iNACOL Day 3: Relationships are Key

Relationships are key to learning and equity. This has been one of the most frequently discussed themes of the past few days.

I feel like most people know and understand this on an implicit level. Personally, when I think of my high school experience and when people would ask me what my favorite part about my school was, I’d almost always first say something about the relationships I had with my teachers. I asked some of my peers today, who are also alums from my high school, “What are the top 3 things you liked most about high school?” and they also all said something about relationships as number 1. (And this is three years after graduating high school – the relationships are still what sticks with us.) Granted this was a small sample size, but I was just curious, so I texted a few people I knew I could get quick responses from. This little mini survey confirmed my hypothesis that as learners we definitely value relationships, but what has really intrigued me the last few days is learning about how relationships aren’t just valuable because we like them, there is actually ample scientific research that states strong positive relationships are critical to the learning process and to creating equity in education.

Equity is about every learner getting the resources to meet their specific needs. It’s important to distinguish that “equity” is different from “equality.” Equality is where every learner is given the same resources despite their individual needs. Our closing keynote speaker, Dr. Pedro Noguera, discussed how bullying, sleep deprivation, depression, and suicide are all examples of equity issues. These issues also bring us back to the topic of mental health and the need to educate the whole child which I discussed briefly night 1 of the conference as it has been another major trend of the week. Furthermore, these are issues that often are ignored in schools especially if students are making good grades in spite of these additional challenges in their lives. And the crazy thing is that we have the tools to combat these issues – people that care.

The  prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus are some of the primary parts of the brain involved with learning and development. What I learned this week from Dr. Pamela Cantor with Turnaround for Children is that these parts of our brain are affected by two main hormones: cortisol and oxytocin. The former is the hormone associated with stress and the former is released due to trust and love. It turns out that oxytocin, the trust and love hormone, is actually the stronger of the two hormones and can even help protect against future stress. Therefore, these relationships we all value so much because we feel good having them – true relationships that are built on trust and consistent interaction/support –  also help our brains stay healthy and create positive neural connections that enhance learning. Strong relationships are one of the most helpful positive enrichments for the brain so they are absolutely necessary to have in school.

This is the “why” behind the need to educate the whole child. So if you were skeptic about the movement to educate the whole child, which makes sense from purely an engaged citizen leader mindset in my opinion, then listen to the science which also says relationships are key to learning and equity.

 

The Brain Myth

When you ask a random person to tell you what they know about the parts of the brain, often times they’ll say, “The right brain is the creative side and the left side is analytical.”

Well this is mostly true in terms of strengths, but the idea of people being “left or right brained” is kind of a myth… From what I’ve learned in psych class it seems that while the left and right brain do have dominant skills, both parts of the brain have to communicate and work together for virtually every task. Very few functions are restricted, “localized” as they say, to one specific part of the brain and people don’t actually use just one side of their brain unless they are a split-brain patient. In actuality, it’s mostly the media that has tried to make some of these discoveries about parts of the brain into overarching generalizations.

It’s always funny to me when you’re sitting in class and you just feel the whole room have a “Wait what? We’ve been lied to?” kind of moment. It wasn’t really that dramatic, and I had already vaguely known this, I just didn’t realize truly how much the media had skewed these findings.

This also had me thinking how it can be kind of problematic for people to try and label themselves as left or right brained. When people start to think like that they are inavertible limiting themselves by claiming they aren’t good at the functions dominant on one side of the brain compared to the other, and chalk it up to biology. In reality, though, the brain can constantly restructure itself throughout a lifetime in order to create new neuron streams and new brain cells. We truly never stop learning as long as we keep trying to.

I wish we more often embraced how both sides of the brain, both creative and analytical thinking, must be used to do really rich problem-solving.

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.

It’s a Cat!

Associate thinking is so cool. That moment when you can connect the dots with seemingly different topics is kind of mind-blowing.

This semester I’m in a special topics CS class. I would not consider myself a particular fan of CS or computers or coding or programming or any of that, however, our professor is an advisor of mine which is how I found out about the class and why I knew I had to take it. Sometimes I jokingly call it my fake CS class so that people don’t confuse it with one of the required CS course where we learn a coding language. In this special topics class though, it’s all about computer architecture and the current process, history, and structural components involved with trying to make faster computers.

Today our professor decided to let us just have a fun Q and A day where we could ask him any question we wanted to about computers and he would try to give his best answer. We ended up talking a lot about his research in particular, because we were all curious about what exactly he does, and it turns out he’s been a huge leader in the process of trying to fundamentally change computing.

Like I said, computers aren’t really my thing, but what made this class particularly interesting to me was the fact that I could relate it so multiple other conversations I’ve had at different points in my learning journey.

Turns out a lecturette on neuromorphic computing (essentially the computing involved with trying to model the brain which is the essential technology behind machine learning; self-driving cars and all that jazz) is shockingly similar to a leadership session about defining versus distinguishing while at a conference around shifting the current education paradigm. Both are about the fundamental elements of learning and how our brain or a computer brain model is taught to distinguish elements like a cat from a raccoon.

Then we started talking about quantum computers, and I realized that last time I really had an in-depth conversation about quantum computing was the summer after 10th grade while at nerd camp (Duke TIP) taking a course called spy 101. Yet even though it was a good few years ago, I remembered the basic concepts still because that class to this day has been one of my favorites that I ever took; this was because the course was entirely interdisciplinary. We talked about the mathematical side of different kinds of codes and how they work, and modular arithmetic (all math I’ve only started to even see in college), and on top of that we talked about the history of coding and it’s role in World War 2 and then also hypothesised and explored the future of computing with the science behind quantum computers.  It was an amazing course, and one I remember better than a lot of my high school classes in terms of content.

Interdisciplinary learning just makes so much logical sense to me. In my experience, it just makes learning more memorable and more relatable in general. Meanwhile, I have classes like today in linear algebra and physics where in my linear class we spent the whole time talking about a topic we learned week one in physics, and in physics, we talked about a topic we learned early on in linear. When I get stuck in classes like that I honestly tune out a great deal no matter how much I know I should pay attention because things just get boring when they’re too repetitive without a new spin or learning connection.

My big wish is that there would be more interdisciplinary courses for credit in the education system. There are starting to become a lot of classes available that are interdisciplinary in nature, but they still are only being allowed to count as a “free credit” or something to the extent that basically means the material you’re learning can’t actually keep you on track for graduation with helping you receive required credits. It’s really frustrating sometimes to be honest.

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?

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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Learning in the Rain

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Six Flags in rain and Frozen on ice- it’s been a great day!

Today was Physics Day at Six Flags and all of the Calculus students at MVPS got the opportunity to spend the day there! Our teacher makes a deal with her Calc classes every year that if we stay on track and get all of the material we need to cover finished before the end of the year, then we get to go to Six Flags. Normally we would go on math day which is next Friday, however, that day is an important school wide event that we can’t miss so we went on Physics Day.

Part of this deal is also that we have to fill out the packet that Six Flags gives to honor the day which asks questions about various rides, and we use this as a quiz grade. Because it was Physics Day, the questions were primarily physics questions and the hardest math we did was multiply. The thing is, I’m not in a physics class currently so I have not learned many of the concepts discussed on the packet. Luckily we were working on these packets in groups, and I was working with some of my senior friends who are in AP Physics so they were able to teach me some quick physics things.

I learned about the difference between centripetal and centrifugal forces and how to calculate them. I learned about frequency calculations and hertz vs rpm. I learned more about kinetic and potential energy (I know it from a chemistry perspective but not physics really). Plus I learned many other little things. I find it funny because people would think “oh you’re going to Six Flags and are going to miss a whole day of learning in all of your classes,” but the truth is, while we are missing out on “school classes” so to say, we are not missing out on learning. In fact I enjoyed learning some physics today, and found it very helpful that I got to learn it from older students that are in that class. It also meant that they had to make sure they remembered things so they would check each other by asking more questions.

My learning was not hindered by taking a day trip to Six Flags with the Calculus students. I never would have learned as much about physics had I stayed, so in fact by taking “a day off” I was able to further my learning and curiosities about topics that are new to me. I learned in more than just physics too. We also talked about economics, and AP Literature, and calculus AB/BC, and even a little bit of Latin came up at one point.

Despite the rain and waiting in line for 40 minutes to buy lunch, I thought to day was a great school day at Six Flags.

 

 

(And I didn’t mention it further, but I also spent tonight at Frozen on Ice with one of my best friends which was a blast and I liked the way the opening sentence sounded!)

 

Collaboration Beyond an Assignment

It amazing how much your level of learning can be determined by the other students in your class. It doesn’t just affect the deepness of conversations in the class, but it also affects the amount of collaboration that takes place out side of class.

I love the group of students we have in my AP Chemistry. It’s one of those groups that’s just diverse enough to where the class is full of people who wouldn’t normally always work together, but not so diverse that everyone is closed off to themselves. In fact we actually have a big group text with everyone in the class and are always collaborating to help each other better understand confusing concepts.

Whether it’s on homework, or right before a big text, the people in my Chem class are always ready to help out when needed. And it isn’t like one person is always the person with the answer, we all contribute equally and we are sure to divid up tasks evenly when doing group work. We’ve grown a certain confidence with each other where we trust everyone to do their share of their work and in a timely fashion.

For example, several people in our class are leaving for Australia tomorrow for a school trip, so they had to have what we call a problem set done by today and take their test today. (On problem sets we are encouraged to work as a group to do a bunch of problems by the end of a certain amount of days, though I’ve heard that our Ap Chem class may be the only class that still collaborates now that groups aren’t assigned.) Because these few students had to be prepared today, even though the rest of us had a few extra days, we made sure to finish last night so that we could help them study and be ready for the test today.

I just love seeing productive collaboration amongst a class. My grade for a while has been fairly well known for being a grade full of collaborators. We constantly make massive study guides, go above and beyond on projects just because, we throw parties for teachers that get new big job offers or when a holiday like pi day is coming up; we love working together to do crazy events. However, I’ve noticed that this year, as classes have gotten harder, we’ve been given less opportunities to do big group projects and our grade has been less known for big collaborative stunts. It’s kind of sad actually and many of my peers have noticed this change.

We want the opportunity to do a big group project. To get so involved in a project where we collaborate with people not even in our class. To be so serious about a challenge that we contact our dean to request a non-uniform day so that we can where costumes to enrich the experience. To be so curious about a topic that we constantly are thinking and talking about what we’ve learned with our fellow peers.

Collaboration is great when you’re given the space to take it further than just “an assignment.”

The Education Ecosystem

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Remember those times in elementary school where you study ecosystems? “What’s at the top of the food chain? What provides nutrients to what? How does everything relate together? Do you see how we are creating a web not just one strict path?”

I remember in 3rd grade doing a project on the rain forest. The rain forest is one of the most biodiverse places on the Earth. There are thousands of species that all work together to create  beautiful and constantly evolving environment. I created a visual chart that showed just a snippet of some animals and plants living in this ecosystem and even with just the maybe 15 species I was able to fit on a poster board, I had created a web of lines between how these species interact with one another.

In 4th grade, I got the chance to actually visit a rain forest while in Puerto Rico. I first hand got to see how different species have adapted to continue surviving in this ecosystem. I remember seeing a tree that had fallen over, but it over time had curved up because the roots were still semi in the ground and therefore the tree still wanted sunlight to keep living. The branches all arched at weird angles to try and maximize the amount of sunlight it could absorb. The tree continued to live even after being pushed down by its surroundings.

Grant Lichtman, in Part 3 of his book #EdJourney talks about how education needs to change from an engineered system created by humans to resemble an assembly line, to a natural, self-evolving ecosystem of flowing ideas and knowledge. I personally love this metaphor and entirely agree that education needs to exist as an ecosystem.

Furthermore I love the distinction Mr. Lichtman makes with the role humans play in this ecosystem:

“True ecosystems share one critically important attribute: Ecosystems are not designed by humans. Instead humans exist within ecosystems. In my view, great learning and education do not ‘act like an ecosystem.’ Great education is an ecosystem. There is a big difference.” (p.224)

The conversation Kat and I had today during our 20/20, reminded me a lot of conversations I’ve been having around the ideas of assessment/measurement lately about how we need to have systems that are limitless. The next big change that needs to occur in education is creating an entire system, an ecosystem, that is able to constantly, and naturally evolve over time like how a periodic table can predict future elements. In the past we have a system, then we discover this system doesn’t work, so we put a bunch of effort into completely changing the system.

I don’t want to keep doing a complete change of the system every decade or so when we realize that our education system isn’t keeping up with a changing world culture. I want an education system that changes and evolves with our changing world culture.

A World Demanding Creativity

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“A society’s competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity.” Albert Einstein said these great words over 60 years ago, and yet in todays’ 21st century, America has still been in what is commonly known as “The Creativity Crisis” as described in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s article published in Newsweek in 2010. Their findings, based on the widely taken Torrance Test which tests for someone’s “Creativity Quotient” (CQ), show that the American public has had a significant decrease in it’s CQ scores since 1990. However, at the same time that this Creativity Crisis is taking place, leading businesses are craving creative and innovative people, as shown from an IBM poll taken in 2010 of 1,500 CEOs. This disconnect between what America wants in the workforce and what America’s CQ scores are leads to the question of, “How might we raise America’s CQ scores?”  That is, how might we have more Americans that are proficient at going through a process of the exploration and creation of something new? A start would be to examine our education programs to assure that we as a country are setting the conditions for people to be successful. Schools are meant to prepare students with the knowledge and skills to be successful in the world. With our world craving creative people with innovative ideas, it is imperative for schools to allot time in their school day for students to explore creative outlets and passions.

By allotting this time in the day, students can be more prepared to get jobs in the companies that they are interested in working for. One of the “big dogs” of American companies is Google, with about 1 in every 4 young professionals wanting to work there. When trying to get a job at Google, it is helpful to know that interviewers are looking for applicants that go through a creative thinking process. For example an applicant may be asked, “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” The interviewer is not looking for the answer to this question, because there is no exact answer, instead the interviewer is looking to see how the applicant thinks through the problem and hoping to see the applicant go through a creative, yet logical, process to arrive at an answer. If schools hope for their students to be competitive in the workforce at places like Google, then schools must prepare students to be creative thinkers while problem solving– even if the problem seems impossible to solve.

In school, students are tasked to learn and mast content which lays out the foundation for the logical side to any process, but there is  another side to this process: the creative side. To answer seemingly impossible problems like those that arise in the “real world”, you must have a basic understanding of facts along with the creative confidence to quickly discern what things you think you need to know in order to arrive at an answer.

This creative confidence isn’t something that some people are born with and others are not; it is developed over time through experience and guidance. Students need mentors to help them develop their creative confidence, and school provides an opportune time for students to receive this mentorship, and not just from teachers. Just like how chemistry classes do lab work in order to better understand how chemical equations work, what if all students were given the opportunity to enroll in a“real world” lab? Imagine if in this “real world” lab students were working alongside business leaders, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits to tackle work that matters. Work that might not be in a textbook. Through these “real world” labs, students could develop relationships with these game-changers that may lead to long lasting mentorship. Schools need to begin developing relationships with members in the local community because this real world experience will build confidence in students, so they can be empowered to be agents of change in today’s world. School currently communicates that students have to wait to make a difference. They have to wait to be told what to do. They have to wait to get their graded test back. What if we didn’t want to wait?

Some schools already have programs set in place to allow students school time to work on creative pursuits and passions, and their students are working on some mind blowing things. Some notable examples are High Tech High in California, The Independence Project at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Massachusetts, and Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s Innovation Diploma in Atlanta, Georgia. Students from these schools have done things like making their school more environmentally sustainable, cooking a meal for over 80 people, designing a picture of a historical character using math and technology, writing a novel, partnering with organizations like the Center for Disease Control on “real world” problems, and consulting with industry leaders to tackle complex challenges.

These schools exemplify that it is possible for schools to give students time to focus on creativity and passion finding during school time. Not only is it possible, but the students that are given this time in school have been advantageous in a world craving creative people. Imagine if all American schools had this time for creativity and passion finding. Imagine how much the American creative quotient scores could raise. Imagine how many more creative solutions America could be generating to solve big problems in our world today. The world demands creative people, so to solve the Creativity Crisis the world should also demand that schools, with their mentors and resources, provide the time for students to explore creative endeavors and personal passions in order to develop their creative confidence before it’s too late.