Learning in the Rain

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Six Flags in rain and Frozen on ice- it’s been a great day!

Today was Physics Day at Six Flags and all of the Calculus students at MVPS got the opportunity to spend the day there! Our teacher makes a deal with her Calc classes every year that if we stay on track and get all of the material we need to cover finished before the end of the year, then we get to go to Six Flags. Normally we would go on math day which is next Friday, however, that day is an important school wide event that we can’t miss so we went on Physics Day.

Part of this deal is also that we have to fill out the packet that Six Flags gives to honor the day which asks questions about various rides, and we use this as a quiz grade. Because it was Physics Day, the questions were primarily physics questions and the hardest math we did was multiply. The thing is, I’m not in a physics class currently so I have not learned many of the concepts discussed on the packet. Luckily we were working on these packets in groups, and I was working with some of my senior friends who are in AP Physics so they were able to teach me some quick physics things.

I learned about the difference between centripetal and centrifugal forces and how to calculate them. I learned about frequency calculations and hertz vs rpm. I learned more about kinetic and potential energy (I know it from a chemistry perspective but not physics really). Plus I learned many other little things. I find it funny because people would think “oh you’re going to Six Flags and are going to miss a whole day of learning in all of your classes,” but the truth is, while we are missing out on “school classes” so to say, we are not missing out on learning. In fact I enjoyed learning some physics today, and found it very helpful that I got to learn it from older students that are in that class. It also meant that they had to make sure they remembered things so they would check each other by asking more questions.

My learning was not hindered by taking a day trip to Six Flags with the Calculus students. I never would have learned as much about physics had I stayed, so in fact by taking “a day off” I was able to further my learning and curiosities about topics that are new to me. I learned in more than just physics too. We also talked about economics, and AP Literature, and calculus AB/BC, and even a little bit of Latin came up at one point.

Despite the rain and waiting in line for 40 minutes to buy lunch, I thought to day was a great school day at Six Flags.

 

 

(And I didn’t mention it further, but I also spent tonight at Frozen on Ice with one of my best friends which was a blast and I liked the way the opening sentence sounded!)

 

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Let’s Go!

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I personally don’t find myself to be much of a spontaneous person.

I can plan out big random events that maybe other people don’t expect. Like when one of my best friends and I went to all of my friends houses while dressed in cloaks and picked them up to go have a party at a park. Or when I threw my giant Pi-A-Palooza party. Or when my friends and I had a Disney and Pintrest party where we just baked and watched Disney movies.

So yes, I do odd things, but they are often planed. However, I enjoy spontaneous things. A lot of my family will do spontaneous things like go on a weekend zip lining trip, going to New Jersey for an afternoon to see a bakery, going to Tennessee for Easter just because.

I sometimes wish I was able to be more spontaneous. I’m often that person to come up with ridiculous ideas, but I always seem to need for someone else to get on board with it in order for the idea to follow through. I have so many things that I’ve never followed through on, but I think they’d be so cool if I did. I don’t understand why I have such a hard time following through with things, but it constantly aggravates me. I know there are things I need to do, but I just can’t seem to go actually do them. So instead, these to do items stay listed up on my whiteboard in my room or on some long forgotten blog post in the endless sea of consciousness.

However, this weekend I was oddly spontaneous. Yesterday I invited a bunch of friends over and we just talked and started to learn how to swing dance. (Because we all feel that it’s way more fun to do some epic dance then awkward middle school slow dancing, even though most of us don’t like school dances anyway). Then today a bunch of us decided to meet up to do a chemistry lab assignment and that also ended up being surprisingly fun and random.

Things often become so much more fun when we just decide to go do something. Yes, some things take planning, and some things can be more fun because of planning, but other times you just need to be like “let’s go!”

Life = Humanities “and” STEM not “or”

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MVPS is on fall break currently so we have a long weekend with no school today. It was such a great day!!!

And I spent half my day at school by choice. 🙂

While the students had today off, teachers had a planning day. While I haven’t been to a planning day before, I do know that this was not the normal planning day because it was run by MViFi and set up like a conference. Teachers seemed to really enjoy being able to have the choice of what sessions they attended and also being able to do a lot of hands on work.

The reason I was at the planning day was because I was offered the opportunity to co-facilitate one of the sessions, specifically the recycling session. This was a great and fun opportunity to lead and share our work in ID with teachers from across divisions. After years of talking about recycling problems that need to be solved for, I’m excited with the conversations that have been started and can’t wait to see how things continue. It’s also always nice when people get excited about your prototype. (Which is officially done and in place in a middle school classroom collecting data!!!!)

However, what I think I enjoyed most about today actually was my second session on designing a humanities course that will be launched for freshman to take for 2016-2017. It was a great group and a great challenge that sparked great conversation!

One of the big take away thoughts that I had was around the idea of fun work versus meaningful work.

My table had a conversation about how the humanities are about humans, which also has a lot to do with struggle. (By the way also there was an important distinction with “humanities” not just meaning English and history classes, but also arts and language and being more about culture than just being a combo of subjects.) Both analyzing and communicating the struggles of others, and having to struggle yourself to get work done. The truth is that there is a lot of struggle in life. I might not have the years of experience to really be able to say this, but I’d like to think, while I may not be able to empathize, I can at least understand on some level.

Sometimes you will have work that you simply don’t want to do, but you still have to get it done. In life you don’t always get to do what you want. It’s not always fun. That’s ok thought.

We talked about how you can do really hard work, that might not be the most fun while you’re working on it, but afterwards it can feel so rewarding. Rewarding to the point where students even comment by saying, “This was really hard, but I loved it! I feel like I really learned something.” One of the teachers mentioned our past show “Beast on the Moon”, and how it obviously was not a very up lifting comedy kind of show. The show was very serious, with lots of emotions and moving pieces constantly changing, and in general it was a tough drama, not to mention the amount of lines to memorize. However, after the show, we were thrilled with what we had just pulled off. It was rewarding to know we went through all of the hard work and then could put on a show that truly moved people.

However, the interesting question/struggle comes with how to make the hard work then feel rewarding at the end. In my opinion, this requires for students to be given the opportunity to do meaningful work.

Meaningful work can be fun. Feeling happy about learning something I think is pretty meaningful– being happy is important to a healthy life.

However, meaningful work can also be hard. It can be tiring and stressful and time consuming and still be meaningful.

In AP Lang we’ve been working on our Creativity Crisis papers (in fact I was going to officially share mine today, but I was much too passionate about today’s adventures to not talk about them). Now while we were still writing a paper, and staying up late to meet deadlines, and getting specific feedback that wasn’t always positive, we have been ok with all of it because we know that we have to go through all of that hard work in order to share something valuable with a wider audience. That is how we are choosing to try and make the work we do meaningful in this situation.

Teachers can’t just make work meaningful because for work to be meaningful, students have to find that meaning. However, it is possible for the work to not be given the chance to be meaningful. When this happens, this is when work feels tedious on top of being tiring and stressful and time consuming.

I feel like there is a common assumption that students (especially those of us helping more significantly with shaping our own learning experience) think we should only do work we find to be fun work. Another assumption being that your typical “STEM student” (a bubble to which I find myself often included) thinks everything should be about brainstorming and creating a product.

I’d like to dispel these beliefs at least a little because I don’t believe either of these assumptions to be true.

In fact I don’t want to ever only be doing fun work because after a while it stops being fun if it isn’t also challenging. While “fun stuff” is needed to help relieve stress and keep high energy levels to be able to work on harder stuff, overcoming challenges often feels more rewarding then just doing the fun stuff.

Also I find it interesting, because while I do love STEM and will likely go into a STEM field, I have found myself in a lot of humanities conversations lately. Sometimes it is important to just have a conversation. To not be focused on trying to make an end product, but to just sit and have a deep talk. However, you can’t always just sit and talk because eventually it will start to feel like you are having an empty conversation because it’s the same type of conversation you’ve had before but nothing is changing.

STEM and the Humanities need each other. Humanities, understanding humans, is at the basis of any thing you are trying to design, and you need the STEM skills to then actually design it to help provoke change which then leads to new conversations.

I feel like my thoughts have been all over the place tonight. (Probably doesn’t help with it being so late and my flight to Ohio being such chaos tonight.) I think part of the disjointedness to this writing tonight is because I have so many thoughts about this idea of Humanities and STEM; it feels like they are always working in competition with one another rather than collaboration with one another.

My big thought I guess is that great learning is about overcoming challenges that leads to something where you are able to feel happy and proud about what you’ve accomplished at the end. If you aren’t happy and proud at the end, then why did you do it?

A Transdiciplinary Show

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Today I got a neat experience to see an opera during school while on a band/chorus field trip. It was really cool because what I didn’t realize before going was that this was the opera (La Boheme) that Rent was based off of. (I did notice how similar it was after a few minutes though, so it made a lot of sense when I found that out.)

It’s funny because while I missed “school” in terms of in desk time, I instead just always find myself thinking about how putting on a show involves all of my classes and some.

I mean imagine instead of a normal schedule defined my bells, what if instead your school day was based on all of the aspects involved in putting on a show and you just did multiple shows per school year?

The class could pick the theme of the show, then research any history needed to back up the plot. Then the class could write the script while working on discovering motives of different characters and would have to think of everything in a “show don’t tell” mindset since real people would act it out. Students could design and build the set using math and engineering skills including proportions and trigonometry to name a few. Understanding how to safely create and use special effects would likely involve a great deal of chemistry and physics. Then not to mention you could add in an added challenge of making at least one show a musical where physical education would be required to choreograph dance numbers and well as music skills to craft songs as well as play them. Not to mention, after figuring out everything that is going to happen, the class would also have to cast out parts and work on their communication skills to actually produce the show.

If you really wanted to make things challenging you could even add in foreign language, puppets, politics, making a statement on a controversial topic, live animals, robotics, and so many more creative possibilities for learning.

With the help of a few mentors from various subject areas (and at least one person with more preforming arts background), this would be such a cool way to have school! We could even go on field trips to see other plays, talk to people in various fields about the best way to create certain experiences, and get inspiration for our shows. Then we could invite the people that help us to come see our final project.

Just saying, the feeling I get after a certain call for a great show or presentation (especially when we get a standing ovation) when people come up to me afterwards to talk about it, that feeling is unmatched by any grade I’ve ever gotten on any assignment in any class.

I’m a Multipotentialite

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Typically I wait until night (often very late at night…) before blogging because I want to see what all happens in my day before discussing just one thing, but today is different. I love being different. I think I’ve always known I’ve been different.

I’m that kid that has a million different interests and am always busy working on something that may seem unrelated to some people. I’m curious and passionate about music, soccer, math, games (particularly cards), acrobatics, design, theater, gymnastics, coaching, the Renaissance, teaching, Girl Scouting, mentoring, innovating, bringing communities together, learning, education reform, storytelling, engineering, the impact of space on a community, student voice, writing, reading, project based learning, and the list could go on…

Just last week I was asked by at least 3 different people the question that is the story of my life, “What don’t you do?”

My first thought to that question is, “Well there’s a bunch I don’t do–yet.”

I love my life. I love being involved in a ton. I love working on new ideas. I love each of my passions and interests. I don’t love bing asked to choose just one.

I’m pretty bad at making decisions. I’ve discussed this on multiple blog posts of mine (Making Decisions, Uncomfortable Moments) and most people that know me well understand how true this is. I even did an entire post called “Who Do I Want to Be?” which is entirely about how I never know how to answer the question “Who is your hero?” because I admire so many people that I can’t decide on just one. This post then goes on to talk about what my friends (including teachers/mentors) and I call the “Anya Problem/Dilemma,” which basically is the problem of being interested in too many things to the point where you can’t decide on just one path, so you get spread out really thin over a variety of topics.

Other questions I can never answer include: What college do you want to go to? What do you want to major in? What do you want to do when you grow up? Who do you want to be? What’s your passion (singular passion…)? What’s your goal (singular again…)? What motivates you (you guessed it, singular too…)?

Even in my about me page for this blog, which was the first thing I ever wrote for my blog (the only thing I’ve really edited was changing my age and adding a disclaimer on grammar), I write in my first paragraph immediately following my name:

I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I never have, but that is okay because I am only 16. I understand the beauty of not knowing your specific passion because  that allows you to experience life with an open mind to all fields of learning and growing.

It’s not only that I can’t answer these questions, but they often make me anxious to be asked these questions. I remember last year probably being more stressed than any other time when being asked about what courses I want to take next year (this current school year). I wrote two different posts (What to Do? and What to Do: Part Two) that both went into my “Rants and Bugs” category that were all about my stress in trying to decide, because I have the opposite problem of most people where there are more classes I want to take then time that I have in my schedule to take them.

I feel as if I’m constantly being pushed to make decisions and decide on one path, and then I don’t feel as if I fit on that one path which just makes me frustrated. It sometimes gets to the point where I feel confused because friends of mine don’t seem to be having these same problems.

I’d say over the past year these situations have been occurring more often with the college discussions becoming more frequent. I haven’t grown to be okay with it, but I’ve been tolerating it; trying to play along.

Today I watched a TEDTalk called, “Why some of us don’t have one true calling,” that might have possibly been the most moving TEDTalk I’ve personally watched, because Emilie Wapnick introduced me to a world of people just like me having these same problems. These people are called “multipotentialites”, and I can’t even begin to explain how great it was to hear this TEDTalk! Words can do such a great job of bringing communities together.

(Interesting bit of a tangent: there are lots of different names for these types of people which is kind of ironic that society can’t agree on one… One of these names is a “Renaissance Person” because during that time period it was actually more valued to have skills in lots of different areas. I find this interesting because the Renaissance has always been my favorite time period. I even have at least 3 different Renaissance outfits and go to the Renaissance festival every year!)

In drama we always hear our director say before every show, “Don’t lean back, but lean forward as you watch the MVPS Allstars production of…” He says this because when an audience is leaning forward that means they are really invested and interested in what you’re saying, and they are hanging onto every word wanting craving to hear more.

I was leaning forward the entire time I listened to this TEDTalk.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, “I love being different. I think I’ve always known I’ve been different.” However, sometimes- oftentimes- it is hard being different. Everyone is different thought, it is just a matter of how we are each different and unique. Wapnick made me feel proud to be a multipotentialite rather than feeling frustrated about not being able to make decisions on singular things.

While I know and acknowledge that it is often important to be able to make decisions, multipotentialites also have their own strengths as Wapnick points out:

  • Idea Synthesis: bringing together seemingly different concepts together to find the intersections where great ideas come from.
  • Rapid Learning: getting deeply curious about one thing and learning a ton about it before moving on to the next thing to also learn a ton about.
  • Adaptability: being able to put on different hats in different situations where different roles are necessary.

The more Wapnick spoke the more I found myself thinking, “Wow this is totally me. These are my strengths and weaknesses summed up possibly as well as they can be (if they have to be).” She even says that multipotentialites have a duty to innovate based on these strengths and characteristics, and it just made me think “That’s exactly why I was interested in joining the Innovation Diploma.”

Her website even has tips for multipotentialites on how to make a business out of all of their different curiosities. However, the question I keep wondering is about what to do before then.

I’m still in high school, unlike most of the people who have commented on twitter or her website about being a multipotentialite. Most of these people have graduated college and are now realizing they don’t feel quite right about the current job position they are in and what to make a change. I don’t want to remain confused and frustrated about my multiple interests until after college.

One (there are more of course) of the biggest driving forces as to why I do what I do is that I believe people of all ages have a voice and can contribute to real world problem solving. Part of why I don’t like the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is because I don’t think I should have to wait in order to do something and be someone. All of life matters. Not just your life following college.

So with being a multipotentialite that has a ton of curiosities that drive my learning, how do I shape my current path to avoid maximum frustration and confusion? How might I create a college experience that doesn’t focus on making me choose one path as a specialist, but allows me to continue to explore where my curiosities take me as a multipotentialite?

Thinking of Assumptions

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I do not know many people that do not text. I also do not know of many people that haven’t at some point in time been confused by someone else’s text to them.

I believe this is because when we text there isn’t really a clear way to understand the true emotion behind what someone is saying. Everything is left to interpretation and assumptions which can often cause problems between people.

Even when speaking directly to people, assumptions can often be the worst nightmare for the productivity status of a team. I still remember in 8th grade geometry class when I was learning about proofs for the first time and our teacher told us, “Never assume things, because if they are wrong then everything else gets messed up too.” It wasn’t until high school that I realized just how true this statement is for all of life; even outside of math.

I’ve also realized, though, how difficult it is to not make assumptions. I know I do it by accident all of the time. I will make a statement about something without knowing the full story and then I may accidentally offend others because the meaning to my statement comes out wrong. I’m not purposely trying to offend others, but sometimes I just don’t realize the consequential effect of my words. Words are a powerful thing.

In some cases it could be that I write something with one meaning, but someone else makes assumptions based on what they think my statement meant that isn’t really what I meant at all.

I’ve been wondering lately if sometimes the way I talk about design thinking, in education specifically, can get mixed up in this mess of assumptions, so I’d like to maybe set some clarity to a myth I fear people believe about me:

I do not think design thinking in school is 100% the best way to have class.

Now I already know that probably wasn’t worded the best way, so let me use the example of my AP Lang Collab Course. I love the ideas behind our course, and so far, I think it is going really well. Furthermore, I’m super excited to see how it all turns out. But I also know that this is still iteration 1.0, and this is an experiment to say the least. We are experimenting with how classes could be run at school.

Like any experiment, we do not know what the outcomes of the course will be. I hope and hypothesize that there will be positive outcomes, but I wouldn’t say our class is “better” than any other AP Lang class. It is just different. It is a different way of learning and we are seeing what the outcomes of this new way will be. And even if the outcomes are positive, I still wouldn’t say that our way is “better,” because everyone learns differently so there isn’t one way that is “best” for anything. While I may prefer DT to other more traditional teaching methods, not everyone does, and it may not always be the best way to go about a task depending on what your goal is.

It’s hard to not make assumptions, and equally as hard to say things that don’t lead others to make false assumptions. However, I hope that over time I can get better at suspending judgment and using wording styles that more accurately articulate what I mean.

Maybe There’s More to Memorization in 21st Century Education

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It’s amazing how I can go from working on my room all day and wondering what in the world I would blog about to then reading and watching a TedTalk and then feeling like my brain was bursting with perspective intake.

I’ve been working on reading a book called Moonwalking with Einstein for some time now, but with everything I’ve been doing I hadn’t had time to finish it yet. I’ve now set a schedule for myself and if I continue to read 15 pages a day then  should finish before school starts which would be great!

The book is really interesting and all about memory as a lost art form and explores the story of a journalists’ journey to becoming the USA memory campion. While I find it greatly interesting, I’ve found that there is often so much to process that it is difficult to sit down and read large chunks at a time, like I can with out books, which is why I’ve had to create my reading schedule to ensure I stop procrastinating and finish it.

Today the author brought up an interesting topic about how memory is thought of in the education world (in 2011, but I think it still applies). Often times we talk about memory in a negative connotation because we don’t want students to just brute force memorize things for tests without understanding concepts. However, Joshua Foer presents a slightly different side of the story claiming that memorization is a needed skill that schools have “deemphasized” too much.

Now at first I thought this was all just odd to hear because it seemed almost contradictory to everything I believe about what is needed in education. I mean when Foer says, “They did away with rote memorization and replaced it with a new kind of ‘experiential learning,” I think “Hurrah! Go educators!!” However, in the context of the book this almost feels like a negative statement. How could a book I enjoy so much be so contradictory to my beliefs?

After further pondering I was still stuck. Then I watched a TedTalk done by John Green (just seeing his name made me want to watch it!). The talk was called, “The nerd’s guide to learning everything online”, and in this talk he basically tells the story of how he became such a nerd, and it wasn’t what you would expect. He actually did pretty poorly in school for a while because in his eyes he was just being given hurdles to leap over to get to an end goal that he didn’t want, so he figure, “Why bother jumping these hurdles if I don’t want what’s on the other side?” His mindset was similar to this up until he switched schools in high school and in this new school there was a different outlook on learning.

Learning was the “cool thing to do”. He would learn things not because of school necessarily, but because of the community of learners that he was thrown into that lead him to learn by default. Then later in life he realized that he was missing this community and life simply wasn’t as enjoyable. However, with the internet there are now so many ways to join online communities of learners. He gave many examples of how people on YouTube (he admitted that he was bias there) are often watching and commenting on videos about world history, abstract math, and physics just to name a few.

Something about imagining how John Green, someone I consider to be one of the nerdiest people I know of, had struggled at first with enjoying school learning brought me back to Moonwalking with Einstein to rethink about how I interpreted the passage today.

In addition to other points made about memory and education there was this section that I kept being drawn back to:

“I don’t use the word ‘memory’ in my class because it’s a bad word in education,” says Matthews. “You make monkeys memorize, whereas education is the ability to retrieve information at will and analyze it. But you can’t have higher-level learning- you can’t analyze- without retrieving information.” And you can’t retrieve information without putting the information in thee in the first place. The dichotomy between “learning” and “memorizing” is false, Matthews contends. You can’t learn without memorizing, and if done right, you can’t memorize without learning.

“Memory needs to be taught as a skill in exactly the same way that flexibility and strength and stamina are aught to build up a person’s physical health and well being,” argues Busan, who often sounds like an advocate of the old faculty psychology. “Students need to learn how to learn. First you teach them how to learn, then you teach them what to learn.” (Foer 195)

There’s a lot going on in those two paragraphs, but in the mists of these paragraphs I realized that there is a good deal of truth to this argument and therefore, there was probably more to what Foer was trying to say about memorization in education. I often hear educators talk about student’s needing to “learn how to learn” because I think part of this includes actually enjoying learning and understanding that learning doesn’t only happen at school or in a textbook.

I don’t think Foer is arguing that the new way of education based around “experiences” is bad. I think Foer is saying that the experiences can only be truly valuable if the students still have some degree of prior knowledge stored in their memories. And the problem is that even in the age before “experiential learning”, students were only learning through rote memorization which doesn’t productively store information in your head at a level that also requires learning: “…and if done right, you can’t memorize without learning.”

I know I tend to think of memorization in school to be negative, but I don’t want to think that way anymore. At least not entirely. Memorization was once an art. In the ancient world part of being considered “educated” was about being able to memorize pieces because writing wasn’t practical at the time. Even when written texts first were being created, people could only read them if they had it basically memorized because there was no punctuation or spaces or page numbers, so if you wanted to find something you had go all the way through the scroll. At this point you basically memorized the text and had to understand what it was saying in order to create the words and phrases when you would recite it.

Maybe if we, as a community of learners, at school put an emphasis on memory techniques so that students more efficiently learn how to memorize at a younger age in a way that requires understanding, then students could better recall on this information in experiences. What if this method of teaming productive memorization with experiences in communities of learners actually created more life long learners out of students?

I want to respect memorization, not frown upon it. I mean I memorize more digits of pi every year for fun and I don’t really know why, but I think I respect pi a little more every year and feel accomplished from memorizing it. Plus I memorize lines for plays practically all of the time. Memorization in these senses is actually fun, so maybe memorization isn’t the problem, but maybe how and why we memorize is what needs to change in school for the 21st century.

I wonder what would happen if we invited memory athletes to teach lessons at school on how to memorize. I mean we no doubt need to remember certain things, so it seems fair to think that we should learn how to remember them as much as we need to “learn how to learn”. If at a younger age we started dedicating specific attention to focusing on how we memorize in order to improve our memory, then as we get older we could spend less time on memorizing and more time on using what we know in real world applications. This may be super far fetched but it seems like an intriguing possibility.

Networking on the Fly

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Happy Perfect Day/2 Pi Day/Tau Day !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Today is perfect day because 6 and 28 are the only perfect numbers that occur in the calendar, meaning that the divisors add up to equal the number. Just another one of those awesomely nerdy math holidays!!

However, while today was Perfect Day, it didn’t feel very perfect. It still just felt kind of depressing with all of my TiPster friends texting about how much we miss each other and at some point in the day we all listened to all of the tip tradition songs and watched recordings of the talent show acts.

Yesterday during my TiPression and lack of sleep, there was also a lot of airport drama.

So I’m starting to hate the Durum/Charlotte airports because I feel like the last several times I’ve flown to either of them alone I’ve had really annoying and stressful problems occur.

This time they were trying to say I wasn’t actually reserved on my flight so it took me about 2 hours to finally even get a boarding ticket. Good thing I was there really early due to TIP dropping me off.

On the upside, I guess my motto of “sometimes the biggest accidents make the best stories” tends to come through because I ended up having a really fatardo (awkward and random and usually crazy in the best way) story moment which reminded me of my “Hypothetical Conversation” from my last airport chaos, but in real life this time!

This time I ended up speaking to a lady that use to work at Duke and now works with some organization having to do with the concept of global citizens. I ended up having about a 40 minute conversation with her about design thinking, MVPS, MVIFI, ID, fuse15, my blog, and the DT summit trip that some of my friends our on in Davos right now. She gave me her business card and wants to contact me more about some conference in Durum. She also wants to maybe connect with MVPS because she’s trying to get her sons middle school to work on this big year long project for the students around global citizenship where they would also do planning and fundraising to potentially go on an international trip.

This lady wasn’t even on my flight either, she was waiting for her aunt’s plane to take off, but she kept talking to me a little after anyway!

It’s so cool how sometimes you can just bump into people sometimes and immediately connect and have a cool conversation. It felt so great to make connections and continue networking. Yesterday I introduced one new person to design thinking and it was pretty cool to be able to give examples and her to light up and want to learn more.

I’ve made a lot of new connections in the last month or so, now the real trick is going to be following up with them.

Challenge accepted.

Messy Learning

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Today I had another experience with living in “the mess“.

We started working with elliptic curves today which I’ve been waiting all term for!!! My current instructor was actually on the same campus as me for my second year, and my class even joined his for a few lessons. Elliptic curves were one of the things we talked about during these few lessons, and it is part of the reason I even wanted to take this class! However, because he knows I’ve done some of this before, he keeps pointing out in class that I’m not allowed to say much even thought sadly I don’t remember as much as I would have liked to.

Today we worked on a giant problem to try and derive a formula for adding points on an elliptic curve. We worked in pairs for over an hour and a half probably, but not 3 hours like the class big problem. The problem was really challenging, like pages of college level math that even our TA wasn’t sure about and my RC happened to come into class today and was very confused as well. It was a good challenging though because this way when we were done it was so much more satisfying.

Our instructor had a little chart up on the board signifying big steps of things we needed to solve and you would get a check mince if you almost had it, and a check for getting it. These were things like “equation, insight, x sub 3,…,” so they were really vague and kind of confusing until you got the check.

But I think it was important for us to derive the equation on our own because it helped us better understand why things worked while teaching us good learning skills with trying to test things to get stuff you want from it.

At the end we learned that it could really easily be simplified but to get there you had to start by getting a really messy long equation. At the end, in a quick summary, our instructor literally wrote on the board something to the extent of, “x^3 + m^2x^2+ [messiness]x +[messiness]= x^3+(-x1-x2-x3)x^2+ [nastiness]x +[nastiness]”. Today was our first day with elliptic curves, and this process was helping us learn more about how they work so we’re prepared in the future.

When you are able to work through all of the mess, that is when things become clearer and more satisfying. What if we had more moments in school that felt like a “mess”? Moments where teachers could give us one problem expecting it to take an hourish, so that we have time to really try and work through the messy details of a problem before we really learn much about it. What if we weren’t always just told, “Here is a formula, and now we will do some practice problems,” and instead we were told, “Here’s one way to do a problem with an accompanying example, now try to figure out a general formula so you can always solve this kind of problem”? To me I think that would be so cool and lead to interesting discussions that will help people better understand what they are doing!

Challenges From a Ciphered Goat

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Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to pick door No. 2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

TODAY WAS FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!! A bunch of us were really worried yesterday about how today’s class would go with out big class project, but it went really well actually!

First we walked in and were allowed to pick where we wanted to sit which was different from the usually changing seating chart. I think getting to choose where we sit was helpful because then we could all sit by people we know wouldn’t frustrate us when working on challenging material. The truth is that some heads just work together better than others and things work best when everyone works with someone that they can work with well.

Then we were given a summary of what we already knew one more time: we were going to try and crack a Vigenere cipher with only knowing the mod and the cipher text which we knew would eventually be some riddle that we would then have to answer. Then from then on it was up to us to figure out what to do.

Not so surprisingly I guess, I was a leader from the start. I had already talked to a few others about my idea yesterday so at this point I just needed the class quite enough to explain it to everyone at once. So right when our instructor let us on our own, I stood up and described a plan I had come up with to productively divid and concur to “guess and check” (brute force attack as we say) possibilities until we narrowed down to what the first part of the key was.

The process and other steps would be hard to explain if you don’t know much about the cipher which I don’t think is all that important to go into, so the point being we were actually working productively as a team!

We joke that only at Nerd Camp would kids be begging to stay in class rather than go outside for break, and it’s so true! Yesterday we had the same situation where we had the choice of two lessons and you would listen to one lesson and go outside for the other, but most of us wanted to stay for both and we were told we had to go outside to break. Today something similar happened where we all wanted to keep working to crack the code and even after going outside it was on our minds.

For this entire week during break we have been tossing around a few frisbees. Early on in the week we used it as a name game, then we decided by the end of the week our goal would be to actually play ultimate frisbee. Well yesterday this goal was finally achieved and we taught everyone how to play and since then have played during every break. A lot of us during our debriefing session after the code challenge agreed that we think playing ultimate frisbee really helped us with working as a team. I think that’s pretty cool because it goes to show how important skills aren’t always developed in the class room. Sometimes getting out of the class and just having fun is where important social skills like communication and collaboration in this case can really develop and benefit work in the class room too.

We got back in side after the break and kept working strong. Funny thing was that we actually had the correct key up on the board for a while based off of what various groups thought could be a “likely key” (the reasoning involved a bunch of math which again doesn’t really need to be described). It just took a little for someone to finally try using all of those keys on the board together and sure enough our first guess actually worked!!!!

We all burst into cheer and starting celebrating because we found a key that worked for at least the first few words in the cipher so it should work for the rest. We actually had to stop and remind each other that we weren’t done yet because we had to finish translating the entire thing, but we were so happy it was hard to stay calm.

We were getting close to lunch time, but we didn’t even care and told our TA and instructor that we were all willing to be late to lunch because at this point we NEEDED TO FINISH!  After a little ways in a few people were able to guess that the riddle was about the game show with a goat and a car in 2 of the three doors and the question was about if you should switch doors or not and you use probability to decide. We still had to finish translating though and when we finally did you would have thought it was just New Years we were so happy!

There was a short debate on the answer to the riddle, but I finally just said, “I don’t even care if we get the goat instead of the car. I’m just happy we just broke that code!” We submitted our final answer and were right on that too!!

AND WE FINISHED BEFORE LUNCH!!!!!!!!!! This was really important to the huge celebration because that meant we finished in just under 3 hours and it took the class before us 4 and a half hours to completely decipher the text. (Nerds are very competitive as I’ve observed on many situations.)

At lunch a bunch of us sat together and most of us agreed this was our favorite class yet. We at first dreaded it because we were worried we wouldn’t work well together, but I think that worry actually helped us all realize how important it was that we needed to prove everyone wrong and pull it together. No one believed we would finish before lunch; our TA and instructor even said they thought it would take us much longer and didn’t know what to expect today.

Some people may say they could never work on one math problem for 3 hours, but it was precisely because it took us so long to solve that it made it so much better when we did solve it. And it was so much more productive because we worked as a team. After wards we all high-fived and took a picture in this goofy pose that is the end to this dance thing one guy in our class does all of the time. This was significant because most of us have been confused with why he always does is and have thought it was weird and occasionally annoying, but he was the one to try the key first and we were all so happy and “teamy” that we didn’t care and wanted to take the photo anyway.

The challenge not only improved our skills as cryptologist, but it also brought our class much closer together. Not having help from a teacher also always makes you feel more accomplished because we did it all on our own which is encouraging. That’s why today was just so amazing!!!!!!!