The Little Bugs

Throughout k-12 we learn about 5-paragraph essays. I understand why this format is used: it’s a simple way to be introduced to academic writing and when frequently writing timed essays throughout high school, there isn’t really enough time to adequately develop ideas past 5-paragraphs.

However, then you get to college and all of a sudden essays go from 600 words to 1500 words to 3500 words, and the 5-paragraph essay format just really doesn’t make sense to use at that point. But when are we expected to learn how to transition away from the 5-paragraph format? As a student it feels like this transition is just kind of thrown on you without much official guidance. It’s not even that you’re told not to use a 5-paragraph format, it’s just that it’s obvious that it doesn’t feel right when using that many words in an essay. So then everything you’ve learned about essay structure becomes warped. With a 5-paragraph essays we’re taught to introduce three main ideas in our introduction and those three ideas become the focus of each paragraph. Well, just because you’re writing more doesn’t it mean it makes sense to all of a sudden have 6 or 7 main points – then it becomes unclear what you’re saying. So how do you transition to writing multiple paragraphs about one key idea? It’s not really discussed, we’re just expected to start doing it based on gut feeling I guess…

Not to mention there is a whole other kind of academic writing that honestly hardly gets touched on at all in high school: reports. We talk about research reports and maybe look at one or two, we maybe even try to write one, but I remember even with the one time I was assigned to write a report in high school for AP Chem, the teacher’s instruction was, “look up examples online and base it on that.” So my peers and I kind of just winged it and I don’t remember getting much feedback on the matter. Yet we when we then were in college chemistry our first semester of freshman year, we’re all of a sudden assigned a research report every week after lab.

To be honest this isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things that need to change with our education system, but sometimes it’s the little things that just really bother me. The little things show just how disconnected our k-12 and high ed programs are from each other. There are things like long essay and report writing that seem to never really get taught, and yet there are things like general US history that seem to be required every two years starting in 2nd grade and all the way into college… (I legitemently have a “US Consistitution requirement” in my online degree portal, and I took this course online and it was one of the easiest classes I’ve ever taken because I learned nothing new.) The little things on their own may seem insignificant, but they can be really bothersome for students especially when those little things start to add up.

Brain Training

Today was a busy day. I taught my weekly dance class (with a dance that was way too ambitious…), had a virtual coaches meeting, recorded 5 different videos of choreography stuff, compiled all the pictures I could find of my family in a tree, and finally started editing an essay I’ve been procrastinating working on.

Today was probably one of the most productive days I’ve had since being in lockdown mode. It feels pretty good to have gotten so much done, but now I feel like my mind is totally checked out. I suppose people can only be so productive in one day and then eventually your brain just needs time to not think. I also think like most muscles, with practice the brain can be trained to handle longer periods of strain before needing rest.

These past few weeks I haven’t really been training my brain much and I’m noticing now the evidence of this lack of brainpower practice at least in terms of stamina. I’ve still been doing some brain work over the break, even if it wasn’t school-related, but I definitely feel like I’ve gone a lot of days doing less mentally stimulating work than I normally would be even over the summer.

I’m curious how this will translate into starting classes again next week. I was telling a friend today that it’s kind of nerve-racking the closer we get to school starting again. The break was so long it almost feels like we were in summer vacation, and yet we’re going back with the expectation that we still know everything we learned a month ago and that we are ready to start turning in assignments in the first week. It’s like we’re going from driving 0 -100 mph at the drop of a hat.

I hope it won’t feel that way once we get started, and I know professors are in the same boat of feeling this weirdness of having such a long break then coming back to school. It’s just very uncharted territory and I’m curious how our heads are going to deal with it all. Hopefully, I’ve kept my brain in-shape enough to get by because I’m not exactly imagining a smooth transition.

Missing Schedules

Today was one of those days where I feel like I did a lot and yet nothing at all.

I have found that sometimes the combo of extra time and being aware of so many things that need to be done just creates disfunction and lots of circling between different projects. Today I worked a bit on a research paper, a bit on school assignments, a bit on choreography, a bit on conditioning, a bit on organizing old videos, a bit on a graduation thing for my sister, and a bit on my global leadership program work, but while I know I dabbled in a lot I didn’t complete anything which makes it feel weirdly not productive of a day even though I did so much.

I’ve always had this issue. I think it’s because I’m a very associative thinker so I make connections between different projects I’m doing and then it makes me want to work on that other project while the new idea is fresh in my head. I struggle to find a balance between working on a lot and working intensely on one thing.

I think there is value in working a little bit on a lot sometimes because it helps keep me stay engaged in working in general when the topic and medium change, versus getting bored with working on something and then feeling too burnt out to work on anything else. However, there can also be value in just sitting down and finishing one thing, because then it’s not constantly looming over you as something that still needs to be done and energy and happiness can come from the achievement of completing a task that needs to be done.

I miss having a bit more of a schedule dictated by someone other than just me because schedules can help manage this balance since more often than not there is a specific time to work on a specific project. This is why I like working in teams and constantly stay busy and involved, because with teams/clubs we have to make specific meeting times for everyone to be together and then I have a designated time to make sure certain work gets done rather than letting my mind wander on its own.

I knew I always liked to stay busy, but I think isolation has helped me realize how a big part of why I like staying busy is because of the structure it provides to my everyday life. I mean I love time every now and then to just go off on mental tangents and work on the weird projects you wouldn’t usually think about, but now 3.5 weeks of mental wandering makes me miss schedules and structure.

Little Questions, Big Changes

I don’t even know the last time I watched TV live. Nowadays, everything is either online or recorded. But my aunt was a supporting character in the Law & Order SVU episode that premiered tonight, so I figured out how to watch it live.

I then discovered that USA channel is currently doing a Psych marathon which is one of my favorite shows! I’ve been addicted all day…

It’s funny how we’ve all gotten so used to choosing exactly what we watch and when we want to have it, and not having to deal with commercials. I had forgotten what it’s like to be surprised by not knowing what’s going to come on next and to get annoyed by cliff hangers right before commercials and not spend 30 minutes debating what to watch.

It’s funny because when you think about it, society was hugely altered by seemingly little changes. One day someone said, “What if there weren’t commercials? What if people could choose what they wanted to watch when they wanted to watch it? What if we offered online viewing options?”

Now it’s hard to remember how recently is was that online streaming services became available, and with the current crisis, these services have played a huge role in keeping people amused. It’s amazing how a few simple questions and some minor adjustments can turn into game-changing ideas.

Craftsmanship Upgrade

I remember there came a time during Innovation Diploma where we had to all have a conversation about how our level of craftsmanship needed to raise. Our skills had further developed and we had gained more tools since the beginning of the program, so it was time to acknowledge that even “quick prototypes” now needed to have a higher standard of quality.

I was reminded of this conversation today when brainstorming gymnastics music for next year. I have been brainstorming and keeping lists of potential songs and imagining how I might edit the music and choreograph the routines. But then I realized, it’s been at least five years now since I started editing music (probably closer to seven even, but I’m not fully sure when I started), so it’s probably about time I step up my level of craftsmanship.

In the past, because editing music can take a decent bit of time, I usually waited to edit songs until after I got confirmation from others that the song might fit one of our gymnasts. However, I’m realizing now, I’ve gotten a lot better at editing music, so it doesn’t take as long to complete anymore; therefore, I should just go ahead and edit songs I think have potential because even if they don’t get used immediately, then we will have a larger database of future songs.

That’s the approach I decided to take today, so rather than continuing to brainstorm lists, I went ahead and started editing some songs. I finished two songs in one hour and I felt pretty good about that progress. This proved I was right in thinking that my skills have improved to the point where it’s time for a craftsmanship upgrade. So now instead of my “prototype” of new music ideas just consisting of a list of full-length songs I found, I can now provide lists of already edited music which will make it easier to visualize music-to-gymnast fit.

And as we also discussed in ID, once we become more proficient with one tool, it’s time to move on to learning new tools.

Therefore, the next step in my music editing development is gaining knowledge on additional music editing tools available to me. In the past 5-7 years, while I’ve gotten much more efficient at what I do, I believe there are a lot of features I’ve not yet discovered or attempted to utilize. For example, I know several kids would love to do a mash-up routine of several songs. I  typically deny these requests because I have a bias against gymnastics routines that are mash-ups since they often don’t have a logical story-telling flow to them. However, I also deny these requests because I don’t know enough about actually creating my own digital music to be able to make smooth transitions between different songs. So one of my new goals for the year is to learn more about creating my own digital music in order to experiment with creating a mash-up song that I actually would consider giving to one of our gymnasts.

Strengths in Action

How’d you see your strengths in action today? 

One of my strengths is individualization. It means I’m good at identifying the unique strengths in other people, which can be very helpful when creating teams in terms of matching people that will have complementing strengths.

For our team gymnasts, we have decided to start a big sib, little sib program (“Gym Families” as we’re calling it). It’s something we as coaches have discussed on several occasions, but we never had the right time to initially kick off the program. However, since the pandemic forced us online, we decided it was worth having a weekly “team bonding” video chat in addition to our training sessions just to check in with everyone and give them a place to stay connected as a team. Therefore, we thought it would be a great time to finally kick off the Gym Families program.

I was the one in charge of sorting out all of the groups – which I had been brainstorming since last summer… I went through lots of iterations of the groupings, but I feel pretty happy about the end lists. Early this morning we officially announced the groups, and while I know the girls will need a bit more explaining about why we are doing this, I think the kick-off was fairly successful!

Considering I had been planning this for so long, it was nice to finally see my brainwork come to life and nice to see my strength in action with the success of the pairings. It’s nice to feel useful while stuck inside with only so much productivity that can really happen.

Staying Mentally Active

My Engineers Without Borders team had our first virtual meeting today. Despite the wasted time spent figuring out technology and the sadness around how many of our projects are now delayed with the new circumstances, I felt like it was a rather productive meeting.

Maybe that’s just because I realized how much I’ve missed having meetings. I miss collaborating with people on new ideas and trying to make stuff happen. Sure it can be fun to have time to do stuff on my own like messing around with my flute or categorizing old blog posts, but to me, nothing beats a good brainstorming session with teammates.

I’m fortunate that my sub-teams work isn’t too affected by the pandemic since we’ve just been working on a research paper about the role of DT in the sanitation sector, so our work has always been online. However, one of the events our team puts on each semester did have to be canceled – our semesterly “Design Jam” where we host a design thinking workshop around WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) issues for the GT community.

Sometimes though, constraints can lead to great creativity, so now we are playing with a new idea: what would it look like to host a virtual design challenge? We think it’s possible, so we are going to run with it a bit and see what we can come up with. Today it was merely a thought, but next week we plan to flesh this thought out a little more to get a better sense of all the pieces involved in doing something like this. I’m really excited to see where this goes, especially since I’ve not heard of many if any virtual design thinking workshops, so it would be cool at a minimum just to see if it’s possible and how that could grow into so many new opportunities.

I’m glad that this week is starting to bring more structure to my time social-distancing, between my EWB meeting and more gymnastics video chats starting to become regular. I think this structure and more consistent interaction with people around new ideas is going to be helpful for keeping me mentally active and engaged because you can only challenge yourself so much – the best challenges for yourself are typically the ones you can’t think of on your own.

iNACOL Recap/Takeaways

Last week involved dozens of hours of learning and networking with thought leaders around the country working towards transforming the education system. While I reflected each night of the conference, I also decided this week to put together a presentation of some of the biggest trends and takeaways I noticed from the conference. The intent of this presentation is so that I can share highlights from the conference with the rest of the Trailblazers Production Team since I was the only member able to attend; however, I thought I would also share it publically if anyone else was curious about the happenings at iNACOl (at least from the sessions I attended).

Roles and Responsibilities

It’s been a crazy break, more so than usual this year. And on top of all the traveling and family drama, it’s not really felt like much of a break when I’ve also had so many other things to do for various organizations and also trying to stay on top of other people so they get there work done.

I think my biggest struggle as a leader is navigating when is the appropriate time to put deadlines above responsibilities; the struggle of getting people to actually accept the leadership they’ve been given and do something with that responsibility.

Not sure if that is the best way to phrase it, but I find that I am always debating how long I should spend nagging team members to actually do the work they are responsible for being in charge of or if I should just do the work so that it actually gets done on time.

It’s only the third day of the year and this has already become a recurring problem and I’m not sure how to proceed at the moment. My last text to my team was literally, “It’s been days past the deadline and x & y still have not been completed. I honestly don’t know what to say at this point.” It doesn’t help my teammates grow as leaders and it puts unnecessary stress on me if I have to go through and still do the work in the end. Though at the same time, we can only push deadlines back so far and sometimes it’s simply a matter of the work just needs to get done.

So as we begin 2019 I ask, How might I encourage team members to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities? And how do I proceed if they choose not to?

Being Prepared for College

There’s always value in revisiting conversations. Today at SparkHouse I got the opportunity to re-experience a conversation around distinctions which I thoroughly enjoyed beause it’s one of my favorites. (This link actually connects to my post from Day 1 of SparkHouse 1 from two years ago, and it’s funny now looking back on that day compared to today and how many similar thoughts I had.)

I loved this conversation and many others of the day and was inspired as always by the energy of young learners gathered together to discuss what education could look like in a learner-centered paradigm.

However, what really stood out to me today, because it was unusual and disheartening, was when I heard a learner say they think their environment is too untraditional sometimes and should have more busy work in order to be prepared for college.

My heart was actually broken.

And I believe that the fact that a statement like this could come up at a gathering of learners from all learner-centered schools goes to show how we still have so much further to go in transforming the education system paradigm.

So despite it being 11:45pm after a long day of heavy thinking, high energy, and additionally having to do psych homework even while traveling, I needed to take time to reflect and respond to this comment because it’s been bugging me all day.

First off, I just have to ask, what does it say about our education system when students think college is all about busy work and doing busy work is what prepares you for college?

Second off, I don’t believe we should be conforming and confining k-12 education to doing things only based on what “colleges want.”

This comment was made innocently and honestly and while I don’t agree with the statement if you look deeper into what was being implied, the real problem being described is valid to address: learner-centered high schools and most colleges do not work off of the same paradigm. Therefore, this creates dissonance for everyone involved in our education system– students, parents, teachers, faculty, admissions reps, professors, etc. The proposed expectations, purpose, and methodology behind teaching in these two worlds (learner-centered high school and traditional college) are foundationally different, which can make communication and movement between the worlds challenging.

Moving from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard. I know because that’s my current reality. The thing is, the reason it isn’t easy has nothing to do with “being prepared.”

The number 1 question I have gotten asked since entering college is:

“Did you feel like your high school prepared you to do well in college?”

YES!!! – That’s my short answer.

The long answer is that I’ve felt more than prepared because of all of the skills I learned that are actually useful for life, unlike just learning how to be a really good test taker.

Because being prepared for college is about more than being ready to take tests.

Being prepared for college means that you are mature and responsible enough to live on your own and take ownership of your learning. Being prepared for college means you have a keen sense of self-awareness in order to make informed decisions about your future. Being prepared for college means you are able to clearly and strategically plan and articulate your goals and curiosities to advisors, professors, job interviewers, etc.

You would think it would be obvious that college is about more than just test taking, but apparently, it isn’t because that’s all I seem to get asked about. And yet, while actually in college, I have plenty of advisors telling me almost daily “GPA doesn’t really matter beyond getting your first job/internship- then it’s all about networking, experience, and selling yourself based on your skills.”

So when I say, “switching from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard,” I say that because it’s hard to deal with the culture change. It’s hard to move into a reality where your voice is no longer heard, where you can’t easily pitch new ideas to leadership, where you get lectured at and talked down to constantly, where you are more frequently viewed as a statistic rather than as a holistic person. That’s hard.

It’s not hard to learn how to take tests. Plus every professor is typically a little bit different. For example, one of my current classes does pretty much all assessing online, so all you have to figure out is that the homework questions and practice problems are all potential test problems, then you’re pretty much guaranteed an A on every test. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some hard tests in college, but that’s just because it’s new material and challenging. The test wouldn’t be any easier if I had done more busy work and test taking during high school.

So back to this issue of the dissonance between learner-centered high schools and traditional colleges. Something that extends this challenge is that we too often try to silo our education system by looking at just k-12 or just higher education.

If we are going to “transform the education system” that takes the ENTIRE SYSTEM. 

We can’t ignore the fact that the education system doesn’t stop at high school graduation for the majority of learners.

So in order to bridge the gaps between the two worlds, one student today proposed, “We should have more busy work,” and I propose an alternative: Colleges also need to change their education system.

And I’d like to believe the alternative is the more likely option because it’s the more promising option. When I talk to college admissions reps, a student from a learner-centered high school is the ideal college candidate. They are mature and responsible. They have a keen sense of self-awareness. They can clearly and strategically plan and articulate their goals and curiosities. And they have all sorts of stories and evidence of their experiences that they can share to prove this learning.

However, as more and more learners start to graduate from learner-centered environments, I imagine there will be more and more pushback about why we have to then transition into a traditional college environment. Then these great, college and life ready learners will find alternative solutions of their own. They’ll attend the hand full of non-traditional colleges, or they’ll just continue on with internships from high school, or they’ll study in a different country, or something I’ve not even thought of. Colleges will have to change if they want these great learners in their learning environments.

That’s my hope/belief at least. I hope this process moves father than I anticipate, though unfortunately, bureaucracy and the fear of risks seem to be much more present struggles for colleges to overcome.

I could talk on and on about this struggle of learner-centered high school to traditional college, and to be honest I didn’t even go to one of the more unique high schools out there. There’s so much to be said about transcripts, assessment methods and “How do colleges interpret them?”, my advice to learners making the transition, my desire for a working compilation of non-traditional colleges, etc.

However, the important point here is that it is all a conversation. If you are aware of the two world struggle then you are already making the first step towards being able to respond to the struggle. But I want to make explicitly clear that I don’t, by any means, think the correct response is “Let’s be a little more traditional to prepare for college.”

Struggles are solved by compromise, not conformity.

I have felt beyond prepared for college because of my learner-centered experiences. And even now being in college and knowing what it’s like, I would never trade those experiences for the opportunity to have had more time to practice taking standardized tests to, “Get used to them for college.” Switching worlds is hard, but not because of the tests, it’s because of the culture.

Weirdly enough, upon further reflection, I’m actually glad that this comment was made about wanting busy work to be prepared for college. It brought up a very important question for education in terms of how we distinguish “college ready” from “not college ready” and definitely challenged me to think carefully about my own distinguishment for this topic and even on distinguishing “learner-centered education” as a whole.