The Debate of Purpose

I have decided to use this newfound free time to finally go through my old uncategorized blog posts and sort them with tags and categories. (I had originally written them before I knew about these features…)

While reading my old posts it’s become painstakingly clear how many of my posts are really not noteworthy. It’s made me wonder about the essential struggle I’ve always had with my blog:

Is it better to prioritize the habit of consistent reflecting/writing or should I prioritize only blogging when I feel as if I have something of quality to say?

I frequently debate this because it’s a question of purpose and if this blog is designed based on me or my potential readers, and I spent about an hour earlier today going back and forth with one of my friends about the topic.

I know the habit of reflecting is immensely valuable to me as an individual. Though I also know that it can be annoying to have frequent notifications when something isn’t really worth the time. As much as I try to make all of my posts have some sort of point or message to them, I am very aware that they aren’t all profound or inspiring, and sometimes I struggle to be able to write anything at all.

The thing is, once I decide that I’m only going to blog when I think I find something really valuable to write about, all of a sudden nothing ends up being good enough. That’s how I end up in the habit of not blogging at all besides when I go to the occasional event.

I don’t know what life will look life after social-distancing or if I will continue to blog as frequently as I’m trying to right now, but I do know that I believe the purpose of this blog remains the same as it was in 2014 when I started it: it’s a place for me to reflect and learn more about myself by trying to find something interesting I observed about every day. If people want to read my posts, then that’s just an added bonus that helps keep me committed to doing the task and gives them a look into my learning process which I know at least some people value being able to see.

So I’m sorry if you’re one of those people who feels some of my more random posts are just cluttering you notifications. But then again, maybe this isn’t the blog for you to be following then, because I plan to continue seeing this blog as a place focused on my learning and growth which for now means writing even if I don’t have anything particularly meaningful to say.

I suppose this may even be one of those posts, but this is a debate I frequently have and needed to work through and writing helps me do that, so here we are.

Beating the Game Itself

Five years ago I had recently started watching the Disney show Girl Meets World, the sequel to Boy Meets World based on Cory and Tapanga’s daughter Riley.  I love the show because it reminds me a bit of some of my high school classes, where the teacher cares enough to know all of the details happening in various students’ lives and tries to teach in a way that provides life lessons beyond the classroom.

While I was watching this show I frequently ended up making connections between the lessons taught on the show, and observations I was making in my own life; therefore, many a blog post were inspired by this show. And I think that’s why I decided to start re-watching this show now that I have so much free time with social-distancing; I wanted to revisit these life lessons but with new observations.

One of my old blog posts inspired by Girl Meets World that I remembered being particularly impactful is called Playing the Long Game. The episode this post was based on is about how sometimes people might fight, but later in time, they may realize it’s actually best to work together to overcome greater challenges. This lesson was learned through a family game night where there are two ways to play the game: the short game where everyone is competing against each other to win, or one person can decide instead of winning on their own to choose to play the long game where everyone must then join forces and play together in order to beat the game itself.

Previously, I compared this episode to the struggle of competition within the classroom and how I wish there could be more moments of working together to beat “the game” (an assignment, school, whatever “the game” is) itself rather than always trying to beat each other in order to win the game.

I just got to this episode again, but this time I had a different reaction thinking now about life beyond the classroom.

At this moment in time, we are facing a great challenge and individuals around the world are deeply struggling with all of the changes to everyday life. To make it through these times we have to remember to focus on playing the long game – a game we have to play together in order to win. We need to keep our eyes focused on our common goal to have a better future that can only come when we join forces and utilize our individual strengths to lift others up. Some days might be hard. Some days we might feel like we’re still playing the game alone. But if we remember to ask for help when needed and give our help when needed, then we won’t be alone and we can beat the game itself.

The Gift of Time

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Felt like I did pretty well for day 1 in isolation.

I started the day by reconnecting with some of the gymnasts I coach. I woke up early so I joined their afternoon Zoom workout and it was nice to see so many smiling faces in the midst of so much crazy. One kid changed her username to say “I love coach Anya” and it was kind of the sweetest thing ever.

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I then spent a good chunk of time playing my flute – I am very happy I decided to prioritize bringing it with me to New Zealand despite the extra weight. I’ve been practicing getting better at keeping time and listening to different parts by “playing with myself” (ie videoing myself playing each of the different parts in a song). Today my song of choice was, “Dear Theodosia” from Hamilton the Musical.

After lunch, I decided to start brainstorming some ways to make this challenge into an opportunity, specifically in regards to our gym. We’ve always said we wanted to get better at journaling and now that we have to move online anyway, I figured it was a great opportunity to start making progress on this task. So I made some prototypes of “Gymnastics homework” where we can give conditioning assignments and a place to share weekly goals and accomplishments related to healthy living; that way all of our girls feel like they can be making tangible progress on their gymnastics even without being able to train their skills full out. I also started brainstorming some potential new gymnastics social media challenges and various workshops we might be able to offer via zoom.

Screen Shot 2020-03-24 at 7.05.55 PM.pngNormally around this time of year, I would be finishing up choreo for our end of the semester showcase and starting to teach the routines to the girls. Since this isn’t going to happen under normal circumstances, I’ve been working on creating a whole new routine so it can be performed and recorded at home and then I plan to video edit all the parts together. Two things I needed to learn to make this happen: better video editing skills and learn more sign language to use as part of the dance. I got started on both of those learning goals today and feel pretty good about the progress I’ve made.

The most important thing I was reminded of today is how much fun it can be to learn new skills and to revisit and build upon old skills. I know of my friends and family have already come to this conclusion after having lived in this reality of social distancing, online learning, and lots of free time for about a week now, but experience really does make a huge difference in understanding. Sometimes having time for “nothing” can truly be a gift for all sorts of wonderful new ideas.

Understanding History’s Impact

It’s crazy when history comes to life. Traveling in Prague and Vienna the last few weeks has made me really think about on my world history classes from high school and realize just how real the stories we learn about are.

I don’t know how else to describe it other than a story coming to life. In America, it’s pretty standard to talk about the World Wars and communism and empires rising and falling, but to be honest, it always feels so “long ago, in a country far far away.” But it wasn’t that long ago, and in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that far away. That never seemed to really hit home for me before though.

It’s one thing to talk about Hitler, and it’s another to stand in the street below where he made his speech upon occupying Austria and hear from a native how Austria was actually fairly happy to be joint with Germany. Never before had I considered this perspective. Our tour guide described how after the first World War the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was divided up, and during this division, Austria lost a lot of their resources both agricultural and industrial, so the economy was really struggling. Thus the idea of Germany, a big country doing well for itself, taking over, sounded quite appealing to many Austrians. That’s not something we talk about in a classroom.

Furthermore, in terms of the “long ago” aspect, I think American schooling really puts too much of an emphasis on the idea that these things happened in the past and doesn’t talk enough about how the past is actually influencing the present and future.

As someone who has always had some issues with history classes (Summary version of this rant for those who don’t know me or haven’t read past blogs about this: I like history, I often have issues with how it’s taught, and I’ve had several favorite teachers be history teachers so it’s not on them either just really about the curriculum and how we try to chunk so much information into so little time.), I think this is a key feature missing from lots of history classes. The “why” behind history classes, in my opinion, is because we need to learn about the past in order to understand the present and make educated decisions about the future. However, this “why” often is only skimmed on and instead I feel like history often just feels like a series of facts we are told we need to know just for the sake of knowing. It’s more than a series of facts and stories from the past though.

European countries are still in a post-communism era; it truly wasn’t that long ago. Almost everyone we’ve met here in Europe thus far grew up under communist rule. It took talking to people here and hearing about their stories of coming into freedom for this to really sink in for me that the past is very much still present.

I wonder how this ah-ha moment can be better baked into high school history classes because it makes history so much more valuable when you attach this missing link of the implications history has on today: knowing why we study history and understanding why are different.

Perhaps it comes with better intwining current events into class, but not in a separated “here is a random current event.” What if, when we learned about the past, there was a specific current event relating how what we are learning about the past is affecting the present. Or maybe the key is bringing in more guest speakers to help remember the past wasn’t so long ago. Or maybe a solution is more field trips. Not every class can just take a trip to Europe, but there are always local places related to history, or maybe it could be a Skype field trip experience to bring Europe into the classroom.

Those are just a few ideas, thought up without much time, collaboration, or empathy, so I am sure there are better ideas out there, but I hate to propose problems without anything resembling a potential new direction, so that’s my bug and those are my thoughts for next steps. I’d love to hear about how someone else is/plans to run with that train of thinking.

From Fear to Greatness

Being a coach 100% makes me a better educator.

I understand the worry that comes along with the responsibility of teaching and training kids.

The wonder about if you’re good enough to be leading them. The confusion when you can’t put well to words what you want from them. The sadness that comes when you see a child that looks as if she is going to burst into tears over a comment you made when all you were doing was trying to give constructive feedback. The actual tears you see sometimes…

Then there is the ever-present challenge of keeping up with new times, new drills, and new standards of excellence. That moment when you learn a level has completely changed their expectations for an event and you get vexed beyond belief because for the past few years you’ve been leading the kids entering this level down an entirely different path. Then you try to throw in some new drills into your class and you’re thinking it’ll be great – just like how you saw it at that conference you attended!- but it never is. Instead, the kids try out your new drill and it just looks all wrong, so you try to make corrects but can’t tell if it’s even worth continuing with this new drill. Did I explain it poorly? Am I not remembering the technique right? Was it too advanced for their skill level? Did I push them too far too fast? Or do they just need to get in more repetitions? Well now we’ve used up all of our time on this event today and I don’t even know if I just wasted the last 45 minutes or am making progress in a great new area that we’ve not trained as effectively before.

Honestly, time is the worst. Do you spend a little time on every event today, or do the kids really need to focus on just one event they’re weak at? Do I even have this option? Is today’s schedule set in stone because there are too many different groups moving around or do I have flexibility with my time? How do we balance learning new skills while also practising their routines necessary for the next competition? When is there next competition anyway; are they really ready for it? Am I wasting time explaining so many directions? Should I be doing our normal warm-up for consistency and time effectiveness or mixing it up so different skills are worked? Does it take more time to set up these stations then they’re worth doing? How much time is left before we have to rotate? What happens when they come to this event with a different leader next time and the kids get confused with new directions and expectations? Are the kids progressing at a reasonable pace? Is anyone falling behind? Is anyone being held back?

So ya, I can empathize with teachers. I know all of those worries and concerns and feel them while maybe not daily, at least bi-weekly, but I’m often thinking about this work much more often than just while I’m in the gym. Half of the time I ride Marta I’m listening to potential gymnastics music or choreographing new routines based on the skills I know kids have/expect them to have come performance time.

While I understand and constantly am faced with these concerns, I also can respect the bigger picture. USA Gymnastics completely changed lower level vaulting progressions this year. It’s a pain in the butt because now we’re having to teach all of these new vaults to children and we feel less confident in how these new changes play into our personal philosophies. But at the same time, the changes are mostly good for the greater whole of trying to improve American gymnastics.

And fears of if you’re good enough to be a leader, while perhaps valid, are also in a way trivial. Whether you feel good enough or not, you’re what these kids got. So either step up or step down, either way, get out of the way because these kids are coming and have expectations of you. So make it up, make mistakes, make saves. Try something new, and give it adequate time in the experimenting phase before judging it’s worth as a drill or skill. When you’re stuck or need a second to catch your breath or even just help with setting up, let the kids lead- they’ll surprise you. Learn from those around you and don’t be afraid of a “double spot” or an extra hand to help out; we tell kids it’s okay if you need a little extra help getting a new skill, so it should be okay for us too.

Fears, nerves, and concerns can drive us to great things if we can accept their validity and then move on to push past them; sometimes it just takes time, creativity, and a little extra help every now and then.

 

Asynchronous Class

I had no classes today which was kind of great. Usually, I have one class, which is my English class, but today we had an “asynchronous class” instead. Basically, this is a fancy way of saying, instead of going to a specific room for an hour and ten minutes of “class” we just had an assignment posted (it wasn’t like a live video lecture or anything, just a normal homework assignment on the shorter side) that we need to have finished by midnight tomorrow.

I find the name “asynchronous class” a bit superfluous, but I very much appreciate the concept. Our professor when looking at her schedule for the semester knew that this was going to be a big week for us with three chapters of Shakespear reading, watching our next Disney movie, and finishing our first paper by Friday; therefore, she scheduled this asynchronous class as a way for us to be able to take ownership of managing our time. We could get our work done where ever and whenever we wanted to today. It was great!

Because of this schedule, it allowed me much more flexibility today and I didn’t have to waste time moving to and from a classroom, which was especially nice since I have a psych test I’ve also been studying for today. I’m glad that we have at least one other asynchronous class baked into the semester schedule because I’m sure it will also be at a much needed time. I applaud my professor for her forward thinking and teaching philosophy behind this.

I think more teachers should adopt the concept of an asynchronous class every now and then. It’s a good way to build student ownership into the class work when there is a busy week happening.

A Lil’Pupper

My family has always been known for doing things kind of spur of the moment. Like when I took a week-long trip to NYC with 30 minutes notice. Or when we just went for a weekend to stay in a cabin by a zip line place. Or when we planned a trip to Italy within a  month’s times.

Well, this weekend we started fostering a puppy. We had been talking about getting a dog for a while and actively looking for the last few weeks but we hadn’t originally planned on getting a puppy. Saturday morning we were at a dog park meeting another dog who didn’t work out because she was too aggressive towards other animals and we knew we didn’t have the skills to help re-socialize her. Then as we were getting ready to leave we saw a bunch of tents where a shelter had set up and had some pups out, so we took a look and as the story goes we fell in love with this pup and are now fostering her.

So needless to say it’s been a pretty random weekend full of going back and forth between home and school for me. Then add to that tap rehearsal and seeing a musical at the new performing art center near my house.  It’s just one of those times where you can’t really tell how productive you are or aren’t being and that’s just been my mood all weekend.

Sometimes it’s nice though to have random things happen in your life even if it does through off your original plans. I enjoy my family’s habit of making random decisions, and hopefully, this one works out well. So far the pupper has been behaving very well and it really sweet and smart which is a good sign.

Slow Down

The first week or so of a new school semester really sets the tone for the rest of the semester in my opinion. For me, there has been a bit of drama, a bit of stress, a bit of rescheduling, a bit of fun, a bit of gymnastics, a bit of emailing, but primarily a lot of trying to work ahead. This weekend is a long weekend, and a crazy one for me, and whenever there is a long weekend I try to get ahead on homework to have the least amount of work possible over the weekend.

Honestly, I’ve been pretty impressed with my ability to stay overly on top of things thus far and it’s been a pretty great feeling. Though at the same time, sometimes it can be information overload.

Like on days like today where I’ve been working intensely for the last few hours on some stats problems that were annoyingly worded and involved tedious steps. Now I’m just kind of mind numb and when I try to think about everything that happened today, I instead just see numbers and phrases scrambled up flying in every which way. It doesn’t help that I really should be sleeping more then I have thus far…

It’s days like today where I wonder if it’s really best for me to have classes where I’m given almost all of my assignments for the semester up front. In a way it almost makes me more anxious because I never get that feeling of being done when I always know there’s something else I could be working on. Meanwhile, when only given a few assignments at a time, then when I finish those, I have to be finished because there is nothing else I know to do.

It’s really a trade-off. I enjoy the freedom to work ahead and therefore get more of a say in how I distribute my time, but I also constantly feel the need to be working. I’ve gotten better at giving myself breaks though, like when I had a cookie dough and Netflix party a few days ago as a celebration for getting more done then I expected to that day. I think tonight will also be a break day because I’m not sure if I can handle much more after that Stats homework; it was much more laborsome then my first two Stats assignments.

Even if you can keep working, that doesn’t always mean you should; slowly learning that despite my occasional work anxiety…

My Opinion on Online Classes

Online classes aren’t really a new thing, yet they seem to still get perceived as new which is odd to me. I officially got registered for the online version of a required CS class today and as I was walking with an upperclassman she asked me, “As a student with a passion for learner-centered education, I’m curious about your opinion on online classes.”

I guess this title is a bit of a misnomer because in actuality I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about online courses.

I use to very strongly be against them, but seeing as today I signed up for my 3rd ever online class, I realized that opinion clearly changed and now is more neutral.

I was against online classes because the depth of learning isn’t as powerful in an online class. I mean if you ask most students they’ll flat out say online courses are easier- that was at least a factor to my reasoning to register. Online classes may be interactive some, but the material is set and rigid and pretty surface level since there are no conversations where deeper questions can be posed and explored. The material is all given to you up front and you can finish as quickly as you would like/are able to; there is no “well the class seemed really interested on this topic so we pivoted the schedule to do a whole project unit where we came up with plans and prototypes and pitched to board members…”

You don’t sign up for an online course because of the content. I signed up for CS online course because the in-person course happened at a time I didn’t particularly like with the rest of my schedule. It meant I would have to rush from CS class across campus to Marta twice a week all semester and then uber to the gym to still be a bit late to coaching the practices I help with.

That’s really the big plus I see about online courses: time and location flexibility. That’s the reason I’ve now signed up for three different online classes since high school. It was always an issue of scheduling where I needed to take a class but didn’t have room in my busy schedule and the online option ended up being the perfect compromise.

So from the perspective of a student trying to get a credit out of the way and get a decent grade while doing other things, online classes are great. However, when I think about the quality of learning happening in most online classes, I find it to be sub-par.

It’s pretty easy to cut corners in online classes, and when you’re already not interested in the topic and just taking the course for credit sake, there’s little motivation to not want to just “get through it” as fast as possible.

Furthermore, I believe that a huge part of learning revolves around the social interactions and relationships built during the learning process. It’s really hard to successfully achieve those relationships in an online environment. Again, partially because there’s no real incentive to strive for that deeper level of learning. I consider myself to be an intrinsically motivated learner and a pretty good student, (yes, I believe those are different thing, but that is a different conversation), and even I don’t find myself caring to make the extra effort in an online course to really make it a remarkable learning experience; I just want the credit on my own time.

Obviously, this is all my own personal opinion, and some kids may, in fact, make that extra effort, though in my experience few do.

As I told the friend who asked me about my opinion, thus inspiring this post tonight, I believe that online courses are still a work in progress. I don’t have a strong opinion yet because I see the potential in them to be a great learning tool, though at this point I think they are just a great tool for the traditional system where learning has a more cut and dry vibe. The flexible time and space component to online courses is learner-centered in nature, though the context, course material, and assessment structure is still very much not.

Little Changes Creating Chaos

It’s amazing how the littlest things can sometimes make you so frustrated.

Tomorrow I’m going to a gymnastics coaches training at a camp in Tennessee. It was supposed to start tomorrow afternoon and end Saturday afternoon. This was going to be great because then we’d be back by Saturday night and I’d have time for last minute packing and getting stuff together before moving in on Saturday into my apartment for the school year.

Now the schedule has changed and the event goes through Saturday night and we won’t be leaving until Sunday, which I only just learned about 30 minutes ago! Right now this is just making me beyond stressed and upset.

We’re leaving later in the day tomorrow so I’ll still have the few hours I would’ve had on Saturday to get ready, but it’s more that this change is disrupting my train of thought. I prepared myself that I would get stuff done tomorrow and then have a last go at things Saturday night and Sunday morning and throughout the week I could still be thinking about stuff even if not actually at home to pack. Now I’ve lost that time and right now I in no way feel prepared to be ready to move in by tomorrow afternoon.

Yet I’m sitting here blogging and mentally panicking oppose to doing anything to fix the situation. So ya I’m a hypocrite, but sometimes when you have a last minute freak out you just need to freak out and trying to be productive would only make things worse.

Hopefully, your night isn’t as stressful as mine feels in this moment. Now I’m about to go distract myself further by making cookies because the last thing I wanted to do before moving in was to make homemade cookies and apparently this will be my last chance.