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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Many Roles

One of the most interesting parts about the theater is how everything always seems to somehow come together in the end.

I had another day of rehearsing for “PAINted” today (well technically my aunt’s show is called “The Gender Police” and the whole event is “PAINted,” but that’s just a technicality). Rehearsal was still al little rough today, but it get’s better each time and we all know tomorrow will be great when everything comes together.

I also saw “Finding Neverland”  today which was as magical and inspiring as you hope for any good musical to be. What really intrigued me about the show was actually the casting. Four of the leads are young boys, so there are actually seven boys in all that rotate threw all four parts. I just found that crazy because that means the boys each know four different characters, harmonies in songs, blocking, and choreography, which just seems crazy to think about how rehearsal must have worked. Most people have hard enough time learning one part and maybe an understudy for another, but four different roles is crazy!

The four boys I saw today were amazing as was the entire cast and crew. With each new show I see, I just get even more excited for next year’s theater season at MVPS!! I guess I should probably finish my college essay drafts, so I feel excited and prepared for next year to start…

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.

We Did It!!!!

(I guess this didn’t post yesterday…)

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We did it! We did it! We did it, ya! Ya, we did it!

We completed a year in our Collab Course– ya we did it! We did it! We did it! Hurray!

We learned a lot as students and teachers both- ya we did it! We did it! We did it! Yay!

Though at times we felt lost, we always pushed through. Then we took the exam and now I can’t believe we’re threw! We did it!

We did it! We did it!

Ya we did it!

 

Today was the official last class of the school year for mine and Kat’s AP Lang Collab Course, and I honestly can’t even believe this bus is finally coming home to get ready for a new adventure. It’s been a great year with lots of learning, and even though our school time may be over, we still have work to do. Kat and I will be recording our end of the year MoVe Talks soon which will be a much greater reflection for us about our take aways from this course. Then we will both also be speaking at workshops with Grant Lichtman over the summer about our work.

So like I said, the bus may stop, but just to get gas to go on a new hero’s journey. But for now, I just want to thank everyone who has worked with us along the way to make this crazy idea into a reality. This course has changed my life for the better because this experiance of truly take control of our learning will be unforgettable. We did more than survive another year; we thrived.

We did it. We actually did it.

We’re Still Lucky

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Today in ID I got the opportunity to video chat with a group of students at a school in London. Their teachers had heard about the Innovation Diploma and had been in contact with our facilitators for a while, and after we had a time change mis-communication the first time, we had to reschedule the video chat for today.

I think it went rather well, and it was cool to know students across the world are taking such an interest in our work. (Even if they were mainly pulled in by a teacher because they were students she knew could ask good questions.)

What I always forget though, is how different our education system is from other countries. For example, they have to take a standardized end of the year exam, so even if they try to create unique programs at their school, they are required to take certain test in order to pass a grade and eventually go to college. This makes things much harder for them, from what we could tell, in terms of trying to change the way they run their school.

We are so often talking about the flaws with American education and how we want to change so many things, that we often forget that we actually still have things pretty well off. We are lucky to have the education system that we have, even if we can (and plan to) make it even better.

Passion Work Retreat

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I’ve been on hiatus for the past week from blogging, but now that break is almost officially over though, it is time for me to start getting things back in gear. I hadn’t planned to be on hiatus, but I have a rule where I don’t blog if it would mean leaving family/friend time unnecessarily and with it being Thanksgiving break, things got busy.

However, by no means did I stop thinking. It was quite the opposite actually, there were many occasions where someone would say “Anya stop thinking,” but I’m not very good at that. It can be a problem sometimes actually. A problem I have not yet been able to solve for.

In fact sitting next to me at this very moment is my notebook flipped open to the page with notes from our Google Hangout with Grant Lichtman and notes about my AP Lang portfolio that I have been working on putting together, at least 40 notecards most of which have sentences describing one of my past blog posts, a passion board with sticky notes and a sharpie for both iVenture and AP Lang work (in truth it is the beginnings of these becoming more closely into 1 related topic), a white board calendar with all of the dates I need to keep in mind, and another white board with all of the big things I need to get done and what my hopeful schedule for today was in order to work on them.

But alas, this all makes me sound like I was much more productive this week than I truly feel I was. I mean I didn’t even blog. I didn’t go through my list of things to do. I did work some on all of the above as well as coaching gymnastics camp, finishing the choreographing for 2 acro routines, memorizing theater lines, looking and taking notes on a bunch of potential colleges, and studying a little for the SAT which I take this coming weekend. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if did more than most students this week, but it still doesn’t feel like enough knowing how much time I also spent just looking up random stuff online and watching gymnastics videos and Netflix and playing games.

Does it ever? Does it ever feel like enough?

Kat and I were texting earlier about how we both don’t feel like we got as much done as we intended on getting done this week. It seems that all we look forward to is having a little time because that’s when “we’ll get to work on the stuff we want to be doing.” The problem is that we are so busy the rest of the time that when a little time comes our way what we “want to be doing” become simply relaxing. Which isn’t nor should it be a bad thing. We all need time to reboot and “stop thinking” for a little sometimes. The hard part is finding the “free time” to use as “work time,” and being around others that are still in “reboot mode” doesn’t make it easy.

While Kat and I were texting (actually I ended up having a similar conversation with a few others as well, it was kind of on my mind a lot today), I brought up the concept of a writers retreat. Ironically this thought came to me because of a TV show I had been getting caught up in this week. Authors, trying to write a book typically, will sometimes go on a retreat for an extended amount of time in order to clear their mind of other distractions and just write. Then write some more. Then keep writing because they have that time!

Sometimes I wish I could go on a similar retreat. Not just for writing but just to have time dedicated for working, but for passion work. Ideally it would be great if it could be my school for a week. Because truthfully, it’s really hard to spend what would be break time with family trying to work all of the time. The whole reason we have breaks is so that we can reboot and have some family time without worrying about work so much. School is work time, so what if we just changed what that work was; not to mention make it for a longer period of time just in a new location.

Sometimes I’ll say I need to go do work and my family will react with “What work didn’t you do already that’s due tomorrow?” Then I have to explain how it isn’t actually due in the typical school sense which is why I haven’t finished it, because passion work can’t really be fully finished, but it does need to be worked on.

Finding time for passion work when that passion work isn’t yet your “work” work is really difficult. So sometimes I wish I could just go on a passion work retreat to dedicate a large amount of time to the work that isn’t “due” but is important and needs time without interruptions and distractions (many of which I cause myself when I go into “break” mode).

I think it would even be okay for a few people to on this retreat with me as long as they too were in “passion work mode” because then we could hold each other responsible and get feedback from each other even while on retreat.

Anyway break is over tomorrow and thus work begins. With midterms only two weeks away plus all of the big events I have coming up, things are about to get crazy and I think I’ll need some rest.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

The Wisdom of Justice

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So I honestly don’t know where this 20/20 on Plato’s Book 1 of The Republic will go because to be honest, philosophy is hard to capture in words sometimes.

Book 1 ends in an “agree to disagree” situation between Socrates and several others while trying to decide on a definition of justice, and a “just man”. This conversation begins with a discussion about old age, and how someone makes the claim of old men being wise.

I like how Socrates describes that you can’t just become old and then instantaneously become wise, but instead your character as a person throughout your life time influences what you are like in old age.

But what makes someone wise?

How are wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and education related and yet different?

Well here are my thoughts.

Knowledge is knowing facts. Intelligence though, is being able to interpret and analyze these facts to make conclusions and actually put the knowledge you have to use in your life situation. Wisdom then, is the ability to learn from the experiences that occur in your life and to be able to teach the intelligence you’ve gained to others. Education finally, is the actual process of learning and teaching facts.

So you may notice that education leads back to knowledge once again, thus forming a lovely circle. (Because we all know life is full of circular thinking, and circles are pretty cool.)

But Plato is writing about justice, so how does wisdom connect to justice?

This is the question I am left still pondering, but I’m thinking that in order to be just you must use your wisdom. When you reach the point of being able to teach something to someone else, then you must know that thing well enough to help influence decisions that need to be made around a debate around that thing. (I feel that I may be getting a little “up in the clouds” as we say in Chemistry when we start speaking more conceptually, but again, philosophy is hard to articulate without some extent of confusion and with things left for interpretation.)

So I’m not going to attempt to define justice yet, but I am starting to conceptualize the relations between education, knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, and justice. So hopefully, like the periodic table, once I have more background information I will be able to predict the future better and therefore better understand justice itself.

Justice is not a simple thing, it is a concept, defined by the definer, used to settle debates, created to shape governments. A just man is one that must try and decide that which is the just decision. This task is difficult and requires much wisdom.

Venturing Back to the Prison Cave

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Today was another 20/20 Day: Allegory of the Cave part 2. 

Today Kat and I discussed Plato’s Allegory of the Cave again, because this is one of those pieces that you just have to reread since new insights come from it each time.

From the combination of multiple discussions, I think I am starting to have a more refined definition of “truth”. Truth is the agreed upon facts that a group decides upon. There are always multiple truths, and that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a “right” or “wrong” truth, it simply means they are different. This makes the line between truth and belief hard to define.

In the terms of the allegory, Plato says, “[Socrates] To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”Which seems to argue that the prisoners do not know the truth because they only see the shadows. However, later he says, “[Socrates] But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.” This new statement eludes to the idea that knowledge must build upon itself. After all, you can not do calculus without first understanding basic principles of geometry.

Therefore, if knowledge builds upon itself, and truth is built upon knowledge, then the prisoners must have some sort of known truth. Plato uses light as a metaphor for knowledge and understanding, so I find it interesting then that shadows can only be seen if there is some light. While the prisoners may not be able to full see the light source, they do have some knowledge and understanding; they just are not yet exposed to the full truth.

The prisoners know that there is more out there: “At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains.” While their curiosity pained them, Plato does not deny that the prisoners were curious and knowledgeable enough to know there must be something they can not see. This is a truth that the prisoners understand.

They might not know what is out there where they can’t see, but they hypothesize that there is something.

If the prisoners are ever expected to understand the truth, Plato claims that their guardians must venture back into the cave themselves: “[Socrates] I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the cave, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.” The guardians, if they wish to become teachers, must join their students, the prisoners, to understand what truths they understand in order to help guide them to a fuller understanding of the truth.

Teachers must invest themselves in the world of students, if they wish to truly challenge and grow their perspectives, beliefs, and understanding of the truth.