fuse17 Here We Go!!!

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It’s finally Fuse17 week!!!! That means dozens of educators from around the country have gathered at our school to learn about design thinking and how it’s applicable in the real world, including/especially within education. Plus, unlike a normal conference (says the 18 year old…), we get the joy of working alongside of 3 non profits as we go through a lap of the design thinking process.

I’ve been waiting all year for this event and am so glad it’s finally here and that we have such an amazing group of people gathered!!!

Now I’m really tired and should probably sleep seeing as tonight’s only day 1 of the 3 day conference. However, I couldn’t help but reflect a little on my already uncontainable excitement from day one, so I’m going to try to make this short, which is a struggle of mine.

Today was a day of really gearing up for the Moonshot of the conference. Participants started the day in a lab either dt101-Flashlab or dt102-Consultivation; these labs allowed participants to get an extra lap through the design thinking process (at whatever level suited their past experience) under their belt before we head into the big design challenge working with our non-profit partners. Then the evening was really spent diving deep into MoVe Talks where we heard from the various non profit organizations (GA Farmers Markets, Beds 4 Kids, and Love Beyond Walls) as well as some MVPS speakers who focused on how we use DT at MVPS for all ages in various capacities.

What really stood out personally for me today was to see how far we- MVPS, MVIFI, Innovation Diploma, even fuse itself- have come in the past four years. (I guess when you graduate you can’t help but spend the summer reminiscing on how much things have changed over time because it seems to be a recent theme of mine.)

Hearing the MoVe Talks today from MVPS people made me realize how many more stories we have to share than four years ago and how we have so many people that could give a MoVe Talk if needed, students included. We have 6 total Innovation Diploma members at fuse17 which is a much greater turn out than the last two years where we had about 3 max, and I’ve already been hearing so many comments about people being impressed by the students they’re working with or hearing from. And projects that ID has worked on over the past few years came up myriad times over the course of the day, which just goes to show that we’ve done some pretty awesome noteworthy stuff in the past three years.

Furthermore, facilitating the Consultivation session allowed me to experience and feel how far we’ve come.

This may sound odd, but there was an almost physical vibe about how comfortable things felt in terms of the DT process/facilitation/coaching going smoothly. We’ve facilitated dozens of design challenges in the past four years- yes I say we, I may only be a recent grad, but I have done my fair share of facilitating- and we are still constantly prototyping new ideas on how to run them, but today just felt so organic and there weren’t a million questions about, “Wait I don’t understand this, how do I use this tool?” It was great! (Wow that was a run on sentence, but I’m just so empowered right now that I can’t help but think and type faster than my poor grammar can try to keep up!)

I’m going to cut this post shorter than my normal reflections because I need to get some rest, because these next few days are about to be full of hard purposeful work- so obviously it’s going to be too much fun to want to spoil by being sleep deprived!

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I Am a Designer

IMG_7447What feels like a very long time ago, I had to start writing my Common App essay for college. Back when I did start brainstorming what to write about, I turned immediately to my blog; it’s been amazing to have a an entire collection of reflections from some of the most memorable things that have happened over the years. It only seemed right that now, now that I’m finally decided on a college and graduated high school, that I should officially post my Common App essay:

 

Common App Prompt 3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

I am a designer. Anyone can be a designer. You don’t need a fancy degree or a Mona Lisa to prove it. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.” This was the message I delivered to inspire creative confidence to a “young” audience of design thinkers. Let me set the stage.

The summer after sophomore year, I earned the opportunity to be one of four guest speakers at an annual summer conference called Fuse, facilitated by the Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation. This event gathers 110 educators, business leaders, social innovators, change agents and dreamers from around the world to make an impact while learning more deeply as design thinkers. A slide deck appears on stage and the attendees saw the peculiar twitter handle @Pinyabananas, then a single spot light illuminated me- a 16 year old girl with her hair in a scrunchie. As a speaker, I delivered a 10 minute presentation similar to a TEDTalk where I shared about “Thinking Like a Designer.” My role: to get the room full of educators excited and confident in their abilities to spend three days problem solving for four different non-profit organizations. As the only speaker under the age of 30, the one with the least formal schooling and lacking the series of credentials and accomplishments of the other speakers, I was nervous.

Being an actress, I’ve been up on stage dozens of times in front of audiences larger than 110 people. I’m comfortable with public speaking, but this experience was different. This time I was the only student; specifically chosen because the organization believes that I have a story and ideas that educators should hear. Typically, it’s assumed that anyone still in secondary schooling has much to learn and not much to teach. When asked to speak, I was tasked with representing not only myself, but all students– to prove that we can have insightful thoughts worth sharing in serious conversations about the future.

I got up on stage vulnerable yet confident, and shared what I believe to be a recipe for success: to have community involvement, work with a #fuse15 MoVe Talkpurpose, a mentor to guide you, a mindshift to turn problems into opportunities, and a bias towards action. I challenged the entire audience to say the opening lines of this essay with me: “I am a designer.” To my surprise, when I repeated this statement, a chorus joined me; 110 educators accepted the challenge proposed by a 16 year-old girl to think like designers.

Age doesn’t have to be a limiter in life. If I am willing to take action for a cause that I care deeply about, then anything is possible. After my talk I had a number of educators come up to me and say, “You are inspiring!,” “I can’t believe you’re only 16,” “Thank you for giving me the confidence to do this.” Later that night my phone was blowing up with the number of twitter notifications I was getting from people commenting, liking, and retweeting things about my talk; our head of school even said, “Sounds like the takeaway of the night was from @Pinyabananas ‘I am a designer.’” It was a crazy night for me; it’s hard to believe it really happened.

This talk has since been used at a number of other workshops, some of which I probably don’t even know about. I remember researching myself online one day and found a link to a presentation by a professor in England who used the video of my talk! I am still astonished to think that my work had such an impact, and have continued to use my digital presence through daily blogging and tweeting as a mouthpiece for students around the country who remain silent school consumers. Anyone can be a designer. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.”

Capturing Work

It’s been a busy week for me with acro camp, coaching, and spending time watching Harry Potter with my family for the first time. I like being a little busy though because I like feeling engaged and productive and active. Though even when being busy and active, ID over the past two years has really taught me the value of capturing your work so that you can later look back and let others get a little closer to understanding your experiences. So for the past few days, on top of everything else, I’ve also been working on compiling a large amount of pictures from twitter of fuse16 to put into a video montage. And I’m happy to say that with it now being a week since fuse16, I finally have finished the video and have uploaded it to youtube so that I, and hopefully others, can look back and remember the fun and meaningful days we spent at this year’s fuse.

 

Power of Story-Typing

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That’s a wrap! Fuse16 is officially over after a jam packed week of design thinking, everyone has started to head back to where ever they traveled from around the world. In my opinion this year was the best one yet with prototypes and pitches that were clear, creatively, implementable, and meeting the user needs with flying colors!

What I think really made this year so great was the intentional focus on story-typing: prototyping the story. Story telling is at the heart of design thinking because it’s how we share empathy to a wide number of people! A good pitch needs to tell the audience about your user and why their needs are important enough to design for while also telling the story of your idea and showing why it’s a great solution to help your user. Everything is a story!

This year we made it really clear that the story is the most important part of your idea by giving teams ample specific time to craft and perfect the story component of their idea. This made for final pitches that blew us all away, especially the users! When a user asks if they can share their email with you to literally implement your idea as soon as possible, you know you’ve had a successful pitch– a successful story.

A good story can change the world, so it’s worth spending a lot of time crafting the best story you can. This final day of fuse16 proved that story-typing makes for some kick butt final pitches even for a group of mainly first time DTers! And I know that after fuse16, everyone will have some great stories to bring back home and truly change the world by transforming education for a better tomorrow.

Glad to be Exhausted

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Wow I’m exhausted after today. I always forget how tiring design thinking can be until I spend a day going through a challenge and then stop, only to find myself drifting off to sleep.

The reason I find it so exhausting is because design thinking requires so much constant energy and brain power. You are constantly trying to keep moving forward and observing, analyzing, empathizing, synthesizing, prototyping, iterating, interviewing, pitching, storytelling, etc. (Not in any particular order.) Not to mention the entire time you are working with several other people that you’re trying to learn more about in order to best work together and keep the whole team on track and moving in a positive direction; which sometimes means pivoting your idea and going back 5 steps in order to move forward 10.

At the end of day 2 of fuse16 today, I looked around and you could see how tired everyone was. Everyone was excited about their prototypes and empowered by the users, and that just makes it all the more tiring, because when you’re invested in a project you give it your all and that is what makes design thinking tiring. At least we’re tired for a good cause though, so it’s like a good tired. Like when you just played an intense game of soccer with no subs, so you feel as if you’re about to pass out; however, your team won because you stayed in the entire time so at the same time you’re on cloud 9 by the end of the game because you accomplished what seemed impossible!

I always say, even half a day of design thinking makes me more tired at the end of the day then just a normal day of classes. However, I wouldn’t trade that half of a day to not be tired, because the feeling I get from seeing my work impact my user is worth every minute of stretching our brain muscles to the max.

So I’m glad that I can barely hold my eyes open right now, because that means we had a great day of meaningful working.

No More Hesitation

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New faces, new stories, new possibilities; fuse16 day 1 is done and it was such a great hit!

For those of you that didn’t get to join in on the fun this year, here’s a quick summary of today’s flow:

We love to throw people right into the deep end by starting this morning off with a design thinking flashlab, where we went through an entire lap of design thinking in just a few hours. From there we had lots of opportunities to eat, question, and mingle and finished the night with some powerful MoVe (moment of visible empathy) talks given by our 4 non-profit partners and 4 people from MVPS.

One of the things I love most about fuse is the opportunity to meet so many new passionate people in one place at one time. I had so many MoVeing (I crack myself up) conversations with people today about all sorts of things from blogging, to theater, to foreign language, to gymnastics, and then of course many conversations about design thinking and how it’s impacted my life. (Especially after giving my MoVe Talk: Thinking Like a Designer— this is actually last year, but it’s the same talk minus one slide and a years more worth of public speaking and natural improv with the audience.)

I love the chance to network with so many people and I’m honored that so many people care about my opinions. What I’ve realized from today is that even in just the last year, I’ve grown to be so much more comfortable with design thinking and the language that accompanies it.

While coaching I’m not always turning to another to ask a million questions about it I’m going about things right; instead I’m being asked questions. In conversations people have caught me saying “design slang” terms like “I wonder” and “what if” and “discovery and empathy work” naturally in response to questions not necessarily about DT directly. Being one of, if not the only student, in the room has become normal to me; in fact, today I was actually pushing my little sister to go join in with the adults since this was her first time in a situation like that. (I also told her to get use to it since she’s joining ID next year.)

In my MoVe Talk I mention how there is no perfect designer, but the best we can do is to continually practice and you will find yourself more naturally feeling and acting like a designer. I wrote up this MoVe a year ago when I had first noticed myself subconsciously thinking like a designer, and now, a year later, I feel this statement is even more true. Last year I was just realizing that I am a designer and everyone else can be one too, and going back to freshman year I was just learning what design thinking even was. The year before that, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about what it meant to think like a designer. But now, in just 3 years, I don’t think I hesitate at all to say that I’m a designer. All that’s changed is that I’ve had more experiences to build confidence and competence.

It’s always nice to get a reminder that makes you look back on where you were to make you realize just how far you’ve come.

 

Ignite the fuse16

It’s almost here!!! Fuse16 starts tomorrow at 8:30am and I’m so pumped to get this launch this plane! My tool kit is all packed, my MoVe talk is prepped, and even had a great conversation with Grant Lichtman and the Bolles School today to get those design thinker thoughts flowing even more! It’s time ignite the fuse!

Present Future

imgres.jpgOver the summer is always a weird time with trying to say what grade your in. Every year you’re like “well I just finished 8th grade, but I’m not really a freshman yet,” etc. However, once you graduate junior year, it’s like that next second you all of a sudden become a senior. Poof. Abracadabra. Magic. Just like that you’re told you’re older with all of these new responsibilities that you have to start figuring out.

Now that I’m apparently a senior, I get asked all of the time “where do you want to go to college,” which seems like a seems like a simple enough question; wrong. It’s a question full of confusion and hope and stress and excitement and at this point just hard to answer. Yet today alone I think it came up 3 times for me.

Sometimes what frustrates me is that it seems like everyone’s always looking too far in the future. Yes college is a big part of some people’s lives and a big decision and all, but what about this whole year I still have in front of me? What about the more immediate future? I’m just as confused and hopefully and stressed and excited about my present future as I am about my future future, but one is much more right in front of me. Yet once you become a senior it seems that people stop asking about your present future and trying to help you plan for exciting things we can do right now in our life.

I mean just within this past week alone I’ve had my first MVPS Strategic Planning meeting, Kat and I are talking to a school taking first steps towards 21st century education about our AP Lang course tomorrow, and then fuse16 is Wednesday-Friday this week! There are so many exciting things right in front of me before college! And there are so many possibilities of things I can accomplish just next year!

High school, middle school, even elementary school students have amazing capabilities and potential just at the age they are right now. I think talking about college bugs me so much sometimes because some people seem to make it seem like we have to wait to have the “time of our life” until we get to college. I want next year to be amazing and big and exciting and impactful and I don’t want to spend all year just talking about the future future; I want to spend more time focusing on the present future because that matters too.

Getting Older is Weird

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I feel so old…

Today I turned 17, and it was a pretty great day; actually, it was an overall great week! I’ve been in New York (my technical hometown even if I only lived here for three and a half years), and man I just really love this city! Every time I come there are more interesting things to see and do, and I leave with so many fatardo (awkward and random and usually crazy in the best way) stories.

We’ve seen at least one show everyday except 1 and they have almost all been fantastic!! (There was one show that personally wasn’t my thing just because it was more like listening to a podcast live and I just really need visuals to focus.) The last few days were especially great because we got to see School of Rock and Les Miserables on Broadway and that was super fun!!!

I also went to my first real New Years Eve party with my aunts which was interesting. Everyone felt old about that because just the fact that I’m now old enough to be going out till 2am in the city was kind of weird.

Plus I’ve also been walking around the city on my own more this year. One day I even went to meet up with an old friend for lunch, then her parents stopped by because they were in the area and we all had a moment of “Woah, you guys are so grown up. Going out to lunch by yourselves. I remember when you were so little!”

Then today, with it being my birthday, everyone was talking about how I’m almost 18 and everything I can do once I’m 18. And of course “Where do you want to go to college?”  has been asked about a million times…

I don’t know where this is going, but it’s just weird getting older. I remember I use to just love when it was my birthday and I didn’t really think about getting older, but now that I am older it feels so much more noticeable. Being a kid is pretty awesome, but I’m not such a kid anymore which is kind of weird to think about.

 

(Also exciting news, the video of my MoVe Talk from fuse15 is now finished!!!)

 

Stories Come From the Heart

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My head is spinning right now. Today was a pretty good day, nothing particularly amazing happened, but it was pretty relaxed with a couple of great conversations. These great conversations have all connected for me in the great circle of life, so yes, this post is long, but that is because there is simply lots that I must say.

For starters, today Kat and I unpacked our interview that we had with Grant Lichtman yesterday, and the amount of ideas currently in my head our insane!

For the past year-ish (actually looking back at blog posts has allowed me to learn it was actually the beginning of November 2014 that we officially announced our coVenture), Kat and I have been interested in education redesign and student voice. But we’ve come a long way since first making our twitter accounts on the very day of that particular blog post.

Since last year, we have had a number of opportunities to lead design thinking challenges; Kat went to Europe with EF Tours and lead a design thinking session; I gave a MoVe talk at the DT conference FUSE15; we have written a collective of over 365 blog posts; we have a total of over 200 followers on twitter and actively have conversations with education leaders (teachers and some student groups) from around the world; we have created the first ever (to our knowledge) student designed AP class.

Point being: We’ve been wedging our way into education redesign conversations, and now I’d say we are starting to have a decent presence and heard voice in the conversations. Plus being students gives us a unique perspective compared to many educators in these conversations, which definitely helps us stand out a little.

Through all of the discovery and empathy work we’ve been doing over the past year, Kat and I have really started to develop a lot of thoughts around education redesign. For the past few months, especially since the creation of our AP Lang course, we’ve been thinking about actually putting our thoughts into a book to publish. Imagine a book written about education design from students’ perspectives! That would be something different, and hopefully game changing!

During our interview with Mr. Lichtman we really wanted to focus on questions related to the writing process and the journey he went on to create his 2 books (The Falconer and #EdJourney). His support and enthusiasm with our idea was motivating, and his insight invaluable!

Today while unpacking, Kat and I tried to focus on these essential questions that Mr. Lichtman asked us:

  • What are you writing?
  • Why are you writing it?
  • Who are you writing it for?
  • What else is already out there that may be like it?
  • Why should you be the ones writing it?

These questions may sound almost obvious to ask when trying to write something, but sometimes questions become more powerful and helpful when someone else asks you them.

When I say Kat and I focused on these questions, I mean we actually tried to start brainstorming some answers, but obviously we are still vary early in this process. The important thing is: we are in this process.

Our talk today clarified some of our thoughts, and we know we want to do this because we have things we need to say and we have things we want to learn more about to help others find their way on this journey to education redesign. Design thinking is human centered problem solving. In human centered problem solving we work with users to solve the problems. In schools the largest population of users is the student population. Therefore, it only makes sense that student voices are involved in the education redesign process.

It is due to my extremely strong belief in this that my personal how might we that drives my learning and actions at this point in my life is, “How might we make student voice at the forefront of education redesign?”

I’ve only recently been able to even clearly identify what my how might we is, part of what helped was when Alex Emmanuele asked me during an interview, “What’s your how might we?” Again, a seemingly simple question, but when you’re forced to answer publicly to someone else,  it slowly becomes more articulate and takes more shape than before.

The cool thing is that since articulating my HMW, I’ve slowly been seeing it take root even more in my everyday activities and school work. Having conversations with educators around the world to learn and be inspired, discussing how our writing can be meaningful to discussions outside of school, trying to uncover big questions like “what makes a good student?” and planning to interview with 50 stand out students to develop an answer- this stuff is exactly what I want to be working on.

I see my iVenture seeping into the work I’m doing in AP Lang class in a way that makes complete sense and motivates me to learn and work like no other class does. Plus I feel confident that we are also meeting the goals of what students are suppose to take away from an AP Lang class. Mr. Lichtman even said at one point, “You guys have the capacity to really synthesize and find new insights,” when talking about how he thinks us writing a book is an achievable goal. Well, a synthesis essay is one of the essays we have to write for AP Lang, and we just got feedback from an author that we know how to synthesis; that was pretty powerful feedback for us.

Writing a book is no small task. It takes months of constant writing and editing. Mr. Lichtman talked about how he probably wrote over 150,000 words even though #EdJourney only ended up being 90,000 and the target was 40,000. One of the biggest questions we are wrestling with is “how can high schoolers write a book while still keeping up with high school work?” Is it possible? We don’t know. Will we try despite the uncertainty and assumed constraints? Don’t doubt it for a second. How will we do it? Stay tuned as we continue on our journey to find out.

Through out the conversation the biggest piece of advise we got from Mr. Lichtman was, “Know what you want to say. Then continue to ask yourself ‘Is this exactly what I want to say?” We haven’t clearly defined what it is “we want to say” quite yet, but the thoughts are developing. For me the important thing is that I know I’m all in, because I feel that this is where my heart is, and stories come from the heart.

In fact this conversation we had today has made me deeply ponder about where my heart is calling me.

Ever since I can remember I’ve always been decently well known as “the math girl.” I mean even my nickname is “Pi-nya” because I sign my name with a pi symbol instead of an A. I’ve gone to Nerd Camp the past 4 years and taken advanced, college level math courses and absolutely loved them!

Due to my love of math and love of design thinking, I’ve been saying for the past year that I want to major in engineering because that seemed logical enough. I mean from what I’ve heard, engineering seems to be the major that most obviously relates to design thinking principles.

Related to engineering, in innovation diploma time I’ve been working on a product design coVenture focusing on “How might we make sustainability a part of the DNA at MVPS?” I’ve expressed before how I am not super attached to this coVenture; however, I feel like I’m missing experiences in my design thinking tool box that come with finishing a project all the way through.Thus I’ve felt the need to carry this out all the way, and I feel a certain dedication to my team as well to do so.

The thing is, the more we work, the more I’m starting to realize my strengths and weaknesses as a designer. I am not the best at using CAD programs. In fact I’m only okay at best. Also, electronic knowledge goes right over my head most of the time. I’ve also found, that I think I (like many classroom attempts at design thinking) have a problem with spending too much time in discovery mode before leaping into empathy and experimentation mode.

However, there are other things I am good at, like speaking up for a team. I think at this point most of ID knows that giving pitches is definitely one of my strengths. (Being an actress really comes in handy in the real world!) Even just today I was being filmed in a short interview for an MViFi video that is being created, because articulating ideas is a strength of mine. I’m also typically that person to help keep everyone up to date on things that need to be done and checks to make sure we all have the same understanding of what’s going on.

Back in the beginning of last year when we took the Gallup Strength Finder test my 5 strengths were recognized as “learner, individualization, restorative, achiever, and responsibility.” It isn’t until this year though that I’m starting to realize that maybe I should be spending more time focusing on how I can use the strengths I have and improve those rather than trying so hard to get good at a bunch of different things. A team is made of multiple people with different strengths.

I’ve also been questioning if engineering is really the path I want to go down. I mean I know my heart is more into my iVenture/AP Lang work compared to my product design work. I don’t necessarily want to stop my product design work because I truly do think it’s valuable to see a project come to life in some shape or form and learn to wrestle with the real world problems of bringing an idea to life. However, is product design really what I want to be doing later in life? And my iVenture is definitely design thinking, but it isn’t really engineering in the traditional college major sense based on my understanding, so what does that mean?

I know I don’t need to decide at this very moment, but like Mr. Lichtman said, “you really have to know what you want to do.” In my opinion, you often are happier when doing what you want, or at least doing something you know will help you get what you want in the long run. And I think you know what you want to do based on what your heart is telling you.

Currently, I know what I want to do, because my heart is calling me in the direction of my iVenture: “How might we make student voice at the forefront of education redesign?” But when thinking about my future, which as a junior comes up a lot, how does my iVenture fit in when thinking about college and my life after high school? I’m starting to think that engineering isn’t quite alined with my personal passions, but then what is? I’m feeling an odd mixture of being greatly lost and yet incredibly metacognitive and aware at the same time right now.