarify what the terms are like who, when, where, how, and what if the worst happens, this way everyone is clear on the plan. A mentor of our leader had this great quote, “Most conflict happens in the absence of a good conversation.” If everything is discussed and understood at the beginning then imagine how much easier it would be to discuss problems when they occur? There could be an easier conversation about what went wrong with the plan, and then the team could start work at fixing it.

Conversations aren’t always easy though. A lot of times people just want to feel understood which is why showing empathy is so helpful. If you can start statements as “I statements” where you talk about how you are feeling rather than blaming others it may help others feel empathy for you as well. Our leader also brought up an interesting tip about scheduling times to talk (setting terms for the conversation), because sometimes the problem is that people get frustrated after a certain amount of time discussing a topic, but they know they need to have the conversation. If you can work out a more frequent but shorter time to have the conversation, then maybe it will help people avoid major conflict. And we talked about these ideas with all relationships between people, not just for teams working on a project, because everyone has a lot of relationships with people that are worth staying healthy.

I think one of the key things I left with was the idea of thanking someone when they express a contradictory view/concern compared to you, because when they give you feedback it means they think you can do better. It’s an interesting mindset that I think could help people avoid breakdowns.

Overall it was really a great lecture and I’ve loved all of our leadership lectures actually (as well as the engineering ones) because they just make you think.

Time is Ticking

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I finally finished my summer math today!!! (Well my assigned summer math that is, because I know I’ll be doing a ton of math at Yale next week.)

I had been procrastinating doing my math for a while, but finally I decided I just needed to sit down and do it before I left because it’s just going to be more busy when I return.  That’s when I realized how little time there is left of this summer.

As of today there are exactly 21 days until our back to school kick off party at the high school where everyone meets at school for a few hours to catch up and eat pizza for a little before orientation 2 days later. THAT’S CRAZY SOON!!!! I mean in actuality there is only a little under a month left, which is kind of a while, but school will be here before we know it.

It seems like summer just flies by so quickly. I’m leaving Wednesday then I’ll get back and go to soccer for a few days before the kick off party and that’s it. Not to mention when I get back we should be completely moved into our new house which will be quite different. Today is probably my last weekend ever living here and we’ve been here for 9 years.

I have a large white board in my room (and soon I will have a whole portion of my wall in whiteboard paint!) and at the beginning of the summer I listed a bunch of things that were going to happen and I needed to be prepared for. After erasing “math” off of the board I looked and realized how clean the board is getting, and it started completely full.

I don’t know if I’m ready for school to start back up, but at the same time I’m kind of looking forward to it because, while very stressful, I think this year will also be really fun. I’ve been watching a bunch of Gilmore Girls with my family on Netflix this summer, and we are on season 4 at which point Rory (the main character) and her friends are all going off to college. My sister keeps teasing me about how that will be me in a few years and I just can’t believe it is really almost time to go to college. Feels like just yesterday I was just entering MVPS and middle school for the first time.

Summer ending makes me think back to a challenge I never followed through with from last summer: The Phineas and Ferb Challenge. The challenge was all about trying to make the most of summer and I even gave the challenge of not waiting until summer. I went back and briefly looked at the list and discovered I accidentally did quite a few of the things which are bolded, but I haven’t finished re-going through the list. Maybe this year I will  do a better job at remembering the challenge. Maybe it would help if I actually got people to commit to joining me this year.

Time flies when you’re having fun.