Too Much Choice

Today I realized a trend in my learning habits: I don’t do well with projects that give me too much choice.

You know, the projects that are super open-ended and students can pick “any topic” or, in my case with business classes, “any organization” to do their assignment on. I’m the kind of person that likes to weigh out all of my options before I make a decision. So when an assignment has hundreds of possible options to focus on, I just end up getting stressed and overwhelmed and usually end up procrastinating the decision until I inevitably have to make a last-minute decision I’m not happy with.

Clearly, this is a trend because when I think back to all of the assignments where I’ve had ample choice, every single one of them has caused me this stress and overwhelming feeling – the “Big History” project freshman year of high school, the civil rights project junior year of high school, my organizational behavior project last year, and right now my marketing assignment.

Now I’ll admit, I know not every student stresses these choices to the same extent I do. Some people are perfectly happy with just going along with the first thing they think of, but I also know I’m not alone in my frustration with these situations. And when I connected these dots, I also realized that my feelings actually correspond with what psychology tells us about choice: people tend to panic when given too many options. This is why any time you’re tasked with making a survey you’re told to not make too many questions or give too many answer choices. There’s a reason multiple-choice tests typically have 3-4 potential answers… The science says too many options and people won’t choose at all.

This makes me wonder, how might we find the balance between giving students choices in their learning without giving an overwhelming amount of choices to choose from?

Student choice is great, but it’s only great in moderation. We don’t want to paralyze students in effort to give them more choices in their learning.

For example with my marketing assignment that I’m currently working on, I would have loved if our professor said, “You are consulting for company X. You can choose any challenge/threat, target market, user need, etc. to focus on in your marketing strategy suggestions, but this is the company you are consulting for.” There is still plenty of room for choice and creativity in an assignment like this, but the slightly more focused prompt, just by giving the name of a company, would make this assignment feel so much less grand. Plus let’s face it, in the “real world” you get hired by a specific company, you don’t go around making up ideas for just any company you want – unless you have a very unique business model in your organization… I love this kind of project of identifying user needs and brainstorming ways to meet them, it’s essential design thinking just being called “marketing”, but I don’t get the purpose of working without first starting with a specific user. And we would still have to do plenty of research and problem identification work in order to respond to this assignment, but we wouldn’t have to waste time figuring out what company (user) we’re working for.

I urge teachers to consider the issue of giving too much choice when creating assignments because it’s such an unnecessary cause of school stress.

“Kicking & Screaming”

I’ve been hearing a lot of conversations lately around how powerful it’s been to see students speaking out for changes to education because the traditional model doesn’t work online. Many also express their hope to see this sudden uprise of student voice and agency in education continue once we are allowed back in school buildings. Furthermore, people are hoping if learners come back “kicking and screaming, and demanding change” then things might actually start to look different long term.

However, my fear is that students that may be proving more feedback than usual right now aren’t going to realize that the newfound power of their voice isn’t just due to distance learning. Student voice has always been powerful, but I fear when we get back into classrooms, students will think, “Okay, now things are back to ‘normal’, therefore, my opinions on how school should be run no longer matter.”

It’s invaluable to have student voice to better re-design the learning process and make sure we’re meeting user needs. And it’s inspiring it is to see students having agency during a time when there isn’t really accountability- there aren’t many viable punishments right now, so you can’t scare students into coming to class and participating, they have to actually want to learn. So everyone is wondering, “How might we continue to see student voice and learner agency when we return to our schools?”

Well, I propose that step 1 is that we have to make sure students even realize what student voice and agency mean and help them be able to identify that they have it.

I think we are currently seeing a rise in student voice and agency out of obligation. I know from personal experience that I’ve had several moments in the past few weeks were I’ve participated in school-related feedback sessions just because I feel like it’s one of the few things I can do so I should be doing it. Things are so new and different that, even if they can’t articulate it, learners realize they have to have agency if they want to keep from getting bored or mentally unstable. Furthermore, they acknowledge that with these changes it makes sense that school leaders want to hear student stories and opinions because everyone is flying blind so the more help the better. It’s easy to accept these concepts as being necessary and normal right now. But student voice and agency were already invaluable before we moved to distance learning, most students just didn’t realize it.

Student voice I think is a bit more straight forward in terms of meaning, but I don’t think most students realize just how powerful it is in the eyes of educators to get true feedback directly from the users, ie. students. I also believe this is in part because most students don’t think their thoughts will really be taken seriously – I’ve pretty much been directly told this before. Anyone who knew me in high school would say I was part of the “smart people group” – the same group some people may refer to as “teacher’s pets” – and yet even some of my closest friends would sometimes make comments about not thinking administration really cared about student opinions. Not to mention students who weren’t typically thought of as being part of the “smart people group” would make snide remarks about feeling like they weren’t one of the “chosen ones” so why should they even bother to share their opinions.

Right now everything about school is different, and so it’s easier to grapple with the idea that teachers and administrators might care a little more about all student opinions right now. If we want to continue to see student voice upon returning to our usual learning environments, there has to be more transparency with students so they know if they speak up they’re actually being heard.

When it comes to learner agency, I bet 9/10 learners couldn’t articulate what it means to have “agency.” I mean even as I’m writing this post my computer keeps underlining the word agency thinking I’m using it incorrectly because it thinks I’m talking about a corporate agency. Additionally, I’ve been to at least a dozen education conferences at this point that talk about learner agency, and even I sometimes wonder about how to best describe it which is what makes me really doubt students without a particular passion for transforming education can actually tell you what agency is.  Learners can have agency without understanding it, but if we really expect students to come back to school and “demand” that they have agency, they have to know what it is.

We can’t just keep hoping that learners will all of a sudden start “kicking and screaming” for education change and that’s what will make the difference. Some learners, I believe myself to be one of these learners, will have an amazing experience with learner-centered education, realize that the experience was partly due to feeling like they had a voice and agency in their learning, and then start advocating for change. But I know I’m not the normal student, and most learners don’t have this reaction even after a crazy out of the box experiences.

My first of a series of “ah-ha experiences” happened at the 2013 Council on Innovation. I was one of twenty students asked to spend an entire day not going to classes and instead partake in this day-long design thinking event alongside twenty community experts and visionaries. Of those twenty students that participated, I was the only one that after the experience decided I needed to start “demanding change,” and I wouldn’t even call it demanding per-say, I just started conversations. Later in time others began to agree that things could be better if they changed, but I wouldn’t say they were “kicking and screaming” about the necessity of these changes. Now obviously this one-day event is not as big of a change in the learning environment as the weeks we have already and are still yet to experience online during this pandemic, but I don’t expect the results to be much different in terms of how many students are going to come out of this wanting immediate permanent change. Honestly, from what I keep hearing from my friends and the kids I coach, I’m expecting most students will just want to feel like things are “normal” again and want to stop dealing with so much change.

So yes it’s great and inspiring to see how learners are reacting during these challenging times, and I would love to see more learners speaking up for long-term education change, but if we want to see this happen I think it’s going to take a lot more than just hope. We can’t just expect to have this big unique learning experience (if that’s how you want to describe the current circumstances) and then have dozens of learners suddenly come back as reborn advocates of learner-centered education. We need action not just hope. We need to be open and honest to learners about how much influence they currently have over education, and then guide them in the process of reflecting on how this might factor into what they expect/want out of school upon returning to our buildings. Most importantly though, we have to make sure learners realize that they even have voice and agency and that it matters far beyond the scope of distance learning.

 

The “Extra Work” Barrier

Good learning takes a good amount of work.

I have started to receive some updates about how my assignments and deadlines have been adjusted to account for online learning, so today I spent a good bit of time re-organizing my calendar and assignment list I created at the beginning of the semester. I also made sure to review documents with further details on my assignments.

One of my projects, for my human development class, is writing an essay based on an interview with someone about key learning and development moments across their lifespan. When I first heard about this assignment I was rather impressed. It felt very “21st century learning” to me to have us demonstrate our understanding of the material by first learning interviewing skills and then associating between the real-life stories and the human development theories we learn in class in order to write a structured research paper.

I still think this is a very well designed assignment, but today I was viewing more from my student perspective than my curious-about-education perspective. From a student’s perspective, this project involves a lot of steps.

  1. Complete an online ethics module to prove understanding of ethical guidelines involved with research practices.
  2. Find someone to agree to an hour and half long interview about their life.
  3. Conduct the interview.
  4. Write the transcript for the video.
  5. Then write the actual paper including:
    1. Introduction to the topic and purpose of the report
    2. Outline methods and procedures
    3. Describe measures to ensure ethical practices
    4. Summarize the participant’s life
    5. Find 3-4 key themes in development
    6. Analyze each theme by discussing it’s relevance to human development theories
    7. Draw conclusions based on the analyzes
    8. Include at least 5 references to scholarly sources

It’s not that the project doesn’t seem doable, and it’s not that it sounds unreasonable, it just sounds like a lot to do which is a bit daunting (especially when reading the way more detailed version of the list I made that includes very specific instructions for each section).

My hesitations towards this project reminded me of something important about learner-centered education: it can be hard to get students on board at first.

I say “at first”, because I like to believe that students can appreciate the fact that assignments like this one are more relevant and meaningful than just taking a multiple-choice test and can come around to liking them despite the extra work at times. It’s a matter of getting over that barrier and convincing students to care more about real learning than just getting through an assignment/a class. 

I understand that this project is helping with my interview skills which will be helpful in future career development; this project allows me to connect to real people making the learning relevant; this project will force me to brainstorm and use associative thinking which is necessary for larger decision making. Therefore, I understand that the bit of extra work is worth a more meaningful learning experience – meaningful because it is meant to both prove my understanding of the material in a relevant, personalized, and contextual way and build my 21st-century skills. Not all students make this connection on their own though.

It’s not an impossible barrier to overcome, but it’s an important one to be mindful of. Students have to understand why they’re doing the work in order to actually care about doing it.

Now Is The Time

Today I got to partake in a video meeting with some educators from across the US and it was really great just to hear everyone’s stories about how their schools are dealing with the current changes.

One of the most inspiring parts about the conversation was how optimistic people were in light of everything happening.

This is the greatest disruption to our education system since the great depression. Disruption means there will be long term changes to life as we know it.

There is no question that when we get through this crisis things will be different. Change is inevitable. So the question is, what do we want that change to look like? 

Is this pandemic going to scare us backwards in an effort to make things “easier” or are we going to be inspired to charge forwards into opportunity-filled new beginnings?

Moving to distance learning has lots of challenges. To face these challenges it’s a lot easier for teachers and students both to simply watch some pre-recorded lectures and then take some online multiple-choice tests or write a 5 paragraph essay than it is to try and create opportunities for group discussions and collaborative projects compatible to a virtual environment. And honestly, with all the other stressors in life right now, making one part of life “easy” is really tempting.

But when students are sitting at home on their couch, why are they going to choose to watch a 2-hour lecture on the Pythagorean theorem as opposed to watching Mean Girls on Netflix? What’s going to motivate learners to take multiple-choice quizzes about the French Revolution instead of BuzzFeed quizzes that tell you which Disney character you are? How are we going to convince learners to write essays on Hamlet instead of Instagram posts about missing their friends?

If school isn’t engaging than learners will find something else to do that is.

Traditional schooling is not engaging.

It’s never fun to be “talked at” for hours on end, but it’s especially not fun when you’re sitting at your desk at home all alone in your room and staring at a computer screen. It’s mentally exhausting. And we already know multiple-choices tests are not indicative of actual learning.

Now more than ever, it is essential for education to be learner-centered.

We should teach lessons that are competency-based because while we can’t proctor tests as effectively online we can have virtual presentations that assess actual understanding and mastery of knowledge.

We have to find ways to engage young learners through personalized, relevant, and contextualized lessons or they just won’t log in to class.

We must encourage learner agency as a tool for staying mentally healthy and motivated to learn, explore, and create even while stuck inside.

We have to understand that learning is open-walled because we don’t know how long we will be out of our traditional classroom so we need to convince entire families that the absence of a room doesn’t mean the absence of learning.

And most importantly, while physically we might be social distancing, we need to ensure that mentally we are remaining socially embedded because a learner without a community is lost and we have enough loss in the world right now.

 

The world is changing. Education has to change too. While it might be “easier”, in the sense of having less thought work to do, we can’t rely on traditional methods to teach learners while they are at home with myriad other factors vying for their attention. Kids have to want to “go” to school because, in a way like never before, it’s really easy for them to choose not to. There aren’t many consequences to convince them otherwise so we have to use other methods to keep kids learning.

So how might we convince learners to want to “go” to school?

I propose that one answer is that schools need to be learner-centered. And maybe, just maybe, the greater impacts of learner-centered education will be so evident that we’ll be encouraged to continue teaching in a learner-centered paradigm even when we get to go back to our school buildings. So if you’re not already doing it, now is the time for learner-centered education. Now is the time to make sure we are being competency-based, teaching personalized, relevant, and contextualized lessons, encouraging learner agency, embracing open-walled learning environments, and remaining socially embedded even while distant.

There is no question that when we get through this crisis things will be different. Change is inevitable. So the question is, what do we want that change to look like? 

iNACOL Recap/Takeaways

Last week involved dozens of hours of learning and networking with thought leaders around the country working towards transforming the education system. While I reflected each night of the conference, I also decided this week to put together a presentation of some of the biggest trends and takeaways I noticed from the conference. The intent of this presentation is so that I can share highlights from the conference with the rest of the Trailblazers Production Team since I was the only member able to attend; however, I thought I would also share it publically if anyone else was curious about the happenings at iNACOl (at least from the sessions I attended).

iNACOL Day 2: Self-Reflection

Today was amazing! From the start of the day hearing from keynote speaker Derek Wenmoth from New Zealand who somehow made me even more excited to study abroad next year in that amazing country all the way to end of the night where I participated in some fantastic networking events, I was just in awe of this wonderful community.

This was a jam-packed day of learning and networking from 7am – 9pm, but I’m not going to go in detail about everything I did and learned. Instead, I’m going to try and consolidate my thoughts down to one key take away. Today that key take away was actually a self-reflection of starting to better visualize the path I’m headed on.

I’ve been passionate about transformative education since high school, but as I get older and closer to graduate I’m starting to get asked a lot more questions about “what’s next? what do you really want to do? where do you want to go with this?” Well, my method to planning for the future tends to go like this: I say yes to lots of things and get involved in lots of projects. Then I like to stand back and look for patterns/trends in the choices I’ve made to help determine what I’ve enjoyed, where I’ve made a difference, and how I would like to proceed in my learning journey.

Today I stood back and considered the choices I’ve been making in terms of sessions I choose to attend at conferences (this one and others included). The trend I’ve noticed is that I have a deep interest in professional development (including the onboarding process in particular) and research in the science of learning and teaching. Amongst all sorts of choices, I keep finding myself drawn to these two areas, so as of right now I believe that’s the direction I’d like to continue with in the future.

I see myself in both a research and practitioner role, so with that in mind, I’d like to continue my studies by doing graduate school work related to the science of learning and teaching but I’d also like to be active in the field growing professional development programs.

Some people question my desire to go into graduate school, often because they think I want to go just because of old cultural norms around needing higher credentials, but that is not the case for me. I want to go to grad school because I like to learn and I am fascinated by certain classes taught and research being conducted at this level of schooling. I am also very accepting of the idea that we learn by doing though, and that is why I also think it would be beneficial to work some after undergrad (perhaps 2 years or so) before going back for a masters degree, this way I could have a more informed view about what is actually needed in the field in terms of research.

I’m not set in stone with this plan, and I tend to be a person that just says yes when opportunities come my way and that is often how my path is most influenced, but getting the chance to think more deeply about this path of mine through self-reflection inspired by my morning sessions and networking practice at tonight’s community events was very helpful today.

Some times takeaways aren’t a particular conversation or quote or new idea, sometimes takeaways are about how the conversations, quotes, and ideas worked together to influence your own self-discovery. That was today for me and I’m grateful for that opportunity to grow as an individual.

iNACOL Day 1: Questions to Ponder

Being able to attend events like iNACOL Symposium (as of today now known as Aurora Institute) really means a lot to me because it’s an opportunity to dive deep into the world of k-12 education – a world which I’ve been somewhat disconnected from since entering undergrad. It’s been amusing to me to see all of the surprised faces when people learn I’m a young learner that chose to attend this conference; my number one asked question of the day is, “So why are you here? Is it for a class or something…?” Yet to me what is surprising is the lack of young learners in attendance, especially since this particular conference has no registration fee for k-12 students. I have always said that my personal motivation in this field is driven by the belief that young learners should be at the forefront of education transformation. Students are the primary users of school, and every good design project will say you have to start with the users to talk with them, empathize with them, and build with them in order to actually create something that meets user needs and therefore will last.

Anyway, despite the lack of young learners, we had some great conversations today! I felt like my day was divided by three main conversations so I’ll focus my reflection on those three areas: professional development, research on online learning, and whole child development.

 

Professional Development:

In the realm of professional development, we mainly just discussed a lot of interesting questions several of us are having in regards to what effective PD looks like in innovative k-12 environments. Personally, I’m interested in the question, “How might we re-design teach training from the very beginning (i.e. undergrad teacher education)?” because if re-design teacher education then it should make the onboarding process for new teachers entering innovative learning environments much smoother. We didn’t really discuss this question in-depth today, but I enjoyed having the opportunity to work on framing this question since I have recently realized that it is a reoccurring theme in my pondering. We did however talk a lot about, “HMW measure/insure the impact of professional development on teacher growth?” I found this question particularly interesting because a lot of discussions in education have been focused around competency-based learning and how to measure/assess this style of learning. And theoretically, I see no reason why these same methodologies couldn’t be used to measure/assess teacher learning and growth. Why don’t we always practice what we preach? If we truly believe that teachers are learners too, doesn’t it make sense to provide them with frequent and specific feedback on their work? Some teachers might not yet be comfortable with the idea of receiving constant feedback on their work, but we can’t improve as individuals, schools, or larger communities without feedback. As one of our table group members said “It’s a wonderful place, your comfort zone, but nothing grows there.”

 

 

Research on Online Learning:

Moving on into the day, we discussed a lot about education research specifically within the context of online and blended learning. Today I learned that I don’t know very much about online or blended learning. I’ve taken a few online courses in the past, and I had mixed opinions about them, but that’s about my extent of knowledge in this area of education. I never realized how many different kinds of online learning systems that exist until today but apparently there are over eight based on what came up in our discussions. I don’t have a particular interest in this topic, but today was really the pre-conference day for iNACOL and since I was going to be here anyway, I decided to participate in a session and the only free session was about online and blended learning, thus that’s what I participated in. To be honest, I felt like there was a lot of information that went over my head. The session was designed based on past feedback from online teachers who requested more sessions specific to online/virtual/blended education; thus there were a lot of experts in the room talking about a lot of specific elements of research and practice.

While I didn’t have a lot of take aways today specific to online learning, I did appreciate the general focus on new education practices needing to be grounded in research. A big thing being pushed was that every change should be backed by research, and I think that’s an important idea because it proves people aren’t creating change just for the sake of it. There is a lot of thought and evidence behind decisions which helps make a very convincing case for change that goes beyond just, “Well the old system clearly doesn’t work.”

Something I also heard a lot of today was the idea of “researcher or practitioner.” This came up because our presenters were wanting to bridge this gap, noting that researchers really want to hear from practitioners what kind of research is actually needed in the field that way when research is conducted it can be of real use in the field. However, I wasn’t a big fan of the idea that we have to either be a researcher or a practitioner. Maybe it’s just the reality that we all tend to be one or the other, but I’d imagine it would be more interesting if we all did a little of both. I don’t see why k-12 practitioners can’t also be researchers. Sure timing might be challenging, but if a school could have adult learners both researching and practicing innovative teaching methods I can only imagine the sort of interesting insights that would come about.

 

 

Whole Child Development:

Finally, the end of my night included a great opening keynote given by Dr. Brooke Stafford-Brizar with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The keynote was all about education needing to be whole child-focused which means focusing on 6 key aspects: physical health, mental health, social-emotional development, identity development, academic development, and cognitive development. One of my favorite things she said was, “When we’re most vulnerable is when learning takes place.” I was fortunate to have an overall pretty great high school experience with very supportive peers and mentors, but I also am very aware that this is not the case for many k-12 students. Dr. Stafford-Brizar showed word clouds about studies showing when students and teachers alike were asked to pick a word that comes to mind when they think of school they thought of things like stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. We know all too well that mental health is an extreme problem in education today, but we have to intentionally design time, space, and culture focused on supporting mental health in order for these issues to change. Dr. Stafford-Brizar made an analogy I loved and will probably now unintentionally butcher: “We don’t expect calculus to be learned in a morning meeting or an advisory session; we intentionally design class lessons to teach these skills. So why do we expect mental health to be learned without intentionally designing for it to be taught to students?” My big wonder though is how do we actually do this in practice? Dr. Stafford-Brizar suggests starting with the adults and making sure their mental health is addressed so that it permeates into the student body. But culture change is anything but easy. So how might we create a culture that’s comfortable with being uncomfortable and vulnerable? Starting with the adults seems like a great idea, but what does that really mean and look like in the start? There is no switch that will all of a sudden make everyone totally open to talking about personal struggles at school. I’ve seen examples of schools that do a really great job with mental health, but I still don’t feel like I have a good concept on how they got started. Or in some cases, I know that the school was founded with mental health as a key principle to the mission so there wasn’t the same cultural shift that has to happen in a preexisting environment trying to become more aware of mental health needs.

So overall I would describe day 1 as a day of thought provoking questions. I didn’t have any mind blowing, game changing takeaways, but sometimes it’s okay to just take away lots of questions because every question is an opportunity to learn.

 

 

Pictures from today:

iNACOL Day 0: The Pre-flection

I have officially landed and spent the day exploring Palm Springs and am so excited to be attending iNACOL Symposium starting tomorrow morning!

My professional goal is to become a social entrepreneur in the field of transformative education. I associate most of what I do in my personal, educational, and professional life back to this goal because of this driving passion to want all young learners to be able to experience education in a way that is learner-centered and has real-world impact. 

The iNACOL Symposium is an event I have been wanting to attend for several years now because it is known to be, “the flagship event for innovators, education leaders, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers advancing powerful, personalized, learner-centered experiences for students.”  While at this three-day international conference I will grow my professional network, get to share my unique perspective and experiences with education, and become further informed about the leading thoughts on a myriad of current challenges in the field. I am particularly excited to attend sessions on Human Capital, Leadership, Systems Transformation, Professional Learning and Development, and Whole Child Personalization/Social Emotional Learning amongst the total of 25 program strands available at this year’s convening. 

I’m excited to increase my knowledge about key aspects involved in my hopeful career field of transformative education by attending the sessions and workshops on topics I noted above. I’m also to be a co-creator of progress in education as I work with other practitioners to advance the communal pool of knowledge and ideas in the field. We will then all be able to take back these ideas and experiment with them in our own learning environments. Personally, I will be representing my magazine team, Trailblazers, while at the conference and will then prepare a recap presentation for the high schoolers I work with in order to provide a professional development opportunity for them as well. The real key to progress is not just working towards change, but also reflecting and sharing on experiences so that others can also benefit from new insights being made in the field; this is why it’s important to me to blog about my experience as well as summarize and share key insights with my magazine team after the experience. I plan to blog each night of the conference to make sure I’m adequately processing and reflecting on everything I’ll be learning. 

I can’t wait to get started tomorrow!

Being Prepared for College

There’s always value in revisiting conversations. Today at SparkHouse I got the opportunity to re-experience a conversation around distinctions which I thoroughly enjoyed beause it’s one of my favorites. (This link actually connects to my post from Day 1 of SparkHouse 1 from two years ago, and it’s funny now looking back on that day compared to today and how many similar thoughts I had.)

I loved this conversation and many others of the day and was inspired as always by the energy of young learners gathered together to discuss what education could look like in a learner-centered paradigm.

However, what really stood out to me today, because it was unusual and disheartening, was when I heard a learner say they think their environment is too untraditional sometimes and should have more busy work in order to be prepared for college.

My heart was actually broken.

And I believe that the fact that a statement like this could come up at a gathering of learners from all learner-centered schools goes to show how we still have so much further to go in transforming the education system paradigm.

So despite it being 11:45pm after a long day of heavy thinking, high energy, and additionally having to do psych homework even while traveling, I needed to take time to reflect and respond to this comment because it’s been bugging me all day.

First off, I just have to ask, what does it say about our education system when students think college is all about busy work and doing busy work is what prepares you for college?

Second off, I don’t believe we should be conforming and confining k-12 education to doing things only based on what “colleges want.”

This comment was made innocently and honestly and while I don’t agree with the statement if you look deeper into what was being implied, the real problem being described is valid to address: learner-centered high schools and most colleges do not work off of the same paradigm. Therefore, this creates dissonance for everyone involved in our education system– students, parents, teachers, faculty, admissions reps, professors, etc. The proposed expectations, purpose, and methodology behind teaching in these two worlds (learner-centered high school and traditional college) are foundationally different, which can make communication and movement between the worlds challenging.

Moving from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard. I know because that’s my current reality. The thing is, the reason it isn’t easy has nothing to do with “being prepared.”

The number 1 question I have gotten asked since entering college is:

“Did you feel like your high school prepared you to do well in college?”

YES!!! – That’s my short answer.

The long answer is that I’ve felt more than prepared because of all of the skills I learned that are actually useful for life, unlike just learning how to be a really good test taker.

Because being prepared for college is about more than being ready to take tests.

Being prepared for college means that you are mature and responsible enough to live on your own and take ownership of your learning. Being prepared for college means you have a keen sense of self-awareness in order to make informed decisions about your future. Being prepared for college means you are able to clearly and strategically plan and articulate your goals and curiosities to advisors, professors, job interviewers, etc.

You would think it would be obvious that college is about more than just test taking, but apparently, it isn’t because that’s all I seem to get asked about. And yet, while actually in college, I have plenty of advisors telling me almost daily “GPA doesn’t really matter beyond getting your first job/internship- then it’s all about networking, experience, and selling yourself based on your skills.”

So when I say, “switching from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard,” I say that because it’s hard to deal with the culture change. It’s hard to move into a reality where your voice is no longer heard, where you can’t easily pitch new ideas to leadership, where you get lectured at and talked down to constantly, where you are more frequently viewed as a statistic rather than as a holistic person. That’s hard.

It’s not hard to learn how to take tests. Plus every professor is typically a little bit different. For example, one of my current classes does pretty much all assessing online, so all you have to figure out is that the homework questions and practice problems are all potential test problems, then you’re pretty much guaranteed an A on every test. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some hard tests in college, but that’s just because it’s new material and challenging. The test wouldn’t be any easier if I had done more busy work and test taking during high school.

So back to this issue of the dissonance between learner-centered high schools and traditional colleges. Something that extends this challenge is that we too often try to silo our education system by looking at just k-12 or just higher education.

If we are going to “transform the education system” that takes the ENTIRE SYSTEM. 

We can’t ignore the fact that the education system doesn’t stop at high school graduation for the majority of learners.

So in order to bridge the gaps between the two worlds, one student today proposed, “We should have more busy work,” and I propose an alternative: Colleges also need to change their education system.

And I’d like to believe the alternative is the more likely option because it’s the more promising option. When I talk to college admissions reps, a student from a learner-centered high school is the ideal college candidate. They are mature and responsible. They have a keen sense of self-awareness. They can clearly and strategically plan and articulate their goals and curiosities. And they have all sorts of stories and evidence of their experiences that they can share to prove this learning.

However, as more and more learners start to graduate from learner-centered environments, I imagine there will be more and more pushback about why we have to then transition into a traditional college environment. Then these great, college and life ready learners will find alternative solutions of their own. They’ll attend the hand full of non-traditional colleges, or they’ll just continue on with internships from high school, or they’ll study in a different country, or something I’ve not even thought of. Colleges will have to change if they want these great learners in their learning environments.

That’s my hope/belief at least. I hope this process moves father than I anticipate, though unfortunately, bureaucracy and the fear of risks seem to be much more present struggles for colleges to overcome.

I could talk on and on about this struggle of learner-centered high school to traditional college, and to be honest I didn’t even go to one of the more unique high schools out there. There’s so much to be said about transcripts, assessment methods and “How do colleges interpret them?”, my advice to learners making the transition, my desire for a working compilation of non-traditional colleges, etc.

However, the important point here is that it is all a conversation. If you are aware of the two world struggle then you are already making the first step towards being able to respond to the struggle. But I want to make explicitly clear that I don’t, by any means, think the correct response is “Let’s be a little more traditional to prepare for college.”

Struggles are solved by compromise, not conformity.

I have felt beyond prepared for college because of my learner-centered experiences. And even now being in college and knowing what it’s like, I would never trade those experiences for the opportunity to have had more time to practice taking standardized tests to, “Get used to them for college.” Switching worlds is hard, but not because of the tests, it’s because of the culture.

Weirdly enough, upon further reflection, I’m actually glad that this comment was made about wanting busy work to be prepared for college. It brought up a very important question for education in terms of how we distinguish “college ready” from “not college ready” and definitely challenged me to think carefully about my own distinguishment for this topic and even on distinguishing “learner-centered education” as a whole.

SparkHouse Preflection

SparkHouse 3 is finally here and I’m so excited!!!

When I think back to my first time at SparkHouse it’s amazing how much has changed. SparkHouse was where the first idea for Trailblazers came about. Now here I am two years and three e-magazine issues later as a Community Builder and a chaperone for 3 of high school members of the current Trailblazers production team!

Since SparkHouse I’ve also become so much more involved with Education Reimagined and the Education Transformation Movement at large. I’ve attended and mentored at several conferences around the country, participated in numerous calls/video/social media chats,  and even been able to teach a short-term high school course of my own. (Which was obviously un-traditional in nature.) Honestly, it wasn’t until talking to my roommate, who is a first-time learner at SparkHouse, that I realized the full extent of how many opportunities I’ve had since joining this community.

And now that I have become more involved, I’ve realized the importance of “preflecting” – reflecting before things being about my expectations, hopes, and goals for this experience – in order to have a greater take away after the gathering. So here it goes:

Expectations:

  • Great conversations around learner-centered education
  • A deeper connection to the language we use to describe the kind of work we do
  • Be inspired by the amazing work young learners are already doing and the new ideas they bring to the table

Hopes:

  • Members of Trailblazers will branch out and expand their networks
  • We’ll develop new ideas about ways that Trailblazers could contribute to the Education Transformation Movement
  • More young learners will step up and continue to grow their leadership capacities in this movement even beyond SparkHouse

Goals:

  • Have at least five new people sign up/express interest in contributing to Trailblazers
  • Reach 50 followers on Trailblazers social media
  • Find a new tool/activity/mindset that I can implement into my own leadership practices
  • Inspire other learners to become more involved in the community/movement to transform the education system