Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Please come play games and have a better transition to college!

This has been a good week for learning for me.  

I began on Sunday working one on one with a student who I have known for years.  She is lovely, intelligent, engaged and has used her high school experience perhaps to the fullest.  She has great college choices, and is taking into consideration perspectives that she feels strongly about.  And, even with all of this I feel she got some positives from playing ENTER THE CAVE and looking at RISK IT.  I want to play my games with more high school students.

On Monday I tried once again to reach guidance counselors at two schools I am personally familiar with, to no avail.  Guidance counselors wear many hats and are rising, in my estimation, to the level of teachers.  If a teacher or guidance counselor is effective, engaging and involved they are not being paid enough and there is not enough of them for all the students they are being asked to serve.  My Sunday game player told me at least once story about her guidance counselor that gave me such pause!  And, it had nothing to do with the guidance counselor's effectiveness, just with the fact there is not enough support for students.

I also went to a college fair with my daughter.  I had some wonderful, engaging moments myself.  My daughter had some wonderful engaging moments.  And, we also each found ourselves in the middle of a large, cattle call that became increasingly hot, loud and chaotic.

Yesterday, I traded emails with another guidance counselor who cannot send his students to my focus group next Monday because the room I am renting is not religiously ok for his students.  I totally get it, but it only increases the frustration of my not being able to rent a "community" room in my local library to offer free access to games for high school students focusing on transitional issues and college.

I realize I have a good product that needs more feedback to increase its relevancy.

Where do I find the warm bodies to give me the feedback?

Today, I had a wonderful, warm conversation with a young woman who works in an innovative high school program (in fact, that is part of their name).  She emailed a colleague and asked for more information.  Perhaps these games could become useful tools in an after school program which helps high school students become better prepared to go to college?

What have I learned?  High schools are institutions which have a preplanned curriculum and little opportunity to adjust as they go to new options.  Businesses that have a central mission or theme, and stick to it, but have the ability to adjust and grow as problems and opportunities present themselves, may succeed more often than businesses that stick to the program, no matter what.

Going to college is complicated.  Going to school is complicated.  Life is complicated.  Could someone just please tell their high school students to come spend two hours playing ENTER THE

CAVE and RISK IT, to help their transition to college?? 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


It occurred to me this morning how scary it is to create something and then share it.  When one is a child most of the time there is no litany of negative responses, jeering or uncomfortably probing questions.  So then, it is easier to say "look at the picture I drew!" with an enthusiastic voice.

Unfortunately, becoming an adult means acquiring some of those negative responses and uncomfortably probing questions, and perhaps even a little jeering.  If you are lucky or talented enough to surround yourself with people who tell you how great you are no matter what, you can move through those moments with a little tougher skin.  If not, another layer to work through has been established.

So, that brings me to what SCARY means, and if it is really an important thing to pay attention to.  I know about this because I have spent so much of my life letting SCARY keep me from trying things. Finally something became so compelling I just followed that still, small voice.  First, it was traveling.  Then, it was finding myself in new communities or job situations.  Then, it was home schooling.  Now, it is designing games.  And, in each of these situations there times when I had to take the risk of someone else reacting negatively, or uncomfortably probing, or even being laughed at when I did not intend this.

However, this designing thing encompasses more than my sharing something and getting varied reactions.  What is the point of designing if the outcome doesn't fit someone's need or if the outcome doesn't improve how something works?  THIS IS A BIG HOWEVER.

When we are children, if we have a supportive and loving upbringing, we can take chances and share and feel validated.  We learn to put our zany ideas out there, and maybe as we grow those ideas become viewed less as zany and more as a new approach.  Or, there is a celebration of zany and we learn to appreciate those who look at the world differently than we do.  If, as children, we encounter too much rigidity and love of rules, we learn to keep that zaniness under wraps, or become known as rebels, or some other neat label.

Here I am trying to develop a tool for teenagers who are embarking on a new step in their lives.  I was thinking this morning, about myself, and how often I can articulate exactly what I feel I need but find it falls on deaf ears.  And, I do the same with the young people in my life.  BAD MOVE.

Sometimes the "customers" or "clients" or "users" we are trying so diligently to serve are telling us exactly what they need, and we ignore the message and then wonder why our answer did not fit.

My meditations the past few days have been about how I have everything I need inside, and that I need to tune in to the still, small voice to get in touch.  I can tone down the noise I am making to tune in, and I wonder if that will be most of the noise?

Now, back to games.  In ENTER THE CAVE, I ask players to answer several questions about the "decoration" of their cave/space/dorm room.  One question is what will be the color of your comforter?  Let's take that to the next step.  When you see a COMFORTER on a bed, what is it or what does it symbolize?

My dorm bed did not look like this.  And, it was a haven, a social place, a study place, a resting place and perhaps could have been a personal statement if I had had the forethought to make it such.

What does a comforter mean to you, or your student?  A simple question?  Please send a comment.  I am trying to come up with another venue for SMALL STEPS GO PLACES followers to comment in some way, but for right now this is it.  You can also go to the bottom of the post and tell me if the post was useful!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Going to College is Complicated

I was reading today how many US students are not ready to succeed in college, because they have not taken and excelled at the core subjects and because they have not scored high enough on tests like the ACT.  Then I read an article entitled Are American Students Grossly Unprepared for College? "where Award-winning Prinicipal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York  looks at this issue" and dissects some statements made by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  I also read Kid, I'm Sorry You are Just Not College Material (by Michael Petrilli, in Slate).

It is kind of like the alcohol use and sex perspectives I used to talk with teenaged clients about at The Door, where I designed and ran MY VOICE (an HIV prevention program for young women).  "Everyone my age has tried it," was what many kids would say.  But, the statistics and real life did not back them up.

Yesterday I went to a training at Partnership for After School Education (PASE) entitled Transitioning to College:  Supporting Social and Emotional Readiness.  I was sitting with administrators and counselors that served kids from homes with lower incomes, who may be from families who came to the United States from other countries, kids who had to make a conscience choice to attend a college because they would need grants and loans to pay for the experience.  The message was that the college application process was daunting, but actually going to college could be like visiting a foreign country necessitating learning about how a college works and even learning vocabulary (definition of bursar anyone?)  The training participants were full of recollections of when they went to college, and the instructor encouraged us to draw on those memories as a bridge to working with clients.  The goal was to take back tools that could be used to help clients better negotiate the process.

MY TAKE AWAY was two-fold:  although daunting, going to college IS a smart idea for so many reasons, if it is a good fit  AND  if everyone keeps reading and hearing that students are not going to succeed in college then maybe they will believe it and make it come true.

Finding a good fit is not easy.  It requires a teenager or anyone else who is considering going to college to examine themselves and be honest.  My husband says he always wanted to be a professional basketball player, but unfortunately he isn't tall enough.  I say that there are lots of ways to fulfill that passion that do not require playing professional basketball.  The hard question is whether any of those ways is a good enough fit to provide the other things he desires.  So, if someone wants to go to college the first question is WHY?  If that question has a solid answer the HOW? is not as intimidating.  CAN WE AGREE THAT SOME STUDENTS ARE NOT PREPARED WELL ENOUGH TO GO TO COLLEGE, BUT IF THEY REALLY WANT TO GO THEY HAVE TO FIND OUT HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN?

Hanging out with people who continually want to say how bad things are gets to be tedious.  Pointing out that a system doesn't work and needs to be fixed is very powerful.  When the people who continually want to say how bad things are also point out that the education system needs to be fixed it becomes complicated for everyone!  CAN WE AGREE THAT THE AMERICAN EDUCATION SYSTEM DOES NOT WORK AS WELL, ESPECIALLY FOR SOME STUDENTS, AS IT COULD?   But, if a student really wants to go to college for good reasons, then the preparation system is one piece of information but not the entire pie.

I would like to tell you that in the past year I have met students, who are now in college, who will have lots of debt, or no debt, who were straight A students or not, some were bullied in high school, some left high school confused, others were relieved, and the list goes on.  One student entered college thinking there were only two types of lawyers, and now works with a state legislature.  She has to have a job to pay for costs, but she got promoted.  Another student applied to Harvard on a whim, and is now there.  Another student is deaf and an excellent student who wanted to major in Math and Missionary.  Another began in the summer and has made friends, gone to concerts, taken a variety of classes, does crew and has made the college his experience.  Finally, I met a young woman who despite being a great student who is going to a great college, found a passion that may lead her on a journey that is unexpected.  I also know students who left that role and are succeeding in the world of work, where college is not part of the fit.

I'm just saying, going to college is complicated.
It really helps to be prepared, just like being prepared to visit a new country.  And, some of us are coming from systems that do not prepare us as well as they should.

I am glad I went to the training yesterday.  I am going to apply to do a training with my games.  I think it would have been more amusing to play games to emphasize skills that are needed to go to college.  You remember the last time you lost playing Monopoly, right?


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Extraordinary ordinary Jacques Pepin

Okay, I am sick.  That is not good.  It is preventing me from spinning ahead.  And, then, there is the relentless sound from the workmen who are drilling into the exterior of my building.  They have gone out for lunch for a bit and so there is a blissful silence.  My nose is running, I feel like my head is in a bushel basket and I am sneezing.  Oh well, enough about that...

Last night I had the opportunity to go to the French House at Columbia U and hear a conversation with Jacques Pepin, who is one of my favorite people in the world.  I read his autobiography, The Apprentice, a year ago and found him to be just as gracious and upbeat in person as he is as a writer.  He is the embodiment of "a good fit" because he found his passion early on during his childhood, and just dove in with that passion as his rudder.  His life has certainly not been a bed of roses but it has been quite remarkable.  The program has been on my mind all night and throughout the day, today.  I find today, for myself, there is too much going on and no one passion or purpose leading me through the day.  AND THAT FEELS BAD...

He spoke about the different paths a chef could take--technician, artist, food lover, etc., and how each of those things were fine but it was the "love" that made it extraordinary.  That is why it is important to know why one is doing something.  It is simple, but it is also very, very powerful.

I think of extraordinary people, and in very few cases were or are they people with skills or talents that I cannot say I have.  The difference really is the "why".  Making money can be one goal because money is a tool that affords choices, and our culture greatly values money.  Being considered smart with the degree or grades to back that up is also highly valued.  However, I have also known people who do something because they enjoy it or are good at it, and they seem satisfied and happy.  They are not extraordinary, but what they put out there is.

So, back to my disorganized, messy table and life.  WHY HAVE I CREATED THESE GAMES AND WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH THEM?  The first question is not tough to answer.  I create.  I spent a number of years keeping others' creations organized or maintained, but I have no desire to do that anymore.  Home schooling and having children taught me that creating, for me, if the right road. I like helping others come up with answers, choices and options.  Isn't that all about creating?

But,  WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH THEM?  Now, there is a question.  The answer to this question means wading out into the world, and trying to make these creations work.  It means dealing with other people's goals and priorities.  I now know why some people choose to be authors, all holed up in their work place with their blank pages, and selves to wrestle with.  I guess this is the question I am going to wrestle with for a while.

I truly believe that going to college is a good choice for some people; it was a great choice for me.  Going to college was much more than the academics--it was stepping onto an entirely different plain.  I learned to think and experience and create, and became a more evolved person.  Would that have gone better if I had had a leg up on some of the situations I faced?  Yes.  Would that have changed my journey?  I do not know--none of us know.  But, having a chance to try out things before one has to do them does free up energy and skill that one can use elsewhere.

So, I am a game designer in search of players for the moment.  And, I think what I do will grow into even more interesting places.

I wonder if Jacques Pepin thought about what would happen when he was 13 and starting on his journey, or if he just jumped in headlong and searched daily for the love that has made his ordinary life extraordinary?