Disaster Plan

85b8117b-ebb5-4470-8d4c-74063446e9ea.jpgToday was preview night for our winter show The 39 Steps and it went superbly!!! The entire cast was really happy with tonight’s performance and can’t wait to keep up the energy and fix those last few tweaks for our shows for the rest of this week.

You know you’ve put on a good comedy show when the audience is cracking up the whole time, and that’s exactly what happened tonight! Everyone said they loved it and it was a hilarious joy to watch.

This ensemble has been working so hard (and for only a month at most) to put on this show, and I’m so happy to be a part of the process because it’s just been such a pleasure!

Between theater and the gymnastics competition season starting up, I’ve made a recent observation about myself: I’m pretty decent at pre planning disaster plans. When ever I choreograph a routine or memorize for a new show, I always try to memorize everything correctly, but then I also think about a few scenarios about what could potentially go wrong to try and figure out what I would do in those situations. In both cases that means how can you best make up for what ever you missed by tweaking your normal flow a little.

So, maybe add a little more dance, or tweak a later line to make up for something important that was missed (by you or another stage mate), or shoving a prop into someone’s pocket in order to get it to the other side of the stage.

This is one of those random skills that I wouldn’t normally think of when thinking about  skills, but I’ve realized that this can be applied to other situations as well. Mainly when you give any presentation because you need to make sure you hit on everything that’s really important, so even if things don’t go in your exact planed order, make it happen; the show must go on!

Clearly you want to try to memorize and do things the intended way, but it’s kind of nice to practice some disaster plans because that way you are more prepared to think and act quick for when something inevitably doesn’t go exactly as planned.

It’s just a funny fail-up skill I’ve noticed this past week that I thought was worth sharing.

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Getting Ready

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(My adorable new puppies!!! On the left is Chewy, named because he loves to chew on things and we’ve decided it’s short for Chewbacca. On the right is Simba, for no specific reason except that The Lion King is awesome!!!)

 

School started today for many people, but I’m lucky enough to get this Monday off, which means tomorrow will be our first day back.

It’s funny how everyone spends this last day differently. For many, the last day of break means that it is time to prepare and catch up with stuff you know you have to finish before school starts. I’ve talked with people using today to work on lines for drama, finishing up homework, sleeping, planning for tomorrow, blogging, starting their post break diet, trying to stay true to their new year’s resolutions for as long as possible, etc.

Personally I spent today going to bed around 1am in New York (that’s being generous I think) then waking up at 6:25 in order to get to the air port. Then, as usual, there was air port drama, and since it was the holidays everything was especially complicated and people didn’t really know what to do. Finally we (my brother, sister, and myself) got home to find the Christmas present that we were told was waiting for us at home. We got 2 adorable rescue puppies!!!!!!!! Then I looked at my lines for drama some more before acro practice. (I’m going to be so sore tomorrow after 2 weeks of no practice.) And now I am finally home and frantically trying to make myself feel ready for school tomorrow. (Hopefully I’ll get some rest soon…)

Getting ready for things just always reminds me of how unique and different everyone is. So while I know there is no way I could possibly truly be prepared for the adventures of tomorrow, I hope I am able to at least reach an acceptable point of semi-ready. And I wish the same for everyone else as well.

Here we go!

Passion Work Retreat

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I’ve been on hiatus for the past week from blogging, but now that break is almost officially over though, it is time for me to start getting things back in gear. I hadn’t planned to be on hiatus, but I have a rule where I don’t blog if it would mean leaving family/friend time unnecessarily and with it being Thanksgiving break, things got busy.

However, by no means did I stop thinking. It was quite the opposite actually, there were many occasions where someone would say “Anya stop thinking,” but I’m not very good at that. It can be a problem sometimes actually. A problem I have not yet been able to solve for.

In fact sitting next to me at this very moment is my notebook flipped open to the page with notes from our Google Hangout with Grant Lichtman and notes about my AP Lang portfolio that I have been working on putting together, at least 40 notecards most of which have sentences describing one of my past blog posts, a passion board with sticky notes and a sharpie for both iVenture and AP Lang work (in truth it is the beginnings of these becoming more closely into 1 related topic), a white board calendar with all of the dates I need to keep in mind, and another white board with all of the big things I need to get done and what my hopeful schedule for today was in order to work on them.

But alas, this all makes me sound like I was much more productive this week than I truly feel I was. I mean I didn’t even blog. I didn’t go through my list of things to do. I did work some on all of the above as well as coaching gymnastics camp, finishing the choreographing for 2 acro routines, memorizing theater lines, looking and taking notes on a bunch of potential colleges, and studying a little for the SAT which I take this coming weekend. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if did more than most students this week, but it still doesn’t feel like enough knowing how much time I also spent just looking up random stuff online and watching gymnastics videos and Netflix and playing games.

Does it ever? Does it ever feel like enough?

Kat and I were texting earlier about how we both don’t feel like we got as much done as we intended on getting done this week. It seems that all we look forward to is having a little time because that’s when “we’ll get to work on the stuff we want to be doing.” The problem is that we are so busy the rest of the time that when a little time comes our way what we “want to be doing” become simply relaxing. Which isn’t nor should it be a bad thing. We all need time to reboot and “stop thinking” for a little sometimes. The hard part is finding the “free time” to use as “work time,” and being around others that are still in “reboot mode” doesn’t make it easy.

While Kat and I were texting (actually I ended up having a similar conversation with a few others as well, it was kind of on my mind a lot today), I brought up the concept of a writers retreat. Ironically this thought came to me because of a TV show I had been getting caught up in this week. Authors, trying to write a book typically, will sometimes go on a retreat for an extended amount of time in order to clear their mind of other distractions and just write. Then write some more. Then keep writing because they have that time!

Sometimes I wish I could go on a similar retreat. Not just for writing but just to have time dedicated for working, but for passion work. Ideally it would be great if it could be my school for a week. Because truthfully, it’s really hard to spend what would be break time with family trying to work all of the time. The whole reason we have breaks is so that we can reboot and have some family time without worrying about work so much. School is work time, so what if we just changed what that work was; not to mention make it for a longer period of time just in a new location.

Sometimes I’ll say I need to go do work and my family will react with “What work didn’t you do already that’s due tomorrow?” Then I have to explain how it isn’t actually due in the typical school sense which is why I haven’t finished it, because passion work can’t really be fully finished, but it does need to be worked on.

Finding time for passion work when that passion work isn’t yet your “work” work is really difficult. So sometimes I wish I could just go on a passion work retreat to dedicate a large amount of time to the work that isn’t “due” but is important and needs time without interruptions and distractions (many of which I cause myself when I go into “break” mode).

I think it would even be okay for a few people to on this retreat with me as long as they too were in “passion work mode” because then we could hold each other responsible and get feedback from each other even while on retreat.

Anyway break is over tomorrow and thus work begins. With midterms only two weeks away plus all of the big events I have coming up, things are about to get crazy and I think I’ll need some rest.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Venturing Forward

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It seems like it has been far too long since I’ve given just a general update about how things have been going in our Collab Course AP Lang class designed and run by Kat and myself.

Things have been going really well lately, and as we venture forward I just want to share some highlights of exciting things that have, are, and will be happening in this class.

We recently had our paper discussing solutions to The Creativity Crisis published on #Satchat Daily (under education) one of the biggest sources for education resources, as well as on the MViFi blog.

We’ve been reading Grant Lichtman’s book #EdJourney, and have been creating blog posts about our reflections on the book. These posts have also had their fair share of retweets and likes on Twitter! We’re also currently trying to work out a time where we can actually have a Google Hangout with Mr. Lichtman to get to discuss some of his book as well as how he went about the actual creation of the book since that is something Kat and I are both interested in.

In general, Kat and I have also started to get into a better flow as far as how we decide what to work on each day. For the most part, Mondays and Wednesdays are what we call “APLle Days” where we work on more of your typical AP Lang stuff like timed essays, multiple choice, vocab (both AP Lang terms to know as well as our running list that we each add 5 new words to a week that we read and think the other should also know), discussions, that kind of stuff that we know just has to be done to some extent still since this is an AP class. Then on Thursdays and Fridays we have “Explore Days” where the schedule is a little more open ended to allow time and space for our “normal” routine to be disrupted allowing for creativity and learning to flourish. Sometimes these days involve working on iVenture work that involves writing that we can use each other for feedback on. Other times we end up in deep discussions around forms of feedback and assessment and design thinking with some of our ID facilitators who often work close by. At times situations and opportunities could arise where we end up trying to decipher an instruction booklet with no words and put together a robotic hand. Sometimes it just means having meetings with mentors to work on ways to further enhance our skills as innovative learners and further develop our AP Lang program itself.

One of the recent programatic decisions that Kat and I made about a month or so ago was starting a new activity we call a “20/20“. Typically we do a 20/20 on Monday’s since it is our shortest class together each week, so over the weekend we will each read some piece. (Lately this has been a mixture of #EdJourney sections or pieces related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.) Then on Monday in class we will spend 20 minutes discussing the reading piece, then we will spend 20 minutes writing a blog post reflection on the discussion. This gets us in the habit of enhancing our discussion skills while also getting us to practice having to organize and write down our thoughts in a short amount of time. So far these have been going really well and I’ve actually appreciated the time constraint since it has challenged me to try and be creative, articulate, and clear quickly.

I’ve already talked some about #EdJourney, but I would like to talk more about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. From the start of the creation of this course, both Kat and I knew we wanted to read The Allegory of the Cave no matter what. As sophomores the piece had come up a few times in discussions and it sounded really interesting to us since some of the main points have to do with education and what is the “truth”–two things we are both passionate about. After reading the piece even just once, we both absolutely loved it!! So we did some research on how other people responded to the piece and furthered our understanding of its meaning.

However, just reading Plato once doesn’t help get everything across. We were so inspired by the piece that we started talking with my Latin teacher about how we might do more with the piece. He too thinks the piece is great and even made an interesting comparison to the work we do with our class and how it’s like the prisoner in the story who is let out of the cave. Since then he has helped us pick other pieces of Plato’s work to read (actually we will have a 20/20 on book 1 of The Republic this Friday) and helped us figure out a big theme we want to focus on: status quo. What is the status quo? How is it defined? Why do cultures value the status quo? What does it mean to go against the status quo? What happens to the people who challenge the status quo? Why do they do it? Kat and I hope to read and discuss much more over the coming days before the end of first semester, and hopefully create a joint MoVe Talk to help express our findings while also tying in work we’ve done throughout the year.

A few other things that we hope to do before the end of the year are to revamp our blog sites to work on better organizing and capturing our work, and also to learn more about what a good portfolio looks like and go back through our work to pick out bright spots from our journey so far.

What I’ve really loved about our course is that we have truly had the freedom to explore while learning and doing meaningful work. When I write something for a class that then ends up getting published and talked about by people you don’t even know, I feel incredibly proud and motivated to continue writing and improving my skills. Getting to talk to a wide array of mentors has also been amazingly fun and helpful because it means we are getting feedback from a multitude of perspectives from a California student to educators we’ve never met in person to our own Latin teacher, which hopefully has made us more rounded with our writing.

Plus I can’t even begin to emphasize how amazing it feels to not have to stress about grades. I feel more courageous to take risks and try new things, plus I don’t find myself up late worrying about a quiz, but instead I find myself curious and researching to be prepared for a discussion and writing assignment that I’m happy to get feedback on. Without grades our feedback feels like it is more focused on really trying to help us improve as a reader and writer, and have end products that go somewhere and contribute to larger conversations. I even had a teacher comment on one of my posts about The Allegory of the Cave about how she wanted to share my work with her students who were learning about different perspectives.

While we still take the AP Lang exam at the end of the year, and even the same midterm as the traditional AP Lang course students will take, I am not going to be judging the value of this course based on how we score. Sure we want to score well, but even if we aren’t spectacular, I don’t want to judge a whole year off of two tests. Learning is so much more than that. I know I’ve been learning; with reading and writing, as well as many other skills like sending emails to people you haven’t met, and organizing class structures, and knowing when to pivot and how to manage the unexpected. I’ve seen my improvement. I’ve read and heard my feedback. I know I have room to grow, but I also know I’ve been growing, and that to me means success.

As this year goes on I can’t wait to see what else comes out of this course. It may only be two weeks until Thanksgiving break, but there is still so much learning ahead of us, and I’m excited for it!

Leaping into Empathy

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Being as passionate about education redesign as I am, I’ve been trying to make more of a point to think about ways that design thinking can be incorporated into the classroom, and what struggles I notice occurring around trying to use elements of design thinking.

One of the big things I’ve noticed is that we often spend a really long time on the discovery phase. (Referring to the DEEP process we use at MVPS which stands for Discover, Empathize, Experiment, Produce.) I think this is because teachers, and maybe even some students, feel “safest” in the discovery mode.

Discovery is all about research, and it is really easy to “justify” how the discovery phase is meeting the goals of traditional schooling because we have always done research at school. Teachers and students have always done research and therefore, the discovery phase feels more comfortable because it’s not requiring you to really stretch yourself as a learner in terms of how you act and what you learn. Everyone interprets what they read based on what they want to know and already believe. It is much easier to get a piece of text to support your argument then it is to hear a person speak and try to pick a part their talk to validate your own believes.

While the discovery phase is very necessary to a design process, because you need some background information to know what you are even dealing with, I believe the quicker you can make the leap from discovery to empathy mode, the more things will start to “make sense”. The empathy phase is when you are challenged and get pieces of insight that spark your curiosity and interest. This is where both student and teachers start to light up and find themselves wanting to research more to further understand and question what their user said.

I’ve observed first hand the moment when students find themselves hooked on a design challenge because they realize how much it means to someone else that they spoke to. I’ve also observed how excited teachers get to see their students excited about learning. Once you get to the empathy phase, the rest of the challenge starts to get much clearer, and the question of “what in the world are we doing” starts to become less foggy.

The problem is that while the discovery mode feels very safe and comfortable in the classroom, the empathy mode is far from “safe and comfortable”. To get to the point of interviewing people can be really hard in a classroom environment. One of the biggest struggles being that if students don’t yet care or understand why you are doing what you are doing, it is often hard to get them to find people to interview because they don’t know what to do next.

Design thinking is still pretty new to the education world, and while teachers are learning more and more about how to involve design thinking in their classrooms, students are not necessarily having a parallel introduction to design thinking. If a teacher walks into a classroom full of students that barely (if at all) understand why we do design thinking, they can’t just magically flip on the light switch and expect the students to be able to self guide themselves through a design thinking challenge.

The light switch has to be built before it can be used.

You have to have the tool before you can use it.

Creative confidence is something nurtured and grown, not magically summoned upon when you need it for a class assignment.

I know I haven’t even started to talk about the Experiment or Produce stages, but that’s because I honestly don’t think I’ve had a class where we really and truly reached these stages even.

More often than not, we spend so much time on discovery, that we try to cram empathy in really quickly and then have spent so much time on the project already, that we decide to end after our empathy findings so that we can move on to the next unit. I get why. I mean there is only so much time in the school year, and at this point there are still things that teachers have to teach to meet certain standards by the end of the year. And to be honest, if you spend to much time on a design challenge that isn’t moving anywhere, it can eventually seem tiresome and overdone; there is only so much researching you can do before you want to just drop everything.

However, I think if we could move faster into the empathy phase of design thinking, then we would be more likely to see a challenge all the way through. I believe this because after meeting with users is when things really start to get exciting to the point where you don’t want to stop.

So here are some of my thoughts…

What if teachers took more responsibility over design challenges in the classroom? At least until students start to show a great understanding for the process itself (I imagine a future where by the time students reach high school, they are already at this comfort level; however, with design thinking in the classroom still being relatively new, students are not all ready for this responsibility yet. There is a lack of experience that must be accounted for first.)

What if, rather than going through and entire design challenge, teachers set up more design sprints or just mini design challenges that had a very purposeful flow with time constraints? Maybe these could last a week or two max for these challenges. In this challenge teachers would help facilitate students researching about users that the teacher has already found and set a specific time when they would come in to be interviewed by students. This would eliminate the struggle of students trying to find and communicate with people to set up interview times. While this is a great skill to learn, in the classroom this can get complicated because everyone has different schedules and some students may need more help than others with setting up this interview. So I think this skill is something that could wait to be practiced until students have a better understanding of the design thinking process first.

Then after all of the students have gotten the chance to talk to one or two users, the teacher helps guide the class through a series of tools to help unpack interviews and discover what the how might we statement is.

It’s at this point where I would imagine some of my blog readers may start thinking that this sounds like a very familiar process. That’s because I literally think that teachers could facilitate in their classroom sessions similar to how we run some of our big design thinking events at Mount Vernon like the Council on Innovation or FUSE. Sure there may be a bit more of a challenge with time because the sessions would have to be broken up over multiple days for shorter time periods, but I think it’s conceivable. (I mean we even had students create and facilitate an entire design thinking session with a similar flow to this in Davos this past summer for the Global Leadership Summit.)

Students need time to be creative and explore their passions, but when it comes to design thinking, I think they first need more guidance and closer facilitation in order to learn the ropes before trying to sail alone. The best way to learn how to sail is to actually get in the boat, so why not give students more opportunities to experience design thinking by facilitating lots of mini more guided and focused design thinking sessions in the classroom?  This may also help with classroom design challenges leaping over the ditch between the discovery and empathy phases of the DEEP process, and then maybe having the time to then go even further into the process with experimenting and producing. The student boats will capsize a few times, but eventually they’ll get more use to that water, and before you (the teacher) knows it, they’ll be off exploring new lands on their own.

A World Demanding Creativity

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“A society’s competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity.” Albert Einstein said these great words over 60 years ago, and yet in todays’ 21st century, America has still been in what is commonly known as “The Creativity Crisis” as described in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s article published in Newsweek in 2010. Their findings, based on the widely taken Torrance Test which tests for someone’s “Creativity Quotient” (CQ), show that the American public has had a significant decrease in it’s CQ scores since 1990. However, at the same time that this Creativity Crisis is taking place, leading businesses are craving creative and innovative people, as shown from an IBM poll taken in 2010 of 1,500 CEOs. This disconnect between what America wants in the workforce and what America’s CQ scores are leads to the question of, “How might we raise America’s CQ scores?”  That is, how might we have more Americans that are proficient at going through a process of the exploration and creation of something new? A start would be to examine our education programs to assure that we as a country are setting the conditions for people to be successful. Schools are meant to prepare students with the knowledge and skills to be successful in the world. With our world craving creative people with innovative ideas, it is imperative for schools to allot time in their school day for students to explore creative outlets and passions.

By allotting this time in the day, students can be more prepared to get jobs in the companies that they are interested in working for. One of the “big dogs” of American companies is Google, with about 1 in every 4 young professionals wanting to work there. When trying to get a job at Google, it is helpful to know that interviewers are looking for applicants that go through a creative thinking process. For example an applicant may be asked, “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” The interviewer is not looking for the answer to this question, because there is no exact answer, instead the interviewer is looking to see how the applicant thinks through the problem and hoping to see the applicant go through a creative, yet logical, process to arrive at an answer. If schools hope for their students to be competitive in the workforce at places like Google, then schools must prepare students to be creative thinkers while problem solving– even if the problem seems impossible to solve.

In school, students are tasked to learn and mast content which lays out the foundation for the logical side to any process, but there is  another side to this process: the creative side. To answer seemingly impossible problems like those that arise in the “real world”, you must have a basic understanding of facts along with the creative confidence to quickly discern what things you think you need to know in order to arrive at an answer.

This creative confidence isn’t something that some people are born with and others are not; it is developed over time through experience and guidance. Students need mentors to help them develop their creative confidence, and school provides an opportune time for students to receive this mentorship, and not just from teachers. Just like how chemistry classes do lab work in order to better understand how chemical equations work, what if all students were given the opportunity to enroll in a“real world” lab? Imagine if in this “real world” lab students were working alongside business leaders, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits to tackle work that matters. Work that might not be in a textbook. Through these “real world” labs, students could develop relationships with these game-changers that may lead to long lasting mentorship. Schools need to begin developing relationships with members in the local community because this real world experience will build confidence in students, so they can be empowered to be agents of change in today’s world. School currently communicates that students have to wait to make a difference. They have to wait to be told what to do. They have to wait to get their graded test back. What if we didn’t want to wait?

Some schools already have programs set in place to allow students school time to work on creative pursuits and passions, and their students are working on some mind blowing things. Some notable examples are High Tech High in California, The Independence Project at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Massachusetts, and Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s Innovation Diploma in Atlanta, Georgia. Students from these schools have done things like making their school more environmentally sustainable, cooking a meal for over 80 people, designing a picture of a historical character using math and technology, writing a novel, partnering with organizations like the Center for Disease Control on “real world” problems, and consulting with industry leaders to tackle complex challenges.

These schools exemplify that it is possible for schools to give students time to focus on creativity and passion finding during school time. Not only is it possible, but the students that are given this time in school have been advantageous in a world craving creative people. Imagine if all American schools had this time for creativity and passion finding. Imagine how much the American creative quotient scores could raise. Imagine how many more creative solutions America could be generating to solve big problems in our world today. The world demands creative people, so to solve the Creativity Crisis the world should also demand that schools, with their mentors and resources, provide the time for students to explore creative endeavors and personal passions in order to develop their creative confidence before it’s too late.

Life = Humanities “and” STEM not “or”

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MVPS is on fall break currently so we have a long weekend with no school today. It was such a great day!!!

And I spent half my day at school by choice. 🙂

While the students had today off, teachers had a planning day. While I haven’t been to a planning day before, I do know that this was not the normal planning day because it was run by MViFi and set up like a conference. Teachers seemed to really enjoy being able to have the choice of what sessions they attended and also being able to do a lot of hands on work.

The reason I was at the planning day was because I was offered the opportunity to co-facilitate one of the sessions, specifically the recycling session. This was a great and fun opportunity to lead and share our work in ID with teachers from across divisions. After years of talking about recycling problems that need to be solved for, I’m excited with the conversations that have been started and can’t wait to see how things continue. It’s also always nice when people get excited about your prototype. (Which is officially done and in place in a middle school classroom collecting data!!!!)

However, what I think I enjoyed most about today actually was my second session on designing a humanities course that will be launched for freshman to take for 2016-2017. It was a great group and a great challenge that sparked great conversation!

One of the big take away thoughts that I had was around the idea of fun work versus meaningful work.

My table had a conversation about how the humanities are about humans, which also has a lot to do with struggle. (By the way also there was an important distinction with “humanities” not just meaning English and history classes, but also arts and language and being more about culture than just being a combo of subjects.) Both analyzing and communicating the struggles of others, and having to struggle yourself to get work done. The truth is that there is a lot of struggle in life. I might not have the years of experience to really be able to say this, but I’d like to think, while I may not be able to empathize, I can at least understand on some level.

Sometimes you will have work that you simply don’t want to do, but you still have to get it done. In life you don’t always get to do what you want. It’s not always fun. That’s ok thought.

We talked about how you can do really hard work, that might not be the most fun while you’re working on it, but afterwards it can feel so rewarding. Rewarding to the point where students even comment by saying, “This was really hard, but I loved it! I feel like I really learned something.” One of the teachers mentioned our past show “Beast on the Moon”, and how it obviously was not a very up lifting comedy kind of show. The show was very serious, with lots of emotions and moving pieces constantly changing, and in general it was a tough drama, not to mention the amount of lines to memorize. However, after the show, we were thrilled with what we had just pulled off. It was rewarding to know we went through all of the hard work and then could put on a show that truly moved people.

However, the interesting question/struggle comes with how to make the hard work then feel rewarding at the end. In my opinion, this requires for students to be given the opportunity to do meaningful work.

Meaningful work can be fun. Feeling happy about learning something I think is pretty meaningful– being happy is important to a healthy life.

However, meaningful work can also be hard. It can be tiring and stressful and time consuming and still be meaningful.

In AP Lang we’ve been working on our Creativity Crisis papers (in fact I was going to officially share mine today, but I was much too passionate about today’s adventures to not talk about them). Now while we were still writing a paper, and staying up late to meet deadlines, and getting specific feedback that wasn’t always positive, we have been ok with all of it because we know that we have to go through all of that hard work in order to share something valuable with a wider audience. That is how we are choosing to try and make the work we do meaningful in this situation.

Teachers can’t just make work meaningful because for work to be meaningful, students have to find that meaning. However, it is possible for the work to not be given the chance to be meaningful. When this happens, this is when work feels tedious on top of being tiring and stressful and time consuming.

I feel like there is a common assumption that students (especially those of us helping more significantly with shaping our own learning experience) think we should only do work we find to be fun work. Another assumption being that your typical “STEM student” (a bubble to which I find myself often included) thinks everything should be about brainstorming and creating a product.

I’d like to dispel these beliefs at least a little because I don’t believe either of these assumptions to be true.

In fact I don’t want to ever only be doing fun work because after a while it stops being fun if it isn’t also challenging. While “fun stuff” is needed to help relieve stress and keep high energy levels to be able to work on harder stuff, overcoming challenges often feels more rewarding then just doing the fun stuff.

Also I find it interesting, because while I do love STEM and will likely go into a STEM field, I have found myself in a lot of humanities conversations lately. Sometimes it is important to just have a conversation. To not be focused on trying to make an end product, but to just sit and have a deep talk. However, you can’t always just sit and talk because eventually it will start to feel like you are having an empty conversation because it’s the same type of conversation you’ve had before but nothing is changing.

STEM and the Humanities need each other. Humanities, understanding humans, is at the basis of any thing you are trying to design, and you need the STEM skills to then actually design it to help provoke change which then leads to new conversations.

I feel like my thoughts have been all over the place tonight. (Probably doesn’t help with it being so late and my flight to Ohio being such chaos tonight.) I think part of the disjointedness to this writing tonight is because I have so many thoughts about this idea of Humanities and STEM; it feels like they are always working in competition with one another rather than collaboration with one another.

My big thought I guess is that great learning is about overcoming challenges that leads to something where you are able to feel happy and proud about what you’ve accomplished at the end. If you aren’t happy and proud at the end, then why did you do it?

Passion Work and Sleep

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Today did not feel like a Friday for some reason, but looking back on the week I’ve realized just how great of a week it was! What really made it awesome was because I had something I very rarely have: time.

I’ve had no homework for the past few nights, which has been odd (it even worries me a tad that this is the quite before the storm…) but fantastic because then I’ve been able to just work on the stuff I want to work on after school! Specifically, I’ve gotten to do way more music stuff than I have in a while. We’ve finally been having all of the cast at drama (many people have been getting sick or had prior obligations and couldn’t make it to rehearsal), so I’ve gotten to start playing around with sound effects and making music with tons of instruments. Plus Wednesday, since I didn’t have homework, I got to practice some of the Upper School band pieces after school. Then Thursday I actually had time to go play with the middle school band. Plus today I learned I may get to go on the band field trip next Monday to see an orchestra play which should be awesome! (To be honest I don’t know much about the field trip because I literally just found out today that I may be able to go and it isn’t even 100% yet. Finger’s crossed though!)

With no homework, I’ve also actually gotten to sleep a little more than normal and I feel like I’ve noticed it during class. You know how sometimes you just feel in general more on your game than normal? That’s how I’ve felt this week. I’ve been happy, pondering, productive, asking lots of thoughtful questions, and just in general I feel more attentive and like I’ve processed more during class time this week. I got good grades on my two tests. I’ve been having interesting conversations around feedback on my Creativity Crisis paper. My design team had a really productive all hands on deck prototyping day and have now almost finished our full scale prototype. I felt like I was asking more questions and better understanding more conceptual topics in Latin and AP Chemistry. I was able to quickly learn a good bit about many revolutionary war key figures. I got to work on some iVenture work for the first time in forever. Plus I got to start reading Grant Lichtman’s 2nd book on education transformation for the 21st century, #EdJourney!

It’s just been a really great week! I guess passion work and sleep really can make a difference in your every day behavior. What if every week felt like this?

Understanding the Feedback Process

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For the past weekish, Kat and I have been working on a paper in response to the “Creativity Crisis” for our AP Lang Collab-Course. I’m not going to go into depth on the content of the paper itself tonight– that will come later with the paper itself– but what I have found quite interesting is how we have been approaching this paper differently than how we might have approached a paper for a “typical class”.

Our prompt actually came straight from an old AP Lang exam question; however, we tweaked it a tad because we want to take our paper a step further, so rather than just writing an argument piece, we actually plan on sharing this piece with online publications to get our thoughts/writing out to a wider audience. Hopefully we spark some interesting conversations, and as they are looking now, I think we will!

While writing this piece I have found the biggest difference in my writing is actually how I edit my work. I have a much stronger grasp on what it means to give and receive feedback than I did even a year ago (thanks ID!!). This allows me to go through my work and think, “If I was giving feedback to someone else, what would I be looking for?” So on my paper (done in a google doc), I’ve left comments asking questions about certain snippets of my writing where I think there could potentially be changes needed, but I want another perspective on it.

Rather than just writing a paper and having a teacher grade it based on a rubric they’ve designed, I’m actually getting the opportunity to say “This is what I want feedback on,” and then let mentors (including peers and even some student mentors from different states in fact) respond and add additional comments that they think are worth pointing out. To be honest the process feels kind of like when I would ask a peer to edit my paper before handing in an assignment; I’m very open to all feedback because I want it to make it the best possible before the “final draft”. It reminds me of what I imagine the relationship is between an author and his/her editor. I mean no one writes perfectly, that’s why we have other people look over and help edit our work so that we can make the writing as strong as possible. Looking at teachers and students as mentors in this way where we can actually have a conversation about my writing and how it can be improved (not just graded) has been really cool and super helpful to my writing!

With blogging, and therefore writing, almost everyday, I’ve occasionally had people say my writing has improved over the course of the past few years. This leads to the question of “What made it improve?” I now think that it isn’t just that I’m writing more often, while that is definitely an element of it, I think having a stronger understanding of what it means to give and receive feedback is what has made my writing stronger.

Feedback isn’t a number; that isn’t helpful. What does a number mean? Helpful feedback is the commentary on what you did well, what you could improve on, and suggestions for how you might improve. And when you receive feedback, even if it’s on things you need to improve on, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or did a horrible job, or that your feedback giver doesn’t like you and/or your work. It’s quite the opposite in my opinion, because if your feedback giver gives you feedback on the things they didn’t love, that means they care enough about your work to try and help you make it better. To be honest, I think the feedback on what and how you could improve is often more helpful then what you did well, because it moves you along on your journey with what to work on next.

It’s interesting how taking grades out of the equation effects my writing. I think I take more risks and try more new things when I’m not worrying about a grade. When I’m graded and do poorly, I don’t always (trying to get better at this) see it as “feedback to help me improve”, I just see it as “oh no I did something wrong…” I’ve really enjoyed not having grades attacked to our AP Lang work because it has made me feel more free to explore and take risks with how I write, and it has made me more open to receiving feedback.

There are many more ways to give feedback than just grades. I wonder how understanding feedback at a deeper level could help improve students overall communication skills.

(At this point I find it interesting to also note an old post of mine that I wrote towards the beginning of last school year that was also on feedback, which also happens to be one of my more popular posts. I feel like my thoughts on feedback have started to come full circle now after re-reading this old post compared to my current thoughts and post.)

Innovation Diploma Enters its Second Year

And so, the journey continues. As ID enters our second year now, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how that’s going to work. Well like all great ideas, feedback has lead to iteration two. This is some of the exciting stuff we have planned for year 2 of the Innovation Diploma!!!

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As we head into our second year in the Innovation Diploma startup, I’d like to share a few exciting developments for our program:

  • We’ve more than doubled in size in our second year of existence – we have 25 enrolled!
  • Innovation Diploma now includes a Maker component
  • We have two new facilitators on the team: Trey Boden and T.J. Edwards
  • We’re building and testing an incredibly rich system of badges
  • Two Innovation Diploma students have built and launched their own AP course
  • The entire iD team is headed to the d.school in March to work a design challenge
  • We now have two internationally recognized design thinking facilitators who happen to be students

I cannot quite capture all of the growth and momentum that is taking place for this program, but this post is meant to summarize a bit of our growth and some of the pivots we are taking in the second year…

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