Different Communication

imgres.jpgI’ve talked to dozens of people about “real world skills” and despite all the debating in terms of which words are the best ones to include on this metaphorical list, good communication skills always seems to come up.

You could be the greatest genius this world has ever known, but if you can’t communicate what you know to others, than your knowledge is relatively useless.

Every  job, every aspect of life is going to require communicating things to other people. From describing how you want your hair cut, to proving you solved the worlds  hardest math problem, everything is communicating. There is no one that works 100% independently in our inter-connected global world. At the very least, there is a conversation between a supplier and a consumer.

With the clear demand for good and diverse communication skills, it’s amazing how many people still struggle with communicating. I’ve talked to countless people that say they wish their employees were better communicators, which isn’t surprising since teachers often note that their students can’t all communicate their ideas effectively.

The problem is clearly identified, so now how do we solve it? How might we create better communicators; people who can explain their thoughts in a number of different ways? Because part of being a communicator means you have to be adaptable to working with different types of people. Not everyone understands best from a written essay, or a lecture, or a presentation, or even a prototype. Everyone has a different way they learn best, and thus the best communicators are ones that can teach in different ways.

In school we tend to focus on academic writing, but there are a myriad of other ways to write, teach, and communicate. I for one have never taken an art class since 6th grade other than band. If someone learned best from seeing a drawing, I would be at a loss. And I know plenty of people who can’t send a good email to save their life, which will soon become a large problem for them. Furthermore, besides the alphabet and a few random words, I wouldn’t know how to communicate with a deaf person through sing language what so ever; that makes 70 million people I can’t communicate with past a kindergarden level. Even writing college essays is a huge problem for many students because they aren’t well versed in talking about themselves.

If communication is such an important skill, if we’ve identified we value it so much, it seems essential that we start putting a greater emphasis on learning to communicate in different ways.

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Graduation Day Speaker

Wow talk about a great “graduation day keynote speaker”! Every now and then I will have those days where I expect to blog about something, then I just so happen to stumble upon something absolutely amazing that makes me completely change what I want to blog about. I just had one of those moments.

I literally just opened my computer about 30 minutes ago to fix a quick homework thing when I ended up clicking on a couple of links on a page I was using to find definitions/examples of specific rhetorical devises I need to use in a speech. Then I ended up learning that I was actually on a website with a blog, and the guy had a TED Talk. I had planned on closing my computer after fixing the quick thing in my speech, and then I would continue reading #EdJourney. However, I was curious, and not in a super time crunch since it was only around 8:30, so I clicked play.

The TED Talk (like most TED Talks) was beautifully spoken and inspiring! It’s about the nerves and thrill involved with graduation, and how this feeling of being scared but excited for the unknown future doesn’t end with high school graduation day. I highly recommend it!

Venturing Forward

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It seems like it has been far too long since I’ve given just a general update about how things have been going in our Collab Course AP Lang class designed and run by Kat and myself.

Things have been going really well lately, and as we venture forward I just want to share some highlights of exciting things that have, are, and will be happening in this class.

We recently had our paper discussing solutions to The Creativity Crisis published on #Satchat Daily (under education) one of the biggest sources for education resources, as well as on the MViFi blog.

We’ve been reading Grant Lichtman’s book #EdJourney, and have been creating blog posts about our reflections on the book. These posts have also had their fair share of retweets and likes on Twitter! We’re also currently trying to work out a time where we can actually have a Google Hangout with Mr. Lichtman to get to discuss some of his book as well as how he went about the actual creation of the book since that is something Kat and I are both interested in.

In general, Kat and I have also started to get into a better flow as far as how we decide what to work on each day. For the most part, Mondays and Wednesdays are what we call “APLle Days” where we work on more of your typical AP Lang stuff like timed essays, multiple choice, vocab (both AP Lang terms to know as well as our running list that we each add 5 new words to a week that we read and think the other should also know), discussions, that kind of stuff that we know just has to be done to some extent still since this is an AP class. Then on Thursdays and Fridays we have “Explore Days” where the schedule is a little more open ended to allow time and space for our “normal” routine to be disrupted allowing for creativity and learning to flourish. Sometimes these days involve working on iVenture work that involves writing that we can use each other for feedback on. Other times we end up in deep discussions around forms of feedback and assessment and design thinking with some of our ID facilitators who often work close by. At times situations and opportunities could arise where we end up trying to decipher an instruction booklet with no words and put together a robotic hand. Sometimes it just means having meetings with mentors to work on ways to further enhance our skills as innovative learners and further develop our AP Lang program itself.

One of the recent programatic decisions that Kat and I made about a month or so ago was starting a new activity we call a “20/20“. Typically we do a 20/20 on Monday’s since it is our shortest class together each week, so over the weekend we will each read some piece. (Lately this has been a mixture of #EdJourney sections or pieces related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.) Then on Monday in class we will spend 20 minutes discussing the reading piece, then we will spend 20 minutes writing a blog post reflection on the discussion. This gets us in the habit of enhancing our discussion skills while also getting us to practice having to organize and write down our thoughts in a short amount of time. So far these have been going really well and I’ve actually appreciated the time constraint since it has challenged me to try and be creative, articulate, and clear quickly.

I’ve already talked some about #EdJourney, but I would like to talk more about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. From the start of the creation of this course, both Kat and I knew we wanted to read The Allegory of the Cave no matter what. As sophomores the piece had come up a few times in discussions and it sounded really interesting to us since some of the main points have to do with education and what is the “truth”–two things we are both passionate about. After reading the piece even just once, we both absolutely loved it!! So we did some research on how other people responded to the piece and furthered our understanding of its meaning.

However, just reading Plato once doesn’t help get everything across. We were so inspired by the piece that we started talking with my Latin teacher about how we might do more with the piece. He too thinks the piece is great and even made an interesting comparison to the work we do with our class and how it’s like the prisoner in the story who is let out of the cave. Since then he has helped us pick other pieces of Plato’s work to read (actually we will have a 20/20 on book 1 of The Republic this Friday) and helped us figure out a big theme we want to focus on: status quo. What is the status quo? How is it defined? Why do cultures value the status quo? What does it mean to go against the status quo? What happens to the people who challenge the status quo? Why do they do it? Kat and I hope to read and discuss much more over the coming days before the end of first semester, and hopefully create a joint MoVe Talk to help express our findings while also tying in work we’ve done throughout the year.

A few other things that we hope to do before the end of the year are to revamp our blog sites to work on better organizing and capturing our work, and also to learn more about what a good portfolio looks like and go back through our work to pick out bright spots from our journey so far.

What I’ve really loved about our course is that we have truly had the freedom to explore while learning and doing meaningful work. When I write something for a class that then ends up getting published and talked about by people you don’t even know, I feel incredibly proud and motivated to continue writing and improving my skills. Getting to talk to a wide array of mentors has also been amazingly fun and helpful because it means we are getting feedback from a multitude of perspectives from a California student to educators we’ve never met in person to our own Latin teacher, which hopefully has made us more rounded with our writing.

Plus I can’t even begin to emphasize how amazing it feels to not have to stress about grades. I feel more courageous to take risks and try new things, plus I don’t find myself up late worrying about a quiz, but instead I find myself curious and researching to be prepared for a discussion and writing assignment that I’m happy to get feedback on. Without grades our feedback feels like it is more focused on really trying to help us improve as a reader and writer, and have end products that go somewhere and contribute to larger conversations. I even had a teacher comment on one of my posts about The Allegory of the Cave about how she wanted to share my work with her students who were learning about different perspectives.

While we still take the AP Lang exam at the end of the year, and even the same midterm as the traditional AP Lang course students will take, I am not going to be judging the value of this course based on how we score. Sure we want to score well, but even if we aren’t spectacular, I don’t want to judge a whole year off of two tests. Learning is so much more than that. I know I’ve been learning; with reading and writing, as well as many other skills like sending emails to people you haven’t met, and organizing class structures, and knowing when to pivot and how to manage the unexpected. I’ve seen my improvement. I’ve read and heard my feedback. I know I have room to grow, but I also know I’ve been growing, and that to me means success.

As this year goes on I can’t wait to see what else comes out of this course. It may only be two weeks until Thanksgiving break, but there is still so much learning ahead of us, and I’m excited for it!

Ends and Beginnings

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This weekend was crazy fun!!! So much was going on that I didn’t even get a chance to blog. The Council on Innovation (COI) happened Friday and was a great success, then we had our drama one act play competition which was super fun and exciting, then my friends and I went to the lake, and then my girl scout troop had a mini Halloween party tonight!

In my opinion, the coolest part about COI this year was getting to watch all of the light bulb moments that council members were having. You could visibly see people thinking about how schools should be starting to find ways to further develop and showcase  EQ and CQ instead of just IQ, and how students can add great value to conversations.

I personally had a really fun time getting to talk with the council members and hear potential areas for future Design Briefs, where ID cohort members will work for extended amounts of time to help solve problems faced by people in their work. Design Briefs are our version 2.0 of last year’s Consultivations the biggest change being the idea of working on a project for an “extended amount of time” rather than just 90 minutes.

Working on Friday with business leaders just made me even more excited for the day when there is no difference between “school” and the “real world”, and it is just the norm for businesses and students to working along side each other, to not only learn, but also to positively affect the world around them. I hope the council members walked away from Friday feeling that this future isn’t impossible, and in fact has already begun with steps we are piloting with MVPS and MViFi.

I’d like to think the MVAllstars positively affected people all week, and especially Saturday morning for our one act play competition with our show Lions in Illryia. I had so much fun putting on the performance and then getting to watch other actors put on their shows too, plus all of the drama people there were so nice and fun to talk to. Plus we walked away with 2nd place overall, best ensemble, best supporting actor, and 3 all star cast awards!!!!!! (I was pretty psyched to get an all star cast award even as a musician!) It was a great day of fun, and lot’s of talk about “yes and” and working as a team with your fellow actors which I think are great lessons for life even out of theater.

With all of the work I had been putting into these 2 big events for the past few weeks, and especially last week, it was nice to then just hang out with friends some this weekend.

And now I’m super excited for this week because all week are auditions for our winter show The 39 Steps and our spring musical Shrek, the Musical!! Plus tomorrow is our arts concert where I’ll be performing with both the middle and high school bands, and also our a cappella club will have our debut performance at MVPS!!!

It’s sad when things end, but it’s exciting when it springboards something else to take off for the first time!

Jumping Hurdles!

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Amongst all of the chaos of today with quizzes, meetings, and lines, something absolutely fantastic happened: OUR AP LANG SYLLABUS WAS APPROVED BY THE COLLEGE BOARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

All of our hard work over the summer payed off, and now we are officially an AP class!!!!!! I found out during the end of a Latin quiz actually, and I almost jumped out of my chair I was so happy! (Instead I just wailed my arms and bounced in my chair a little with a huge grin on my face!)

I must say, I was a little shocked for some reason. I knew we had covered all of the standards and had a bunch of people look it over, but part of me still thought the syllabus would to have to be edited more to get credit just because it’s so different from most AP class structures to my knowledge. Plus, since we’ve never done this before, I didn’t know what to expect.

It’s a pretty awesome feeling to know that even the College Board is behind our ideas, and this is a huge hurdle that we’ve just made it over! It’s also just super encouraging to think that a couple of students were actually able to pull something like this off! I mean think about all of the possibilities of what students can do with the right mindset and help from great mentors!!!

Also in AP Lang today, we had an interview Q&A session with some faculty members which went really well! The big things we talked about were what we are  doing, why we are doing, and how we think it will impact our future, and I think it went over nicely. We also recorded it, because the hope is that we will use parts of this footage for a video we will be making soon about our Collab Course, so that we have another medium to share our story with!

All the while we are also currently working on papers about the Creativity Crisis and our first draft of those will be due Monday, and our goal is that, after some editing, we will submit these papers to online publications, and hopefully our work will actually get to a bigger audience than just school.

Today was just a super day for AP Lang, and I can’t wait to see what hurdle we jump next!!!

Forks and Spoons

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I think I’m actually going to keep this post short for once.

Today in ID we had some discussions on design thinking based on the pieces we had read and watched over the past few days. In the discussion today we made the typical big point about what makes design thinking special: it’s all about empathizing with a user.

However, this idea was actually challenged by someone in the discussion which lead to an interesting moment where we discussed an important misnomer, in my opinion, about design thinking versus problem solving. They are related based on the square rectangle theorem as I call it, so all design thinking is a method of problem solving, but not all problem solving methods are design thinking.

This got me thinking, if design thinking has several generally accepted defined processes, do other types of problem solving have distinct processes? If not, why not? Would it be helpful to create distinct processes for different styles of problem solving to better understand each kind and when they should best be used?

All different methods of problem solving have their own time and place, just like a fork and a spoon: they are both silverware, but they are both distinctly different, and trying to eat soup with just a fork or spaghetti with just a spoon doesn’t work too well. Because we know how to use both, we know when it is better to use which type of silverware.

When We’re Curious

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Today I spent 14 straight hours at school. By choice. It’s finally starting to feel like school’s back.

Now some people may call me crazy for spending all day at school, but my curiosity got the best of me. Tonight was the head of school address and parent night for the middle and high schools at MVPS. I know students don’t need to be there because the goal is for parents to meet all of their child’s teachers and to briefly (as in 7 minutes brief which snuck up on all of the teachers before they were really done) explain what their course will be like this year.

The reason I like going is because I get curious as to what our teachers deem important enough to put into those 7 minutes that they get with our parents, and for a lot of the teachers, this is their first impression to some of the parents. Sometimes the teachers even tell the parents things about what we will eventually do in class that they maybe haven’t talked to the students about yet which is always interesting to hear. Plus I love how when I’m there the teachers will all kind of point me out and make references to inside jokes from our class that the parents don’t even notice but I get a good laugh out of.

Social behaviors just fascinate me sometimes. Even just getting to see my classmates parents and trying to connect faces, which is sometimes surprisingly easy; I guess the apple really doesn’t fall too far from the tree sometimes. Not to mention it’s always a little funny and interesting to see our parents try to go through our schedules and I think they at least have a little bit of an empathy moment when they think about how much walking up and down stairs we do with heavy back packs on; seeing moments of empathy always makes me smile a little.

Possibly what made me most curious from afterwards is to learn about the prototype for the new high school building. I’m so excited to see what the design team has come up with for the future of MVPS!!!

I truly think that curiosity is a force that can drive people to accomplish great tasks. I mean, today my curiosity lead to me not leaving school until 9:15pm because I was curious to learn information. I know I may not be the average student, but I still think that getting any student curious about a topic could lead them to accomplish some interesting things.

Thinking of Assumptions

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I do not know many people that do not text. I also do not know of many people that haven’t at some point in time been confused by someone else’s text to them.

I believe this is because when we text there isn’t really a clear way to understand the true emotion behind what someone is saying. Everything is left to interpretation and assumptions which can often cause problems between people.

Even when speaking directly to people, assumptions can often be the worst nightmare for the productivity status of a team. I still remember in 8th grade geometry class when I was learning about proofs for the first time and our teacher told us, “Never assume things, because if they are wrong then everything else gets messed up too.” It wasn’t until high school that I realized just how true this statement is for all of life; even outside of math.

I’ve also realized, though, how difficult it is to not make assumptions. I know I do it by accident all of the time. I will make a statement about something without knowing the full story and then I may accidentally offend others because the meaning to my statement comes out wrong. I’m not purposely trying to offend others, but sometimes I just don’t realize the consequential effect of my words. Words are a powerful thing.

In some cases it could be that I write something with one meaning, but someone else makes assumptions based on what they think my statement meant that isn’t really what I meant at all.

I’ve been wondering lately if sometimes the way I talk about design thinking, in education specifically, can get mixed up in this mess of assumptions, so I’d like to maybe set some clarity to a myth I fear people believe about me:

I do not think design thinking in school is 100% the best way to have class.

Now I already know that probably wasn’t worded the best way, so let me use the example of my AP Lang Collab Course. I love the ideas behind our course, and so far, I think it is going really well. Furthermore, I’m super excited to see how it all turns out. But I also know that this is still iteration 1.0, and this is an experiment to say the least. We are experimenting with how classes could be run at school.

Like any experiment, we do not know what the outcomes of the course will be. I hope and hypothesize that there will be positive outcomes, but I wouldn’t say our class is “better” than any other AP Lang class. It is just different. It is a different way of learning and we are seeing what the outcomes of this new way will be. And even if the outcomes are positive, I still wouldn’t say that our way is “better,” because everyone learns differently so there isn’t one way that is “best” for anything. While I may prefer DT to other more traditional teaching methods, not everyone does, and it may not always be the best way to go about a task depending on what your goal is.

It’s hard to not make assumptions, and equally as hard to say things that don’t lead others to make false assumptions. However, I hope that over time I can get better at suspending judgment and using wording styles that more accurately articulate what I mean.

It’s Not Too Late for an Adventure

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I’ve recently gotten really into a show on Netflix called “Merlin”. It’s all about Merlin and Arthur living as young men in Camelot in a time when magic is forbidden, so Merlin must protect Arthur constantly while keeping his powers a secret.

Today I watched an episode that was all about Lady Morgona finally discovering the truth about herself having magic. She knew something was different about her, but now she has gotten conformation from others about it.

To me this kind of vaguely resembled the process of general team work. Sometimes you have a thought, but it isn’t until someone else confirms or denies it that you really finalize your own opinions on the idea.

Now this connection may seem kind of far fetched, but I say all of this to mention how I had a similar realization today about being a Girl Scout.

I’ve been a Girl Scout since 3rd grade and have my Bronze and Silver awards, and back when I was first going into high school (which seems oddly long ago now) my whole troop had been set on getting our Gold Awards. Back then it seemed like the natural thing to do: If you’re a Girl Scout in high school, then you try to get your Gold Award. We had done all of the pre work activities we had to do, and even started the paper work stuff I think, but then our troupe started not meeting as much do to various reasons.

Back then I hadn’t even really had an idea as to what I would even do for my Gold Award and then last year I finally decided it was too late and I just would give it up entirely. Then today I saw John Green’s latest book movie Paper Towns. The spirit of the movie has a lot to do with taking risks and appreciating even the little adventures in your life which I really enjoyed and it kind of inspired me to decide that it isn’t too late for me to at least try to get my Gold Award.

I realized that a lot of my ideas that I would like to implement and probably work on during ID would likely fulfill the requirements as well, so why not go for it? So I contacted my troop leader and we’ll see where this adventure takes me.

Small tangent: I strongly suggest seeing the movie Paper Towns and the book is probably also good but I have not read it. More than anything I’ve loved how John Green has helped make Agloe, New York kind of real again even after it’s history of non existence and then existence and then non existence again. He put a concept into people’s heads about the mysterious Agloe paper town, and now all of these people have been traveling to Agloe just to see what’s there. Personally, now I want to road trip to Agloe because it seems like a fun idea that would also be fun to just say you did it. (It even almost makes me want to get my license just so I could have that opportunity in the future to randomly road trip…) John Green inspires me with how he is able to move so many people into taking action.