What better way to kick off the new year than with another issue of Trailblazers, the student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement! Hear from a new group of passionate learners about how they’re getting involved with the movement as we continue on our journey to provide student voices into the world of education with this second issue.
This week in Grand Challenges we finally started working on the topics we formed our teams around. It’s probably not surprising that I’m on a team that wants to focus on education. The goal of this week was to start exploring the problem space, and since I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the field of education and the Education Transformation Movement.
Because I find this more interesting to think about than homework, I ended up spending some quality productive procrastination time developing a quick mind-map around k-12 education. This mind-map highlights some big questions I’ve thought about, hunches I have based on experience and observations, and the start of some potential ideas that could stem from these thoughts. It’s not all encompassing, but it’s a start.
Just thought I’d add it to the conversation.
This past week in general has been not so great but there was a light at the end of the tunnel: Broadway Karaoke Night! On a few occasions over the past year or so, I’ve had conversations with people about how fun it would be to have an event where we just sing a bunch of Broadway songs, but it had never happened. After winter break though, I decided this was my senior year, I’m president of the Thespian Society, and I wanted to make something happen, so this idea needed to be brought to life.
So I met with various members of the performing arts team and pitched the idea to have a Broadway Karaoke night. The pitch was approved! Then we had three weeks to get this event together because we decided it would be good to make it happen sooner than later in case we wanted to make this a recurring event.
I really wanted to make this a community event to bring together theater fans of all ages. So I reached way back into the alumni information we had to email theater people from long since, some whom I never even knew. Plus I invited lower schoolers, middle schoolers, and faculty that I know love singing Broadway because they have been in past upper school productions. Theater is a community no matter the age, we all gather together to perform the art we love. That’s one of the things I love about drama- you might have never met a person, but if you meet in the theater you immediately have something to bond over.
We successfully had around 25 people come to Broadway Karaoke night!!! Including a 4th grader, a 5th grader, 3 seventh graders, 3 alumni, 1 former mustang, 4 faculty members, and a dozen or so high schoolers! The night was tons of fun as we ate Willy’s (a show week traditional meal) while watching some rehearsed and some clearly not rehearsed performances from some Broadway favorites like Wicked and Hamilton.We even had a few props and choreographed pieces thrown into the mix! It felt like a great success of a night, and knowing we didn’t sing so many great Broadway numbers and many people were sick, I think it only makes sense that we have another Broadway Karaoke night in the future!
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.”
For the past three days I got the honor and privilege to work along side some of the most inspiring students I’ve ever met from around the country. What did these students have in common? They are all proud, passionate leaders in the movement to transform education so that in the very near future everyone can have a learner-centered education. And to think that the attendees at this conference were just a small hand full of the learners involved in this movement is inspiring.
42 students and some smaller number of adults, were gathered from 15 different schools across 13 different states for a conference called SparkHouse hosted by Education Reimagined held in Washington D.C. The coolest part about this conference was that it was specifically designed so that there would be more students then adults. (But we made sure to clarify on multiple occasions that everyone in the room was a learner. I’m always saying that everyone can be a student, a teacher, and a mentor at different times in their lives because we are all life long learners.)
The last few days I’ve posted reflections about the day (Learner-Centered Commonalities and Inspiring Minds United At Last ), but today I’d like to really reflect on my take aways overall and next steps. (I’ll admit, there is probably much more I could say on this topic and I’m sure I’m forgetting important things, but this is my best stab at it.)
- Relationships are key in a learner-centered environment: between students, teachers, families, and the community; every student needs to have the feeling of being known, heard, and cared about at a personal level for the best learning to occur
- Defining vs distinguishing: you can’t define something (such as “learner-centered”) with examples, but you can distinguish what does and what does not fall into a certain category by having conversations to establish a common understanding
- We need more common language: every learner-centered school is a little bit different though we share the same values. The hard part about this is that because the programs are different we use different language to describe the experiences (this week alone I heard about design thinking, project based learning, masteries, cardinal academy, capstones, extended learning opportunities, etc…) the problem with this is that it gets very confusing to convince people to join a movement while constantly trying to describe all of these different words which essentially just become jargon.
- How might we develop a glossary of common language so that we can distinguish between different types of experiences while still being able to provide clarity and unity for the movement?
- Detecting the presence of leadership: There is a kind of speaking and listening (communicating) that causes people to be engaged and united around a common goal that is for “we” (not “me”) in a safe space; the people are then energized and feel a part of something bigger than anyone of us and it’s for everyone
- Creative ways to get credit: I love the opportunities I’m given by being a student at MVPS however, there are many times where I feel like I’m facing a two worlds struggle because there simply isn’t enough time in the day to dive deeply into my project work and extra curricular activities which I’m passionate about while also spending the required amount of time in core classes to gain graduation credits. The interesting thing I realized while at this conference is that many schools are giving students core credits for their big scale project work that may even take place off campus. (Like getting credit for working in a Kroger and Bank run by the school, or getting credits for participating on the robotics team, or getting credits while being certified as a chef or nursing assistant, or getting credit for an internship that takes place a few times a week during the day.) There are a lot of interesting ideas about creative ways to give credit for large scale project work outside of just credit in the sense of acknowledgment that you’re doing something awesome and gaining skills that will make a cool story to talk about. It seems like a nice baby step in the right direction is to start finding new paths that students can take to gain credits for the learning done from large scale project work (such as Innovation Diploma work or even electives and clubs perhaps).
- If not now, then when? If not you, then who?: I can’t remember what TEDTalk I watched that had this quote, but some of us from MVPS brought it up at the conference because it accurately describes the mood most of us felt once we were “done.” We gathered an incredible group of people together and that alone has been a huge takeaway. I now know more about so many interesting types of learner-centered models and we have also formed a powerful community of students that are ready to work together to push this movement forward. Every great moment in history starts with a gathering of people.
At the end of the conference the group came together to start discussing next steps and what we would like our role to be in this movement. I’m happy to say that we’ve already started to take action on a few ideas, and we’ve also been thinking about several others that may be a little over the mountains right now.
Next steps in progress:
- GroupChat/Communications: first off, it’s important to us that we stay connected, so the team of learners at this conference established a group chat with everyone on it so that we can update, support, and ideate with each other as we go back to our respective schools
- Student Voice Edition Magazine/Reflections: as of earlier today I challenged everyone to also write/draw/record a reflection about their experience with learner-centered education, how they felt about the past few days, what their most excited for next, what’s the biggest thing they’d like to change, etc. then the idea is to compile these reflections into a singular magazine to showcase this new unified student voice group that has been created over these past few days. Luckily a bunch of people were also interested, so I think we’ve officially gotten the ball rolling!
- Video Re-cap: throughout the three days, a professional video team recorded us as we worked and had some interviews with people as well, and the plan is for everyone to share this video with other people to help spread the word about the work being done across the country already with at least these 15 schools
- T-Shirt Word of Mouth: everyone who can has agreed to wear our #SparkHouse shirts this coming Monday as a conversation starter to talk about what we did while we were away from our typical school day
Over the mountain thinking:
- Pitching at our school: everyone walked away from the conference with at least one new cool idea for their personal school based off of what other schools were doing, so an interesting next step would be for everyone to actually pitch to their admin about a new idea for their school to prototype with
- Exchange program: we send teachers to learn from work being done by other schools, but what if we had an exchange program for students where students would spend a few days shadowing students from another school to learn about other learner-centered models; student voices are powerful, so imagine how powerful it would be if a student in Georgia could come back from 3 days (arbitrary number for now) spent at a school in New York and say that they found this other schools way of teaching to be really inspiring? That would say a lot. Plus it would be fun for us students interested in learning more about different types of education!
- The glossary: I talked earlier about the need to develop more common language, so one idea I left the conference with is the idea of creating a learner-centered education glossary to help distinguish between different ways we classify models of education. If each student at this conference were to help make a glossary for their specific school, then we put those together, I’m sure we’d find some interesting overlaps and have interesting discussions about what’s worth distinguishing between and it could help provide clarity to the movement in theory.
- Student run conference: everyone’s always saying that student voices are some of the most powerful ones, and I believe that every student at this conference has the leadership potential to facilitate a conference. So one over the mountain idea that I proposed was for every school group from the conference to facilitate their own conference similar to SparkHouse. We would use the event to get more learners involved in the movement from people that are already hooked to people who come from a traditional school and don’t know much about the new possibilities some schools are making possible.
Overall I was thrilled to take part in this event and have left being more inspired than ever. I’d like to believe that I’ve been involved in this movement for some time now with my blog and twitter presence in this world of education transformation; however, this experiance was amazing to me because it’s the first time I really felt like their were more student voices out there being heard. There are obviously students at my school and others that are supportive of this kind of learning, but not everyone is as passionate about really being involved in the behind the scenes promotion and development work alongside the adults, which is understandable. I’m also sure there are more student involved in the movement that I’ve yet to meet. But I now feel like more students are starting to get involved and I think that’s going to be game changing, especially now that I feel connected to a strong united community of the 42 students I just spent the last three days with. (Not to mention all of the adults that have been super supportive and instrumental in making these connections happen and successful).
When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, “Where’s the evidence of this working?” but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working. Everyday I feel like I know myself a little bit better and am improving my skills as a learner a little bit more due to the opportunities I have to take ownership of my learning and blur the lines between school and the real world.
We as students have inherited a certain type of world, and we have something to say about it. The educational world has been the same for decades, but we are living in a new world so it’s time that education was reimagined, redesigned, and reinvented into a learner-centered model. I feel empowered as a learner to work to push the education transformation movement forward, and I’m excited about all of the possibilities of the future. I imagine a world where one day every student experiences learner-centered education each and everyday, and I believe this future is a very realistic world.
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!
None 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!
I’m a person who often gets involved in big time consuming projects that require lots of planning and organization. I love getting involved in these big projects, but at the same time it can feel like you’re walking on a treadmill: you just keep moving but you aren’t getting anywhere new.
This year I want to develop a better habit of taking action faster by focusing on more “small hacks.” Little short term projects that expose me to new skills while helping to change some small things that might otherwise get overlooked as not being a “big enough problem.” Making the life of even just one person a little bit better is still making an impact.
As part of my role as the Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation (MVIFI) Fellow, I work closely with the MVIFI Nucleus team and today I had a lunch meeting with them. This meeting was primarily about the Maker, Design, and Engineering programs we have been building at MVPS. A good chunk of the meeting was focused on how to get more people to take ownership and agency over the idea that they too can be a maker despite age, experiance, or teaching discipline.
This gave me an idea.
We have a maker’s space on both the lower and upper school campuses (Studio(i) and The Hive) where we have all sorts of tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, CNC machines, and more that anyone can learn to use whenever they’d like to. Access to these tools is incredible because it means that we can develop high res prototypes in all sorts of mediums. Yet this is an opportunity that isn’t taken advantage of by nearly as many students and teachers as you would think– yet.
I personally do not even know how to use several of the tools that are available to me as part of the Mount Vernon community, and I want to change that. So I intend to start taking time every week to learn a new tool. While I’m learning, I hope to then make something related to different content areas which I can then give to various teachers in order to help encourage them to also use The Hive and to perhaps spread the maker mindset into their classrooms as well.
A maker, in my opinion, is someone who tinkers around with different materials and has a bias towards action in order to develop physical products. The maker culture therefore, is really centered around trying to make your thinking visible, which is something that is relevant and should be emphasized in all content areas. I want to live in a community of people who not only talk about big ideas, but a community of people who can build those ideas out and make them a reality.
In my experiance, schools want their students to be life long learners that feel empowered to take action. How do we teach the mindset of taking action? We teach students how to have a makers mindset. And this isn’t just the job of “Maker, Design, and Engineering teachers,” because in order for something to become a part of a communities culture, everyone must embody the mindset. It is everyone’s responsibility to embrace and spread the maker culture.
Another fun day in the great city of NYC! I woke up late today, but to my surprise my grandma already had an idea for today, since our previous plans of visiting Hampshire College got delayed until Monday due to transportation. We ended up deciding to get dressed up and head down to midtown and see if we could get last minute tickets to a matinee for some show.
As awesome as luck can be, we ended up getting seats for “The Waitress” despite arriving
at the theater only 15 minutes before show time! It’s unlike most Broadway musicals because it’s very real; there’s no flying or make believe lands or seemingly impossible plot lines. The show is about a fantastic pie maker and waitress who’s in a bad marriage, has an unwanted pregnancy, an affair with her married doctor, and is really just searching for a way to make a happy life for herself and her baby on the way.
The show was touching and had a very talented ensemble, but what really inspired me today was right after the show. Being an actress herself, my aunt has come to know many people in the theater industry. In fact her ex-boyfriend who she’s still good friends with, is the conductor for the “Book of Mormon” currently, and he seems to know people in everything. Between the two of them, they knew several people in the show we saw this afternoon and after a few texts and phone calls, we were able to arrange for us to go backstage with the male lead.
What inspired me about this situation is how it’s such a small world in the theater industry. Everyone seems to know someone else, and most everyone is happy to do a favor for a friend. It’s just such a tight group of people that you’d be kind of surprised. Plus even if people don’t know each other, theater people are some of the most open and naturally collaborative people I know. (Most of the time, there are always exceptions…)
The connections today, as well as my work with “PAINted“ this week, even gave me an idea for next year’s hopeful new theater club some of my friends are trying to start. The idea is for one of the things for us to do next year is to spend time seeing shows at other high schools to try to build our own community of theater students in Atlanta.
Ever try doing something in a backwards order just for fun to see what happens? Well tonight my family (being my grandparents, siblings, and I) did just that. We decided to go out for ice cream tonight before having dinner. It was yummy, but left me not so hungry for our also yummy dinner as expected.
I’m the type of person that enjoys doing things sometimes just for kicks and giggles to appease my curiosity. For example, I took the old SAT, the new SAT, and the ACT just because I was curious about how the three would compare. (If you’re like me and equally curious, I did pretty much the exact same on every version every time I tested if you look at the comparison charts. No one can say I’m not consistent…)
Luckily for me, standardized tests are not the only things that make me curious. Sometimes I’ll do wacky things like wear my cloak to school just to see how people react, and because I love the feeling of walking down a hall with a cloak flowing behind you. It’s pretty majestic to watch, and magical to experiance- I highly suggest for everyone to try it for themselves if given the chance.
Then of course there was my senior portrait outfit… I have a philosophy about year book photos. A yearbook photo, even more so than other photos, is meant to be something that in years from when it’s taken you can look back and remember what you were like that year when the photo was taken. It should remind you of yourself. Well I’m a person who typically doesn’t wear her hair down. I am a person however who does wacky things just for the fun of it. I’m also a person who loves the Renaissance. So I took my senior portrait photo in my Renaissance dress, because that’s going to always remind me of who I am right now; that person who stands out in a crowd because she follows her crazy curious heart and mind.
So I say, if you want to try something a little backwards just because you’re curious, go for it! You may discover something wonderful, or maybe not, but you don’t know until you try. And after all, what may seem backwards or upside down may be the obviously “correct” way to others.
(As a funny side note, this post was actually inspired partially from eating ice cream first, and also partly because I finally cut my nails today after forgetting every day for the past week. A reference to the link above of a former post of mine: Turn Up Side Down. Which I also just noticed I accidentally spelled upside as two words…)
My sister is one of my biggest critics, especially when it comes to choreography. The funny thing is, I know she makes me better for it.
Sometimes we need a critic around to tell us that are work isn’t the best and needs work, because that can often be the motivator for us to do better. I know that my work has immensely grown over the years I’ve spent choreographing routines, but I also know it can be so much better. I mean I’m not even a dancer, nor do I have any dance background officially so half the time I don’t even know the real terms for moves I’m asking kids to do.
And as I start to create more routines this year than ever before, my sister has been so kind to point out that some of the routines are repetitive when compared to other routines. Basically meaning that I use a lot of the same poses and similar combinations from one routine to the next, which is something I need to work on.
It’s in this kind of work that I take the book “Steal Like an Artist” to heart. I don’t have the dance background that most choreographers have, so in order to learn I’m constantly watching dance and gymnastics routine searching for new material to mimic. We do what we know, and we know what we’ve been exposed to, so if we hope to do more we must expose ourselves to more.
Next year’s spring showcase may be my last chance for my big choreographed group routines. I hope not, but I want to go out with a bang so I’m already preparing by searching for music and trying to think of new ideas and new techniques I can attempt like involving set pieces and trying to actually tell a story with the dance. I can’t wait to start testing my ideas! So I’m glad for my sister’s criticism because it inspires me to strive for something better.