Inspiring Minds United At Last

The Life of Pinya

What happens when you take motivated students from unique schools across the east coast and bring them together for a conference? Mind-blowing awesomeness!!!!!

I’m currently in Washington D.C. for a 3 day conference called SparkHouse run by Education Reimagined. To be honest I don’t entirely know what’s going to happen these next few days, but today was the initial dinner meet up and it was fantastic!

Everyone here (students and teachers, and it’s mostly students on purpose) is just great and very open and clearly creative and passionate about how education needs to change. I feel like I’ve known these people forever because everyones so easy to talk and relate to. Plus everyone comes from a school doing awesome weird stuff, so it’s been super interesting learning about the different school styles. It’s actually become a joke that the way we introduce ourselves and our starting conversations are based on, “So why…

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Learner-Centered Commonalities

The Life of Pinya

I don’t even know where to begin to describe how awesome today was!!! Learners from around the country gathered together talking about our unique learner-centered educations, and the conversations were mind blowing.

After sharing short presentations about our schools, we specifically focused today on what things are similar and different across the 15 different schools in order to get a clearer idea of how to describe learner-centered education by distinguishing traditional vs non-traditional (learner-centered) school aspects.

When trying to figure out what makes a learner-centered school my team came up with these commonalities:

  • hands on learning in the real world
  • self-paced learning
  • strong relationships between students and teachers
  • different forms of assessment then just a 0-100% scale
  • an emphasis on skills not just content learning
  • interacting and engaging with the community
  • students take ownership and are passionate about their work
  • flexible and interactive learning environments

However, I also noticed…

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The Movement: Transforming Education

The Life of Pinya

For the past three days I got the honor and privilege to work along side some of the most inspiring students I’ve ever met from around the country. What did these students have in common? They are all proud, passionate leaders in the movement to transform education so that in the very near future everyone can have a learner-centered education. And to think that the attendees at this conference were just a small hand full of the learners involved in this movement is inspiring.

42 students and some smaller number of adults, were gathered from 15 different schools across 13 different states for a conference called SparkHouse hosted by Education Reimagined held in Washington D.C. The coolest part about this conference was that it was specifically designed so that there would be more students then adults. (But we made sure to clarify on multiple occasions that everyone in the room was a learner. I’m…

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The Value of Design Briefs

The Life of Pinya

unnamed-1.jpgThis year has marked yet another new chapter for the Innovation Diploma (ID), and as we have moved into our third year of the programs existence, we have started to work on projects that we call Design Briefs. In short a Design Brief is a project where someone in the community seeks out a team of ID members to help them with a problem they are facing in their work; either for money, resource, or time reasons the organization can not devote to working on the project and thus outsources the project to an ID consultant team.

After last year’s success with Design Briefs, this year all of our 2nd and 3rd year student cohort members have gotten the opportunity to work on a Design Brief and we have been deep in the process for the past 2 months or so.

This is my first time working on a…

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Introducing Public Buggy; Jam

The Life of Pinya

IMG_6038.JPGNew year, new team, new venture.

The past two years in the Innovation Diploma I have been a part of a lot of projects driven by students observations that lead to ventures. For example the Co-Venture to re-design our iStudio space and last year’s ReSpIn team working on creating a recycling system in the middle school.

This year I’m moving into the world of Design Briefs.

In its inaugural year, iDiploma was incredibly successful in “consultivation” work (consult + innovation) where we invited members from the Mount Vernon community to bring a problem or opportunity to be workshopped in a 90 minute design thinking session. The partners we had for those sessions left with plausible and implementable solutions, and our learners became much more comfortable with their design thinking muscles. This year, we committed to incorporate even bigger and longer term projects via “Design Briefs” that IMG_6047.JPGanyone in the community…

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Innovation Diploma – The First Design Breif


In Innovation Diploma, we were presented with a design brief* through Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation by S.J. Collins Enterprises to design an outdoor area in Chamblee that would be in a shopping center they were creating. In order to learn more about our project, we started researching about the Chamblee area and we set up a meeting with our client to discuss about the details. After, we went out into the community to different outdoor areas so we could observe places where people gathered and find a common theme.


One of the biggest things our client wanted us to do was to become an expert on our users. The user he had in mind was a forty-two-year-old mother of two children. To do this, we set up interviews and went out to places in the community to do intercept interviews. For intercept interviews, we go out into the community and hold mini interviews with the people in those communities. This was the most important phase for us because for us to understand the needs of our user, we had to understand their experiences and point of view.


We interviewed more than seventy people from the community of Chamblee. After interviewing, we started coming up with ideas as to what our design would be. Then, we went on to create quite a few 3D sketch-ups, meeting with our client afterwards to get feedback on them.


After the meeting, we started taking the main concepts our client liked and combined them, making one final sketch-up, which were pitched to him. When the pitch was done, he took the designs and with his landscape architect they are modifying them to fit the safety codes and will implement it in his development.

*A design brief is an application for a design project developed by Innovation Diploma, which represents a businesses need for a design and the group of designers.

Following the Design Trail Week of 3/14 (Photo Collection of the Design Group)


(Above is a slightly goofy photo of the design team in front of the top 5 designs we came up with as prototypes before our final design.)




(Above is a photo of the group during the presentation of our designs to Mr.Garrison.)




(Above are images of some of the feedback from the meeting with Mr.Garrison, in which we presented our sketchUp designs.)





(Above are pictures from the interim week that served as a short break from the process. Here we learned more about each other, and had experiences and ideas that are helping us greatly as we move forward in our design venture.)



(Above are pictures from this week as the team works to refine our ideas based on feedback and prepare for our final pitch.)





The Week of 3/14

The week of February 22nd the design group had a short meeting with Mr.Garrison. Akin to a presentation, though less formal, this meeting was the showcase of the designs that the group has been working on for the last few months.

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(Above is a slideshow of the 5 designs that were built from scratch by team member, Joshua Schwartz, in SketchUp. These SketchUp screenshots are accompanied by concept pictures from the web.)

Our Design Drivers <- Click here to check out part of the slide deck used during the presentation. The things on this slide deck are what we used as design drivers, or things that inspired and were catalysts of our designs.

Through this meeting we were able to gather some feedback and an absolutely invaluable experience. This week, the week of March 14th, the group is working through the feedback that we gathered in order to piece together a design which more directly fits the needs and wants of our client and users. Some of the objectives include multiple iterations of the space using the aspects which we believe were most fitting to the space based on the feedback that we gathered, and the development of the final presentation that we will be giving.

Following The Design Trail – Week of January 22

The deadline for the Chamblee development’s outside area is coming soon upon us. Our final pitch will take place on March 24th. This means that we are now shifting into the mode of crunch time.

The design brief team will be holding a meeting with Mr.Jeff Garrison this Thursday, the 25th. During this meeting the team will present 6 different designs, based on our research and interviews.

Jackson Dalton wrote a blog post revolving around our progress, and highlighting this kind of “crunch time” work that we began working on last week. Read the post here.



Following the Design Trail Week of 2/8

Last week the Design Brief team worked on delving even deeper into the wants, needs, and community of Chamblee through longer and deeper interviews. We’ve also tried to narrow in on our purpose, our teams design driver, and have begun designing more concrete visions of the space we’ve been imagining. As we’ve done this more visual representations have begun to litter our work space and computers.

Team member Joshua Schwartz recently wrote a blog post about the past week which includes numerous pictures of some of the designs we’ve been thinking of as rendered on the program Sketch Up Make. You can read this post on his blog here: First Renderings


Team member Maxine Peterson also recently posted a reflection on the past week. This post is brief, about the interviews that we conducted, and includes a picture of the wall where we have been capturing all of the feedback that we have been getting. You can read this post here: End of The Week Reflection (02/08 – 02/12)

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