Trailblazers- Student Driven EdMagazine

It’s official, the first edition of Trailblazers, a student driven magazine on the Education Transformation Movement, is here with young writers from around the world contributing!!!! My peers in the Innovation Diploma, Abigail Emerson and Kaylyn Winters, and I have been working at this project all year after some last minute edits over the summer, we now feel it is time to ship the idea and get it out into the world.

So please check out our first edition which includes:

A Letter From the Founders

Meet the Curators: Anya Smith-Roman, Kaylyn Winters, Abigail Emerson

The learner-centered movement: Q&A: Sparkhouse Conference

Creating Something New: Brady Vincent

Change is a Conversation: Neel Pujar

Free Ranged vs. Caged: Kim Mi Yeoh

Intelligence: Cali Ragland

Community Connections

Good Reads

 

Thanks to everyone who helped make this possible!! Can’t wait for issue 2!

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The Independent Project

The past few weeks I have been conversing with Mary and Cali Ragland, two seniors from Perkiomen Valley High School in Pennsylvania. These two are are currently taking an independent study course around the essential question: “How might we design an educational system that best meets the 21st learner’s needs by valuing curiosity?” They reached out to me after having been introduced by a teacher to some of my blog posts and learning about my work in the Education Transformation Movement. Furthermore, my work designing the AP Lang Collab Course last year, where I co-developed an AP Language and Composition course, was intriguing to them because they wanted to learn about how to push through the “dark night of the soul” in the life of an self-guided project.

These two have been doing some great work interviewing teachers and students and pulling away key insights about the role of curiosity in education. I especially love the quote that they describe as really encompassing what made them interested in education transformation:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – W.B. Yeats

I would definitely encourage reading more about their work on their blog:  Curiosity in Education. Personally, talking to these two has been great because it’s reminded me of how far I’ve come in the past few years, and reminded me how important it is for me to always go back to where I started- this blog.

Senior year has made blogging very difficult because I have spent most of my “non homework writing time” working on college essays and scholarship applications. Then when I kind of have “free time” (which basically just means I have finished homework and have no planed activities or meetings at the time) I find myself wanting to savor the moment to take a break from intense mindfulness. However, I know how important it is to blog to not only share my story with others, but to reflect for myself and capture my learning journey. After all, I started this blog for me -not because I wanted hundreds of followers or felt like my voice was something that just had to be heard by others- I started it because of what I thought was a silly challenge to observe and reflect on the world more intently.

In fact, I haven’t blogged in so long that I haven’t yet reflected on the fact that I was approved to embark on another curriculum creation opportunity by designing my own Independent Project!!

For my last semester of high school I am exploring the connection point between film, change theory, and education which will also apply towards my last needed half of a social sciences credit. Often times social science credits are just assumed to be a history course, whether it be world history, US history, economics, US government, etc. However, social sciences by definition are “social” meaning, about human society and social relationships and how they function, which does explicitly mean just IMG_6689.JPG“history.”

I say “just history” because I believe everything involves some understanding of history, because everything has a history and thus History is Everywhere. An essential question to all learning is, “How can we use the knowledge we have gathered over time (the past) in order to better understand and design for our present and future?”

So yes I believe you could call my course a “history course” because I’m definitely researching the past. However, for my particular project, I really wanted to explore society from the perspective of how we create change in society to then apply this knowledge in the world of education. The final product of this work will be a high quality documentary video focused on the Innovation Diploma and the moment that I call the “clicking moment”; that moment when students realize that the world is changing and education should be too, and they start to take ownership of their learning in order to make a difference now, not “when they are grown up.”

Now the main reason I haven’t mentioned this project yet is because it was a last minute project that got put into double time in order to come to life. At the end of last semester I knew I wanted to devote more time second semester to exploring and contributing to the education transformation movement. However, I’m always so busy and yet their is a finite amount of time in the day. I had to figure out what in my daily schedule could give a little time. What I realized is that what I wanted to work on would likely hit a lot of social science credits, so we thought, “What if this was my ‘history’ class?”

I worked on overdrive with my mentors in order to put together a document to pitch the idea of an Independent Project to our administration. The end of the semester though was a very crazy time for me both in and out of school, so I got approved with the intent of needing the first few weeks of second semester to still work on the planning details.

 

One of the first tasks I had was to figure out how I would devote my ID time, especially after the reMoVe10 design brief gained so much momentum after first semester. The design brief given to us by the Mayor of Sandy Springs, was designed to be a project we worked on during a single semester. However, our school admin, representatives from the Sandy Springs Council, and our new partners at Georgia Commute Options all got so fired up about the work we’ve been doing, that we realized this project needed to continue. 16387341_10154593513538277_4820722959124524604_n.jpg

Because of this decision to change the scope of the project, our team had to look back at our team roles and norms and decide how best to continue based on plans that were already set for second semester. I already had plans to work on my Independent Project work, and another team mate was already in the process of another design brief opportunity. Therefore, we added a new member to our team, and I used the month of January to waning out of my position as team leader to make a smoother transition for the new team. My plan is to continue to work with the reMoVe10 team, but more as a consultant for them to help give feedback and provide assistance at specific events.

{Small necessary tangent: This last month was honestly really hard for me, because I naturally find myself in a leadership role in the sense of “project manager,” so it was challenging to work on stepping back and being a leader by pushing others to take a leadership role. However, I think it was something important for me to work on because part of a leaders role should always be to coach others to lead.}

IMG_6691.JPGWhile continuing to work with the reMoVe10 team this past month, I used 4th period (my Independent Project time) to start further brainstorming what my video will look like, while getting a Film Course 101 tutorial from a mentor, and continuing to find ways I can discover and experiment with changes in education specifically in regards to the role of student voice. So far I’m diving deep into essential questions such as “What motivates people to learn?” “Where does ‘passion’ fit into education?” and “What gives students agency?” as my design drivers, though I believe as I start to interview people the story line will become even more clear.

I’ve learned that with documentaries one of the best things to do is to just press record and start filming. So now that I’ve officially had my last day full time with the reMoVe10 team (last Wednesday) I’ve been gearing up to dive all in on this Independent Project using my 8 hours and 40 minutes a week (between ID time and my new Independent Project specific time) to research, film, and synthesize information about the social science of education change. We pushed “purchase” on some new awesome film equipment yesterday, and now the fun (and intense) work is about to really start!

reMoVe10

After months of data collecting and interviewing, the reMoVe10 team finally had our big presentation to our City of Sandy Springs clients, representatives from Georgia Clean Commute, and a handful of MVPS admin!!

Background

Spark:

No one likes sitting in traffic. It waste time, energy, and money and it is only getting worse each year. Early September of 2016 representatives from the City of Sandy Spring
contacted the Innovation Diploma to partner with us as consultants in a Design Brief in order to achieve the city goal to decrease traffic in the city by 10%.

Goal:

Lead conversations and experiments at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School to decrease traffic in the school community by 10%. Then using MVPS as a small area case study group, develop traffic recommendations for schools in the Sandy Springs area and the city as a whole.

1101161046.jpgPartners:

  • City of Sandy Springs council (Client)
  • Mount Vernon Presbyterian School
  • Georgia Commute Options

Data Collection

The first phase of our work was to better understand our community by learning how and where from people commute to school. In order to do this, we compiled data from our school directory, manually counted cars coming into the school early in the morning, and observed traffic patterns during our morning and afternoon carpool. Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 1.03.34 PM.png

After working with our school’s registrar, we were able to take information we had gathered and develop this visual of where our families come from.

 

unnamed-1.jpgWe also created this info-graphic which we sent out to the MVPS community to gain support and focus group partners for the movement. We learned that we currently have 662 cars coming into MVPS every morning. Based on estimates for the growth of our school, we should have around 770 cars by the year 2020 when our new high school building is finished being built. With this projected growth rate, it’s imperative that we act now to decrease traffic. If we successfully cut traffic down by 10% now, then we will be decreasing the number of future cars by 180 cars, decreasing pollution by 2,730 lbs of CO2, and saving 5,000 minutes of time commuting as a community (based on the average distances families currently travel from in order to get to MVPS).

Focus Group Insights

After collecting numerical data, the reMoVe10 team wanted to reach out to members of the MVPS community to better understand the MVPS carpool process from the primary users. After sending out our info-graphic, we gathered two parent/faculty focus groups to speak to where we discovered that the Lower School carpool line was more congested than the Upper School since less lower school students stay after school for sports and clubs. We then met with two fourth grade groups and two kindergarden groups in order to hear from the students about how they get to their cars in the afternoon.

Here were some of our take aways:

Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 4.54.26 PM.pngScreen Shot 2016-12-21 at 4.54.37 PM.pngScreen Shot 2016-12-21 at 4.54.50 PM.pngScreen Shot 2016-12-21 at 4.55.02 PM.png

Next Steps:

 

Removing traffic in an area doesn’t take a revolutionary idea. There are some rather simple things that we can do as a community to decrease traffic. The key is communication and everyone getting passionate and involved in the movement.

The reMoVe10 team is partnering with Georgia Commute Options, a government funded program that promotes taking cleaner routes to school and work by providing incentives and help with finding carpool partners. Our team plans to give presentations to parent and student drivers in the upcoming weeks to get them excited and signed up with the free Georgia Commute Options app that gives members access to these benefits. We then will work with the organization to see how traffic is effected based on the number of people with the app associated with the Mount Vernon community.

The team will also explore more ways to promote alternative travel options in order to decrease the number of cars on the road. We already have a hashtag (#reMoVe10) and several blog posts on our Innovation Diploma website, and will do a deeper dive into other forms of effective mass communication techniques.

Reflection

The reMoVe10 team has come a long way in the past few months (this link goes to my blog posts along the journey). As a team we had various struggles with communication along the way; people would be absent and not notify anyone as to why, people would wonder out of the work space without a reason, people would not answer texts, etc. While this was very frustrating in the moment, we grew a lot with being able to confront these situations. We had many “come to Jesus moments” where we would talk about these problems and establish a new plan, and by the end of the semester everyone was doing a much better job at communicating with only minor hiccups.

It’s really hard to call a fellow teammate out, but when doing real world work, it is a necessary uncomfortably moment. If problems aren’t addressed, then they will keep happening, and that creates an unhealthy work environment. I think one of the places I grew most as a leader on this team was by being able to facilitate these necessary conversations that no one really wanted to have.

Even in the last week leading up to our big presentation we were struggling to bring things together. We realized that there is a lot of empathy work that we could have done earlier in the process. Our focus group meetings happened back to back only a few weeks before our final deadline, and it was great that they happened, but we realized the insights we identified would have been valuable at an earlier point in time. Furthermore, there are more people that we would have liked to talk to and we should have observed carpool more often, and now we’re having to go back and make up for what we really should have done earlier in the process. The jump from researching to empathizing is often the hardest hurdle to get over in my opinion, and our team truly experienced this. It was most evident in our practice pitch we gave two days before the big presentation, that we had some gaps in our project. However, we were able to pull it all together in the final hours and shifted the focus of our presentation to highlight the great work we had done. In every project it’s easy to later identify things you wish you would have done, but that shouldn’t discredit what you did do, and I was really proud of the quality of the presentation we gave in the end. Our clients even said, “This is better that some of the presentations we hear from adults that we pay to do this kind of work!”

A big part of the purpose of our presentation was to just get the right people in the room to make connections between all of the partners we’ve been working with. We achieved this goal better than we could have planned for; there were people still talking about the possibilities our work has brought up for nearly an hour after we thanked people for coming and said we were finished with their time. These conversations made me really excited with where this project could go in the upcoming months.

Our team had originally planned on disbanding after this presentation and not working 100% on this project (though we would do monthly check ins to keep up with the work). However, after the success and momentum the reMoVe10 movement gained after this presentation, we realized that we can’t stop now. The team is still in the process of figuring out who and how everyone will  be involved  next year, but I can guarantee the project will not die with the end of a semester.

 

The Movement: Transforming Education

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For the past three days I got the honor and privilege to work along side some of the most inspiring students I’ve ever met from around the country. What did these students have in common? They are all proud, passionate leaders in the movement to transform education so that in the very near future everyone can have a learner-centered education. And to think that the attendees at this conference were just a small hand full of the learners involved in this movement is inspiring.

42 students and some smaller number of adults, were gathered from 15 different schools across 13 different states for a conference called SparkHouse hosted by Education Reimagined held in Washington D.C. The coolest part about this conference was that it was specifically designed so that there would be more students then adults. (But we made sure to clarify on multiple occasions that everyone in the room was a learner. I’m always saying that everyone can be a student, a teacher, and a mentor at different times in their lives because we are all life long learners.)

The last few days I’ve posted reflections about the day (Learner-Centered Commonalities and Inspiring Minds United At Last ), but today I’d like to really reflect on my take aways overall and next steps.  (I’ll admit, there is probably much more I could say on this topic and I’m sure I’m forgetting important things, but this is my best stab at it.)

Take aways:

  • Relationships are key in a learner-centered environment: between students, teachers, families, and the community; every student needs to have the feeling of being known, heard, and cared about at a personal level for the best learning to occur
  • Defining vs distinguishing: you can’t define something (such as “learner-centered”) with examples, but you can distinguish what does and what does not fall into a certain category by having conversations to establish a common understanding
  • We need more common language: every learner-centered school is a little bit different though we share the same values. The hard part about this is that because the programs are different we use different language to describe the experiences (this week alone I heard about design thinking, project based learning, masteries, cardinal academy, capstones, extended learning opportunities, etc…) the problem with this is that it gets very confusing to convince people to join a movement while constantly trying to describe all of these different words which essentially just become jargon.
    • How might we develop a glossary of common language so that we can distinguish between different types of experiences while still being able to provide clarity and unity for the movement?
  • Detecting the presence of leadership: There is a kind of speaking and listening (communicating) that causes people to be engaged and united around a common goal that is for “we” (not “me”) in a safe space; the people are then energized and feel a part of something bigger than anyone of us and it’s for everyone
  • Creative ways to get credit: I love the opportunities I’m given by being a student at MVPS however, there are many times where I feel like I’m facing a two worlds struggle because there simply isn’t enough time in the day to dive deeply into my project work and extra curricular activities which I’m passionate about while also spending the required amount of time in core classes to gain graduation credits. The interesting thing I realized while at this conference is that many schools are giving students core credits for their big scale project work that may even take place off campus. (Like getting credit for working in a Kroger and Bank run by the school, or getting credits for participating on the robotics team, or getting credits while being certified as a chef or nursing assistant, or getting credit for an internship that takes place a few times a week during the day.) There are a lot of interesting ideas about creative ways to give credit for large scale project work outside of just credit in the sense of acknowledgment that you’re doing something awesome and gaining skills that will make a cool story to talk about. It seems like a nice baby step in the right direction is to start finding new paths that students can take to gain credits for the learning done from large scale project work (such as Innovation Diploma work or even electives and clubs perhaps).
  • If not now, then when? If not you, then who?: I can’t remember what TEDTalk I watched that had this quote, but some of us from MVPS brought it up at the conference because it accurately describes the mood most of us felt once we were “done.” We gathered an incredible group of people together and that alone has been a huge takeaway. I now know more about so many interesting types of learner-centered models and we have also formed a powerful community of students that are ready to work together to push this movement forward. Every great moment in history starts with a gathering of people.

Next steps:

At the end of the conference the group came together to start discussing next steps and what we would like our role to be in this movement. I’m happy to say that we’ve already started to take action on a few ideas, and we’ve also been thinking about several others that may be a little over the mountains right now.

Next steps in progress:

  • GroupChat/Communications: first off, it’s important to us that we stay connected, so the team of learners at this conference established a group chat with everyone on it so that we can update, support, and ideate with each other as we go back to our respective schools
  • Student Voice Edition Magazine/Reflections: as of earlier today I challenged everyone to also write/draw/record a reflection about their experience with learner-centered education, how they felt about the past few days, what their most excited for next, what’s the biggest thing they’d like to change, etc. then the idea is to compile these reflections into a singular magazine to showcase this new unified student voice group that has been created over these past few days. Luckily a bunch of people were also interested, so I think we’ve officially gotten the ball rolling!
  • Video Re-cap: throughout the three days, a professional video team recorded us as we worked and had some interviews with people as well, and the plan is for everyone to share this video with other people to help spread the word about the work being done across the country already with at least these 15 schools
  • T-Shirt Word of Mouth: everyone who can has agreed to wear our #SparkHouse shirts this coming Monday as a conversation starter to talk about what we did while we were away from our typical school day

Over the mountain thinking:

  • Pitching at our school: everyone walked away from the conference with at least one new cool idea for their personal school based off of what other schools were doing, so an interesting next step would be for everyone to actually pitch to their admin about a new idea for their school to prototype with
  • Exchange program: we send teachers to learn from work being done by other schools, but what if we had an exchange program for students where students would spend a few days shadowing students from another school to learn about other learner-centered models; student voices are powerful, so imagine how powerful it would be if a student in Georgia could come back from 3 days (arbitrary number for now) spent at a school in New York and say that they found this other schools way of teaching to be really inspiring? That would say a lot. Plus it would be fun for us students interested in learning more about different types of education!
  • The glossary: I talked earlier about the need to develop more common language, so one idea I left the conference with is the idea of creating a learner-centered education glossary to help distinguish between different ways we classify models of education. If each student at this conference were to help make a glossary for their specific school, then we put those together, I’m sure we’d find some interesting overlaps and have interesting discussions about what’s worth distinguishing between and it could help provide clarity to the movement in theory.
  • Student run conference: everyone’s always saying that student voices are some of the most powerful ones, and I believe that every student at this conference has the leadership potential to facilitate a conference. So one over the mountain idea that I proposed was for every school group from the conference to facilitate their own conference similar to SparkHouse. We would use the event to get more learners involved in the movement from people that are already hooked to people who come from a traditional school and don’t know much about the new possibilities some schools are making possible.

 

Overall I was thrilled to take part in this event and have left being more inspired than ever. I’d like to believe that I’ve been involved in this movement for some time now with my blog and twitter presence in this world of education transformation; however, this experiance was amazing to me because it’s the first time I really felt like their were more student voices out there being heard. There are obviously students at my school and others that are supportive of this kind of learning, but not everyone is as passionate about really being involved in the behind the scenes promotion and development work alongside the adults, which is understandable. I’m also sure there are more student involved in the movement that I’ve yet to meet. But I now feel like more students are starting to get involved and I think that’s going to be game changing, especially now that I feel connected to a strong united community of the 42 students I just spent the last three days with. (Not to mention all of the adults that have been super supportive and instrumental in making these connections happen and successful).

When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, “Where’s the evidence of this working?” but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working. Everyday I feel like I know myself a little bit better and am improving my skills as a learner a little bit more due to the opportunities I have to take ownership of my learning and blur the lines between school and the real world.

We as students have inherited a certain type of world, and we have something to say about it. The educational world has been the same for decades, but we are living in a new world so it’s time that education was reimagined, redesigned, and reinvented into a learner-centered model. I feel empowered as a learner to work to push the education transformation movement forward, and I’m excited about all of the possibilities of the future. I imagine a world where one day every student experiences learner-centered education each and everyday, and I believe this future is a very realistic world.

 

Learner-Centered Commonalities

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I don’t even know where to begin to describe how awesome today was!!! Learners from around the country gathered together talking about our unique learner-centered educations, and the conversations were mind blowing.

After sharing short presentations about our schools, we specifically focused today on what things are similar and different across the 15 different schools in order to get a clearer idea of how to describe learner-centered education by distinguishing traditional vs non-traditional (learner-centered) school aspects.

When trying to figure out what makes a learner-centered school my team came up with these commonalities:

  • hands on learning in the real world
  • self-paced learning
  • strong relationships between students and teachers
  • different forms of assessment then just a 0-100% scale
  • an emphasis on skills not just content learning
  • interacting and engaging with the community
  • students take ownership and are passionate about their work
  • flexible and interactive learning environments

However, I also noticed some big differences though between my school (MVPS) and some of the other schools here. The biggest one is that a lot of these other schools have a huge emphasis on the importance on internships and award graduation credits for internships as well as other specialty programs. For example, I heard of multiple schools were students can take a class offered at school where they actually get certified as a nursing assistant, or a chef, or coding languages and they not only get certifications and skills needed to go into these fields in the workforce, but they also get high school credit for it! It seems like a crazy idea, but in my opinion it’s just crazy awesome!

After we created lists similar to the one above in small groups, we came together as a full group and read through part of the document that Education Reimagined has been developing as somewhat of a north star to help share with others about this transformative movement. The quick summary of the main points is:

  1. each learner is unique
  2. learning is natural
  3. learning can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone

While I can’t find a link or picture to the rest of these three points, here is a link to more about how the Education Reimagined team has been envisioning this movement which we read before coming this week. Part of why we were gathered here this week has also been to help refine some of this thought process; thusly, there was a big discussion today the need for adding potentially two new points to more clearly address the relationships between who we often call students and teachers, and also to describe the culture of a learner-centered school. I was more participating then note-taking during this discussion, but there are some great quotes on twitter I’d encourage anyone interested to read.

I think a big takeaway from this discussion was the general notion that we all have insider language we use at our schools, but really they are all just different ways of naming similar types of ways to learn. The language is less important than the meanings of the words. To convince people that a new idea is a good idea, you need to expose them to stories and immerse them in situations where they experiance this new way of learning for themselves and observe the benefits.

I was really inspired today by all of the students who are clearly all motivated and driven learners doing awesome work. Everyone here just “get’s it” as we said in an actual conversation I had earlier. It’s as if all of us here have experienced being around other students that just go through school like it’s a chore and have had those classes stuck in a traditional mindset, and yet everyone here see’s the possibilities for the future and is working to make it a reality. We don’t have to convince each other that a change is needed, we just agree and talk about how we’ve worked to provide our voice.

I’m still just so grateful that Education Reimagined decided to have this conference for the first time with students, because it’s been wonderful getting to hear from more students out there that I can really relate to and talk to about transforming education.

Kick it into Gear

IMG_6161.JPGThis Tuesday we have another client meeting with our partners from the City of Sandy Springs so it’s been a crazy week for our project team. The main things we’ve accomplished since our last meeting are as follows:

  1. added information with all of the Marta train routes onto our map
  2. added detail to our small area comprehensive plan
  3. developed an info-graphic describing the project which will be launched to the MVPS community November 2nd to gain awareness, support, and partners from parents especially (hopefully unless something changes between now and then)
  4. gained insights from several intercept interviews and observations of morning carpool
  5. have gotten into contact with people from the regional Travel Demand Management (TDM) department and have a meeting set up for November 10th to learn more about their work with traffic in Atlanta 

With our second client meeting coming up, I think it’s a good time for me to reflect on how I’ve been doing on a few of our standards of professional excellence that we have in the Innovation Diploma (ID). In ID we believe strongly in our motto “We are not a class. We’re a start up.” With this said, we do not have grades for ID; there is no number you can assign to our progress and performance in the program. However, like any business we have assessments (like our upcoming client meeting for example) and we gain feedback (from ourself, our team, and our facilitators), and we have standards of excellence so that everyone in ID knows what’s expected of them and how to be successful in the program.

Our collection of standards is based on five key skills we call the 5C’s: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Craftsmanship.

I believe I’ve been preforming strongly in the area of Collaboration-Leadership and Initiative. I’ve consistently demonstrated a clear understanding of the teams work and vision, and have served as project manager to help clarify roles and responsibilities to my team members. Furthermore, I’ve been a spokesperson for all of ID during tour days for our school and have learned to clearly articulate the work we have done so far to people who know nothing about ID let alone the work my team specifically is doing.

That said, there is no perfect leader. There are always ways to improve, and I think it’s time that I start pushing myself even more about what it means to be a leader. A leader not only has a clear understanding of the teams work, but a great leader is able to also coach others to start becoming more of a leader. I’ve been starting to do this by slowly having other team members take over as the point of contact for certain external experts, but I’m sure there are more ways I can get better at stepping down sometimes; after all I graduate next year…

I also need to work on growing in the area of Creativity- Openness and Courage to Explore. As a team we’re starting to get into a rut where we’re too caught up on the data and research. We are having a hard time moving into the empathy phase of the design challenge which we need to get to in order to identify the true heart of the problem. I need to work on exploring ideas outside of just the general problem of “traffic” so we can figure out where this project is going. Right now we have lots of numbers and graphs of our population and times when traffic is bad, and I even got to school before 7:15 on Friday to take observational notes on carpool all morning from a haystack outside by drop off; however, we have yet to truly identify the problem as a team. We know traffic is bad, but why? I don’t think we know why yet which is a problem at this point in the game.

I’m excited about the work our team did in the last few weeks, but in the last few days I’ve realized that I don’t think we’re at the point in our project where we should be. We should have more user insights, which we talked about needing after the last client meeting, and the work we did was in hopes of developing focus groups, but we never actually created those meetings. We’ve been working hard on this info-graphic that will be sent out to parents so they learn about the project and hopefully agree to meet with us, but we misjudged the amount of time it would take us to make a high-quality product so those meetings are yet to happen. I am though, still proud of the info-graphic work and think it did need to be iterated since it’s our one big shot to send something out in the newsletter to the community. Looking back, what I would have done differently would be to find a different way to get the information we needed.

This didn’t hit me until a few days ago but now it makes me realize we need to kick it in gear and I don’t know how to communicate that to the rest of my team because I don’t think everyone feels this way.

I wonder if our clients will call us out on this because sometimes I find that adults get too caught up in the novelty of students doing this kind of work and don’t call us out the way they would with adults they may work with.

Working with Kids

It’s been an agonizingly long week with very little sleep, even without blogging. Amongst other things, I’ve been working on figuring out how to take my site to the next level, so in the next few weeks there will hopefully start to be some changes in a good way. Despite still having some work left to be done, I wanted to at least get one blog in for this week, so here it goes.

IMG_2843.PNGI haven’t been a competitive gymnasts for years- about six to be exact. I was in denial for a few years, as anyone would be after leaving behind something that had been a part of them since birth. During those few years I would occasionally create a few routines for myself a week or so before an in house or out-of-state meet that I was going to be at anyway since my sister is a gymnasts and my mom is a coach. The routines were nothing special, but they satisfied my homesickness for gymnastics.

Who knows why I would miss sandpaper leotards, sailboat tight knotted hair, and four hours of waiting for no more than four minutes of performing. It’s like when you travel out of town for several weeks: no matter how much fun you are having a way from home, it always feels nice to sleep in your own bed again. I have always enjoyed gymnastics, but eventually I knew I was no longer progressing and other things started to take priority in my life; so I “quit.” Though when your family owns a gym, you can never truly “quit” gymnastics as my siblings and I have all realized at different points in our lives. However, I slowly realized that there were other ways I could be involved in gymnastics.

Apparently those routines that I made up for myself were actually pretty good. Good enough for me to start getting asked to create more routines for other gymnasts. I’ve now created and taught over 20 routines in the past three years between group routines, gymnastics routines, and acrobatics routines; I’ve edited at least as many gymnastics songs. I’ve even gotten my junior coach certifications so I’m able to go on the floor and coach at any gymnastics competition that we have kids competing in- which isn’t something that just any coach can do.

I know every single girl on team by name and level, and have gotten to know them well enough to know their specific style. Some people like to think that a gymnast is just a gymnast, but each girl is very different and when I decide on music and routines for our girls, I consider lots of different factors: how good a kid is at learning choreography, if a girl has a tendency to mix up left and right, if the kid is good at timing with music, flexibility, maturity, power, artistry. These kids are like my extended family. Half of them have spent the night at my house, or traveled with my family to meets, or shared a hotel with us, or done activities with us while we weren’t at the gym.

This weekend was the Sandy Springs festival and every year we do a performance. This year my mom thought we would be nice if we did a dance rather than just tumbling, so I was in charge of teaching kids an old routine we did in the spring. Problem is that kids cancel on me an hour before the show, and other kids show up. So I had to teach multiple kids new routines in a limited amount of time, which was very stressful, and yet somehow we pulled it off really well. Despite the stress they put me through, I was still proud of the girls and it made me realize how weird it’s going to be next year without my gym family.

Even if I don’t compete personally, the gymnastics world has been my world since I’ve been born. I’ve watched these girls grow up in the gym- literally I’ve known some of them since they were babies. One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from an 11 year old girl said, “Aw what am I supposed to do next year when Anya’s in college. How will I get a cool routine?” Her comment made all of the sass and backtalk I’ve received over the years from some of her teammates entirely worth it. To inspire younger kids is something that I find more rewarding than any letter grade in a grade book. I hope that wherever life takes me in these next few years, I’m still able to work with kids because they have so much to share and give me such joy.

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Take Learning Outside Initiative

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Background

Some of the faculty of Mount Vernon Presbyterian School came to the Innovation Diploma Pixar Cohort (members in their 2nd or 3rd year of the program) with the challenge of: How might we gain more traffic and awareness for the two outdoor classrooms on campus? We then had two weeks to go through the process of human centered problem solving to then pitch to our clients various high res prototypes that have potential for immediate implementation.

Key skills developed

  • bias towards action
  • craftsmanship of prototypes and presentation
  • time management
  • impromptu short interviewing
  • communication

Project Details

Phase One: Discovery and Empathy

With only two weeks to interview, research, ideate, prototype, and pitch ideas to our client, the Pixar team had to work quickly and efficiently. After some initial discussion, we divided our team into four sub committees right off the back:

  1. Research Team: Why should we care about going outside?
  2. Interview Team: What are the needs/concerns of MVPS community members?
  3. Branding Team: How might we spread awareness about the spaces with well crafted branding strategies?
  4. Cleaning Team: How might we make the spaces inviting enough for people to want to come into it once we spread the word about it’s existence?

After a week working on these sub committees the team re-grouped to share powerful insights:

Research

  • A study performed by the University of Illinois found that students’ capacity to pay attention increased 13 percent if they had a green view outside their classroom window
  • The Hollywood elementary study found as much, as the number of on-task students increased when the education moved outside.
  • Studies have shown a 27% increase in science testing scores with plenty of time outside
(link to studies)

Interview

  • 57% of the 51 students interviewed have only been in the outdoor classroom once
    since starting high school at MVPS
  • Teachers are concerned with:
    • bugs/whether
    • logistics: taking attendance, time spent getting there and back to classroom, carrying stuff
    • a way to capture work: internet, white board, flip board, etc.
    • needing a table top
    • distractions: worried students will be distracted by the “newness” of outside
  • Several teacher concerns were assumption based:
    • internet does in fact work outside
    • it takes about 2 minutes to get outside from the third floor if the class chooses to meet in their room rather than right outside
  • More new teachers to the school were more curious, interested, and excited about using the outdoor space while a large amount of teachers at the school for even just a year were incline to say something to the extent of “I don’t think it will work for the type of class I teach”

Branding

  • the word “classroom” has a certain connotation to a type of learning environment
  • outside learning is a different kind of learning and therefore the space needs a new name

Cleaning

  • cleaned up lot’s of trash and power washed the amphitheater seating
  • discovered mold under the top layer of mulch and the wooden tables

Phase Two: Experiment and Produce

Based on these insights from week one, we spent week two creating new teams to develop a total of 7 prototypes, and a team of two worked to better craft our story and presentation for our pitch. The final prototypes were as followed:

  1. camping chairs in the area for more comfortable seating
  2. colorful signs to promote the space and creativity
  3. words of wisdom promoting the use of the outdoors written on communal white boards and chalk boards around the high school
  4. developed 2 different versions of digital signage to be showcased in the lobby of the building
  5. 3 different versions of a water bottle with a sticker and note encouraging and reminding teachers to take advantage of the outdoor space
  6. 2 large posters with quotes about the value of outdoor learning
  7. 3 different versions of a portable lap desk with a white board surface to meet the need of not having enough surfaces for writing on

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1RSzUNl4q0xmeITpOYiT-WM_Knd9wmjiAmnNae1u8T_E/pub?start=true&loop=true&delayms=5000


Reflection and Client Feedback

Team

Being the first design brief of the year, and many member’s first ever design brief, and having such a short time frame, I believe the Pixar team did remarkably well. Our clients found the level of quantity and quality of our prototypes remarkable, and everyone was ready to further implement the ideas which shows a great level of empathy and understanding of the problem.

At the beginning of the process, most of us, myself included, were not found of the idea of going outside for class. We found it cumbersome and not exceptionally beneficial, and thus we were not thrilled about working on this challenge that went against our own beliefs. However, I was proud that our team was able to go through a mind-shift and focus on the fact that despite our feelings towards the challenge, our clients asked something of us and we needed to put our feelings aside in order to deliver.

Once aside our feelings, we still had a lack of communication in terms of what our goal was for the end of the two weeks. Some members were ready to start digging up mulch and give the area a complete upgrade because they thought that was what needed to happen in order to get more people in the space by the end of two weeks. This bias towards action was incredible, but it actually had to be dialed back some because our goal, as we clarified about two days before our deadline, was just to have small prototypes and concepts with a strong pitch for our client who could then implement the ideas if proven necessary. Once this clarifier meeting took place, the team made great strides in the last 48 hours before the deadline; working like a well oiled machine to be ready before our final pitch.

In the future, it would have been great if this clarifying meeting happened earlier on so that we could have been as productive as we were in the last two days for the entire timeline of the project; however, sometimes you don’t know you need a large group meet up until you get far enough a long for clear confusion. Based on the insight from this design brief, in our next team we plan to establish early on a clear understanding of the goal, the timeline, and tasks that need to be completed, and who is responsible for each task.

Even though for this challenge success didn’t include changing mulch, the amount of bias towards action was phenomenal during this challenge. This is a huge improvement from when we started in the Innovation Diploma and would spend weeks discussing ideas and never really take action and get working in the real dirt. We would not have been able to develop 7 well crafted prototypes if it hadn’t been for the level of agency and craftsmanship the team had as a whole.

Personal

I typically have a hard time with having a bias towards action because I’m a person that really likes to try and think through all of the details, but for this project I think I improved some. During part one of the challenge I was on the interview team, and while normally we would spend a lot of time carefully choosing interviewees and crafting emails to schedule a chance to talk, for this project we only had two weeks so we didn’t have time to go through the longer more detailed process. None of our interviews were scheduled and instead I literally walked around looking for students and teachers that weren’t in class and asking them to have impromptu 5-10 minute interviews with me. I even successfully convinced one teacher to have one of their classes outside during my free time so that I could observe the process of the class going to the space and then capturing how they interacted with it.

Another mindset I’ve been trying to embrace is the idea of making my work visible. For this project I worked on that by getting everyone to create visual representations of the key insights taken away from each teacher interview. Then I helped lead the team in synthesizing our insights to create one composite user (also with a visual representation) which we used to share out with the full group at the start of week two. To accompany our composite teacher user, we also had graphs of the student data collected which shows how we’ve grown with our ability to think visibly and also our ability to use technology to make our work at a higher quality level.

Going along with the theme of higher quality of work, I was incredibly impressed mine and my co-presenter’s ability to put together a high caliber presentation in mainly just two hours. The presentation had limited words on slides, edited pictures for ascetic purposes, the entire slide deck had an evident theme to help with the flow between slides, and the work was well synthesized to pair down all of the research, insights, and prototyping work we had done into one pitch around 15 minutes. Typically I wish that we would have rehearsed the pitch better and had the prototype speakers more confident and clear in their role, but I am impressed with the work we presented in a limited timeframe and our clients had no expressed negative comments on the presentation its self.


Next Steps

The pitch was successful and prototypes are ready to be implemented, though technically our team has met our goal and deadline. Some prototypes remain in action such as the camping chairs and words of wisdom around the school, but some still need a little iterating and communicating with various people in order to have them implemented. Our team of 16 has completed this project, but a few may select to continue working with the client to finish the implementation process. I do not currently plan to continue with this team, though if that is where I am most needed in our start-up, then that is where I will continue to work.

Navigating the Bends

This is now my 3rd year as a cohort member of the Innovation Diploma and everyday I’m noticing new ways that we have grown overtime.  

Just today we were having a”Team Up” moment Image result for riveras we know are calling it, where we all gathered to debrief on where we are at and where we need to be at by tomorrow. We quickly identified that there was some miscommunication in terms of what everyone believed to be our definition of done for the current project we are working on. (The topic of the project is irrelevant for the purpose of this post, but in case you’re curious, we are working getting more traffic and awareness of our outdoor classrooms.) After coming to this realization, we talked things through as a team and were able to come to a consensus and decide on how to proceed.

I’m not really sure how to describe this process we went through, but after this Team Up took place, some of our observing faculty members commented on how fascinating it was to watch us. They said that it was really impressive to see a group of students lead this process of critical thinking about clarifying their task to help a client.

I found this funny because I hadn’t even thought about how it may seem impressive that we were able to have that conversation. To me those deep and messy conversations have become normal, but it wasn’t always this way. Thinking about it now, I realize we’ve grown into being able to have these conversations. With experiance being thrown into high stress, real world, situations with real stakes, we’ve learned how to better navigate the bends in the river.

It’s amazing how we change overtime without even noticing it sometimes, but then we look back and realize just how far we’ve come.

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.