Time to Head Home

As my grandparents mentioned to me yesterday, “These will be your last few days of just being able to relax for the next 8-9 years.” This feels even more true as I get ready to finally head home tomorrow morning for the first time in 6 weeks.

Starting tomorrow, my life will start to get crazy again with constant activities and work, but to my own surprise, I actually feel ready for it. I’ve never been one to really get homesick, but as a great author wrote in his book, The Light Fantastic,

“The important thing about having lots of things to remember is that you’ve got to go somewhere afterward where you can remember them, you see? You’ve got to stop. You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve got back home.”  -Terry Pratchett

I finished reading this book a few days ago and when I read this line I knew it was time for me to go back home. Time to see old friends again before we part ways once more. Time to pack and get ready for new adventures.

Monday morning I head to school for orientation and then I’m gone again to Scotland with 9 of my fellow Stamps Scholars to kick off the school year. Then I’m only back home for a day before moving in, so I really won’t be home for long at all. So I guess I’ll just have to especially cherish these next couple of days. #EndOfNormal

Different Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escaping Technology

imgres.jpgAfter 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?

 

Physical and Mental Practice

imgres.jpgIt’s amazing how you can be out of shape from playing the flute. I haven’t played in a few weeks because I’ve been at the gym more than I’ve been at home, but I plan on playing in a talent show next week so I was practicing today. I played some a few days ago as well, and after the two practices I can physically notice how I haven’t practiced in a while; my arms and mouth just can’t hold out for as long as usual without feeling funny. I lost some of my flute stamina that I was so proud of building up during this last school year.

Really everything is like this, where if we don’t practice for a while than it takes longer to get back to where we were, it’s just that some activities we notice it more than others.

For example we have a young gymnast on team who is a really hard worked, but she was highly considering quitting because after having a few weeks off we think she was pretty sore and noticeably wasn’t where she use to be which was making her feel bad physically and mentally. However, between her mom and the coaches we’ve convinced her to keep coming to practice at least for the summer and have started to notice her enjoying herself again since she’s been practicing.

Now in this case, even more than my flute incident, the effects of time off are quite obvious, but they aren’t always. The mind is another muscle that can get sore after too much time off, but when properly exercised you find yourself enjoying using the muscle.

I’ve read more books so far this summer than I have for pleasure in a long time. I was walking through Barnes and Nobel the other day and was helping my brother look for books when I started seeing all of these old books I remember reading. Some I really liked, and others I really didn’t, but all of them brought back found memories of being young and having time to just read.

My brother is not so found of reading, but we keep trying to get him to read. We had a challenge last week to see which of the two of us could finish our book first, but he tried complaining that I was a better reader. (Funny thing being that I’m not too fast of a reader I just actually take time to read.) So my mom pointed out to him how you only become a better reader by reading more. Then he ended up finishing his book last week  despite thinking he couldn’t (though I did beat him), and in fact he really enjoyed it and felt good about finishing so he started another.

It’s rare that you see so immediately a cause and effect situation like that, but playing the flute, our young gymnast, and my family reading challenge reminded me of the importance of constantly practicing our skills if we hope to maintain and improve them; both the physical and mental.

Lifeworthy

DiezAlbumsArmedRiders_II.jpgIt’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:

  1. 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)
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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.

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Availability Status Paradox

images-1.jpgIt amazes me how we live in a world that is so attached to technology and social media especially, and yet we have such a hard time getting confirmation notices from people about scheduling events.

According to recent studies, Americans check social media on average of 17 times a day, which is about one time for every hour they’re awake. Furthermore, the average American spends about a third of their awake day on a phone. (4.7 hours out of the average 15 hours spent awake.) Yet with all of this time spent on phones, somehow we still manage to have a discouraging amount of people who are frightfully incompetent at virtual communication with project teams.

Kemps this year did not even get to finish the tournament because too many teams had a problem actually getting together to play their matches. This weekend is our spring showcase at Jump Start and I am still haven’t gymnasts last minute tell me that they won’t be there which means I’m constantly re-choreographing and coaching. All year when I would try to schedule meetings, so many people just don’t respond until last minute, or they forget to ask the right people if they can actually attend. It’s just crazy that people can’t organize and communicate their schedules.

Then you get the excuse, “oh I’m sorry I don’t understand how to work ____ in order to respond.” And this baffles me even more, because if you don’t know how to work something (which is hard to believe because communication tools are pretty user friendly as far as it goes), then I’m sure there is someone you can ask to teach you how to use a tool. All you have to do is ask for help, but often that is a mind blowing concept.

Social media and scheduling tools like Google Calendar, Skype invites, Slack, and even just email are great tools, but only if people actually use them. How might we get more people to update their availability status to teams in a timely manner?

Global Book Club

412AlkyPZZL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgLast semester in AP Lang, Kat and I received a few pieces of feedback which we’ve used to shape assignments for this semester: “How might you speak with larger audiences to get a wider variety of perspectives involved in discussions?” “How might you go outside your comfort zone when picking reading material?” “How might you read more longer pieces?”

One way we applied this feedback was by hosting our Make Your Mark event a few weeks ago where we brought together teachers and students to have a conversation (and do some tinkering) about the “American Dream.” This event was very successful because we obtained lots of valuable insights from the conversation, and everyone seemed to have fun and many even asked when we could do something similar again.

Now Kat and I have a new plan for a project in AP Lang that was inspired by some of this feedback: The Global Book Club.

Who’s to say when you read a book you can only discuss with the people in your class? Who’s to say teachers and students can’t find the same books interesting? Who’s to say where you’re located on the Earth has to determine who is a part of your learning community, and dare I say “classroom”?

The Global Book Club will address all of these questions.

The plan is for me and Kat to read a one act play by Margaret Edson called Wit. Our aim is to have others from around the world join us. We would like you to join us.

Along the way, if you come across a discussion question you’re curious about, tweet it out using the hashtags #IDHacksAP and #IDgbc so we can keep a running list of discussion ideas. Then, join us on April 15th from 2:15-4pm EST on a Google Hangout where we will read through the play as a group and have a discussion around some of the ideas.

We’ve started the play and so far it is really interesting! We purposefully chose a play as they are meant to be performed and not just read, and we are currently studying about how some words can be even more powerful when said out loud. We also chose this play because it has a central theme around life and death, which is something that everyone can relate to no matter who you are or where you live. The New York Times critic Peter Marks describes it as, “A brutally human and beautifully layered new play . . . You will feel both enlightened and, in a strange way, enormously comforted.”

If you choose to join the Global Book Club, contact me and/or Kat via twitter (@Kat_A_Jones and @Pinyabananas) or by commenting on this blog (or if you have any other way to message us so that we know to include you in the conversation). And remember, even if you can’t make it to the full virtually live discussion, you can still join the conversation on Twitter!

We hope you join the club!