Los Angeles Times: UC explains admissions decisions in a record application year of much heartbreak, some joy

April 13th, 2021

There is some soul-searching going on now that college admissions decisions have been made at most US universities for the next entering class of students. The LA Times article “UC explains admissions decisions in a record application year of much heartbreak, some joy” by Terese Watanabe published on April 12, 2021 explores reactions, emotions and explanations for the seemingly heightened competitive feel in this round in the University of California system, particularly in the time of Covid-19 and removal of standardized test scores from consideration (among other things, it’s worth making sure we understand).

First, let’s revisit UC’s Statewide Guarantee and Local Guarantee. The Local Guarantee focuses on the top 9 percent of students in a graduating class of participating California high schools based on GPA in UC-approved coursework completed in the 10th and 11th grade. The Statewide Guarantee relies on an admissions index which in the past considered GPA and standardized test scores. However, the Statewide Guarantee was not in effect for the current admissions cycle because of the stoppage of standardized test scores in admissions decisions (yay!). So numerically, admissions decisions were based on GPA, but at the same time, more weight was placed elsewhere – possibly on extracurricular activities or the personal story. The PERSONAL STORY. In the YCISL program, we have been offering workshops that include Your Personal Story assignments and connecting story components to emotional intelligence.

But let’s get back to the LA Times article. There are a few lines of thinking worth exploring for the YCISL platform.

“200,000 students were vying for about 46,000 spots”  First, there were probably fewer spots available for the next academic year because of a significant increase in deferments from the previous admissions year due to virus impact. Remember too that 200,000 students includes out-of-state and international students. This means that about 1 in 4 students potentially would find a spot in a UC. Twists include students who get two or more spots offered, and those who participate in the wait-list. And the factor that does not change is clusters of applicants interested in impacted majors (hence the undeclared strategy – if you just want to be at a UC regardless of major). So let’s say the competitive scale is that you have to position yourself in the top 20% if applicants (remember this is applicants, not all senior high school students). So your personal story has to have a similar uniqueness factor; that is, an admissions officer should not be able to recall another 5 applicants with similar stories. Which brings us to the next item…

“4.3 GPA, eight AP and honors courses and a host of extracurricular activities” How unique is this? Not very if there is not much else to tell. The 4.3 GPA would be competitive if it came with valedictorian or salutatorian status. What if the top student in the school had a 5.0 GPA? Remember to use the Freshman Admit Data as guidelines in deciding whether to apply and not as criteria that would ensure admission. Sure, students did get admitted with the published GPAs and standardized test scores, but the lower cut-offs probably had special circumstances such as athletic ability. AP and honors courses don’t necessarily correlate with college-readiness either. Extracurricular activities? Just how far did these interests grow and affect? Again, these are all details (think like a Chief Detail Officer) that need to be crafted into a personal story. It’s a communication exercise that most college applicants are not very aware about.

“Majors matter, they say.” This is old news in the UC system (and most other universities). Through your personal story, develop a narrative to tell how you will make an impact on society, the future, and the professional field. Design thinking comes in handy here so that you connect worldviews. Apply divergent-convergent thinking to major selection as well as outcome scenarios. Find the one that would make your story stand out.

Another dynamic is in the university rankings. UC Berkeley and UCLA are in their usual top 25 spots according to US News & World Report. But notice how UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Davis are now all ranked top 40…so these have become targets for top applicants. The safety choices of UC Riverside, UC Riverside and UC Merced are all now top 100 (UC Riverside and UC Merced were top 150 just a few years ago, so BIG moves). So the lesson here is that expectations need to change often. If a parent is an alumni from 20 years ago, the admissions demographics have surely changed. With the start of internet applications, the number of schools that a student applies to also has increased. As with good stories, think about adventure. Out-of-state and international students have a natural advantage as their adventure has a far, far away element already built in. For California students, it’s possible for some to tell a far, far away story, but for many, it’s a huge challenge. You’d have to do a lot of prototyping of your personal story.

Yes, Your Personal Story exercises and workshops have a lot of potential to make college applications more aware and accurate (as opposed to precise). Presently, there is no demand for such assistance because the “free” options of college counselors and parents focused on the grades/scores/extracurriculars data make the hard work to develop and tell a personal story only a nice-to-have. That said, there is an element of natural selection in play since many of the raw college applicants are in it for the promise and not the ask.

LinkedIn: Post by Anthony J James of “Fluidity” by designlibero

March 18th, 2021

In my LinkedIn feed today, I noticed a post by Anthony J James commenting “Innovative design idea” about a dish drying rack with sections for small plants that would be watered by water that drips from the drying dishes. My reaction was “cool” idea and a wonderful idea using the convergence technique we use in the current YCISL ITW program.

But wait! There was more… There were negative comments aplenty. Many comments were based on lack of understanding and a resistance to the product idea being able to replace the traditional dish drying rack (fixed mindset, I would diagnose). Here are a few examples:

“What about the soap? Would that not be toxic to plants?” Careful how you use the word “toxic” because there are several beneficial plant applications for soap. You can also discard lightly soapy water into your garden (ever washed your deck or patio stone?) without harming the plants.

“Nice try, quite ingenious except lots of plants grow spores, mold, fungi, and insects larvae form their ecosystem and not ours.” Ummm…are you suggesting not having houseplants at all? Or would you like to have a 6 ft social distancing requirement from any plant?

“The person who designed it doesn’t wash dishes.” One of those responses that is most likely incorrect. Perhaps not the way you wash dishes.

“No herbs raised on detergent water will ever taste good or be good for your health.” Reminds me of the Mister Boffo phrase “Unclear on the concept.”

“It is likely that there will be trace of chemicals present in water, that might affect the plant?” Tip: The water you use has chemicals in it. Be it from water treatment, natural atmospheric dissolved gases, dissolved minerals from aquifers, etc.

There were many encouraging comments too. Mostly on the external form design which I agree is cool.

But what struck me is the lack of productive commentary. I don’t usually comment on LinkedIn, but since this product touches on so many personal and YCISL interests, I wrote:

“Iterate this idea. Forget hydroponics. Many houseplants (ie, indoor plants such as the ZZ shown) need humidity rather than constantly wet roots. The LECA balls would provide support and a porous way for humidity to rise to plant. Would suggest removeable bottom tray for periodic cleaning. Other applications would be micro greens or seed starting using seed starter mix where constant moist but not wet needs to be maintained, but would recommend pre-filter such as activated carbon.”

The idea is to collaborate, not object or discourage. Use your expertise, if you have it to share. Wonder out loud, if you like – but imagine the possibilities rather than close your mind. The surprising thing is the LinkedIn titles the negative commenters had; eg, Concept Designer, Team Builder, Entrepreneur, Consultant, and so on. Evident absence of growth mindset.

I would also further share that this product is called “Fluidity” and a full description can be found on the designlibero web site. First, note that the design is dated 2012. Then now also note this article dated November 23, 2020 “Scotts Miracle-Gro completes acquisition of company that makes home-grow kits” which reports how AeroGrow, the maker of the well-known AeroGarden, was acquired. The hydroponic countertop product was already finding a place in kitchens and other places around the home (let’s also remember the countertop composting worm bins!) where nature is succeeding over germaphobia. So I do feel there is a design genius within Fluidity. It just needs iteration based on constructive feedback and focus group testing.

If this was a YCISL DEZIGNBLÄST design project, we would be fully supportive and encourage iteration through further design thinking and divergent-convergent thinking. In the feature list exercise that we do, we would build Smart-app support, sustainability factors such as use of solar cells, and positivity in form and function. Then our students would craft a story to go along with this must-have product.

Just think…if this was made for college students living in a dorm. They would have just a few dishes, want late night snacks, and stress-relieving plants to look at and take care of. Find that early adopter to help you tell your story in a positive worldview.

PS. The other lesson is not to take criticism too harshly unless you have found reason to trust your critic. Do they have growth mindset and positive mindset skills (remember, it takes work)? Do they have emotional intelligence and an ability to brainstorm self-edit-free? Test their ability for active listening and mindful push/pull/centering.

WSJ: Standardized Tests, Ancient and Modern.

March 17th, 2021

Back in 2018, I wrote a comment about a WSJ article titled “The Gatekeeper Tests.” Today, I read an article in my March 13, 2021 print copy WSJ titled “Standardized Tests, Ancient and Modern” (it is titled “The Ordeal of Standardized Testing” in the WSJ online edition; strange as this is reverse of the positivity in titling lesson that TED has followed) by Amanda Foreman.

The article tickles me a little because it tries to show a history of standardized testing systems – set in wholly negative circumstance. And it’s more of what is not mentioned as parallels in testing historically that bemuses me. Even today, the SAT (and ACT etc) are obviously more Big Business than Education in a present when superior alternatives are readily available. If the motivation (or better put, raison d’être) for standardized testing is actual academic ability and accomplishment, then the purpose works, and the autonomy and mastery elements join in too. This is consistent with the various historical settings described in the article.

It’s a tool. And if used correctly and applied correctly, can be quite valuable. And like most tools, they need periodic improvements and refinements. And if I use the YCISL idea of precision vs accuracy-based education, standardized testing could use the same paradigm shift.

Think about all the forms of testing that exist today. Would anyone think their test would improve if they followed the SAT model? From tech QA to chemical analysis to sports performance to transportation to whatever else…, the SAT model is the one you need to face away from.

Thought: How many chucks can a woodchuck chuck?

March 9th, 2021

Actually the question that came across my mind is “How many students in a class can a teacher teach?” This follows on my earlier idea of precision education versus accuracy education. This also connects the idea of preparing for classroom teaching with emotional intelligence and design thinking.

Let’s make this an estimation exercise.

If we define “students being taught” as those who get a C grade or better, then perhaps we could estimate that 3/5 of a class is taught successfully (Salman Khan might twitch at this point since this would mean there are a whole lot of gaps).

When I teach a Stanford class, I have a cut-off where a B or A grade means the student should be allowed to exercise that knowledge professionally. So that might be 2/5 of a class (no, not really as you have to try really hard to get a C, D or F from me).

How about we consider only the students who have negligible demonstrated gaps? Let’s say those scoring 98% or above on tests? In my experience (and depending on several circumstantial factors), that’s around 10/100 of  a class.  Or how about those who get an A+ for the class? That’s anywhere between zero and 5/100 depending on the instructor’s mood.

And if we want to look beyond the tests? How many students who complete a course could actually engage in an intellectual conversation involving the subject just after the end of the course? How about the same conversation a week, a month or a year later? Of course, the answer is “depends” but if we were to keep this to estimation, the range would be none to a few.

The idea I would like to share is about judging students for their expandability as much as expansion. A teacher’s mission should be to cultivate a wholesome love for learning and propensity for connecting one thought to another. And they should be praised for being able to accomplish these. This is a low-cost/big impact idea that falls in the “Chief Detail Officer” and “Perspectives” action items imparted to us by Rory Sutherland in his TEDTalks. As Sir Ken Robinson told us in his epic “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” – “…it’s put us in a place where we have no idea what’s going to happen in terms of the future. No idea how this may play out.”

Maybe it’s time to give teachers quizzes, homework and exams so that they can review what they have learned from their class each day…and identify the gaps.


Activity: LwL The Principal Dialogues

February 16th, 2021

I’ve been partnering with Learn with Leaders (LwL) on YCISL programs for about 8 months. It has inspired and enabled me to reach out to new horizons and focus on Zoom-enabled coaching. It’s been a fun challenge.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in an event called “The Principal Dialogues” where LwL invited a group of school heads/principals for a Popcorn with Colin-like online Zoom discussion group. The event came about as a result of discussions about how to partner with schools with our new series of online programs. As reflected by my organizing partner in Japan, it may be that (1) schools are still putting their focus and energy into re-grouping from the virus-induced disruption and concentrating on curriculum continuity,  or (2) the on again-off again switches creates too much uncertainty to make commitments. To find out more, we thought we would ask the school leaders.

We came up with an agenda where everyone took a turn to warm-up the discussion by sharing their reflections as an educator in 2020. For my part, I mentioned the ITW program and the five skills being coached, the NIFTI-SEWSS Scholars Program seminar series, and the in-progress NIFTI Roundtable planning activity. The uncertainty about whether we would resonate quickly dissipated as we found several in-common areas of thought. And we did this despite varying levels of disruption – or even non-disruption as described by Guy (Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Perth WA). Here are a few “bites” from the discussion (what I managed to jot down):

  • Awareness. We heard from Caroline (Liger Leadership Academy) about the importance of self-awareness. Mark (The British School, New Delhi) connected this to metacognition and the “snowflake” condition. To me, this fits well with my YCISL interest in emotional intelligence and the application of design thinking to developing a personal brand identity through our “Your Personal Story” exercises. I think the issue is that there is a common belief that one’s awareness and brand identity is already naturally present and needs no additional investment or work. The problem is in the form and function being absent of EQ.
  • Playfulness Quotient. Many of the participants identified social isolation as a front-line issue during the current educational rollercoaster ride. This isolation has inhibited in-person social interaction as well as creating new connections. Like a neural network, there is a decay going on. Monica (Shiv Nadar School, Gurgaon) raised the term “Playfulness Quotient” which piqued my interest as it resonated with the YCISL activities (eg, ping pong game) emphasizing play as a means for sparking creativity. This “PQ” idea extends well from Tim Brown’s “Tales of Creativity & Play” from which we learn that interventional action is needed during the school years to ensure happiness and well-being for life.
  • Thinking Skills and a Culture of Creativity. I am 100% sure that everyone present has “thinking skills” as a top priority. I specifically recall Meenakshi (Modern School, Delhi) bringing up the topic. This is one of those “simple, but not easy” areas because teachers are broadly accountable for the answers students give, but not the “thinking” route that led to the answer. At this point, I believe everyone jumped in to wonder whether teachers need to join this discussion. For my YCISL contribution, I offered the recommendation to visit Jef Raskin’s article “Holes in the Histories” to find a list of ways people mis-lead themselves as well as others with information that is mis-understood or mis-interpreted.

I would also like to acknowledge Kai (British School Muscat), Dominic (Liger Leadership Academy), and Gerald (North Jakarta Intercultural School) for their shared insights as well; my note-taking just wasn’t quick enough. Regardless, the international scope of the present challenge is clear.

Thoughts: Science & Facts

February 6th, 2021

A dilemma of sorts has arisen for one of the students in my NIFTI-SEWSS program. She is looking into the benefits of houseplants in indoor spaces. Could a houseplant make your bedroom space healthier? There was a study ca. 1989 called the “NASA Clean Air Study” which reported quantitative data on the removal of certain airborne chemicals in the presence of certain plants. There is also a TED2009 Talk titled “How to Grow Fresh Air” by Kamal Meattle. But there are also thoughts that plants may be chemically harmful indoors because they stop producing oxygen in the dark and actually net consume oxygen in the absence of photosynthesis. Further, there is competing literature (scientific and non-scientific) on whether plants have air purification abilities. Sorting through this controversy is a great experience for any student…especially a YCISL student. Believe it or not, this type of controversy is woven into science. The prime examples are climate science and currently virus science (this term is intended to include virology and all other connected sciences).

There are three YCISL skills to remember in such a context:

  1. Remember Jef Raskin’s article “Holes in the Histories” where we have to trust our own instincts and interpretations and not ride the wave. We look for evidence of “sloppy scholarship”, “mis-representation” and “the halo effect.” In science, we have to trust original sources and understand that the “facts” can get distorted the farther away and as the volume gets turned up.
  2. Recognize that there are knowledge gaps everywhere (remember Salman Khan’s TEDTalk?) and that science is about interpreting data and phenomena…with a hint of well-intentioned speculation. There may be gaps in the original study; we just have to consider them when deciding how to use that information. Subsequent interpretations or even studies probably have gaps as well. This does not make the original study fully false. Bottom line here is whether NASA would trust the original study enough to include certain plants in the payload for the trip to and settlement on Mars.
  3. There is an element of “glass half-full vs glass-half empty” here. Refresh your understanding on the benefits of positivity from Alison Ledgerwood’s TEDxUCDavis talk “A Simple Trick to Improve Positive Thinking” from which we learn to avoid loss frames. Stick with gain frames. That is to say to interpret the available information in a gain frame – what can we do with the information? “Nothing” is not an acceptable answer.

Ideas: YCISL & the IB Extended Essay

January 21st, 2021

I received my IB Diploma in 1981. The Extended Essay was one of the highlights of the program, and it still remains a fixture for IB students around the world. My Extended Essay on crystal growth is connected with my geochemistry interest as well as research into evaporite minerals.  The folder containing a crystal sample from experiments attached is still with me today.

And so I would like to connect my YCISL program to the IB program, especially the Extended Essay – and even ToK and CAS. Here, I am going to lay out 5 process tips for the IB Extended Essay so that it embraces creativity, curiosity and impact.

Planning. Make a plan. Start with a napkin plan. Then expand it to a 1-page summary of what you want to do and accomplish. Capture your inspiration and vision here. Include goals and tasks if space allows. Remember, just one page for your initial plan. Subsequent plans can get longer (just a little).

Design Thinking. Another human being (or two) is going to read your Extended Essay. So use the human-centered mindset of design thinking to connect yourself with your reader via your extended essay. Focus positive attention on shared perspectives, engagement and benefit. Show and apply intrinsic motivation to promise empowerment.

Connect-the-Dots. “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech 2005. Show how all the work you did for your Extended Essay is connected. Also connect it to your other experiences and web of knowledge.

Storytelling. There are many ways to tell a story. You just have to choose one. You are the author of your Extended Essay, plus you are the producer and director of this story that the reader will want to visualize. Focus interest on the main character, but also provide details in terms of other characters, objects, thoughts and actions that reveal the full story.

Feature Set. Your Extended Essay will have many features, You will also consider many features that your Extended Essay could have, and trim away excess (at least you SHOULD trim away excess). Think of features that at least half the other extended essays would not have. Then select just three of the features for you to distinctively highlight in your Extended Essay. Put them in the foreground in front of everything else. Put a spotlight on them. Make them shine. And the analogies go on and on. Your goal is to have the reader remember and be impressed by one or more of these distinctive features. This would help your work stand out in a crowd of Extended Essays on the same or a similar topic.


Events: YCISL Innovators Toolkit Workshop (ITW)…Cartoon Examples

January 18th, 2021

Here is a set of cartoons made in Pixton on the five YCISL Innovators Toolkit Workshop (ITW) skills that we focus on. Do these help the explanation of these skills?

*Source credit for magnesium-chocolate story: https://www.eatthis.com/news-americans-deficient-this-mineral/
**Dumpling image downloaded from https://www.clipartkey.com/

Activity: Pixton for YCISL Cartooning

January 16th, 2021

Once in a while, I try to change up the style of my presentations. Usually I work on the color palette, typefaces and (more recently) adding slide animations. Canva.com has been a favorite and I have made quite a few flyers and slide backgrounds there. Today, I looked up cartooning tools and came across Pixton. In about 20 minutes, I produced a cartoon about divergent-convergent thinking. There were some things about the experience I really liked (eg, postures and facial expressions) and a couple of things that were somewhat limited. It was fun! Now I have to think up other storyboards.


Plan: Divergent-Convergent Thinking (Popcorn Series)

January 13th, 2021

The Popcorn with Colin (PwC) series started in mid-2020 as a means of connecting with students in the virtual space to chat about creativity and developments in the YCISL program. Each PwC meeting, a short 60 to 90 minutes with a small group of 5 to 12 students, is designed to create engagement and the sharing of viewpoints (where you are) and perspectives (what you see). I’ll write up more about it in another article; it’s been going well and should have good future pick-up.

This wiki entry focuses on an upcoming PwC meeting where I would like to discuss Divergent-Convergent Thinking (DCT). I will probably follow-up that PwC with a YCISL White Paper to share action items that “pop” up. DCT has been a part of the YCISL workshops for about 5 years and more recently it was included in the Innovators Toolkit publications on the YCISL web site and the Innovators Toolkit Workshops (ITW). And I just made a short presentation last week on DCT in the NIFTI-SEWSS program; the response from students has been fantastic.

The tentative agenda for that PwC is:

– What is it and why is it a useful creativity skill?
– Checking our divergent thinking (brainstorming) skill…an exercise.
– Applying divergent-convergent thinking to a research project. A group discussion.

The new part that needs development is the connection of DCT to research methods and skills. I’ve heard from many YCISL students that they would like to improve their research skills and find research opportunities. I found the figure below which I think could lend structure to a presentation on research applications of DCT. Inspiration, ideation and implementation are practical stages to step through in all aspects of research (I will focus on proposal writing, experimental design, and reporting). I will need to remember to embed this in a design thinking teamwork and collaboration context because research needs to be people-connected.

That’s all I wanted to share for now about the PwC DCT plan.