Oh How Far We’ve Come

C4y7nuiWMAMPqgN.jpgI always love Thursdays because they feel so productive. Until 1:10 I get to spend my day working on Innovation Diploma related things, and with such a large chuck of time, I often have my most productive meetings, brainstorms, and build days on Thursdays. This past Thursday was a really interesting day because our newest members of the Innovation Diploma (the Gates Cohort) experienced what it was like to give a pitch to a client for the first time.

C4zAo-fWYAEiFFd.jpgThe Gates kids have been spending the last few weeks working on what we call an adVenture. An adVenture is a design challenge where someone in the immediate MVPS community is the one to initiate the problem being investigated. Based on my understanding, the Gates kids were tasked to come up with solutions for Mr. Edwards (Tedwards) to help better organize the HIVE (our maker space) and get more people into the space.

These teams of 3-4 people then gave their final pitch to Tedwards as well the 2nd and 3rd year ID kids (Pixar kids) last Thursday. They were far from perfect, but what amazed me is that they were lightyears ahead of what the inaugural cohort was doing the second semester of our first year.


screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-12-14-06-amIt was crazy to sit there and think about just how far the program has come in the past 3 years since the Innovation Diploma began. These newest members had slide decks, story lines, and prototypes that were just about at the professional level, and it was also satisfying to hear the quality feedback they received from the returning ID kids because there was a true sense of wisdom to it.

What really impacted me the most was when I realized the lessons that Gates kids were learning in an internal environment:

  • Pre-planning is mandatory: When you have a client coming, you have to think about more than just what you’re going to present. You also must consider: how you are going to set up the space? When you will get tech situated? How the client will check in? Who will meet the client at the front and take them to the space? What would you say when meeting the client? Etc. 
  • The story is key: Giving a good pitch is often more important than the quality of the prototype, and the way you give a good pitch is by taking the audience on a journey. You must explain what the problem is, what insights you discovered from users, how your prototype meets the needs of the users, why your prototype is the best answer, what the next steps are, and how you can help make the prototype come to life.
  • Take pictures throughout the process: The story is the most important part of the presentation, however, pictures and slide deck quality is what makes a good pitch into an incredible and professional looking pitch. To get these pictures, you really have to take pictures of everything along the way, otherwise you’ll start your slide deck and just realize everything you missed a great picture of.
  • Redefining “low res”: Every prototype has different stages. After a quick day long brainstorm you can expect a few prototypes made of construction paper and popsicle sticks; this is not the prototype you present to your clients. By using digital technology we can make relatively fast prototypes that have a much better quality appearance.
  • Always rehearse: The best pitch you will ever give will never be your first. The more you practice and receive feedback, the better a pitch will get. Teams often get feedback on their prototypes, but not always the presentation, but the presentation is critical as mentioned before. If you plan an internal practice pitch a few days before the actual pitch, you can receive game changing feedback that will take your presentation to the next level.

These are just a few of the lessons I heard the Gates kids discuss as takeaways from their first pitch. The crazy thing is though, that while the Gates kids discussed their takeaways, all of the Pixar kids just looked at each other in amazement because we had to C3xAbL6W8AEW556.jpglearn these lessons the hard way- while in front of an external client… It’s so incredible that now first year Innovation Diploma kids are learning these lessons. By the time they’ve had the experiance of a few years, who knows what these kids will be doing.

The program is getting better and better each year, and a lot of it is because of what we’ve learned through trial and error with past cohorts. As a member of the inaugural cohort I have faced a lot of challenges within the Innovation Diploma, as any pioneer must face when embarking on a new adventure; however, I wouldn’t trade the role I’ve gotten to play in the program in order to have been entering after some of those initial kinks have been prototyped for. By being a first year member I’ve worked through the hard times and learned so much from our fail-up experiences, and now I get the extreme pleasure of looking at these new members and seeing just how far we’ve come as a community. It’s incredible.C3xAbK4WQAALlIX.jpg

When I walked away from the pitch on Thursday, I couldn’t help but think about further feedback for the Gates kids, but I also couldn’t help but just smile for the past and the future of this incredible journey I’ve been on with the Innovation Diploma.  

The Value of Design Briefs

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This year has marked yet another new chapter for the Innovation Diploma (ID), and as we have moved into our third year of the programs existence, we have started to work on projects that we call Design Briefs. In short a Design Brief is a project where someone in the community seeks out a team of ID members to help them with a problem they are facing in their work; either for money, resource, or time reasons the organization can not devote to working on the project and thus outsources the project to an ID consultant team.

After last year’s success with Design Briefs, this year all of our 2nd and 3rd year student cohort members have gotten the opportunity to work on a Design Brief and we have been deep in the process for the past 2 months or so.

This is my first time working on a Design Brief and I have had the pleasure to work with a team of 3 other ID members as we work with the City of Sandy Springs to decrease traffic by 10 percent. Working with an external client has been a big change for me because the last two years I’ve found myself working on projects that were primarily driven by student observations in our school community. While it’s been awesome to be in an environment where I’ve been supported to tackle problems that I helped identify, I’ve really enjoyed the experience of getting to work with a client this year.

My team has already had 2 client meeting check ins signifying that we are officially halfway to our big deadline date where we will be meeting with a council of members from the City of Sandy Springs. This being said, I felt like it was a good time for me to reflect on a few of the benefits I’ve identified since working on a Design Brief:

  • Time Management: We get to co-create deadlines, but have to be firm on meeting those deadlines because we can’t just email our clients the day before a meeting saying that we haven’t met our deliverables and need to push back a deadline. I’ve had to further develop my time management skills in order to create and meet deadlines for this project which has proven to be helpful in all aspects of my life.
  • Craftsmanship: When working with an actual organization there is a higher standard of work that we have to meet. Most organizations haven’t used students as a consultants before, therefore, we have to prove that we are worthy of being worked with. We want to present work to our clients that is at least as good as the work they would be getting from adult consultants. I’m happy to say that so far, our clients have consistently been beyond impressed with our work!
  • Confidence: It’s one thing for my parents or teachers to say that I did a good job on a piece of work that I presented, but they practically have to say that every now and then because they have a personal connection to me. But when a client from outside of the school says that my work was inspiring, that makes me feel more confident in my capabilities and makes me strive to constantly strive to take on bigger challenges.
  • Spreadsheets and Google Maps: I’ve learned a lot of very specific skills that I didn’t expect to learn while working on this project. I have been learning how to use Google Spreadsheets and Google Maps to help create visual representations of data we have. I’ve ended up creating a dozen of maps, graphs, and tables and have learned a lot about how to use these tools.
  • Communication: As project manager I have been the point of contact for all of our external experts ranging from our clients to parents in the community. This has required me to practice my communication skills in the form of email, twitter, and blogging amongst others. I’ve noticed especially with emailing that I’ve been able to draft emails that require less editing each time over the past few months which has been very tangible evidence of my growth.

I’ve grown a number of skills through this project work, but I think what I find to be most impactful about my Design Brief work is that I actually want to work on this project. Everyday I go into ID feeling excited and motivated to work because I know the work we are doing is actually going to make a difference in the lives of hopefully hundreds of people. That’s a huge deal, and more than I can say about most of my core classes. This Design Brief is meaningful work, and, therefore, I feel even more driven to do everything in my power to be successful in producing high quality work. I can’t wait for the day when it becomes the new normal for everyone to be doing this kind of “real world work” as their “school work.”

Inspiring Minds United At Last

What happens when you take motivated students from unique schools across the east coast and bring them together for a conference? Mind-blowing awesomeness!!!!!

I’m currently in Washington D.C. for a 3 day conference called SparkHouse run by Education Reimagined. To be honest I don’t entirely know what’s going to happen these next few days, but today was the initial dinner meet up and it was fantastic!

Everyone here (students and teachers, and it’s mostly students on purpose) is just great and very open and clearly creative and passionate about how education needs to change. I feel like I’ve known these people forever because everyones so easy to talk and relate to. Plus everyone comes from a school doing awesome weird stuff, so it’s been super interesting learning about the different school styles. It’s actually become a joke that the way we introduce ourselves and our starting conversations are based on, “So why are you here? What does your school do that’s different?”

So far I’ve met people from Virginia, South Carolina, and Kentucky and I’ve heard all sorts of cool things. For example: students running a Kroger and a bank at school; students from 7th-12th grade having classes together; students spending each Friday doing crazy activities like mountain biking; students that have no grades or standardized tests; and I’m sure I’ll learn more in the days to come!

IMG_6200.JPGNone of the students really know what we are going to be working on quite exactly, but we’re excited to share our voice and have enjoyed playing games and talking together so far. I can’t wait to see what’s in store because we’ve gathered a pretty inspiring group of minds so I feel ready for anything right now!

 

Kick it into Gear

IMG_6161.JPGThis Tuesday we have another client meeting with our partners from the City of Sandy Springs so it’s been a crazy week for our project team. The main things we’ve accomplished since our last meeting are as follows:

  1. added information with all of the Marta train routes onto our map
  2. added detail to our small area comprehensive plan
  3. developed an info-graphic describing the project which will be launched to the MVPS community November 2nd to gain awareness, support, and partners from parents especially (hopefully unless something changes between now and then)
  4. gained insights from several intercept interviews and observations of morning carpool
  5. have gotten into contact with people from the regional Travel Demand Management (TDM) department and have a meeting set up for November 10th to learn more about their work with traffic in Atlanta 

With our second client meeting coming up, I think it’s a good time for me to reflect on how I’ve been doing on a few of our standards of professional excellence that we have in the Innovation Diploma (ID). In ID we believe strongly in our motto “We are not a class. We’re a start up.” With this said, we do not have grades for ID; there is no number you can assign to our progress and performance in the program. However, like any business we have assessments (like our upcoming client meeting for example) and we gain feedback (from ourself, our team, and our facilitators), and we have standards of excellence so that everyone in ID knows what’s expected of them and how to be successful in the program.

Our collection of standards is based on five key skills we call the 5C’s: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Craftsmanship.

I believe I’ve been preforming strongly in the area of Collaboration-Leadership and Initiative. I’ve consistently demonstrated a clear understanding of the teams work and vision, and have served as project manager to help clarify roles and responsibilities to my team members. Furthermore, I’ve been a spokesperson for all of ID during tour days for our school and have learned to clearly articulate the work we have done so far to people who know nothing about ID let alone the work my team specifically is doing.

That said, there is no perfect leader. There are always ways to improve, and I think it’s time that I start pushing myself even more about what it means to be a leader. A leader not only has a clear understanding of the teams work, but a great leader is able to also coach others to start becoming more of a leader. I’ve been starting to do this by slowly having other team members take over as the point of contact for certain external experts, but I’m sure there are more ways I can get better at stepping down sometimes; after all I graduate next year…

I also need to work on growing in the area of Creativity- Openness and Courage to Explore. As a team we’re starting to get into a rut where we’re too caught up on the data and research. We are having a hard time moving into the empathy phase of the design challenge which we need to get to in order to identify the true heart of the problem. I need to work on exploring ideas outside of just the general problem of “traffic” so we can figure out where this project is going. Right now we have lots of numbers and graphs of our population and times when traffic is bad, and I even got to school before 7:15 on Friday to take observational notes on carpool all morning from a haystack outside by drop off; however, we have yet to truly identify the problem as a team. We know traffic is bad, but why? I don’t think we know why yet which is a problem at this point in the game.

I’m excited about the work our team did in the last few weeks, but in the last few days I’ve realized that I don’t think we’re at the point in our project where we should be. We should have more user insights, which we talked about needing after the last client meeting, and the work we did was in hopes of developing focus groups, but we never actually created those meetings. We’ve been working hard on this info-graphic that will be sent out to parents so they learn about the project and hopefully agree to meet with us, but we misjudged the amount of time it would take us to make a high-quality product so those meetings are yet to happen. I am though, still proud of the info-graphic work and think it did need to be iterated since it’s our one big shot to send something out in the newsletter to the community. Looking back, what I would have done differently would be to find a different way to get the information we needed.

This didn’t hit me until a few days ago but now it makes me realize we need to kick it in gear and I don’t know how to communicate that to the rest of my team because I don’t think everyone feels this way.

I wonder if our clients will call us out on this because sometimes I find that adults get too caught up in the novelty of students doing this kind of work and don’t call us out the way they would with adults they may work with.

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.

Real Work Now

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I love a good productive day!!! (#ThursdaysRock) Today we had our first official client meeting for PB;J our project team in ID that is working with the City of Sandy Springs to decrease traffic.

For the past few weeks the team has been working on data collection and research, and today our goal was to present to our clients the information that we have gathered and make them aware of our next steps in the process. I’m pleased to report we blew them away!!! They even said:

“The work you guys have shown us is amazing is amazing despite the fact that you are students; it’s honestly better than some of the other work we’ve been presented with from adult consultants.”

The pictures above on this post show a map that I created that pin points where all of the 662 MVPS families live to help us figure out how people get to school and what roads get most congested. They were very impressed with this visual and found it very powerful, so powerful that they want us to take it even further so one of my next steps is going to be adding onto this map where the locations of different public transportation systems are.

This was a mutually beneficial meeting, because it helped everyone get clarity on the potential and path that this project is taking. We were able to define clear data that we’ve collected and also work with our clients to determine goals for our November meeting:

  1. further develop the map visual to include public transit
  2. identify some focus groups to get the community involved with ideating and getting on board with the importance of reducing traffic to gain early support
  3. continue to work on our digital tool for counting the number of cars coming in and out of MVPS on a daily basis
  4. reach out to specific external experts we’ve identified on the topic to help further our work

To be honest our team felt greatly un-prepared all week. We had to have some serious hard talks as a team about everyone not being on the same page and needing to really step up to be ready for today. Even this morning we were stressed out getting last minute things together. I think what was most helpful to our team was our quick feedback session we set to have with the full ID cohort about 45 minutes before our meeting. This session allowed us to get that last minute feedback we needed to feel more confident in our work and make sure we were communicating in the best way possible. Somehow our team pulled it together and I think this successful client meeting has helped to clarify our internal vision and set clear goals for us to work on in the coming weeks.

I’m so proud of our team, and still so pumped about how excited and impressed our clients were about the work we’ve been working on in ID!!! Students CAN do “real world” work NOW- and do it well!  

Introducing Public Buggy; Jam

IMG_6038.JPGNew year, new team, new venture.

The past two years in the Innovation Diploma I have been a part of a lot of projects driven by students observations that lead to ventures. For example the Co-Venture to re-design our iStudio space and last year’s ReSpIn team working on creating a recycling system in the middle school.

This year I’m moving into the world of Design Briefs.

In its inaugural year, iDiploma was incredibly successful in “consultivation” work (consult + innovation) where we invited members from the Mount Vernon community to bring a problem or opportunity to be workshopped in a 90 minute design thinking session. The partners we had for those sessions left with plausible and implementable solutions, and our learners became much more comfortable with their design thinking muscles. This year, we committed to incorporate even bigger and longer term projects via “Design Briefs” that IMG_6047.JPGanyone in the community can generate. Essentially, we’re creating a pool of potential projects that are not out of a textbook or dreamed up by a teacher, but instead projects that are generated out of need in the community.- MVIFI.org

Last year a team of ID cohort members worked on a Design Brief with Jeff Garrison, from S.J. Collins Enterprise, to design a pocket park in a new Whole Foods development which they named: Peachtree Station.  Last year’s Design Brief was so successful that this year, after a mini-internal Design Brief for practice, we have jumped right into 4 different Design Briefs scheduled to conclude around January at the latest. IMG_6049.JPG

I am a member of team PB;J which stands for Public Buggy Jam team. We are working with the mayor of Sandy Springs to reduce traffic in the city by a hopeful 10%. To start, we are
using Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (MVPS) as a test group because it is a controlled environment. Our goal is to create a traffic reduction plan for MVPS that could serve as an example for other schools in the area as well. The hypothesis is that if enough schools work on reducing their traffic, we will impact the overall Sandy Springs traffic problems as well.

This team was assembled almost two weeks ago now, and so far we have made great progress crafting team norms, goals, timelines, and essential questions.

Currently we have been working on:Trello PB;J.png

  • planning out our time line and learning to use Trello as a task management tool
  • researching what a professional Traffic Reduction Plan looks like and outlining what type of information we will need to provide
  •  learning how to use Raspberry Pi to gain experimental data where we count the number of cars entering and leaving MVPS and time-stamping each car
  • reaching out to MVPS admin to see what data already exists in terms of demographic questions we’ve had
  • set up some norms:the first 15 minutes on Monday’s we will discuss goals and duties for the week IMG_6045.JPG
    • the last 30 minutes on Monday we will spend with the entire ID cohort to make sure we keep everyone in the loop and have some community amongst the full team
    • PB;J team will write one blog post a week updating our progress and we will rotate who does the weekly blog (I was this week), and all of our posts will be archived on the Innovation Diploma website run by us high schoolers
    • and we decided to use the phrase “let’s tune in” if we notice that some of us are getting distracted and need to focus back in on our work

For only almost two weeks of school, I’m pretty happy with where we have come as a team and am excited to see where this venture goes.