Untapped Potential

This year, in particular, I’ve found myself getting more involved with different high schools around Atlanta that are working on making their school culture learner-centered. With each new connection, I make, I find it more and more odd that there aren’t more connections between different school that are close by to one another.

This isn’t just an Atlanta thing, I’ve heard people from other cities around the country also talk about the disconnect between schools in similar areas.

I wonder if there is some sort of competitive component to where different schools feel like they’re competing for the same kinds of students and families, but in theory, don’t we want to provide learner-centered education for everyone? Each learning environment is still different to meet the needs of different learners even if it the culture has similar values.

I wonder about the day when perhaps an exchange program will happen without needing to go over seas. From my perspective, there is so much untapped potential in terms of potential education partners practically in our backyard who we could learn a lot from.

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Watching the Years

Today was one of those days where I felt really old…

It’s easy to forget how time flies sometimes, but then something happens to annoying remind you of its existence. I spent pretty much all day at the gym today, and while I was there a meeting happened with all of the teens that will be helping with camp and potentially classes this year.

I felt old partially just because I didn’t need to be at this meeting, but I was okay with that, but I felt especially old because we now have girls who I’ve known since they were 5 and 6 when they use to be on our team and now they are working at the gym!

One of the weirdest and best parts of coaching/teaching is getting to watch kids grow up.

It’s crazy to me when I can have full conversations with coaches kids I still think of as being 3 running around the gym half naked. Or when I realize I’m 10 years older than a handful of our team girls. Or when I see kids I remember having to use three mats to reach some of the equipment now tower over me and have deeper voices and look all grown up.

I don’t think I’ll ever get use to watching kids grow up, but it is kind of amazing in a weird sort of way. I suppose it’s part of the reason some people become teachers- because they enjoy playing a role in that process.

Something More

One of the reasons some may call me weird is because I love being busy. It turns out I’m actually more productive when I’m busy; I get so paranoid and anxious about making sure I get everything done, that I end up getting work done earlier than it’s needed.

Therefore, April is going to be a very exciting month. Today was the first week of me starting to work at the gym (Jump Start) four days a week and volunteering once a week as the acro choreographer for my high school’s production of Aladdin Jr. on top of my normal school work and activities.

As busy as my life is about to be, I’ve already been enjoying getting to work with the kids on their routines. I’ve realized this past year just how much I enjoy choreographing gymnastics routines because it’s the first year I’ve had to commit extra effort into being able to coach. Traveling back and forth from Midtown to Sandy Springs five times a week is not the most fun thing, actually, it’s kind of annoying, but getting the chance to work on these routines makes it okay.

I’ve also been more in demand then years past, with working on the Aladdin production just being one example, I also had an old team girl reach out asking me to choreograph her high school routine, and then had an interview with the Atlanta Ballet just a few weeks ago.

Before this year I never really thought about choreographing as a job, but it’s enlightening to realize little talents you have could maybe be something more.

Mind-Mapping Education

This week in Grand Challenges we finally started working on the topics we formed our teams around. It’s probably not surprising that I’m on a team that wants to focus on education. The goal of this week was to start exploring the problem space, and since I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the field of education and the Education Transformation Movement.

Because I find this more interesting to think about than homework, I ended up spending some quality productive procrastination time developing a quick mind-map around k-12 education. This mind-map highlights some big questions I’ve thought about, hunches I have based on experience and observations, and the start of some potential ideas that could stem from these thoughts. It’s not all encompassing, but it’s a start.

Just thought I’d add it to the conversation. Education Hunches MindmapIMG_9392 2

Mental Health in Education

If you ask a random Yellow Jacket to describe the last two weeks on campus, the majority would most likely respond with, “extended hell week.”

On the one hand, there was the academic side of hell week: first midterms in multiple classes on top of lab reports and extra curricular’s starting to pick up. It was tough, but everyone here chose to be somewhere where we can be academically challenged.

But then you have the emotional side of hell week… Many people know that GT has been on the news a lot recently. And not in a positive way. There was Irma, then a shooting, then a riot, then a fellow scholar died from an illness, and I recently heard that there may have been a few robbery’s as well (though don’t quote me on that one). Not to make light of any of these things, but I list them for the sake to say that our campus has not been getting the greatest press in the past few weeks, and I thought now that I’ve made it through hell week, I should take some time to reflect.

Thus I come back to my blog because it seems this is where my best reflections come out. (Even though they typically are written in about an hour with me just word vomiting onto a page, so who knows where this will go because I surely don’t right now. )

Anyway, as I was saying, it all started with Irma. The first wave of the storm. It feels so long ago, but then again so does the start of the school year, and yet we’re really it’s hardly been more than a month. I went home for the hurricane and got lucky that our power didn’t even go out, and GT wasn’t in too bad of a situation either so we got back in school by the Wednesday after with seemingly no problems jumping back into things.

Then there was the shot hear around the campus. I’ve been told it was the first time in GT police history that a gun was fired by a police officer on campus. I didn’t know Scout, but like everyone at Tech, I’ve been wishing for the best for Scout’s family and friends. And the peaceful vigil turned protest just seemed to come out of no where to me, because as I told friends who reached out to me around that time, it’s the kind of thing you hear about happening on college campuses but never really expect it to happen when you’re there. I was lucky enough to be in my dorm room at the time, and thankfully everyone I knew also stayed safe.

As for the death of Tessa Powers, I don’t know how public this was even made. All we were told was that she was sick and it was a sudden and unexpected death. I have friends who saw her two days prior at a coffee house I was invited to but couldn’t make it to. I can’t say I knew her well, though she was a member of one of my programs, and thus I knew several people who were close with her and her loss was felt deeply by the community.

To be honest, I maybe wasn’t worried enough about these potentially emotionally scaring events. I felt removed in some weird way, maybe because I was distracted by midterms and am also just not the most emotional person for better or worse. What I will say bothered me though, was that the protest was started by non GT students. Outsiders came onto our campus, caused a bunch of problems, and then GT is now has to deal with the bad press.

I don’t really follow the news as well as I should, but here on campus there was a lot of talk about that and it was making a significant number of students upset to see our school community being judged so much for a lot of things that just kind of happened to be on our campus. In times of struggle it’s at least nice to see a community come together, and I’d just like to acknowledge that tech did a great job of always alerting us when things happened on campus (I got at least 5 notifications telling me to seek safe shelter and then reporting when everything was under control). Furthermore, there have been lots of emails and announcements about events for people to pay their respects to Scout and Tessa and their families, and there has been lots of talk about mental health on campus with many resources for those in need of counseling.

Mental health actually has been a huge topic of discussion since I’ve gotten to Tech

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Student story: We need mental health education in schools

because my Grand Challenges problem is all about the evident stress problem on campus. And if feels like yesterday, though it was two years ago, that I was looking at this same problem at the Stanford d.School with the Innovation Diploma for interim. It seems that college campuses and mental health problems are becoming more and more of a conversation these days. I wonder why.

I haven’t done enough actual research to make a big statement at the moment, but my hypothesis is that it has a lot more to do with academic pressure from grades then schools would like to admit. The past two weeks have been very emotional for a lot of people and a lot of professors made the call to change schedules some because of that. Tests were pushed back in freshman chemistry. A few classes were canceled. Some classes became more of a discussion around the events of the past few weeks and were used as check ins to make sure everyone was doing relatively okay. Etc. That was great; I know it helped a lot of people.

Though I know some people still aren’t doing better. There are people on campus still overwhelmed with the events of hell week and can’t seem to find themselves taking time for themselves. Are we just going to be in this constant loop of people getting worked up, then something bad happening and then we address things, and then the cycle repeats? I’m curious as to what will actually change.

I know some people are advocating for more mental health services, though personally I have to wonder if people who really need help will take the time to utilize them. But I’m sure that will help lots of people who can’t seem to get off the wait list because their problems aren’t “urgent enough.” – yes, I had a girl tell me that.

Personally, my education oriented mind believes this is yet another example of why education needs to change specifically in regards to how we assess students. Assessment is a good and needed thing, that doesn’t mean number grades are the only way to assess knowledge and capabilities. I don’t have the answer for the “best system,” to be honest I don’t even know at the moment what I would suggest, but I know that students get too stressed over grades and these past two weeks have made me even more annoyed about it.

IT’S TIME TO CHANGE THE WAY WE ASSESS!

How might we get authentic feedback and assessment? The kind that truly allows us to have a safe space to fail and then learn and grow from our mistakes, without this looming fear of a few bad grades recking our future? What does a number really tell us? If people keep saying grades don’t matter after you get your first job and gain some credibility for yourself, then why do we keep grades at all?

I could go on, but I may just start sounding repetitive because I can feel myself verging into rant mode because this truly makes me deeply upset. I’m more than a number; and I want work that I feel is meaningful enough to work on for a reason better than just because “I want a good grade.” Isn’t that the real reason we still have grades? – because once they’re gone it will require us to give students different kinds of work which leads to a lot of new systems we need to prototype and explore?

It seems that the fact that people keep asking me, “how was your first hell week?” is reason enough to believe that this mentally and emotionally stressful environment wasn’t just because of the unfortunate and unpredictable situations of the last few weeks. If this is an inevitable unhealthy environment, that also means we should be able to prototype and test ways to avoid it, and I personally think that with some creative thinking there are a lot more options worth pursing than just increasing the number of counseling resources. (Counseling is still a great cause to fund, but there is always more than one way to solve a problem, and it seems like this is the only way being talked much about so far.) My vote is to rethink assessment since from interviews I’ve conducted and observations I’ve made, it seems to be a clear cause of a significant portion of stress and is something very controllable by schools, but it’s not the only way to tackle this challenge.

So what’s going to be our experiment to improve mental health in education?- and I’m not just talking about at Tech, because this problem is by no means isolated to GT, or Georgia, or even just higher ed.

Starting Up Again

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Way back when in freshman year…

Today was my last first day of a high school semester and I already feel like we’ve jumped right back into things. I’ve already been planning events, attending meetings, and doing homework; not much has changed, and yet things feel somehow different knowing it’s almost over- not yet though and there is still so much to do!

It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to take off right where you left off when you are around the right group of people.

Time for Random

Image result for crazy ideasOne of the things I love most about the summer is that people think of so many crazy ideas, and half of the time actually follow through with them because they have time!

Everyday I find myself reading texts from people with ideas about wanting to start a new club, or learning a new instrument, or writing their own music, or getting a group together to do all the parts of a Hamilton song, or trying to get a new skill in a sport, or wanting to take a day trip to some weird new place, and the list goes on and on! Summer is such a time of opportunity because besides a few books and math problems, time is all our own and we can use it however we choose.

It’s amazing how many interesting ideas come from when people have time to just sit and think. My friends can tell when I get a crazy idea because they’ll see me start staring off into space just pondering for a while; then I’ll shake out of it and start talking quickly for a long period of time about what ever I was thinking about.

I believe strongly that the less stressed we are the more ideas freely flow. When you are stressed you are too distracted by whatever’s stressing you to just think about random things in life, and yet random things are so much fun to discuss!

I never want to live a life where I’m stressed too often to have time to think about random things every now and then.

Capturing Work

It’s been a busy week for me with acro camp, coaching, and spending time watching Harry Potter with my family for the first time. I like being a little busy though because I like feeling engaged and productive and active. Though even when being busy and active, ID over the past two years has really taught me the value of capturing your work so that you can later look back and let others get a little closer to understanding your experiences. So for the past few days, on top of everything else, I’ve also been working on compiling a large amount of pictures from twitter of fuse16 to put into a video montage. And I’m happy to say that with it now being a week since fuse16, I finally have finished the video and have uploaded it to youtube so that I, and hopefully others, can look back and remember the fun and meaningful days we spent at this year’s fuse.

 

Prototyping Routines

images-2.jpgFor the past few years now, I’m constantly having moments where I catch myself thinking like a designer. Today I observed this happening while choreographing new gymnastics routines.

Creating a new routine is dependent on good prototyping. If I hear a song a couple of times, I can just get on the floor and improv a routine fairly well; however, more often than not, my first creation is not my best work. I can spend hours on one routine fine tuning every movement and still end up deciding on a different idea just moments later. In order to fully figure out what works best, I have to constantly test out the routine to see how even little adjustments affect the routine as a whole.

I have also found, like any idea, time is often the secret sauce that makes an idea great. I have to constantly have a song running through my head and mull over a routine for a few days if I wish to really get my best work. Furthermore, sometimes it’s a matter of waiting for inspiration; sometimes I just find myself so absorbed in a song that I have to choreograph a routine because it’s just bursting out of me. If you don’t act upon the inspiration, then the idea will be lost which would be a terrible set back.

A gymnastics routine prototype also has to be heavily user focused because every gymnast is different. When I create  a routine I can no longer be myself, I must imagine myself as the user and create the routine according to that child’s strengths and style. Then in the end, after a routine is finalized, it still may not be perfect and I can’t know until I start teaching a gymnast and seeing how the routine “fits” them. Sometime this means that I have to make on the spot changes because parts of the prototype just don’t work the best with that gymnast; everything is always in the best interest of the user, otherwise the product is no good.

I am a gymnastics designer; routines are my prototypes and gymnasts are my users, and with time, empathy, and iterations I help create something beautiful.

Changing Time

Not going to lie, I definitely watched tonights last episode of Dance Moms with Maddie and Mackenzie and it was pretty stinking sad. It’s just another big change for next year to add to the list.

It seems this year so many things are changing and everyone just keeps thinking about next year and how I’ll be graduating and it’s all just flying by so fast. I can barely even believe our current seniors are leaving! Just today at our honors assembly we were honoring our 2 first ever graduates with the Innovation Diploma, and it made me realize, “Wow this all started just two years ago, and it now life feels like yesterday and tomorrow all at the same time.”

I know we (as a human population in many different contextual situations) always seem to bounce back after we think we won’t possibly be able to continue without certain people being constant members of our lives, but that doesn’t make it any less sad to see them go. I’ve been friends with members of the current senior class since my 7th grade and we’ve been through so much since then. Especially in theater, I still can’t imagine a world without our amazing techies who have been there since my freshman year always working and having fun with us, and all of the thespians who have joined us along the way.

Plus some of my favorite teachers are leaving, and in general the school is just going through such a rapid period of growth like one I’ve never before experienced.

We are in a period of immense, undeniable change not just with the graduation of another class, but in life in general. Everything around me seems to be changing all at once and it’s kind of a crazy time. In some ways I’m ready for this school year to be over, and in others I’m not at all ready for the next one to begin.

With AP exams, last assemblies, year books, and graduation all happening right about now, these have just been some thoughts circling my mind.