Play to Learn

I feel like one of the most untapped pieces of potential for great learning is playing games.

Today I spent just about all day in a game store where they have bookshelves full of IMG_0965.JPGrandom games you can play. As a student, it’s $5 for me to sit at a big game table in the store and be able to play as many games as I want from 8am to 11pm and can even leave and come back for no extra charge. We played from 1:30-11 only taking a little more than an hour break to eat dinner at a nearby restaurant and it really was a fantastic day.

We challenged ourselves to learn new games so we played two rounds of two new games and then ended the night with 15 minutes of one of our favorite “classics” for our family to play.

I had forgotten how hard it can be to learn a new game. So often when playing games, at least one person already knows how to play and they can help explain as you go. When no one has ever played the game, you can easily spend 20-30 minutes just doing reading comprehension to try and understand setup and how things work in this particular game world.

We found also that after learning our first new game, learning a second new game became easier because we had more confidence at being able to piece together and remember odd assortments of rules; games push your creative muscles.

Games are so great for all sorts of brain activity. On top of the reading comprehension needed to understand instructions and the communication skills to explain the instructions to the rest of the players and the questioning skills to truly know the instructions, we had all sorts of learning moments: We had to challenge our memory, quickly develop strategy, be able to plan for 3 steps ahead, prioritize, consider risk management, communicate our ridiculous sounding ideas, and in one game we even had to work on our geography knowledge.

Honestly, I may have only played games all day, but my brain “hurts” so to say, and I feel physically tired from all the processing I did. Mind challenges are some of the best ways to grow our brain capacity and therefore expand our learning toolbox.

I wish there were shelves of games at schools. I wonder what it would be like to be able to just get a group together and pick out a new board game to try learning over lunch time. Games are such a great way to build community and brain muscle it just seems like a naturally benefiting idea for schools to incorporate more game time into school.

That was part of the reasoning why I created the Kemps Khoas club way back when which was a club devoted to a card game tournament building community between faculty and students. One of my wishes that I never got around to in high school would’ve been to really develop the club to go beyond just the one card game.

Playing is such an essential part of learning. I wish I saw more games at schools.

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Always New Firsts

I love how life can always bring new adventures.

I may have not grown up in NYC, but I visit much more often than the normal person. I’m typically here between 3-5 times a year for about a week visit each if not more. And yet, every time I come here there is something new I try or do. I constantly find myself becoming hyper-aware of growing up based on my adventures in NYC and the independence I develop.

I’ve found that kids in the city tend to have a remarkable amount of independence and seem to mature quickly from learning as they go. Sometimes it seems silly to me when I get excited about my first time doing something in the city by myself because I know city kids have been doing the same things for years before me.

Like today for example, I was really excited about how for the first time I was the one to wake up and head to the TSTK line (day of discounted Broadway tickets line) and last minute get my grandma and I tickets for a matinee show.

Then later in the day, my grandma had a first when we ended up entering the lottery to try and get last minute tickets to another Broadway show. She was so excited about watching other people win that I can only imagine what would’ve happened if we had actually won. She wants to do it again just because of how entertaining she found it all!

As we get older, sometimes it feels like we’re more often focusing on the last time we do things, but it’s nice to remember there are always new “first times” that we can experience.

Leaving with Action

Today was the last day of the International Seminar on Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership. It was a much more laid back and open space kind of day, which was honestly really great. It allowed everyone to make what they wanted out of the conference and have the conversations most meaningful to them.

During my first session, I ended up in an informal group that gathered together and started talking about the college application process. Two rising seniors were stressed about the process and therefore, myself and a few adults were giving tips about researching and applying to schools. This conversation made me realize I actually have a lot to share on the topic and reminded me that most students don’t have the amazing college councillors that I had who helped me navigate the process. Additionally, most students don’t have practice in talking about and essentially pitching themselves. Due to my blog writing, I had ample experience with talking about myself by the time I had to write those essays, but most students don’t have a blog and never really practice this skill in high school. Talking about yourself is a huge part of life because after college then comes job applications where it’s a similar process all over again. For that very reason, I wish more schools spent time talking about identifying key stories in your own life, and pitching your own story and knowing your strengths and skills that can be brought to the table in various situations.

These two students I was talking to come from learner-centered environments, and even there this process is stressful and these two believed they don’t have a story to tell. Let me tell you, these kids have incredible stories to tell and I only know parts of them, so it’s crazy for me to think that they don’t believe they have a story. It just goes to show that even great schools still have room to grow and that was a humbling experience today. Every student should feel like they have a story worth hearing and get the opportunity to practice telling it.

Later in the day I got to achieve my personal goal for this conference. I came to this conference really wanting to have a take away- an action step I could take in order to start moving beyond just talking and sharing with other communities and head towards working together on project work to advance the movement. Proud to say that I have my next project to start tackling. IMG_0930.JPG

Whenever I go to a conference there are multiple people who ask about how the community will stay connected. Then there end up being group chats and social media accounts created and they’re explosive with reflection for the first few weeks after the conference is over, but they fizzle out over time. Why? My assumption based on observation is that most forms of connection post-conference have been simply for the sake of connection/networking, but in order to sustain connections we must have a unified purpose that brings us back to the conversation wanting more.

I’m not yet sure what this purpose is; however, I’m excited to start working on figuring out how we can build upon the community by finding ways to connect with purpose. Three other young learners and I, started brainstorming potential designs for a website based on what menu items we wanted as possibilities for ways the community to connect. For example a blog to share out work in different environments, a directory to know who’s doing what kind of work, a jargon translator to serve as an explanation guide for all the different terms we like to use, a project space for people interested in partnering on projects, a monthly chat around essential topics, etc.

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Then we broke our work down into four areas: user feedback, research, “playing around”, and mission development. We hope to each spend the next month working in our areas to learn about what the community would want in a connection tool and figure out a game plan for the best tool to make these ideas a reality by playing with existing tools while experimenting with what building your own website would take resource wise.

IMG_7624.jpegThe key wonder I have right now though is: what already exists? There are a lot of groups that keep trying to create something very similar to this and yet don’t seem to be working for this or that reason, but why? I’m not sure entirely. I hope to find out and I have my assumptions based on personal experience. I’m happy to be leaving with a game plan but to help get further in our efforts, if you read this post and believe you know of sites or organization or groups or social media connections, etc that sound similar to this kind of work, I would love to see things in the comments to guide our upcoming research. (Even if I’m technically taking lead on user insight gathering, so I’d be happy to hear that too even before I get more focused questions to ask on the topic.)

Different Pages

Day two at the International Seminar was a lot of fun (as expected) especially when you end the day with an Escape Room! (Even if we didn’t escape…) What I found particularly interesting about today though was that we broke off into stakeholder groups for a large chunk of today’s conversations. Therefore, I was in a room with all of other students/ young learners/ youth advocates/ whatever you want to call us (I think there were around 18 of us total).

I realized that this is the first conference I’ve been to where there are young learners in attendance that are not either from my learning environment and/or the SparkHouse community that has been developing over the past two years.

There are about 9 other SparkHouse members here, which is great because one of the main things that the SparkHouse has helped facilitate is more common language between learning environments. A common language is key because it allows us to move past the point of debating and distinguishing jargon and just get to the point faster about the why and how we currently do things and our hopes for the future. Not to mention even with our still existing gaps in communication, working with people you’ve met and worked with before typically makes working together again easier.

The complication is that not everyone is a part of SparkHouse currently, so half of the room is on much more of the same page than the other half which could in itself be on three different pages.

This wasn’t an overly complicated challenge but it struck me as an interesting dynamic today. It struck me because it made me realize that learners at a conference like this are often used to being the center of attention to some extent. They’re often leaders in their own community who are used to having one of the only student voices represented in a given convening and therefore, become a novelty of sorts who everyone wants to hear from. Now when you put 18 of these students in the same room who are used to having a prominent role in the conversation around education due to their student voice, all of sudden there is bound to be a power struggle because no one is a novelty anymore.

My hope is that one day this is the problem at a faculty meeting. No one is a novelty.

This is not to say that I hope there becomes a power struggle between students and adults, actually, I hope for just the opposite. One of the big points us students talked about today when discussing successes and challenges in our stakeholder group was the idea that there are a lot of adults who believe that giving students a voice/leadership/agency/power thereby means that power must be lost by another stakeholder group. What we strive for though is equal voice, equal representation, equal power. If either side of the equation is a novelty, then there will never be equal power and our education will be incomplete.

Timing is also key for this to be a reality. Giving students a voice doesn’t mean just give students a survey at the end of the term about giving teachers feedback; that’s just asking for student voice when convenient and wanting to confirm what’s already happened in class. The student voice we strive for is when students are brought in beforehand and are involved in the creation of school work, then sure you can get feedback in the end as well, but from both sides of the equation, students and adults alike, and discuss the outcomes and next steps together as well.

 

I’m going to be quite honest, at this point in writing this post I’m not super on the same page with where this train of thought was going… I’ve read it over and realized I’ve attempted to synthesise a lot of different highly debated topics into one train of thought and I’m not sure if I’m being all that coherent. So, therefore, I’m going to stop writing now. When you lose your train of thought, sometimes it’s best to just stop where you are and let the thoughts exist until maybe at a different time or with a different person the train reappears in a more insightful way. Until tomorrow then.

Invite Curious Community

Today has been long and tiring. Starting at 4:50am after about three hours of sleep, my day consisted of first travelling to Vermont and then have the whole second half of the day engrossed in day 1 of the Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership International Seminar hosted by Up for Learning at the University of Vermont.

IMG_0910Like most first days, we started our conference getting to know our community which is always fun! I love networking with new people and reconnecting with those whose paths have crossed with mine before. We started the day with a poem activity where we were given a powerful piece by Margaret Wheatley (featured image) and then asked to pick out a sentence, phrase, and single word that stood out to us in regards to our conference. We then shared with our table and then did a “wave shareout” with our one word to the entire room. I found that if you took the most commonly chosen single words we got an interesting sentence to describe what this gathering is all about:

“We invite a curious community to trust in brave conversations.”

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Personally, I had some good “ah-ha” moments today that are going to frame the next two days for me:

  • Most students don’t just decide one day to researchabout innovative schools, and therefore, they remain unknowing that there is anything besides the traditional system even as a possibility for their education. Yet we know the movement will be strongest if learners are driving the change since, after all, learners are the largest population in a school community. So how might we engage students from traditional school systems who aren’t being supported in thinking about alternative education paths? How do we help these students know what their options are because from my experience when presented with the option of a traditional school versus a learner-centered school, learners almost always choose the later.IMG_0919-1.JPG
  • There is an interesting distinction between student voice, student agency, and student-adult partnership which I haven’t considered before. Students/learners can feel like they have a voice, but that doesn’t mean it’s being heard; students can have agency in their work, but not take ownership of the work. How might we achieve various levels of all of these distinctions of student worth in our everyday learning communities?
  • In education, we often are debating the semantics of what it is that we do in our learning environments. However, perhaps we need to spend more time focusing on why we do it then thinking about how we do it before we start to dive into what exactly it is. With this in mind, I believe I need to spend time with our production team taking a deeper dive into why we do what we do with Trailblazers in order to start exploring what the future may hold in terms of possibilities for growth.

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Trailblazers: Issue 3!

It’s finally here! Issue 3 of Trailblazers, our student-driven e-magazine about the Education Transformation Movement, is available for viewing now! Hope you enjoy these remarkable articles written by spotlight learners from around the country including one global perspective. Congrats to all involved with the process of creating this latest issue!!!

View Issue 3 

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Spotlight Learners:

Sophie Haugen – SMforSM: An Educational Partnership 

Bridges by Empathy and Friendship

Lucy Conover – Insπiration

Hannah Bertram – What Learner-Centered Education Did For Me

Innovation Diploma Update – SPARK: A Playground for Creative Thinkers

There’s Always Theater

As much as I love it, I have never thought about a career in performing arts. It’s just never been something I could see myself doing. The realism in me knows it’s not the most stable or easy path to make it in, plus I have multiple family members in that business so I know what it’s really like. Not to mention, I just feel like there are other things I also want to do.

Despite all of this, I always seem to find myself in a theater as one of my mentors pointed out today. I’ve been to basically all of the productions my old school put on this year, performed in a few at college, and even just this weekend I’m helping with running the spotlight for my siblings’ dance show.

I just can’t seem to escape, and I don’t think I have a problem with that. The theater is great! You get to be crazy and serious, lyrical and sharp, witty and stupid, and everything in between. It’s a place to learn new skills and gain better practices for life, and the people you meet are often the most supportive and creative people who will push you beyond what you ever thought possible of yourself. It’s all just an amazing world that I’m glad to be able to stay a part of even as I grow older and move around more often.

Brain Break

Ever feel like you just need to let your brain be dumb for a little?

This weekend I did a lot of learning sitting in gymnastics lectures from 8:30-5pm. Then I got home and yesterday I had two chapters and another hour of lecture to get through, plus studying, for my online history class in order to take my test this morning. So I’ve done a lot of hardcore sitting and studying in the past few days and now my brain just feels in need of a break.

That happens every now and then where it’s just too much information all at once. Brain breaks truly may be the essential factor to learning.

New Team, New Training

Today was the first day of summer team practice at the gym, which also means that all of the new kids invited to team started coming today.

The first day with a new team is always interesting. Everyone’s trying to learn names and find their place, plus newbies have a lot of changes to try and get used to. The girls who have been on team for a year or so now are just excited about getting to be leaders though they don’t quite know how to be just yet. On top of it all, coaches are trying to gauge ability as we start to think about who will be what level come the fall.

Needless to say, today was a bit slower than a normal team practice and we tried to not get too intense on day one, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the girls grow over the summer. Gymnastics is truly a year-round sport. If you try to take off for the summer, girls often come back pretty behind due to lack of training and potentially growing over the break which changes timing for skills. Since there isn’t school, summer is also the time where a lot of girls get to train more often and really get a lot of new skills that help them advance more than any other time in the year.

I don’t know many activities that are quite as big of a time commitment as gymnastics can be. It’s always crazy to me how many hours such young girls end up training if they’re really committed to reaching their full potential. The maturity of some of our kids always makes me wonder about the way school is divided by age because it doesn’t seem to make sense developmentally to me. Some of our most advanced girls who come close to 12 hours a week just turned seven this past spring, meanwhile, some of our nine-year-olds are the most likely to slack off during practice and can barely handle 6-9 hours a week.

I wonder when grade will stop being determined by age.

More Sticky Notes

Today was a big day for our Paideia students because today was the day we interviewed users!

It seemed as if we might not even have any users to come in to be interviewed with the amount we had to search to find people interested in tiny houses and sustainability who were also available to meet today during the class time. However, somehow we managed to get 4 interviewees, one of which was virtual, who came in today for 15-minute interviews with each of our two teams.

I was incredibly impressed with how far these kids have come with their ability to ask questions. On day 2 during our Flashlab, we were a bit worried because there were a lot of yes or no questions and short, often changing, conversations happening. However, after just a week and a bit they have grown so much! 1334x1000.jpeg.f4cd3a6a28024abe9c5c51eb31c06aec.jpg

Today the interviewees left commenting on how much they liked the teams’ questions and we were having to cut off deep conversations happening due to timing, which was hard to do because it was so wonderful to overhear!

Honestly, what I’ve enjoyed most about teaching this course is seeing how design thinking really affects the lives of students.

Most of these kids didn’t know each other before the class and now we know all sorts of random things about each other; from how we got our names to stories about sibling tensions when the whole family got food poising and were sharing a bathroom.

Plus, Sparks have become a daily norm where we all laugh at how confused the neighboring classrooms must be when they hear us chanting “Jump in, Jump out” or reciting different ice cream flavors, or announcing our superhero names.

1334x1000.jpeg.05f3a73409e1486cbad36c70939e688d.jpgOn the way out of the classroom we’re always told thank you and “can’t wait to see you tomorrow” and one student when doing I Like, I Wish, I Wonder feedback said, “I wish we had more than 18 days in this class!”

They have become learners who question everything, even the challenging topics like “Can you vomit in a composting toilet, and would it be a solid or liquid when separating it into a compartment?”

And they can take those questions and turn them into insights, such as realizing how a toddler might actually be the most receptive family member to adopting a composting toilet because of how the mother said the toddler loves helping out and the ability to take ownership of a process.

I can’t wait to see what insights are found during our unpacking session tomorrow, but first, we need to get more sticky notes- we ran out today…