Oh the Place’s You’ll Go

My rabbit hole moment of the day was when I found myself reading through lots of Dr. Seuss quotes. I went out into the “real world” today, and though I’ve already been to the university since moving out of lockdown, the school building is just up the mountain literally through the woods so I hadn’t seen stores and busy streets again until today. I realized I had actually gotten used to all the quiet streets with closed stores so today it seemed so weird to see so much life happening. When I got back I found myself thinking about this experience and an earlier conversation I had with a friend where she was saying she was excited I’ll get to go exploring again, and somehow that made me think of “Oh the Place’s You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, and thus, here I am now with just a bunch of Dr. Seuss quotes to share that resonated with me in light of the pandemic.

Getting Students to the Table

One of my primary goals for the future of education has always been to include more students, as well as other not as represented stakeholder groups, in the school decision making process. And I’ve found that a lot of educators share this sentament, and furthermore, there are a lot of educators who actively try to engage students in these conversations. And yet, we still don’t notice all that much student voice in education, and if it is present, it’s often the same few voices. Why is that?

Well this isn’t the full answer to this question, but something I’ve observed is that most students don’t respond to mass open invitations. Doesn’t matter if you blast it in a school email or try to “be with the times” and use social media platforms students frequent on, if it’s a general invitation, most students don’t respond. This isn’t something I can explicitly point at research to support (maybe it exists but I’ve not looked for it or seen it accidentally), but it’s something I’ve noticed from experience when trying to create opportunities for student voice.

I’ve experienced this when trying to get writers for Trailblazers, when hosting events, and when just trying to get people together for a causal but focused discussion. Every time I try a mass marketing method to try and get students involved with education initiatives, I end up with little to no responses. And yet, as a student myself, when I’m just going through life I will frequently hear other students say, “Oh ya, I have a lot to say about XYZ.”

So how do we capture those thoughts? How do we get students to show up to the table? Because it’s not a question of if they have opinions to share, it’s a question of how we hear them.

I didn’t realize that this was a unique insight until working on this project with OpenIDEO where I was involved in a conversation around trying to brainstorm social media marketing geared towards getting students to contribute to the design challenge. The brainstorming was discussing things like word choice, length, what slogans are cool now, what platforms to use, what if we could get students to respond on the platform then challenge their friends to do it and like all of those other challenges happening in quarantine, etc.

But I realized the conversation was likely pointless… I told them how I don’t consider myself to be gifted with social media or marketing but in my experience most students don’t respond to those kinds of campaigns for education stuff. And the other student on the team (who I had no relation to before joining this project), confirmed my opinions with a bit more socially minded perspective suggesting that kids use social media mostly for fun and entertainment and those challenges that get passed along are because they’re easy and goofy; an education challenge would require actual thought work and time, so student’s probably won’t engage with it.

I actually don’t know what kind of marketing they ended up going with because I didn’t really look out for it. Though considering I find myself more frequently viewing education social media than the normal student and I didn’t see it, I’m guessing not many other students did either if there was a specific marketing campaign geared towards students.

Yet, for some silly reason, even after this conversation, I still choose the same strategy for trying to get people to join my discussion/brainstorm session held earlier today about learning during COVID-19…

I posted on every social media platform I have including some group chats with students who have previously demonstrated interest in education transformation focused events, and even got some likes and retweets, yet, as I expected only 1 person actually showed up to the Zoom call today. And that was my best friend who I explicitly asked before setting up anything, “Hey does this time work for you, because then at least worst case scenario, no one else shows up and I can at least pivot the discussion to an interview with you.” My little sister did also show up about half way through, and the three of us did have a good conversation from a variety of perspectives about the challenges and opportunities with online learning. So I don’t think the event was a total bust, though it was pretty much exactly as I had cautioned the rest of the IDEO team.

So what to do about this?

Well, what I have noticed is that students are very likely to respond if they’re specifically reached out to. For example with Trailblazers, which I consider a long term individual comittment since the writing/editing process takes place over a number of weeks mostly independently, this means we try to contact teachers we know from different schools and get them to identify specific students we can ask to write. While in school, it looks like seeing students in person and 1:1 asking them to join a meeting then following up with the calendar invite. Even when trying to get teacher participation to join a student-teacher card game tournament, we were much more successful when we individually delievered each teacher a typed and stamped invite in person. And for short term projects, such as this design challenge it means I try texting individually all the other students I have info for.

Now I knew this information before sending out my mass media open invitation, so you may wonder, why did I still choose the mass media route anyway? Well, it’s a lot easier to send mass invitations, esspcially in regards to time which is something I have not had much of this past week with midterms being upon me. So trust me, I know it doesn’t seem like the most efficient method to individually send out requests/invites for students to share their thoughts/opinions/stories, but in my experience it has always proven to have a greater response rate.

It was the exact same message I shared on social media, yet when texted individually I got 12 responses with-in 30 minutes even when sent at 10:30pm/later at night and had at least 3 others specifically say they’d get back to me tomorrow. Versus my media posts had been out for a week and I had 0 people respond to my questions in the comments and 0 people show up due to those posts. (My best friend and sister only showed up to the Zoom because I specifically asked/bugged them about it and they confirmed as much.) That’s an over 1200% better response rate with the same message… And for some responses I was given paragraph long answers per question. That means students had a lot to say and were willing to take the time to say it, they just had to be prompted to thinking their opinions in particular mattered.

There’s a lot that can be claimed about what this says about my generation that we don’t respond to mass messages but will give lengthy responses to personalized messages. (Really not even personalized, just individually sent because I sent pretty much identical messages to everyone, just sometimes slightly changing the initial greeting sentence if I was texting a parent to get their child’s response vs a peer.) And again, perhaps I’m making this sound too generalized, but I feel like I’ve had this happen on a lot of occasions at this point (I can think of at least 5 examples off the top of my head). However, I don’t share this information to make claims about my generation, I’m just sharing an observation/theory that has proven to be true on numerous occasions:

If you want a greater variety of student voices involved in the conversation, try asking indidviduals directly rather than just, “Hey anyone who’s interested I would love your response to…”

Class Culture in a Digital Environment

Every class is like it’s own little community, complete with its own culture including values, customs, and norms. Like the policy on going to the bathroom during class, or how comfortable people are with speaking up, or inside jokes that develop, or how loud the room is before class starts, etc. All of these little elements are what makes every class unique despite if the teacher and subject material are the same.

Having only had three weeks of school before the break, I don’t think any of my classes really met enough times to truly establish their own unique culture yet. However, these cultures definitely started to develop and there are usually some consistencies between all classes, but now being online, it’s been very interesting to see how the digital platform has changed class cultures.

In a lot of my classes, we never see each other’s faces besides maybe the few individuals that actually turn their video camera’s on. It’s very strange to not be able to read the room based on other people’s facial reactions and body language and I can tell the lecturers definitely notice this change. Plus fewer people speak out loud to ask questions or make comments, but in some cases, there is actually more participation due to the option to type in the chat versus having to speak in front of the class. The option to share reactions has also been an interesting tool that gives facilitators more direct in the moment feedback and some of my classes have really been taking advantage of that.

It‘s been odd though to not really know the individuals that make up the class, especially in my classes that have chosen to interact through pre-recorded videos; there are online discussion boards, but so many people post under the name “anonymous” that it’s hard to know how many are really participating. This change in participation has also really changed the social part of classes. It basically doesn’t exist, at least not peer-to-peer socialization anymore. There are no longer showing up to class conversations, or bumping into new people you met but didn’t realize you were in the same class, or partner conversations to help better learn the material and the people you’re learning with (ie your community).

The greatest change I’ve noticed is that it seems like everyone values “learning breaks” a lot more in this digital environment. Everyone is concerned with the idea of learning for more than 25 minutes at a time. In some cases, I really appreciate the additional breaks teachers are taking during live video chats and making pre-recorded videos in small segments rather than all at once. Though I had one class today that was only 50 minutes and our TA tried having 2 three minute breaks during this class and it just seemed weird, someone suggested we don’t do breaks next class and pretty much everyone agreed. It’s funny to me because if we were in person together I’ve sat in plenty of lectures that go on for an hour and a half without a break.

Only being a week and a half into online learning, I’m sure there are still many developments yet to come with our online communities, and I’m very curious to continue to see how our new mode of learning affects the culture of classrooms.

Don’t Stand Still

I wrote most of an entire post today then decided I really didn’t like it and deleted all of it. Then I was scrolling through some saved photos on my desktop and found this quote that I guess I posted at some point in the past.

I don’t know why I originally posted this quote, but I feel like it’s very fitting for right now, so I thought it could be worth sharing again.

It’s a hard time to make decisions for ourselves let alone those that impact others, but trying to avoid problems by making no decision is often the worst decision you can make. And making a decision purely out of peer pressure is the second-worst decision you can make. (I sometimes wonder if adults actually experience peer pressure far more than high schoolers despite what media may suggest.) So go forwards, backwards, sideways, or even diagonally, just don’t stand still and try to go the direction best for you, not just the direction everyone else is moving.

Thinking of Spaghetti

It’s been an odd night. Lot’s of choas with my syblings, and thus all I can think about right now is spaghetti. Maybe it’s because my mind is kind of feeling like spaghetti at the moment.

Spaghetti is pretty great. There are so many metaphors that can go along with spaghetti.

In gymnastics we will talk about how girls shouldn’t have limbs that look like cooked noodles and instead should be tight like an uncooked piece of spaghetti. A good idea is kind of like spaghetti, because if you throw it against the wall and it sticks, it’s maybe worth taking out of the boiling water. We’ve even used spaghetti to do team building design challenges.

Thinking about all this spaghetti also reminded me of one of my favorite blog posts mainly just because of the title: “Panda’s Won’t Go Extinct; Chunky Design Thinking.” It’s all about a TED Talk party I had before sophomore year of high school which feels like forever ago.

Funny though how even “forever ago” I was still thinking of spagetti. It’s really werid how certain ways of thinking stick with us over time.

– well that was me trying to make an interesting point out of my night of nonsense…

Progress Made, More to Go

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.

Writing Beyond Authoring

My brother is entering the 7th grade, and today at dinner he said, “I don’t understand why we have to take English and grammar class; I’m not going to ever be an author of a book.” This comment gave me a mixture of feelings.

On the one hand, I was impressed with his willingness to question the nature of things. Part of me also could relate to him; I was never gifted in grammar and any teacher who I ever wrote for would testify to that. At his age, I would’ve probably made a similar statement about how I’d never write a book, but here I am years later with an outline and introduction to the book I keep saying I’m going to write… You never know what will happen, he may write a book one day, but even if he doesn’t we all tried to explain at dinner how important writing is to every job out there.

This made me realize two things:

  1. As a rising seventh grader, how is it that my brother doesn’t understand the importance of writing? I asked myself this question, but I’m not even sure if I understood the importance of writing in eighth grade for that matter. I don’t know if I ever understood the importance of writing until I became a part of the Innovation Diploma and had to write emails, scripts for conference talks, professional write-ups, and started my blog which lead to a few articles for magazines. I was writing on a daily basis, but it wasn’t ever five paragraph essays or eleven sentence paragraphs which is what I remember being shoved into my head as “the way to write” in years leading up to me joining the Innovation Diploma. When do we teach why we learn to write? When do we teach how to enjoy writing?
  2. Realizing the moment when I came to appreciate writing made me realize a second observation: why don’t we spend more time learning the different ways we need to know how to write? School spends a lot of time about writing essays, and in high school that turns into more specifically: how to write essays that AP graders and college admissions will like. We write narratives sometimes as the “fun creative writing time,” and we learn about what persuasive writing is, we even read and attempt to write poetry or plays from time to time. But most of my peers in college still don’t know how to write an email. Lab reports were always something English teachers expect you to learn in science classes and science teachers typically just tell you to “look up a template online,” so who really knows how well I ever learned how to do that… I’m now working on a team wanting to write a professional documentation of our recent project to potentially try publishing and as I’ve started to write it I’m feeling like my closest experience to ever doing something like this is the way I reflect about projects on my blog; this seems like the kind of writing most people will do so it would be nice to have more practice and feedback in school. I could even imagine a project of buying a bunch of random items and having kids test them out and write reviews for them, learning to write feedback on a product is a huge skill for so many professions. It just seems like in education we talk about a lot of styles of writing, like persuasive, narrative, expository, etc, but I don’t recall talking much about different forms of writing like emails, essays, write-ups, surveys, talks, product feedback, notices, articles, memos, etc.

I by no means think English class is irrelevant as my brother seems to believe, but especially after our dinner conversation, I do wonder about ways English classes could foster a better understanding of the importance of writing perhaps by having a wider variety of types of writing taught. I’m sure one day my brother will learn the importance of writing, but it just seems like by the time a kid enters seventh grade they could have already learned this.

Putting on a Tourist Hat

I don’t live in NYC anymore but occasionally my family still considers me a new yorker, but it honestly just depends on the day and time. Today for some reason, my siblings and I went on an adventure that was a bit touristy in nature with a friend of ours who lives right outside of the city. It’s funny though because when you come to a city so often you tend to get annoyed by the “touristy” things, but the truth is that sometimes they are exciting things to do in the city if you’ve never done them before.

We went on a boat ride tour through the Hudson, then ventured over to China Town because somehow, before today, I’ve somehow not been there since I was a toddler. It ended up being a great day and we successfully navigated the whole time which was a win in my book!

We also talked about how even in Atlanta there are so many things that we’ve never done but people who come to Atlanta for a short amount of time try to do: like visiting the World of Coke for example.

Typically we make fun of tourists and how cheesy everything they do is, but maybe every now and then it’s good to put on a tourist hat in a familiar city and see what things we’ve never explored before. There are always new and exciting things to be done if you’re up for an adventure.

A Goose on a Witch Hunt

Today I went on a wild goose chase. Or a witch hunt. Whichever metaphor you prefer really, I myself used both descriptions today, the point is I struggled to track down what I was looking for and had to travel across town to find it.

I love finding myself getting hooked into a really good book series. My standard of “really good book” means that I’m more likely to want to find a spot to sit and read for hours rather than go on Netflix. Additionally, I can find myself getting nauseous after trying to read while in a car, bus, etc., so if I even attempt to read until I simply can’t, then it’s really gotten me hooked. Recently, I’ve been reading “The Darkest Minds” series by Alexandra Bracken, and this series has hit both standards of “really good book” for me.

(Sidebar: It’s one of those “I actually don’t typically read education books…” moments where instead I’m reading a dystopian story about children who develop dangerous powers and how the government reacts to the situation poorly… Good read, sorry for my poor summary, and it’s being turned into a movie coming out in August!)

When I say “recently” I literally mean I started the series about a week ago and read the first two books in three days each, which for me, three days is pretty good for a 500-page book.

Today my mission was to find book three.

I wanted to go to a Barnes and Noble because I have a bunch of gift cards that I’ve just not used recently. (College finds a way of keeping you from doing too much “reading for fun”…) However, that meant going 30 blocks downtown and all weekend the subways were skipping most stops on the 1 Train due to construction, so I decided to wait until today to go on my adventure which meant anticipation all weekend long.

I walked down first to my favorite bagel shop in the world, then hopped on the train downtown (after finding it because I’ve not gotten on or off from that station in a while), to my surprise I found the bookstore with ease. However, after looking around for a while, because who really enjoys having to ask customer service to find a book for you, I finally asked a lady and discovered they were out of stock at this store! Then in my stupid judgement call of the day, I agreed with her idea to call the next closest Barnes and Nobel to see if they could hold the book for me.

This was a stupid judgment call because I forget that in NYC it’s not always about proximity. Just because one place is technically closer than another does not make it easier to get to. The bookstore the customer service lady called was across town on the East Side on the other side of Central Park. If I would’ve been thinking logically though, I should’ve checked the location downtown since that’s where I had to go by later in the day or if not I’ll definitely be close by to the store tomorrow.

Anyway, I already called the store, so I decided I had time to kill while my family was debating what our evening plans would be, so I went out on my adventure across town. I hardly ever go to the East Side (no particular reason, just no need), and I also hardly ever take the bus because the subways are often more efficient; therefore, this was a double adventure on uncharted territory, and I was impressed with how little stumbles there were after originally being at the wrong bus stop for ten minutes.

In the end, I found my book!

But then I realized, in all my work trying to figure out what store to go to and how to get there, I had forgotten that Columbia University is only a few short blocks away from my grandma’s apartment. And Columbia’s bookstore is a Barnes and Noble store… I could’ve had my book in 15 minutes (assuming it was in stock), and yet instead I ended up the silly goose on the hunt for a book kind of about witches.

While maybe I did some things out of the ordinary today, I don’t particularly feel like I learned much new or had some super impactful moment or met some incredible new person – nothing that makes you go “Oh wow the journey was really worth it, I’m so glad I mess up!” Because you know what, not every journey is remarkable. It seems like sometimes we tell only the remarkable stories, but sometimes life just happens and if you could’ve gone back and not made the mistake, you probably would’ve chosen to do so. Not every journey has to be life-changing, and I think that in itself is also something worth learning and remembering because otherwise, expectations might just be a little too high.

Honestly, it was a depressing moment to realize I could’ve saved three hours of my day, but sometimes we make decisions and just have to roll with the punches, go on the adventures, and make the most of the journey. Then hopefully next time we’ll have learned how to make our journey shorter.