The Independent Project

The past few weeks I have been conversing with Mary and Cali Ragland, two seniors from Perkiomen Valley High School in Pennsylvania. These two are are currently taking an independent study course around the essential question: “How might we design an educational system that best meets the 21st learner’s needs by valuing curiosity?” They reached out to me after having been introduced by a teacher to some of my blog posts and learning about my work in the Education Transformation Movement. Furthermore, my work designing the AP Lang Collab Course last year, where I co-developed an AP Language and Composition course, was intriguing to them because they wanted to learn about how to push through the “dark night of the soul” in the life of an self-guided project.

These two have been doing some great work interviewing teachers and students and pulling away key insights about the role of curiosity in education. I especially love the quote that they describe as really encompassing what made them interested in education transformation:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – W.B. Yeats

I would definitely encourage reading more about their work on their blog:  Curiosity in Education. Personally, talking to these two has been great because it’s reminded me of how far I’ve come in the past few years, and reminded me how important it is for me to always go back to where I started- this blog.

Senior year has made blogging very difficult because I have spent most of my “non homework writing time” working on college essays and scholarship applications. Then when I kind of have “free time” (which basically just means I have finished homework and have no planed activities or meetings at the time) I find myself wanting to savor the moment to take a break from intense mindfulness. However, I know how important it is to blog to not only share my story with others, but to reflect for myself and capture my learning journey. After all, I started this blog for me -not because I wanted hundreds of followers or felt like my voice was something that just had to be heard by others- I started it because of what I thought was a silly challenge to observe and reflect on the world more intently.

In fact, I haven’t blogged in so long that I haven’t yet reflected on the fact that I was approved to embark on another curriculum creation opportunity by designing my own Independent Project!!

For my last semester of high school I am exploring the connection point between film, change theory, and education which will also apply towards my last needed half of a social sciences credit. Often times social science credits are just assumed to be a history course, whether it be world history, US history, economics, US government, etc. However, social sciences by definition are “social” meaning, about human society and social relationships and how they function, which does explicitly mean just IMG_6689.JPG“history.”

I say “just history” because I believe everything involves some understanding of history, because everything has a history and thus History is Everywhere. An essential question to all learning is, “How can we use the knowledge we have gathered over time (the past) in order to better understand and design for our present and future?”

So yes I believe you could call my course a “history course” because I’m definitely researching the past. However, for my particular project, I really wanted to explore society from the perspective of how we create change in society to then apply this knowledge in the world of education. The final product of this work will be a high quality documentary video focused on the Innovation Diploma and the moment that I call the “clicking moment”; that moment when students realize that the world is changing and education should be too, and they start to take ownership of their learning in order to make a difference now, not “when they are grown up.”

Now the main reason I haven’t mentioned this project yet is because it was a last minute project that got put into double time in order to come to life. At the end of last semester I knew I wanted to devote more time second semester to exploring and contributing to the education transformation movement. However, I’m always so busy and yet their is a finite amount of time in the day. I had to figure out what in my daily schedule could give a little time. What I realized is that what I wanted to work on would likely hit a lot of social science credits, so we thought, “What if this was my ‘history’ class?”

I worked on overdrive with my mentors in order to put together a document to pitch the idea of an Independent Project to our administration. The end of the semester though was a very crazy time for me both in and out of school, so I got approved with the intent of needing the first few weeks of second semester to still work on the planning details.


One of the first tasks I had was to figure out how I would devote my ID time, especially after the reMoVe10 design brief gained so much momentum after first semester. The design brief given to us by the Mayor of Sandy Springs, was designed to be a project we worked on during a single semester. However, our school admin, representatives from the Sandy Springs Council, and our new partners at Georgia Commute Options all got so fired up about the work we’ve been doing, that we realized this project needed to continue. 16387341_10154593513538277_4820722959124524604_n.jpg

Because of this decision to change the scope of the project, our team had to look back at our team roles and norms and decide how best to continue based on plans that were already set for second semester. I already had plans to work on my Independent Project work, and another team mate was already in the process of another design brief opportunity. Therefore, we added a new member to our team, and I used the month of January to waning out of my position as team leader to make a smoother transition for the new team. My plan is to continue to work with the reMoVe10 team, but more as a consultant for them to help give feedback and provide assistance at specific events.

{Small necessary tangent: This last month was honestly really hard for me, because I naturally find myself in a leadership role in the sense of “project manager,” so it was challenging to work on stepping back and being a leader by pushing others to take a leadership role. However, I think it was something important for me to work on because part of a leaders role should always be to coach others to lead.}

IMG_6691.JPGWhile continuing to work with the reMoVe10 team this past month, I used 4th period (my Independent Project time) to start further brainstorming what my video will look like, while getting a Film Course 101 tutorial from a mentor, and continuing to find ways I can discover and experiment with changes in education specifically in regards to the role of student voice. So far I’m diving deep into essential questions such as “What motivates people to learn?” “Where does ‘passion’ fit into education?” and “What gives students agency?” as my design drivers, though I believe as I start to interview people the story line will become even more clear.

I’ve learned that with documentaries one of the best things to do is to just press record and start filming. So now that I’ve officially had my last day full time with the reMoVe10 team (last Wednesday) I’ve been gearing up to dive all in on this Independent Project using my 8 hours and 40 minutes a week (between ID time and my new Independent Project specific time) to research, film, and synthesize information about the social science of education change. We pushed “purchase” on some new awesome film equipment yesterday, and now the fun (and intense) work is about to really start!

The Hump

imgres.jpgI don’t really understand the expression “moving in circles.” More often I feel like I’m moving in infinity loops. It seems like I’m being productive and making new choices to try and move forward, but in actuality I’m just moving infinitely many times in the same constant cycle.

The last couple of weeks have kind of felt like this. In ID, in theater, in acro, even with class work a little. It has been feeling like not much has positively changed. I wouldn’t say things are bad, but they are just annoyingly constant. I’m a person who enjoys being busy and working fast, and moving quickly to do seemingly impossible things. I get frustrated when it feels like I’ve been spending too long doing virtually the same thing, and yet that’s how things feel lately.

With my acro routines, my theater performance, and my team’s work trying to make the next level prototype of the RISE bin, with all of these things I’ve been working hard to make them better for the past few weeks. However, as much effort as our team has been putting into them, we just can’t seem to get over the hump. We still haven’t done an acro routine with out falling for my hardest group and we perform next week. We still haven’t done a full run through of Shrek (or had everyone off book, or had everyone show up, let alone still working in new props, tech, and costumes), and we perform next week. And after months working on a full sized next level prototype, we still are getting stuck with materials and number crunching with ReSpIn, and we have a presentation/performance/showcase/iFest next week as well!

Everything is next week, and going into next week I currently am a tad worried. Typically everything seems to work out in the end, and the show must go on despite how ready or not we feel, but that hasn’t been easing my thoughts.

We still have a long way to go and little time, and I wonder how in the world we can get over the various humps in our lives.

Stories Come From the Heart


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.

The Education Ecosystem


Remember those times in elementary school where you study ecosystems? “What’s at the top of the food chain? What provides nutrients to what? How does everything relate together? Do you see how we are creating a web not just one strict path?”

I remember in 3rd grade doing a project on the rain forest. The rain forest is one of the most biodiverse places on the Earth. There are thousands of species that all work together to create  beautiful and constantly evolving environment. I created a visual chart that showed just a snippet of some animals and plants living in this ecosystem and even with just the maybe 15 species I was able to fit on a poster board, I had created a web of lines between how these species interact with one another.

In 4th grade, I got the chance to actually visit a rain forest while in Puerto Rico. I first hand got to see how different species have adapted to continue surviving in this ecosystem. I remember seeing a tree that had fallen over, but it over time had curved up because the roots were still semi in the ground and therefore the tree still wanted sunlight to keep living. The branches all arched at weird angles to try and maximize the amount of sunlight it could absorb. The tree continued to live even after being pushed down by its surroundings.

Grant Lichtman, in Part 3 of his book #EdJourney talks about how education needs to change from an engineered system created by humans to resemble an assembly line, to a natural, self-evolving ecosystem of flowing ideas and knowledge. I personally love this metaphor and entirely agree that education needs to exist as an ecosystem.

Furthermore I love the distinction Mr. Lichtman makes with the role humans play in this ecosystem:

“True ecosystems share one critically important attribute: Ecosystems are not designed by humans. Instead humans exist within ecosystems. In my view, great learning and education do not ‘act like an ecosystem.’ Great education is an ecosystem. There is a big difference.” (p.224)

The conversation Kat and I had today during our 20/20, reminded me a lot of conversations I’ve been having around the ideas of assessment/measurement lately about how we need to have systems that are limitless. The next big change that needs to occur in education is creating an entire system, an ecosystem, that is able to constantly, and naturally evolve over time like how a periodic table can predict future elements. In the past we have a system, then we discover this system doesn’t work, so we put a bunch of effort into completely changing the system.

I don’t want to keep doing a complete change of the system every decade or so when we realize that our education system isn’t keeping up with a changing world culture. I want an education system that changes and evolves with our changing world culture.

The Wisdom of Justice


So I honestly don’t know where this 20/20 on Plato’s Book 1 of The Republic will go because to be honest, philosophy is hard to capture in words sometimes.

Book 1 ends in an “agree to disagree” situation between Socrates and several others while trying to decide on a definition of justice, and a “just man”. This conversation begins with a discussion about old age, and how someone makes the claim of old men being wise.

I like how Socrates describes that you can’t just become old and then instantaneously become wise, but instead your character as a person throughout your life time influences what you are like in old age.

But what makes someone wise?

How are wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and education related and yet different?

Well here are my thoughts.

Knowledge is knowing facts. Intelligence though, is being able to interpret and analyze these facts to make conclusions and actually put the knowledge you have to use in your life situation. Wisdom then, is the ability to learn from the experiences that occur in your life and to be able to teach the intelligence you’ve gained to others. Education finally, is the actual process of learning and teaching facts.

So you may notice that education leads back to knowledge once again, thus forming a lovely circle. (Because we all know life is full of circular thinking, and circles are pretty cool.)

But Plato is writing about justice, so how does wisdom connect to justice?

This is the question I am left still pondering, but I’m thinking that in order to be just you must use your wisdom. When you reach the point of being able to teach something to someone else, then you must know that thing well enough to help influence decisions that need to be made around a debate around that thing. (I feel that I may be getting a little “up in the clouds” as we say in Chemistry when we start speaking more conceptually, but again, philosophy is hard to articulate without some extent of confusion and with things left for interpretation.)

So I’m not going to attempt to define justice yet, but I am starting to conceptualize the relations between education, knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, and justice. So hopefully, like the periodic table, once I have more background information I will be able to predict the future better and therefore better understand justice itself.

Justice is not a simple thing, it is a concept, defined by the definer, used to settle debates, created to shape governments. A just man is one that must try and decide that which is the just decision. This task is difficult and requires much wisdom.

Leaping into Empathy


Being as passionate about education redesign as I am, I’ve been trying to make more of a point to think about ways that design thinking can be incorporated into the classroom, and what struggles I notice occurring around trying to use elements of design thinking.

One of the big things I’ve noticed is that we often spend a really long time on the discovery phase. (Referring to the DEEP process we use at MVPS which stands for Discover, Empathize, Experiment, Produce.) I think this is because teachers, and maybe even some students, feel “safest” in the discovery mode.

Discovery is all about research, and it is really easy to “justify” how the discovery phase is meeting the goals of traditional schooling because we have always done research at school. Teachers and students have always done research and therefore, the discovery phase feels more comfortable because it’s not requiring you to really stretch yourself as a learner in terms of how you act and what you learn. Everyone interprets what they read based on what they want to know and already believe. It is much easier to get a piece of text to support your argument then it is to hear a person speak and try to pick a part their talk to validate your own believes.

While the discovery phase is very necessary to a design process, because you need some background information to know what you are even dealing with, I believe the quicker you can make the leap from discovery to empathy mode, the more things will start to “make sense”. The empathy phase is when you are challenged and get pieces of insight that spark your curiosity and interest. This is where both student and teachers start to light up and find themselves wanting to research more to further understand and question what their user said.

I’ve observed first hand the moment when students find themselves hooked on a design challenge because they realize how much it means to someone else that they spoke to. I’ve also observed how excited teachers get to see their students excited about learning. Once you get to the empathy phase, the rest of the challenge starts to get much clearer, and the question of “what in the world are we doing” starts to become less foggy.

The problem is that while the discovery mode feels very safe and comfortable in the classroom, the empathy mode is far from “safe and comfortable”. To get to the point of interviewing people can be really hard in a classroom environment. One of the biggest struggles being that if students don’t yet care or understand why you are doing what you are doing, it is often hard to get them to find people to interview because they don’t know what to do next.

Design thinking is still pretty new to the education world, and while teachers are learning more and more about how to involve design thinking in their classrooms, students are not necessarily having a parallel introduction to design thinking. If a teacher walks into a classroom full of students that barely (if at all) understand why we do design thinking, they can’t just magically flip on the light switch and expect the students to be able to self guide themselves through a design thinking challenge.

The light switch has to be built before it can be used.

You have to have the tool before you can use it.

Creative confidence is something nurtured and grown, not magically summoned upon when you need it for a class assignment.

I know I haven’t even started to talk about the Experiment or Produce stages, but that’s because I honestly don’t think I’ve had a class where we really and truly reached these stages even.

More often than not, we spend so much time on discovery, that we try to cram empathy in really quickly and then have spent so much time on the project already, that we decide to end after our empathy findings so that we can move on to the next unit. I get why. I mean there is only so much time in the school year, and at this point there are still things that teachers have to teach to meet certain standards by the end of the year. And to be honest, if you spend to much time on a design challenge that isn’t moving anywhere, it can eventually seem tiresome and overdone; there is only so much researching you can do before you want to just drop everything.

However, I think if we could move faster into the empathy phase of design thinking, then we would be more likely to see a challenge all the way through. I believe this because after meeting with users is when things really start to get exciting to the point where you don’t want to stop.

So here are some of my thoughts…

What if teachers took more responsibility over design challenges in the classroom? At least until students start to show a great understanding for the process itself (I imagine a future where by the time students reach high school, they are already at this comfort level; however, with design thinking in the classroom still being relatively new, students are not all ready for this responsibility yet. There is a lack of experience that must be accounted for first.)

What if, rather than going through and entire design challenge, teachers set up more design sprints or just mini design challenges that had a very purposeful flow with time constraints? Maybe these could last a week or two max for these challenges. In this challenge teachers would help facilitate students researching about users that the teacher has already found and set a specific time when they would come in to be interviewed by students. This would eliminate the struggle of students trying to find and communicate with people to set up interview times. While this is a great skill to learn, in the classroom this can get complicated because everyone has different schedules and some students may need more help than others with setting up this interview. So I think this skill is something that could wait to be practiced until students have a better understanding of the design thinking process first.

Then after all of the students have gotten the chance to talk to one or two users, the teacher helps guide the class through a series of tools to help unpack interviews and discover what the how might we statement is.

It’s at this point where I would imagine some of my blog readers may start thinking that this sounds like a very familiar process. That’s because I literally think that teachers could facilitate in their classroom sessions similar to how we run some of our big design thinking events at Mount Vernon like the Council on Innovation or FUSE. Sure there may be a bit more of a challenge with time because the sessions would have to be broken up over multiple days for shorter time periods, but I think it’s conceivable. (I mean we even had students create and facilitate an entire design thinking session with a similar flow to this in Davos this past summer for the Global Leadership Summit.)

Students need time to be creative and explore their passions, but when it comes to design thinking, I think they first need more guidance and closer facilitation in order to learn the ropes before trying to sail alone. The best way to learn how to sail is to actually get in the boat, so why not give students more opportunities to experience design thinking by facilitating lots of mini more guided and focused design thinking sessions in the classroom?  This may also help with classroom design challenges leaping over the ditch between the discovery and empathy phases of the DEEP process, and then maybe having the time to then go even further into the process with experimenting and producing. The student boats will capsize a few times, but eventually they’ll get more use to that water, and before you (the teacher) knows it, they’ll be off exploring new lands on their own.

Hands On With Experts


It’s a lot of fun learning new skills. Today I learned how to make pictures show up in a slide show on my blog, how to build a robot hand, and more tips and tricks for speaking with different accents (specifically British, Scottish, and German for our winter show The 39 Steps).

I find it interesting how skills like this are often best learned and taught if you just have a teacher start doing it and you try to mimic what they’re doing as they provide feedback and work along side of you.

Sure I could have read tens of pages on rules and tendencies that are associated with other accents, but no one says “I can speak in a Scottish accent” after just reading some rules or even after listening to videos. You have to practice the accent and have someone else help tell you how you are doing by providing you with feedback along the way.

And with the robotic hand (which I’m going to be honest, I had to leave before we finished it), I could have been given the instructions and told to figure it out. If this was the case though, I don’t think I ever would have gotten far past step one due to confusion. Especially since the instructions were only pictures… However, this wasn’t the case, and instead I was working with one of my mentors to put this hand together and he was able to help show and tell me what to do, and I think if I was given the same tools now, I could probably replicate the process we went through.

On the flip side, not actually working hands on with a mentor can often make it really challenging to learn new skills. If you aren’t introduced to something, how can you be expected to try using that skill?

I think this fact exposes a struggle in education. Teachers are always trying to encourage their students to present information in new and creative ways, but people tend to stick to what they know. If they aren’t exposed a little to different forms of presentations, it would be hard to make one on their own.

So what if teachers actually co-created creative presentations. What if a teacher worked with students to write a spoken word piece about how we need to protect the rainforest? What if teachers and students worked together to make a documentary about the life of an artist. What if teachers and students worked together to design an art piece that represents the human rights? What if teachers and students worked together to write a letter about how members of their school community feel about the use of social media in education? What if teachers and students worked together to design an advertisement campaign for why it’s important to have proper safety equipment in science labs?

These would all be such cool presentations of ideas, but, while I think it is great to give students freedom, choice, and the ability to wonder and explore, I also think students still need guidance. As humans we naturally copy what we’ve been exposed to and seen other people do. That’s how we learn to walk, and talk, and write our names. We watch. We try. We fail. We repeat. We do. We explore. We teach. We repeat.

Learning is constant– It’s the learning cycle.

So if education wants students to be more creative with presentations, then students need to have more hands on work side by side with experts who can expose them to creative ways to do presentations. Then once they watch, try, fail, and repeat a few times, then eventually they will learn and be able to explore techniques further, and eventually be able to teach and lead others as well.  (And presentations aren’t the only things that this mindset can be applied to.)

No Constraints


It’s been weird and great to have time this weekend without homework! Today, after coaching at an event for foster children, I actually had some time to read for a while (before I fell asleep with sticky-notes on me at the gym…).

I’ve really just started #EdJourney by Grant Lichtman, but I’ve gotten about 30 pages in and read the 15sh page intro, so I’ve finally reached that point where I’ve started thinking a bunch about it. (Oh by the way, this was also the book we hand choose to read for AP Lang because we were that curious and engaged after reading his first book The Falconer which was amazing!)

The book tells the journey of Mr. Lichtman from when he spent 89 days traveling the country and visiting various school to ask students, teachers, faculty members, and parents this list of questions:

  • What does innovation mean to yo? 
  • How has your school changed to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world? 
  • Is your school organized more for the benefit of the children or the adults?
  • What do we really need to teach and learn in schools, and how are you doing this? 
  • What does that look like?
  • What has worked?
  • What has not? 

Trying to get at the heart of what 21st century education looks like, Mr. Lichtman identifies the major road blocks and obstacles to education reform and provides ample examples of ways that schools around the country are solving for these problems.

While reading about all of the cool things that school around the country have set up in their programs, it’s made me wonder about what my ideal school experience would look like if there were no constraints. Like non at all! No worrying about what colleges would think, money isn’t an issue, there is no issue of hiring the staff I’d like, the community can be made up, anything is possible!

I haven’t yet really started to answer this question, but I predict that this will be the big question I’m trying to answer as I continue to read.

Some of the underlying questions to this big question being: How I would structure time and scheduling? How would students and teachers interact? What types of teachers would work at the school? How big would the school be? What would the layout of the building be like? What types of equipment and resources would there be? How would assessment work? What types of course work would be offered? How would the curriculum be structured? What type of community would the school be in location wise? What would the founding values, principles, and mission be of the school?

And I’m sure many more questions will be encountered during my reading, and life. I wonder also what this imaginary school would like if there was a time constraint on the brainstorming time. I also wonder how my individual image could potentially change if I was working on a team to answer this question, and therefore everyone would have different opinions and ideas we’d have to manage. I’d be interested in how sub teams of ID peeps would answer this question actually. Hum… How might we…

Level Two: Blowing Up a Thought


So last night I wrote an eh blog post in my own personal opinion. It was meant to be a reflection on our design challenge that we’ve been working on for the past few weeks in ID. The reason I call this past post “eh” is because I think I was just writing for the sake of writing, and thus there was a decent bit of word vomit in compassion specifically with other works of writing I’ve done.

However, towards the end of my post I did start to have some meat (go figure the meat came in when I started to talk about my wonders). One key insight I found while reflecting on my reflection was this last paragraph:

“I also still wonder though about where our recycling actually goes. This topic came up during our feedback, because many people have heard rumors that the recycling still ends up being picked up with the trash, and if this is true, then it won’t be much help at all even if more people start correctly using recycling bins and thus we’d be in the position of solving for the wrong problem. I wonder how we can test this rumor so we can make sure we are solving for the right problem.”

I’d like to take this thought to “Level Two”. (Level two, level two, level two… dun dun DUUUUUUNNNNNNN!) By going to Level Two, I would like to ask a new question: How might we discover if we are solving for the right problem?

I’d like to set some constraints on my thought process (or through a Canada as some of us say as a joke from an early adventure), by saying what my most ideal plan would be assuming that everything worked out nicely.

It would be fantastic if a group of us could spend a day where we started after school one day by talking to custodians about how they go about picking up the trash and recycling in the high school, and ideally, we would actually observe them during this process.

Then the next morning a group of us would wait for the recycling to be picked up from the back of the school. When the recycling gets picked up, we would physically follow it to see where else it stops on it’s path to where ever it goes. All the while we would talk to various people we met along the journey to learn about their role in the whole recycling process.

Eventually the truck we are following will come to it’s final destination for the day, at which point, we too would follow the recycling on it’s journey. We would then talk to people at the final destination trying to discover what they know about recycling and/or trash. Who knows where the recycling goes? If it does go to a recycling plant, then it would be interesting to ask about what the workers have observed about the recycling that comes in. If the recycling goes to a landfill, it would be interesting to learn more about the landfill process and to ask questions about what the workers there see come it. Also both people could be asked about what they think about sustainability.

The over all goal of this experience would be to discover what happens to our recycling by actually observing it all the way on it’s journey past the school. (Can you imagine how cool it would be to tell a pitch through the story lens of a sticky note on it’s journey?!?!)

After going out into the “real world” last Friday on our adventures with ID,  it reminded me how important it is to physically get out of your own “sterile environment” and get a little messy while actually talking to people. In my own personal experience, you learn a lot more from observations and talking to people while on an adventure, then while trying to research and make assumptions in a desk, or even while in a studio.

I wonder if we (being my team of 7) could/should (it may still not be the best plan, I’m open to suggestions) pitch the idea of us having an excused absence day from school in order to pursue this discovery adventure. It would be like a pitch for the pitch almost, because what we would be pitching is why the work we are doing is important enough for us to miss our traditional classes in order to let us continue to further research our challenge and help the MVPS community.

Rooms as Learning Experiences

IMG_4511 IMG_4509 IMG_4510

(Pictures of the new MVPS playground on the Founders Campus)

Today I was doing an interview for our current ID design challenge about recycling with our head of school along side of some awesome 5th graders who proved to be very valuable to the conversation. I loved the fact that we made connections across divisions to come together on one common problem/challenge/opportunity.

During this interview we actually ended up on a topic I never would have expected to come up while talking about recycling and sustainability: our new preschool re-designed playground. It’s so cool (my partner and I later explored around the perimeter of the playground since it isn’t open quite yet), and interestingly enough, it’s quite sustainable as well since it was made by trees found on campus and is all about having fun in nature.

What interested me the most was the concept of how it is an always changing playground. Most playgrounds you go to our “static playgrounds” as our head of school said; their may be slides, tunnels, and  pipes, but they never change where they are or how they work, so often times kids get bored with them over time. With our new playground, kids are encouraged to make it their own and constantly change the way it looks. For example, one area I got really interested in was the area where there are tee-pee like things in the ground from a wooden pole and a few tree branches. The idea behind this aspect to the playground, is that students can take fallen tree branches and add to the structure to make new places to play in.

I wonder what school would be like if all classrooms were designed with this same concept in mind of being able to constantly change. What if classrooms were always being added to, arranged with new aspects to fit different classes and different projects? What if students had the ability to add and change the classroom environment? What if all rooms were specialized to fit what type of learning goes on in that classroom (I know we actually have a high school English class working on this idea with creating and english lab)? What if there was a school with a constantly rearranging layout? What if new “hideaway” spots were constantly being created and explored? What if classrooms themselves were a stand alone learning experience where there was always something new to learn simply by exploring in the room?