Mind Games

Puzzles, riddles, magic tricks,– I’ve always been happily amused and amazed with mind games. I finally saw “Now You See Me” for the first time all the way through today and it was a pretty incredible show. Between that movie and taking the ACT today, I figured tonights post would only make sense to be one more mind game:

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RISE To New Levels

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ReSpIn’s journey through the prototypes at iFest 2016.

(I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been wanting to write this post, however I wanted to make sure I wrote it when I wasn’t paranoid about being up too late and still getting other things done. So finally, here it goes. )

For the past several months I have been one of four members of the ID cohort on the ReSpIn team- a team striving to Reduce waste, Spark conversations, and Inspire change so that sustainability becomes a part of the Mount Vernon community’s DNA.

Back in the fall, we observed that the middle school does not have recycling bins in their classrooms due to “not having the space.” Yet if we wish to have our students making conscious decisions about how they are affecting the environment, it’s important for us to provide the means like a recycling bin in order to make positive choices. This simple observation impelled a year long design challenge around how we could provide the middle school with a recycling bin that not only was a piece of furniture that people utilized properly, but also really made people think more about environmental sustainability.

Using the DEEP process as a kicking off point, we were able to create early prototypes that lead us to the overall concept of the RISE Sustainability System. (While not intentional, we recently realized that “RISE” could actually stand for, “Recycling in School Environments,” though I must admit that was not intentional for that reason.)

The system would have two elements:

  1. Part one is the RISE bin container which would serve as a shell for the current bins we have, but the shell would create more vertical and shelf space by providing a way to raise the recycling bin on top of the trash bin.
  2.  Part two is the accompanying classroom component meant to help teach students more about recycling.  We realized, after interviewing an external expert who is a venture capitalist, that trying to make sustainability a part of the MVPS DNA needs both a product and a social innovation; therefore, the classroom curriculum is meant to address the social component of this problem.

These two parts together are the entire “RISE Sustainability System.” However, we have focused primarily at this point on the physical product because it is what was most in front of us at the moment. (What good does it due for students to learn about why and how we properly recycle if they don’t actually have a way to recycle in their classroom?)

Through early empathy interviews, prototypes, experiments, and observations, we discerned that students take an interest in things they have ownership over. So the big question became,

“How might we have students take ownership of the RISE bin with the bin itself still being structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing?” 

Our solution: have the middle school students build and customize their own RISE bin as a class. Our first to scale prototype, which sat in two different middle school classrooms for a week, generated a lot of buzz about recycling, and we learned that the 5th graders in particular were really curious about the RISE. They were asking lots of questions and wanted people to use it correctly even though it was falling a part due to it’s design (being made out of foam and duct tape primarily). So our hypothesis was that if students got to build the RISE themselves they would take even more ownership over the bin and wanting people to use it correctly, which therefore means they’d have to recycle correctly.

IMG_5107.jpgThis new hypothesis brought a plethora of design constraints for us on the ReSpIn team. In particular we were struggling with figuring out the best materials to use, how to attach pieces together, and how to create a simple yet ascetically pleasing way to get the waste into the proper bins. This period of struggle included long discussions with the team, mentors, and experts, several prototypes of different magnitudes, and many hours outside of school declared “ID time” spent working to finish our product. (I now know all sorts of random fun facts about materials and machines, like how you can’t use Coroplast in a CNC machine because the rotation of the machine will just get caught in the threads and make a not so aesthetically pleasing hole. More than just fun facts, I’ve learned how to use a plethora of tools like Silhouette, Fusion360, and the laser cutter while also improving my innovators skills of associating, experimenting, questioning, networking, and observing.)

We were narrowing prototypes based on 8 design specifications and scoring with either a negative, a positive, or a neutral:

  • function- how well are people able to get trash into the trash bin and recycling into the recycling bin?
  • customers-how well can our users put the RISE together? how well can custodians take out the content of the bins?
  • materials- how hard is it for us to get the materials ready for our users to put it together? (“What machines can we use with this material?” was a large factor.)
  • environment- How environmentally friendly is the prototype? (this had to be positive)
  • size- does it take up minimal space?
  • safety- how safely can students put the prototype together with this version?
  • aesthetics- looking for a certain degree of professionalism since we are at school
  • cost- the goal is to make the RISE wide scale someday, so how costly would it be?
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ReSpIn team at GT’s lab learning about CNC machines and what materials work with what machines.

After a fair amount of time, we were finally able to decide upon a 2.0 full scale version of the RISE. This version is made out of PVC, MDF boards (wood), and  zip ties and has met all of our requirements.

By iFest (the day at MVPS where all high schoolers showcase project based learning work from the year) which was just three weeks ago, we were able to create one fully finished 2.0 prototype and most of one 2.1 prototype which we had high schoolers and teachers testing with our instructions book while trying to create the PVC skeleton of the 2.1 prototype. (There are only minor differences which we wanted to test such as how 2.1 is taller and has a front piece made out of a different wood which we stained.)  Then after iFest, after we finished up the rest of 2.1 and made edits to our instructions book, we were ready to get our latest prototypes tested by some actual middle schoolers.

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I’m happy to now announce that earlier this week we had a huge success for the ReSpIn team with our RISE Sustainability System! We were able to get our prototype into the classroom and officially test out the design with middle schoolers and it went really well!!!IMG_1763

As soon as I walked down the hall with a pile of supplies, 5th graders started looking at me and asking questions about what I was doing. I quickly assembled a group of 15 student volunteers to help with our test, and from the moment I gave them the instructions booklet they were deep in concentration over their work. I noticed a lot of teamwork skills being practiced with leaders emerging for different things such as the student holding and reading instructions, and the student taking lead with putting PVS pieces together, and the student telling others what they could do to help, and the student asking everyone questions to make sure they were doing things correctly.

From early on I was able to observe that there were still several students not actively participating in the process the entire time, so I changed the test a little by instruction them to split up into a teams. One group focused on the PVC part and another focused on prepping the wood pieces with zip ties for when they’d be attached. Based on this feedback our team is now editing our instructions book to say from the start for the class to break up into 3 teams with two of the teams working on a different section of the PVC and the third team working on wood. This will hopefully help more students stay actively engaged in the process and cut down on how long it takes to put the RISE together.

We also were able to get good feedback about how much people liked the pictures, but we need to adjust the way we talk about the wood pieces because that was hard for them to understand which piece was which. One girl also said, “These zip ties are hard to get in the holes,” and multiple others agreed, so I think we have some design work to make that easier as well. There were a few other wording confusions, but overall they were able to assemble the bin with only asking me a few questions about the wood pieces particularly and also when one PVC piece was not quite fitting in right.

However, the most inspiring piece of feedback of the test that we were given was from a little girl who told me, “This is the best idesign challenge we’ve done, because we never get to see a project like this get this far.”

IMG_1762I’ve fallen in love with our users and I’m excited for the new edits and whatever comes next so that we can provide them with the best solution to this problem. Though, I don’t know exactly what our next steps are, because like the 5th grade girl said, “We’ve never gotten this far.” But all of the smiling faces, “thank you”s, and teacher comments about students asking more questions about recycling is how I know we are doing something right.

Make Your Mark Event

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Don’t you just love it when something you’ve been working really hard on for a long time goes well?!

First a short backstory:

Last year after mine and Kat’s first semester AP Lang showcase, we got a good amount of feedback from others as well as each other about trying to brainstorm more ways that we could have larger conversations with people. Rather than just the digital conversations we have, we have been trying to find ways to have discussions face-to-face because it often brings another layer to the dialogue.

Then over winter break Kat and I read The Great Gatsby which sent us on a path of curiosity about the ideology behind the “American Dream” and dreams, success, and achievement in general. After analyzing a number of videos, articles, poems, pictures, short stories, and even a few songs, Kat and I managed to pick 6 that we wanted to write dialectical journal entries on. (You can see more about the assignment here.) By the end of that week we had a big discussion with each other about things that became clearer, patterns we’ve observed, and questions that came up from our research.

What we realized is that the American Dream is such a controversial topic with a lot of interesting perspectives and other elements that can come up.

This leads me to today where we had our very first (of many I suspect) “Make Your Mark Event”. (The name is in prototype mode still so that may change, but for now it’s sticking with me.)

We started with an email and a question: “Dreams: What do you want your mark to be?” We sent this email out to the entire high school (faculty included), with a sign up genius attached. On it was room for 10 students and 6 faculty members to select themselves to join this non required event; you have no idea how happy we were when all 16 spots were full. (And we had close to that many end up coming in the end- though not all were originally signed up.)

Now on the one hand we obviously wanted to just be able to have a discussion with more people, but being the ambitious people that we are, we had a few other goals in mind as well. We purposefully  invited both students and teachers to this event because we wanted to challenge the norm that kids are always the students and adults are always the teachers. We brought students and faculty members into the same room because we wanted to hear perspectives from multiple different people, but either way, we the “students” were going to be leading this conversation.

Another goal of ours was to challenge the norms on what a discussion can look like. We wanted to get people up on their feet, talking in small and large groups, brainstorming their own questions so they would take ownership of the conversation, and we wanted their to be some physical take away.

So this is a snap shot of our flow: We started with the pizza and some light conversation;t hen played a John Green video to get people thinking; then broke into groups to brainstorm questions; rotated groups to chose some of our favorite questions; had about a 15 minute discussion; then we even added a bit of a makers challenge at the end where we made our own stamps that represented what we want “our mark” to be.

And I think everything went rather well. Everyone seemed engaged and enjoying themselves. I know we got a good bit of feedback specifically about how people really liked the stamp activity as a take away; they said there was a clear connection to the topic, though the transition could have been smoother, and it was something they weren’t expecting but had fun with!

However, I do think for the future we could improve it by spending more time in the discussion portion. A lot of people liked the conversation, and they wished we would have more time so that we could go even deeper into some of the questions.

 One of my big take aways in terms of the conversation itself is this idea of how the American Dream has changed over time and while it seems that “The American Dream” has typically been more based on a capitalistic market where the goal is to have a lot of money. However, the dream is changing and now people are less concerned with trying to attain this one dream and instead want to focus more on their individual uniqueness and achieve recognition in their field of interest despite having or not having money. Money does not mean success or happiness necessarily. Then the question becomes how does society help people achieve success now that the dream has changed? The overall consensus seemed to be that society as a whole, and education as a whole, does not yet provide this support; however, even some students mentioned things about MVPS, like iProject and ID that do seem to really support the new dream for students to have freedom to explore their personal dreams which are often not the same as their neighbors.

What made me most happy about today though, was that several people asked about doing it again! Someone even said, “What if every Friday we just had deep conversations about life while eating pizza?!” I’m so excited that people enjoyed today, and I think Kat and I have both agreed that we want to do another so I’m excited to see how we tweak things to make the next one even better!

Individuality

images-1.jpgBeing a leader is hard. I’m the founder of Kemps Khaos Club at MVPS last year, though we were an un-offical club 2 years ago as well, and each year we’ve tried to improve our student-faculty card game tournament.

This year we set up the “Kemps Kouncil”  to help deal and organize all game times. However, trying to organize the Kouncil to make sure they organize the games is a whole other challenge. It’s been challenging mainly because usually I’m that kind of leader who, when something isn’t being done, I just do it myself to make sure it’s done. However, with Kemps, I’ve really been trying to let my team mates take that responsibility and just give them reminders to make sure it gets done. The hard part is when I get questions from teachers about when they are going to play their next game and all I can say is, “I don’t know, your dealer should be sending you an email soon…”

A lot of times when I’m on a team I end up in a leadership role. It’s just my personality and nature I guess, even in a letter I have from my preschool teachers it says, “When playing in a group setting, Anya prefers to be the leader but will allow other children to take over that role as well.”

In fact a lot of that letter is a surprisingly accurate description of how I still am today, which seems so weird considering I was 3 at the time this was written. I wonder how old we are when our fundamental personality traits start showing. How much do we really change over time? What traits start showing themselves earlier than others? What personality traits are more likely to change over time versus staying consistent through out a person’s life? What shapes our personality?

I feel like in high school one of the most common faced problems is someone feeling the need to be like someone else, rather than feeling comfortable with embracing who they are.  Everyone is an individual person with different personality traits. Some that are praised, and others which show our weaknesses, but they all make us, us. Our differences are what make us unique, special, noticed amongst the crowd.  At a wedding the bride is the one in a different dress. When trying to get someone’s attention you stand up to be spotted in the sitting crowd. In a sea of yellow flowers, it’s easy to spot the one that’s a radiant, ruby red.

For the amount of stress teenagers go through with trying to figure out “who am I?” I wonder what it would be like if schools placed more time and energy into helping students embrace their individuality. It’s a skill that will truly last a life time and be invaluable to success.

Individuality is important to me, and it’s something I see people struggle with all the time which makes me sad, frustrated, and oddly ignited. HMW help people feel comfortable being themselves? It’s a question that’s been asked by people for centuries, so why does it seem that not much has changed- I mean if the question is still being asked, clearly the problem hasn’t been solved. Why not? Are we asking the right question? Are we tackling the problem the right way? Are we communicating and working with the right people?

I feel the designer inside of me burning with questions and a sense of agency to take action in some way or form yet I simply don’t know where to start, so I’m starting with these questions. Hopefully something will come from them.

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Product vs. Social Innovation

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Finals time gets really hectic and I was so happy about AP Lang last Thursday at the end of the day, that I almost forgot to blog about how great a day it was for my coVenture ReSpIn (#mvrecycles) team!

(As a disclaimer, I have not included much background to this venture because I have several past posts about it. If you have not been keeping up with my past posts about the RISE Sustainability System and our are team, ReSpIn, then I would strongly encourage you to read some of the posts in the link above because I fear I use a bit too much insider language. I’ve done this though because I expect this post to be long without all of the background.)

While talking to Mr. Jones one day, a MVPS parent that also works as a venture investor, Mr. Edwards noticed a connection between my team’s work and one of the projects Mr. Jones has become invested in. (I don’t know how much I’m actually allowed to say about that project so I’m just not going to say specifics. The important part is just that this is how we made the connection with Mr. Jones.)

Through this connection we were able to schedule a meeting with Mr. Jones for last Thursday and it was really helpful in moving our work forward.

For the past week our team has been working on our half scale model of our product using cardboard as our new material due to our purposeful pivot about 2 weeks ago. The prototype isn’t quite complete yet because what we ended up realizing is that it is a lot harder and time consuming to put together a working prototype when you have to do everything manually; luckily the full scale version will be more precise and faster because we will use a CNC machine (as of now this is the plan at least). However, our RISE Sustainability System has been put together enough to the point where we were able to show Mr. Jones how it will work and explain what the need is for our system.

“…there are similar products to ours in existence, but what is different about our product is that we want it to be more than just a space saving waste system. We want our product to actually be part of a system that inspires conversations and learning around recycling and if we are able to make it out of cardboard it will be the most sustainable, portable, and easiest for a class of any age to assemble; plus there isn’t yet one out there made of cardboard to our knowledge.” – Purposeful Pivoting (The Life of Pinya)

Mr. Jones seemed to really love our concept, especially with how we hope to find a way to incorporate the building of the RISE into different classes curriculums. A key component to our system is that we want our system to help foster and support learning about recycling by having a class interact with it, we do not want teachers feeling like it is a burden and time waster to put it together as a class. How this will look is still in early modes of brainstorming though.

Mr. Jones also had a lot of great feedback for us that has helped our team discover our next steps. I learned so much that I think it’s best to first high light my biggest take aways from this meeting:

  • our product is more of a social innovation than a product innovation
  • it’s okay to not do all of the work inside of the core team, just know your assets and how to use them to your advantage then figure out what/who else you need to accomplish your goal
  • key components of a business plan

In ID for the past month at least, we have been broken up into 3 main groups: design brief team, product innovation team, and then us the ReSpIn team. (To learn more about the module set up, one of my facilitators Meg Cureton has a nice post about it this current module.)

My team, ReSpIn, has been kind of on our own, but we’ve been more closely involved with the product innovation team learning about how products get innovated by first being copied, then transformed, then combined together. No ideas are original in today’s 21st century, but ideas can be improved upon and remixed to create a new useful and innovative tool for people to use.
Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 10.19.08 AM.pngWe’ve been with this group because up until a few days before last Thursday, we have thought that our project was under the category of product innovation since at first it started with us just re-designing the waste bin. But in the past week or so we’ve been realizing that the problem we truly want to solve for is actually more of a social innovation, requiring us to help change a cultural mindset around recycling.

After talking with Mr. Jones, our team all agreed that our problem requires a social innovation; however, the first problem still stands that the middle schooler (our primary/initial users) do not actually have recycling bins and the reason is partially because they take up too much space. Therefore, some sort of product innovation is needed to solve the overarching problem of making sustainability a part of our DNA at MVPS, so our work has not been in vain, there is just much more to be done.

Once it was determined that we are working on both a product and social innovation, we started talking about how our team has recognized our own knowledge gaps on the product innovation side of things. We still do not fully know how to work the machines we would need, we have limited computer science knowledge, and we only have one team member that’s really good  with CAD which has made the process slower.

However, we’ve been realizing something important: it is okay to not do all of the work on a project, sometimes we have to outsource work to get the job done best. I know that personally this is something I’ve always struggled with; it seems like when we do a project, we have to be the only one’s to work on the project. This isn’t true though, nor is it practical. Not everyone is good at everything, so if you are able to acknowledge what your team is good at, then you can use your skills and figure out who else you could get to help with the parts of the project you aren’t as skilled in.

Our team has a lot of experience with social innovation. Working with people, gaining empathy, discovering needs, figuring out ways to hack a culture, discovering little insights to lead to a big change- this is the stuff we strive with in my opinion. Now not to say the product design isn’t important, but we’ve spent most of this year working at that side of things and feel that we are now in a position to acknowledge that maybe someone else would be more apt to continue this side of the work.

Continuing forward, we hope to partner with Mr. Edward’s Technology, Engineering, and Design (TED) class and have them help us develop the product design for the RISE. The cool thing about this partnership is that it will basically be the opposite role to what the Design Brief ID team is working on currently; we will be the clients rather than the hired consultants. (This is still barely developed though, so one of our first next steps is figuring out how this partnership will work.)

Meanwhile, when the TED class takes over more of the product design, the core ReSpIn team hopes to continue more of the social innovation side of things. We plan to talk to more students, teachers, custodians, and external companies to work on how we might have the RISE Sustainability System incorporate into class curriculum and how we might gain further support and funding to eventually market the product (assuming all goes well). Mr. Jones gave us some great starting points with companies to research and the team has agreed to look into those more over the winter break.

Mr. Jones also told us how most companies would expect a business plan when being pitched an idea like this. To be honest we haven’t learned much about formal business plans in the past, so it was really informative when he helped go through what would be in a typical business plan:

  • who the target market is
  • what the need is for the product/system
  • description about what it is/how it works
  • how you are going to get what you don’t have (money, supplies, skills, tools, etc…)
  • what is the plan to actually role this out onto market
    • (he also gave us great advice about how no project ever goes according to plan, but you still need some starting plan with how  you are going to test the product and who you will talk to for feedback on the product, etc…)
  • financial direction
    • for commercial products: what is the cost compared to revenue
    • for social products: what is the goal and how will it be measured? how is the end social impact justifying the need for the cost to implement it?
      • tips for figuring out cost:
        • know what you think it will cost you
        • discover what the average user will actually pay for a product like yours
        • then find a way to make sure there is a large gap between these two prices where it costs you less then they will buy it for

When Mr. Jones talked about these key components to a business plan, our team was happy to realize that we know a lot of this information already, but now we need to actually compile it together into a more formal write up. Mr. Jones also brought up a good point to us about how one of our key assets is that we are a team of students and companies are always trying to reach the next generation, so by partnering with us they could potentially reach a larger audience. I thought this was nice to hear because sometimes we always expect that we will get turned away because we are students, but that isn’t always the case; if you can make a convincing argument for why your idea is needed and why you need to work on it, someone will support you despite your age.

I think the last two weeks especially has provided our coVenture team with a lot of valuable insights about product innovation versus social innovation, the value of knowing what skills your team possesses, and how to partner with others to get more done faster. I’m excited for what the future holds next!

Hacking Final Exams: AP Lang Showcase

WE DID IT!!!!!! First semester is just about over, now all that is left our final exams! Which also means that we finished a full semester of our AP Lang Collab course!!! (Lot’s of exclamation points tonight because I’m super happy!)

Today was our “final exam” for our class, but rather than a typical sit down test, we presented a trailer video, each gave a 10 minute talk, and had a gallery walk for people to learn, ask questions, and give feedback about our bookshelf, feedback and assessment, and logistics for the course.

This all took a lot of work to plan for and I’m just really happy with how it went. I know I’ve learned a lot this semester and I don’t need a number grade to prove that to me. The feedback we got today about how impressed everyone was with our showcase just further solidified that for me.

It also made me think comparatively about how other classes give their final exams. One of the things I’ve realized is that myself and other students know a lot. More than we think we know probably. The part that makes things difficult is a matter of if we are asked the right questions.

Learning is a process. Not everyone will have the same takeaways all of the time, but everyone will take away something.

With most final exams all students are expected to have had the same takeaways, and there isn’t much room for students to just say “this is what I have learned and taken away from this course so far.”

I wonder how final exams would be if things were more flipped like what we did with our exam, so rather than a teacher saying, “This is what I want for an answer because this is what I know we’ve talked about,” a student was able to showcase to a teacher or larger audience, “This is what I want you to ask me about because this is what I’ve learned.”

In AP Chemistry today we talked about how there can often be many different answers to questions because everyone has a different logic behind how they answer it. If you are able to clearly explain your reasoning, you should get some credit is the philosophy we have in that class.

I really connected with this since it’s related to why we didn’t take a standard final exam for AP Lang. We wanted to celebrate our work and communicate what we’ve learned with others and then let them ask us questions.

Plus we recorded it! So now, without further ado, because it is still finals week and I need sleep, here are our  MoVe Talks from earlier today about our experience so far in AP Lang:

 

 

 

And with the first day of finals arriving tomorrow, it is in my tradition to say this every year (actually I have a surprising amount of posts about final exams.):

It is time once again, for that time of the year has come, where I must sing this song for the next week and some.

(To the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas, but without writing all of the versus out.)

On the twelfth day of finals my teachers have to me

12 multiple choice

11 fill in the blanks

10 matching questions

9 short answer

8 days of prep

7 different essays

6 days for teachers

5—–DIFFERENT SUBJECTS!!!!!!!!!!

4 hours of sleep

3 sheets of paper

2 number two pencils

And 1 really long annoying test

Now all through the night

Some people will still study

So before I part,

A merry finals to all

And to all crammers

Good luck, and good night!

 

Make Your Purpose Clear

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I find it funny how sometimes you can know exactly what kind of feedback to give someone else, but then you later realize that you needed the same feedback. That happened to me today where I didn’t even realize I needed the same feedback until someone gave me feedback and I realized, “Wait a minute I said that exact thing earlier today! That makes a lot of sense…”

Before giving any presentation, it’s important to be clear about what you’re asking from your audience, what your goals are, and what evidence you have to show your goals are reasonable and needed; so practice how you will make it clear.

Stories Come From the Heart

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My head is spinning right now. Today was a pretty good day, nothing particularly amazing happened, but it was pretty relaxed with a couple of great conversations. These great conversations have all connected for me in the great circle of life, so yes, this post is long, but that is because there is simply lots that I must say.

For starters, today Kat and I unpacked our interview that we had with Grant Lichtman yesterday, and the amount of ideas currently in my head our insane!

For the past year-ish (actually looking back at blog posts has allowed me to learn it was actually the beginning of November 2014 that we officially announced our coVenture), Kat and I have been interested in education redesign and student voice. But we’ve come a long way since first making our twitter accounts on the very day of that particular blog post.

Since last year, we have had a number of opportunities to lead design thinking challenges; Kat went to Europe with EF Tours and lead a design thinking session; I gave a MoVe talk at the DT conference FUSE15; we have written a collective of over 365 blog posts; we have a total of over 200 followers on twitter and actively have conversations with education leaders (teachers and some student groups) from around the world; we have created the first ever (to our knowledge) student designed AP class.

Point being: We’ve been wedging our way into education redesign conversations, and now I’d say we are starting to have a decent presence and heard voice in the conversations. Plus being students gives us a unique perspective compared to many educators in these conversations, which definitely helps us stand out a little.

Through all of the discovery and empathy work we’ve been doing over the past year, Kat and I have really started to develop a lot of thoughts around education redesign. For the past few months, especially since the creation of our AP Lang course, we’ve been thinking about actually putting our thoughts into a book to publish. Imagine a book written about education design from students’ perspectives! That would be something different, and hopefully game changing!

During our interview with Mr. Lichtman we really wanted to focus on questions related to the writing process and the journey he went on to create his 2 books (The Falconer and #EdJourney). His support and enthusiasm with our idea was motivating, and his insight invaluable!

Today while unpacking, Kat and I tried to focus on these essential questions that Mr. Lichtman asked us:

  • What are you writing?
  • Why are you writing it?
  • Who are you writing it for?
  • What else is already out there that may be like it?
  • Why should you be the ones writing it?

These questions may sound almost obvious to ask when trying to write something, but sometimes questions become more powerful and helpful when someone else asks you them.

When I say Kat and I focused on these questions, I mean we actually tried to start brainstorming some answers, but obviously we are still vary early in this process. The important thing is: we are in this process.

Our talk today clarified some of our thoughts, and we know we want to do this because we have things we need to say and we have things we want to learn more about to help others find their way on this journey to education redesign. Design thinking is human centered problem solving. In human centered problem solving we work with users to solve the problems. In schools the largest population of users is the student population. Therefore, it only makes sense that student voices are involved in the education redesign process.

It is due to my extremely strong belief in this that my personal how might we that drives my learning and actions at this point in my life is, “How might we make student voice at the forefront of education redesign?”

I’ve only recently been able to even clearly identify what my how might we is, part of what helped was when Alex Emmanuele asked me during an interview, “What’s your how might we?” Again, a seemingly simple question, but when you’re forced to answer publicly to someone else,  it slowly becomes more articulate and takes more shape than before.

The cool thing is that since articulating my HMW, I’ve slowly been seeing it take root even more in my everyday activities and school work. Having conversations with educators around the world to learn and be inspired, discussing how our writing can be meaningful to discussions outside of school, trying to uncover big questions like “what makes a good student?” and planning to interview with 50 stand out students to develop an answer- this stuff is exactly what I want to be working on.

I see my iVenture seeping into the work I’m doing in AP Lang class in a way that makes complete sense and motivates me to learn and work like no other class does. Plus I feel confident that we are also meeting the goals of what students are suppose to take away from an AP Lang class. Mr. Lichtman even said at one point, “You guys have the capacity to really synthesize and find new insights,” when talking about how he thinks us writing a book is an achievable goal. Well, a synthesis essay is one of the essays we have to write for AP Lang, and we just got feedback from an author that we know how to synthesis; that was pretty powerful feedback for us.

Writing a book is no small task. It takes months of constant writing and editing. Mr. Lichtman talked about how he probably wrote over 150,000 words even though #EdJourney only ended up being 90,000 and the target was 40,000. One of the biggest questions we are wrestling with is “how can high schoolers write a book while still keeping up with high school work?” Is it possible? We don’t know. Will we try despite the uncertainty and assumed constraints? Don’t doubt it for a second. How will we do it? Stay tuned as we continue on our journey to find out.

Through out the conversation the biggest piece of advise we got from Mr. Lichtman was, “Know what you want to say. Then continue to ask yourself ‘Is this exactly what I want to say?” We haven’t clearly defined what it is “we want to say” quite yet, but the thoughts are developing. For me the important thing is that I know I’m all in, because I feel that this is where my heart is, and stories come from the heart.

In fact this conversation we had today has made me deeply ponder about where my heart is calling me.

Ever since I can remember I’ve always been decently well known as “the math girl.” I mean even my nickname is “Pi-nya” because I sign my name with a pi symbol instead of an A. I’ve gone to Nerd Camp the past 4 years and taken advanced, college level math courses and absolutely loved them!

Due to my love of math and love of design thinking, I’ve been saying for the past year that I want to major in engineering because that seemed logical enough. I mean from what I’ve heard, engineering seems to be the major that most obviously relates to design thinking principles.

Related to engineering, in innovation diploma time I’ve been working on a product design coVenture focusing on “How might we make sustainability a part of the DNA at MVPS?” I’ve expressed before how I am not super attached to this coVenture; however, I feel like I’m missing experiences in my design thinking tool box that come with finishing a project all the way through.Thus I’ve felt the need to carry this out all the way, and I feel a certain dedication to my team as well to do so.

The thing is, the more we work, the more I’m starting to realize my strengths and weaknesses as a designer. I am not the best at using CAD programs. In fact I’m only okay at best. Also, electronic knowledge goes right over my head most of the time. I’ve also found, that I think I (like many classroom attempts at design thinking) have a problem with spending too much time in discovery mode before leaping into empathy and experimentation mode.

However, there are other things I am good at, like speaking up for a team. I think at this point most of ID knows that giving pitches is definitely one of my strengths. (Being an actress really comes in handy in the real world!) Even just today I was being filmed in a short interview for an MViFi video that is being created, because articulating ideas is a strength of mine. I’m also typically that person to help keep everyone up to date on things that need to be done and checks to make sure we all have the same understanding of what’s going on.

Back in the beginning of last year when we took the Gallup Strength Finder test my 5 strengths were recognized as “learner, individualization, restorative, achiever, and responsibility.” It isn’t until this year though that I’m starting to realize that maybe I should be spending more time focusing on how I can use the strengths I have and improve those rather than trying so hard to get good at a bunch of different things. A team is made of multiple people with different strengths.

I’ve also been questioning if engineering is really the path I want to go down. I mean I know my heart is more into my iVenture/AP Lang work compared to my product design work. I don’t necessarily want to stop my product design work because I truly do think it’s valuable to see a project come to life in some shape or form and learn to wrestle with the real world problems of bringing an idea to life. However, is product design really what I want to be doing later in life? And my iVenture is definitely design thinking, but it isn’t really engineering in the traditional college major sense based on my understanding, so what does that mean?

I know I don’t need to decide at this very moment, but like Mr. Lichtman said, “you really have to know what you want to do.” In my opinion, you often are happier when doing what you want, or at least doing something you know will help you get what you want in the long run. And I think you know what you want to do based on what your heart is telling you.

Currently, I know what I want to do, because my heart is calling me in the direction of my iVenture: “How might we make student voice at the forefront of education redesign?” But when thinking about my future, which as a junior comes up a lot, how does my iVenture fit in when thinking about college and my life after high school? I’m starting to think that engineering isn’t quite alined with my personal passions, but then what is? I’m feeling an odd mixture of being greatly lost and yet incredibly metacognitive and aware at the same time right now.

The Education Ecosystem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort with a Fail Up Mindset

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I hate grades.

I don’t hate feedback or rubrics or growth measurement tools as a whole, but I hate grades. I know I’ve talked about this before; about how humans are more than a symbol, and how important feedback is, and how I believe the future of education must include a limitless growth measurement system. (Actually I didn’t truly process just how much I’ve talked about grades until looking for a few blog posts to tag on this post and realized I had a ton of posts on grades.)

I think the biggest thing that bugs me about grades is that I feel that they limit my drive to be creative because I don’t feel comfortable to put the possibility of failure aside.

When I try to be more creative and do something new for a project, it doesn’t always work out correctly. That’s life. When you try new things, eventually you will fail. That’s why at MVPS we always talk about “failing up”, because we know failure will come eventually in any authentic process, and you can’t necessarily control that; however, you can control how you react to the failure. By failing up it means that you will learn from your failure, and take feedback from the failure to improve your next iteration on an idea.

Failure is valuable. I often learn more from failures than successes. However, grading systems are not designed to allow comfort to fail up.

When your idea for a project doesn’t work- doesn’t fulfill the intended goal you were trying to achieve- you don’t get a good grade. That’s just how it works. Grading systems only look at the final product and access if you achieved your intended goal on the first try. So why try something new if there is at least a 50% chance that something won’t work and then your grade will suffer? Why look for a creative opportunity if you know you have a better chance at being successful, in terms of grades at least, with your old traditional way? Why take the time and effort to do something big and exciting, if a small and non-standoutish presentation is more likely to check the boxes of “what you have to do”?

I live for the creative and different moments in life. I want to try out new ideas for completing assignments. I want to make things exciting and engaging for others.

But when I try and it doesn’t work, I get a worse grade and I don’t feel motivated to try again. I don’t feel like I got feedback on what to do next time to make it better, I just feel like I know this didn’t work. I feel disgruntled because I know I worked hard and know teachers appreciate us trying to think creativly, but my grade doesn’t tell me anything about what I did, or the difficulty of what I tried to do.

And I really hope I’m not communicating this type of perspective like, “wow I totally didn’t deserve the grade I just got. What was the teacher thinking? This is dumb, I hate grades.” Because that isn’t at all what I’m saying!

In fact, given the grading system as it is, I think the grade is accurate, and not even horrible. And I love the teacher that this project was for. Plus I totally understand the feedback provided to my partner and I, and I know now that the presentation formate we choose didn’t quite teach the class the best. It just makes me feel more hesitant about trying new things, because the truth of the situation is that as far as school is concerned, grades matter.

I just wish grades made me truly feel that it was okay to “fail up.”