Priorities

Last night was my last night as a freshman staying up till midnight getting an assignment done because today was officially my last day of classes!!!

As I headed to my room after my team finished our assignment at 11:57pm, I started thinking “Oh poo I haven’t blogged yet.” Then I realized I also still needed to shower, and especially now that it’s time for finals I really should be making sure to get sleep. So I decided I needed to get my priorities in line and took a shower and went to bed without blogging.

Yet at the same time, I don’t know if finals are really my top priority right now, even if maybe they should be. There is just so much else going on in this next week and some of the things I’m working on affect a lot more people than just me if they don’t go well. For example, on top of finals next Monday and Tuesday, Aladdin has show week next week and then next weekend is the gym showcase; therefore, this coming week is the last week of rehearsals and it’s my job to help these kids get ready to look as good as they can for showtime.

Furthermore, I’m traveling to DC this week for a night in order to take part in a meeting on the future of education and the first steps in planning a nationwide event to celebrate learning. Events like this aren’t something you just say no to, and besides taking a trip to be a part of a team that will be doing awesome stuff in the field I want to be involved in seems way more important than just a final to some extent at least.

On that note, I also have a run through of a Flashlab next week for the course my Engineers Without Borders team is running at Paideia high school during May. And teaching that class is both affecting a lot of kids and related to my passion, so obviously that is a high priority right now.

Essentially I’m just saying this next week is about to be crazy but hopefully very rewarding, though with my schedule being crazy, it makes trying to straighten out my priorities quite challenging.

Advertisements

The Magic of User Feedback

It can be easy to forget the power of user feedback, but it’s truly a remarkable gift.

Today we had our end of the year banquet for Grand Challenges (the living-learning community I’ve been involved with at Georgia Tech where different majors come together to tackle “wicked problems” by utilizing design thinking) where we had some parents and other guests go on a gallery walk of the posters we made for our prototypes and then an honors ceremony afterward.

My team’s prototype is in the field of education (go figure), but we hadn’t really gotten to the point of getting much feedback on our idea from actual teachers yet. Therefore we were all still very hesitant about our idea going into this event and not super sure if it was really impactful at all.

However, during the gallery walk there happened to be several teachers in attendance today who came by and talked with us about our prototype. Turns out, every educator we talked to was really interested in our prototype and wanted to test it out at some point!

It was so refreshing and reigniting for our team to hear positive feedback from potential users. It even got us considering actually working further on this prototype even though we’ve decided to not continue with the Grand Challenges program.

I’ll explain more about our prototype in a soon to come portfolio entry, but for tonight I’m just happy that we finally got some affirmation that we’re on a worthy track right now.

The Progress Cycle

Nothing is really a linear process.

Progress takes time,

It takes patience and practice,

Focus and hard work.

Each day you feel like you’re getting closer,

Then the next day you realize how much further you still have to go.

It’s a constant cycle of forwards and backward

And yet, somehow, in the end, you know it’ll work itself out.

Today there were glimpses of beauty and moments of truth,

And much in-between and far from;

There is work to be done.

 

Why Learn

Well, I’ve officially had the first hiccup of my challenge from forgetting to blog last night. Probably for the best though so I didn’t procrastinate studying physics any more than I already had by this point last night.

Though now that my final test before finals is over, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “study.”

Sometimes we use this word synonymously with “learn” but the more I think about it, I believe there is a difference.

Most frequently, studying refers to preparing for an assessment of some kind, but this can be done in a number of ways, not all of which require actual learning. To most students, more often than not, studying just means committing facts and equations to short-term memory in order to do well on a test. I myself am guilty of this.

Learning takes time that we don’t always have before an assessment. In theory, you learn along the way so by the time an assessment comes around, you already have learned what you need to know. But what if you didn’t learn what was necessary? After all, not everyone learns at the same pace, so if we’re expected to have learned certain things before an assessment, then why are we expected to take assessments at the same times?

The fact that we teach “study skills” is kind of funny in this regard, because part of this notion is implying that you don’t fully know the material you are going to be assessed on so you have to strategically study to make sure you know enough to pass. It seems reasonable that we shouldn’t be expected to fully know everything, but that begs the question of what qualifies as “enough”? Who determines what “enough” is? Should “enough” be the same metric for everyone?

Logically the next thing to talk about would be the notion of grades, but I feel like I’ve made my opinion on grades fairly clear in the past and don’t want to dwell on their problematic structure. However, I do wonder, if before going into surgery we saw our doctors report card, how would we perceive him/her?

Anyway, back on the notion of “learning,” I’ve realized that I often consider myself to have truly learned something if I’m able to teach it to someone else. And to be honest, I feel like if I take all of my education thus far, I don’t know how many things would fall into this category. I’ve done well in school, but I’m not sure if I was always learning. And this includes classes I considered to enjoy based on the subject or teacher.

And I’ve noted that in the education world, we like to talk about “teaching kids how to learn,” but pondering this today I wonder if really we should be trying to teach kids why to learn. I think most kids have a general understanding, even at a young age, that learning takes time and practice. Most of the time when we don’t learn, it’s because we don’t want to. We haven’t been convinced why it should be worth learning something.

The reasons why we learn really don’t need to be obvious or even relevant out of context. For example, as a bit of a tangent story, I believe, and if you ask 75% of my graduating class they’d agree, I learned my 7th-grade vocab words. I was motivated in this case by competition.

We played a game in English class called “Vocab Basketball” where at the end of each week our class would split into teams and be asked vocab questions if we got it right then we got a point for our team and the chance to try making a basket to gain a second point. However, there was more to this game. Each week if you used, read, or heard a vocab word used in a sentence then you could write down the word, how it was used, and what it means and put it in your class bucket. At the end of the week, whichever student in each individual class had the most words got a homework pass, and at the end of the year, whichever class had the most words got a party. First semester only one kid in my class really tried, so he got all of the homework passes. I didn’t really care about the homework passes, but it seemed silly to me that he should get all of them for barely trying at all, so I started trying. Sure enough, we ended up in steep competition, but it was also benefiting our class, so then kids from other classes started trying more in order to attempt to keep up with our class total. We may have been motivated to want to learn due to competition, but we definitely learned. The reason I have no doubts about having learned those words and their meanings is because to this day we will occasionally still point out and use words we recall being on one of our 7th-grade vocab lists. I can’t say the same about vocab words from other years.

Anyway, I got lost in my train of thought on that tangent, but I do wonder still, for the amount I’ve studied this year, how much have I really learned? How much do we learn any year for that matter? How do we choose what we learn? What motivates us to learn? How can we spend more time exploring why we learn certain things and not just how we learn them?

External Expert Lectures

To build off of my post from last night, I had another instance of course material overlapping today.

In Grand Challenges today we had a guest lecturer. She is currently an Intellectual Property lawyer who graduated from GT as an engineer in 2001. Her entire talk was all about the process to receiving a patent/trademark/copyright (whatever fit the situation) and talking about things you would include in an application and important notes on timing of the process.

Well, it just so happens that my “legal aspects of business” class is currently on a chapter all about intellectual property… I literally had been reading in my textbook last night about this topic and one of the cases mentioned was then something the guest speaker specifically brought up. (The case was about Apple suing Samsung over a trademark with the design of their phones and how Apple won because you can in fact trademark the design of a product and Samsungs was too similar.)

So I literally only had two classes today which were both about the exact same thing… However, the big difference was that one was taught my an external expert. Technically our legal aspects professor also does research in this area and is probably considered an expert, but there is something extra compelling about bringing an outside person in to lead a discussion about work that is relevant to them daily.

Especially in high schools when teachers are often not experts in their particular subject in the sense of continuously doing research or work in that field (partially because high school subjects are so vague and broad that no one could truly be an expert on the entire subject we try to cram into a year, but that’s a topic for another time), it seems that bringing in external experts is such a logical idea. I can’t think of anything noteworthy that we learned in my legal aspects class/from the textbook, that we didn’t also cover while speaking with the external expert. Plus the class she was giving this talk to had nothing to do with legal stuff typically (she was asked to come in because the logical next step with developing innovative prototypes is to learn about how to protect your intellectual property) so it wasn’t like she was told “specifically cover these details and you can look at these pages of our textbook as reference.”

I just wish more schools would take advantage of bringing in external experts from time to time. Not only to give feedback on student work but sometimes just to lead a lecture. While I believe the current education paradigm needs to be transformed, I do not think the notions of lectures are a “bad” thing; they can sometimes be very engaging and helpful at times when you truly just need to gain information on a specific topic.

Working Hard

I’ve written a lot about gymnastics this weekend, but honestly, it’s been all I’ve done the past few days. I literally got up this morning at 6:15am to get to our state competition this morning and only got home at 8pm.

But it was totally worth it because all of our girls qualified for regionals!!!!! I’m so glad I got to be there today during everyone’s best competition of the season!

Gymnastics teaches a lot of life lessons, but one of my favorites is when our younger girls experience how hard work pays off.

We Need More Magic

I’m currently about halfway through my week of adventures in Italy with 7 members of my family, and so far it’s been a world wind of emotions. Yesterday though was particularly interesting because my aunt and I met up with the mom of a friend she made while at an artist retreat in the jungle. We had never met this woman before, and needless to say, it was a very random connection in which we had no idea what to expect, but we had a great time!

We grabbed some gelato and took a pit stops at the local market to get some food, and then we went back to her incredible apartment overlooking the river and ate some lunch while discussing life. It turns out that she is a native English woman who is semi-accidentally became a homeschool teacher who has lived all over the world and only recently moved to Rome. I say semi-accidentally because she started out homeschooling her own children and then, due to happy circumstances and a willingness to take risks and seize opportunities, she started a whole homeschooling meets tutoring business. Kids who speak all sorts of languages will work with her for various amounts of time to help with getting ready for going to English school by exploring Rome and making personalized “classes” relevant to the lives of these children.

She was speaking all sorts of learner-centered language and it was honestly just crazy awesome to me that even though we live on different sides of the world we had such similar opinions and ideas about the education system; there is truly a universal language around transformative education that is developing!

As perhaps one may guess, we had some very interesting conversations about education. Particularly, I loved how we talked about the necessity of incorporating magic and fantasy into education.

Think about it: the world around us is full of magic- things we can’t see or fully explain but know that they exist- like gravity, types of lights, dark matter, etc. Now some things may just not exist, but letting ourselves believe in magic helps to teach us to be imaginative and push the boundaries of what is real and strive to make the impossible possible. Once upon a time airplanes seemed like a magical fantasy, and look at us now exploring what it might look like for humans to live on Mars! We have to teach kids to dream and believe what they can’t see if we truly want them to be innovators and be willing to conceptualize what we believe is true about the world. So why don’t we talk about magic more often in school? Especially beyond elementary school! Plus in my mind it’s such a great way to bridge the gap between humanities and stem courses; reading about magic and discussing what science the magical concepts were based around and then imagined further sounds like a fabulous integrated project.

With this discussion, we talked about a wonder of ours: are we teaching sciences to the wrong age groups? Physics is crazy! Nano-science, space, light and sound, etc, there are so many things that can be kind of hard to imagine existing when we can’t really see them nor do we know everything about how they work, but it’s young children that typically have the greatest bandwidth for believing in the unknown. What if we spent more time exploring big science concepts like dark matter to elementary schoolers, and in high school, we spent more time continuing to foster the ability to imagine, dream, and believe in seemingly crazy possibilities?

“Right” versus “Next”

Having been a member of the Education Reimagined community for a couple of years now, some of the presentions at this Lab Training I’ve heard a few times before; however, each time I learn something new.

This time, I believe I’ve really enhanced my understanding of a paradigm shift and what that looks like.

Particularly, over the past few months since the last training I attended, I’ve started to realize the necessity to explain to skeptics of the learner-centered education paradigm that I do not believe even the learner-centered model is perfect. Perfect in this sense inferring that it is the 100%, undoubtedly, “right” way to think about education.

For one thing, it’s funny to even talk about the “learner-centered model” because part of the ideology is that there is no single perfect way to run a school; but there are elements of different school systems and models that make it learner-centered.

Then on an additional point, there is a distinction to be made between the words “right” versus “next.”

The way we think about aspects of life is constantly changing. The example we discussed today is how once upon a time we used to firmly believe that bleeding people was the way to treat illness. We may laugh at this notion now, but humans practiced this for hundreds of years before finally realizing that they needed to change the way they think about treating illness; thus the world of healthcare went through a paradigm shift and now we have modern-day medicine.

IMG_9865.JPG

Education is at this point in time where we as a community have started to question the current industrial age traditional paradigm (ie. way to think about education). One of our activities today was actually listing out some of the anomalies in our current education system- things that in theory should be happening a certain way based on how the model predicts outcomes, but for some reason, it doesn’t always happen this way. (My table’s list is shown to the right.)

It’s conversations like this where we have identified that there is something fundamentally flawed about the idea of teaching learners of the 21st century, information age with the same ideals and practices of the industrial age paradigm. We simply aren’t living in the same time; things are different now and the education system needs to reflect the new values and requirements of society.

This old paradigm is over and now it needs to be replaced. Thus the question becomes, “What’s the next paradigm?”

Learner-centered education may not be the “right”/”best” model for education- there’s really no way to know. Like everything, there are pros and cons and many unknowns that could be either or. However, I, as well as many other educators, do believe that learner-centered could very well be the “next” paradigm in the world of education.

This is an important distinction because I want people to understand that I haven’t been brainwashed to think that learner-centered schools are flawless. I acknowledge that every school still has their weaknesses, and in that regard, not every aspect of the old traditional paradigm is this terrible beast we must burn at the stake.

However, as a mindset, I do believe that the traditional paradigm is not meeting the needs of all students, parents, teachers, and other community stakeholders, therefore, it must be replaced by a new paradigm. The learner-centered education paradigm is just the next step in the direction towards trying to find that perfect education system we all like to dream of existing.

#Adulting

Wow, today has been crazy! And I must say, I feel rather like an adult today, which is very weird. I could care less about how legally you are an “adult” once you turn 18. I’m 19 now, and I still feel more kid than adult about 90% of the time.

IMG_9850
Powerful quotes at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Today was that other 10% though.

I’m writing tonight from San Fransisco where I’m serving as a “Community Builder” (somewhat of a mentor/coach/facilitator at the table level) for the Pioneer Lab Training hosted by Education Reimagined.

There’s a couple of reasons why this has been a big deal. For starters, just the fact that I was asked to serve in a leadership role at a conference is awesome! Then as an extra level, it’s kind of odd getting used to the fact that I wasn’t just contacted through Mount Vernon; I’m starting to become my own person which is… different.

IMG_9852
Behind the waterfall of the Martin Luther King memorial across from my hotel.

Furthermore, I’m attending this conference relatively alone. I happen to know people who are also here because I’m involved in the community; however, I flew across the country, found my way around town, and checked into a hotel (which I have to myself) all on my own which is not something I’ve ever done before or even really thought about.

Growing up is a funny thing, especially in those moments where we realize it’s happening.

Overall it’s been a pretty fun day though. I did some exploring before our kick-off dinner reception and had fun popping into a few places around town. Then meeting people tonight was great! I love talking to new people in the transformative education world because not only do I learn more about different education models, but I also find myself learning more about myself as I get asked

IMG_9854
Exploring the local center for the arts.

questions about how I ended up in the position I’m in. (Tangent: It’s amusing to me how as soon as people learn you’re in college they start asking about to what capacity you’ve thought about your future.)

I’m excited to see what new discoveries and insights come out of this conference, and perhaps just as interested to see how this adulting thing goes…

IMG_9849
Venturing around town and explored a “living house” exhibition at target.

Valued Learning Memories

Background

I am officially a week into my second semester of college. It’s truly a crazy thought to think that I’m theoretically an eighth of the way finished with undergrad already.

Ever since the end of my first semester in college, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Specifically, I started thinking about what things during high school most prepared me for my first semester in college. I was pondering what learning moments most stood out to me over those four years of my life, and not just specific to moments of learning actually during “school hours.” Then, I thought it would be really interesting to learn about what other members of my graduating class from Mount Vernon would include on their personal learning moment list. Thus began my mini research project.

I asked several other MVPS graduates of the class of 2017 to create their own list of memorable learning moments and send them to me. I received 12 responses (other than my own which are featured in the above image) and have spent a few hours comparing the results searching for trends in terms of actual events, skills learned, and ideas/concepts considered and am now excited to share what I found.

Defining My Purpose

Now before I begin to explain my findings, I must add the disclaimer that I know that obviously, this is a small sample size. Furthermore, while I tried to reach out to a semi-diverse group, there’s something to be said about the fact that these were all still students who were actually willing to respond to a random request from a former classmate of theirs even if they hadn’t talked to her in months in some cases. Finally, I must note that I acknowledge that every author has a bias, and I’m sure trends and conclusions that I noticed may have not been the same as others, but as much as I would’ve liked to discuss the responses with someone else, that was not the case this time.

Because of this bias, my conclusions about trends noticed can’t reasonably be said to apply to all 2017 MVPS graduates, but I still find them interesting for the sake of my little curiosity project. While I plan to include some of my own thoughts, I want to also clarify that my purpose of this post isn’t to convince anyone of anything; I simply want to show some student perspective about what, after a semester into college, stands out as memorable and useful learning moments from high school. 

Trends

Trends in Events

Trends in events I define as the actual moments that people recalled learning something from that they found important enough to add to their list.

Top 5 Noted Events:

  1. iProject/Innovation Diploma
  2. Community/Team Work
  3. Extracurriculars (Sports and Arts related in particular)
  4. Travel
  5. Service

One of the most interesting things I noticed was that as much as students may have complained about iProject, the semester or year-long passion project all high schoolers at MVPS completed, it was hands down the most mentioned learning moment. Seven out of the eleven students found some iteration of iProject to be particularly valuable in their learning journey. For most, this was valuable because of the real world lessons they taught themselves when they became responsible for taking control of their learning, such as time management and communicating with community members you’ve never met in person.

Another undeniable trend was the role that the Mount Vernon community played in fostering great learning. Even if not explicitly stated, most students mentioned how much they valued the unity our grade had and how it helped push and grow them as individuals.  One learner specifically said, “I think it’s so great that I have a place to come back to that I can call ‘home.”

I believe that this role of a family like community also contributed to why so many students also mentioned theater, sports, debate, band, or some sort of extracurricular club. Communicating and working with teams is something that everyone seemed to really value, and I think the reasoning is pretty simple, “It’s cool to see everyone getting behind a common idea.” Not all learning moments need to seem grand and life-changing, but there is no questioning that learning patience and teamwork are very valuable skills in life.

On the flip side, some moments can be very memorable in a grand sort of way, but maybe not have the clearest learning outcomes. Almost everyone mentioned at least one time during high school where they traveled somewhere with friends. Whether this be a lake weekend or a trip to France, it’s not surprising that traveling is memorable. However, most students couldn’t provide as clear of a “this is what I learned from this experience” antidote with their traveling memories compared to other experiences, though learning about your peers is definitely a valuable lesson in my opinion.

In terms of the last major trend, I noticed that a significant number of people had listed something that involved helping others. Service proved to be a powerful way to engage students, as many mentioned activities from helping other students with classwork to partnering with a nonprofit.

Beyond some of those major trends, there were some little assignments that I noticed were important to multiple people. Research papers from sophomore year, the Mongols debate, and reading Madea were all classroom activities that appeared more than once. What was notable about what people learned from these activities was how one activity could have such a different take away for different students. From one perspective the Mongol debate was an example of the benefits of teamwork and preparation, while from another the debate represented a time when people were in fierce competition to the point of being mean. When thinking about why these three activities might have stood out amongst all of the assignments we had in high school, I found this comment to be particularly interesting in reference to the research paper specifically, but I think it applies to all of these assignments: “Realistic to the real world, but also just good practice in research and analysing stuff for ourselves that our teachers weren’t already ‘masters’ in that subject area (we had stuff to learn they didn’t know already.)”

Trends in Skills

Trends in skills refer to skills that students specifically talked about learning that have been significantly helpful to them. My new hypothesis is that perhaps activities, despite what they are, if they can help students attain these skills, can be worthwhile memorable learning moments. This is not a comprehensive list by no means, but these are skills that stood out in particular to the students I surveyed. In theory, these skills have clear steps or practices that can help one attain mastery in the given skill.

Top Noted Skills :

(In no particular order)

  • Public speaking: including how “it’s important and helpful to know how to bs your way through some things”
  • How to send a professional email
  • How to see an argument from different perspectives
  • Formal writing
  • Time management/scheduling
  • Organization
  • Maker skills (such as: CAD, 3D printing, designing, and developing stickers, etc.) some maker skills have more practical specific uses than others, but as one student noted, learning how to make stickers can be worthwhile because it reminds you, “to have fun along the way, because learning should be fun.”

Trends in Ideas/Concepts

Unlike skills, ideas/concepts are trends that I noticed students discussing in their reflections on why events were memorable, but they aren’t the kind of knowledge one can attain “mastery” in like how you could with a skill. Similarly to skills, I imagine that if these ideas/concepts were important enough for multiple students to acknowledge them in these reflections, then they may be topics worth purposefully making sure students get exposure to during high school.

Top noted Ideas/Concepts:

(In no particular order)

  • Controversy/Competition: while contemplating right vs wrong and different perspectives students learned things such as how, “Real heroes are flawed, the scale of goodness doesn’t operate on a binary 0% or 100% scale.” “Sometimes big controversies can lead to great things.” “Some people, regardless of evidence, will never change their opinions.”
  • Age equal Skill: students gain confidence when making the discovery that teachers don’t know everything, and even young learners can be experts at times; “I even got to teach some chief engineers about CAD; I have never felt smarter!” “… sometimes your teacher isn’t great at their job and you have to teach yourself and learn with your classmates to keep up.”
  • Trust in a Mentor: “I am capable of doing great things as long as I set my mind on them and have someone that believes in me”
  • Find/Share Your Voice: “Staying silent only boosts the presently flawed power structure.” “Speak up and challenge the status quo, even if that means questioning those in a position of authority.” “Tell your truth in all its tainted glory, you have the right to.”
  • #FailUp- Mistakes and Values: high school is about learning about yourself, and what better way than by making mistakes, a significant number of students all mentioned on their list at least one time they made a mistake and “failed” from it, but learned a good deal from it; “I was trying to figure myself, and with each mistake I made, I kind of figured myself out more and more.” “Life keeps moving forward, so you can’t sit in the past and dwell for too long.”
  • Grit: several students mentioned applications, jobs, internships, or long projects and how they learned from these experiences how to work hard to make something happen despite the obstacles: “Devote yourself even more to a goal that you are striving for, even if you get turned down along the way; if it means a lot to you, keep going.”
  • Learning can be Fun: (I was personally happy to see that many students came to this conclusion at some point during high school, though I imagine this isn’t the case for all sadly.) “Every Latin class ever helped me learn to appreciate school.” “Learn things you are interested in” “really fun time” “super unique and cool”

Final Thoughts

There was no assignment or “reason” for me to write this post beyond me just being curious, but I’m glad I did because it reminded me of a lot of lessons I appreciate learning over the years.

My initial wonder stemmed from being curious about if schools really place emphasis on the learning moments that later in life become most valuable; thus I first wanted to figure out what those “valuable learning moments” are based on the opinion of students.

Through this process, it’s become even more apparent to me that you can never know exactly what lessons people will take away from different activities. I was pleasantly surprised that the lessons and skills that students seemed to learn actually align with what I hope schools should be teaching students. The fact that students acknowledged these lessons proves that I was correct in thinking that they are in fact valuable lessons to learn in high school for preparation for college and beyond.

I do still wonder though about the hundreds of other assignments and experiences that did not make these lists. How should we value those assignments?

Students over the years always manage to learn the valuable lessons in some capacity. But what I wonder is how as a society we can show that we value the learning of these lessons and skills more than just the number grade you get on the assignment itself.

As I said in the beginning, my primary purpose of this post was just to share my findings of what lessons students found to be most memorable and valuable from high school. While I’m not yet sure what will happen next, I’m glad to have some more clear data on what those lessons we should be striving to teach in education might look like.