Community of Learners

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It’s always such a relief to meet with an entire conference of learners who really see the world of possibilities that lies in the future of education! These past few days I have had the immense joy of attending the Pioneering Lab Training hosted by Education Reimagined here in Atlanta, Ga. I was blown away by the people in attendance so much that I needed to take a day before blogging to really process everything.

C10L7mtWEAIktyS.jpgIn my own words, the PioneeringLab is a gathering of educators (of all ages) from learner-centered environments that come together for inquiry sessions around major components of the education transformation movement. What I attended this past week was the training for this lab. The purpose of the training (also in my own words) is to prepare learners for the lab itself by establishing a common understanding of language to use within the learner-centered community.

Having common language is really important for a movement, because if I tell you “x” is a dog and another person tells you “x” is a giraffe, then you will end up just being confused as to what “x” really means. In the world of transformational education, there are lot’s of different words that get used, so the Pioneering Education community has done some intensive ontology and semantics work to create a lexicon which distinguishes key elements of a learner-centered environment. Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 11.24.14 PM.png

After the close to 24 hours I spent with the attendants of this training, I have come to realize there isn’t really a “short way” to distinguish what these words do and don’t mean in a way that feels satisfactory. While I could try (and have in fact practiced explaining to others during role playing exercises at the training itself), I would prefer to use this space to reflect on what I learned rather than just summarize it; however, here is a link to where you can read more about the context of these words in a learner-centered paradigm.

One of the important distinguishes I learned that I will discuss though, is about the differences between a network and a community. In a network people are connected through one to one relationships because each person has an interest in being connected to the other. A network is similar to a web in this case because not everyone in the network necessarily comes into contact with others. Jack might know John, and John might know Sally, but that doesn’t mean Jack knows Sally. A network is great for solving one time challenges/problems like finding a job based on who knows who; however, a network is not very helpful when trying to do something that requires a lot of people to accomplish a task that will have many little challenges arise throughout the process, like trying to build a house. -This is where a community is required.

1280x960.jpeg.jpgIn a community, individuals elect to contribute their gifts to some greater purpose/task/challenge. A community requires synchronization, timing, and nurturing from others in the community in order for a product to be created, but really the bonds formed amongst community members are just as important as the final product. A community can build a house.

This particular distinction really stuck with me because I know that I personally have used the words network and community interchangeably in the past because I had never found thought about the differences. After this training I now realize that these words have very different meanings.

I believe I have been involved in this movement since my sophomore year of high school in 2014. But I’ve really been involved on more of a network level. I’ve connected with people through Twitter and connections from my school. However, I think now I’m finally starting to feel a real part of the community outside of my school. Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 12.06.42 AM.pngI’ve been blogging, facilitating, and speaking with groups of people for the past three years; however, in this past year, since the summer really, I’ve begun to find myself working with more teams of people with an intent to make change outside of just my own school. I didn’t fully realize this until the last few days, but it’s crazy to think how much has changed since my sophomore year. Now I show up at conferences already knowing and working with some people!

Now to be a tad backwards and give some background context, I came to this training because I am passionate about the movement to transform education due to my own first hand experiences with how different forms of education can effect learners. I dream of the day where every student has the opportunity to experiance learner-centered education because I know it has changed me for the better. It has made me feel more confident in myself, passionate for those around me, and empowered to enact change now rather than waiting to get to the “real world” after graduating.

Furthermore, I came to this training because I believe it is vitally important to include student voice in this movement because students are one of the primary users of school.

When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, “Where’s the evidence of this working?” but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working. Everyday I feel like I know myself a little bit better and am improving my skills as a learner a little bit more due to the opportunities I have to take ownership of my learning and blur the lines between school and the real world. – The Life of Pinya; The Movement: Transforming Education

I was thrilled that out of the 70 some people at the training, there were about 14 young-learners in the room; I’m ready for even more! Sometimes when wanting student voice, adults gather a group of only young-learners to discuss education transformation topics. While I love speaking with a large group of young-learners, when adults are still in the room there is still this power struggle with the idea that the adults still have the superiority in the room. Something I loved most about this experiance was that everyone-no matter age- was treated the same. There was no separation of groups by age, there were no limits on talking either because C1vNnIzXAAAyjjq.jpgyoung-learners felt overpowered or because adult-learners were prohibited from talking, there wasn’t even the specific placement of more or less of one aged learner at a table. The balance is starting to become more equal, and it was extremely powerful! It was evident by the way conversations were held that no one felt limited by their age to participate or felt forced to hold the pressure of representing all of the student voice by their self.

I personally hope to continue to empower more young-learners to be involved in the movement, because it’s always helpful to have some smaller people in your community in order to hold up the part of the house wall that’s closer to the ground.

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Inspiring Minds United At Last

What happens when you take motivated students from unique schools across the east coast and bring them together for a conference? Mind-blowing awesomeness!!!!!

I’m currently in Washington D.C. for a 3 day conference called SparkHouse run by Education Reimagined. To be honest I don’t entirely know what’s going to happen these next few days, but today was the initial dinner meet up and it was fantastic!

Everyone here (students and teachers, and it’s mostly students on purpose) is just great and very open and clearly creative and passionate about how education needs to change. I feel like I’ve known these people forever because everyones so easy to talk and relate to. Plus everyone comes from a school doing awesome weird stuff, so it’s been super interesting learning about the different school styles. It’s actually become a joke that the way we introduce ourselves and our starting conversations are based on, “So why are you here? What does your school do that’s different?”

So far I’ve met people from Virginia, South Carolina, and Kentucky and I’ve heard all sorts of cool things. For example: students running a Kroger and a bank at school; students from 7th-12th grade having classes together; students spending each Friday doing crazy activities like mountain biking; students that have no grades or standardized tests; and I’m sure I’ll learn more in the days to come!

IMG_6200.JPGNone of the students really know what we are going to be working on quite exactly, but we’re excited to share our voice and have enjoyed playing games and talking together so far. I can’t wait to see what’s in store because we’ve gathered a pretty inspiring group of minds so I feel ready for anything right now!

 

Blogging Helps with College

Image result for essay writingIt’s amazing how much blogging has made my life better. Not only has it made me a better writer, increased my network, allowed me to track my learning, helped me clarify thoughts in my head, and gotten incredible writing opportunities, but it’s also helped a lot in the college process.

Most students have a hard time writing about themselves because creative non-fiction is a genre of writing that is focused on hardly at all in grade school. However, my blog is entirely about myself in someway or another because it’s all about my thoughts on the world, and my actions, and my life in general. My blog has helped me find my voice- not just the voice I take on when trying to write for school- but my authentic internal voice, which is supposedly what colleges want to see.

I’ve had the opposite problem of most students when writing my college essay because most students don’t know what to say or where to begin. Meanwhile, I’ve grown so use to writing a story every single day, that I felt like I had a million stories I could potentially use for my Common App essay. I had 3 different drafts done by Senior BootCamp, and had many more stories I could’ve told. I then narrowed it down to two, but thought they both represented me well. Finally, after some help from my college councilor tonight, I was able to pick one for my Common App essay which has to do primarily with when I first gave my MoVe Talk: Thinking Like a Designer.

I can only wait until I start working on college specific essays and other supplement questions, because with my blog it’s so easy to just scroll through the past few years and remember not only things that I’ve done, but also how I felt and what I was thinking about the day they happened. It’s kind of the best!

 

Escaping Technology

imgres.jpgAfter a week of no cell service or internet while at my family reunion in West Virginia, I’m now back to a world of college touring, conference calls, interview planning, essay drafting, book reading, summer-mathing, and lots of emailing. Once my phone finally got service again, I had 154 texts and 94 emails to go through.

Every year when I go to Capon (oddly enough they have a website now), I end up blogging afterwards about how much I surprisingly enjoy the fact that there is no connection to the outside world. It’s nice to de-stress by unplugging every now and then, and it’s the one place I can go and have a good reason to just not respond to things for a little. I play outside with friends everyday doing everything from badminton to hiking to shuffle board to just playing cards. I try not to worry about all of the millions of things I have to get done by next school year. I have talks about life with people of all ages that I’ve known since birth. It’s just a great time spent with fun friends and family, delicious home cooked food, and tons of space to wander and wonder in.

The odd thing is how few places there are on Earth without wifi and cell service. I was reading a book called The Circle that was pondering the effect of technology on people, and describing how eventually there will likely be no way of escaping it’s grasp. Is that ok? It’s not a “good vs. bad” thing, because it’s both really, but I guess the question is whether or not we want this to be our future reality. Do we want to live in a world where we can’t escape technology?

As much as I love Capon, I know it’s hard for many people to visit who have jobs where they are expected to have various conference calls, or do payroll, or accomplish some task. Not everyone takes the week off to go to Capon and therefore, some people still have to climb up to the golf course and try to find a spot that get’s service in order to keep up with the rest of the world. So there are the good and bad sides to no technology, but eventually there may not be a choice at all; what will we do then?

 

Share, Record, Network

imgres.jpgWith the amount that I talk to educators I’m often asked about why I started blogging and what advice I have on how to get other students to blog. So I thought tonight was a good night to finally put it in writing. First though I want to make something clear: The thing is, blogging is not for everyone and the key to why I blog is because I want to blog, so if you want your students to get all of the benefits of blogging, they have to want it as much as you want it for them.

I didn’t always want to blog. What few people know is that my blogging journey actually began as a freshman when I was required to write a blog post for every section of Hamlet that we read. The not so popular, asmithroman2017 site is where I first started blogging and I didn’t hate it, but I definitely didn’t care about it besides knowing I wanted to make a good post to get a good grade. There was one night where I had some fun because I wrote one of my entries entirely as a haiku for what my friends and I called “Haiku Monday” where we only communicated virtually in haikus. Even that night though I remember it being late and not having much desire to blog.

So when did the mind-shift happen? What made me enjoy blogging? Why did I even start a new blog?

Well it started with a game of bingo. At the end of my freshman year I was officially inaugurated into the first ever Innovation Diploma cohort, and for the summer we were all sent an “ID Bingo” document that had various ideas for things you could do over the summer to start thinking like an innovator. One square was about trying something for 100 days in a row and documenting your progress, and another was about starting a blog. I knew how to use wordpress due to my Hamlet assignments, and I couldn’t think of another thing to try for 100 days, so I thought “Why not mix the two squares and try them together?”

So in short, to be completely honest, I started blogging just because I’m the kind of person who likes a good challenge and a little competition and strives to accomplish goals I set for myself (even though I don’t remember even doing much with the bingo game after school started). I know I’m not really the average student though…

However, I know exactly why I continued to blog after achieving my goal, and I don’t think this was just because of my own personality. As I said in the post where I completed my challenge:

“Blogging everyday was definitely a challenge. There were days were I was not motivated at all to blog; I either had a bunch to do, or I was really tired, or I would have to use my phone to post within that day, or some other excuses I may have had. However, if I have learned anything from blogging, it is how I found that even when I couldn’t think of anything to write about, there was still something to write about, because there is always something to think about.

Blogging has helped encourage me to observe the world more closely, and I’ve really enjoyed the thoughts that have come from the observations. I’ve also enjoyed having a place to share my story. With all of the design thinking I’ve done, I’ve really become apparent of the importance of a story, but also the importance of sharing a story. If a story isn’t shared what can it really do?”

144,000 Minutes (100 days) Of Blogging; Challenge Accepted!!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t think there was a light switch “ah-ha” moment. At least I couldn’t pin point it to you. I just know that the more I blogged the more I felt myself clarifying my own thoughts, and the more comments, likes, and re-tweets/posts that I got, the more confident I got that my work was valued and maybe even needed in the community. I couldn’t stop, and I still couldn’t if I wanted to. I notice even after a few days that my mind starts spinning with things that I just need to get out of my head because there is only so much room in there.

However, as much as I love blogging, that’s just me. Like I said at the beginning, “blogging is not for everyone,” and I think part of the reason it was successful for me is because it wasn’t forced on me. I chose to blog. My blog was mine. While I love feedback on my blog, I was never blogging for a specific person or people during those 100 days that hooked me on blogging. I was blogging for myself, to sort through my ideas, and share my story. I feel an odd sense of comfort blogging and to be honest when I’m asked to blog about something specific I feel weird about it because it made that post feel like it wasn’t completely mine. It’s one of those weird psychological things that’s hard to explain and I don’t completely understand what I’m trying to say, but I notice a difference when I’m asked to blog about something rather than when it’s something I just decide I want to write about when I sit down at my computer that night. It actually bugs me a little when someone says “oh this is what you should blog about today.” Like I said, I don’t know why, and often times the person is right that it’s something worth me blogging about, but it’s different when it’s not my own observation that I should blog about something.

A blog should be a place of freedom for observations, rants, stories of success as well as failure, a place that you feel proud to call your own. That’s what hooks people from my observations. When people see that something purely from their brain is making other people stop, read, think, and share is when they feel most empowered to blog.

And by a blog being a place of freedom, I’m essentially saying that it can’t be forced. It doesn’t matter if you see all of the great advantages of blogging, because it’s something the blogger must discover in order for them to be a committed blogger.

And I repeat, “blogging is not for everyone.” I keep repeating this because I feel like everyone (and I say this loosely) is on this big blogging kick where everyone is trying to get their students to blog. But I believe the secret is to think about why is it that we want to blog? I believe a blog is a place to share, record, and network. And the great part is that a blog is not the only way to accomplish these goals. Really any form of social media can accomplish these goals, if used to your advantage.

I don’t think students need to be pushed to blog, but I believe 100% is pushing some form of social media, though it should be the form of the students choice. I personally hate Facebook after a few rough times in the past trying to use it and finding it not user friendly. I’m sure it may not still be this way and if I would try again maybe I’d love it, but I can be stubborn and that’s just not my choice tool. However, some people love Facebook and they have millions of post, photos and contacts which allow them to share, record, and network their own learning adventures. Twitter, Instagram, even Snapchat I bet could be used to accomplish these goals if you really take advantage of the tools.

I hate how so often in society, especially school, social media is looked at as a negative thing. How many times a day do you hear someone say, “get off of Snapchat”? I don’t even have one, but I hear it all of the time. What if rather than focusing on the negative we focused on the positive? I’ve written on this topic before, so I don’t want to dwell on it; however, I just wanted to make it clear that blogging isn’t The Answer, it’s just an answer on how to share, record, and network your learning.

So to answer the question as to my advice on how to get other students hooked on blogging here are my 5 big thoughts:

  1. Don’t force it!– blogging needs to be “safe” and “free”
  2. Make it fun: maybe it’s a competition, a challenge, a contest, whatever motivates your students
  3. Help grow their confidence by sharing their work so they expand their network; comments from new people is super motivating
  4. Help create the “time for blogging” sometimes it’s hard to think of something to say when you first start out, or you think you don’t have the time, so help set a time for students. Maybe the last 20 minutes of the last class of the week is “blog time” where you can write about anything, but you have to make a habit of it otherwise you’ll always have an excuse to not blog.
  5. Embrace the why over the how: If blogging isn’t the right form of social media, find another, even if it’s out of your social media comfort zone, let it be the student’s choice because they need to use what they are most comfortable with, and embrace how the “why” -share, record, network- can be achieved in different ways

Availability Status Paradox

images-1.jpgIt amazes me how we live in a world that is so attached to technology and social media especially, and yet we have such a hard time getting confirmation notices from people about scheduling events.

According to recent studies, Americans check social media on average of 17 times a day, which is about one time for every hour they’re awake. Furthermore, the average American spends about a third of their awake day on a phone. (4.7 hours out of the average 15 hours spent awake.) Yet with all of this time spent on phones, somehow we still manage to have a discouraging amount of people who are frightfully incompetent at virtual communication with project teams.

Kemps this year did not even get to finish the tournament because too many teams had a problem actually getting together to play their matches. This weekend is our spring showcase at Jump Start and I am still haven’t gymnasts last minute tell me that they won’t be there which means I’m constantly re-choreographing and coaching. All year when I would try to schedule meetings, so many people just don’t respond until last minute, or they forget to ask the right people if they can actually attend. It’s just crazy that people can’t organize and communicate their schedules.

Then you get the excuse, “oh I’m sorry I don’t understand how to work ____ in order to respond.” And this baffles me even more, because if you don’t know how to work something (which is hard to believe because communication tools are pretty user friendly as far as it goes), then I’m sure there is someone you can ask to teach you how to use a tool. All you have to do is ask for help, but often that is a mind blowing concept.

Social media and scheduling tools like Google Calendar, Skype invites, Slack, and even just email are great tools, but only if people actually use them. How might we get more people to update their availability status to teams in a timely manner?

External Mentors Make Things Real

I love getting feedback from new people. I’m glad I get to work in an environment where we are all constantly giving each other feedback (by this I mean Innovation Diploma), but it’s always nice to hear from someone you don’t talk to everyday just as a reassurance that you all aren’t just crazy (well we are but for good reasons). Plus so many great ideas can come out of conversations between people with different and new perspectives compared to the people you normally talk to.

Today felt like a great day of feedback for me. I got to spend my morning and lunch/enrichment people talking with teachers from the Watershed School in Colorado. As the MVIFI Fellow, I spent my morning talking with the Watershed team about my current iVenture work and getting feedback on new ideas I’ve been cooking up. Then over lunch a few of us in ID met with them to have more of a general discussion where they were asking us some questions about MVPS to get the student perspective on topics. 

Later, in AP Lang today, Kat and I recorded the spoken word pieces we’ve been working on around the “American Dream” to send it to people asking for feedback, including Mike Young, a professional spoken word artist who’s been mentoring us. Kat and I talked a lot about how ID has trained us so much about the value of prototyping and really preparing even early drafts of presentations. We’ve been muddling over different words and phrases for a few weeks and today was our due date (which we assigned ourselves) to have them finished so we could record them. However, “finished” in this sense doesn’t mean “time to turn it in for a grade,” but instead means that we’ve given ourselves and each other lots of feedback and now we are ready to start sharing them with others so that we can eventually perform the best spoken word piece to our current capabilities. We are hoping to have this performance next week though the details are still fuzzy as of now.

I’ve really enjoyed this project because we’ve gotten to not just focus on words, but how we can use words to literally say something in a hopefully powerful way. We’ve been having to not just work on grammar and  word choice, but also the rhetoric involved with saying something out loud and getting feedback on our delivery of the language. It’s been fun and I’m excited to hear what feedback we get because I’ve become really invested in this project and want it to be something more than just another piece of writing I’ve done.

With both of my big feedback moments today, I’ve been reminded of just how much I find working with external mentors beneficial to learning. Working with an external mentor reminds me that someone else is kind of expecting me to follow through, and they are also interested in the work I’m doing, even at school. This inspires me to really work hard because this isn’t just about some number, it is about me putting myself out there in the “real world”, and that to me is meaningful work.

Feedback, even cold feedback, always seems to make me happy because it means you’re doing something others care enough about to comment on and try to help you make it into your best.

 

 

Unrelated, but also exciting news for today: The paint finally settled so I got to use my whiteboard wall and desk today that I painted on Monday!!!!!!

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Global Book Club

412AlkyPZZL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgLast semester in AP Lang, Kat and I received a few pieces of feedback which we’ve used to shape assignments for this semester: “How might you speak with larger audiences to get a wider variety of perspectives involved in discussions?” “How might you go outside your comfort zone when picking reading material?” “How might you read more longer pieces?”

One way we applied this feedback was by hosting our Make Your Mark event a few weeks ago where we brought together teachers and students to have a conversation (and do some tinkering) about the “American Dream.” This event was very successful because we obtained lots of valuable insights from the conversation, and everyone seemed to have fun and many even asked when we could do something similar again.

Now Kat and I have a new plan for a project in AP Lang that was inspired by some of this feedback: The Global Book Club.

Who’s to say when you read a book you can only discuss with the people in your class? Who’s to say teachers and students can’t find the same books interesting? Who’s to say where you’re located on the Earth has to determine who is a part of your learning community, and dare I say “classroom”?

The Global Book Club will address all of these questions.

The plan is for me and Kat to read a one act play by Margaret Edson called Wit. Our aim is to have others from around the world join us. We would like you to join us.

Along the way, if you come across a discussion question you’re curious about, tweet it out using the hashtags #IDHacksAP and #IDgbc so we can keep a running list of discussion ideas. Then, join us on April 15th from 2:15-4pm EST on a Google Hangout where we will read through the play as a group and have a discussion around some of the ideas.

We’ve started the play and so far it is really interesting! We purposefully chose a play as they are meant to be performed and not just read, and we are currently studying about how some words can be even more powerful when said out loud. We also chose this play because it has a central theme around life and death, which is something that everyone can relate to no matter who you are or where you live. The New York Times critic Peter Marks describes it as, “A brutally human and beautifully layered new play . . . You will feel both enlightened and, in a strange way, enormously comforted.”

If you choose to join the Global Book Club, contact me and/or Kat via twitter (@Kat_A_Jones and @Pinyabananas) or by commenting on this blog (or if you have any other way to message us so that we know to include you in the conversation). And remember, even if you can’t make it to the full virtually live discussion, you can still join the conversation on Twitter!

We hope you join the club!

Times Are Changing


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(Disclaimer: this is a 20/20 and the first one in a while, where Kat and I read an article over the weekend then discuss for 20 minutes and write for the next 20 minutes.)

Kat and I read an article entitled “What Happens When Millennials Run the Workplace?” It talked about a lot of stereotypes about millennial’s and how they are “lazy, narcissistic, entitled, addicted to social media, and frank.” There was also a lot of talk about how the environment in the work force has changed into a more playful environment and how old traditions of how to properly act have changed. Over all I felt like the article reported a very negative view on Millennials; however, whether anyone likes it or not, the next generation is taking over and Millennials currently make up over 50% of the workforce.

Society is changing- that is irrefutable- but I don’t think it is a negative change unlike how it is presented in this article. Times are changing and therefore rules are changing too. Seniority no longer determines “rankings,” in fact companies  are now starting to do away with rankings and look at everyone on a team as an equal contributor of ideas; you are given more responsibility based on your demonstration of work, not just the amount of time you’ve spent with a company. This is a relatively new notion that Generation X seems to not be as comfortable with.

Generation X also seems mystified by the amount of time Millennials spend on social media sites. The article seems to make this seem negative, but I challenge that social media can and is used as a good thing. It is a way to make connections with people across the world, and a way to gain support for work your company is doing. Furthermore, social media can be used as a tool to help keep work together and go back and reflect upon how much has changed over time. Sure social media has a time and a place and shouldn’t be used all of the time, but again, the world is changing and if social media is the tool of the future then companies better get on board or the next generation will move on without them.

I also feel a tad disgruntled with the fact that Millennials are always seen as lazy, entitled, and narcissistic because I think this is a gross generalization. There are a lot of millennials changing the world in huge ways right now and doing things completely different from years passed. Lazy people don’t travel across the world to help solve problems like trying to decrease the number of deaths of babies around the world. And entitled, narcissistic people aren’t helpful on design teams making these incredible feats happen. Team and empathy work  need people that are dedicated to working with others and understanding how different people live in order to design for a changing world.

Millennials are the generation blurring boundaries and changing the status quo. We live in a changing world, and when the boundaries change then we change the game and the rules along with it. I don’t even know if I actually am a Millennial because every site seems to have a different age rang, but I do know that I’m living in a time of change and am often associated with a generation that has similar habits to those described above. Our generation isn’t perfect, but neither is any generation, and every generation always believes the next generation is doing radical things that shouldn’t be accepted in society. I just feel that Millennials are often bad mouthed in the way of the workforce, and yet there is a lot of good to come from this generation that often gets overlooked. Times are changing, people are changing, and change isn’t always bad.

 

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Lifting a Boulder

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I feel like a bolder has just been lifted up off of my shoulders. These past few weeks have included several tests, quizzes, projects, essays, and presentations. Today (unless one of my teachers decides to surprise us) was officially my last big stressful thing until after Thanksgiving break!

I finished my last period where I took the hardest math test I’ll have for the entire year, and I had that feeling of, “I’m done! For now…”

Thanksgiving break for me, on top of getting to have fun with family, means time to work on some things that I’ve really wanted to be working on, but haven’t had time for.

Part of me feels bad/weird about how when  I think of breaks, I immediately think about working, but it’t what my life has come to. I read this great article today about the stress that students go through due to what has been defined as “success.” The sad truth is that students are often so busy that many parents, such as this one, realize with everything students have to do, “There was no room to dabble or just explore.” 

Now today wasn’t all stressful, I also had a fantastic conversation with Grant Lichtman and Kat via Google Hangout. However, I haven’t quite had time to sit down and process and flesh out all of the ideas in my head yet. With this revealing feeling of not having any homework, projects, essays, tests, quizzes, or any other big stressful thing to worry about tonight, I’m taking tonight to just sit back and reboot.