Why I Blog

For a girl whose lowest grades always came from English class, I never thought I would confidently call myself a writer. Then I assigned myself the challenge to start a blog and post for 100 days in a row after getting an “innovation bingo” card that was meant to give students like me ideas for ways to stretch our creative minds over the summer. The activities wouldn’t be graded and we weren’t required to do any of them at all, but I love a good challenge.

At first I was at a loss for what to write about, but I learned quickly that it’s best to write about what I know and observe. My first few posts still make me laugh because they were very short, hardly a few paragraphs, and each of them were about somewhat cliche topics. However, as many teachers often say, “The more you practice the better you get,” and over time my writing actually got better.

Much to my surprise I slowly got more followers as my writing improved; thought leaders from around the world are constantly commenting on my posts. I still just write about my daily observations, but my observations have grown more insightful. Furthermore, blogging has allowed me to learn more about myself and has opened me up to new opportunities.

Knowing myself is the first step to being able to better understand the world. Truthfully, I believe that K-12 education does not focus enough on students learning about and discovering their sense of self. My sense of self has developed immensely due to blogging because sometimes when I write and then read over my writing, I’m able to discern trends and tendencies about how I act and respond to situations better than I can otherwise. I can then hypothesize about my future self in situations based on these observations. I’m still discovering more about myself everyday, and it makes me excited—I wish more students got the chance to experience this. As I move forward in life, I hope to learn more about ways to help other kids learn more about themselves because that’s how we grow.

One thing that I have learned, is that I deeply desire to be a part of the movement to transform education. Students of today’s schools need to be prepared for jobs that are yet to exist, and a school that is still following the traditional norms of an Industrial Age school is simply not going to prepare kids to solve the problems of tomorrow. One way I have contributed to this movement is by learning about the process of design thinking, human centered problem solving, which has allowed me to see problems in my everyday life as opportunities for change and innovation. Over time, my blog has become more and more related to education transformation and ways that I believe we can blur the lines between “school” and the “real world” in order to give students authentic learning experiences that will help them throughout their lives.

 Blogging has given me a place to share my story in a way that allows me to easily look back and find trends and connections between my observations. And, on top of everything, I’m constantly expanding my network and being asked to participate in new opportunities. Writing helps us think, reflecting helps us grow, and sharing helps make the world a better place—blogging is all three in one! I know I’m not the best writer in the world, and I know there’s much to improve on. But, since I’ve been blogging, I’ve developed a new confidence and appreciation for having the ability to share my own individual voice with the world.

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I’m No Editor

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.34.31 PM.pngAn article of mine went live today on the e-magazine Pioneering: Education Reimagined!!!! I posted an early draft of this article on my blog around mid-summer but I’m much happier with this final draft, and very happy to have one more thing off of my plate!

The most interesting thing about this experiance was having an editor. I don’t have very good grammar. I’ve accepted this fact long ago. In fact I spelled grammar wrong writing that last sentence the first time. However, apparently my thoughts that I write about are at least interesting and well written enough for people to want to read them.

In school though this typically doesn’t matter much. I never saw myself as a writer for years because I never made all that great of grades in English class due to my poor grammar. If I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s that not all good writers are editors. Like wise, I know people who are good editors but not all that great at writing themselves. However, when good writers work with good editors, pretty epic stuff happens.

It was nice to be able to write something for a specific reason where I was more concerned with the ideas then the grammar for a change. Because I was able to work with other people who read over my work to help with grammar details, and it made my writing look better which was cool!

No one ever works entirely on their own. Even book authors. I wish in school we spent more time focusing on the different skills everyone has, and how people can work together to make something great. We don’t all need to be writers, or editors, or artists, or mathematicians, or historians, or scientists, etc, but we do need to know enough about different areas and about ourselves to know how our strengths can work with others to accomplish meaningful work.

The Outlier

imgres.pngEvery now and then someone reminds me that what I’ve done on this blog isn’t as normal as it’s come to be in my life. It isn’t “normal” for most 15 year olds to just decide one day that they are going to start a blog and write everyday for 100 days, and then decide to continue the challenge for over 2 years. But for me it is “normal,” because it’s the reality of my life as I’ve come to know it.

What was it inside of me that urged me to take on this challenge? Why was/am I not “normal”?

I have nothing against being the outlier, but I’m just deeply curious as to what it is about me that makes me this way.

People will say things to me about being extraordinary, and wanting to clone me, and asking how to find more kids like me, etc. But to me, this is just me. I don’t have any answer as to why I’m this way, though I would like to know.

I’m really not trying to narcotic or pompous or anything like that, so I really hope it isn’t coming off that way. I’m just generally curious as to why I, and others like me such as my friends Kat and Marz who have been on many adventures with me, tend to act in desired ways that are very different from the average teenager. Creating and often posting to our own blogs is just one of these ways.

What is it about us that makes us this way? And what about kids that are not so motivated to just decide to do things like constantly write, how might they gain the same skills in communication, self-confidence, and empathy without that same motivation to take action on their own? Is there really a way to teach motivation? I have no idea.

To this day I remember in freshman English class when a student asked, “How do you get a good work ethic?” The student was genuinely curious because he knew he didn’t have one, though he also understood the importance of having one. Everyone in the room was stumped as to the answer to the question.

It can’t possibly be some trait that some people are born with and others are not. I also refuse to believe that self-motivation and a good work ethic are something that you either have or don’t have by a certain age and that’s that. Skills can always be built and improved upon just as there may come a time when an old house has to be renovated to keep from falling apart, and yet I have no idea how to build these skills.

Sometime I wish someone would pick my brain harder to help me grapple with why I’ve turned out the way I am. There is only so much questioning I can can ask myself. Sometimes questions are best answered when someone else does the questioning. I don’t know why I’m the way I am, but I’d love to find out and hopefully somehow use that knowledge to inform ideas on teaching and education.

2 Years of Blogging Later

images.jpgWhat started as just a fun challenge to create a blog and post for 100 days in a row has now become an integral part of my life. Blogging may not be for everyone, but for me it has helped me clarify some of my observations and thoughts on different parts of my daily life, and the best part is that I’m able to track and record my reflections, insights, and key learning moments throughout each year. With it being about the middle of summer now, and with the fact that I won’t have access to much internet or phone service for at least the next week, I find that it’s a great time for me to zoom out and reflect upon my key learning moments from the past year as a whole about myself, utilizing the design process, and the future of education.

This past year I have significantly expanded my understanding of these 5 ideas:

  1. The need for flexible schedules  
  2. The role of teachers
  3. Prototyping and launching
  4. Sense of self
  5. The future of student voice

In the “real world” people do not work on a bell schedule that has obscure periods of time that go from 10:15-11:05. This past year I have started to do even more “real world work” where I’ve found myself struggling to find times to meet with people due to my odd school schedule. However, within my project based learning time, I have wider chunks of time where I’m able to get ample work done. I’ve written a few times this past year about how we’re often just waiting for Thursdays when we have so much flexible time- the first half of the day- to really get deep into our work by going off campus, interviewing people, working on prototypes with tools, etc: “Sometimes it feels like we’re just constantly waiting for Thursdays, because those are the days we always leave feeling like we actually were really productive and successful in making progress towards a bigger goal in our journey.” — Waiting For Thursdays 

And imagine with the amount of work that can happen during half a day, when given a whole week I got the opportunity to travel with other members of the MVPS Innovation Diploma cohort to San Fransisco to work with Stanford students at the d.School on design thinking challenges: ID at the d.School If we hope for students to be doing work with companies within our communities, than we need to support this type of work by having school schedules that are more flexible to allow for meetings, and off campus work, and time to really get into a flow of working.

The biggest adventure of this year for me has to have been the AP Lang Collab Course which has allowed me to take ownership of my learning in a way never before experienced. This past year a partner and I created and participated in the first ever student designed AP course which we called the AP Lang Collab Course. We created this course because we wanted to challenge the education status quo, have the opportunity to test project ideas we’ve had over the years, and have the freedom to take control of our learning as we explore our interests through the lense of language. For this to work we had to be the student, teacher, facilitator, coach, mentor, everything all in one, and with this newfound ownership of our learning I developed a better understanding for how I envision a 21st century teacher. “I can teach, mentor, coach, and facilitate, but when I’m in a class I want someone who can bring their past experiance in to help constantly change between all 4 of these roles and more when needed. I want a guide in the classroom. Someone to teach me skills, and mentor me through stress, and coach me to be confident, and facilitate me and my peers around common challenges. Most importantly though, a guide occasionally let’s it’s followers explore the woods and decide what path to turn down. A guide helps students along the path they choose and points out the important landmarks along the way.”— Taking Ownership 

Another huge project for me this past year was my work with the ReSpIn Organization which strives to Reduce waste, Spark conversations, and Inspire change around 21st century sustainability. Our team was formed because we observed that while MVPS teachers, students, faculty, and parents all observe the importance of recycling and being an environmentally sustainable school, more can be done to make MVPS a leader of environmental sustainability. So we explored the question, “How might we make sustainability a part of our DNA at MVPS?”

The first product to come from the ReSpIn team is called the RISE Sustainability System. This system is a learning tool for teachers and students to use in order to help facilitate conversations and activities around sustainability. The product is a space saving waste and recycling bin in one made out of PVC, wood, and zip ties in a way that allows for anyone, of any age, to set up the RISE bin on their own. This clever design allows for classrooms to set up their own RISE bin and use that experience to jumpstart the learning on sustainability. For this project we created dozens of prototypes, and had many moments where we struggled with taking the RISE bin to the next level. This struggle though, is truly what happens in the “real world” with product designs; they take time and lots of prototypes and feedback. The most inspiring piece of feedback that we were given was from a little 5th grade girl who told me, “This is the best design challenge we’ve done, because we never get to see a project like this get this far.”- RISE to New Levels. My work with the ReSpIn team isn’t complete yet, but after this year I’ve learned the true value of prototyping early and getting feedback from a myriad of people in order to push ideas forward.

Amongst the things that I’ve learned about school and design thinking, I’ve also learned a lot about myself over this past year. I’ve always been a person with countless interests, passions, and after school activities that have consumed my “free time.” I’ve often thought of this as a problem because I can’t make up my mind on how to spend my time because I get too interested in everything simply because I’m curious and love learning. Then I watched the Ted Talk, Why some of us don’t have one true calling, and it was possibly the most moving TED Talk I’ve watched yet, because Emilie Wapnick introduced me to a world of people just like me and helped talk about the positive side to being what she calls a “multipotentialite”:  

  • Idea Synthesis: bringing together seemingly different concepts together to find the intersections where great ideas come from.
  • Rapid Learning: getting deeply curious about one thing and learning a ton about it before moving on to the next thing to also learn a ton about.
  • Adaptability: being able to put on different hats in different situations where different roles are necessary.

I’ve been discovering a deeper sense of self which is an essential part of learning. I’m a person with many different interests, but I can also find the connections between these diverse topics easily which helps me to build project teams and relate things like gymnastics and education transformation.I’m A Multipotentialite 

Learning more about myself has also helped me learn more about ways that I can contribute to the movement to transform education. This year I served as an MVIFI (Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation) Fellow which opened up a number of opportunities for me where I would be leading all kinds of educators in conversations and challenges. In design thinking we highly value and work with our users. The main users of schools are the students. So it only makes sense that for us to re-design schools, we need to value and work with students. Not only is it helpful for students to provide feedback and be involved with ideating on projects, but it also is a huge confidence builder as a student to be talking with external mentors on “real world” issues such as education transformation—External Mentors Make Things Real 

All of these key learning moments from this past year have been made even greater in my mind because I was able to reflect upon them on my blog. Blogging has given me a place to share my story in a way where I can also easily look back and find trends and connections between my observations. Plus on top of everything, I’m constantly expanding my network and getting new opportunities. I know I’m not the best writer in the world, and I know it’s an area that I could most improve on, but since I’ve been blogging I’ve grown a new confidence and joy in my writing. Writing helps us think, reflecting helps us grow, sharing helps make the world a better place, and blogging is all 3 in one!

Strengths

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While this isn’t from today, this actually is a picture of me and my middle and top. (I’m the one holding the other two.) Acro rocks!

It’s acro camp week at Jump Start!!!!! I may not be great at gymnastics anymore, but I’ve loved learning acrobatics these past, as I recently discovered, about 5 years almost now.

I love having one of my groups advance over months of work so that we can increase our difficulty and work on new harder skills. But I also enjoy occasionally working in new groups or pairs, which is what acro camp week is all about!

I like working in new teams sometimes because I love seeing how different people  work together. Every person on the planet is unique in their own way and has a different personality with different talents to bring to a team. Therefore there are an infinite number of combinations of people that can create a team, and every single team will be a little different.

I think my fascination with how different people work together is my individualization strength showing; I’m pretty good at seeing the different talents of others and pairing people based on who might make a good team based on their different skill sets. I think this strength helps me also with creating choreography that’s specific to each girl for gymnastics, and for acro and group routines makes sure each girl looks good alone and as a group.

Ever since taking the Gallup’s Strength Finder quiz for ID I’ve been very intrigued by how I, and others, keep noticing our strengths showing in various aspects of our daily lives.

Choreographing Through Life

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It was far over a year ago that I took the Gallup Strengths Finder test, but every day I’m finding new connections to how I use my strengths in different situations. One of my strengths is “individualization”:

 

Your Individualization theme leads you to be intrigued by the unique qualities of each person. You are impatient with generalizations or “types” because you don’t want to obscure what is special and distinct about each person. Instead, you focus on the differences between individuals. You instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships. You hear the one-of-a-kind stories in each person’s life. This theme explains why you pick your friends just the right birthday gift, why you know that one person prefers praise in public and another detests it, and why you tailor your teaching style to accommodate one person’s need to be shown and another’s desire to “figure it out as I go.” Because you are such a keen observer of other people’s strengths, you can draw out the best in each person. This Individualization theme also helps you build productive teams. While some search around for the perfect team “structure” or “process,” you know instinctively that the secret to great teams is casting by individual strengths so that everyone can do a lot of what they do well.

Most recently I’ve realized that this skill has allowed me to really grow as a choreographer. I’m currently in the middle of choreographing and coaching 5 different 2:15-5min long routines for an average of about 20 people in each group, plus I have 5 acro routines of my own (but only one of those is still being choreographed/taught). It’s been a lot to keep up with, but it’s also been really fun and I’ve been challenging myself this year to try several new things. Specifically I’ve been working on having people do different things at once but still making it look clean and having a sense of togetherness.

 

My ability to see the different things that individuals are good at has really bled into my choreographing and so far I think the routines are coming along rather nicely.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a multipotentialite, so I get involved with lots of different things and can make good connections between the topics, however, I don’t believe myself to really be an expert in any particular area. Dance/gymnastics is one of those areas that I’m interested in, but I’m not very flexible and haven’t even done much tumbling since hurting my wrist a year ago. The neat thing about choreographing though, is that I don’t have to be amazing at dance myself, but I can see the lines and patterns and teach them to individuals who have the talents that I don’t.

I think I’m a choreographer in most of my life, because I often am not the one on a team with a very particular skill. (I mean I consider myself to be good at storytelling/pitching, but I more mean roles on a team to actual design x like a CAD master, artist, web designer, engineer, etc.)  However, I am good at the more manager like role of being able to see the full picture of what needs to be done, what steps need to be taken to get there, and being able to find the person who could best lead that step. I’m able to see how all of the little parts fit together, which is why I can coach a routine with 20 people in it without ever having the full group there except maybe once or twice before the show.

I love choreographing and wish I could do more of it through out the year to be honest. I just find it interesting how our skills seem to really connect between everything we do.