A Stormy Day

I only took one semester off from classes, and yet somehow I managed to forget just how awful midterms are. There is a reason GT students call it “hell week.”

Eating dinner at 11pm because you lost track of time working on a report all day. Getting way less sleep than you should because you wake up early in order to start working and then can’t go to bed with all the thought of what you still have to prepare for tomorrow. Making one-page study versions of your notes with writing so small that your hand cramps for hours. Watching Crash Course while making dinner and cleaning dishes because you realize how little your professor actually taught you. And the stress! The overhanging cloud of darkness containing all lists to be completed, deadlines to meet, and tests with timers in the corner of your screen counting down the seconds till mass destruction. And knowing that due to the pandemic and the syllabus changes, pretty much every midterm, be it a test or essay, is worth between 35-50% of my overall grade so that’s a bit daunting in it of itself.

It’s a rough time, to say the least… In high school, we would refer to these kinds of moments as “the dark night of the soul.”

Then to make things harder, there was an earthquake this morning that caused the power to go out on different parts of campus, and thus the wifi shut down for almost 4 hours in the middle of the day. But school is all online…

Literally, if it wasn’t for Google Drive having an “offline” function, there would have been nothing I could get done this afternoon. I missed my lecture on Zoom, my textbooks are all e-books, my assignments are all either test on our school website or typed assignments that require research which most of us get from the web.

I was honestly baffled by the lack I could get done. I had accepted school being online, but somehow I don’t think I realized how dependent this made me to the internet. Especially since I don’t have cell reception in New Zealand either (I could get a sim card, but I’ve been surviving this long with just wifi that it seems silly to complicate things with figuring out that whole situation) so I also couldn’t communicate with anyone or even see the announcement about why the internet went down which also included the estimated time it would be back. I debated leaving the building to try and find a cafe with wifi, but it was also raining today and I had no way to search what was open or where has wifi and the other times the wifi has gone down it usually came back pretty quickly so I didn’t want to leave in the rain if it was just going to be for a little. Especially since I was able to be a little productive at least with Google Docs offline.

And I did end up most completing the draft of my giant report for marketing since I had already done the majority of my research and outlined on paper/whiteboards, but I had to leave holes throughout the draft of research, citations, and visuals I couldn’t add without the internet. Also this made my weekly plans all sorts of turned around.

Then I made pasta for dinner and accidentally poured boiling water all over my hand while trying to drain the noodles. Now my hand is burnt and I’ve had an ice bag nearby, stopping throughout writing this post to rest my hand. A weirdly appropriate end to this stormy day.

And that’s what it’s like to be a student during midterms. I remember now.

 

Too Much Choice

Today I realized a trend in my learning habits: I don’t do well with projects that give me too much choice.

You know, the projects that are super open-ended and students can pick “any topic” or, in my case with business classes, “any organization” to do their assignment on. I’m the kind of person that likes to weigh out all of my options before I make a decision. So when an assignment has hundreds of possible options to focus on, I just end up getting stressed and overwhelmed and usually end up procrastinating the decision until I inevitably have to make a last-minute decision I’m not happy with.

Clearly, this is a trend because when I think back to all of the assignments where I’ve had ample choice, every single one of them has caused me this stress and overwhelming feeling – the “Big History” project freshman year of high school, the civil rights project junior year of high school, my organizational behavior project last year, and right now my marketing assignment.

Now I’ll admit, I know not every student stresses these choices to the same extent I do. Some people are perfectly happy with just going along with the first thing they think of, but I also know I’m not alone in my frustration with these situations. And when I connected these dots, I also realized that my feelings actually correspond with what psychology tells us about choice: people tend to panic when given too many options. This is why any time you’re tasked with making a survey you’re told to not make too many questions or give too many answer choices. There’s a reason multiple-choice tests typically have 3-4 potential answers… The science says too many options and people won’t choose at all.

This makes me wonder, how might we find the balance between giving students choices in their learning without giving an overwhelming amount of choices to choose from?

Student choice is great, but it’s only great in moderation. We don’t want to paralyze students in effort to give them more choices in their learning.

For example with my marketing assignment that I’m currently working on, I would have loved if our professor said, “You are consulting for company X. You can choose any challenge/threat, target market, user need, etc. to focus on in your marketing strategy suggestions, but this is the company you are consulting for.” There is still plenty of room for choice and creativity in an assignment like this, but the slightly more focused prompt, just by giving the name of a company, would make this assignment feel so much less grand. Plus let’s face it, in the “real world” you get hired by a specific company, you don’t go around making up ideas for just any company you want – unless you have a very unique business model in your organization… I love this kind of project of identifying user needs and brainstorming ways to meet them, it’s essential design thinking just being called “marketing”, but I don’t get the purpose of working without first starting with a specific user. And we would still have to do plenty of research and problem identification work in order to respond to this assignment, but we wouldn’t have to waste time figuring out what company (user) we’re working for.

I urge teachers to consider the issue of giving too much choice when creating assignments because it’s such an unnecessary cause of school stress.

“Kicking & Screaming”

I’ve been hearing a lot of conversations lately around how powerful it’s been to see students speaking out for changes to education because the traditional model doesn’t work online. Many also express their hope to see this sudden uprise of student voice and agency in education continue once we are allowed back in school buildings. Furthermore, people are hoping if learners come back “kicking and screaming, and demanding change” then things might actually start to look different long term.

However, my fear is that students that may be proving more feedback than usual right now aren’t going to realize that the newfound power of their voice isn’t just due to distance learning. Student voice has always been powerful, but I fear when we get back into classrooms, students will think, “Okay, now things are back to ‘normal’, therefore, my opinions on how school should be run no longer matter.”

It’s invaluable to have student voice to better re-design the learning process and make sure we’re meeting user needs. And it’s inspiring it is to see students having agency during a time when there isn’t really accountability- there aren’t many viable punishments right now, so you can’t scare students into coming to class and participating, they have to actually want to learn. So everyone is wondering, “How might we continue to see student voice and learner agency when we return to our schools?”

Well, I propose that step 1 is that we have to make sure students even realize what student voice and agency mean and help them be able to identify that they have it.

I think we are currently seeing a rise in student voice and agency out of obligation. I know from personal experience that I’ve had several moments in the past few weeks were I’ve participated in school-related feedback sessions just because I feel like it’s one of the few things I can do so I should be doing it. Things are so new and different that, even if they can’t articulate it, learners realize they have to have agency if they want to keep from getting bored or mentally unstable. Furthermore, they acknowledge that with these changes it makes sense that school leaders want to hear student stories and opinions because everyone is flying blind so the more help the better. It’s easy to accept these concepts as being necessary and normal right now. But student voice and agency were already invaluable before we moved to distance learning, most students just didn’t realize it.

Student voice I think is a bit more straight forward in terms of meaning, but I don’t think most students realize just how powerful it is in the eyes of educators to get true feedback directly from the users, ie. students. I also believe this is in part because most students don’t think their thoughts will really be taken seriously – I’ve pretty much been directly told this before. Anyone who knew me in high school would say I was part of the “smart people group” – the same group some people may refer to as “teacher’s pets” – and yet even some of my closest friends would sometimes make comments about not thinking administration really cared about student opinions. Not to mention students who weren’t typically thought of as being part of the “smart people group” would make snide remarks about feeling like they weren’t one of the “chosen ones” so why should they even bother to share their opinions.

Right now everything about school is different, and so it’s easier to grapple with the idea that teachers and administrators might care a little more about all student opinions right now. If we want to continue to see student voice upon returning to our usual learning environments, there has to be more transparency with students so they know if they speak up they’re actually being heard.

When it comes to learner agency, I bet 9/10 learners couldn’t articulate what it means to have “agency.” I mean even as I’m writing this post my computer keeps underlining the word agency thinking I’m using it incorrectly because it thinks I’m talking about a corporate agency. Additionally, I’ve been to at least a dozen education conferences at this point that talk about learner agency, and even I sometimes wonder about how to best describe it which is what makes me really doubt students without a particular passion for transforming education can actually tell you what agency is.  Learners can have agency without understanding it, but if we really expect students to come back to school and “demand” that they have agency, they have to know what it is.

We can’t just keep hoping that learners will all of a sudden start “kicking and screaming” for education change and that’s what will make the difference. Some learners, I believe myself to be one of these learners, will have an amazing experience with learner-centered education, realize that the experience was partly due to feeling like they had a voice and agency in their learning, and then start advocating for change. But I know I’m not the normal student, and most learners don’t have this reaction even after a crazy out of the box experiences.

My first of a series of “ah-ha experiences” happened at the 2013 Council on Innovation. I was one of twenty students asked to spend an entire day not going to classes and instead partake in this day-long design thinking event alongside twenty community experts and visionaries. Of those twenty students that participated, I was the only one that after the experience decided I needed to start “demanding change,” and I wouldn’t even call it demanding per-say, I just started conversations. Later in time others began to agree that things could be better if they changed, but I wouldn’t say they were “kicking and screaming” about the necessity of these changes. Now obviously this one-day event is not as big of a change in the learning environment as the weeks we have already and are still yet to experience online during this pandemic, but I don’t expect the results to be much different in terms of how many students are going to come out of this wanting immediate permanent change. Honestly, from what I keep hearing from my friends and the kids I coach, I’m expecting most students will just want to feel like things are “normal” again and want to stop dealing with so much change.

So yes it’s great and inspiring to see how learners are reacting during these challenging times, and I would love to see more learners speaking up for long-term education change, but if we want to see this happen I think it’s going to take a lot more than just hope. We can’t just expect to have this big unique learning experience (if that’s how you want to describe the current circumstances) and then have dozens of learners suddenly come back as reborn advocates of learner-centered education. We need action not just hope. We need to be open and honest to learners about how much influence they currently have over education, and then guide them in the process of reflecting on how this might factor into what they expect/want out of school upon returning to our buildings. Most importantly though, we have to make sure learners realize that they even have voice and agency and that it matters far beyond the scope of distance learning.

 

The Lead-Up

We have one week left of our four weeks of lockdown, which also means one week left until my classes start again but now online. Since lockdown has begun time has moved in a weird way. Every day seems particularly long but every week seems to go by weirdly quickly since I have trouble keeping track of what day it is, so it seems like the break before re-starting school has kind of snuck up on me in a quick way.

It honestly seems crazy to think about going back to classes at this point. I was only in school for three weeks before everything shut down, and by the time I go back, it will have been four weeks off school, making for a longer break than school time thus far. This much time off from school and stuck inside has made for a very odd sense of reality and it’s hard to imagine school now restarting but isolation not ending. It’s been fine so far staying amused and relatively decent mentally during isolation, but I’m concerned adding school into this mix is going to make things much more difficult.

I think it’s going to be very challenging to find motivation to do school assignments for 9 more weeks while still in some variation of social-distancing. I’m basically going to be doing an entire semester of online classes which is something I’ve always intentionally tried to avoid so this is slightly terrifying to think it’s just about actually here. Plus this time of year is when all of my friends in the US are just finishing up the end of their classes, but I’m basically just starting the semester still. It’s going to be extremely hard to stay focused while all of my friends are done with classes, and I wasn’t really around people here long enough to make any close friends still in New Zealand who will also be in classes at this time of year. 

I’ve also really not taken advantage of this time off in terms of trying to get ahead on school work. I did some work, but mainly just for the assignments I know are due relatively soon after we get back since they were originally due for the week everything shut down. Most of our professors encouraged taking time to relax and assured us we’d have enough time to complete our assignments even if we waited until classes re-started to begin working on them, but at the same time they clearly were encouraging the people who did choose to get started early so very mixed signals were being sent… I wanted to be okay with not working on much school work during the break, but now that it’s almost time to start again the “over-achiever” in me is getting anxious about the fact that maybe I should’ve done more to take advantage of this “extra time.”

I’m worried now it’s going to be a decent bit of a reality shock going back to classes in terms of going from doing so little that I get bored and tired of watching TV even to now having to do daily work but still being at home. At least on a typical break, you’re still getting out of the house and doing stuff so when you go back to school it’s not literally going from 0-100 in average daily energy level. Plus the change of environment with actually going to school usually helps with the mind-shift, but that’s a luxury we don’t have right now.

I don’t have any sort of formal plan at this point for how I’m going to try and adjust to going “back to school” but still from home after four weeks of nothing. I wish this post could be about my fears and how I plan to overcome them, but that’s just not the case at this point. The best I’ve got is the hope that hearing from my professors again with our video lectures will help get me in a working mood, but I’m not exactly convinced this will be the case.

At first, when the announcement was made about everything moving online, it made me think that this would make the semester easier since all of the online courses I’ve ever taken have been the easiest classes I’ve been in, but now with every class being online, I’m actually thinking it’s going to be harder than a traditional semester. It’s pretty much all the same amount of work, but without the usual fun aspects of school – no random conversations with new classmates you’re meeting, no clubs, no group projects, no late hour study sessions, (for the lectures that are entirely pre-recorded) no wacky tangents based on a slighly off-topic question, and I’m sure there are more things that will be missed out on that I’m not thinking of at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I like most of my classes (I wouldn’t be in Econ if I didn’t have to be…), it’s just the thought of the assignments that are daunting considering I have an average of two big research papers in each of my 5 classes and I’m really just not a fan of research papers even though I know that’s a big part of college. I think this is because I prefer thinking through ideas in collaborative environments opposed to independent research. And now with classes being taught digitally, I know there are going to be even fewer ways to make new connections with peers in my classes and group projects were pretty much all canceled so even more is now riding on the research papers – my not preferred method of communication – which is just very stressful to think about.

But I’ve got one more week to figure out how to get motivated I suppose, because like it or not and believe it or not it’s almost time to start the semester again.

 

 

(Just to clarify, I probably wouldn’t write about anything I really thought I couldn’t manage, but part of that management process for me is being able to list out concerns honestly, thus the more pessimistic tone to this particular post.)

School and Wellbeing

I’ve been in New Zealand for three weeks now and just finished up my second week of classes. I had originally planned on writing today about the observations I’ve made about NZ education during these first two weeks – now that I’ve gone to all of my classes at least twice; however, plans change when there’s a pandemic. 

I woke up this morning to lots of emails that all essentially said: The coronavirus is getting worse so we’re shutting down campus, moving classes online, and canceling study abroad programs, therefore, everyone needs to return home to the US as quickly as possible.

Honestly one of the worst ways to wake up.

I cried. I got mad. I went to class – because why get behind?

Now I’m trying to be patient, calm, and distract myself from checking for new emails every 30 seconds.

Crazy enough it wasn’t until talking to a barista at lunch that I realized that it wasn’t the virus itself that made me sad or mad or even scared.

I was sad because I’ve been waiting for years to study in New Zealand and now I finally get here and things are going well and I’m being told to come home. Then I got mad because I realized the situation here is actually far safer than traveling through multiple airports and returning to Atlanta where there have been far more reported cases of the virus then the 4 contained cases in a different part of New Zealand from where I’m studying. (I’ve already written several emails to different people hoping to be allowed to stay since New Zealand is not the average country at the moment.) Then I got concerned with how it’s going to affect my education.

I started wondering if I have to go back to the states will I be able to keep taking my NZ classes online; how will I be able to attend tutorials which count towards my overall average? I wondered, will this push my graduation back another semester? I wondered how my financial aid will be impacted – will I lose a full semester of funding from being here for these few weeks? Will my airfare home get covered? Will I be able to re-enroll in the fall even though I was supposed to be in NZ until November? Will school even be back in August or will classes still be online or will they just officially cancel classes? If my university decides they don’t think it’s better for me to stay here, can I stay anyway, or will my visa get terminated, or will classes then not transfer?

I say all of these questions in the past tense, but I suppose I’m still wondering them I’m just trying not to focus on them as much at the moment.

Right now I’m just thinking about how crazy it is to have such a strong feeling of knowing history is being made. These next coming days in front of us will be in history textbooks.

And furthermore, I’m thinking how it’s equally crazy that in this time of world crisis, my thoughts immediately think about how my schooling will be impacted over thinking about my actual health… Have I really become that drilled into the system? And it’s not just me. I’ve made friends with other exchange students here from all over the US and they’re starting to receive similar emails requesting study abroad students to come home. They too are wondering the same questions centered around how this will impact us getting our degrees.

I didn’t cry this morning because I was scared that the virus has reached a point that requires schools shutting down and students going home. I cried because of all the questions above making me immediately think about how stressful this situation is going to make my education. And I wasn’t alone… WHY???

Why do students think first about education over health?

Is this because our generation is still young and naive and therefore, doesn’t have the same sense of worry? Is it because the situation isn’t as bad here so we aren’t thinking about the implications as intensely? Is it because every professor keeps reminding us that this is not actually the most deadly disease currently being transmitted? Or could it be because our education system focuses on schooling above wellbeing so that’s what we’ve learned to focus on too?

Honestly, it’s probably a bit of all of the above, but it’s the last question that worries me the most. When I think about my k-12 schooling, I know that individual teachers might say “put your health first and we’ll be here for you,” but I’m not sure how much I really saw this mentality in action systematically.  Whether it be mental or physical illnesses, you never really got a break from school. I remember a kid who had a serious concussion during the year that was denied from exempting exams, despite still attaining the necessary A average in the class, but it was because their illness caused them to miss too many days of school. I remember kids leaving early, or for days, due to therapy, but they had to pick up packets of strenuous homework before they left. I remember being sick myself and wanting to skype into classes so I wouldn’t have to deal with the make-up work and the amount of catch up you have to play from just missing a few days for being sick.  – Granted, I acknowledge my own bias because I’m aware of how personally I can be overly anxious about this kind of thing, but I know I’m not the only one that stresses time off from being sick.

And now we have this virus that is causing schools to move to online and I just wonder, especially now – how do we remain aware of wellbeing in our education system?

Should we even be having classes still? I can really argue both ways.

Part of me immediately thinks, “Of course! It’s the middle of the semester and we’ve already done half the work it seems silly to stop doing school work now if we’re not actually sick. It would make me more annoyed to have to not count any of this semesters’ work and start over and get pushed back a semester, plus school can be a good distraction sometimes.”

However, on the other hand, I think about all the students who typically rely on school for food, housing, work-study, etc. The students having to all of a sudden rapidly relocate. The international students worrying about family members overseas. I think about the teachers now working from home and having to balance between watching their own kids since schools are closed while also trying to change their lesson plans to be compatible with online learning. Not to mention I can only imagine all of the challenges involved with being in an area that’s actually infected. And when I think about all of these challenges I seriously wonder if students and teachers are mentally healthy enough to be also worrying about tests and projects and watching online lectures right now.

There’s no “right” answer, everything has pros and cons. And I know everyone is trying the best they can to make appropriate decisions in this time of great uncertainty, but I  can’t stop wondering about this balance between school and wellbeing and how this current volatile situation could be a chance to reconsider our actions towards wellbeing during the typical school year.

Science tells us there are good stressors and bad stressors – stressors that motivate us to work harder and grow as scholars and those that hinder us and decrease our mental and physical capacity. How might we make sure school isn’t a bad stressor? It doesn’t need to be, but oftentimes I find that it is.

Personally, I’m trying really hard right now to not be overwhelmed with the thought of being forced to leave my exchange program early and all that entails. I don’t think I like the fact that I’m more concerned with my education than my health at the moment but at least it’s led me to interesting observations that are also serving as good distractions. And I wonder, how are we going to learn from this pandemic about the balance between school and wellbeing, and how are we going to utilize what we learn once it’s under control? 

 

 

 

With that, happy Friday the 13th… and almost Pi Day! Hope this weekend isn’t my last here in New Zealand.

Understanding History’s Impact

It’s crazy when history comes to life. Traveling in Prague and Vienna the last few weeks has made me really think about on my world history classes from high school and realize just how real the stories we learn about are.

I don’t know how else to describe it other than a story coming to life. In America, it’s pretty standard to talk about the World Wars and communism and empires rising and falling, but to be honest, it always feels so “long ago, in a country far far away.” But it wasn’t that long ago, and in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that far away. That never seemed to really hit home for me before though.

It’s one thing to talk about Hitler, and it’s another to stand in the street below where he made his speech upon occupying Austria and hear from a native how Austria was actually fairly happy to be joint with Germany. Never before had I considered this perspective. Our tour guide described how after the first World War the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was divided up, and during this division, Austria lost a lot of their resources both agricultural and industrial, so the economy was really struggling. Thus the idea of Germany, a big country doing well for itself, taking over, sounded quite appealing to many Austrians. That’s not something we talk about in a classroom.

Furthermore, in terms of the “long ago” aspect, I think American schooling really puts too much of an emphasis on the idea that these things happened in the past and doesn’t talk enough about how the past is actually influencing the present and future.

As someone who has always had some issues with history classes (Summary version of this rant for those who don’t know me or haven’t read past blogs about this: I like history, I often have issues with how it’s taught, and I’ve had several favorite teachers be history teachers so it’s not on them either just really about the curriculum and how we try to chunk so much information into so little time.), I think this is a key feature missing from lots of history classes. The “why” behind history classes, in my opinion, is because we need to learn about the past in order to understand the present and make educated decisions about the future. However, this “why” often is only skimmed on and instead I feel like history often just feels like a series of facts we are told we need to know just for the sake of knowing. It’s more than a series of facts and stories from the past though.

European countries are still in a post-communism era; it truly wasn’t that long ago. Almost everyone we’ve met here in Europe thus far grew up under communist rule. It took talking to people here and hearing about their stories of coming into freedom for this to really sink in for me that the past is very much still present.

I wonder how this ah-ha moment can be better baked into high school history classes because it makes history so much more valuable when you attach this missing link of the implications history has on today: knowing why we study history and understanding why are different.

Perhaps it comes with better intwining current events into class, but not in a separated “here is a random current event.” What if, when we learned about the past, there was a specific current event relating how what we are learning about the past is affecting the present. Or maybe the key is bringing in more guest speakers to help remember the past wasn’t so long ago. Or maybe a solution is more field trips. Not every class can just take a trip to Europe, but there are always local places related to history, or maybe it could be a Skype field trip experience to bring Europe into the classroom.

Those are just a few ideas, thought up without much time, collaboration, or empathy, so I am sure there are better ideas out there, but I hate to propose problems without anything resembling a potential new direction, so that’s my bug and those are my thoughts for next steps. I’d love to hear about how someone else is/plans to run with that train of thinking.

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.

Out of the Hole

I’ve had to take a bit over a week hiatus from blogging because life just happens sometimes.

My last blog post was published right before fall break. Right before my mom and I last minute decided to make the 8-hour drive to Indiana for the weekend. One of our gymnasts qualified as one of the top 100 nine-year-olds in the country, and that weekend in Indiana was the testing for all 300 eight, nine, and ten-year-olds to see who would be invited to the USA Gymnastics Camps run by national team coaches. Since we had no other specific plans, we decided it would be fun to go support her and see all of the other talented gymnasts for the weekend.

The thing is though, I had planned to spend that weekend working on essays for study abroad and finalizing my English video project.

So when plans changed and we went out of town, I ended up only getting about half the work I anticipated doing. Then all last week I was trying to play catch up. It’s amazing how a short week can still feel so long…

I only had three days of school and yet somehow we managed to be given more homework than usual which added to the stress. Then over this past weekend, my mom was out of town again for a wedding, so I went home to help my siblings get around and take care of our puppy. Therefore, once again I got very little work done which ended in one very stressful night topped off with losing my student ID and being very late getting back to my apartment.

And to be honest, I can’t blame my lack of work entirely on external circumstances. I probably could’ve made some wiser choices myself in order to try and be more efficient. I could’ve left my sister watching TV with the puppy and went to a different room to not be so distracted. I could’ve gone to bed earlier to not be as grumpy the following day. I could’ve not spent so long procrastinating by debating in the grocery store. I could’ve done lots of little things like that to have been more efficient this weekend, though it’s hard sometimes to get out of a bad rut.

My own mood probably made later situations seem worse then they were in reality as the unfortunate events continued to pile up.

Even today I woke up in a bad, stressed mood. I was already anxious about work because I was still playing catch up.

Last night though, when I was in a mad frenzy to finish a study abroad scholarship application, my bestie helped me power team editing this yucky 150-word short answer question. It was some of the best co-teaming writing workshopping I’ve experienced and we knocked it out! This 11pm get down to business moment reminded me that I just needed to dive into work and stop thinking about all the negative so much.

So when I woke up in a bad mood, I told myself it was a new week and I needed to move forward, and surprisingly the day started to turn around. I caught mostly up in CS, my student ID was found at the gym, I had two good meetings, and I even finished my video project in less time than expected. Thus I am finally able to blog again and do a little work on the book I’m attempting to write…

Attitude makes a bigger difference then we like to believe sometimes. When you’re feeling down, sometimes it takes a best friend to get you back down to business and work out of the hole.

 

Even if it’s a Game…

There’s a recentish trend in education around trying to “gamify” certain lessons to make them more engaging to students.

Personally, I’m a fan of this concept, I even use the tool myself when teaching gymnastics sometimes by making conditioning into competitions or basics on beam into a repeat after me game as I did today. I think it can definitely be a useful tool for any teacher’s toolbag.

However, I also learned today that doing a poor job at gamify-ing actually makes things worse from a user end.

As part of my psych class requirements, I participated today in a research study. If it wasn’t giving me class credit I would say that it was the biggest waste of an hour and a half I’ve ever had; it still quite possibly could be. Some part of me hopes that the researchers can benefit from my involvement in the study, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be an outlier in their study.

The study description was:

The purpose of this study is to assess how information is valued when it comes at a cost and how time pressure influences information foraging. In this experiment, you will play a medical diagnosis game where you will select information to aid in your diagnostic decision-making. 

So I come in, sign my release form, and then I was put at a desk with a computer in a small room that had a divider between me and the other participant. When I read that this study was being conducted in the form of a game I got excited thinking it was going to be a fun mental challenge with interesting rewards system; you know- game like.

Turns out this was not a fun game. The game worked by a patient “coming in” and telling you their symptoms. Then you could see the results of different tests like an MRI or Cat scan, etc. There were four symptoms, four tests each with three possible outcomes, and four potential diagnoses. Upon correctly diagnosing a patient you’d get $1000/points. Then there were different rounds that added different factors like time and hidden information which were meant to help get at what the study was trying to test.

In theory, you would have to guess at the beginning of the game and then would slowly recognize patterns to help you make informed decisions on how to diagnose each patient. The problem for me was that I never learned anything. To be honest, I got really annoyed with myself because I could not figure out the correct connections. It didn’t help that half of the test results looked the same and I didn’t realize during the instructions would be the only time they tell you the difference between the “positive, neutral, and negative” test results looked like.

What I do know though is that my feeling of “failure” to learn what I was supposed to be learning lead to exactly what you’d expect: I stopped caring to try. I just continued to guess and honestly, it made things faster and I was still having decent success in my opinion, though I have nothing to compare my game score against. At that point, I really just wanted to get out of there but knew I had to finish the study for my credit (and for feeling like a decent person purposes and helping with their study despite being bored out of my mind).

I couldn’t even tell you how many times I almost fell asleep out of boredom. This “game” turned into my clicking a mouse twice in two spots then clicking the space bar. Repeat. Over and over again. I then got to that point where I felt jumpy from sitting in one place for so long and trying not to think about going to the bathroom because I was just wondering how long I would have to keep playing the stupid game.

I’m pretty confident that there are a lot of other students out there like me in this story and even more that may have not even tried as long as I did to figure out the learning lesson. Students where if they were in the situation of feeling like they were never going to learn something, they stop trying to learn it if no one gives them a new way to approach the topic. I think people intrinsically know when a certain style of teaching is not going to work for them, so why keep trying to put the square into the circular hole when you know it will never fit?

And this goes even for exercises that seem “fun” and “game like”; they still may not work for everyone, no matter how excited you are about a new activity for teaching a topic. There always needs to be options and adjustments if we want everyone to succeed; we talk about that all the time in gymnastics. When we teach a new drill, we say it, show it, have the kids try it, and still sometimes need to give a few kids a spot through it for a little; it doesn’t matter how they get the information, but they need to be able to all safely try on their own.

It was honestly a big MoVe moment (moment of visible empathy) for me walking out of that room realizing how some students may feel fairly often at school when they just aren’t getting it and don’t know what to do about it.