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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The Outlier

imgres.pngEvery now and then someone reminds me that what I’ve done on this blog isn’t as normal as it’s come to be in my life. It isn’t “normal” for most 15 year olds to just decide one day that they are going to start a blog and write everyday for 100 days, and then decide to continue the challenge for over 2 years. But for me it is “normal,” because it’s the reality of my life as I’ve come to know it.

What was it inside of me that urged me to take on this challenge? Why was/am I not “normal”?

I have nothing against being the outlier, but I’m just deeply curious as to what it is about me that makes me this way.

People will say things to me about being extraordinary, and wanting to clone me, and asking how to find more kids like me, etc. But to me, this is just me. I don’t have any answer as to why I’m this way, though I would like to know.

I’m really not trying to narcotic or pompous or anything like that, so I really hope it isn’t coming off that way. I’m just generally curious as to why I, and others like me such as my friends Kat and Marz who have been on many adventures with me, tend to act in desired ways that are very different from the average teenager. Creating and often posting to our own blogs is just one of these ways.

What is it about us that makes us this way? And what about kids that are not so motivated to just decide to do things like constantly write, how might they gain the same skills in communication, self-confidence, and empathy without that same motivation to take action on their own? Is there really a way to teach motivation? I have no idea.

To this day I remember in freshman English class when a student asked, “How do you get a good work ethic?” The student was genuinely curious because he knew he didn’t have one, though he also understood the importance of having one. Everyone in the room was stumped as to the answer to the question.

It can’t possibly be some trait that some people are born with and others are not. I also refuse to believe that self-motivation and a good work ethic are something that you either have or don’t have by a certain age and that’s that. Skills can always be built and improved upon just as there may come a time when an old house has to be renovated to keep from falling apart, and yet I have no idea how to build these skills.

Sometime I wish someone would pick my brain harder to help me grapple with why I’ve turned out the way I am. There is only so much questioning I can can ask myself. Sometimes questions are best answered when someone else does the questioning. I don’t know why I’m the way I am, but I’d love to find out and hopefully somehow use that knowledge to inform ideas on teaching and education.

Ice Cream First

images-1.jpgEver 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…)

The First Step to 21st Century Education

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I’ve had a a fantastic week at the beach with my friends on the lovely island of Sanibel. Even despite the tropical storm that came in, we had a lot of fun on the beach, in the pool, biking around, playing games, reading, and just hanging out and talking together.

I was reading Future Wise over this vacation and thus thinking more about the future of education– yes, even while on vacation these are the things I think about, I know I’m weird that way. I have realized that even though it is summer I find myself constantly thinking about school. I find myself not always being “productive” over the summer which is odd to me because I typically am very consumed with school work, self selected work, meetings, clubs, theater, acro, band, etc. What I’ve noticed is that I am very fond of school.

This isn’t really surprising to me because I’ve always rather enjoyed school. When I was younger I would say I love school without a second of hesitation. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself more annoyed with school and always waiting for the next holiday break or even just the weekend during the school year. So really I guess what I miss isn’t quite school, but really I miss the company of fellow learners working, discussing, and creating new ideas together; I don’t miss all of school as I use to back in elementary school.

This made me wonder: “Why is it that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less fond of school is so many ways?” My hypothesis is that I don’t like school as much as I use to because school is no longer just about the fun and wonder of learning, but now it has become a stressful climb for “success”- however we might define that.

Thinking like the designer I believe myself to be, I decided to test my hypothesis about how stressful school is to older students.

I send a text to 13 students currently in high school and 2 in college from a total of 7 different schools across 3 different states asking this question: “What are specific examples of things that make you stressed, and why do you think they make you stressed?” Then I waited to see if their answer would have something to do with school, even though I specifically did not ask, “What makes you stressed at school?”

I did not provide any explanation as to why I was asking the question until after they had answered, if they asked, because I did not want to influence their answers in any way. Though in honesty, I did not get responses from everyone (it is summer after all and people are concerned with other things as expected though I only missed a few), the results to my small test were overwhelmingly inline with my hypothesis.

Most students responded with something having to do with school being the cause of their stress. The results varied between stress when teachers all assign big things due on the same day causing students to loose sleep, and when core classes and extra curricular events battle for time priority, and having pressure intentionally or unintentionally placed on them to get certain grades, and a myriad of answers about the struggles of figuring out where to go to college (these responses in particular often had many layers to them with everything from researching, to financial problems, to parental influence, to feeling confused, to fears about the general future of their existence riding on this one major decision- you get the idea).

Now I will say that there were other things that came up in my conversations about stress. Not everyone mentioned school at first at least, but as soon as I explained my hypothesis about school stress, 100% of those students acknowledged that school stress is a major problem and gave ample examples to support the claim.

I know this was a small little test with not the most scientific report, but I’m confident that if I was to expand my pool of users, I would find that a majority of upper level students get overwhelmingly stressed about school.

This is a problem.

Why do we let stress overwhelm school students? How can we expect students to become life long learners when they associate learning, which is most closely associated with school, to their primary source of stress? How might we make learning fun again?

One of my good friends from Nerd Camp whom I asked this question to, discussed for a while with me about how much we both love learning and yet how school has taken away from that love a little more every year. When I asked her why she thinks that is she gave a response that I believe to be sadly accurate:

“Learning isn’t really encouraged in school, success is.”

However, as another one of my Nerd Camp friends pointed out,

“And a lot of the time you can succeed in school without learning anything.”

As we have grown older school has become about getting good grades, so we can get into a good college, so we can get a good job, so we can have a good life; the idea of going to school because we love to learn and explore and wonder and just have fun being curious has been lost.

I know that these feelings and goals are not in any school’s motto, learning plan, or mission statement, but if this is what students’ are feeling then does it really matter what’s written on paper or proclaimed to audiences?

In my opinion, any school’s true goal is to create life long learners by preparing them with “lifeworthy” and “lifeready” knowledge, skills, and wisdom. But what distinguishes a lifelong learner from just another student at a school, is that a lifelong learner continues to seek out new knowledge and skills and wisdom even after primary education is complete, because lifelong learners find unwavering joy in learning. 

Stress can easily shatter joy; if we wish to guide students to find joy in learning, then we must find ways to eliminate some of the stress found in school- no matter the school you attend. That is the first step that needs to be taken on the path to 21st century education.

 

Availability Status Paradox

images-1.jpgIt amazes me how we live in a world that is so attached to technology and social media especially, and yet we have such a hard time getting confirmation notices from people about scheduling events.

According to recent studies, Americans check social media on average of 17 times a day, which is about one time for every hour they’re awake. Furthermore, the average American spends about a third of their awake day on a phone. (4.7 hours out of the average 15 hours spent awake.) Yet with all of this time spent on phones, somehow we still manage to have a discouraging amount of people who are frightfully incompetent at virtual communication with project teams.

Kemps this year did not even get to finish the tournament because too many teams had a problem actually getting together to play their matches. This weekend is our spring showcase at Jump Start and I am still haven’t gymnasts last minute tell me that they won’t be there which means I’m constantly re-choreographing and coaching. All year when I would try to schedule meetings, so many people just don’t respond until last minute, or they forget to ask the right people if they can actually attend. It’s just crazy that people can’t organize and communicate their schedules.

Then you get the excuse, “oh I’m sorry I don’t understand how to work ____ in order to respond.” And this baffles me even more, because if you don’t know how to work something (which is hard to believe because communication tools are pretty user friendly as far as it goes), then I’m sure there is someone you can ask to teach you how to use a tool. All you have to do is ask for help, but often that is a mind blowing concept.

Social media and scheduling tools like Google Calendar, Skype invites, Slack, and even just email are great tools, but only if people actually use them. How might we get more people to update their availability status to teams in a timely manner?

Times Are Changing


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(Disclaimer: this is a 20/20 and the first one in a while, where Kat and I read an article over the weekend then discuss for 20 minutes and write for the next 20 minutes.)

Kat and I read an article entitled “What Happens When Millennials Run the Workplace?” It talked about a lot of stereotypes about millennial’s and how they are “lazy, narcissistic, entitled, addicted to social media, and frank.” There was also a lot of talk about how the environment in the work force has changed into a more playful environment and how old traditions of how to properly act have changed. Over all I felt like the article reported a very negative view on Millennials; however, whether anyone likes it or not, the next generation is taking over and Millennials currently make up over 50% of the workforce.

Society is changing- that is irrefutable- but I don’t think it is a negative change unlike how it is presented in this article. Times are changing and therefore rules are changing too. Seniority no longer determines “rankings,” in fact companies  are now starting to do away with rankings and look at everyone on a team as an equal contributor of ideas; you are given more responsibility based on your demonstration of work, not just the amount of time you’ve spent with a company. This is a relatively new notion that Generation X seems to not be as comfortable with.

Generation X also seems mystified by the amount of time Millennials spend on social media sites. The article seems to make this seem negative, but I challenge that social media can and is used as a good thing. It is a way to make connections with people across the world, and a way to gain support for work your company is doing. Furthermore, social media can be used as a tool to help keep work together and go back and reflect upon how much has changed over time. Sure social media has a time and a place and shouldn’t be used all of the time, but again, the world is changing and if social media is the tool of the future then companies better get on board or the next generation will move on without them.

I also feel a tad disgruntled with the fact that Millennials are always seen as lazy, entitled, and narcissistic because I think this is a gross generalization. There are a lot of millennials changing the world in huge ways right now and doing things completely different from years passed. Lazy people don’t travel across the world to help solve problems like trying to decrease the number of deaths of babies around the world. And entitled, narcissistic people aren’t helpful on design teams making these incredible feats happen. Team and empathy work  need people that are dedicated to working with others and understanding how different people live in order to design for a changing world.

Millennials are the generation blurring boundaries and changing the status quo. We live in a changing world, and when the boundaries change then we change the game and the rules along with it. I don’t even know if I actually am a Millennial because every site seems to have a different age rang, but I do know that I’m living in a time of change and am often associated with a generation that has similar habits to those described above. Our generation isn’t perfect, but neither is any generation, and every generation always believes the next generation is doing radical things that shouldn’t be accepted in society. I just feel that Millennials are often bad mouthed in the way of the workforce, and yet there is a lot of good to come from this generation that often gets overlooked. Times are changing, people are changing, and change isn’t always bad.

 

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The Past Influences the Future

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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?

Promoting or Doing?

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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.

Individuality

images-1.jpgBeing 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.

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No One Likes Stress and Anxiety

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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!