Giving a S***: Design for a Better World (Final Report!)

Fall of my freshman year of college, I joined the Wish for WASH team at Georgia Tech. I showed up to the Engineers Without Boarders info session because I had remembered listening to one of the founders of Wish for WASH, Jasmine Burton, speak at my high school about the original design project she embarked on to create a low-cost toilet for a community in Zambia. When I heard that the team was going to be partnering with a local private school to lead a design thinking and sustainability class for high school students, I knew I needed to apply to be a part of this journey.

Joining this team was one of the best decisions I made all year!

I posted a lot about the process of creating and conducting this month-long “short-term” class at Paideia High School, and now I am excited to share our final report of the project!!! (As the lead for the education sub-team, I created a lot of the content for this write-up, so I’m overjoyed about how this turned out as well as the class itself! Also, I’m so grateful for all of the work the rest of the team put in– The class wouldn’t have been the same without everyone who helped along the way and I’ve never had a final report look so pretty!)

Overall I’m so proud of everything we accomplished and can’t wait for what adventures are in store for me next on this team.

(Click here to learn more about the Paideia class partnership, and other projects from Wish for WASH!)

W4W_2018Paideia_CourseReport

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From Fear to Greatness

Being a coach 100% makes me a better educator.

I understand the worry that comes along with the responsibility of teaching and training kids.

The wonder about if you’re good enough to be leading them. The confusion when you can’t put well to words what you want from them. The sadness that comes when you see a child that looks as if she is going to burst into tears over a comment you made when all you were doing was trying to give constructive feedback. The actual tears you see sometimes…

Then there is the ever-present challenge of keeping up with new times, new drills, and new standards of excellence. That moment when you learn a level has completely changed their expectations for an event and you get vexed beyond belief because for the past few years you’ve been leading the kids entering this level down an entirely different path. Then you try to throw in some new drills into your class and you’re thinking it’ll be great – just like how you saw it at that conference you attended!- but it never is. Instead, the kids try out your new drill and it just looks all wrong, so you try to make corrects but can’t tell if it’s even worth continuing with this new drill. Did I explain it poorly? Am I not remembering the technique right? Was it too advanced for their skill level? Did I push them too far too fast? Or do they just need to get in more repetitions? Well now we’ve used up all of our time on this event today and I don’t even know if I just wasted the last 45 minutes or am making progress in a great new area that we’ve not trained as effectively before.

Honestly, time is the worst. Do you spend a little time on every event today, or do the kids really need to focus on just one event they’re weak at? Do I even have this option? Is today’s schedule set in stone because there are too many different groups moving around or do I have flexibility with my time? How do we balance learning new skills while also practising their routines necessary for the next competition? When is there next competition anyway; are they really ready for it? Am I wasting time explaining so many directions? Should I be doing our normal warm-up for consistency and time effectiveness or mixing it up so different skills are worked? Does it take more time to set up these stations then they’re worth doing? How much time is left before we have to rotate? What happens when they come to this event with a different leader next time and the kids get confused with new directions and expectations? Are the kids progressing at a reasonable pace? Is anyone falling behind? Is anyone being held back?

So ya, I can empathize with teachers. I know all of those worries and concerns and feel them while maybe not daily, at least bi-weekly, but I’m often thinking about this work much more often than just while I’m in the gym. Half of the time I ride Marta I’m listening to potential gymnastics music or choreographing new routines based on the skills I know kids have/expect them to have come performance time.

While I understand and constantly am faced with these concerns, I also can respect the bigger picture. USA Gymnastics completely changed lower level vaulting progressions this year. It’s a pain in the butt because now we’re having to teach all of these new vaults to children and we feel less confident in how these new changes play into our personal philosophies. But at the same time, the changes are mostly good for the greater whole of trying to improve American gymnastics.

And fears of if you’re good enough to be a leader, while perhaps valid, are also in a way trivial. Whether you feel good enough or not, you’re what these kids got. So either step up or step down, either way, get out of the way because these kids are coming and have expectations of you. So make it up, make mistakes, make saves. Try something new, and give it adequate time in the experimenting phase before judging it’s worth as a drill or skill. When you’re stuck or need a second to catch your breath or even just help with setting up, let the kids lead- they’ll surprise you. Learn from those around you and don’t be afraid of a “double spot” or an extra hand to help out; we tell kids it’s okay if you need a little extra help getting a new skill, so it should be okay for us too.

Fears, nerves, and concerns can drive us to great things if we can accept their validity and then move on to push past them; sometimes it just takes time, creativity, and a little extra help every now and then.

 

The Editor

I’ve recently been giving a lot of feedback on senior’s college application essays. It’s been an interesting process helping with the editing of all of these essays.

First, I’ve realized just how lucky I was to have gone to a school with such an amazing college counseling program. So many of the kids I’ve talked with barely know their college counselor and don’t really get much time for feedback from them.

Second, I’ve realized that I’ve gotten so much better at giving feedback and mostly because of the amount I’ve learned to ask for feedback. It’s a pretty straightforward concept really: the more you get feedback, the better you become at giving feedback to others. I just had never thought about it before, but while talking with these seniors I even find myself quoting feedback that I’ve been given by other friends and mentors of mine.

Then again, I know some of my feedback is still probably much too wordy, though none-the-less I think the content of my feedback has been on point. I didn’t realize how much my skills as an editor have grown between giving feedback to people on their essays as well as my role in Trailblazers with helping with the editing of those stories.

In school we spend a lot of time trying to become good writers, but there’s a lot to be said of having a good editor. I cherish the people I ask to help edit my writing. They know me, my style, and help with the grammar skills I lack and organization skills I’m still developing.

Plus I think the more you practice editing someone else’s work, the better your writing can become. For example, I’ve gotten much better at noticing when people aren’t really answering the prompt directly in their work which has made me more cognitive of trying to stay focused during my own writing.

Yet I’ve realized, being a good editor is not a natural skill. It’s hard to figure out how to word feedback in ways that will inspire new ideas from a writer; giving constructive criticism while also proposing potential new approaches/suggestions for the work. Part of my role in Trailblazers has been helping with not only the editing process, but also giving feedback to the high schoolers about how to be an effective editor. These conversations involve discussing how to help with prompt creation, key things to look for in an article, and how to keep a writer motivated long enough to get a good end product. It hadn’t occurred to me before the past year that people don’t naturally have a sense about how to give feedback in this way; I only knew the role of an editor because I had worked with one a few times when I myself wrote for an e-magazine.

I wish in school we spent more time focusing on how to be a good editor not just a good writer, I think it could benefit everyone.

My Opinion on Online Classes

Online classes aren’t really a new thing, yet they seem to still get perceived as new which is odd to me. I officially got registered for the online version of a required CS class today and as I was walking with an upperclassman she asked me, “As a student with a passion for learner-centered education, I’m curious about your opinion on online classes.”

I guess this title is a bit of a misnomer because in actuality I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about online courses.

I use to very strongly be against them, but seeing as today I signed up for my 3rd ever online class, I realized that opinion clearly changed and now is more neutral.

I was against online classes because the depth of learning isn’t as powerful in an online class. I mean if you ask most students they’ll flat out say online courses are easier- that was at least a factor to my reasoning to register. Online classes may be interactive some, but the material is set and rigid and pretty surface level since there are no conversations where deeper questions can be posed and explored. The material is all given to you up front and you can finish as quickly as you would like/are able to; there is no “well the class seemed really interested on this topic so we pivoted the schedule to do a whole project unit where we came up with plans and prototypes and pitched to board members…”

You don’t sign up for an online course because of the content. I signed up for CS online course because the in-person course happened at a time I didn’t particularly like with the rest of my schedule. It meant I would have to rush from CS class across campus to Marta twice a week all semester and then uber to the gym to still be a bit late to coaching the practices I help with.

That’s really the big plus I see about online courses: time and location flexibility. That’s the reason I’ve now signed up for three different online classes since high school. It was always an issue of scheduling where I needed to take a class but didn’t have room in my busy schedule and the online option ended up being the perfect compromise.

So from the perspective of a student trying to get a credit out of the way and get a decent grade while doing other things, online classes are great. However, when I think about the quality of learning happening in most online classes, I find it to be sub-par.

It’s pretty easy to cut corners in online classes, and when you’re already not interested in the topic and just taking the course for credit sake, there’s little motivation to not want to just “get through it” as fast as possible.

Furthermore, I believe that a huge part of learning revolves around the social interactions and relationships built during the learning process. It’s really hard to successfully achieve those relationships in an online environment. Again, partially because there’s no real incentive to strive for that deeper level of learning. I consider myself to be an intrinsically motivated learner and a pretty good student, (yes, I believe those are different thing, but that is a different conversation), and even I don’t find myself caring to make the extra effort in an online course to really make it a remarkable learning experience; I just want the credit on my own time.

Obviously, this is all my own personal opinion, and some kids may, in fact, make that extra effort, though in my experience few do.

As I told the friend who asked me about my opinion, thus inspiring this post tonight, I believe that online courses are still a work in progress. I don’t have a strong opinion yet because I see the potential in them to be a great learning tool, though at this point I think they are just a great tool for the traditional system where learning has a more cut and dry vibe. The flexible time and space component to online courses is learner-centered in nature, though the context, course material, and assessment structure is still very much not.

When Stuck in a Costco

I had a very productive day. However,  part of this day involved getting stuck at Costco for a few hours while waiting for our tire to be fixed. I couldn’t go anywhere, because the car was being worked on. I wasn’t with anyone that could consume my time by talking to me. I didn’t have internet access to be pulled into trying to do a bunch of different things online. And there wasn’t anything super amazing going on around me for me to be distracted by watching my surroundings.

I was just stuck.

The weird thing was that it actually felt kind of nice to be stuck.

It was time where there was nothing I really should do because there was so little that I could do. I had my phone, headphones, a notebook, pencils, and some other random things. But I couldn’t go on my computer or clean out my room or anything like that, so instead I just kind of chilled and did what I can. When you feel like there is very little that you can do, it makes the things you do accomplish feel like such a big deal.

I had to call back the GT pharmacy and then call CVS to work out a prescription thing, and I expected this to be a big hassel. I’m not a big fan of talking on the phone, especially in a situation like this where I thought I handled everything online and therefore go into the phone call knowing that something has already gone wrong so it seems bound for more problems to appear. Surprisingly though, the phone calls were very smooth and everything got worked out and I even was able to pick up my prescription right after getting un-stuck from Costco.

After the pharmacy got sorted out, I had some time where I read through and responded to emails on my phone. It’s a great thing I read those emails because it later inspired me to check on registration stuff again when I got home after Costco and CVS, and then I was able to somehow get into the English class I wanted/needed which was stressing me out all summer!

I was at Costco so long that I even had some extra time to just sit and listen to gymnastics routine music on repeat enough to start fine tuning some choreography I’m about to start teaching in the upcoming weeks. I’ve been too distracted once I get into the gym to just listen to the songs, and when I’m home I feel like I have “better things” to be doing, so this time was invaluable.

I’m not sure any of these productive things would’ve happened today if I hadn’t gotten “stuck.” I guess sometimes it can nice to just stay put with ample time and no distractions to get some of those random little things done that always seem to be shoved to the back of priority lists on a normal day.

 

Address, Announce, Accomplish

Typically at the start of summer break (and also winter break though that’s currently irrelevant), I end up writing on my whiteboard wall in my room a list of summer goals. (Mostly action-oriented goals so that it’s clear what needs to happen for them to be achieved.) It helps me get a visual for what I want to have accomplished by the end of summer. Then I take a picture of the list and have it on my phone to refer to throughout the summer. Even if I don’t get everything on my list complete, I often get a good chunk of the list done and it helps satisfy the part of me that thrives on the feeling of accomplishment when I get to cross things off of my list.

This summer I did not write my list and I’ve noticed the effects. I don’t feel nearly as accomplished as we head into the end of summer, even though I know I did several things that would’ve been on the said list. I also think I procrastinated tasks that would’ve been my “moonshot goals” because I didn’t have the courage to ever make it “official” that I wanted to get those tasks done by announcing them on my whiteboard.

Sometimes changing a habit is how you learn just how much you appreciated the habit. Like when I had to stop taking band my sophomore year of high school because it didn’t fit into my schedule, I then realized just how much I loved playing the flute and how I didn’t want to give it up.

This summer of not creating my goals list has made me realize just how much of an “accomplishment driven person” I am. (I don’t know what fancy wording would be used to describe this kind of person, but that’s what I’ll call it for now.) I like feeling like progress is being made no matter how small, and I do a better job at getting big things done if I can break up a goal into little tasks and then “publicize/make visual” (even if only really to myself) these goals in order to hold me accountable to them.

To some extent, I already knew this about myself, but I think not creating a list for this break for the first time in a few years has made me realize how much more valuable this realization could be. I want to experiment this fall with how I can use this self-discovery to better my work progress.

I already have lots of whiteboards in my dorm room, so I think I’m going to make one of them my designated goals list. Then once a week, or maybe one every two weeks, or maybe some other time frame I’ll have to figure out, I will readdress my list of goals to see what progress I’ve made and what new goals I need to start working towards. My hypothesis is that developing a habit of more frequently addressing what goals I want to accomplish in a given time period will help give me a better work ethic and more positive attitude about making progress.

Some may say, “Why wait until the fall? Why not start now?” and to that I say that for some reason the process of standing in front of a whiteboard and writing down my goals really makes a difference. So rather than creating a big list for future thinking goals, I will start small for now until I get back to my whiteboard; my goal for next week while I’m in Ohio is to finish editing all of the gymnastics music needed for next season.

Going for the Goal

I decided this year to play in the annual adult shuffleboard tournament with one of my friends, and we lost horribly… We didn’t even make it into the bracket technically because we had a play in the game and we were expected to win too.

It was one of those moments where you’re reminded that practice helps, but so much of playing in tournaments is about the mental game. My partner and I hadn’t played at all the first few days at Capon and then we ended up playing a bunch the morning before our official game. I don’t know where our heads were the time we played the real game because we were far too defensive and then just couldn’t make things stick.
At Capon we have a saying, “Don’t try to win, just don’t lose,” meaning that sometimes your goal just needs to be to play it safe and let the other side slip up while trying to do something fancy. However, I guess to counter that point, you have to actually take a shot in order to score. (A little more of a soccer reference than shuffleboard, but I’ve been watching the World Cup semi-finals this week too so the analogy is working in my mind.)
We can’t always just play defensively and worry about the other people around us and how to keep things “safe,” sometimes you just need to go for it and trust your training. We have to be willing to go for our goals if we ever can hope of achieving them.

Off the Checklist

Even on vacation, sometimes you need a work day. Especially when I travel for about half of the summer because the rest of the world including work doesn’t stop just because you take off to another city.

Next week I go to Capon, our annual trip to West Virginia for our family reunion, but Capon is pretty old school, which I love, though it means I won’t have internet or phone access next week. Therefore, today I had some things to take care of before I travel basically off the grid for a week. (As usual, I will still write blog posts. but they will be in the notes of my computer and then they will all be posted when I return to having internet after the trip.)

I was quite proud of myself today for getting some spreadsheets edited, a mandatory online gymnastics safety course finished, more research on floor routine music, plus I did laundry and got packed up for my flight tomorrow afternoon.

It can feel really good to just spend time knocking out work and getting some items off your checklist.

A Goose on a Witch Hunt

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

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

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

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

Today my mission was to find book three.

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

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

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

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

In the end, I found my book!

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

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

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

Piling Up

(Somehow this never posted yesterday…)

It’s amazing how work seems to just pile up sometimes. There was so much I had planned to accomplish today and yet it seems I hardly achieved any of my goals. I made progress which is at least somewhat of a success, but it’s never a great feeling going to bed knowing how much you didn’t get done today means you have to figure out when you’re trying to do it tomorrow…

I’m chaperoning my siblings’ dance retreat this Thursday-Sunday and when I return I’m only home for a day before flying off to Vermont and then all over the north-east for pretty much the rest of summer. It’s crazy how June has practically come and gone already. I don’t know where the time went, but I know the work didn’t go far.

Later this week I will be done with my history class, will have published Trailblazer’s Issue 3, and have posted my 700th blog post if all goes according to plan. Some big milestones are ahead, so hopefully work can stop piling up and I can get my scheduling and goals aligned in a productive way.