After a week of no cell service or internet while at my family reunion in West Virginia, I’m now back to a world of college touring, conference calls, interview planning, essay drafting, book reading, summer-mathing, and lots of emailing. Once my phone finally got service again, I had 154 texts and 94 emails to go through.
Every year when I go to Capon (oddly enough they have a website now), I end up blogging afterwards about how much I surprisingly enjoy the fact that there is no connection to the outside world. It’s nice to de-stress by unplugging every now and then, and it’s the one place I can go and have a good reason to just not respond to things for a little. I play outside with friends everyday doing everything from badminton to hiking to shuffle board to just playing cards. I try not to worry about all of the millions of things I have to get done by next school year. I have talks about life with people of all ages that I’ve known since birth. It’s just a great time spent with fun friends and family, delicious home cooked food, and tons of space to wander and wonder in.
The odd thing is how few places there are on Earth without wifi and cell service. I was reading a book called The Circle that was pondering the effect of technology on people, and describing how eventually there will likely be no way of escaping it’s grasp. Is that ok? It’s not a “good vs. bad” thing, because it’s both really, but I guess the question is whether or not we want this to be our future reality. Do we want to live in a world where we can’t escape technology?
As much as I love Capon, I know it’s hard for many people to visit who have jobs where they are expected to have various conference calls, or do payroll, or accomplish some task. Not everyone takes the week off to go to Capon and therefore, some people still have to climb up to the golf course and try to find a spot that get’s service in order to keep up with the rest of the world. So there are the good and bad sides to no technology, but eventually there may not be a choice at all; what will we do then?
I’ve had a a fantastic week at the beach with my friends on the lovely island of Sanibel. Even despite the tropical storm that came in, we had a lot of fun on the beach, in the pool, biking around, playing games, reading, and just hanging out and talking together.
I was readingFuture Wise over this vacation and thus thinking more about the future of education– yes, even while on vacation these are the things I think about, I know I’m weird that way. I have realized that even though it is summer I find myself constantly thinking about school. I find myself not always being “productive” over the summer which is odd to me because I typically am very consumed with school work, self selected work, meetings, clubs, theater, acro, band, etc. What I’ve noticed is that I am very fond of school.
This isn’t really surprising to me because I’ve always rather enjoyed school. When I was younger I would say I love school without a second of hesitation. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself more annoyed with school and always waiting for the next holiday break or even just the weekend during the school year. So really I guess what I miss isn’t quite school, but really I miss the company of fellow learners working, discussing, and creating new ideas together; I don’t miss all of school as I use to back in elementary school.
This made me wonder: “Why is it that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less fond of school is so many ways?” My hypothesis is that I don’t like school as much as I use to because school is no longer just about the fun and wonder of learning, but now it has become a stressful climb for “success”- however we might define that.
Thinking like the designer I believe myself to be, I decided to test my hypothesis about how stressful school is to older students.
I send a text to 13 students currently in high school and 2 in college from a total of 7 different schools across 3 different states asking this question: “What are specific examples of things that make you stressed, and why do you think they make you stressed?” Then I waited to see if their answer would have something to do with school, even though I specifically did not ask, “What makes you stressed at school?”
I did not provide any explanation as to why I was asking the question until after they had answered, if they asked, because I did not want to influence their answers in any way. Though in honesty, I did not get responses from everyone (it is summer after all and people are concerned with other things as expected though I only missed a few), the results to my small test were overwhelmingly inline with my hypothesis.
Most students responded with something having to do with school being the cause of their stress. The results varied between stress when teachers all assign big things due on the same day causing students to loose sleep, and when core classes and extra curricular events battle for time priority, and having pressure intentionally or unintentionally placed on them to get certain grades, and a myriad of answers about the struggles of figuring out where to go to college (these responses in particular often had many layers to them with everything from researching, to financial problems, to parental influence, to feeling confused, to fears about the general future of their existence riding on this one major decision- you get the idea).
Now I will say that there were other things that came up in my conversations about stress. Not everyone mentioned school at first at least, but as soon as I explained my hypothesis about school stress, 100% of those students acknowledged that school stress is a major problem and gave ample examples to support the claim.
I know this was a small little test with not the most scientific report, but I’m confident that if I was to expand my pool of users, I would find that a majority of upper level students get overwhelmingly stressed about school.
This is a problem.
Why do we let stress overwhelm school students? How can we expect students to become life long learners when they associate learning, which is most closely associated with school, to their primary source of stress? How might we make learning fun again?
One of my good friends from Nerd Camp whom I asked this question to, discussed for a while with me about how much we both love learning and yet how school has taken away from that love a little more every year. When I asked her why she thinks that is she gave a response that I believe to be sadly accurate:
“Learning isn’t really encouraged in school, success is.”
However, as another one of my Nerd Camp friends pointed out,
“And a lot of the time you can succeed in school without learning anything.”
As we have grown older school has become about getting good grades, so we can get into a good college, so we can get a good job, so we can have a good life; the idea of going to school because we love to learn and explore and wonder and just have fun being curious has been lost.
I know that these feelings and goals are not in any school’s motto, learning plan, or mission statement, but if this is what students’ are feeling then does it really matter what’s written on paper or proclaimed to audiences?
In my opinion, any school’s true goal is to create life long learners by preparing them with “lifeworthy” and “lifeready” knowledge, skills, and wisdom. But what distinguishes a lifelong learner from just another student at a school, is that a lifelong learner continues to seek out new knowledge and skills and wisdom even after primary education is complete, because lifelong learners find unwavering joy in learning.
Stress can easily shatter joy; if we wish to guide students to find joy in learning, then we must find ways to eliminate some of the stress found in school- no matter the school you attend. That is the first step that needs to be taken on the path to 21st century education.
It’s been a relaxing last few days having friends spend the night, going to the lake, watching Netflix, working on my college search (that part hasn’t been relaxing but that’s a story for a different post…), cutting gymnastics music, coaching routines for gym camp, and lots of reading. I finished a book last week in 3 days because I got so interested in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and it also helped that I hadn’t started the new show that I’m now obsessed with. And like most readers, finishing one book means it’s time to pick up a new one. Today I started reading Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World, by David N. Perkins.
When I say started, I really mean I’ve just barely started, but I’ve already grown interested in the questions forming from this piece of reading. The book reflects upon the question, “What’s worth learning in school?” without directly answering the question because there are so many ways you could answer it; furthermore, he states that the question is too broad, not everything is best learned at school, and sometimes learning depends on specializations. From there we begin by trying to establish what “lifeworthy” things to know are, that is things that are, “likely to matter in the lives learners are likely to live.”
On page 10 Perkins poses a “Try This” challenge: “What did you learn during your first twelve years of education that matters in your life today?” Though I haven’t been through twelve years of education, I, being a person who often accepts challenges, took some time to think about what I’ve really taken away from my first eleven years of education.
I thought about it, and here are some of the big things I remember and matter to me today from my past eleven years of education:
The Mongols have taught me that there is always an exception; just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad; one person can make an impact, but it takes followers to start a movement; transportation of knowledge (ie communication) is essential to a powerful system (such as the Silk Road)
The Renaissance has taught me that beautiful thinks come when we are interdisciplinary in mindset and practice; great inventions take hundreds of prototypes before they turn out right
I’ve learned from dozens of English classes, theater productions, and talks, presentations, and speeches how to speak in front of a crowd and use rhetorical devices to persuade people
Fibonacci numbers and spirals have taught me that humans are constantly trying to make sense of the natural world, and yet we are blown away everyday with natural processes and try to mimic the natural world ourselves
The little bit of physics that I’ve learned and read about has taught me that there are always forces pushing against us; it takes an even greater force to overcome inertia; energy is constantly flowing in the universe because energy can not be created or destroyed
It’s funny the different things that we remember after so many years, and these 5 things are topics I constantly think about everyday: individuality, connections, performing, nature, forces. I’m sure there would be more if I thought longer about it, and I have a feeling the topics would be similarly specific and “odd” compared to what we may be told will be most important. The truth is you never know what lessons will have the greatest impact on kids because everyone is effected differently by different lessons. However, I wonder what lessons have proven to be “lifeworthy” to others.
(I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been wanting to write this post, however I wanted to make sure I wrote it when I wasn’t paranoid about being up too late and still getting other things done. So finally, here it goes. )
For the past several months I have been one of four members of the ID cohort on the ReSpIn team- a team striving to Reduce waste, Spark conversations, and Inspire change so that sustainability becomes a part of the Mount Vernon community’s DNA.
Back in the fall, we observed that the middle school does not have recycling bins in their classrooms due to “not having the space.” Yet if we wish to have our students making conscious decisions about how they are affecting the environment, it’s important for us to provide the means like a recycling bin in order to make positive choices. This simple observation impelled a year long design challenge around how we could provide the middle school with a recycling bin that not only was a piece of furniture that people utilized properly, but also really made people think more about environmental sustainability.
Using the DEEP process as a kicking off point, we were able to create early prototypes that lead us to the overall concept of the RISE Sustainability System. (While not intentional, we recently realized that “RISE” could actually stand for, “Recycling in School Environments,” though I must admit that was not intentional for that reason.)
The system would have two elements:
Part one is the RISE bin container which would serve as a shell for the current bins we have, but the shell would create more vertical and shelf space by providing a way to raise the recycling bin on top of the trash bin.
Part two is the accompanying classroom component meant to help teach students more about recycling. We realized, after interviewing an external expert who is a venture capitalist, that trying to make sustainability a part of the MVPS DNA needs both a product and a social innovation; therefore, the classroom curriculum is meant to address the social component of this problem.
These two parts together are the entire “RISE Sustainability System.” However, we have focused primarily at this point on the physical product because it is what was most in front of us at the moment. (What good does it due for students to learn about why and how we properly recycle if they don’t actually have a way to recycle in their classroom?)
Through early empathy interviews, prototypes, experiments, and observations, we discerned that students take an interest in things they have ownership over. So the big question became,
“How might we have students take ownership of the RISE bin with the bin itself still being structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing?”
Our solution: have the middle school students build and customize their own RISE bin as a class. Our first to scale prototype, which sat in two different middle school classrooms for a week, generated a lot of buzz about recycling, and we learned that the 5th graders in particular were really curious about the RISE. They were asking lots of questions and wanted people to use it correctly even though it was falling a part due to it’s design (being made out of foam and duct tape primarily). So our hypothesis was that if students got to build the RISE themselves they would take even more ownership over the bin and wanting people to use it correctly, which therefore means they’d have to recycle correctly.
This new hypothesis brought a plethora of design constraints for us on the ReSpIn team. In particular we were struggling with figuring out the best materials to use, how to attach pieces together, and how to create a simple yet ascetically pleasing way to get the waste into the proper bins. This period of struggle included long discussions with the team, mentors, and experts, several prototypes of different magnitudes, and many hours outside of school declared “ID time” spent working to finish our product. (I now know all sorts of random fun facts about materials and machines, like how you can’t use Coroplast in a CNC machine because the rotation of the machine will just get caught in the threads and make a not so aesthetically pleasing hole. More than just fun facts, I’ve learned how to use a plethora of tools like Silhouette, Fusion360, and the laser cutter while also improving my innovators skills of associating, experimenting, questioning, networking, and observing.)
We were narrowing prototypes based on 8 design specifications and scoring with either a negative, a positive, or a neutral:
function- how well are people able to get trash into the trash bin and recycling into the recycling bin?
customers-how well can our users put the RISE together? how well can custodians take out the content of the bins?
materials- how hard is it for us to get the materials ready for our users to put it together? (“What machines can we use with this material?” was a large factor.)
environment- How environmentally friendly is the prototype? (this had to be positive)
size- does it take up minimal space?
safety- how safely can students put the prototype together with this version?
aesthetics- looking for a certain degree of professionalism since we are at school
cost- the goal is to make the RISE wide scale someday, so how costly would it be?
After a fair amount of time, we were finally able to decide upon a 2.0 full scale version of the RISE. This version is made out of PVC, MDF boards (wood), and zip ties and has met all of our requirements.
By iFest (the day at MVPS where all high schoolers showcase project based learning work from the year) which was just three weeks ago, we were able to create one fully finished 2.0 prototype and most of one 2.1 prototype which we had high schoolers and teachers testing with our instructions book while trying to create the PVC skeleton of the 2.1 prototype. (There are only minor differences which we wanted to test such as how 2.1 is taller and has a front piece made out of a different wood which we stained.) Then after iFest, after we finished up the rest of 2.1 and made edits to our instructions book, we were ready to get our latest prototypes tested by some actual middle schoolers.
I’m happy to now announce that earlier this week we had a huge success for the ReSpIn team with our RISE Sustainability System! We were able to get our prototype into the classroom and officially test out the design with middle schoolers and it went really well!!!
As soon as I walked down the hall with a pile of supplies, 5th graders started looking at me and asking questions about what I was doing. I quickly assembled a group of 15 student volunteers to help with our test, and from the moment I gave them the instructions booklet they were deep in concentration over their work. I noticed a lot of teamwork skills being practiced with leaders emerging for different things such as the student holding and reading instructions, and the student taking lead with putting PVS pieces together, and the student telling others what they could do to help, and the student asking everyone questions to make sure they were doing things correctly.
From early on I was able to observe that there were still several students not actively participating in the process the entire time, so I changed the test a little by instruction them to split up into a teams. One group focused on the PVC part and another focused on prepping the wood pieces with zip ties for when they’d be attached. Based on this feedback our team is now editing our instructions book to say from the start for the class to break up into 3 teams with two of the teams working on a different section of the PVC and the third team working on wood. This will hopefully help more students stay actively engaged in the process and cut down on how long it takes to put the RISE together.
We also were able to get good feedback about how much people liked the pictures, but we need to adjust the way we talk about the wood pieces because that was hard for them to understand which piece was which. One girl also said, “These zip ties are hard to get in the holes,” and multiple others agreed, so I think we have some design work to make that easier as well. There were a few other wording confusions, but overall they were able to assemble the bin with only asking me a few questions about the wood pieces particularly and also when one PVC piece was not quite fitting in right.
However, the most inspiring piece of feedback of the test that we were given was from a little girl who told me, “This is the best idesign challenge we’ve done, because we never get to see a project like this get this far.”
I’ve fallen in love with our users and I’m excited for the new edits and whatever comes next so that we can provide them with the best solution to this problem. Though, I don’t know exactly what our next steps are, because like the 5th grade girl said, “We’ve never gotten this far.” But all of the smiling faces, “thank you”s, and teacher comments about students asking more questions about recycling is how I know we are doing something right.
Being a leader is hard. I’m the founder of Kemps Khaos Club at MVPS last year, though we were an un-offical club 2 years ago as well, and each year we’ve tried to improve our student-faculty card game tournament.
This year we set up the “Kemps Kouncil” to help deal and organize all game times. However, trying to organize the Kouncil to make sure they organize the games is a whole other challenge. It’s been challenging mainly because usually I’m that kind of leader who, when something isn’t being done, I just do it myself to make sure it’s done. However, with Kemps, I’ve really been trying to let my team mates take that responsibility and just give them reminders to make sure it gets done. The hard part is when I get questions from teachers about when they are going to play their next game and all I can say is, “I don’t know, your dealer should be sending you an email soon…”
A lot of times when I’m on a team I end up in a leadership role. It’s just my personality and nature I guess, even in a letter I have from my preschool teachers it says, “When playing in a group setting, Anya prefers to be the leader but will allow other children to take over that role as well.”
In fact a lot of that letter is a surprisingly accurate description of how I still am today, which seems so weird considering I was 3 at the time this was written. I wonder how old we are when our fundamental personality traits start showing. How much do we really change over time? What traits start showing themselves earlier than others? What personality traits are more likely to change over time versus staying consistent through out a person’s life? What shapes our personality?
I feel like in high school one of the most common faced problems is someone feeling the need to be like someone else, rather than feeling comfortable with embracing who they are. Everyone is an individual person with different personality traits. Some that are praised, and others which show our weaknesses, but they all make us, us. Our differences are what make us unique, special, noticed amongst the crowd. At a wedding the bride is the one in a different dress. When trying to get someone’s attention you stand up to be spotted in the sitting crowd. In a sea of yellow flowers, it’s easy to spot the one that’s a radiant, ruby red.
For the amount of stress teenagers go through with trying to figure out “who am I?” I wonder what it would be like if schools placed more time and energy into helping students embrace their individuality. It’s a skill that will truly last a life time and be invaluable to success.
Individuality is important to me, and it’s something I see people struggle with all the time which makes me sad, frustrated, and oddly ignited. HMW help people feel comfortable being themselves? It’s a question that’s been asked by people for centuries, so why does it seem that not much has changed- I mean if the question is still being asked, clearly the problem hasn’t been solved. Why not? Are we asking the right question? Are we tackling the problem the right way? Are we communicating and working with the right people?
I feel the designer inside of me burning with questions and a sense of agency to take action in some way or form yet I simply don’t know where to start, so I’m starting with these questions. Hopefully something will come from them.
Today in ID we were talking about what we aspire to be and how we might reach those goals.
Particularly focusing on how we already are and how we can better at being: Influencers, open, empathic, pioneers, craftsmen, and governors.
I find it interesting though how in any team, even when you manage to come to an agreement about what you know you need to do to improve, sometimes those things still don’t happen. This applies to even simple things like reseting your workstation when you are done using a space.
It’s amazing though what a team can do when there is shared understanding and work ethic. I know because our current cast for drama has been fantastic! People have been showing up on time, working hard during rehearsal, giving lots of energy, taking care of props and the set, memorizing their lines in acceptable amounts of time, and overall just being really supportive to cast and crew mates. The dedication and collaboration of the entire team has made the show even more fun to be a part of, and it gives us all confidence to keep pushing hard so that we can put on a show as good as we hope it to be.
This all makes me wonder about what makes people motivated. I mean sometimes I feel like people know exactly what to say that will make a teammate happy, but then they don’t live by the same philosophies that they speak; why?
What is the secret sauce that can make a team go from just talking about what needs to happen in order for a team to improve, to actually taking action steps in order to improve?
I also wonder if part of the reason why this happens really does just boil down to the fact that we are teenagers. I never like accepting that as an excuse, but I wonder how much truth there is behind the claim that teenagers just naturally are “lazy and rebellious.”
If I had time, this is when I would go and try to research this more, but I think this may be a question that I leave to be answered by another. Sometimes we ask questions just because they need to be asked, and we don’t have to always find the answer ourselves. Sometimes a question you ask is exactly the question someone else needs to hear, and then they may be curious enough to answer it and can then maybe help tell you about it.
WE DID IT!!!!!! First semester is just about over, now all that is left our final exams! Which also means that we finished a full semester of our AP Lang Collab course!!! (Lot’s of exclamation points tonight because I’m super happy!)
Today was our “final exam” for our class, but rather than a typical sit down test, we presented a trailer video, each gave a 10 minute talk, and had a gallery walk for people to learn, ask questions, and give feedback about our bookshelf, feedback and assessment, and logistics for the course.
This all took a lot of work to plan for and I’m just really happy with how it went. I know I’ve learned a lot this semester and I don’t need a number grade to prove that to me. The feedback we got today about how impressed everyone was with our showcase just further solidified that for me.
It also made me think comparatively about how other classes give their final exams. One of the things I’ve realized is that myself and other students know a lot. More than we think we know probably. The part that makes things difficult is a matter of if we are asked the right questions.
Learning is a process. Not everyone will have the same takeaways all of the time, but everyone will take away something.
With most final exams all students are expected to have had the same takeaways, and there isn’t much room for students to just say “this is what I have learned and taken away from this course so far.”
I wonder how final exams would be if things were more flipped like what we did with our exam, so rather than a teacher saying, “This is what I want for an answer because this is what I know we’ve talked about,” a student was able to showcase to a teacher or larger audience, “This is what I want you to ask me about because this is what I’ve learned.”
In AP Chemistry today we talked about how there can often be many different answers to questions because everyone has a different logic behind how they answer it. If you are able to clearly explain your reasoning, you should get some credit is the philosophy we have in that class.
I really connected with this since it’s related to why we didn’t take a standard final exam for AP Lang. We wanted to celebrate our work and communicate what we’ve learned with others and then let them ask us questions.
Plus we recorded it! So now, without further ado, because it is still finals week and I need sleep, here are our MoVe Talks from earlier today about our experience so far in AP Lang:
And with the first day of finals arriving tomorrow, it is in my tradition to say this every year (actually I have a surprising amount of posts about final exams.):
It is time once again, for that time of the year has come, where I must sing this song for the next week and some.
(To the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas, but without writing all of the versus out.)
On the twelfth day of finals my teachers have to me