Trailblazers: Issue 3!

It’s finally here! Issue 3 of Trailblazers, our student-driven e-magazine about the Education Transformation Movement, is available for viewing now! Hope you enjoy these remarkable articles written by spotlight learners from around the country including one global perspective. Congrats to all involved with the process of creating this latest issue!!!

View Issue 3 

Issue 3 Cover.png

Spotlight Learners:

Sophie Haugen – SMforSM: An Educational Partnership 

Bridges by Empathy and Friendship

Lucy Conover – Insπiration

Hannah Bertram – What Learner-Centered Education Did For Me

Innovation Diploma Update – SPARK: A Playground for Creative Thinkers

Advertisements

Summer Projects

Working on a design/project team over the summer can be very challenging. The hardest part is trying to make sure everyone is adhering to deadlines and being able to communicate well with each other even without having consistent times where the team is face to face and without having everyone on the same schedule and sometimes not even the same time zone.

It can be hard enough working on a non-school specific project during the school year while everyone has various assignments and other activities going on, then it seems summer comes and everyone really just wants to take a break which makes it even harder to keep working on a project.

As we get ready for Trailblazers Issue 3 to come out (later this month!), our team has been struggling a little with communication and getting those last tasks done. We did a much better job communicating with our spotlight learners to make sure we got their drafts and edits done in a timely fashion, now we’re just working on those last design edits which can sometimes feel tedious. It’s amazing how all the little changes together make a big difference in quality, and when your lead designer ends up in Japan it can make for some interesting challenges which our team has been working through.

I’ve been trying to brainstorm ways we can make the process of going from working on article edits to design edits smoother because it seems to be what’s gotten us stuck most this year.

For one matter, hopefully, we can finally keep the same platform to create our magazine on because so far each issue has been on a different platform which wastes a lot of time trying to transfer and learn how to work the new platform.

The reason we keep switching platforms is that most high-quality magazine design platforms cost money, or at least the premium version which has the functions we would like costs money. However, at this point in time Trailblazer’s is a non-profit, and no one on our team has had real experience with trying to turn a project into a for-profit or even just experience with raising money to fund a project. We wanted to make sure we were really committed to this project before trying to worry too much about money, but now it seems we’re at the point where we may need to start spending some brain power designing for that challenge. I’m hoping as we get two new members joining us this summer for the coming school year, the enlargened team will allow us to divide up roles in a way to take more time brainstorming this platform challenge. (We’ve already created the roles, now we’re in a process of accepting applications for the team.)

Another thing I’m hoping will help our design process, is to create a “Trailblazers Brand and Style Guide” this way it is easier for every team member to know what fonts, colors, pictures, page layouts, etc. we use in the process of developing each magazine. This way it will make it easier for our future lead designers to know what the standards are for our brand versus where there can be created with the design and will hopefully make the process more efficient of getting the articles into the magazine format.

We have already started to discuss work on that and the goal is that we will have this document ready for the next school year, and therefore, before issue 4 of Trailblazers begins production in the fall.

Despite the current challenges we’ve been facing internally that have been rather stressful as a team leader, I’m really excited for Issue 3 of Trailblazers to finally be published later this month! I know it’s going to be great and I’ve loved seeing how our team has improved efficiency and quality with each new magazine!

Just a Happy Moment

Sometimes we just need to celebrate the little moments in life. Today is one of those little moments for me because I have officially reached 500 followers on my blog!!!

Plus on top of that, I’m now all moved out of my dorm which means I’m officially on summer break before my sophomore year of college which means I’ve now been blogging for 4 years. In school terms, 4 years is kind of a big deal, so I’m having a pretty good day.

So congrats to everyone for all of those little happy moments in life that you just want to celebrate for a quick sec!

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?

Habits of Mind

It’s officially been a week since I re-started my 100-day blogging challenge!!! It’s amazing how it’s already starting to feel more natural again to take the time each night to just get something written out.

People really are creatures of habit and it’s always funny to me when I realize this. It makes sense from a gymnastics perspective. We always tell kids they have to train the way they want to compete because it’s more likely that your body will go into muscle memory mode. I suppose our brain works a similar way (I mean it is basically a complex muscle).

If we train our brains to think a certain way or to be mindful of a certain practice, then over time it is easier to stick with that mindset. (Though it’s also noteworthy that even if you make a habit of something, it still takes time to actually get good at it. It’s been amusing to me how much some of these posts from the past week remind me of my early days; ones where they’re really pulled out of nothing and not what I’d consider my most insightful writing… First comes the habit, then comes the skill.)

As the summer comes around, I like to try and make goals for myself. This summer one of my goals is to be more aware of the habits I create for myself and to try to create a productive work schedule even within this supposal “break.”

Another 100 Days…

I feel like I’ve been in a sad rut of writer’s block all year. Since starting college I have written 12 blog posts.

Only 12- that’s less than I wrote in 2 weeks back when I first started this blog.

I haven’t been blocked off mentally. I’ve had plenty of times where I’ll be lying in bed or walking to class where I start thinking and realize, “man this would be a great blog post.” But then I never get around to actually typing it out. So I suppose you could say I have “writing block” oppose to “writer’s block.”

I know I should write, but…

I keep making excuses for myself like “oh it’s too late,” or “oh I have homework,” or “oh I’ve done so much work today and now I just want to watch TV and have a mental break.” Some of the time these reasons are valid, but in reality, I know that most of the time I finish my homework early, and I go to bed late anyway doing less worthy things, and I’ve probably watched more online than I ever did in high school.

Maybe it’s been a fear of not having anything good enough to post or a fear of getting too ranty seeing as this year I’ve had a lot of new rants upon entering a whole new world of education bugs in higher ed. I’m not sure exactly what’s kept me from blogging besides a bunch of lame excuses when it boils down to it.

I started this blog heading into my sophomore year of high school with no clue what I was going to write about, but with the understanding that I would write about whatever just for the sake of. Somewhere along the way, I started discovering my passion for transformative education and my blog became more focused. I’m grateful for this discovery, though I think I’ve been stuck with this idea now that it’s only when I’m doing/thinking about something very related to this passion that it’s worth me taking the time to blog.

Well now, this has become a problem in my opinion, and not only in regards to my blog.

I’ve officially decided to start writing the book that some know I’ve been talking about for three years now. It’s going to be about why the education system needs to be transformed as told through a student’s narrative-including some of the stories we don’t always like to talk about. At this point, I’ve made an outline and an intro, but I’ve been stuck when it comes to actually starting to write the book. All of the thoughts are there, but I can’t seem to take the time to get them down.

I want to change this streak of “writing block”, so this is my way of trying to get back into the groove of writing: taking my own advice.

Back when I started blogging I was told that my overall writing got better, and when I finished my 100 days in a row, I found that I actually enjoyed writing and needed to keep writing. People would ask how I did it and say that they feel like they never have anything “good enough” to write about. My advice was always “Just write about whatever, don’t worry about what other people think, just start writing.”

I didn’t start blogging because I felt I had anything profound to say that society needed to read. I started because I gave myself the challenge to better my observation and writing skills by blogging for a 100 days in a row and just seeing how it went.

I want to get back to that time when the writing just flowed naturally. And it seems kind of fitting that now as I’m about to start the summer before my sophomore year of college, that I go back to my roots and try to write just for the sake of writing again. Who knows, maybe a few gems will come out of it.

Here’s to another 100 days…

Valued Learning Memories

Background

I am officially a week into my second semester of college. It’s truly a crazy thought to think that I’m theoretically an eighth of the way finished with undergrad already.

Ever since the end of my first semester in college, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Specifically, I started thinking about what things during high school most prepared me for my first semester in college. I was pondering what learning moments most stood out to me over those four years of my life, and not just specific to moments of learning actually during “school hours.” Then, I thought it would be really interesting to learn about what other members of my graduating class from Mount Vernon would include on their personal learning moment list. Thus began my mini research project.

I asked several other MVPS graduates of the class of 2017 to create their own list of memorable learning moments and send them to me. I received 12 responses (other than my own which are featured in the above image) and have spent a few hours comparing the results searching for trends in terms of actual events, skills learned, and ideas/concepts considered and am now excited to share what I found.

Defining My Purpose

Now before I begin to explain my findings, I must add the disclaimer that I know that obviously, this is a small sample size. Furthermore, while I tried to reach out to a semi-diverse group, there’s something to be said about the fact that these were all still students who were actually willing to respond to a random request from a former classmate of theirs even if they hadn’t talked to her in months in some cases. Finally, I must note that I acknowledge that every author has a bias, and I’m sure trends and conclusions that I noticed may have not been the same as others, but as much as I would’ve liked to discuss the responses with someone else, that was not the case this time.

Because of this bias, my conclusions about trends noticed can’t reasonably be said to apply to all 2017 MVPS graduates, but I still find them interesting for the sake of my little curiosity project. While I plan to include some of my own thoughts, I want to also clarify that my purpose of this post isn’t to convince anyone of anything; I simply want to show some student perspective about what, after a semester into college, stands out as memorable and useful learning moments from high school. 

Trends

Trends in Events

Trends in events I define as the actual moments that people recalled learning something from that they found important enough to add to their list.

Top 5 Noted Events:

  1. iProject/Innovation Diploma
  2. Community/Team Work
  3. Extracurriculars (Sports and Arts related in particular)
  4. Travel
  5. Service

One of the most interesting things I noticed was that as much as students may have complained about iProject, the semester or year-long passion project all high schoolers at MVPS completed, it was hands down the most mentioned learning moment. Seven out of the eleven students found some iteration of iProject to be particularly valuable in their learning journey. For most, this was valuable because of the real world lessons they taught themselves when they became responsible for taking control of their learning, such as time management and communicating with community members you’ve never met in person.

Another undeniable trend was the role that the Mount Vernon community played in fostering great learning. Even if not explicitly stated, most students mentioned how much they valued the unity our grade had and how it helped push and grow them as individuals.  One learner specifically said, “I think it’s so great that I have a place to come back to that I can call ‘home.”

I believe that this role of a family like community also contributed to why so many students also mentioned theater, sports, debate, band, or some sort of extracurricular club. Communicating and working with teams is something that everyone seemed to really value, and I think the reasoning is pretty simple, “It’s cool to see everyone getting behind a common idea.” Not all learning moments need to seem grand and life-changing, but there is no questioning that learning patience and teamwork are very valuable skills in life.

On the flip side, some moments can be very memorable in a grand sort of way, but maybe not have the clearest learning outcomes. Almost everyone mentioned at least one time during high school where they traveled somewhere with friends. Whether this be a lake weekend or a trip to France, it’s not surprising that traveling is memorable. However, most students couldn’t provide as clear of a “this is what I learned from this experience” antidote with their traveling memories compared to other experiences, though learning about your peers is definitely a valuable lesson in my opinion.

In terms of the last major trend, I noticed that a significant number of people had listed something that involved helping others. Service proved to be a powerful way to engage students, as many mentioned activities from helping other students with classwork to partnering with a nonprofit.

Beyond some of those major trends, there were some little assignments that I noticed were important to multiple people. Research papers from sophomore year, the Mongols debate, and reading Madea were all classroom activities that appeared more than once. What was notable about what people learned from these activities was how one activity could have such a different take away for different students. From one perspective the Mongol debate was an example of the benefits of teamwork and preparation, while from another the debate represented a time when people were in fierce competition to the point of being mean. When thinking about why these three activities might have stood out amongst all of the assignments we had in high school, I found this comment to be particularly interesting in reference to the research paper specifically, but I think it applies to all of these assignments: “Realistic to the real world, but also just good practice in research and analysing stuff for ourselves that our teachers weren’t already ‘masters’ in that subject area (we had stuff to learn they didn’t know already.)”

Trends in Skills

Trends in skills refer to skills that students specifically talked about learning that have been significantly helpful to them. My new hypothesis is that perhaps activities, despite what they are, if they can help students attain these skills, can be worthwhile memorable learning moments. This is not a comprehensive list by no means, but these are skills that stood out in particular to the students I surveyed. In theory, these skills have clear steps or practices that can help one attain mastery in the given skill.

Top Noted Skills :

(In no particular order)

  • Public speaking: including how “it’s important and helpful to know how to bs your way through some things”
  • How to send a professional email
  • How to see an argument from different perspectives
  • Formal writing
  • Time management/scheduling
  • Organization
  • Maker skills (such as: CAD, 3D printing, designing, and developing stickers, etc.) some maker skills have more practical specific uses than others, but as one student noted, learning how to make stickers can be worthwhile because it reminds you, “to have fun along the way, because learning should be fun.”

Trends in Ideas/Concepts

Unlike skills, ideas/concepts are trends that I noticed students discussing in their reflections on why events were memorable, but they aren’t the kind of knowledge one can attain “mastery” in like how you could with a skill. Similarly to skills, I imagine that if these ideas/concepts were important enough for multiple students to acknowledge them in these reflections, then they may be topics worth purposefully making sure students get exposure to during high school.

Top noted Ideas/Concepts:

(In no particular order)

  • Controversy/Competition: while contemplating right vs wrong and different perspectives students learned things such as how, “Real heroes are flawed, the scale of goodness doesn’t operate on a binary 0% or 100% scale.” “Sometimes big controversies can lead to great things.” “Some people, regardless of evidence, will never change their opinions.”
  • Age equal Skill: students gain confidence when making the discovery that teachers don’t know everything, and even young learners can be experts at times; “I even got to teach some chief engineers about CAD; I have never felt smarter!” “… sometimes your teacher isn’t great at their job and you have to teach yourself and learn with your classmates to keep up.”
  • Trust in a Mentor: “I am capable of doing great things as long as I set my mind on them and have someone that believes in me”
  • Find/Share Your Voice: “Staying silent only boosts the presently flawed power structure.” “Speak up and challenge the status quo, even if that means questioning those in a position of authority.” “Tell your truth in all its tainted glory, you have the right to.”
  • #FailUp- Mistakes and Values: high school is about learning about yourself, and what better way than by making mistakes, a significant number of students all mentioned on their list at least one time they made a mistake and “failed” from it, but learned a good deal from it; “I was trying to figure myself, and with each mistake I made, I kind of figured myself out more and more.” “Life keeps moving forward, so you can’t sit in the past and dwell for too long.”
  • Grit: several students mentioned applications, jobs, internships, or long projects and how they learned from these experiences how to work hard to make something happen despite the obstacles: “Devote yourself even more to a goal that you are striving for, even if you get turned down along the way; if it means a lot to you, keep going.”
  • Learning can be Fun: (I was personally happy to see that many students came to this conclusion at some point during high school, though I imagine this isn’t the case for all sadly.) “Every Latin class ever helped me learn to appreciate school.” “Learn things you are interested in” “really fun time” “super unique and cool”

Final Thoughts

There was no assignment or “reason” for me to write this post beyond me just being curious, but I’m glad I did because it reminded me of a lot of lessons I appreciate learning over the years.

My initial wonder stemmed from being curious about if schools really place emphasis on the learning moments that later in life become most valuable; thus I first wanted to figure out what those “valuable learning moments” are based on the opinion of students.

Through this process, it’s become even more apparent to me that you can never know exactly what lessons people will take away from different activities. I was pleasantly surprised that the lessons and skills that students seemed to learn actually align with what I hope schools should be teaching students. The fact that students acknowledged these lessons proves that I was correct in thinking that they are in fact valuable lessons to learn in high school for preparation for college and beyond.

I do still wonder though about the hundreds of other assignments and experiences that did not make these lists. How should we value those assignments?

Students over the years always manage to learn the valuable lessons in some capacity. But what I wonder is how as a society we can show that we value the learning of these lessons and skills more than just the number grade you get on the assignment itself.

As I said in the beginning, my primary purpose of this post was just to share my findings of what lessons students found to be most memorable and valuable from high school. While I’m not yet sure what will happen next, I’m glad to have some more clear data on what those lessons we should be striving to teach in education might look like.

Trailblazers Issue 2

What better way to kick off the new year than with another issue of Trailblazers, the student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement! Hear from a new group of passionate learners about how they’re getting involved with the movement as we continue on our journey to provide student voices into the world of education with this second issue.

Trailblazers- Student Driven EdMagazine

It’s official, the first edition of Trailblazers, a student driven magazine on the Education Transformation Movement, is here with young writers from around the world contributing!!!! My peers in the Innovation Diploma, Abigail Emerson and Kaylyn Winters, and I have been working at this project all year after some last minute edits over the summer, we now feel it is time to ship the idea and get it out into the world.

So please check out our first edition which includes:

A Letter From the Founders

Meet the Curators: Anya Smith-Roman, Kaylyn Winters, Abigail Emerson

The learner-centered movement: Q&A: Sparkhouse Conference

Creating Something New: Brady Vincent

Change is a Conversation: Neel Pujar

Free Ranged vs. Caged: Kim Mi Yeoh

Intelligence: Cali Ragland

Community Connections

Good Reads

 

Thanks to everyone who helped make this possible!! Can’t wait for issue 2!

Why I Blog

For a girl whose lowest grades always came from English class, I never thought I would confidently call myself a writer. Then I assigned myself the challenge to start a blog and post for 100 days in a row after getting an “innovation bingo” card that was meant to give students like me ideas for ways to stretch our creative minds over the summer. The activities wouldn’t be graded and we weren’t required to do any of them at all, but I love a good challenge.

At first I was at a loss for what to write about, but I learned quickly that it’s best to write about what I know and observe. My first few posts still make me laugh because they were very short, hardly a few paragraphs, and each of them were about somewhat cliche topics. However, as many teachers often say, “The more you practice the better you get,” and over time my writing actually got better.

Much to my surprise I slowly got more followers as my writing improved; thought leaders from around the world are constantly commenting on my posts. I still just write about my daily observations, but my observations have grown more insightful. Furthermore, blogging has allowed me to learn more about myself and has opened me up to new opportunities.

Knowing myself is the first step to being able to better understand the world. Truthfully, I believe that K-12 education does not focus enough on students learning about and discovering their sense of self. My sense of self has developed immensely due to blogging because sometimes when I write and then read over my writing, I’m able to discern trends and tendencies about how I act and respond to situations better than I can otherwise. I can then hypothesize about my future self in situations based on these observations. I’m still discovering more about myself everyday, and it makes me excited—I wish more students got the chance to experience this. As I move forward in life, I hope to learn more about ways to help other kids learn more about themselves because that’s how we grow.

One thing that I have learned, is that I deeply desire to be a part of the movement to transform education. Students of today’s schools need to be prepared for jobs that are yet to exist, and a school that is still following the traditional norms of an Industrial Age school is simply not going to prepare kids to solve the problems of tomorrow. One way I have contributed to this movement is by learning about the process of design thinking, human centered problem solving, which has allowed me to see problems in my everyday life as opportunities for change and innovation. Over time, my blog has become more and more related to education transformation and ways that I believe we can blur the lines between “school” and the “real world” in order to give students authentic learning experiences that will help them throughout their lives.

 Blogging has given me a place to share my story in a way that allows me to easily look back and find trends and connections between my observations. And, on top of everything, I’m constantly expanding my network and being asked to participate in new opportunities. Writing helps us think, reflecting helps us grow, and sharing helps make the world a better place—blogging is all three in one! I know I’m not the best writer in the world, and I know there’s much to improve on. But, since I’ve been blogging, I’ve developed a new confidence and appreciation for having the ability to share my own individual voice with the world.