One of the more random projects I’ve found myself involved with while in isolation is finally organizing old gym videos. Jump Start is almost 9 years old now, so we have a significant number of old routines at this point. I’m trying to locate videos of all of these old routines and sort them based on level, song, and choreography (some times we may re-use identical routines or sometimes we just use old music but change choreography). This way in the future we have more options of old routines to recycle and also just more ideas for song selections.
This has been an annoyingly difficult process though, especially when there are videos that I know exist but I just can’t seem to find them anywhere between my computer, my mom’s Google photos, or old flash drives. For example, I somehow have old videos that are on my YouTube channel and yet I can’t find the original versions of these videos in order to save them to the Google folder we’re creating. Then on top of the videos I know exist but can’t find, I also know of at least a dozen routines girls competed, and yet I have no idea if we have videos of them. So I’m searching for something that might not even exist.
And I’m spending hours searching… How do you know when enough is enough? How do you know when you’ve searched every possible option? How do you convince yourself that one more hour of searching won’t make the difference?
I even went as far as manually going through our records of all team kids we’ve ever had and emailing past families to see if they had old videos they’d be willing to share with us. I’m seriously doubting I’ll get any responses on that email, but I had to at least try in order to start to feel like I’ve explored all my options.
This must be what historians feel like – always searching through the past without knowing if anything will actually be found or if there even is anything left to be found. I’m glad I don’t plan on becoming a historian.
My Engineers Without Borders team had our first virtual meeting today. Despite the wasted time spent figuring out technology and the sadness around how many of our projects are now delayed with the new circumstances, I felt like it was a rather productive meeting.
Maybe that’s just because I realized how much I’ve missed having meetings. I miss collaborating with people on new ideas and trying to make stuff happen. Sure it can be fun to have time to do stuff on my own like messing around with my flute or categorizing old blog posts, but to me, nothing beats a good brainstorming session with teammates.
I’m fortunate that my sub-teams work isn’t too affected by the pandemic since we’ve just been working on a research paper about the role of DT in the sanitation sector, so our work has always been online. However, one of the events our team puts on each semester did have to be canceled – our semesterly “Design Jam” where we host a design thinking workshop around WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) issues for the GT community.
Sometimes though, constraints can lead to great creativity, so now we are playing with a new idea: what would it look like to host a virtual design challenge? We think it’s possible, so we are going to run with it a bit and see what we can come up with. Today it was merely a thought, but next week we plan to flesh this thought out a little more to get a better sense of all the pieces involved in doing something like this. I’m really excited to see where this goes, especially since I’ve not heard of many if any virtual design thinking workshops, so it would be cool at a minimum just to see if it’s possible and how that could grow into so many new opportunities.
I’m glad that this week is starting to bring more structure to my time social-distancing, between my EWB meeting and more gymnastics video chats starting to become regular. I think this structure and more consistent interaction with people around new ideas is going to be helpful for keeping me mentally active and engaged because you can only challenge yourself so much – the best challenges for yourself are typically the ones you can’t think of on your own.
I haven’t been in a theater production in about a year now – not since Mid Summer Nights Dream last spring. It’s still weird for me to think how long it’s been considering once upon a time I spent 15+ hours a week in the blackbox pretty much every day of the school year and then some.
Even though I’m not physically involved with theater now nearly as much as I used to be, it still holds a very special place in my heart due to everything I learned and the people I got to learn with. So I thought I’d share just a few of my favorite things I’ve learned from my involvement with theater and, to drive the point home, some evidence of how I learned it:
Confidence – It takes immense emotional vulnerability to do both the comedic and dramatic aspects that come with performance arts.
Empathy – Every time you take on a new character you have to get in their head to understand what it would be like to really be that person and then show others what that looks like.
Collaboration – A cast without a team mentality is a horrible show to witness.
Critical thinking – Building sets: where do we need to drill this hole in order to create the angle needed to support this shelf?
Creative thinking – How are we going to make vines fall from the sky on cue?
Quick decision making / Improvising – The certain just broke mid-show but we can’t stop the show, so how are we going to work around it?
Verbal communication – Try memorizing 50 pages of lines verbatim…
Non-verbal communication – Great acting often happens in the moments of silence.
Active listening – Don’t just wait for it to be your turn to say a line, it has to feel like a real conversation where each player gives and takes off of the other.
Fail up – After messing up tragically, getting back up because the show must go on.
Trust – Know your scene partners will be there to do their part in making the show great, from helping if someone forgets a line to insuring the props they’re in charge of get to where they need to be, and let them trust you to do the same.
Presence – Rocking back and forth or twiddling your hair while speaking are all distracting gestures during any presentation; theater teaches you to stand firm and make intentional physical choices to emphasize your points.
Acceptance – Theater people are different. It’s a fairly known fact, and I love this about theater people. Everyone is welcome period.
Managing emotions – Even on the last night of senior year, tears are for later because there’s still a show to put on.
I’m sure I’m missing items from this list, but for now, this is a good start to explaining all the things I learned that make me love theater so much. Not to mention it’s just so much fun! I’m glad that in the midst of schools going online and everything closing down, arts programs are still finding ways to connect and learn these lessons even if we can’t be physically connected in space.
I miss my theater fam new and old and all the theater nerds out there enjoy this day.
SparkHouse 3 is finally here and I’m so excited!!!
When I think back to my first time at SparkHouse it’s amazing how much has changed. SparkHouse was where the first idea for Trailblazers came about. Now here I am two years and three e-magazine issues later as a Community Builder and a chaperone for 3 of high school members of the current Trailblazers production team!
Since SparkHouse I’ve also become so much more involved with Education Reimagined and the Education Transformation Movement at large. I’ve attended and mentored at several conferences around the country, participated in numerous calls/video/social media chats, and even been able to teach a short-term high school course of my own. (Which was obviously un-traditional in nature.) Honestly, it wasn’t until talking to my roommate, who is a first-time learner at SparkHouse, that I realized the full extent of how many opportunities I’ve had since joining this community.
And now that I have become more involved, I’ve realized the importance of “preflecting” – reflecting before things being about my expectations, hopes, and goals for this experience – in order to have a greater take away after the gathering. So here it goes:
Great conversations around learner-centered education
A deeper connection to the language we use to describe the kind of work we do
Be inspired by the amazing work young learners are already doing and the new ideas they bring to the table
Members of Trailblazers will branch out and expand their networks
We’ll develop new ideas about ways that Trailblazers could contribute to the Education Transformation Movement
More young learners will step up and continue to grow their leadership capacities in this movement even beyond SparkHouse
Have at least five new people sign up/express interest in contributing to Trailblazers
Reach 50 followers on Trailblazers social media
Find a new tool/activity/mindset that I can implement into my own leadership practices
Inspire other learners to become more involved in the community/movement to transform the education system
Ever get so involved in a project that you forget you’re technically “working” in a sense?
I did a very poor job blogging over the past year of school. I procrastinated and the more I felt like I didn’t have the time or energy to blog, the less likely I was to blog at all unless the urge and the timing were too strong to not right; which only happened about 12 times. I found that without blogging that I was taking less time to reflect upon my successes and failures, and reflection is a key part of learning so I was disgruntled with my lack of writing- especially since I know a lot of the time I didn’t write was just out of laziness.
The more time I spent not blogging, the harder it became to feel the urge to actually want to spend the time writing out blog posts, even when I thought of things to write naturally during the day. (This is significant because most days I don’t know what I’m going to write about until I get my computer out and just start typing, but some days I start blogging already with something very specific that I need to talk through and get off of my mind. When I write those kinds of posts the writing comes easily because the need to share is so strong and typically these end up being some of my better posts. However, I also know it sometimes takes longer to write those posts because I get so into it; therefore, I would tell myself I wouldn’t have the time to properly write the post, so I just wouldn’t at all.)
Due to my “writing block”, as I called it, I assigned myself a second 100-day challenge to blog for 100 days in a row. I guess at some point along the way, my little challenge stopped feeling like a challenge because it turns out I have surpassed my 100 days! I technically completed my challenge almost two weeks ago, and I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t had put the date on my Google Calander and then happened to look at my calendar this week to schedule a meeting.
I know I didn’t quite blog every single day, but I’m pretty sure I did a fairly good job at only slipping up a few times, so I’ll take it; no challenge is ever executed perfectly according to plan.
To be honest, it’s not become “easier” to write so to say. Every other night I find myself thinking “Ugggg I don’t know what to write about!” Sometimes I say it out loud, especially over the summer where more days than normal turn into “lazy days” where I just read a bunch or play games or get work done on my computer. Yet, somehow I find myself having the will to type something down each night and most of the time I think it’s blah but sometimes I find myself impressed with my own discoveries that would’ve have come up had I not started writing about the day. I know too that if I had decided not to write anything for every day I complained about not having anything to write about, then I never would have had those good discoveries either, so I’m grateful for my persistence (stubbornness, commitment to a challenge, whatever you may call it) and hope to try and continue the habbit of blogging despite my challenge completion.
I can honestly say after 100 days back that it feels good to be in the habbit of blogging again, yet I still don’t feel like my posts are as good as they maybe once were. I suppose I still need to work on my habbit of observation and mindfulness so that I have better things to actually blog about.
It’s officially been a week since I re-started my 100-day blogging challenge!!! It’s amazing how it’s already starting to feel more natural again to take the time each night to just get something written out.
People really are creatures of habit and it’s always funny to me when I realize this. It makes sense from a gymnastics perspective. We always tell kids they have to train the way they want to compete because it’s more likely that your body will go into muscle memory mode. I suppose our brain works a similar way (I mean it is basically a complex muscle).
If we train our brains to think a certain way or to be mindful of a certain practice, then over time it is easier to stick with that mindset. (Though it’s also noteworthy that even if you make a habit of something, it still takes time to actually get good at it. It’s been amusing to me how much some of these posts from the past week remind me of my early days; ones where they’re really pulled out of nothing and not what I’d consider my most insightful writing… First comes the habit, then comes the skill.)
As the summer comes around, I like to try and make goals for myself. This summer one of my goals is to be more aware of the habits I create for myself and to try to create a productive work schedule even within this supposal “break.”
Having been a member of the Education Reimagined community for a couple of years now, some of the presentions at this Lab Training I’ve heard a few times before; however, each time I learn something new.
This time, I believe I’ve really enhanced my understanding of a paradigm shift and what that looks like.
Particularly, over the past few months since the last training I attended, I’ve started to realize the necessity to explain to skeptics of the learner-centered education paradigm that I do not believe even the learner-centered model is perfect. Perfect in this sense inferring that it is the 100%, undoubtedly, “right” way to think about education.
For one thing, it’s funny to even talk about the “learner-centered model” because part of the ideology is that there is no single perfect way to run a school; but there are elements of different school systems and models that make it learner-centered.
Then on an additional point, there is a distinction to be made between the words “right” versus “next.”
The way we think about aspects of life is constantly changing. The example we discussed today is how once upon a time we used to firmly believe that bleeding people was the way to treat illness. We may laugh at this notion now, but humans practiced this for hundreds of years before finally realizing that they needed to change the way they think about treating illness; thus the world of healthcare went through a paradigm shift and now we have modern-day medicine.
Education is at this point in time where we as a community have started to question the current industrial age traditional paradigm (ie. way to think about education). One of our activities today was actually listing out some of the anomalies in our current education system- things that in theory should be happening a certain way based on how the model predicts outcomes, but for some reason, it doesn’t always happen this way. (My table’s list is shown to the right.)
It’s conversations like this where we have identified that there is something fundamentally flawed about the idea of teaching learners of the 21st century, information age with the same ideals and practices of the industrial age paradigm. We simply aren’t living in the same time; things are different now and the education system needs to reflect the new values and requirements of society.
This old paradigm is over and now it needs to be replaced. Thus the question becomes, “What’s the next paradigm?”
Learner-centered education may not be the “right”/”best” model for education- there’s really no way to know. Like everything, there are pros and cons and many unknowns that could be either or. However, I, as well as many other educators, do believe that learner-centered could very well be the “next” paradigm in the world of education.
This is an important distinction because I want people to understand that I haven’t been brainwashed to think that learner-centered schools are flawless. I acknowledge that every school still has their weaknesses, and in that regard, not every aspect of the old traditional paradigm is this terrible beast we must burn at the stake.
However, as a mindset, I do believe that the traditional paradigm is not meeting the needs of all students, parents, teachers, and other community stakeholders, therefore, it must be replaced by a new paradigm. The learner-centered education paradigm is just the next step in the direction towards trying to find that perfect education system we all like to dream of existing.
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:
(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:
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.
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.
This 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?
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.
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!!!
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.”
I’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.
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!