As my grandparents mentioned to me yesterday, “These will be your last few days of just being able to relax for the next 8-9 years.” This feels even more true as I get ready to finally head home tomorrow morning for the first time in 6 weeks.
Starting tomorrow, my life will start to get crazy again with constant activities and work, but to my own surprise, I actually feel ready for it. I’ve never been one to really get homesick, but as a great author wrote in his book, The Light Fantastic,
“The important thing about having lots of things to remember is that you’ve got to go somewhere afterward where you can remember them, you see? You’ve got to stop. You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve got back home.” -Terry Pratchett
I finished reading this book a few days ago and when I read this line I knew it was time for me to go back home. Time to see old friends again before we part ways once more. Time to pack and get ready for new adventures.
Monday morning I head to school for orientation and then I’m gone again to Scotland with 9 of my fellow Stamps Scholars to kick off the school year. Then I’m only back home for a day before moving in, so I really won’t be home for long at all. So I guess I’ll just have to especially cherish these next couple of days. #EndOfNormal
My “normal” has officially forever changed ever since graduation. While I don’t think life is ever in a state of complete normalcy, because people aren’t normal and everyday is a new day full of new adventures, there is no denying that a lot of things stay constant in our lives for given periods of time. My semi-normal was living at home, going to Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, seeing my friends, doing a ton of theater, working at the gym, performing acro routines, playing the occasional soccer game with my rec team, etc. This semi-normal no longer exists.
After Italy I didn’t go home back to “normal life.” I woke up in New York City and got on a plane to Vermont to visit Zeno Mountain Farms, a collection of friends with diverse needs, where I went to camp for a week and got to be in a movie; that’s not normal. And now (well while I’m writing this even though I won’t have internet to send it until I’m back in NYC), I’m at Capon Springs, our family reunion place in West Virginia that is essentially Dirty Dancing without the dancing (or the dirty as someone also felt we should clarify on our teen hayride last night).
While Capon is kind of normal because we go every summer, it isn’t like the rest of the year because we get to just chill and run around with friends playing badminton and shuffle board and ultimate frisbee and really whatever we want without phone connection and limited internet. Plus I continue to travel after this. Next I’ll be in NYC and then Ohio before returning home for a weekend before orientation and then my first year retreat and trip to Scotland with the other Stamps Presidential Scholars at Georgia Tech. Then we get back and only have a day before I move into my college dorm and my life is forever different, cus college…
It’s just so crazy to think that everything I once considered to be normal life is never fully going to exist again. I will be attending a different school with different some friends, and new activities, and living in a new place all together. And that will continue to be slightly weird until one day I wake up and realize that this new life is my new normal.
Obviously not everything will change, and with being only about 20 minutes from my house, honestly less will probably change than the normal college student; however, it is just weird that it finally hit me that it’s officially the end of normal.
And while all of this traveling has been quite fun, it’s also a little scary to think about how much is going to change all at once, because unlike a lot of other recent graduates I know, I wasn’t as super ready to “escape” as some said. But it doesn’t really matter if I’m ready or not, because now it’s just time to live in the present and adjust to this new normal that’s out there, even if, like this summer, one day that normal becomes constant change. Change in my opinion isn’t always good or always bad, but it is ever present and full of new opportunities.
It’s official, the first edition of Trailblazers, a student driven magazine on the Education Transformation Movement, is here with young writers from around the world contributing!!!! My peers in the Innovation Diploma, Abigail Emerson and Kaylyn Winters, and I have been working at this project all year after some last minute edits over the summer, we now feel it is time to ship the idea and get it out into the world.
I always love Thursdays because they feel so productive. Until 1:10 I get to spend my day working on Innovation Diploma related things, and with such a large chuck of time, I often have my most productive meetings, brainstorms, and build days on Thursdays. This past Thursday was a really interesting day because our newest members of the Innovation Diploma (the Gates Cohort) experienced what it was like to give a pitch to a client for the first time.
The Gates kids have been spending the last few weeks working on what we call an adVenture. An adVenture is a design challenge where someone in the immediate MVPS community is the one to initiate the problem being investigated. Based on my understanding, the Gates kids were tasked to come up with solutions for Mr. Edwards (Tedwards) to help better organize the HIVE (our maker space) and get more people into the space.
These teams of 3-4 people then gave their final pitch to Tedwards as well the 2nd and 3rd year ID kids (Pixar kids) last Thursday. They were far from perfect, but what amazed me is that they were lightyears ahead of what the inaugural cohort was doing the second semester of our first year.
It was crazy to sit there and think about just how far the program has come in the past 3 years since the Innovation Diploma began. These newest members had slide decks, story lines, and prototypes that were just about at the professional level, and it was also satisfying to hear the quality feedback they received from the returning ID kids because there was a true sense of wisdom to it.
What really impacted me the most was when I realized the lessons that Gates kids were learning in an internal environment:
Pre-planning is mandatory: When you have a client coming, you have to think about more than just what you’re going to present. You also must consider: how you are going to set up the space? When you will get tech situated? How the client will check in? Who will meet the client at the front and take them to the space? What would you say when meeting the client? Etc.
The story is key: Giving a good pitch is often more important than the quality of the prototype, and the way you give a good pitch is by taking the audience on a journey. You must explain what the problem is, what insights you discovered from users, how your prototype meets the needs of the users, why your prototype is the best answer, what the next steps are, and how you can help make the prototype come to life.
Take pictures throughout the process: The story is the most important part of the presentation, however, pictures and slide deck quality is what makes a good pitch into an incredible and professional looking pitch. To get these pictures, you really have to take pictures of everything along the way, otherwise you’ll start your slide deck and just realize everything you missed a great picture of.
Redefining “low res”: Every prototype has different stages. After a quick day long brainstorm you can expect a few prototypes made of construction paper and popsicle sticks; this is not the prototype you present to your clients. By using digital technology we can make relatively fast prototypes that have a much better quality appearance.
Always rehearse: The best pitch you will ever give will never be your first. The more you practice and receive feedback, the better a pitch will get. Teams often get feedback on their prototypes, but not always the presentation, but the presentation is critical as mentioned before. If you plan an internal practice pitch a few days before the actual pitch, you can receive game changing feedback that will take your presentation to the next level.
These are just a few of the lessons I heard the Gates kids discuss as takeaways from their first pitch. The crazy thing is though, that while the Gates kids discussed their takeaways, all of the Pixar kids just looked at each other in amazement because we had to learn these lessons the hard way- while in front of an external client… It’s so incredible that now first year Innovation Diploma kids are learning these lessons. By the time they’ve had the experiance of a few years, who knows what these kids will be doing.
The program is getting better and better each year, and a lot of it is because of what we’ve learned through trial and error with past cohorts. As a member of the inaugural cohort I have faced a lot of challenges within the Innovation Diploma, as any pioneer must face when embarking on a new adventure; however, I wouldn’t trade the role I’ve gotten to play in the program in order to have been entering after some of those initial kinks have been prototyped for. By being a first year member I’ve worked through the hard times and learned so much from our fail-up experiences, and now I get the extreme pleasure of looking at these new members and seeing just how far we’ve come as a community. It’s incredible.
When I walked away from the pitch on Thursday, I couldn’t help but think about further feedback for the Gates kids, but I also couldn’t help but just smile for the past and the future of this incredible journey I’ve been on with the Innovation Diploma.
After months of data collecting and interviewing, the reMoVe10 team finally had our big presentation to our City of Sandy Springs clients, representatives from Georgia Clean Commute, and a handful of MVPS admin!!
No one likes sitting in traffic. It waste time, energy, and money and it is only getting worse each year. Early September of 2016 representatives from the City of Sandy Spring
contacted the Innovation Diploma to partner with us as consultants in a Design Brief in order to achieve the city goal to decrease traffic in the city by 10%.
Lead conversations and experiments at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School to decrease traffic in the school community by 10%. Then using MVPS as a small area case study group, develop traffic recommendations for schools in the Sandy Springs area and the city as a whole.
City of Sandy Springs council (Client)
Mount Vernon Presbyterian School
Georgia Commute Options
The first phase of our work was to better understand our community by learning how and where from people commute to school. In order to do this, we compiled data from our school directory, manually counted cars coming into the school early in the morning, and observed traffic patterns during our morning and afternoon carpool.
After working with our school’s registrar, we were able to take information we had gathered and develop this visual of where our families come from.
We also created this info-graphic which we sent out to the MVPS community to gain support and focus group partners for the movement. We learned that we currently have 662 cars coming into MVPS every morning. Based on estimates for the growth of our school, we should have around 770 cars by the year 2020 when our new high school building is finished being built. With this projected growth rate, it’s imperative that we act now to decrease traffic. If we successfully cut traffic down by 10% now, then we will be decreasing the number of future cars by 180 cars, decreasing pollution by 2,730 lbs of CO2, and saving 5,000 minutes of time commuting as a community (based on the average distances families currently travel from in order to get to MVPS).
Focus Group Insights
After collecting numerical data, the reMoVe10 team wanted to reach out to members of the MVPS community to better understand the MVPS carpool process from the primary users. After sending out our info-graphic, we gathered two parent/faculty focus groups to speak to where we discovered that the Lower School carpool line was more congested than the Upper School since less lower school students stay after school for sports and clubs. We then met with two fourth grade groups and two kindergarden groups in order to hear from the students about how they get to their cars in the afternoon.
Here were some of our take aways:
Removing traffic in an area doesn’t take a revolutionary idea. There are some rather simple things that we can do as a community to decrease traffic. The key is communication and everyone getting passionate and involved in the movement.
The reMoVe10 team is partnering with Georgia Commute Options, a government funded program that promotes taking cleaner routes to school and work by providing incentives and help with finding carpool partners. Our team plans to give presentations to parent and student drivers in the upcoming weeks to get them excited and signed up with the free Georgia Commute Options app that gives members access to these benefits. We then will work with the organization to see how traffic is effected based on the number of people with the app associated with the Mount Vernon community.
The team will also explore more ways to promote alternative travel options in order to decrease the number of cars on the road. We already have a hashtag (#reMoVe10) and several blog posts on our Innovation Diploma website, and will do a deeper dive into other forms of effective mass communication techniques.
The reMoVe10 team has come a long way in the past few months (this link goes to my blog posts along the journey). As a team we had various struggles with communication along the way; people would be absent and not notify anyone as to why, people would wonder out of the work space without a reason, people would not answer texts, etc. While this was very frustrating in the moment, we grew a lot with being able to confront these situations. We had many “come to Jesus moments” where we would talk about these problems and establish a new plan, and by the end of the semester everyone was doing a much better job at communicating with only minor hiccups.
It’s really hard to call a fellow teammate out, but when doing real world work, it is a necessary uncomfortably moment. If problems aren’t addressed, then they will keep happening, and that creates an unhealthy work environment. I think one of the places I grew most as a leader on this team was by being able to facilitate these necessary conversations that no one really wanted to have.
Even in the last week leading up to our big presentation we were struggling to bring things together. We realized that there is a lot of empathy work that we could have done earlier in the process. Our focus group meetings happened back to back only a few weeks before our final deadline, and it was great that they happened, but we realized the insights we identified would have been valuable at an earlier point in time. Furthermore, there are more people that we would have liked to talk to and we should have observed carpool more often, and now we’re having to go back and make up for what we really should have done earlier in the process. The jump from researching to empathizing is often the hardest hurdle to get over in my opinion, and our team truly experienced this. It was most evident in our practice pitch we gave two days before the big presentation, that we had some gaps in our project. However, we were able to pull it all together in the final hours and shifted the focus of our presentation to highlight the great work we had done. In every project it’s easy to later identify things you wish you would have done, but that shouldn’t discredit what you did do, and I was really proud of the quality of the presentation we gave in the end. Our clients even said, “This is better that some of the presentations we hear from adults that we pay to do this kind of work!”
A big part of the purpose of our presentation was to just get the right people in the room to make connections between all of the partners we’ve been working with. We achieved this goal better than we could have planned for; there were people still talking about the possibilities our work has brought up for nearly an hour after we thanked people for coming and said we were finished with their time. These conversations made me really excited with where this project could go in the upcoming months.
Our team had originally planned on disbanding after this presentation and not working 100% on this project (though we would do monthly check ins to keep up with the work). However, after the success and momentum the reMoVe10 movement gained after this presentation, we realized that we can’t stop now. The team is still in the process of figuring out who and how everyone will be involved next year, but I can guarantee the project will not die with the end of a semester.
This year has marked yet another new chapter for the Innovation Diploma (ID), and as we have moved into our third year of the programs existence, we have started to work on projects that we call Design Briefs. In short a Design Brief is a project where someone in the community seeks out a team of ID members to help them with a problem they are facing in their work; either for money, resource, or time reasons the organization can not devote to working on the project and thus outsources the project to an ID consultant team.
After last year’s success with Design Briefs, this year all of our 2nd and 3rd year student cohort members have gotten the opportunity to work on a Design Brief and we have been deep in the process for the past 2 months or so.
This is my first time working on a Design Brief and I have had the pleasure to work with a team of 3 other ID members as we work with the City of Sandy Springs to decrease traffic by 10 percent. Working with an external client has been a big change for me because the last two years I’ve found myself working on projects that were primarily driven by student observations in our school community. While it’s been awesome to be in an environment where I’ve been supported to tackle problems that I helped identify, I’ve really enjoyed the experience of getting to work with a client this year.
My team has already had 2 client meeting check ins signifying that we are officially halfway to our big deadline date where we will be meeting with a council of members from the City of Sandy Springs. This being said, I felt like it was a good time for me to reflect on a few of the benefits I’ve identified since working on a Design Brief:
Time Management: We get to co-create deadlines, but have to be firm on meeting those deadlines because we can’t just email our clients the day before a meeting saying that we haven’t met our deliverables and need to push back a deadline. I’ve had to further develop my time management skills in order to create and meet deadlines for this project which has proven to be helpful in all aspects of my life.
Craftsmanship: When working with an actual organization there is a higher standard of work that we have to meet. Most organizations haven’t used students as a consultants before, therefore, we have to prove that we are worthy of being worked with. We want to present work to our clients that is at least as good as the work they would be getting from adult consultants. I’m happy to say that so far, our clients have consistently been beyond impressed with our work!
Confidence: It’s one thing for my parents or teachers to say that I did a good job on a piece of work that I presented, but they practically have to say that every now and then because they have a personal connection to me. But when a client from outside of the school says that my work was inspiring, that makes me feel more confident in my capabilities and makes me strive to constantly strive to take on bigger challenges.
Spreadsheets and Google Maps: I’ve learned a lot of very specific skills that I didn’t expect to learn while working on this project. I have been learning how to use Google Spreadsheets and Google Maps to help create visual representations of data we have. I’ve ended up creating a dozen of maps, graphs, and tables and have learned a lot about how to use these tools.
Communication: As project manager I have been the point of contact for all of our external experts ranging from our clients to parents in the community. This has required me to practice my communication skills in the form of email, twitter, and blogging amongst others. I’ve noticed especially with emailing that I’ve been able to draft emails that require less editing each time over the past few months which has been very tangible evidence of my growth.
I’ve grown a number of skills through this project work, but I think what I find to be most impactful about my Design Brief work is that I actually want to work on this project. Everyday I go into ID feeling excited and motivated to work because I know the work we are doing is actually going to make a difference in the lives of hopefully hundreds of people. That’s a huge deal, and more than I can say about most of my core classes. This Design Brief is meaningful work, and, therefore, I feel even more driven to do everything in my power to be successful in producing high quality work. I can’t wait for the day when it becomes the new normal for everyone to be doing this kind of “real world work” as their “school work.”
An article of mine went live today on the e-magazine Pioneering: Education Reimagined!!!! I posted an early draft of this article on my blog around mid-summer but I’m much happier with this final draft, and very happy to have one more thing off of my plate!
The most interesting thing about this experiance was having an editor. I don’t have very good grammar. I’ve accepted this fact long ago. In fact I spelled grammar wrong writing that last sentence the first time. However, apparently my thoughts that I write about are at least interesting and well written enough for people to want to read them.
In school though this typically doesn’t matter much. I never saw myself as a writer for years because I never made all that great of grades in English class due to my poor grammar. If I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s that not all good writers are editors. Like wise, I know people who are good editors but not all that great at writing themselves. However, when good writers work with good editors, pretty epic stuff happens.
It was nice to be able to write something for a specific reason where I was more concerned with the ideas then the grammar for a change. Because I was able to work with other people who read over my work to help with grammar details, and it made my writing look better which was cool!
No one ever works entirely on their own. Even book authors. I wish in school we spent more time focusing on the different skills everyone has, and how people can work together to make something great. We don’t all need to be writers, or editors, or artists, or mathematicians, or historians, or scientists, etc, but we do need to know enough about different areas and about ourselves to know how our strengths can work with others to accomplish meaningful work.
Happy belated 4th of July! I spent this weekend with family in Tennessee and accomplished several things I’ve been working on recently: I made good progress on my 5th book of the summer, I finished choreographing more routines for next year, finished an application essay for a weekend program at a college, and I finally got all of the spring showcase routines I choreographed onto youtube!
So now I can finally upload and thus document my work on my blog (The last 5 I am in! And I know one of them has a different background, that’s because I don’t have a recording of the routine done at this meet but it’s the same routine and I still only just got it on youtube recently.):
Today was the official last day of school for everyone at MVPS, which also means that we have officially finished a full year of the first ever student designed AP course!!! The Collab Course adventure has come to an end in some ways, but in other ways our adventure has only just begun. So for my final assignment I have created the MoVe Talk (Moment of Visible Empathy) below to capture a snapshot of what I have taken away from this experiance. I didn’t get feedback on this talk (which is a rare and nerve racking thing for me to do), because I just wanted to share my personal raw thoughts about the opportunity to own my learning in a way unlike any other. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy my reflection of this glimpse at the future of education:
(I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been wanting to write this post, however I wanted to make sure I wrote it when I wasn’t paranoid about being up too late and still getting other things done. So finally, here it goes. )
For the past several months I have been one of four members of the ID cohort on the ReSpIn team- a team striving to Reduce waste, Spark conversations, and Inspire change so that sustainability becomes a part of the Mount Vernon community’s DNA.
Back in the fall, we observed that the middle school does not have recycling bins in their classrooms due to “not having the space.” Yet if we wish to have our students making conscious decisions about how they are affecting the environment, it’s important for us to provide the means like a recycling bin in order to make positive choices. This simple observation impelled a year long design challenge around how we could provide the middle school with a recycling bin that not only was a piece of furniture that people utilized properly, but also really made people think more about environmental sustainability.
Using the DEEP process as a kicking off point, we were able to create early prototypes that lead us to the overall concept of the RISE Sustainability System. (While not intentional, we recently realized that “RISE” could actually stand for, “Recycling in School Environments,” though I must admit that was not intentional for that reason.)
The system would have two elements:
Part one is the RISE bin container which would serve as a shell for the current bins we have, but the shell would create more vertical and shelf space by providing a way to raise the recycling bin on top of the trash bin.
Part two is the accompanying classroom component meant to help teach students more about recycling. We realized, after interviewing an external expert who is a venture capitalist, that trying to make sustainability a part of the MVPS DNA needs both a product and a social innovation; therefore, the classroom curriculum is meant to address the social component of this problem.
These two parts together are the entire “RISE Sustainability System.” However, we have focused primarily at this point on the physical product because it is what was most in front of us at the moment. (What good does it due for students to learn about why and how we properly recycle if they don’t actually have a way to recycle in their classroom?)
Through early empathy interviews, prototypes, experiments, and observations, we discerned that students take an interest in things they have ownership over. So the big question became,
“How might we have students take ownership of the RISE bin with the bin itself still being structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing?”
Our solution: have the middle school students build and customize their own RISE bin as a class. Our first to scale prototype, which sat in two different middle school classrooms for a week, generated a lot of buzz about recycling, and we learned that the 5th graders in particular were really curious about the RISE. They were asking lots of questions and wanted people to use it correctly even though it was falling a part due to it’s design (being made out of foam and duct tape primarily). So our hypothesis was that if students got to build the RISE themselves they would take even more ownership over the bin and wanting people to use it correctly, which therefore means they’d have to recycle correctly.
This new hypothesis brought a plethora of design constraints for us on the ReSpIn team. In particular we were struggling with figuring out the best materials to use, how to attach pieces together, and how to create a simple yet ascetically pleasing way to get the waste into the proper bins. This period of struggle included long discussions with the team, mentors, and experts, several prototypes of different magnitudes, and many hours outside of school declared “ID time” spent working to finish our product. (I now know all sorts of random fun facts about materials and machines, like how you can’t use Coroplast in a CNC machine because the rotation of the machine will just get caught in the threads and make a not so aesthetically pleasing hole. More than just fun facts, I’ve learned how to use a plethora of tools like Silhouette, Fusion360, and the laser cutter while also improving my innovators skills of associating, experimenting, questioning, networking, and observing.)
We were narrowing prototypes based on 8 design specifications and scoring with either a negative, a positive, or a neutral:
function- how well are people able to get trash into the trash bin and recycling into the recycling bin?
customers-how well can our users put the RISE together? how well can custodians take out the content of the bins?
materials- how hard is it for us to get the materials ready for our users to put it together? (“What machines can we use with this material?” was a large factor.)
environment- How environmentally friendly is the prototype? (this had to be positive)
size- does it take up minimal space?
safety- how safely can students put the prototype together with this version?
aesthetics- looking for a certain degree of professionalism since we are at school
cost- the goal is to make the RISE wide scale someday, so how costly would it be?
After a fair amount of time, we were finally able to decide upon a 2.0 full scale version of the RISE. This version is made out of PVC, MDF boards (wood), and zip ties and has met all of our requirements.
By iFest (the day at MVPS where all high schoolers showcase project based learning work from the year) which was just three weeks ago, we were able to create one fully finished 2.0 prototype and most of one 2.1 prototype which we had high schoolers and teachers testing with our instructions book while trying to create the PVC skeleton of the 2.1 prototype. (There are only minor differences which we wanted to test such as how 2.1 is taller and has a front piece made out of a different wood which we stained.) Then after iFest, after we finished up the rest of 2.1 and made edits to our instructions book, we were ready to get our latest prototypes tested by some actual middle schoolers.
I’m happy to now announce that earlier this week we had a huge success for the ReSpIn team with our RISE Sustainability System! We were able to get our prototype into the classroom and officially test out the design with middle schoolers and it went really well!!!
As soon as I walked down the hall with a pile of supplies, 5th graders started looking at me and asking questions about what I was doing. I quickly assembled a group of 15 student volunteers to help with our test, and from the moment I gave them the instructions booklet they were deep in concentration over their work. I noticed a lot of teamwork skills being practiced with leaders emerging for different things such as the student holding and reading instructions, and the student taking lead with putting PVS pieces together, and the student telling others what they could do to help, and the student asking everyone questions to make sure they were doing things correctly.
From early on I was able to observe that there were still several students not actively participating in the process the entire time, so I changed the test a little by instruction them to split up into a teams. One group focused on the PVC part and another focused on prepping the wood pieces with zip ties for when they’d be attached. Based on this feedback our team is now editing our instructions book to say from the start for the class to break up into 3 teams with two of the teams working on a different section of the PVC and the third team working on wood. This will hopefully help more students stay actively engaged in the process and cut down on how long it takes to put the RISE together.
We also were able to get good feedback about how much people liked the pictures, but we need to adjust the way we talk about the wood pieces because that was hard for them to understand which piece was which. One girl also said, “These zip ties are hard to get in the holes,” and multiple others agreed, so I think we have some design work to make that easier as well. There were a few other wording confusions, but overall they were able to assemble the bin with only asking me a few questions about the wood pieces particularly and also when one PVC piece was not quite fitting in right.
However, the most inspiring piece of feedback of the test that we were given was from a little girl who told me, “This is the best idesign challenge we’ve done, because we never get to see a project like this get this far.”
I’ve fallen in love with our users and I’m excited for the new edits and whatever comes next so that we can provide them with the best solution to this problem. Though, I don’t know exactly what our next steps are, because like the 5th grade girl said, “We’ve never gotten this far.” But all of the smiling faces, “thank you”s, and teacher comments about students asking more questions about recycling is how I know we are doing something right.