Last Hurrah

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(Precursor: I wrote this post last Sunday night with the perspective of just getting back to school after break; however, I wanted to wait to post it until I finally gathered at least a majority of my favorite pictures so that I could upload a slideshow to later look back at. That took longer than expected to put together, so just use those creative imagination skills to pretend this post is being read the last night before school starts after a two week break from classes.)

I feel like these past two weeks have flown by. Interim and spring break have both been amazing, but now I really don’t feel ready to go back to sitting in a classroom for seven hours a day. Traveling around the world is a much more enjoyable way to get completely exhausted; I mean, I’ve barely even had any time to blog because of how many nights I got to spend exploring new places and hanging out with friends and family. I’m still trying to process that two weeks ago I was in France and two days ago I was coming home from Jamaica. And yet what seems even crazier still, in two months I graduate high school…

While taking a ride up the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower a few people mentioned “Wow, this is really our last hurrah together,” but it didn’t fully hit me until now just how true this was. Teachers and students both have been saying throughout the year, “We just have to make it until spring break.” Well, spring break is over. Now what?

Now we go back to classes. Hear back from those last few colleges. Maybe get nominated for a scholarship. (I’m actually a finalist for the Georgia Tech Stamps Presidential Scholarship and, because college work doesn’t take a break, I attended a two day overnight event this weekend with the other 114 finalists, and I find out on Friday if I’m a scholar; fingers crossed!!!) Then we have Prom, the last few theater performances and sports events, decision day, exams, the honors assembly, and then it’s over. Four years later, and high school is officially weeks away from being over.

When we reached the top of the Eiffel Tower, looking down felt similar to senior year: like we were on top of the world. Up top we couldn’t see the chaos of the streets below, we could only see the bright lights shining through the night. At the end of a journey it’s important to remember the times where you struggled, but at the end it’s nice to take a moment to celebrate all of the shining moments.

At the top of the tower, lots of pictures were taken to capture the fleeting moment. As senior year comes to an end, sometimes I’m ready for it to all just be over, but other times I wish we could spend just a little longer capturing and living in these happy moments.


Latin Class Goes Underground

WE’VE ARRIVED IN FRANCE!!!! It’s Interim Week for MVPS which means that groups of high schoolers and faculty are off to different places around the world for a week of learning while immersed in cultural experiences. Personally I’m on the France trip where we will be spending 7 days in Paris and Normandy this week.

IMG_2351.JPGWe landed at 5:30am and have been going non stop ever since, so I’m exhausted and jet lagged like everyone else; therefore this post will be short. I’d also like to preface this post by saying that like most of my posts, I wasn’t required by any teacher to write this as a form of assessment, but I will be reflecting on my learning adventures throughout the week.

First off, it goes without saying that the food was AMAZING!!! I’ve had a lot of oddly timed meals since getting to the airport at 2pm on Friday, but ever since arriving in France we’ve been eating some amazing breads, cheeses, and meats as expected.

IMG_6771.JPGHowever, my favorite part of the day was exploring the catacombs. Even though we had to wait in line for about 3 hours in fairly chilly weather (we did take turns leaving the line for another pastry thankfully), the catacombs of Paris were entirely worth the wait. It was incredible to see the walls of bones still perfectly stacked up after hundreds of years. And also, being 1 of 3 AP Latin student and having 2 of us plus our teacher on this trip, I actually really enjoyed getting to translate some of the written pieces in the tunnels.
IMG_6772.JPGNo one really speaks Latin anymore, and people constantly say it’s a pointless language to take, but I enjoy the stories, culture, and history we get to learn from reading ancient works. However, there aren’t many chances we have to actually practice Latin in the “real world,” so it was really fun to get to be one of 3 people nerding out about being able to actually understand some of what was written on the walls. It was also really gratifying to know after taking Latin for 6 years that there’s clear evidence we’ve improved, because now we can somewhat translate on site things we’ve never seen before. A grade only tells you so much about your abilities, but being able to actually apply what you learn while out in the “real world” is so much more fun and proving of your knowledge growth over time.

Needless to say, the trip’s off to a great start and I know there’s more greatness to come!

Don’t Let it Die


Last week was absolutely fantastic!!!!!!!! I had such a good time, learned so much, and got so many interesting ideas!!!!! Thanks again to our awesome chaperones for putting this all together and making the trip so awesome and memorable!

JamCam told us something today that I would like to also challenge to all of the other students at MVPS, “Don’t let it die. Don’t let all of the learning and ideas just disappear when we get back to school after spring break; take action.”

A big discovery I noticed this week was that students were realizing “this is like MVPS in the real world; it makes sense why we do this stuff, because businesses actual use it”. My hope, specifically for the SF students, is that these conversations will continue back at school and even during this week off perhaps.

The biggest thing talked about this week was the innovative culture and community that these businesses have developed, and I wonder how this experience will give ideas for the MVPS community to continue to grow and get out of the traditional “school environment”. Hopefully the students on the trip share with their friends everything they learned about design thinking and innovation in the “real world” and will act upon ideas they have to make MVPS even more closely resemble the “real world”.

There are so many things I want to see take life: the coffee shop, a Hackathon, new project ideas for some people, actually creating the documentary and having a premier for the community. Now I’m just trying to figure out how to make them happen. What I would really love is to get a smallish team together (specifically for the coffee shop idea) where we go through the entire process very deliberately; the struggle is when. A lot of people on the Innovation Tour want to be involved, and I think that would be ideal anyway, but I wonder how I could get people together which is what I’ve been thinking about lately.

A lot of students were really seeming to get more into design thinking after this trip. I even talked to one kid about ID for around 20 minutes probably while we were at IDEO and the best part was that at the end he said, “ok, I’m hooked”. It made me realize how important it is to share our story, and I really hope we start seeking out more opportunities to share our ID story with the MVPS community; I think our new YouTube channel will help with that once we get more post on it.

I also talked with some of the people at IDEO about our iStudio we are working on and one of the ladies was really interested and gave me her email so I can keep her updated on the process.

It really feels amazing when you know someone from the “outside community” cares about something you are working on in school. This tour really helped me see how MVPS is starting to blur that line between school and the real world since almost everyone we talked through was from some internal connection.

Interim week is over, so to everyone at MVPS you now have a choice: let the conversations from interim die, or bring them to life. Choose wisely. 

The Heartbeat of an Innovative Space

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(I wrote this yesterday, but it never posted…)

It was our last full day in sunny San Francisco today which is sad, but it’s been an amazing week! Today we went to the Exploratorium and IDEO and I think it might have been my favorite day actually.

The Exploratorium was a giant interactive museum that was so much fun to just play and learn in. When I say giant I mean it was a wear house  with two buildings and two floors. I personally love how the idea of what a museum is has been changing over the years, so now there are more and more interactive museums. What was interesting, was that most people (myself included) enjoyed the social behavior area the best. In that area specifically there were a lot of partner and team games where it was about discovering the probability of people exhibiting certain behaviors.

This place was so much fun that we didn’t want to leave, but it was time for IDEO which other businesses had been talking about all week.

IDEO was beautiful. Someone actually described it as “MVPS in the business world”. The funny thing about this trip was that a lot of people were finally starting to realize that the terminology we use at MVPS isn’t just some wacky thing we do at school, but we use the terminology because it is the actual terminology that people in the business world use.

Through out this week we were asked at almost every place we went, “Do any of you know what design thinking is?” “What do you think it means to ‘hack’?” “Did you know design thinking can be used to redesign a process or experience?” “This is called a ‘how might we question’, why do you think we ask a question this way?”

It was really interesting to me because MVPS has a decent reputation and most of the places we visited were because of connections through members of the MVPS community (teachers or parents in this case), yet the people seemed very surprised that a bunch of young high school students were so well versed in design thinking.

A big thing we’ve noticed this week is how much these innovative businesses focus on the community and culture of their work environment. A big part of this, of all things, is food. At IDEO we were told that their kitchen is the “heartbeat of the entire place and some of the best conversations and ideas come from out of this cafe like space”. All of the businesses have said similar things which is why a constant conversation of the week has been, “HMW create a cafe environment at MVPS?”

The cool thing was that we actually brainstormed this idea while at IDEO. She had some pre-created questions ready for us, but after hearing this question we’ve been talking about she thought we should flesh it out more, so we did right then and there.

Some of the common themes were:

  • a place for teachers and students to interact as people/more as equals
  • a fun, relaxed environment with some sort of outdoor access
  • food and drinks would be served and everyone thought it would be cool to actually be run by students
    • maybe even start a culinary class that could bake for it
    • maybe various classes could run it at times to actually earn a profit and learn about running a business

Little did some of the people know that we’ve been having similar conversations in ID all year long. The roof came up during our conversation today and I just started laughing, because that’s where this all started for me; back with the space on the roof. Since then some of us in ID realized we needed to start smaller and work up to these bigger ventures, thus the iStudio coVenture was started to redesign the space we work in. The plan for me has always been to tackle this idea of creating a “coffee house” once the iStudio has its grand opening.

The thing is that I work on a lot, and the whole point is that this would be a whole school thing, so I want to work on ways to get others involved with this process. iFest, which is going to be the big presentation day for the high school to show off all of the project work people have been doing, is coming up soon. I’m curious what will happen after iFest. To my knowledge the schedule isn’t set to change again, so I wonder if I could get a group of people that want to do a design challenge around this question during the project time after iFest.

Well it was the last full day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more conversations happen tomorrow and I really hope all of the great thoughts and ideas that have happened this week can make their way back to Atlanta so things can start taking action.

Different Stages of a Business


The high light of my day today was visiting Mission Bicycle. This was the first place we went that was really founded in design thinking.

This startup company decided to redesign your typical bicycle. What they discovered was that most bikes we catered either for racing or terrain, but there was no bike created specifically for the city. So they made their own bike for the city that was designed for each user individually.

The startup uses design thinking for their individual parts, creating their website, perfecting the system of ordering the parts and making the bikes, etc… It was everywhere!

We also went to Valencia (#thepiratestore) and also Desmos which also were small startup companies that concentrate on the user experience.

It’s been really cool how we have gotten to see a lot of different levels of businesses. We’ve gone from LAUNCH with the companies fresh from ideation that are just trying to get their ideas out on the market. Then you have the small businesses like Mission Bicycle where they have been established for a few years, but they are still fairly small and working out some tweaks to get to the point of gradual expansion. Then we see the giant companies like Facebook which have been very well established and are just continuing to grow and improve all over the world.

What was common about all three of these layers was the human centered problem solving through the use of a creative, fun community and environment.

It’s been really fun to see how the skills we try to develop at MVPS really are used and looked for in the business “real world”. It’s been interesting also to see how when given the choice between our 6 mindsets, most people have been picking (or mentioning through presentations) collaborator, creative thinker, and ethical decision maker in that order the most.

Innovative Business Culture


MVPS has such great connections. One of the students on the Innovation Tour has a dad that works with Facebook, so today we got to tour their headquarters!!

I never realized how large their campus was. I had imagined a single building with lots of natural lighting and various blues and weird furniture; like other innovative companies. I was not expecting a small city within a city.

The campus was huge! There were 9 main buildings with a giant road down the middle and a center quad connecting everything together. There were lots of restaurants (which were almost all free), plus a dentist, a simple doctors office (like at a school), a music room, an arcade, a barbers shop, a wood shop, plus what they call “war rooms” which are small rooms for teams that have a garage door so they can open it up on the street. I was just mind blown with the size. The campus had a bunch of stuff other than work spaces which was meant to decrease the amount of things that employees have to do after work.

Our essential question for today was, “What makes innovative business culture different?”

From what I observed, innovative business culture is really a community. Everyone trust each other to get work done which means they can really enjoy their time together. The people were very open and just happy overall. I didn’t see anyone that looked like they were not enjoying their job.

The overall culture was productive, fun, and inspiring.

What Makes You Special?

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Stanford was awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I had so much fun today touring the campus, and then doing a design thinking challenge at the d. School!!!!!

My mind is still being blown that we did that today to be honest.

The were a few of us specifically that were just falling in love with the school. The entire community had a supportive feel to it. Everyone we met was really nice and seemed to genuinely enjoy the student life.

The school has over 650 student run organizations including varsity, club, and intramural sports ranging from ultimate Frisbee to football, and also clubs like the Improvisers which is an on campus improv group. I was really happy to learn that anyone can audition for any of the drama productions and band groups, and how you can create intramural sports teams just by signing up with a group of friends. If there really isn’t an organization you’re looking for, it isn’t hard to create it.

I loved how everyone we talked to, including a former student of one of our chaperones, talked about how your story is more important than your specific grades. Everyone has a different background and something that makes them special. The important thing is to get colleges to hear your story and what you would bring to the school and hope to get out of the school.

I don’t know what I specifically want to do quite yet, so I also really liked how Stanford allows you to be undeclared until the end of sophomore year. Everyone encouraged us to take advantage of the ability to take lots of different courses early on to figure out what you really like. They also have a quarters system which allows you to take even more classes.

I’m all about inter-disciplinary courses, and Stanford really seems to embrace this idea. Even the quad was designed as one continuous building as a metaphor for how all of the courses are connected.

I can’t even begin to describe how happy I was to actually go to the d.School!!!!

MVPS has gotten a lot of ideas from the Stanford d. School. In fact, today when we went through a challenge, we noticed early prototypes of pages from the DEEP DT Playbook that we use at MVPS. The d. School has kind of been like a celebrity to me; that great far off place we always hear about but haven’t really gotten to interact with. Now we got to actually go there ourselves and that was the most exciting thing!!!!

The d. School is not an official “school” at Stanford, so you can’t get a degree there, but anyone can take any of the classes. I was happy to discover this because what makes me most inspired by Stanford is the fact that this d. School even exists. The work I’ve been doing through out high school has really been centered around the redesign of education so that it prepares students for the “real world”. There are so many times where I come across someone (sometimes me) saying, “the problem is college”, because whatever we want to do at the k-12 level doesn’t match what colleges “want”. Well, the d.School shows that some colleges and universities are recognizing the changes happening in education and are striving to get the mindsets of design to their students which makes me really happy. 🙂

I’ve been focusing on space a lot recently with the creation of the iStudio, so I was really excited to see the inside of the d. School on top of other things they have to offer.

I was not disappointed.

The environment looked fabulous. We did a little observation while we were there and the rooms had whiteboard panels that could move and create small rooms in the big area. There were chairs and tables built out of card board. Lots of big windows for natural light. Sticky-notes and passion boards everywhere, People researching in small groups low to the ground, and ideating while standing. It was beautiful.

The challenge we did was around redesigning the classroom experience. This topic was obviously pretty close to all of us, and I loved the ideas that came from it. I definitely think our presenters did not expect us to be very experienced with design thinking, but I mean they don’t work with high schoolers and you never want to expect too much out of a group. It was just kind of funny to me because I haven’t done a challenge where it was facilitated by someone who doesn’t know me or how versatile MVPS students in general are with design thinking already, which I hadn’t even noticed until today.

We ended up leaving the experience with some great ideas about the need for some communal, coffee house like place at MVPS for students and teachers to really further develop those personal connections and share ideas in a comfortable low stress environment. After all today we had the 4th person (at least) choose the “collaborator” mindset as the one that stood out most to them.

Overall the day was just fantastic!

I know it wasn’t our exact essential question for the day, but for me today was about “How do you discover what path is right for you?” I think the best advice we were given today was, “Don’t try to be someone else, because you will never be better than them. Instead, be the best you that you can be.” Ya everyone said grades and test scores are definitely important, and there are a fair amount of people that are accepted due to research work they are already doing, but they also said that everyone is different and everyone on campus has their reason for being accepted. It’s not just about the number of APs you take. It is about how you challenge yourself in and out of the classroom and what your story is that makes you stand out.

Where do Good Ideas Come From?

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(The first picture is us with a friend of Ms. Cantwell who saw that we were at LAUNCH and got in contact with us through Ms. Cantwell because his office was so close that he wanted to meet up. The second picture is us with last years’ LAUNCH hackathon winner who started his first business at age 15 creating websites for his parents’ friends, and he has been coding since 12. The Third picture is us at the Institute for the Future after an amazing presentation about the possibilities both good and bad for our future generations. )

Today was awesome!!!!!!!!! Today was really the first big day when we jumped out of just “touristy mode” and into “business mode”, and it sparked some fantastic conversations both within the MVPS group, and with other designers out there in the “real world”.

We went to The Institute for the Future, LAUNCH (a conference where a bunch of startups get funded), and had an impromptu meeting with a friend of a fellow MVPS teacher due to the power of social media.

Our essential question for the day was “where do good ideas come from?” It was interesting because everyone gave fairly similar answers, and they all really represented the MVPS mindsets.

People said that it comes from identifying a “pain”, as last years’ LAUNCH hackathon winner said, and then collaborating with others to really come up with good ideas that will go somewhere.

Everyone also stressed the importance of really following your passions in life so that you are happy, and not just making money; which was a really good conversation to have with these people.

I was amazed with how willing people were to talk to a bunch of high schoolers, and when asked, everyone agreed to be recorded in short interviews that we will add to our documentary video of the trip!

We even asked some of our presenters to pick which MVPS mindset (communicator, collaborator, ethical decision maker, solution seeker, creative thinker, and innovator) spoke to them the most. The two picked today were collaborator and creative thinker which I thought accurately described the qualities people talked about that are needed to have good ideas.

What Makes SF an Innovation Hub?


How does the geography and culture of San Francisco contribute to it’s world status as an innovative hub?

This was one of our driving question for the day while on our tour of The City. We got to see a lot of breath taking views today of the Golden Gate Bridge (which has the largest suspensions in the world), the top of the twin peaks, and the Red Wood Forest.

What I came to discover today was how much San Francisco is similar to New York City; and I love both of these cities!

Some obvious similarities are that San Francisco and New York are both cities with large, diverse populations, and the city systems both are set up like a grid with lots of public transportation. This leads me to wonder, why is San Francisco called the “innovation hub” instead of New York; what are the key differences?

On the one hand, San Francisco weather is amazing! Cold is like 50 degrees and dying hot is like 80 degrees. I wonder if this nice weather, well despite the strong winds at times, just naturally attracts more people. However, as I said, New York also has lots of people, so it must not just be the great weather.

San Francisco is set up on a grid system which makes it really easy to find your way around, but it is also geographically on top of mountains. It is impossible to avoid steep hills, which is why things like Lombard Street exist where there is a 5 mi/hr speed limit due to sharp turns in the road to avoid too steep drops. It seems like these hills would be annoying to maneuver through town with, and New York doesn’t have these giant hills comparatively, so obviously the geography isn’t stopping innovation. If anything, you could argue that it is creating problems opportunities for innovations.


From what has been described to me, I understand that San Francisco has gone through several different periods of intense population growth. The Gold Rush, the Native American’s coming to Alcatraz, the hippie movement, and recently a period of technology advancements has supposedly triggered a current population increase.

What I really want to know is, “How did this technology movement started in SF?”

This is the question I hope to answer by the end of the week because I think it will lead to an answer to my big question, and I think tomorrow’s visit to the LAUNCH Festival, where a lot of start-up companies are funded, will be a great place to start!

(By the way, #realworld compare and contrast writing.)

Shrimpin Time in Alcatraz

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Day one in San Francisco was a blast!!!!!! I can’t believe it’s only been a day because we’ve done so much already.

I mean it’s only day one but we’ve already had something lost (Stephens luggage), people left (#notenoughroomonthebus), almost a fight with a skate border (still don’t know why, but this skateboarder looked like he was about to go at it with one of the guys), someone run into a pole (this doesn’t really need further explanation), and some freshman needing to be talked to about appropriate behavior (I don’t even know what they were doing to need this).

Plus awesome moments with the chaperones dancing and catch phrases like “come on down it’s shrimpin time”.

But you know the biggest mistakes often make the best stories, and we have some awesome ones after today.

Anyway, besides the random side stories/adventures, today we went to Alcatraz and I learned a bunch and had a ton of fun!

To start we decided that the seagull on top of our ferry was named Michael. Alcatraz island is actually one of a mere 200 places where it is actually safe for gulls like Michael to nest, and it signifies how the island’s uses has really come full circle over the years.

(Keep in mind this is all based from notes I was taking, so hopefully this is accurate, but some of the years may be a little off.)

In 1849 the gold rush was happening in California. Once gold was found it became much more meaningful to America for them to keep control of California. Whoever controlled the bay was really in control of the entire coast as it was explained to us by our tour guide who said that their goal was to “challenge and inspire people’s thoughts about Alcatraz”.

To keep control of the coast, the US set up a military post in Alcatraz in 1950, and this stayed for a while.

Then in 1934 the island was opened up as a prison for some of the worst criminals at the time such as Al Capone. However, this island wasn’t just home to prisoners. What I hadn’t realized before was that the workers actually lived on the island with their families as well.

There were about 85 children living on the island with 12 boat trips a day going over to the bay. All of the kids went to school on the main land and then came back after school. Interviews of former children living on the island tell us that they never even thought about the prisoners and it was nice to be on the quite little island with no cars to get in the way of the children playing.

The prison was eventually shut down, and in 1971 it was claimed by Native Americans trying to make a statement about the poor life they lead on reservations. The island wasn’t getting used anyway, so rather than going to a reservation, Native American’s from several different tribes joined together on this little island with no running water  or natural resources to protest reservations.

Then in 1981 the island became a national park, and the park, including it’s species of gulls, plants, and sea lions are all federally protected. The island has come full circle now and has reverted to “The Island of the Strange Sea Birds” (I think there was some fancy name for this in another language, but all I have now is the translation.)

From our tour I was amazed with how many prison cells there were. Some of us even got to experience what it would be like in solitude. One of the workers closed us in a cell in pitch dark expect for the slight shimmer of light coming from under the door.

One of the ladies with us in the room was claustrophobic and scared of the dark, so she was talking the entire time and kind of ruined the experience for me. She was amusing though. The worker told us people could be trapped in their for up to 14 days and the only thing they had was darkness and their thoughts, which I can imagine would get pretty stressful.

We kind of skipped the second half of the audio tour, because we were notified that a section of the island where the laundry room was, that is typically not open, was going to be open until 6 today. So we went and saw this cool art exhibit that contained a giant dragon, and drawings of people made out of 1.2 million Legos total. It was really impressive.

The night ended strong with us  walking down the pier to get some dinner and doing a ton of laughing along the way.

It was a great night one on the Innovation Tour!!!