The Debate of Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short Term Communication

If there is one thing that has become blatantly obvious with our current situation, it is the importance of good communication. Good communication meaning frequent and clear communication.

Sometimes it’s more important to just say something than to try and wait until you have everything figured out. People just want to know that they’re being thought about and that their needs are being considered in the discussion of big decisions.

When there isn’t communication, that’s when people panic, get fearful, and then rumors start. And that’s how things only get worse.

At the same time though, if you are going to communicate, make sure the message is clear. If a decision is made, be clear that the decision will stand or be clear that there is even a chance the decision may have to change, and note what could happen that might create the need for the decision to change. The worst thing is to be told a decision and then a week later get new communication that entirely conflicts with the original message and the message doesn’t even acknowledge the discrepancy. This just makes people mad and causes immediate backlash.

While I am aware of the importance of frequent and clear communication, I’ve realized these past few weeks that not everyone is. I understand that everyone is stressed and working hard to make quick decisions right now, but sometimes it seems as if people just don’t understand how important communication is in order to keep communities together. And I’ve noticed this both with people I depend on for communication and people I work with to communicate to others.

This made me wonder, in school, we spend a lot of time on long term communication methods – mostly with writing papers though also with presentations. We work a lot on adequate preparation, research, and formatting in order to create compelling arguments. How often though do we spend time on short term communication best practices, like communication via email, text, or even social media messages?

In a world where technology is becoming increasingly used in team dynamics, it seems to me like having practice and proficiency in these short term communication tools may be just as important as knowing how to write a well-researched essay. We use these communication tools every day and using them properly is an essential part of successful teams, successful community support, and successful organizations.

When I went to college, one of the most frequent compliments I got from professors was, “Wow, you really know how to write a professional email. Thank you.” And what I realized is, the reason professors were so impressed with this skill is because many students don’t have it. The thing is, they still don’t learn it in college… Sure professors may comment in their syllabus about wanting well-written emails and there is probably an “academic success” workshop or two on the subject, but with something as important as communication, isn’t that worth being taught in the classroom to ensure everyone learns the skill? Furthermore, I personally think this skill should be intentionally taught in high school to maximize time for growth and development with this competency.

If we want to receive frequent and clear communication, then we need to remember to teach it.

School and Wellbeing

I’ve been in New Zealand for three weeks now and just finished up my second week of classes. I had originally planned on writing today about the observations I’ve made about NZ education during these first two weeks – now that I’ve gone to all of my classes at least twice; however, plans change when there’s a pandemic. 

I woke up this morning to lots of emails that all essentially said: The coronavirus is getting worse so we’re shutting down campus, moving classes online, and canceling study abroad programs, therefore, everyone needs to return home to the US as quickly as possible.

Honestly one of the worst ways to wake up.

I cried. I got mad. I went to class – because why get behind?

Now I’m trying to be patient, calm, and distract myself from checking for new emails every 30 seconds.

Crazy enough it wasn’t until talking to a barista at lunch that I realized that it wasn’t the virus itself that made me sad or mad or even scared.

I was sad because I’ve been waiting for years to study in New Zealand and now I finally get here and things are going well and I’m being told to come home. Then I got mad because I realized the situation here is actually far safer than traveling through multiple airports and returning to Atlanta where there have been far more reported cases of the virus then the 4 contained cases in a different part of New Zealand from where I’m studying. (I’ve already written several emails to different people hoping to be allowed to stay since New Zealand is not the average country at the moment.) Then I got concerned with how it’s going to affect my education.

I started wondering if I have to go back to the states will I be able to keep taking my NZ classes online; how will I be able to attend tutorials which count towards my overall average? I wondered, will this push my graduation back another semester? I wondered how my financial aid will be impacted – will I lose a full semester of funding from being here for these few weeks? Will my airfare home get covered? Will I be able to re-enroll in the fall even though I was supposed to be in NZ until November? Will school even be back in August or will classes still be online or will they just officially cancel classes? If my university decides they don’t think it’s better for me to stay here, can I stay anyway, or will my visa get terminated, or will classes then not transfer?

I say all of these questions in the past tense, but I suppose I’m still wondering them I’m just trying not to focus on them as much at the moment.

Right now I’m just thinking about how crazy it is to have such a strong feeling of knowing history is being made. These next coming days in front of us will be in history textbooks.

And furthermore, I’m thinking how it’s equally crazy that in this time of world crisis, my thoughts immediately think about how my schooling will be impacted over thinking about my actual health… Have I really become that drilled into the system? And it’s not just me. I’ve made friends with other exchange students here from all over the US and they’re starting to receive similar emails requesting study abroad students to come home. They too are wondering the same questions centered around how this will impact us getting our degrees.

I didn’t cry this morning because I was scared that the virus has reached a point that requires schools shutting down and students going home. I cried because of all the questions above making me immediately think about how stressful this situation is going to make my education. And I wasn’t alone… WHY???

Why do students think first about education over health?

Is this because our generation is still young and naive and therefore, doesn’t have the same sense of worry? Is it because the situation isn’t as bad here so we aren’t thinking about the implications as intensely? Is it because every professor keeps reminding us that this is not actually the most deadly disease currently being transmitted? Or could it be because our education system focuses on schooling above wellbeing so that’s what we’ve learned to focus on too?

Honestly, it’s probably a bit of all of the above, but it’s the last question that worries me the most. When I think about my k-12 schooling, I know that individual teachers might say “put your health first and we’ll be here for you,” but I’m not sure how much I really saw this mentality in action systematically.  Whether it be mental or physical illnesses, you never really got a break from school. I remember a kid who had a serious concussion during the year that was denied from exempting exams, despite still attaining the necessary A average in the class, but it was because their illness caused them to miss too many days of school. I remember kids leaving early, or for days, due to therapy, but they had to pick up packets of strenuous homework before they left. I remember being sick myself and wanting to skype into classes so I wouldn’t have to deal with the make-up work and the amount of catch up you have to play from just missing a few days for being sick.  – Granted, I acknowledge my own bias because I’m aware of how personally I can be overly anxious about this kind of thing, but I know I’m not the only one that stresses time off from being sick.

And now we have this virus that is causing schools to move to online and I just wonder, especially now – how do we remain aware of wellbeing in our education system?

Should we even be having classes still? I can really argue both ways.

Part of me immediately thinks, “Of course! It’s the middle of the semester and we’ve already done half the work it seems silly to stop doing school work now if we’re not actually sick. It would make me more annoyed to have to not count any of this semesters’ work and start over and get pushed back a semester, plus school can be a good distraction sometimes.”

However, on the other hand, I think about all the students who typically rely on school for food, housing, work-study, etc. The students having to all of a sudden rapidly relocate. The international students worrying about family members overseas. I think about the teachers now working from home and having to balance between watching their own kids since schools are closed while also trying to change their lesson plans to be compatible with online learning. Not to mention I can only imagine all of the challenges involved with being in an area that’s actually infected. And when I think about all of these challenges I seriously wonder if students and teachers are mentally healthy enough to be also worrying about tests and projects and watching online lectures right now.

There’s no “right” answer, everything has pros and cons. And I know everyone is trying the best they can to make appropriate decisions in this time of great uncertainty, but I  can’t stop wondering about this balance between school and wellbeing and how this current volatile situation could be a chance to reconsider our actions towards wellbeing during the typical school year.

Science tells us there are good stressors and bad stressors – stressors that motivate us to work harder and grow as scholars and those that hinder us and decrease our mental and physical capacity. How might we make sure school isn’t a bad stressor? It doesn’t need to be, but oftentimes I find that it is.

Personally, I’m trying really hard right now to not be overwhelmed with the thought of being forced to leave my exchange program early and all that entails. I don’t think I like the fact that I’m more concerned with my education than my health at the moment but at least it’s led me to interesting observations that are also serving as good distractions. And I wonder, how are we going to learn from this pandemic about the balance between school and wellbeing, and how are we going to utilize what we learn once it’s under control? 

 

 

 

With that, happy Friday the 13th… and almost Pi Day! Hope this weekend isn’t my last here in New Zealand.

When You’re Lost

Sometimes the greatest things are found when you aren’t looking for them.

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It’s hard to believe it’s only been two full days since I arrived in Prague because it feels like we’ve already done so much and know the area pretty well. I’ve gotten pretty efficient at using the metro and tram to get around and we’ve gotten to that point now where we are wanting the “non-tourist experience.” And what I’ve realized is that some of our best discoveries and adventures so far have been the times we’ve gotten “lost.”

IMG_2596-1.JPGOne time we legitamently got lost by taking a wrong turn at some point on the way to the Charles Bridge (I’m still not fully sure where exactly we went wrong, but we got there eventually). We had a great time though trying to figure out our way back without the use of phones or communication. And then we went on a hunt for the Lennon Wall and found some weird status instead where we met some other people we were able to follow to where we actually wanted to be.

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Then today we intentionally got “lost.” We wanted to go to a new part of town rather than always going over by the bridge (the one area we felt comfortable that we knew), so we just decided to go down a random new road. This road ended up leading us to find beautiful buildings, including a theater, and we even found a little street market with food and crafts and live music which was awesome! Not to mention we had some great ice cream along the walk.

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It’s truly great to just be an explorer sometimes with no real mission or direction, just excitement for whatever might come up along the journey. Not to mention, getting lost really made us think quite a bit. We had to use spatial awareness and memory for figuring out our way back; critical thinking to make the best decisions when there was little info to rely on; communication and leadership to make sure the person with the best idea was truly heard; we even had to embrace our creativity and kid spirit when we found ourself in an interactive toy store.

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So much fun and learning happened while just wondering around and getting lost and trying to get unlost that it made me realize that some of my favorite learning moments have been when I “got lost.” Like when you lose yourself in a good book or lose track of time because your so absorbed in the prototype your building, or when you lose your bias/preconceptions about a character in a show. I wonder what school would look like if we embraced getting lost.

Play to Learn

I feel like one of the most untapped pieces of potential for great learning is playing games.

Today I spent just about all day in a game store where they have bookshelves full of IMG_0965.JPGrandom games you can play. As a student, it’s $5 for me to sit at a big game table in the store and be able to play as many games as I want from 8am to 11pm and can even leave and come back for no extra charge. We played from 1:30-11 only taking a little more than an hour break to eat dinner at a nearby restaurant and it really was a fantastic day.

We challenged ourselves to learn new games so we played two rounds of two new games and then ended the night with 15 minutes of one of our favorite “classics” for our family to play.

I had forgotten how hard it can be to learn a new game. So often when playing games, at least one person already knows how to play and they can help explain as you go. When no one has ever played the game, you can easily spend 20-30 minutes just doing reading comprehension to try and understand setup and how things work in this particular game world.

We found also that after learning our first new game, learning a second new game became easier because we had more confidence at being able to piece together and remember odd assortments of rules; games push your creative muscles.

Games are so great for all sorts of brain activity. On top of the reading comprehension needed to understand instructions and the communication skills to explain the instructions to the rest of the players and the questioning skills to truly know the instructions, we had all sorts of learning moments: We had to challenge our memory, quickly develop strategy, be able to plan for 3 steps ahead, prioritize, consider risk management, communicate our ridiculous sounding ideas, and in one game we even had to work on our geography knowledge.

Honestly, I may have only played games all day, but my brain “hurts” so to say, and I feel physically tired from all the processing I did. Mind challenges are some of the best ways to grow our brain capacity and therefore expand our learning toolbox.

I wish there were shelves of games at schools. I wonder what it would be like to be able to just get a group together and pick out a new board game to try learning over lunch time. Games are such a great way to build community and brain muscle it just seems like a naturally benefiting idea for schools to incorporate more game time into school.

That was part of the reasoning why I created the Kemps Khoas club way back when which was a club devoted to a card game tournament building community between faculty and students. One of my wishes that I never got around to in high school would’ve been to really develop the club to go beyond just the one card game.

Playing is such an essential part of learning. I wish I saw more games at schools.

Untapped Potential

This year, in particular, I’ve found myself getting more involved with different high schools around Atlanta that are working on making their school culture learner-centered. With each new connection, I make, I find it more and more odd that there aren’t more connections between different school that are close by to one another.

This isn’t just an Atlanta thing, I’ve heard people from other cities around the country also talk about the disconnect between schools in similar areas.

I wonder if there is some sort of competitive component to where different schools feel like they’re competing for the same kinds of students and families, but in theory, don’t we want to provide learner-centered education for everyone? Each learning environment is still different to meet the needs of different learners even if it the culture has similar values.

I wonder about the day when perhaps an exchange program will happen without needing to go over seas. From my perspective, there is so much untapped potential in terms of potential education partners practically in our backyard who we could learn a lot from.

Why Learn

Well, I’ve officially had the first hiccup of my challenge from forgetting to blog last night. Probably for the best though so I didn’t procrastinate studying physics any more than I already had by this point last night.

Though now that my final test before finals is over, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “study.”

Sometimes we use this word synonymously with “learn” but the more I think about it, I believe there is a difference.

Most frequently, studying refers to preparing for an assessment of some kind, but this can be done in a number of ways, not all of which require actual learning. To most students, more often than not, studying just means committing facts and equations to short-term memory in order to do well on a test. I myself am guilty of this.

Learning takes time that we don’t always have before an assessment. In theory, you learn along the way so by the time an assessment comes around, you already have learned what you need to know. But what if you didn’t learn what was necessary? After all, not everyone learns at the same pace, so if we’re expected to have learned certain things before an assessment, then why are we expected to take assessments at the same times?

The fact that we teach “study skills” is kind of funny in this regard, because part of this notion is implying that you don’t fully know the material you are going to be assessed on so you have to strategically study to make sure you know enough to pass. It seems reasonable that we shouldn’t be expected to fully know everything, but that begs the question of what qualifies as “enough”? Who determines what “enough” is? Should “enough” be the same metric for everyone?

Logically the next thing to talk about would be the notion of grades, but I feel like I’ve made my opinion on grades fairly clear in the past and don’t want to dwell on their problematic structure. However, I do wonder, if before going into surgery we saw our doctors report card, how would we perceive him/her?

Anyway, back on the notion of “learning,” I’ve realized that I often consider myself to have truly learned something if I’m able to teach it to someone else. And to be honest, I feel like if I take all of my education thus far, I don’t know how many things would fall into this category. I’ve done well in school, but I’m not sure if I was always learning. And this includes classes I considered to enjoy based on the subject or teacher.

And I’ve noted that in the education world, we like to talk about “teaching kids how to learn,” but pondering this today I wonder if really we should be trying to teach kids why to learn. I think most kids have a general understanding, even at a young age, that learning takes time and practice. Most of the time when we don’t learn, it’s because we don’t want to. We haven’t been convinced why it should be worth learning something.

The reasons why we learn really don’t need to be obvious or even relevant out of context. For example, as a bit of a tangent story, I believe, and if you ask 75% of my graduating class they’d agree, I learned my 7th-grade vocab words. I was motivated in this case by competition.

We played a game in English class called “Vocab Basketball” where at the end of each week our class would split into teams and be asked vocab questions if we got it right then we got a point for our team and the chance to try making a basket to gain a second point. However, there was more to this game. Each week if you used, read, or heard a vocab word used in a sentence then you could write down the word, how it was used, and what it means and put it in your class bucket. At the end of the week, whichever student in each individual class had the most words got a homework pass, and at the end of the year, whichever class had the most words got a party. First semester only one kid in my class really tried, so he got all of the homework passes. I didn’t really care about the homework passes, but it seemed silly to me that he should get all of them for barely trying at all, so I started trying. Sure enough, we ended up in steep competition, but it was also benefiting our class, so then kids from other classes started trying more in order to attempt to keep up with our class total. We may have been motivated to want to learn due to competition, but we definitely learned. The reason I have no doubts about having learned those words and their meanings is because to this day we will occasionally still point out and use words we recall being on one of our 7th-grade vocab lists. I can’t say the same about vocab words from other years.

Anyway, I got lost in my train of thought on that tangent, but I do wonder still, for the amount I’ve studied this year, how much have I really learned? How much do we learn any year for that matter? How do we choose what we learn? What motivates us to learn? How can we spend more time exploring why we learn certain things and not just how we learn them?

Many Roles

One of the most interesting parts about the theater is how everything always seems to somehow come together in the end.

I had another day of rehearsing for “PAINted” today (well technically my aunt’s show is called “The Gender Police” and the whole event is “PAINted,” but that’s just a technicality). Rehearsal was still al little rough today, but it get’s better each time and we all know tomorrow will be great when everything comes together.

I also saw “Finding Neverland”  today which was as magical and inspiring as you hope for any good musical to be. What really intrigued me about the show was actually the casting. Four of the leads are young boys, so there are actually seven boys in all that rotate threw all four parts. I just found that crazy because that means the boys each know four different characters, harmonies in songs, blocking, and choreography, which just seems crazy to think about how rehearsal must have worked. Most people have hard enough time learning one part and maybe an understudy for another, but four different roles is crazy!

The four boys I saw today were amazing as was the entire cast and crew. With each new show I see, I just get even more excited for next year’s theater season at MVPS!! I guess I should probably finish my college essay drafts, so I feel excited and prepared for next year to start…

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…)