Safe to Challenge

There’s only so much that can be covered up with flashy lights and crazy tricks. Performers are storytellers and sometimes the artist can only take the story so far; at the end of the day, you also need to have a good story for the performance to truly be worthwhile.

Broadway right now has a lot of flashy shows with big fan followings and it just seems odd and almost a little sad to me. I want more original stories. Don’t get me wrong I saw Frozen in theaters 3 times and thought the musical version was a pretty good adaptation, and I’m still wanting really badly to see Mean Girls the Musical; however, I miss being surprised by a totally original story. No gimmicks, just good old fashion storytelling.

Today I saw SpongeBob the Musical, and somewhat to my expectation, it was a bit too gimmicky for me. The cast had some really impressive actors and vocalist who I appreciated very much for their efforts, but unfortunately, I don’t think the storyline did their talents justice. The set and costumes were also very intricate and fascinating to see, and I feel like I’d almost suggest seeing the show just for the sake of experiencing everything technical that somehow get’s pulled off. At the end of the day though, I just really wish there could have been more substance to the show. It was pretty one level the whole time and I didn’t find myself connecting to the characters or story, which you don’t always notice during the show with everything going on, but afterwards your like “eh,” and that’s never a great way to feel at the end of a performance.

I’m excited to see more shows that I don’t know that much about later this week and then when I’m back in town two weeks from now. I really appreciate how fortunate I am to get to see so many shows. I know I can be a little judgy sometimes when it comes to theater productions, especially with so much of my family being in this business, but it’s just because I value the art of storytelling and feel the need to give my honest opinions on the shows I see.

I was having a conversation with one of my aunts the other day about how someone tried saying, “Isn’t the theater suppose to be a safe place?” In actuality, though it’s almost the exact opposite. Theater that doesn’t challenge ideas, beliefs, and/or opinions is typically the boring kind. The theater is all about making big and bold statements that make you think and question; safe statements don’t tend to leave you thinking or questioning your core values. Theater is “safe to challenge,” it’s a safe bet that anything and everything might be said and you have to be okay with the fact that you might not always be comfortable; that’s the best part is when you leave with your mind blown.

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Inspiring Perspiration

Yesterday was a crazy day ending with a gym sleepover I worked for 50 some kids ages 5-15, so sadly I couldn’t blog until tonight.

It was the last full day of two big events I was working: the Olympic Gymnastics Camp (OGC) and the DT/sustainability course I was co-teaching at Paideia high school.
Last days can often only be described as being “happy-sad.” I was so proud of how far all of the kids came, but it was also sad to think our time together is over now. The OGC kids I may see again next year at camp, or at gymnastics meets throughout the year, but for the Paideia kids, who knows if I’ll ever see them again.
After 18 days working at Paideia, we successfully ended the course with each team having a prototype of a composting toilet and a deeper understanding of design thinking!!! I had to miss a few days during the last week due to working OGC, but I’m so glad I made it to their final pitches because they turned out really well for first-time design thinkers.
While we obviously had a schedule planned out before the course started, I was still a little nervous about if we would really be able to get all the way through a design challenge with newbies in only 18 days of about an hour and a half meeting each day. I was even more worried when we didn’t have full attendance until day 4… But we powered through!
Internally, I think we did a great job of really inspiring the kids early on and making sure to get everyone connected with each other to feel more comfortable before tackling some uncomfortable topics and situations- like talking about toilet habits.
Honestly, that’s probably one of the greatest takeaways I’ve had from this course: to have perspiration you need inspiration, and with the right inspiration, anything is possible.
I am planning to do a follow-up blog post after my Wish for WASH team who taught the class gets together to have our internal reflection meeting about the course. There are things I would change if we were to do it again, things I would like to further explore, and things that I was surprised about, etc, but I’ve not had a good chance to sort through all of my opinions just yet.
For now I just want to think about how crazy it is to believe we are finished, and how proud I am of the high school learners and of our Wish For WASH team for accomplishing our big goals: the learners built their own composting toilet prototypes that a panel of experts were interested in and they demonstrated a deeper understanding of design thinking and sustainability topics through their final pitches and reflection surveys.
#ProgressBell !!!!

Getting Ready

Sometimes people forget just how much work goes into putting on an event. There are hours of planning, organizing jobs and duties, cleaning a space, getting decorations up, preparing the performers, and then actually having the event.

All weekend so far has involved getting ready for our showcase at the gym. It’s been a very long process… “Long” as in I’m writing this while still at a working dinner meeting finalizing plans for after the showcase for our clean up and coaches meeting.

It’s never too different from past years, but it’s always interesting to see how we change things from year to year. Little things change like where we put seating, what kinds of fliers we print, the timing of events, how we rotate, the theme and decorations, what kids do before they perform, etc.

It’s a process that’s tiring but at the same time, it’s kind of nice that I get to have some insight on how big events get planned, even if it’s a specific area like gymnastics. However, on the tiring note, I’m exhausted and have a big day of setting up, coaching, and performing ahead of me so I should probably head to bed.

Show Time

The old gang got back together today! We had a mini theater reunion with us theater alum coming back to the MVAllStars black box to see Aladdin the Musical tonight. It was great getting to see everyone tonight and even better to also get to see a great show! I miss being up on stage and working with those guys.

I loved how after the show we still went backstage and talked to everyone and helped clean up stuff; it felt like old times.

I was so proud of all of my little acrobats on stage tonight. It’s always fun to see your work being performed especially when you can tell how happy it makes the performers.

I’m hoping to have that feeling again when our gymnastics showcase performs Sunday night. Right now the groups have been looking kind of messy which is getting me nervous again about if I was too ambitious with this year’s routine.

But who knows, maybe I’m just getting anxious due to everything happening at this time of year. It’s been a high-stress time especially with now receiving final grades.

Zooky Zooky

Well tonight was our banquet so it’s official, I have finished my first year as a member of DramaTech!!!

I’m forever grateful that even at a tech school there are so many passionate and talented artist that I’ve gotten to know and work with this year, and I’m excited for many more years! Growing up should never be an excuse to not continuing to follow your little passions and I’m glad that I didn’t let college stop me from acting.

It’s been an amazing year, though at the banquet tonight, I realized that I could’ve been so much more involved than I was and I hope that next year I start to find more ways to be engaged in the theater here at GT. Time is obviously always a struggle to find, but I think I could have done more to try to help with the tech side of shows that I wasn’t in so maybe next year I’ll take advantage of those opportunities more.

I’m most excited though to hopefully be cast in A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 4th time and would love to reprise my role as Puck one more time. So here’s to another year of revolting props, dirty costumes, clickity taps, dusty black boxes, great laughs, big applauses, crazy stories, and fulfilling bows!

External Expert Lectures

To build off of my post from last night, I had another instance of course material overlapping today.

In Grand Challenges today we had a guest lecturer. She is currently an Intellectual Property lawyer who graduated from GT as an engineer in 2001. Her entire talk was all about the process to receiving a patent/trademark/copyright (whatever fit the situation) and talking about things you would include in an application and important notes on timing of the process.

Well, it just so happens that my “legal aspects of business” class is currently on a chapter all about intellectual property… I literally had been reading in my textbook last night about this topic and one of the cases mentioned was then something the guest speaker specifically brought up. (The case was about Apple suing Samsung over a trademark with the design of their phones and how Apple won because you can in fact trademark the design of a product and Samsungs was too similar.)

So I literally only had two classes today which were both about the exact same thing… However, the big difference was that one was taught my an external expert. Technically our legal aspects professor also does research in this area and is probably considered an expert, but there is something extra compelling about bringing an outside person in to lead a discussion about work that is relevant to them daily.

Especially in high schools when teachers are often not experts in their particular subject in the sense of continuously doing research or work in that field (partially because high school subjects are so vague and broad that no one could truly be an expert on the entire subject we try to cram into a year, but that’s a topic for another time), it seems that bringing in external experts is such a logical idea. I can’t think of anything noteworthy that we learned in my legal aspects class/from the textbook, that we didn’t also cover while speaking with the external expert. Plus the class she was giving this talk to had nothing to do with legal stuff typically (she was asked to come in because the logical next step with developing innovative prototypes is to learn about how to protect your intellectual property) so it wasn’t like she was told “specifically cover these details and you can look at these pages of our textbook as reference.”

I just wish more schools would take advantage of bringing in external experts from time to time. Not only to give feedback on student work but sometimes just to lead a lecture. While I believe the current education paradigm needs to be transformed, I do not think the notions of lectures are a “bad” thing; they can sometimes be very engaging and helpful at times when you truly just need to gain information on a specific topic.

The Unpaved Path

C_egitqXkAAEVE4In two days I graduate…. That’s crazy. I’m a very nostalgic person, and, therefore, I have been doing a lot of reminiscing by reading old blog posts, emails, and in general having conversations with friends about the past four years of our lives. So when we decided that we wanted our ID seniors to give MoVe Talks to the younger cohorts and some admin as a way to share our parting advice, it didn’t take long for me to come up with the story I wanted to share.

Towards the end of sophomore year I wrote a blog post reflecting on some of my favorite memories of freshman year. In this post I questioned the idea of students walking on an already paved path, well this thought has now come full circle as I’ve learned through my work in the Innovation Diploma that the path unpaved is a path worth taking.

Below is the script I used for my MoVe Talk which is as close as I have to the exact words I used to attempt to impart this idea on to the younger cohorts.

“I could list a ton of things I learned from these experiences, but the grades don’t matter a smidge  to me (most of them didn’t even have real grades, but I still learned and enjoyed the moments enormously.) These stories I shared were all moments were I had incredible joy and also felt incredibly proud of my work because I took part in the creation of the end product and felt connected to the outcome; a teacher hadn’t predesigned what would come from the experience.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense; if the teachers already have the path paved for the students, how will they ever learn to make their own path? “- Paving a Path; The Life of Pinya

Before I begin, I want everyone to close your eyes and imagine standing on a path in a forest. There is gravel and some large rocks, and it’s evident that people have walked this trail before. From where you stand you can clearly see the end of the trail.

Now turn to your left and right. There are trees everywhere and some flowers growing on the ground. There is no paved path in this part of the forest, but the unusual flowers and glimpses of multicolored light shining through the trees are intriguing. If you are pursuing innovative education practices, then you are in this unknown part of the forest and are pioneering a trail on the unpaved path.

IMG_1634.jpg

This is me back in middle school, and today I want to tell the story of how I got from there (point to screen) to here (tada) because I’ve taken a fairly unusual path.

Back in 8th grade when this picture was taken, I was honestly pretty much your stereotypical try hard, nerdy, rule following student. In fact I won the award for highest gpa at the end of the year. I say this not because I feel like this award was all that important or because I want to brag about myself- I mean, it’s middle school let’s be real all of that is trivial in that regard- but I say this so hopefully you can better understand where I was coming from when going into high school.

My understanding of a successful student was someone who made all As, got a few awards, and then eventually got into a good college with scholarship money, and if you could become Valedictorian then you were really set for life.

At this point in my life, I was playing the game of school well and thusly believed I was on this path to success, and I was perfectly content with just that.

It wasn’t until freshman year that I started to believe that maybe there could be more to school.

Big History.pngNow some of you may recognize this picture because it’s a picture from the moment I describe as my clicking moment. The moment where I realized success in school could be so much more than just good grades, and realized that school needs to change in order to meet these new standards of success.

After participating in the 2013 Council on Innovation, I learned that I as a freshman had the ability to give advice and pitch ideas to community leaders that they actually valued. That was huge and stuck with me into my classes. In particular, freshman world history.

Here is where I believe my unusual journey begins.

Everyone in the grade had been tasked with the assignment of creating a project about whatever we wanted and would then present for 5-10 minutes anyway we choose fit. I had chosen a topic, but after a few days of working on the assignment I was getting frustrated because I didn’t want to just give a presentation of facts that anyone could easily look up online for themselves if they really wanted to know about it.

I talked to my teacher and after a few more days we agreed I needed a new topic, so instead we had the idea for me to present a project on “hmw redesign projects?”

C_jWuzOXYAAtNSR.jpgLong story short, I took this 5-10 minute project and turned it into a 45 minute lecture complete with a slide deck, prototypes, and 3 videographers.

This wasn’t the “normal” thing to do for my ideal path to success, which just made me even more incredibly nervous that no one would like it and it all would have been a huge waste of time and I would just fail the entire project. And I couldn’t tell you now what grade I made on that assignment, but I can say that it ended up being one of the most empowering and fulfilling experiences of my high school career which meant more to me than any grade in that moment.

This all started with me questioning a teacher’s assignment. Now I’m not saying you should go off telling all of your teachers that you could make a better assignment than them, but I do believe one of the most important things I’ve learned is that you should never be afraid to ask a mentor for guidance if you feel like you have feedback that could help improve your school experience. Nothing will change that isn’t first questioned.C_jWuz8XYAAhWUT

As you can imagine, my path to graduation only got more unusual as I got older. For starters, I joined ID– a new vague program that promised to help nurture students into innovators. I jumped at the opportunity, but not everyone was quite as on board with the latest edition of Mount Vernon’s attempts to instill the mindsets in us.

To be honest, probably the hardest part of deciding to take an usual path was the social struggles I faced due to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you in here, especially the IDers who have been around for a little now, have at some point in time heard negative comments about ID, and maybe even felt like you were being offended because you are involved in the program. I know I did especially since I was around back during the dark ages when we really didn’t have much to show for ourselves and people tend to be skeptical of ideas without a proof of concept.

2014-09-12 14.49.57And this social tension around my path to graduation only grew when I got to junior year and made what many people believed to be an incredibly unusual decision for myself: I didn’t take all APs. (hu!!)

It is my belief that AP history courses are often trying to cover too much information in not enough time, and the content is a lot of reading and memorizing, and the writing is very dry and the AP doesn’t even require everything to be factual to get full credit. Thus I decided I would not take AP History because I didn’t feel interested in that kind of learning and would rather give myself more time to devote to attending education conferences, and working with community leaders, and talking to interested families about ID, and writing articles for magazines about education transformation, and all sorts of other projects that were truly meaningful to me because they beneficially impacted others.

However, this decision was still incredibly difficult for me because to me it symbolized taking myself out of the game.

Let me remind you that my vision of success basically meant the path to becoming valedictorian. Going into and early on in high school I truly thought that was what I wanted. But as many of you know, the class of 2017 is incredibly competitive when it comes to playing the traditional school game of grades, so by choosing to not take all APs, this also meant choosing to not be able to have as high of a GPA as my peers, and therefore I knew I would not be valedictorian despite originally being on this path if I made this choice.

DAH2mT5XsAAKMKvPeople, including some of my best friends, would tell me this was a bad idea for all sorts of reasons. They would say that I was too smart to not take all APs, or they would say that they didn’t get why I would take myself out of the running for val, or they would say that I was taking the easy option and I’d be less competitive to colleges, etc. etc.

And despite whether or not you are in the position to be the potential val of your grade, to some extent we can all relate to this struggle of wanting to maintain a good gpa for college and what not, but also wanting the time to work on things other than just grades.

I didn’t let the opinions of others influence me too much, and I’ve been very satisfied with my decision to drop AP History courses. And in general I have always loved and appreciated all of the opportunities I’ve had through ID, but I’m not gonna lie that I was often still nervous about what colleges would think of everything I’ve done because the scariest part about taking your own unpaved path is that you can’t possibly know how others will react to it.

How would they view a kid who didn’t take as many AP courses as others, who joined a new program with only two other graduates, who co-created her own non-traditional AP Lang class, and who took an independent study instead of the traditional economics course amongst other things?

But now I’m on the other side and I believe I’ve exceeded my original vision of a successful student.

I…

  • Presented a MoVe Talk in front of over a hundred educators
  • Facilitated hundreds through design thinking Flashlabs
  • Participated in a week long experience with the Stanford d.School#fuse15 MoVe Talk.jpg
  • written 611 blog posts in not even 3 years, and created a network of over 250 people
  • Co-created and attended the first ever AP Course (approved by the College Board and the admin of our school) with a syllabus created by teenagers
  • been commissioned to write a number of magazine articles and guest on two podcasts about education transformation
  • Worked with the Center for Disease Control and the mayor of Sandy Springs
  • Co-led sessions at faculty meetings on “day’s off”
  • Pitched business ideas in a 3-Day Startup Program
  • Re-designed a classroom into an innovation studio
  • Changed the way 23 freshman experienced World History by forming the Design Team
  • and many more…

And now I am about to graduate with two diplomas which means not only can I say that I had all of these incredibly unique and fulfilling experiences, but I also believe I’ve achieved many of the “traditional school goals” as well.

I have had all As throughout high school, will be attending a well respected school (Yup it’s official go Yellow Jackets because I’ll be at Georgia Tech next year!!), got into a selective honors program, and even got a full ride scholarship!

Again my point to all of this isn’t to brag about myself, but for years when I talk about all of the innovative work we’ve been doing in ID in order to transform the “norm” about education, people have been asking me “Well where’s the evidence that this works? How do colleges and the ‘real world’ respond to this kind of thing?”

WScreen Shot 2017-05-18 at 10.32.51 PM.pngell I’m proud to say that I- we- can finally answer them. Even after having two graduates last year, it didn’t seem like enough of a statistic. But we are now about to have 6 total graduates from the Innovation Diploma program who have been highly successful no matter how you look at it, and that to me is a huge win for all of us. We have always believed what we are doing is great, and every year even more believe it too.

I feel more than prepared for college because I feel like I’ve been exposed to the real world all ready due to the choices I made to put faith in things that had never been done before.

So, I hope all of you remember that yes the path we educator pioneers tend to walk on that’s untraditional, unknown, un-”approved” can be scary because you don’t know how others will receive it, but don’t be afraid to question and take action about things you believe in because the chances are that others will believe in them too.

And even the unpaved path can be very successful in the school game if you work hard at whatever path you choose.  And if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself more empowered, fulfilled, and prepared for the next chapter of your life than you ever would have found possible without the Innovation Diploma.

 

Broadway Karaoke Night!

IMG_6648.PNGThis past week in general has been not so great but there was a light at the end of the tunnel: Broadway Karaoke Night! On a few occasions over the past year or so, I’ve had conversations with people about how fun it would be to have an event where we just sing a bunch of Broadway songs, but it had never happened. After winter break though, I decided this was my senior year, I’m president of the Thespian Society, and I wanted to make something happen, so this idea needed to be brought to life.

IMG_6645.PNGSo I met with various members of the performing arts team and pitched the idea to have a Broadway Karaoke night. The pitch was approved! Then we had three weeks to get this event together because we decided it would be good to make it happen sooner than later in case we wanted to make this a recurring event.

FullSizeRender-1.jpgI really wanted to make this a community event to bring together theater fans of all ages. So I reached way back into the alumni information we had to email theater people from long since, some whom I never even knew. Plus I invited lower schoolers, middle schoolers, and faculty that I know love singing Broadway because they have been in past upper school productions. Theater is a community no matter the age, we all gather together to perform the art we love. That’s one of the things I love about drama- you might have never met a person, but if you meet in the theater you immediately have something to bond over.

IMG_6644.PNGWe successfully had around 25 people come to Broadway Karaoke night!!! Including a 4th grader, a 5th grader, 3 seventh graders, 3 alumni, 1 former mustang, 4 faculty members, and a dozen or so high schoolers! The night was tons of fun as we ate Willy’s (a show week traditional meal) while watching some rehearsed and some clearly not rehearsed performances from some Broadway favorites like Wicked and Hamilton.We even had a few props and choreographed pieces thrown into the mix! It felt like a great success of a night, and knowing we didn’t sing so many great Broadway numbers and many people were sick, I think it only makes sense that we have another Broadway Karaoke night in the future!

 

Different Communication

imgres.jpgI’ve talked to dozens of people about “real world skills” and despite all the debating in terms of which words are the best ones to include on this metaphorical list, good communication skills always seems to come up.

You could be the greatest genius this world has ever known, but if you can’t communicate what you know to others, than your knowledge is relatively useless.

Every  job, every aspect of life is going to require communicating things to other people. From describing how you want your hair cut, to proving you solved the worlds  hardest math problem, everything is communicating. There is no one that works 100% independently in our inter-connected global world. At the very least, there is a conversation between a supplier and a consumer.

With the clear demand for good and diverse communication skills, it’s amazing how many people still struggle with communicating. I’ve talked to countless people that say they wish their employees were better communicators, which isn’t surprising since teachers often note that their students can’t all communicate their ideas effectively.

The problem is clearly identified, so now how do we solve it? How might we create better communicators; people who can explain their thoughts in a number of different ways? Because part of being a communicator means you have to be adaptable to working with different types of people. Not everyone understands best from a written essay, or a lecture, or a presentation, or even a prototype. Everyone has a different way they learn best, and thus the best communicators are ones that can teach in different ways.

In school we tend to focus on academic writing, but there are a myriad of other ways to write, teach, and communicate. I for one have never taken an art class since 6th grade other than band. If someone learned best from seeing a drawing, I would be at a loss. And I know plenty of people who can’t send a good email to save their life, which will soon become a large problem for them. Furthermore, besides the alphabet and a few random words, I wouldn’t know how to communicate with a deaf person through sing language what so ever; that makes 70 million people I can’t communicate with past a kindergarden level. Even writing college essays is a huge problem for many students because they aren’t well versed in talking about themselves.

If communication is such an important skill, if we’ve identified we value it so much, it seems essential that we start putting a greater emphasis on learning to communicate in different ways.

Power of Story-Typing

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That’s a wrap! Fuse16 is officially over after a jam packed week of design thinking, everyone has started to head back to where ever they traveled from around the world. In my opinion this year was the best one yet with prototypes and pitches that were clear, creatively, implementable, and meeting the user needs with flying colors!

What I think really made this year so great was the intentional focus on story-typing: prototyping the story. Story telling is at the heart of design thinking because it’s how we share empathy to a wide number of people! A good pitch needs to tell the audience about your user and why their needs are important enough to design for while also telling the story of your idea and showing why it’s a great solution to help your user. Everything is a story!

This year we made it really clear that the story is the most important part of your idea by giving teams ample specific time to craft and perfect the story component of their idea. This made for final pitches that blew us all away, especially the users! When a user asks if they can share their email with you to literally implement your idea as soon as possible, you know you’ve had a successful pitch– a successful story.

A good story can change the world, so it’s worth spending a lot of time crafting the best story you can. This final day of fuse16 proved that story-typing makes for some kick butt final pitches even for a group of mainly first time DTers! And I know that after fuse16, everyone will have some great stories to bring back home and truly change the world by transforming education for a better tomorrow.