As I was looking through a few articles over the weekend, I came across “Concrete Ways to Help Students Self-Regulate and Prioritize Work.” Although the two short videos highlight elementary and middle school students, the work still pertains to high school students. Many of the discussions from Friday focused on teaching life skills that will outlive students’ four years at HHS. How are we explicitly teaching these skills? How are these skills being worked into lesson plans across all subjects? One quote from the article/video jumped out at me: “Mark Twain said if you wake up every morning and eat a frog, everything else will taste great,” said eighth grade teacher Catherine Paul. “So, I taught them to take their frog from the list, which is the thing they want to do the least, and get it out of the way, because everything else will seem easy.” How are we helping students navigate and prioritize their days in ways that are meaningful and manageable?
As we continue to promote learner agency, student’s empowerment and ownership over their learning, I am reminded of the importance of asking questions in order to help students find the meaning in what they are doing.
From Katie Martin’s Article on 6 Questions to Promote Learner Agency: When we focus on learners, connect to their interests, needs, and goals, we can create experiences that ignite curiosity, develop passion, and unleash genius. One of my favorite lines from Google’s video, Rubik’s Cube: A question, waiting to be answered (If you haven’t seen it, take a minute and watch it), “…when the right person finds the right question, it can set them on a journey to change the world.” The images of kids conducting experiments, building robots, playing in the mud and even blowing things up always make me smile at the thought of what is possible when learners are inspired and have the support to explore their ideas, questions, and passions in and out of school.
This week’s Student Feature Friday is senior Ryan Taylor, who is passionate about Robotics, Music, and the Vermont Adaptive Ski program. Giving back to others and mentoring younger students is what unites all three passions. Ryan is an active participant in band, playing Alto Saxophone, an instrument that his older brother introduced him to when he was a student in Holliston. Ryan is taking on the role of Vice-President Student Conductor this year and sees it as an opportunity to display his talents while supporting others in the band. In addition to HHS, he plays in the Blackstone Valley Community Concert band and the Lions All State band.
When Ryan isn’t playing music he is heavily engaged in Robotics. As a Captain of the Robotics Team this year, he will be responsible for planning, scheduling and building a competition ready robot with his team. The build season is intense and once they receive the parts to build the frame/chassis, the team spends nights and weekends over a 6-week period to pull it all together. The team must follow strict guidelines with restrictions on the timeline, size, weight and even locations where they are approved to purchase additional parts for their design. This 6-week race to the finish leads them to competition and the excitement of seeing all their hard work come to fruition. Although Ryan will be graduating this year and pursuing engineering in the future, he hopes to come back and mentor a Robotics team one day and I have no doubt that he will make a significant difference to future generations.
Q: During our conversation you described music as your mental break and happiness. How has music helped you develop into the person you are today?
A: Music has made me more confident in what I do because in band there is not a lot of room to hide, so you really have to accept your mistakes. It has also taught me that it is a lot easier to have fun than it is stress out over every mistake you make, so I try to laugh at my own mistakes, learn from it, and move on. It makes life a lot easier.
Q: Given the immense time commitment involved, what is the most rewarding aspect of participating on the robotics team?
A: There are a few things that keep me going throughout our build season. One of them is the moment when you put your robot on the field and finally get to see it work! There is no better feeling than seeing the mechanisms you have spent the last 2 months working on, on the field, scoring points for your team. Seeing everyone’s faces turn from fear to pure joy after it all comes together is one of the things that gets me through the nights when it’s 9:30 and we’re still in the shop, trying to make it all work. The other thing that drives me throughout the season is seeing the underclassman go from knowing very little about robotics, to being able to confidently design, build, test, and rebuild a robot. It is similar to why I volunteer with Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, where I teach people with all sorts of abilities to ski. It is amazing to see someone go from complete terror of the thought of going down a mountain blind, or without the use of their legs or arms. But it is so rewarding to see their smiles when they come back into the lodge after a day of skiing. I get this same feeling when I get to see our team members learn throughout the build season and it all comes together when they get to competition. There is nothing more rewarding than that feeling.
Q: You have taken on a leadership role this year as a captain of the Robotics Team. What does the leadership role entail and what skills do you find essential in order to succeed in this role?
A: I am one of 3 captains for our team and this has been an amazingly difficult yet rewarding challenge for me. As a captain I plan, schedule, and run all of our meetings. From pre-season, through build season, all the way to competitions. I am responsible for the recruitment and outreach campaigns our team does, as well as some of our fundraisers. I have brought the team everywhere from the Miller parking lot for Trunk or Treat, to our school football games, and even out to the Boston Children’s Museum. I try to bring our team to every event that will take us to spread our passion for robotics. I also am responsible for making sure that our robot gets finished in time. We only have 6 weeks to design, build, and test our robot so we need to make every hour count. This means we, as captains, need to decide exactly how much time to spend on each portion of the robot, and we also need to make the final decision on what design we will take on. Our team prides itself on being as student-led as possible, and I think we have done well with that so far. I also need to figure out how all of our members and equipment will get to competitions and keep track of everything while we are there. The most important thing I do is prepare our underclassman to lead the team after my class is gone, this can be a challenge, but it is very rewarding.
Q: Given that you have found a passion for robotics and music, what advice do you have for other students who have yet to find their passion/interests?
A: Keep looking! Take every opportunity you can and at some point along the way you will find something you truly love and once you do, share it with anyone who will listen. Find your passion, share your passion!
This week’s Student Feature Friday is Nico Doyle, a fantastic senior who is involved in many facets of HHS. Not only is he an integral part of the morning Jam Band at HHS, but he is using his musical talent to bring joy to others. When we sat down to chat about his interests, I asked him why he was involved in music and part of the band. He responded, “ Watching other people do what they love is contagious.” This humble attitude to supporting others and respecting the unique talents that each individual contributes to the world is a direct reflection of the character that Nico exhibits on a daily basis.
Nico is the type of person who is curious about life, seeks solutions for problems to improve the environment for all and isn’t afraid to step out of his comfort zone. He is a founding member of the Rowdy Repair Shop, a student-led (with the assistance of Mr. Calais) group who honed their skills in construction technology and are now fixing broken or rundown furniture for teachers throughout the building. After presenting this group to the entire Faculty, he is hard at work fielding requests. Nico stated that, “There is no reward better than doing something for someone else and seeing that smile.” Although helping others provides a sense of reward, it is his love of rock climbing, hiking and guitar that keeps him motivated and happy on a daily basis. His future goals include finding a career that can combine these three passions while continuing to help others and I have no doubt that he will have a big impact on his community.
Q: You are currently enrolled in Service Learning: A Call to Action. Tell me a little about the project you are creating for this class and why it is meaningful for you to be part of this undertaking.
A: I am very excited to be working on my “Retirement Rock” project in Service Learning. The goal of this project is to organize events at local senior centers and retirement homes to ease social isolation in senior citizens. Our first event will be having the NINA band perform for these centers, with time before and after the performance to interact with the seniors and give them relationships to enjoy. Overall, we just want to bring some joy to people who sometimes struggle to find it.
Q: Between your future Eagle Scout Project, the Rowdy Repair Shop and the Jam Band you have taken on a number of leadership activities. Why does it appeal to you to be in a leadership role and what have you learned about yourself in the process?
A: If I have learned one thing from all these projects it is that I am a go-getter. I don’t like to wait around to see if someone will step up to fix the problem. I see a problem and I fix it myself. One thing the band has taught me is the importance of teamwork and dedication. One person can’t play a whole song by themselves, and all the best ones have a few pieces that come from everybody. While some may think the guitarist or the singer may be most important, others would argue they would be nothing without the supporting groove of the bass and drums. Teamwork is a crucial piece. In working towards my Eagle Rank in the Scouts, I have learned the importance of communication and confidence. Communication is key and comes in many different forms. I have learned to write emails, and make concise phone calls. I also have to be well-mannered and well spoken face to face in traditional conversation. When I have to lead other scouts, I have to communicate in a clear and concise manner to get my instructions across. On top of all this learning I have done, I know I will learn more. Every time I go back into these leadership roles I run into a new problem I have never seen before. It’s a great learning tool that I am very grateful to have.
Q: During our conversation you discussed proactively pursuing a part-time job in a music shop. Why do you think you were so successful with this endeavor and what skills did you rely on?
A: I relied heavily on my communication skills, as I had to be clear and concise. I also called upon my confidence as I was making contact with someone I had never met before, and asking them to do something for me. It was slightly stressful, but worth the risk in the end!
Q: Clearly you are involved in a number of activities that you are passionate about. What advice do you have for other students who have not yet found their passion/interests?
A: Don’t be afraid to try new things! There is no way of knowing when the stranger standing next to you might be your best friend or your greatest ally. Go out. Meet new people. Do things you never thought you could do. If you want it, you can have it. All you have to do is go get it.
As we continue to refine and adjust our Vision of a Graduate, the focus remains on the skills, characteristics and attributes needed to succeed in an ever changing world. “What is needed is a new definition of being smart, one that promotes higher levels of human thinking and emotional engagement. The new smart will be determined not by what or how you know but by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating, and learning. Quantity is replaced by quality. And that shift will enable us to focus on the hard work of taking our cognitive and emotional skills to a much higher level.” This quote comes from an interesting (and fairly short) article titled, In the AI Age, “Being Smart” Will Mean Something Completely Different. How will our current and future students define “smart” for themselves and others?
Over the weekend I was reading an article about Google and their Project Aristotle, a study conducted to assess the skills necessary to reach success at Google based on significant data regarding hiring, firing and promotions in the company. “Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.” The question to ponder is how do we help to foster this environment for our students and faculty so that everyone feels the emotional safety to take risks, step out of comfort zones, and feel heard? How do we ensure that every student feels safe to explore, create and innovate at HHS?
Advocacy and fostering student voice is such a critical part of the school and the students felt heard and supported by the faculty and their peers. Attached to this email is an article titled “Better By Design. Students blend empathy and experimentation to impact environment through design thinking.” The article is a fairly quick read discussing design thinking and its connection to student voice. The article is also a nice fit with the redesign we are engaged in for Vision of a Graduate.