Thursday, May 15, 2014

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Looking back at my time spent in the Upper School, it can all seem like a blur. Awkward dances, APUSH readings, sports practices, scrambled tests, late nights...if I met my freshman self today, there would definitely be a few minutes of staring; trying to decipher the effects four years of high school had on me.

Now, these changes didn’t happen so easily, but the word regret never crossed my mind. I am okay with who I am — in fact I’m a little proud. And each bump along the road helped shape that person I am today.

But there are a few things I wished I had realized sooner that would have made life that much easier. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it does carry some weight nonetheless.

First and foremost: grades are important, yes, but they do not define who you are. The classes you take don’t; the numbers on your transcript don’t; your SAT and ACT scores don’t. The college you end up at doesn’t. Education is a never ending pursuit; it is essential to finding both a passion and a purpose in life. But it cannot be summed up by letters at the end of each semester. Get outside of the classroom. Volunteer. Travel. See things none of your friends have seen and work on a truly comprehensive education.

With this being said, take advantage of the academic opportunities you have. Greensboro Day School is a unique environment where each and every teacher wants to see you succeed. Enjoy this academic environment. Thrive in it. Classroom education should not become your founding characteristic, but it is a fundamental building block for your future. Speaking of the future….

Start the college search early! Visit as many colleges as you can. Each college offers a distinct environment with its own mix of academics, social endeavors and sports teams. Don’t be afraid to talk to current students. Google is a very important resource when it comes to the college search, but current students can give you a realistic, first-hand account of student life at the university.

You are what you eat, but you may also be who you hang out with. This is by no means encouraging reclusive behavior or selective social circles. Get out there and make some friends! But when it comes to whom you spend your weekends with, use a little caution. Find people with common interests and who are accepting of your nuances and idiosyncrasies rather than those looking for people to roll up to a party with.

One of the hardest things I had to learn was how to say 'no.' I promise it’s okay to stop playing tennis - even though you have done it since you were little; even though your parents want you to continue playing; even though you think it will look good to colleges. Maybe that person you see in the mirror everyday may not be a part of your future? And that’s okay! It’s okay to want to try something new for a change. In turn, you may discover someone else in the mirror you like a little more.

And finally, find yourself. High school is a time to get involved in as many extracurriculars as you can. Discover what you like, what you don’t like, and what gets you excited. It’s dangerous to make decisions impacting your future without a true sense of self. In that case, the external force pushing you the hardest may win. So take a personality test. Learn to embrace your quirks. Surround yourself with an environment that nurtures your interests and individuality.

High school is an exciting, wondrous place. Students undoubtedly come out more mature and ready for the next step in life. Take advantage of these tips and make the high school experience what you want it to be!

Kevin Carty '14

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Design Thinking: A New Way to Look at Solving Problems

Sarah Soule, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, tells a story about a group of students:

“Six years ago, a team of students at Stanford University used a problem-solving method called design thinking to develop a simple, portable device — a sort of sleeping bag for newborns — that so far has helped 22,000 low-birth-weight babies around the world stay warm. The Embrace Baby Warmer, which includes a phase-change material that maintains its temperature for six hours after heating, is an amazing innovation. Had it not been for a crucial shift in the way the students were thinking, the warmer might never have existed.” 

Design Thinking is a unique way of solving problems because it is human-centered. Students must empathize with the people for which they are solving the problem. It is a shift in thinking about others’ needs and wants, rather than their own.

One might hear about students participating in a Design Thinking Club at Greensboro Day and think they are students in the Upper School or Middle School. However, we have a group of 4th and 5th graders who dove into this methodology of problem-solving as part of an after-school club.

In Summer of 2012, 4th grade teacher Megan Judy attended ://FUSE 2013, an intensive 2-day workshop in Atlanta. This past summer, LS director Gillian Goodman participated in an online Design Thinking course through Stanford University. Together, Judy and Goodman launched the Lower School Design Thinking Club, in which students had to apply to take part.

The first meeting in the fall was dedicated to students understanding how they personally go about solving problems, classifying themselves as “North,” “South,” “East” and “West,” based on outlined characteristics. Students were very reflective about what strengths they brought to a group and what challenges the other “directions” might have with them.

Next, students identified problems they saw around the school which were meaningful to them. Then came
the empathy piece – students developed a list of peers, faculty and staff who would be appropriate to interview for their particular problem. Interviewing these various members of our GDS community allowed them to see multiple perspectives and needs. They stepped out of their own shoes in order to better solve the problem.

After discussing people’s needs with their group members, they finally came to the part that they had been waiting to do since their first meeting – prototype a solution! Using cardboard, pipe cleaners, Styrofoam, paper plates and other odd objects, students built a prototype to illustrate the solution to their problem. At the end of April, students presented their problems and solutions to a group of observers:
  • How might we improve the speed at which cafeteria food is served?
    Ticketmaster 3000 - a machine that issues you a ticket. You get all the "other" items such as drink, sides, or dessert and go to your seat. When your number is called you go up to the serving station to pick up your hot lunch.
  • How might we improve the 4th grade laptops (in terms of charging power and speed of processing)?
    One group designed a computer that was actually your desk and operated on solar panels.

    Another group created a super-charging multi-station dock. It would store a lot of unnecessary memory to help the computers run faster, and their charging system would charge your laptop in 3 minutes.
  • How might we improve locker size?
    This group created a locker that had a compartment in the bottom that had a latch that would open up and you could store small items such as books, electronics, etc. The large space would then just hold your backpack and books.
The Design Thinking Club was a rewarding experience for both the students and the teachers involved. Look
for more Design Thinking ideas and spaces to pop-up around campus in the near future.