Piling Up

(Somehow this never posted yesterday…)

It’s amazing how work seems to just pile up sometimes. There was so much I had planned to accomplish today and yet it seems I hardly achieved any of my goals. I made progress which is at least somewhat of a success, but it’s never a great feeling going to bed knowing how much you didn’t get done today means you have to figure out when you’re trying to do it tomorrow…

I’m chaperoning my siblings’ dance retreat this Thursday-Sunday and when I return I’m only home for a day before flying off to Vermont and then all over the north-east for pretty much the rest of summer. It’s crazy how June has practically come and gone already. I don’t know where the time went, but I know the work didn’t go far.

Later this week I will be done with my history class, will have published Trailblazer’s Issue 3, and have posted my 700th blog post if all goes according to plan. Some big milestones are ahead, so hopefully work can stop piling up and I can get my scheduling and goals aligned in a productive way.

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A Chance at Greatness

Earlier today I read this article about the application process to get into middle schools and high schools in New York. It’s crazy!!!

(I’d strongly encourage reading this article before reading the rest of my post because it provides helpful context.)

I remember applying to colleges all too vividly and it was stressful and tiresome and promoted all sorts of self-doubt amongst teens. For students applying to some schools, your shot all boils down to a bunch of numbers – that’s terrifying. From what I can tell, it seems like some kids go through this same process as early as when they’re 10-11 and only just about to enter 6th grade- that seems outright wrong.

Even looking past the equality debates and economic pull for a second (though very real issues as well), what 10-year-old should have to be thinking about how their grades will affect the rest of their life: the odds of getting into a good middle school leading to odds of going to a good high school leading to odds of being well prepared for college. Sure you may think, “Well the child probably isn’t worrying about all of the grades and applications and portfolios; the parents are the ones to really send stuff in,” but what is the likelihood parents don’t start pressuring their kids more and more with each year the academic game gets more competitive? Parents just want their kid to go to a good school, but what has to happen for them to get there?

And let’s keep in mind elementary school “grades” are basically assessing things like multiplication to the power of 12 and a few basic sentences written in a row.

I couldn’t read well until 2nd grade, does that mean I shouldn’t have gotten a chance at a good education?

This article honestly made me consider even beyond this apparent problem with New York City schools. I realized that there are often complaints about the ways that higher education admits students, but how often do we consider all of the k-12 schools who also have application processes? How do they work? How heavily are grades and standardized tests considered? Are children truly looked at holistically?

I’m just throwing out questions because I really don’t know how it works. I had never considered how lucky I am to have gone to the same school for middle and high school. A lot of kids go to a different school every four-ish years of their life because that’s just how neighbourhood schools tend to work. I, on the other hand, switched to a private school when I was going into 6th grade and then got to just stay at that school. I didn’t have to deal with applying to a new high school, or meeting new friends, or getting used to a new school system.

I vaguely remember the application process going into 6th grade. I’m sure my records were sent in and then I remember having an interview where they asked me to solve some basic math problems and take a few “creativity tests.” I only applied to one school. If I didn’t get in and didn’t get financial aid, I would’ve gone to our local middle school despite it being known as, “not a good school.” I was fortunate to make it in and to be on scholarship, but many don’t get that same chance.

My life would be completely different had I not switched schools in 6th grade. Completely and utterly so, I’m certain of it.

I hate that there even exists rumours of “not good schools.” Shouldn’t every child get to go to a great school? School is honestly one of the biggest parts of childhood. We spend 35+ hours a week in school for roughly 180 days a year. That amount of time spanning from age 5-18 (and some kids spend longer than that), adds up to an underestimate of about 16,380 hours spent in k-12 school during childhood. That’s a ton of time!

Obviously, this article I read is focused primarily on how the system to apply to schools is corrupt, but in my opinion, if the schools supposedly “not good” we just transformed to be better, then maybe the application system would self-fix to some extent. Every school has a different culture. Two schools can be entirely different and yet both equally great for the right child. The school application process should be about finding what culture of a school is best for each individual child, not about children competing to be admitted into the select few great schools.

School influences life; there is no questioning that anymore in the age we live in. Being okay with some schools just not being great is like saying not all kids deserve a chance at a great life.

We need all schools to be great.

Brain Break

Ever feel like you just need to let your brain be dumb for a little?

This weekend I did a lot of learning sitting in gymnastics lectures from 8:30-5pm. Then I got home and yesterday I had two chapters and another hour of lecture to get through, plus studying, for my online history class in order to take my test this morning. So I’ve done a lot of hardcore sitting and studying in the past few days and now my brain just feels in need of a break.

That happens every now and then where it’s just too much information all at once. Brain breaks truly may be the essential factor to learning.

Harmless as a Doorbell

It’s always interesting to me how little things can so quickly change our mood.

Last night I was trying to study when I saw a picture of my friend now with dyed hair, it then immediately got me distracted by a course of nostalgia for theater. I was distracted for the following 30 minutes probably looking at old pictures and realizing just how many and often times ridiculous photos I’ve taken with my theater fam over the years.

Then my blog last night also changed my mood. I went from thinking about family bonding and how I needed to study for my history test, to being deeply curious about The Series of Unfortunate Events and wanted to learn more about the cast and production process. My blog posts often do this to me because I hardly ever know where they are going to end up once I start them. It’s quite a rabbit hole in that way.

Today though I had a moments change of emotion that was nostalgic or curious, one little sound made me extremely anxious: a doorbell.

For my online summer history course, I have a window of time to take my test online with a virtual proctoring system that videos and records my screen and surroundings. I’m instructed to have no other people in the video and to try and keep away from loud noises. Since I’m home alone tonight (I had to come home early from the lake for work tomorrow, but the rest of family is off and about still), I figured it would be fine for me to take my test in the kitchen. I texted the people I thought necessary telling them when I started the test so they knew not to try and contact me during that time. If they did, it might set stuff off on my computer which I can’t imagine being good (even though I believe I turned off the notification settings).

Needless to say, never would I have imagined some random person coming by the house in those 22 minutes I was taking my test AND RING THE DOORBELL.

The sound made me extremely anxious because I couldn’t get up from my test and am not allowed to talk to anyone or have them in my screen during the test; yet, I knew the person at the door could probably see me and thought I was being obnoxious for not getting the door. My conclusion was anyone important enough to need to come in during my test, wouldn’t have rung the doorbell in the first place, so I remained seated and just got thrown off for a few minutes even after the person walked away. I still don’t know who it was ringing my doorbell earlier, but it really shook me out of worry that it would mess up my test and yet not wanting to be rude.

To my knowledge, everything went fine with my test, but still, it’s crazy how under the right circumstances something as harmless as a doorbell can seem like the worst possible thing in that instance because of how quickly our emotions can change.

Show Time

The old gang got back together today! We had a mini theater reunion with us theater alum coming back to the MVAllStars black box to see Aladdin the Musical tonight. It was great getting to see everyone tonight and even better to also get to see a great show! I miss being up on stage and working with those guys.

I loved how after the show we still went backstage and talked to everyone and helped clean up stuff; it felt like old times.

I was so proud of all of my little acrobats on stage tonight. It’s always fun to see your work being performed especially when you can tell how happy it makes the performers.

I’m hoping to have that feeling again when our gymnastics showcase performs Sunday night. Right now the groups have been looking kind of messy which is getting me nervous again about if I was too ambitious with this year’s routine.

But who knows, maybe I’m just getting anxious due to everything happening at this time of year. It’s been a high-stress time especially with now receiving final grades.

Get’cha Head in the Game

If I had to pick a song to describe the mood of the day, it would have to be, “Get’cha Head in the Game” from High School Musical.

One of those random weird differences between high school and college is how finals work. In high school, classes ended and then finals basically started right away. It was crazy because there always felt like there was no time to study, but now that I’m in college it almost feels like the opposite problem. Because classes ended almost a week ago and my first final doesn’t start until tomorrow afternoon, I’ve been in this weird state of feeling like I’m done for the year, but really I still have two more days and 3 more finals to get through.

Therefore, the theme of the day has been “Get’cha head in the game” trying to refocus and study for this final push to the end. I can already imagine how great it will feel post-Tuesday night once I’m done with all my finals, but I have to actually make it through the next two days first which has felt very draining thus far.

On that note, I should go back to studying in an attempt to get to bed early tonight. So as tradition goes,

A merry finals to all,

And to all crammers

Good luck, and good night

Why Learn

Well, I’ve officially had the first hiccup of my challenge from forgetting to blog last night. Probably for the best though so I didn’t procrastinate studying physics any more than I already had by this point last night.

Though now that my final test before finals is over, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “study.”

Sometimes we use this word synonymously with “learn” but the more I think about it, I believe there is a difference.

Most frequently, studying refers to preparing for an assessment of some kind, but this can be done in a number of ways, not all of which require actual learning. To most students, more often than not, studying just means committing facts and equations to short-term memory in order to do well on a test. I myself am guilty of this.

Learning takes time that we don’t always have before an assessment. In theory, you learn along the way so by the time an assessment comes around, you already have learned what you need to know. But what if you didn’t learn what was necessary? After all, not everyone learns at the same pace, so if we’re expected to have learned certain things before an assessment, then why are we expected to take assessments at the same times?

The fact that we teach “study skills” is kind of funny in this regard, because part of this notion is implying that you don’t fully know the material you are going to be assessed on so you have to strategically study to make sure you know enough to pass. It seems reasonable that we shouldn’t be expected to fully know everything, but that begs the question of what qualifies as “enough”? Who determines what “enough” is? Should “enough” be the same metric for everyone?

Logically the next thing to talk about would be the notion of grades, but I feel like I’ve made my opinion on grades fairly clear in the past and don’t want to dwell on their problematic structure. However, I do wonder, if before going into surgery we saw our doctors report card, how would we perceive him/her?

Anyway, back on the notion of “learning,” I’ve realized that I often consider myself to have truly learned something if I’m able to teach it to someone else. And to be honest, I feel like if I take all of my education thus far, I don’t know how many things would fall into this category. I’ve done well in school, but I’m not sure if I was always learning. And this includes classes I considered to enjoy based on the subject or teacher.

And I’ve noted that in the education world, we like to talk about “teaching kids how to learn,” but pondering this today I wonder if really we should be trying to teach kids why to learn. I think most kids have a general understanding, even at a young age, that learning takes time and practice. Most of the time when we don’t learn, it’s because we don’t want to. We haven’t been convinced why it should be worth learning something.

The reasons why we learn really don’t need to be obvious or even relevant out of context. For example, as a bit of a tangent story, I believe, and if you ask 75% of my graduating class they’d agree, I learned my 7th-grade vocab words. I was motivated in this case by competition.

We played a game in English class called “Vocab Basketball” where at the end of each week our class would split into teams and be asked vocab questions if we got it right then we got a point for our team and the chance to try making a basket to gain a second point. However, there was more to this game. Each week if you used, read, or heard a vocab word used in a sentence then you could write down the word, how it was used, and what it means and put it in your class bucket. At the end of the week, whichever student in each individual class had the most words got a homework pass, and at the end of the year, whichever class had the most words got a party. First semester only one kid in my class really tried, so he got all of the homework passes. I didn’t really care about the homework passes, but it seemed silly to me that he should get all of them for barely trying at all, so I started trying. Sure enough, we ended up in steep competition, but it was also benefiting our class, so then kids from other classes started trying more in order to attempt to keep up with our class total. We may have been motivated to want to learn due to competition, but we definitely learned. The reason I have no doubts about having learned those words and their meanings is because to this day we will occasionally still point out and use words we recall being on one of our 7th-grade vocab lists. I can’t say the same about vocab words from other years.

Anyway, I got lost in my train of thought on that tangent, but I do wonder still, for the amount I’ve studied this year, how much have I really learned? How much do we learn any year for that matter? How do we choose what we learn? What motivates us to learn? How can we spend more time exploring why we learn certain things and not just how we learn them?

“Finals” Count Down

With hardly more than a week left of classes, we’ve officially reached that point in the year.

Studying all day, sleeping little at night, and stress levels so high you’d think I’d been in a fight.

It’s the final countdown of my first year in college, and today that hit me hard. My final tests of the semester are all coming up in the next few days and it’s truly exhausting on top of homework, job work, and preparing for summer work.

I hate how this always happens where the schedules of classes line up to where there’s always that one week of the semester that feels like hell broke loose and everything’s happening at once in a crazy tiring mess.

Honestly the last days leading up to finals are often worse than finals themselves. During finals, we get a break from all the other work and we can just focus on the exams themselves, but the days leading up we’re trying to study for finals and take the last tests and still deal with all of the other “normal” stuff.

Plus on top of all that, it’s the make it or break it time for grades. I hate stressing about grades, but considering my scholarship is dependent on my ability to keep above a certain GPA, it’s hard not to. I despise that college grades are so heavily based on just a mere few tests, (especially since I’m not a great test taker) and today involved a lot of freaking out about where my grades are at this point and what I need on my last tests and finals if I hope to get the grades I want.

So close to a break…

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

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

kate_blog_classroom_stats
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.