Mind-Mapping Education

This week in Grand Challenges we finally started working on the topics we formed our teams around. It’s probably not surprising that I’m on a team that wants to focus on education. The goal of this week was to start exploring the problem space, and since I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the field of education and the Education Transformation Movement.

Because I find this more interesting to think about than homework, I ended up spending some quality productive procrastination time developing a quick mind-map around k-12 education. This mind-map highlights some big questions I’ve thought about, hunches I have based on experience and observations, and the start of some potential ideas that could stem from these thoughts. It’s not all encompassing, but it’s a start.

Just thought I’d add it to the conversation. Education Hunches MindmapIMG_9392 2

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Mental Health in Education

If you ask a random Yellow Jacket to describe the last two weeks on campus, the majority would most likely respond with, “extended hell week.”

On the one hand, there was the academic side of hell week: first midterms in multiple classes on top of lab reports and extra curricular’s starting to pick up. It was tough, but everyone here chose to be somewhere where we can be academically challenged.

But then you have the emotional side of hell week… Many people know that GT has been on the news a lot recently. And not in a positive way. There was Irma, then a shooting, then a riot, then a fellow scholar died from an illness, and I recently heard that there may have been a few robbery’s as well (though don’t quote me on that one). Not to make light of any of these things, but I list them for the sake to say that our campus has not been getting the greatest press in the past few weeks, and I thought now that I’ve made it through hell week, I should take some time to reflect.

Thus I come back to my blog because it seems this is where my best reflections come out. (Even though they typically are written in about an hour with me just word vomiting onto a page, so who knows where this will go because I surely don’t right now. )

Anyway, as I was saying, it all started with Irma. The first wave of the storm. It feels so long ago, but then again so does the start of the school year, and yet we’re really it’s hardly been more than a month. I went home for the hurricane and got lucky that our power didn’t even go out, and GT wasn’t in too bad of a situation either so we got back in school by the Wednesday after with seemingly no problems jumping back into things.

Then there was the shot hear around the campus. I’ve been told it was the first time in GT police history that a gun was fired by a police officer on campus. I didn’t know Scout, but like everyone at Tech, I’ve been wishing for the best for Scout’s family and friends. And the peaceful vigil turned protest just seemed to come out of no where to me, because as I told friends who reached out to me around that time, it’s the kind of thing you hear about happening on college campuses but never really expect it to happen when you’re there. I was lucky enough to be in my dorm room at the time, and thankfully everyone I knew also stayed safe.

As for the death of Tessa Powers, I don’t know how public this was even made. All we were told was that she was sick and it was a sudden and unexpected death. I have friends who saw her two days prior at a coffee house I was invited to but couldn’t make it to. I can’t say I knew her well, though she was a member of one of my programs, and thus I knew several people who were close with her and her loss was felt deeply by the community.

To be honest, I maybe wasn’t worried enough about these potentially emotionally scaring events. I felt removed in some weird way, maybe because I was distracted by midterms and am also just not the most emotional person for better or worse. What I will say bothered me though, was that the protest was started by non GT students. Outsiders came onto our campus, caused a bunch of problems, and then GT is now has to deal with the bad press.

I don’t really follow the news as well as I should, but here on campus there was a lot of talk about that and it was making a significant number of students upset to see our school community being judged so much for a lot of things that just kind of happened to be on our campus. In times of struggle it’s at least nice to see a community come together, and I’d just like to acknowledge that tech did a great job of always alerting us when things happened on campus (I got at least 5 notifications telling me to seek safe shelter and then reporting when everything was under control). Furthermore, there have been lots of emails and announcements about events for people to pay their respects to Scout and Tessa and their families, and there has been lots of talk about mental health on campus with many resources for those in need of counseling.

Mental health actually has been a huge topic of discussion since I’ve gotten to Tech

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Student story: We need mental health education in schools

because my Grand Challenges problem is all about the evident stress problem on campus. And if feels like yesterday, though it was two years ago, that I was looking at this same problem at the Stanford d.School with the Innovation Diploma for interim. It seems that college campuses and mental health problems are becoming more and more of a conversation these days. I wonder why.

I haven’t done enough actual research to make a big statement at the moment, but my hypothesis is that it has a lot more to do with academic pressure from grades then schools would like to admit. The past two weeks have been very emotional for a lot of people and a lot of professors made the call to change schedules some because of that. Tests were pushed back in freshman chemistry. A few classes were canceled. Some classes became more of a discussion around the events of the past few weeks and were used as check ins to make sure everyone was doing relatively okay. Etc. That was great; I know it helped a lot of people.

Though I know some people still aren’t doing better. There are people on campus still overwhelmed with the events of hell week and can’t seem to find themselves taking time for themselves. Are we just going to be in this constant loop of people getting worked up, then something bad happening and then we address things, and then the cycle repeats? I’m curious as to what will actually change.

I know some people are advocating for more mental health services, though personally I have to wonder if people who really need help will take the time to utilize them. But I’m sure that will help lots of people who can’t seem to get off the wait list because their problems aren’t “urgent enough.” – yes, I had a girl tell me that.

Personally, my education oriented mind believes this is yet another example of why education needs to change specifically in regards to how we assess students. Assessment is a good and needed thing, that doesn’t mean number grades are the only way to assess knowledge and capabilities. I don’t have the answer for the “best system,” to be honest I don’t even know at the moment what I would suggest, but I know that students get too stressed over grades and these past two weeks have made me even more annoyed about it.

IT’S TIME TO CHANGE THE WAY WE ASSESS!

How might we get authentic feedback and assessment? The kind that truly allows us to have a safe space to fail and then learn and grow from our mistakes, without this looming fear of a few bad grades recking our future? What does a number really tell us? If people keep saying grades don’t matter after you get your first job and gain some credibility for yourself, then why do we keep grades at all?

I could go on, but I may just start sounding repetitive because I can feel myself verging into rant mode because this truly makes me deeply upset. I’m more than a number; and I want work that I feel is meaningful enough to work on for a reason better than just because “I want a good grade.” Isn’t that the real reason we still have grades? – because once they’re gone it will require us to give students different kinds of work which leads to a lot of new systems we need to prototype and explore?

It seems that the fact that people keep asking me, “how was your first hell week?” is reason enough to believe that this mentally and emotionally stressful environment wasn’t just because of the unfortunate and unpredictable situations of the last few weeks. If this is an inevitable unhealthy environment, that also means we should be able to prototype and test ways to avoid it, and I personally think that with some creative thinking there are a lot more options worth pursing than just increasing the number of counseling resources. (Counseling is still a great cause to fund, but there is always more than one way to solve a problem, and it seems like this is the only way being talked much about so far.) My vote is to rethink assessment since from interviews I’ve conducted and observations I’ve made, it seems to be a clear cause of a significant portion of stress and is something very controllable by schools, but it’s not the only way to tackle this challenge.

So what’s going to be our experiment to improve mental health in education?- and I’m not just talking about at Tech, because this problem is by no means isolated to GT, or Georgia, or even just higher ed.

Ice Cream First

images-1.jpgEver try doing something in a backwards order just for fun to see what happens? Well tonight my family (being my grandparents, siblings, and I) did just that. We decided to go out for ice cream tonight before having dinner. It was yummy, but left me not so hungry for our also yummy dinner as expected.

I’m the type of person that enjoys doing things sometimes just for kicks and giggles to appease my curiosity. For example, I took the old SAT, the new SAT, and the ACT just because I was curious about how the three would compare. (If you’re like me and equally curious, I did pretty much the exact same on every version every time I tested if you look at the comparison charts. No one can say I’m not consistent…)

Luckily for me, standardized tests are not the only things that make me curious. Sometimes I’ll do wacky things like wear my cloak to school just to see how people react, and because I love the feeling of walking down a hall with a cloak flowing behind you. It’s pretty majestic to watch, and magical to experiance- I highly suggest for everyone to try it for themselves if given the chance.

Then of course there was my senior portrait outfit… I have a philosophy about year book photos. A yearbook photo, even more so than other photos, is meant to be something that in years from when it’s taken you can look back and remember what you were like that year when the photo was taken. It should remind you of yourself. Well I’m a person who typically doesn’t wear her hair down. I am a person however who does wacky things just for the fun of it. I’m also a person who loves the Renaissance. So I took my senior portrait photo in my Renaissance dress, because that’s going to always remind me of who I am right now; that person who stands out in a crowd because she follows her crazy curious heart and mind.

So I say, if you want to try something a little backwards just because you’re curious, go for it! You may discover something wonderful, or maybe not, but you don’t know until you try. And after all, what may seem backwards or upside down may be the obviously “correct” way to others.

 

 

(As a funny side note, this post was actually inspired partially from eating ice cream first, and also partly because I finally cut my nails today after forgetting every day for the past week. A reference to the link above of a former post of mine: Turn Up Side Down. Which I also just noticed I accidentally spelled upside as two words…)

Climbing Down the Mountain

winning-story-wars-hero-journeyToday was the big day; it was AP Lang exam day. We finally took the real thing- the test that so many are going to use to judge if Kat and I successfully did something unheard of before by teaching our own AP course.

I’ve been conflicted lately. On the one hand I feel accomplished that we actually felt prepared and decent about taking the exam and hope we did well. But on the other hand, I don’t want to judge our success just based on a number after all the work we have done in order to not have to have grades and numbers in order to validate our learning.

Yes, I would like to do well on the exam, but there is also so much more we have accomplished this year even if we don’t do outstanding on the exam-we’ve sparked conversations questioning the fundamental nature of school courses; however, who knows how other people will view the success of the course if we don’t do well… And yet at the same time I can’t help but feel a bit of regret almost. Maybe this is how some teachers feel at the end of the year when they realize they haven’t covered all of the lessons they hoped to teach, and didn’t get to do all of the projects they would have liked to because there is only so much time in the year. I just feel like something is missing.

The year isn’t over just with the exam, and Kat and I still have our final MoVe Talks to wrap up the year, but there are only 3 official classes we have left and I don’t feel the sense of closure yet. I don’t know how I expected to end the year, but the entire course was based on “The Hero’s Journey” and at the end of the journey the hero is suppose to take the road back and return home with the “boon.” I wouldn’t call myself a hero, but I’m definitely a protagonist of this particular story, and I haven’t quite figured out what the boon is. I know it’s there and I’m probably just not thinking clear enough to realize what it is we’ve accomplished. I guess I just feel like there is so much more we could have done and so much more we dreamed to do that simply wasn’t possible at this point in time and yet we were too naive to realize that this time last year.

I’m still working on what to give my MoVe Talk about, but I hope whatever it is helps me find closure to this chapter of my story. I literally just realized that I’ve never really had to have a true project closure before. Between AP Lang and RISE, one thing I’ve been struggling with is the fact that we’ve actually taken ventures all the way to produce this year, and the hard part is figuring out when it’s time to say goodbye and pack up your newly found tools to move on to new mountains to climb. When do you need to make that extra push to reach an even higher point on the mountain, and when should you let others continue up and accept that you can’t climb every mountain in the world and this one isn’t meant for you to go further on.

Saying goodbye to a team is a true real world skill, that as of this moment in history, I’ve yet to learn in any sort of traditional school setting.

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.

Stress of Standardized Tests

I write the following as a voice for the general population of high school students currently going through the college process. Not all of the feelings expressed below I have personally experienced, but for every feeling expressed I know of at least one individual who has experienced that particular feeling.

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I hate standardized tests- no, I loath them. I believe I’ve made this clear in the past, but today I think I discovered my biggest issue with them. It isn’t that it takes up a whole Saturday morning of my time, or that I have to fill in multiple choice questions for hours, or that people can guess and make better scores, or that the questions are trying to trick you, or that the testing environment is dour, or that writing an essay in 20 minutes is a pain, or even just the fact that colleges weigh these arguably meaningless numbers so heavily in the admissions process. What bothers me so sticking much about standardized tests, more specifically the SAT and ACT, is that they make you feel depressed and alone.

Stories are always being told about teenagers having a hard time in high school do to various social aspects that make them feel bad about themselves: body image, bulling, struggling in school, family issues, friend drama, “who likes who,” etc. In fact, over 2.1 million teens have reported having a major depression incident in the past year, and depression is the number one cause of suicide- the third leading cause of death for Americans 15-24.

Depression is already a serious problem amongst adolescents and standardized tests only make matters worse.

The problem is that there is no good option for someone to talk to about the stressfulness of the process.

You want to talk to your friends, because you tell each other everything. However, if you talk to your friends you end up in a bad position no matter how you look at it because of this truth: one of you scored better than the other.

I’ve never met any two people that have gotten the exact same score in every area of the SAT or ACT every time they took it, meaning there must be some difference upon which you will compare yourselves. You don’t want to compare yourself to your friends, but it is human nature to think, “Why are we not the same?” We are naturally curious and sometimes the cat isn’t the only one who dies from curiosity.

If you talk to your friend that did better than you, then you feel bad about yourself because you wonder why you didn’t do as well. Then you fear that you won’t get into colleges you want to get in to because you didn’t score well enough. Then you will just get upset about the whole process and a little bit upset with your friend because while you are happy they did well, you are upset that they did better than you. (It’s the same as playing your friend in a soccer game and having mixed emotions when they score, because you’re happy to see them happy, but you’re still losing on the board. Even if you both had fun in your hearts, virtually no one cares about that when the question of, “Who won the game?,” is asked.)

On the other hand, if you talk to your friend that you did better than, then you still end up in a bad position. You then get put in the awkward situation where your friend is the one feeling upset about not doing great, and they think they didn’t do great because of comparing it to other people; you are one of those people… You want to tell your friend that it will be fine and give them advice, because that’s what friends do, but at the same time you still feel like you could do better yourself and then it makes you feel weird about complaining even though you technically scored higher. The problem is while you and your friends may understand that you should only compare your scores to yourself and how well you think you can do, to some level you still know that you are up against millions of kids in the country for a spot at certain schools and test scores still play a large part at deciding who gets in.

As many times as I tell myself, or others tell me, “You don’t need to worry so much about test scores because there are a myriad of other factors about you that play into why you are a good college candidate,” it doesn’t mean I don’t care about the scores still. I try so hard to think past them, but I know for a fact that many schools still just need a way to narrow down the lot, and even if I’m not applying to those schools I feel bad for my friends who are because it just seems so wrong. And yet again, some friends don’t care about it being wrong, they just see it as the way life is, and so if this topic is brought up it is yet another uncomfortable situation to talk to even the closet of friends about.

Bringing up test scores with friends simply never ends well. No one want to talk about it. Someone always feels weird because they scored higher and are trying to act humble. Many always feels bad because they don’t feel like they are doing as well as they should be. And everyone feels awkward. For these reasons, I don’t think any group of friends ever feels truly open when having a test scores conversations, and I say this having been on multiple sides of this conversation and hearing side rants from many others.

Now any adult I’m close with is probably reading this post right now thinking, “You can always talk to me!” But the other truth is that teens simply don’t want to talk to adults about this kind of thing for the simple and debatable reason that, “They won’t understand.” I hate to say it because it just feels so “teenagery”, but I know in my heart I believe it to some degree. Adults in our lives took these standardized tests many years ago, so the stress from these tests and the entirety of the college process is not as recent. Plus a lot has changed in those years. The question use to be “Are you going to college?” and now it is, “Where are you going for college?” Every generation kids get smarter and the average test score raises and thus the race to college gets even closer, making it more and more stressful. I don’t want to talk to adults because they all tell me the same thing, “Don’t stress about it.” Telling a person to not be stressed is like telling an alcoholic “Just stop drinking”; words alone can’t really help fix the problem at this point.

When you can’t talk to friends completely honestly, and you don’t want to talk to adults, it just makes everything more stressful and you feel as if there is no one to truly talk to. In fact I ended up ranting to a younger friend of mine today because I just needed someone to get this out to, but even that wasn’t satisfactory because they had no experience to relate to which made it very one sided. Now I wouldn’t say I’m depressed, but I definitely get frustrated when I think I can do better and even after lots of studying have a very small change in my score. And then more stressed and annoyed when trying to talk to others about my frustration.

With the amount of teens that drive themselves crazy over testing, I wish we would just change the system already. There is always something that can be done, no matter how small of a change. Clearly there is a problem, and while I think the new SAT is moving in a good direction, I don’t think this change will change any stress related to scores.

What I wonder is if there is a way to have the test score based on improvement somehow. What if we could measure how much a student has improved/how much they have learned from the time they were a freshman to a senior and that was the number sent to colleges? This way students were being compared based on how hard they personally worked in order to learn more.

To try and explain this further, take math on the SAT for an example. It is honestly is a lot of stuff I did in 8th grade, like geometry questions. However, some kids were learning that just last year. What if after 8th grade I just stopped caring in math? (Which isn’t true because I happen to love math and love learning about it, but this is hypothetical.) What if I knew I learned all I needed to know for the SAT, so after that I didn’t really try to learn much new and just memorized and regurgitated for tests at school? If that was me I wouldn’t be able to say I really grew much between being a freshman and a senior, but I could potentially score just as high as the kid who went from barely knowing how to do long division to then acing pre calculus- a much larger knowledge gap that had to be overcome. Yet, standardized testing does not currently account for how far you have come, only where you are at the end. I find this kind of unfair actually because everyone has different situations that they are put in, so by the nature of standardized testing, some people are given a better opportunity at doing well and you as a student have no control over that.

I don’t believe this is true today, but I hope for this to be possible someday: Students should have full control over their chance at getting into the college of their choice.

I don’t know how any of this would work, but I know something needs to change because standardized tests make too many students way too stressed which isn’t good for health.

I’m sick of this struggle and don’t know what to do, which is why I write, so maybe something good comes from it.

 

Don’t You Love Standardized Tests?

I love standardized testing! I’ve practically been jumping for you about having the SAT and the National Latin Exam all in under a week, plus tests and quizzes in normal class because we have our 2 week break coming up!

I mean there’s so much that we’ve gotten to experience in the last few days: Getting up early to sit for hours in a row. Using up that time in the day to look at obscure questions. Going into a cold somber room where at least a dozen other kids sit awaiting the instructions we’ve all heard a million times. Having to use non-mechanical number 2 pencils, and getting the pleasant reminder of what it’s like to deal with lead breaking and needing a pencil sharpener.

Then there comes the test itself where we get to stair at dozens of question in confusion as we try to figure out what the question is asking let alone what the answer is. We got to use logic like, “Well we know this happens in Greece and this word looks like ‘Parthenon’ so let’s go with A!” I mean why would I want to have questions that are like things we practice in school? Where is the challenge in that?

Rather than feeling prepared before entering the exam, I personally find it much more exiting to leave getting to hear the odd pieces of logic everyone used to guess their answers. We don’t practice old exam questions because we think they will help us prepare for this exam; we do that just because we think it’s fun to study things like ancient maps to then have not a single map appear on the exam.

Plus the best part about standardized testing is that I never leave feeling surprised with my performance, because I have learned to never go into them with high expectations. I try my best, and whatever happens happens; if only what I’m best at could be represented in that magic little number we’re given at the end.

And Break Begins!

Now finals are done

The torture has ended 

But teachers must grade

So students and parents don’t complain 

So long, au revoir 

And so let me conclude: 

A merry finals to all 

And to all 

A good night! 

 

I kind of love the idea of traditions. Every year I start and end finals with a poem, and it’s fun to look back now at blog posts from exactly a year ago when I was finishing finals to see what I was thinking about then. Now break has begun and I’m so excited to get work done other than just homework. (And to rest a little.)