Ever try doing something in a backwards order just for fun to see what happens? Well tonight my family (being my grandparents, siblings, and I) did just that. We decided to go out for ice cream tonight before having dinner. It was yummy, but left me not so hungry for our also yummy dinner as expected.
I’m the type of person that enjoys doing things sometimes just for kicks and giggles to appease my curiosity. For example, I took the old SAT, the new SAT, and the ACT just because I was curious about how the three would compare. (If you’re like me and equally curious, I did pretty much the exact same on every version every time I tested if you look at the comparison charts. No one can say I’m not consistent…)
Luckily for me, standardized tests are not the only things that make me curious. Sometimes I’ll do wacky things like wear my cloak to school just to see how people react, and because I love the feeling of walking down a hall with a cloak flowing behind you. It’s pretty majestic to watch, and magical to experiance- I highly suggest for everyone to try it for themselves if given the chance.
Then of course there was my senior portrait outfit… I have a philosophy about year book photos. A yearbook photo, even more so than other photos, is meant to be something that in years from when it’s taken you can look back and remember what you were like that year when the photo was taken. It should remind you of yourself. Well I’m a person who typically doesn’t wear her hair down. I am a person however who does wacky things just for the fun of it. I’m also a person who loves the Renaissance. So I took my senior portrait photo in my Renaissance dress, because that’s going to always remind me of who I am right now; that person who stands out in a crowd because she follows her crazy curious heart and mind.
So I say, if you want to try something a little backwards just because you’re curious, go for it! You may discover something wonderful, or maybe not, but you don’t know until you try. And after all, what may seem backwards or upside down may be the obviously “correct” way to others.
(As a funny side note, this post was actually inspired partially from eating ice cream first, and also partly because I finally cut my nails today after forgetting every day for the past week. A reference to the link above of a former post of mine: Turn Up Side Down. Which I also just noticed I accidentally spelled upside as two words…)
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:
It’s been a busy few weeks. Since I last posted I’ve been working at the Stanford d.School, wondering the city of San Francisco, at a Disney hotel, exploring Universal, sick in bed, discovering new facts at interactive museums, catching up on reading, and in general having fun with family and friends relaxing and trying not to worry about school. I’ve dropped the ball on blogging for various reasons, but that is irrelevant right now because inspiration hit me and I’ve finally reached a point where I simply must write.
While in San Fran (though really I was in Palo Alto most of the time…) I did write some posts, but due to internet issues at the time they never made there way online yet.
Rather than multiple posts I shall put the summaries here of our work on the design challenge “HMW establish friendships and build community at Stanford?”
San Fran Day 1
Today was our first day in San Francisco and I’m so excited to be back here again! The city is so much fun! All the bright colors, interesting street people, and pretty scenery just makes me so happy.
Today was our “chill day “ since we only just got into the city and everyone is still adjusting to the time difference. We did a lot of exploring today. We started out just doing a lot of walking to our hotel and then to the pier to visit the Exploritorium. We came to this same interactive museum last year as well and it’s really cool to get to play with all of the science, math, and psychology interactive exhibits.
(Small tangent, this place also has one of the biggest Pi Day celebrations in the country at least, and there is free admission and a bunch of pi activities to do. One year I would love to be in San Fran for Pi Day just to see this supposedly epic event. This year is actually the 28th time they are celebrating apparently.)
One thing at the museum that I didn’t notice last year is that they have a moving sign up front that is constantly changing what it says. At one point in time, it read, “You can’t fail a museum.” I really liked this because it showed how the Exploritorium is really meant to be a place to wander and wonder and simple have fun learning about new things. There is no number or letter attached to anything. There is no sense of “failure” because no matter what you do at a station, you will either learn what works or 10,000 ways that don’t (just like Thomas Jefferson inventing the lightbulb.)
I wonder what schools could learn from the design of the Exploritorium. I know we need to have some form of feedback at school, which is not present at the Exploritorium, but what if we had a section of school that was more like a museum with various interactive exhibits set up. A place where you could wander in everyday and learn something new. Learning without the stress of grades is great.
San Fran Day 2
IDEO and d.School all in one day!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Today was fantastic so many great ideas in such a short amount of time!
We talked about everything from a bathroom note board, to a hackathon bike race, to how to build trust between high schoolers and college reps.
I think what I enjoyed most about today was giving feedback to grad students on their prototypes for trying to figure out how to relieve stress from students trying to go to college.
It’s cool to see ideas that other people have about education transformation and I was making sure to take notes on ideas that connect to ours.
I’ve noticed that most ID members have gotten a lot more comfortable with giving feedback which was very evident today. Everyone was “in the zone” so to say; we seemed comfortable and confident with what we were talking about and how we were explaining our thoughts.
It seems like we gave valuable feedback, but I wish we could have gotten to hear their team’s meeting about what they thought after our feedback. I would like to know if our feedback was actually valuable to them rather than just basing it off of our own observations.
We also did some quick interviews with people today around campus. That was particularly interesting because we don’t often get to experience what it’s like to go out into the “real world” and just ask strangers questions to try to empathize better with our users. Usually it’s someone we know that we’ve been emailing with for a while and then finally get one 30 minute conversation with. There was no real planning on our part with these interviews though (the facilitators at the d.School had talked with the dorm leaders who had talked to the student, but we personally had not connected with any of the students before). We talked less and did more and it was fun, informative, and got us moving further faster I think.
Overall day 2 was fantastic!
San Fran Day 3
Wow today was a full day.
We were talking with college students, doing fun team building dances, unpacking interviews and working a lot on trying to find insights.
It was tiring.
While there is a lot I could talk about tonight, what I’d like to dive in on is how I realized how important it is to have breaks in our day.
When we’re always working non-stop, then it can be hard to really process everything, and your energy level slowly dies down. We’ve had some long days this week so far, and while I’ve appreciated the amount of time we’ve had to work, I wonder if we will have more moments this week where we break out from working. Times to just do weird fun stuff as a team.
We did a dance exercise today, which I can only describe as a leadership exercise that forced us to be goofy and follow each other anyway. We were working with our teams and changing up who was the leader to lead our team in dance moves. This was so much fun and I think we got to know our mini teams better, but I hope we get to have similar experiences with all of the ID family. I think every group can always grow with their understanding and comfort level with each other.
Now I didn’t keep up with blogging after day 3, so I’ll just do a quick recap of my overall thoughts.
To be completely honest (as I like to be), I had many points of frustration. I think this is natural, I’d be lying to say that everything was good and dandy 100% of the time with anything I do. I think the hardest part was being in a place where not everyone sees the same potential in a group of high schoolers as our facilitators and teachers at MVPS do. We are given so much respect at MVPS that it’s hard to leave that environment and remember that not all of the rest of the world thinks of high schoolers as active and involved members of a community. This struggle personally came up for me a few times along with the normal working on a team struggles.
However, these were all minor things compared to the over all experience and everything we gained from it.
The theme of the week was “fail forward” which reminded me of a MVPS phrase we like to say, “fail up”; they essentially mean the same thing, which is a reminder that you have to learn from failures, in order to achieve success. So don’t shut down when you fail, instead lean in and like a clown at a circus, even when you fall you get up and say “ta-da!” I thought it was really neat to hear someone else talk about a mindset that we also have as a norm when doing work.
Some other big take aways were how we learned a lot of new helpful tools and coaching prompts for going through the design process. Another big success was that a lot of ID members seemed to take on new roles while we were at Stanford, and really come out of their comfort zones in positive ways; several people also had “aha” moments where they maybe understood a part of the design process better than they once did. I also think a huge take away was just the number of great ideas generated while we were there. I hope some of these ideas will maybe be adapted a little and implemented at MVPS.
I could tell that all of these take aways helped bring our ID family closer together, and I
hope to see some of these take aways help inspire our work as we continue this year and beyond.
What’s really blowing my mind still is that we had this opportunity. Ya we are a bunch of high schoolers, but we are a bunch of high schoolers that just spent a week with Stanford students thinking up big ideas to problems that are affecting real people. Too bad this wasn’t school all of the time.
Besides packing for our trip to San Francisco for a week with ID, I spent most of the day doing some reading. I was reading my book about neuroscience which I haven’t actually gotten to look at since first getting it in New York last summer.
I find neuroscience interesting because the more we learn about the brain, the more we can learn about how people learn. And if we learn about how people learn, then we can better understand how to best teach people.
Now to be honest, my book is pretty short because it’s meant to be a book that tells you little one page summaries of concepts so while I learned a good bit, I didn’t learn anything truly substantial. However, I did learn enough to get curious about a few different things.
Now I should really be going to bed soon because I have to be at the airport at 5:45am tomorrow morning, so I’m going to try and make this brief. The biggest curiosity my reading has left me with is the idea of meditation.
Experiments have proven that there are benefits to attention span, working memory, and spatial processing tasks, while also decreasing the need for a large amount of sleep by meditating. With all these benefits, it makes me wonder how much meditation is needed to make a significant improvement in these areas. It also makes me wonder if schools should be incorporating time for meditation into our daily routine. (And I don’t just mean suggest time, because everyone, myself included, would probably end up saying something else is more important; if there was meditation time, it would need to be required of all students and teachers if a real difference was wanted to be made.)
In one of my classes recently there was a bit of discussion because some kids didn’t want to take notes on a movie we were watching. Our teacher said they should if they hoped to do well on our upcoming test, so some of the students asked if it was for a grade. They were honest and said they wouldn’t take notes if it wasn’t for a grade because they know that if they do take notes they will end up never looking at them again and they would prefer to just watch the movie itself.
I’m not going to lie, at first I was a bit annoyed with why the argument was happening. I’ve always been that student to take immense notes all of the time, so at first it only seemed logical to take notes; you will almost always do better on assessments if you take notes in class.
Then I took a moment to think deeper about the situation.
Why do we take notes? To do well on assessments.
What is happening while I take notes? Well let’s see, my head is down in my notebook and I’m writing things down like, “Because technology advanced people were now able to send letters to their loved ones from the front lines.”
What am I missing out on while taking notes? While I write about what happened, I’m missing out on what that letter actually was about or looking at the video itself to see the emotions of the people and get a feel for the time period.
The whole time I was watching the movie all I could think about was, “Do we take notes for the right reasons?”
I mean sure I don’t take notes just to get a grade, but I also only take notes to get a good grade later on. Why is it that everything is focused on the grade? If not at first, then eventually it is.
I want more than a grade out of my classes.
Why is it that we learn history? I’d say it’s because history is the foundation to decision making; history is everywhere! We always are having to research the past in order to inform our future, so why is it that in history class we only test on the past rather than actually using the past to create our future?
What if history class was about more than just testing how well we can learn and regurgitate facts about the past? What if history class actually involved solving problems by focusing on how we have solved similar problems in the past in order to influence decisions today?
I don’t hate history. In fact, I think history is enormously important and can be extremely interesting when you focus on detailed stories. However, history classes often make me disgruntled because I just see so much untapped potential in the way we run history courses. And I don’t think this is something a single teacher can just change, I think it needs to be a wide set mind-shift change where we consider how we think about history class. Information is all online, but what use is it if we can’t interpret it to actually use in our lives?
So recently I keep thinking about this hole I’ve been in while stuck on my procrastination train. I’ve had a few people recently tell me that this post was such perfect timing because they’ve been feeling the same way. Frankly I just keep wondering why this is.
I believe people are highly influenced by those around them in terms of what mood they are in. It seems that everyone is either having the best day ever or the darkest night of the soul. Then there are always those other days that are just kind of “eh,” not particularly good, but also not obviously bad; the days that are just there because time must pass.
I was talking out loud about my personal hole today and I’ve realized that part of why I’ve lost motivation is because I can’t seem to make up my mind on what to be motivated about. It seems that my biggest debate is about whether I want to be spending my time promoting or innovating.
I’ve been racking my head all day to try and remember where I’ve had this conversation before, and then I realized that it was during ID last year when I think we had this conversation. We were talking about how important it is to constantly capture and share your work; however, if you only spend your time sharing your work, then you aren’t doing any new work that is worth sharing.
It’s a challenging balance between working on new projects and presenting about old ones.
Recently I’ve been having a lot of ideas in terms of what to do with my Gold Award/iVenture/MViFi Fellow work/passion project/whatever other term you want to call it (all of which relate to “student voice in education re-design”). Specifically the ones I’ve been debating between following in terms of what to work on more presently than the others:
what if teachers had a system to help create flows in order to lead DT challenges in their classrooms?
what if there was a student designed and lead DT conference? (around what would still be up for debate, but it’s something I think would be fun and very different)
what if student/school government was re-designed to better match our country’s democracy?
what if there was a research study/paper about “what make a good student?”
then there is also always the option of just trying to find more attachment to my ReSpIn project (which is doing pretty well, we have a bunch of goals in place to accomplish before we leave for San Francisco as a cohort this spring)
I think all of these ideas are valid questions to be answered and explored, but that’s also kind of the problem, because it makes it hard to decide what to invest time in. Do I spend my time working on something like the DT conference or research study/paper that would be more of a promoting type endeavor where I’d be sharing the story of the importance of student voice and hopefully helping more students find their voice? Or do I spend my time working on something completely new that involves actually using design thinking myself like the teacher DT flow system or the student government redesign proposal?
Not to sound cocky, but I feel confident that if I set my mind to tackle one of these questions, it would be possible for me to get somewhere with it. I’ve talked to many others about various ones of these ideas and others have also said they think they are very doable– if I set aside the time. So that just leads me to wonder, what of these potential ventures would be most impactful on society today?
Especially with my Gold Award requirements, time is of the essence. Sure I still have all of high school and life hypothetically to work on these endeavors and could potentially get to all of them, but in order to get my Gold Award (well to put on my transcript) I have to “finish” by September of this year. (Finish is in quotes because I don’t believe what ever I work on will just be done in September, but in terms of the Gold Award it would mean I’ve met the goals I set out to complete by that day.)
So what wins top priority? I still don’t know where this leaves me, but I’d really love feedback from anyone at all about how I should proceed in trying to get out of my hole of confusion.
Being a leader is hard. I’m the founder of Kemps Khaos Club at MVPS last year, though we were an un-offical club 2 years ago as well, and each year we’ve tried to improve our student-faculty card game tournament.
This year we set up the “Kemps Kouncil” to help deal and organize all game times. However, trying to organize the Kouncil to make sure they organize the games is a whole other challenge. It’s been challenging mainly because usually I’m that kind of leader who, when something isn’t being done, I just do it myself to make sure it’s done. However, with Kemps, I’ve really been trying to let my team mates take that responsibility and just give them reminders to make sure it gets done. The hard part is when I get questions from teachers about when they are going to play their next game and all I can say is, “I don’t know, your dealer should be sending you an email soon…”
A lot of times when I’m on a team I end up in a leadership role. It’s just my personality and nature I guess, even in a letter I have from my preschool teachers it says, “When playing in a group setting, Anya prefers to be the leader but will allow other children to take over that role as well.”
In fact a lot of that letter is a surprisingly accurate description of how I still am today, which seems so weird considering I was 3 at the time this was written. I wonder how old we are when our fundamental personality traits start showing. How much do we really change over time? What traits start showing themselves earlier than others? What personality traits are more likely to change over time versus staying consistent through out a person’s life? What shapes our personality?
I feel like in high school one of the most common faced problems is someone feeling the need to be like someone else, rather than feeling comfortable with embracing who they are. Everyone is an individual person with different personality traits. Some that are praised, and others which show our weaknesses, but they all make us, us. Our differences are what make us unique, special, noticed amongst the crowd. At a wedding the bride is the one in a different dress. When trying to get someone’s attention you stand up to be spotted in the sitting crowd. In a sea of yellow flowers, it’s easy to spot the one that’s a radiant, ruby red.
For the amount of stress teenagers go through with trying to figure out “who am I?” I wonder what it would be like if schools placed more time and energy into helping students embrace their individuality. It’s a skill that will truly last a life time and be invaluable to success.
Individuality is important to me, and it’s something I see people struggle with all the time which makes me sad, frustrated, and oddly ignited. HMW help people feel comfortable being themselves? It’s a question that’s been asked by people for centuries, so why does it seem that not much has changed- I mean if the question is still being asked, clearly the problem hasn’t been solved. Why not? Are we asking the right question? Are we tackling the problem the right way? Are we communicating and working with the right people?
I feel the designer inside of me burning with questions and a sense of agency to take action in some way or form yet I simply don’t know where to start, so I’m starting with these questions. Hopefully something will come from them.
It makes me disheartened with education when I see people physically upset (crying actually) due to stress about the end of the year. I truly don’t understand why we make the end of the year so full of stress and anxiety right before the holidays too. No one wants stress and anxiety. Teachers don’t want it, students don’t want it, parents and families don’t want it. Why is it still here?
(This reminds me of my recent post about the SAT.) What if there was a fun way to end the year that still gave students the opportunity to showcase their learning over the course of the semester?
Like what if the year ended in some big puzzle challenge where you were in small groups, or even a class, and you had to use what you’ve learned over the semester in order to find the answer? Similar to at nerd camp last year when we took 3 hours to break a code as a class and then solve the riddle once decoded. It ended up testing most of what we had learned thus far about cryptology and helped us grow as a team. It tested our collaboration and communication skills as well as the problem solving and creative thinking skills; plus it made us think more about how they used codes in WWII which lead to really interesting conversations. This experience was tons of fun (it’s actually one of my favorite challenges that I’ve ever taken on) and yet it was really challenging and a great test of our knowledge too!
The accuracy of this description make me worry and wonder as to why, in this particular moment, the education system starkly resembles the opening to a dystopian novel. Sure we’re taking a test, but what if a test of knowledge was seen more as a fun thing? To challenge your knowledge shouldn’t seem so grim.
Being as passionate about education redesign as I am, I’ve been trying to make more of a point to think about ways that design thinking can be incorporated into the classroom, and what struggles I notice occurring around trying to use elements of design thinking.
One of the big things I’ve noticed is that we often spend a really long time on the discovery phase. (Referring to the DEEP process we use at MVPS which stands for Discover, Empathize, Experiment, Produce.) I think this is because teachers, and maybe even some students, feel “safest” in the discovery mode.
Discovery is all about research, and it is really easy to “justify” how the discovery phase is meeting the goals of traditional schooling because we have always done research at school. Teachers and students have always done research and therefore, the discovery phase feels more comfortable because it’s not requiring you to really stretch yourself as a learner in terms of how you act and what you learn. Everyone interprets what they read based on what they want to know and already believe. It is much easier to get a piece of text to support your argument then it is to hear a person speak and try to pick a part their talk to validate your own believes.
While the discovery phase is very necessary to a design process, because you need some background information to know what you are even dealing with, I believe the quicker you can make the leap from discovery to empathy mode, the more things will start to “make sense”. The empathy phase is when you are challenged and get pieces of insight that spark your curiosity and interest. This is where both student and teachers start to light up and find themselves wanting to research more to further understand and question what their user said.
I’ve observed first hand the moment when students find themselves hooked on a design challenge because they realize how much it means to someone else that they spoke to. I’ve also observed how excited teachers get to see their students excited about learning. Once you get to the empathy phase, the rest of the challenge starts to get much clearer, and the question of “what in the world are we doing” starts to become less foggy.
The problem is that while the discovery mode feels very safe and comfortable in the classroom, the empathy mode is far from “safe and comfortable”. To get to the point of interviewing people can be really hard in a classroom environment. One of the biggest struggles being that if students don’t yet care or understand why you are doing what you are doing, it is often hard to get them to find people to interview because they don’t know what to do next.
Design thinking is still pretty new to the education world, and while teachers are learning more and more about how to involve design thinking in their classrooms, students are not necessarily having a parallel introduction to design thinking. If a teacher walks into a classroom full of students that barely (if at all) understand why we do design thinking, they can’t just magically flip on the light switch and expect the students to be able to self guide themselves through a design thinking challenge.
The light switch has to be built before it can be used.
You have to have the tool before you can use it.
Creative confidence is something nurtured and grown, not magically summoned upon when you need it for a class assignment.
I know I haven’t even started to talk about the Experiment or Produce stages, but that’s because I honestly don’t think I’ve had a class where we really and truly reached these stages even.
More often than not, we spend so much time on discovery, that we try to cram empathy in really quickly and then have spent so much time on the project already, that we decide to end after our empathy findings so that we can move on to the next unit. I get why. I mean there is only so much time in the school year, and at this point there are still things that teachers have to teach to meet certain standards by the end of the year. And to be honest, if you spend to much time on a design challenge that isn’t moving anywhere, it can eventually seem tiresome and overdone; there is only so much researching you can do before you want to just drop everything.
However, I think if we could move faster into the empathy phase of design thinking, then we would be more likely to see a challenge all the way through. I believe this because after meeting with users is when things really start to get exciting to the point where you don’t want to stop.
So here are some of my thoughts…
What if teachers took more responsibility over design challenges in the classroom? At least until students start to show a great understanding for the process itself (I imagine a future where by the time students reach high school, they are already at this comfort level; however, with design thinking in the classroom still being relatively new, students are not all ready for this responsibility yet. There is a lack of experience that must be accounted for first.)
What if, rather than going through and entire design challenge, teachers set up more design sprints or just mini design challenges that had a very purposeful flow with time constraints? Maybe these could last a week or two max for these challenges. In this challenge teachers would help facilitate students researching about users that the teacher has already found and set a specific time when they would come in to be interviewed by students. This would eliminate the struggle of students trying to find and communicate with people to set up interview times. While this is a great skill to learn, in the classroom this can get complicated because everyone has different schedules and some students may need more help than others with setting up this interview. So I think this skill is something that could wait to be practiced until students have a better understanding of the design thinking process first.
Then after all of the students have gotten the chance to talk to one or two users, the teacher helps guide the class through a series of tools to help unpack interviews and discover what the how might we statement is.
It’s at this point where I would imagine some of my blog readers may start thinking that this sounds like a very familiar process. That’s because I literally think that teachers could facilitate in their classroom sessions similar to how we run some of our big design thinking events at Mount Vernon like the Council on Innovation or FUSE. Sure there may be a bit more of a challenge with time because the sessions would have to be broken up over multiple days for shorter time periods, but I think it’s conceivable. (I mean we even had students create and facilitate an entire design thinking session with a similar flow to this in Davos this past summer for the Global Leadership Summit.)
Students need time to be creative and explore their passions, but when it comes to design thinking, I think they first need more guidance and closer facilitation in order to learn the ropes before trying to sail alone. The best way to learn how to sail is to actually get in the boat, so why not give students more opportunities to experience design thinking by facilitating lots of mini more guided and focused design thinking sessions in the classroom? This may also help with classroom design challenges leaping over the ditch between the discovery and empathy phases of the DEEP process, and then maybe having the time to then go even further into the process with experimenting and producing. The student boats will capsize a few times, but eventually they’ll get more use to that water, and before you (the teacher) knows it, they’ll be off exploring new lands on their own.