How are you? Did you have a nice holiday season? I hope so.
So it’s 2018 – and I’ve neglected my blog for long enough!
2017 was the year I transitioned into UX. It has been a steep learning curve for me, but I’m really excited for the next chapter, and to contribute in a new field. Below are some pictures I took this year — and I’ve included a couple forgotten pictures from 2016 as well. =)
A summer picture- from a warm, sunny picnic at the Stanford Oval.
Rachel’s 90s themed birthday. 2016. =)
Bad picture, good time. Kings of Leon. 2017.
I never thought rocks were pretty before I moved to California. Now I think rocks are beautiful.
My friend Rhiannon and I stopped at this pretty restaurant with a little creek behind it on the way to Big Sur. This would make a nice living room, amirite?
Big Sur Trail.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Northern California beaches are generally inferior to most East Coast beaches and Southern California beaches. They’re too cold, and they’re usually foggy. Still, it’s the beach, it’s free, the ocean is pretty from any angle, and this one is pretty unique.
My friend Ngaio had a baby girl this year. Isn’t she beautiful?
In September Bishop Verkler invited us to his cabin at Donner Lake. This is what we woke up to!
Relaxing next to a glassy, empty Donner Lake.
This is my best friend. He has Down syndrome. And guess what? He tried water-skiing and almost got up all the way. He is brave and heroic.
We had the lake to ourselves.
It’s always hard to come back to real life after these trips.
2017 was the year I studied online and I had a hard time keeping enough structure in my life. One thing I know for sure is that I really don’t like working by myself all day- when it comes to work, I am 100% extroverted. To get out of my funk, I decided to run a marathon and I got into swimming a little bit too. The picture below is from a warm day in October – Only in Palo Alto can you go swimming outside on a pleasant day in the middle of Fall. Palo Alto weather, I LOVE YOU!
Are you a quote lover? I am. These are a few favorites I collected this year.
One other interesting thing that I did this year was join the Tech Shop. Have you been there? It is incredible– metalworking, welding, 3d printers, over-sized poster printing, nifty software, computerized sewing machines. While I was there, a guy was building a car from the ground up! Unfortunately, membership was a little out of my budget so I only belonged for a month, but I highly recommend it if you are looking for a fun new hobby.
Another life update is that I have relocated to Utah! I’m sad to leave California, but I’m excited for a new adventure. I am applying for digital design jobs all over the country and while I’m doing that it really doesn’t make sense for me to live in one of the most expensive parts of the world. So I’m hangin out in the mountains and crossing my fingers for some job interviews (and snow).
Also, if you’re interested, I recently finished a website for a Biomedical Engineer named Simone Winkler. In the off-chance that you are looking to hire an engineering consultant, Simone has a PhD, a post-doctoral degree, a patent, and over 50 journal, article, and patent submissions. She is incredibly qualified. In addition to her expertise, she’s been in leadership roles in several engineering organizations, and she is as nice as they come. Feel free to reach out to her.
I’ll save the rest of my pictures for another post. I hope you are having a wonderful start to 2018 with many adventures on your calendar! And come visit me for some cheap skiing in Utah! 🙂
Have you seen this? It’s such a spectacle. My favorite part is just after 6:00, when he says, “Because I promise you all of us up here tonight, we were that kid!” But the whole thing is pretty spectacular. Also, how did he get out of that magic case and to the back of the theater?!
Do you love musicals? I do. In college, I did a theater study abroad in London and it was the funnest semester. Our class went to twelve plays together and then wrote about and discussed them. I fell in love with Shakespeare (although, I did have to fall back on sparknotes pretty frequently– that language is really challenging for me) and I also fell in love with musicals. I get so excited watching them, and I have obsessed over more than a few.
Here are a few other musical links that consistently make my heart sing, in case you haven’t seen them:
Have you heard of Camp PALS? My little sister just got back from it and it is easily her favorite week of the year. It’s a camp for kids with Down syndrome. They have fun activities all week long – yoga, PALS Olympics, kayaking, firework watching, karaoke, team-building, theatrics, a formal dance, friend-making, celebration. It’s a really special week.
Here is a little bit of its history. (Fun fact: the founders all have siblings with Downs). And here, here, here, here, here, and here are the videos of all the fun they had!
My favorite thing about Camp PALS is that on the last day, the campers write a letter congratulating new parents of children with Downs syndrome. In their letters, campers tell these new parents about all the wonder and good experiences that they’ve had in their lives. It’s an experience that’s given my little sister a lot of pride in her identity, and I think it’s helpful to parents who might be struggling in their new role.
Have you known someone with Downs? If not, you’re missing out. They are a great group!
A student in my introduction to World History class, circa 2013.
I recently had a conversation about manipulating versus enabling people and I realized that I have a lot of opinions on the topic. I’m itching to share my ideas and I hope you can draw something from them. Here I’m addressing this in the context of education, but many of these ideas relate to other contexts as well.
I firmly, deeply, forever believe that you cannot control people- though bribes, through words, through coercion, through pop-up ads, etc. You can try to trick people, you can take advantage of people, and you can certainly influence people, but you can’t actually control people. My worst teaching moments have come when I have forgotten this; it’s easy to forget.
Fortunately, the human brain is naturally inclined to learn and improve itself and because of this, a teacher always has opportunities to guide and enable his or her students.
Enabling a student, by my definition, means giving him or her the right amount of control in the right moment. Sometimes this means giving a student immense autonomy, sometimes this means doing a little bit of hand-holding, and sometimes this means giving some redirection or constructive criticism. You do your part to give guidance throughout the process, but you also step back and watch success, failure, or some combination of the two unfold. Then you remember to not take it personally, whatever the outcome. Ultimately, students control their own learning.
Here I’ll talk about three components that are important to enabling students in the beginning of a learning process.
-A clear idea of the freedom and structures that they have, and what the boundaries are
-A set of tools to accomplish the given task
Inspiration. At the beginning of a project, students have a significant amount of power and choices, but they often don’t know where to start or what it could lead to. When you’ve got their full attention, give your students ideas, be they youtube links, stories, guest speakers, meaningful problems to solve, inspirational movie clips etc. Articulate exactly what this learning opportunity is worth and what influence they could have with it. Share your utmost positivity and enthusiasm. This could be incredible.
This is also a great moment to remind students, especially teenagers, that although you’re the teacher, they are ultimately their own teachers, and they are responsible for what they do with their time and what they learn. They can waste their time or they can work hard and use it to solve problems, gain knowledge, become an expert. Most importantly, they can use it to enjoy learning, and to help other people learn.
Remind your students that they can accomplish anything, as long as they do the required studying and work. If their goals are worthwhile, they will likely take more time than expected (I am being reminded of that in my own projects right now).
Define their freedom and structure and provide clear boundaries. People love choices in their learning, but not so much freedom that they don’t know how to figure out what to do. Give your students enough structure, feedback, and check-in points so that they can figure out their next steps and ask questions to get unstuck. This is very nuanced and I could write a novel about how to pick up on what sort of structure students want and need, but generally, give students enough freedom to choose a project they love and just enough structure so that they can figure out what to do. You don’t always have to give them a clear idea of what is expected of them (because that steals their creative juices), although sometimes it’s helpful. Again, go by what you are seeing your students doing and needing.
So for example, you could tell your class, “Make a project that shows the math we’ve learned this unit.” And then show them architecture, actuary, and engineering projects that require those skills. Then outline your expectations, maybe an illustrated diagram and presentation of the steps you used to solve this problem, and a short essay on the value that your solution adds. Or you could say, “Your project is to create an ethical business plan for this company that could make you money.” Then offer your rubric with the five categories of what you’re expecting, check-in dates, and the due date.
Give your students the freedom to choose to learn what they want to and enough structure so that they can figure out what to do.
Next they might come to you with a question– Is this project idea a good one? or not?
Can I do my research project on a drug lord?
Can I eat nine chocolate chip cookies for breakfast?
Think through what you need to to have a logical reasonable conversation with your students about their choices. Your discussion should be mostly questions.
For example, if a teenage student asks you to do a research project about a notorious drug lord, ask them questions about why it might or might not be appropriate. What are the health benefits of doing drugs? Did this drug lord influence people for good or for bad or both? In what ways? How? Why?
Or, ask your sweet-tooth student, what do you think would happen if you eat nine chocolate chip cookies for breakfast? Good things? Might you fart more than normal?
For every no you give, guide your students to your thinking with questions. Know that even after you tell a student he or she cannot do an assignment (maybe about violence or something else that is gruesome/inappropriate), he or she may still do it.
Lastly demonstrate the tools at their disposal and how to use them. I’ve had the chance to work at both public and private schools and I cannot tell you the difference in terms of the power of educational resources. Computers, microscopes, books, pet rats (versus unwelcome rodents), hammers, power tools, yoga mats, food, field trips. I struggle to think how these tools could be equally distributed, but until then, if you’ve got them, USE them. And if you don’t have them, have your students do as much as they can to get them. Also YOU do as much as you can to get them, but make it clear to students how much these tools are worth. These expenses add up, and students of all socioeconomic backgrounds can take classroom resources for granted sometimes.
Give your students the vision, purpose and rules of these learning tools. Resources can be used to accomplish learning, or they can be used to waste time. Only acquire resources that relate to the specific learning goals of your students because resources you don’t need can actually be a huge distraction. Eliminate the extra and provide students with clear boundaries and agreements on how to appropriately use what you have. Students can come up with rules to guide this process. See what tweaks need to be made so that students can be successful in using tools productively. Again, be ready to witness that fun part where I said you can’t control other people– students can be reckless and tools break.
If and when your students seem to need a discussion about social media/texting, have that discussion and guide it with questions. What is the purpose of our time together? What is the purpose of the technology in our classroom? How can we stay on topic and accomplish our goals? Social media is a tough distraction in the classroom and a very real threat to learning.
These three pieces–inspiration, defined freedom and boundaries, and tools– are vital to giving students power in the beginning of a project.
Speaking abstractly, most of the learning process could be considered a beginning in some form. If you need to step back from what you’re doing to give instruction and re-harness these pieces, do it, even if it’s not technically the beginning of the project.
At Bowman school, we learned one analogy for this is lighting a match. In the beginning, with the right amount of pressure and control, your students often choose to light this match and start a fire that keeps them learning.
There are a million ways to miss the mark on this. Here are a few.
Not giving students inspiration or creative opportunities. If your expectations are flimsy and one-dimensional, your students’ work will also very likely be flimsy and one-dimensional. This looks like worksheets, standardized tests, lectures, and bookwork. Sometimes this looks like students just going through the motions, giving up, or even dropping out.
Not giving students freedom and structure or explanations for your boundaries. If you’re ready to say no to most of your students’ ideas, be ready for your students to say no to learning. The beginning is not the time for criticism or threats (although there’s never a time for threats). Find ways to say yes. When you do have to say no, which happens sometimes, be ready to ask questions and talk about why. Important sidenote: you don’t have to be a pushover. If a student chooses to break an agreement that you’ve created, you don’t have to accept their work or give them any attention. But know that they might choose to do it anyway.
This missed opportunity looks like students who are confused, wasting time, or don’t know what to do.
Going along with this, I sincerely believe that most wasted time and failure in the classroom come from a student’s lack of understanding of how to solve the task at hand. When students don’t use their time wisely, it’s usually not because they don’t care, it’s because they don’t know how. Ask questions, provide support, and do what you need to do to help get your students unstuck.
Not providing the right tools at the right moment with the right use. This is the tough part, where students with money find success faster than ones without. There are creative ways to come up with these resources and sometimes not having certain tools can be a good thing. More often though, schools without the books, computers, or items their students need to accomplish their learning goals are at a huge disadvantage.
It’s interesting to note, however, that this failure can also look like schools with millions of dollars of brand new computers. T.C. Williams, down the street from the high school I taught at, received enormous amounts of funding for personal computers for each student and their test scores fell off a cliff. This pattern, unfortunately is incredibly common–schools with bucketloads of donations end up with bigger problems than the ones they started with.
Why? Because computers and resources are often supplied without that vision of what they would accomplish or the defined freedom and boundaries that come with a privilege. Teachers harness that vision and structure in order for resources to be successful. With the right guidance, resources can give students the power to increase their productivity and learning exponentially. Conversely, without that guidance, tools can give students the power to decrease their productivity and learning exponentially.
So, as they say in Spanish, cuidado.
I hope this is helpful to teachers and moms and dads out there. Happy July and happy learning!
Here are some descriptions and books I’ve read recently. Do you like to read? I love reading, especially out in the sunshine or in bed on a rainy night. I’m fairly picky, and as hard as I try to enjoy non-fiction, I definitely prefer fiction. What are you reading these days? Any good recommends?
The Light Between Oceans:
This is about a veteran who comes back to Australia from World War I, gets married, and becomes a lighthouse keeper. His wife, Isabel, has many miscarriages before a boat mysteriously washes ashore with a dead man and a crying baby inside. Isabel convinces her husband to take the baby in, and after many years of peacefully raising her, they run into the baby’s biological mother; things get very ugly and complicated. The writing in this book is beautiful; M.L Stedman has a knack for showing small-town gossip and the loyalty of children. I remember waiting for a connection while reading this book, with a lot of tears flowing. This book made me appreciate the work that goes into making a family. It’s a great read.
The Smartest Kids in the World:
If you have ever had a conversation with me, I’ve already told you that you *must* read this book. I’ve also blogged about it, a lot. Amanda Ripley follows three student exchanges in Poland, Finland, Korea, and America and learns about how different cultures address learning, and what makes their education systems tick. She distills the problems we’re facing and articulates the best ideas for solutions, all in an entertaining way. If you care at all about education, this is a great read.
The Girl on the Train:
This book is creepy! It’s told from many different perspectives, but none of them are particularly trustworthy. Rachel, the main storyteller, imagines the life of a couple whose house she sees while passing on the train each day, until one day, when the female goes missing, and Rachel gets tangled up in trying to find her. Coincidentally, Rachel’s addicted to the bottle, and passes out at *just* the right moments, so that you miss the critical details pointing to the murderer. Lots of affairs and jealousy (and f-bombs if I remember correctly). I especially loved piecing everything together at the end. This is hard to put down if you like a dirty mystery.
I found this book at Powell’s books in Portland, on a shelf of books that had won little-known awards. It’s about a prison full of inmates waiting to die on death row and it follows the woman who is trying to find information that could save the inmates from execution. It is horrifying, violent, and full of many sad stories. It’s not explicit, but there is a lot of rape and corruption. Not surprisingly, the stories of the criminals are heart-wrenching, unfair, and disturbing, but the author ties magical elements and words throughout the storyline, making it compelling and even inspiring. I don’t know how to explain it, but this book is absolutely wondrous. The author shows love, sadness, and human needs so deeply and intensely. If you like a profound read about humanity, read this.
Where’d You Go Bernadette?
This book is funny, but it’s awkward humor. It made a lot more sense to me once I realized that the author wrote for Arrested Development. Bee is a 15 year old girl living in Seattle and her mother, Bernadette is on the verge of a mental breakdown, when she (the mother) disappears. There are many highlights, but my favorite part is when Bee’s super awkward, fanny-pack-wearing, atheist dad tries to make dorky, encouraging conversation with Bee about the church group she’s recently started going to with a friend. It is so painfully awkward, forced, disingenuously enthusiastic, familiar to me (not with my family, but practically every date I’ve been on), and hilarious. Did your parents go through that phase in your teenage years? Where they try so hard to understand you, and they say ridiculous things to try to win you over? Anyway, this is funny.
The Kite Runner
This was popular a long time ago; another heartbreaker and with shocking plot twists. I just just finished it. It’s about two boys growing up in Afghanistan and one of them is sweet and selfless and the other, Amir, is the exact opposite. The writing is stellar; the plot twists are riveting. It’s a story of redemption and it makes me want to hug and rescue every orphan and child born into poverty. I recommend it if you like something meaningful and well-written.
100 More Things Designers Need to Know about People
This is a book of cool psychology hacks. And it comes in nice bite-sized packages so you can put it down and pick it up and not keep track of any plot. My favorite sections are the ones explaining the three parts of your brain that induce those blessed aha moments you live for: the executive action brain, the default brain, and the salience network brain. The salient network constantly monitors and stores everything that comes into your brain: information, sensory input, your executive action brain (problems you’re trying to solve) and the default network brain (doing whatever, without much focus). Your salient brain is what thinks of ideas from years past and what integrates lots of ideas together to help come up with a solution, that aha moment. Cool, right? This book is chock full of fascinating things about people as well human technology interaction.
The Will Power Instinct
I started reading this book because I thoroughly enjoyed Kelly McGonigals’ TED talk about stress, and I secretly really want to sneak into her classes at Stanford, because she’s such a great speaker! My confession is that I haven’t finished this book, which perhaps says something about my own lack of will power. 🙂 It’s full of fun psychology tidbits and studies, and the author is super entertaining, but I am sometimes skeptical of the psychology studies in general. They just don’t always seem accurate. Still, there are some good hacks in here, about practicing and building will power; harnessing shame and pride to make better choices and how powerful dopamine triggers are. Read this if you’re looking for some self-improvement hacks (or if you have more self-discipline than I do, evidently ;D ).