It has been quite the journey coaching improv at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry. This year, we decided to compete in the Canadian Improv Games (CIG).
My experience and ideas of improv differed from CIG expectations. From my experience as a street performer and clown, improv means that you cannot prepare. Obviously, you can prepare in terms of practicing over and over – developing a repertoire and being able to pull out certain jokes, voices, etc when the moment calls for it. What I did not expect, was that teams could actually structure their events and then just plug in a suggestion from the audience. This rattled the team during the exhibition round and they threw everything they knew out the window and did not perform to the best of their abilities.
After a debriefing, we decided to continue with not preparing and focus on really being spontaneous and in the moment. During the next competition, they did much better.
We made it to the semi finals and the team did a mighty job of entertaining the audience getting the largest laughs of the evening. The judges did not like us all that much, but the crowd was 100% behind our improv. Indeed, one of the moms there was calling one of the kids her spirit animal. The crowd was chanting P-S-I-I, P-S-I-I…
What truly matters is that this team went through an intense bonding and learning experience. I can see noticeable improvement in all of them as they had to move beyond their comfort zones and rise to the occasion. As a producer, I love seeing a team collaborate together and build original work that people thoroughly enjoy. In the process, I too have learned much more on how to coach performance art.
I believe that improv is a skill that crosses all occupations and industries. I cannot think of better chops to leave high school with than being able to think on the spot, persuade people, listen to others, and create original ideas.
6 Apr, 2016
by Jake Comments Off on Updated performance photos and studio shots…
The Island Circus Space team had so much fun performing at TEDxVictoria. I was not overly happy with my performance. I dropped it a few times in weird places and missed my final whip catch cartwheel which I can usually do in my sleep. I am not sure what was going on there. Overall though, we put on an awesome show and we got excellent feedback. We are looking forward to translating this experience into further work for the Island Circus Space artists.
Video will be out soon…
24 Nov, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Island Circus Space’s first workshop was a success!
Thank you to everyone who participated in our first workshop. We had so much fun teaching aerials, hand to hand, acrobatics and juggling. Victoria has some dedicated circus artists. Everyone is stoked to get something going on a regular basis. We are working on it and will keep you posted.
I am able to connect dots for our learners and get them to focus their efforts as a team on accomplishing a shared passion. I firmly believe that the way forward for any organization is for the entire team to become phenomenal learners.
Currently, I work in a bunch of different teams. I am the force that keeps the vision together and moving forward. Everyone on the team has complete autonomy to contribute the best way that they can. It is amazing to see the mastery that develops when you allow people to learn what they really want to learn.
School then becomes just a large incubator of people developing their passions with expert guidance to assist in team decisions and skill building processes. There are some incredible things being built.
A smart tech team has formed and we are working with the Director of Limbic Media, Manjinder Bening, to develop proprietary software. We are working in Scrum methodology and they are all making important contributions to the project. As scrum master, I have already seen noticeable team enhancement through everyone committing to improving 1000% together over the course of the year.
Last month, I launched Island Circus Space. A team at PSII has formed to help. The kids are learning business through actually doing business. They have been building web sites, creating content, sending out press releases and newsletters and networking at events as well as researching cutting edge business practices in use today (Lean Startup, Seth Godin, etc).
I work in many more teams, but just these two examples alone have the capacity to develop our high school kids into entrepreneurially savvy, smart creatives who can produce Startups, jobs, and ideas to help sustain our economy.
Again, when you give people the autonomy and freedom to learn what they want to learn, you begin to see it applied in exceptionally creative ways that you could not have possibly prescribed.
I would like to highlight one individual who is an incredible example of what happens when school is an incubator. This guy is very intelligent and articulate, as well as tech savvy and creative. Over the last two years, he has learned how to use the entire Adobe suite, and combined with a very entrepreneurial attitude and skill set, has landed him work with many local companies in town. Recently, he has been developing video for Silk Road Teas.
The lessons that he learns from his solo freelance gigs in turn gets filtered back into the teams that he is working with. He is part of the two teams above and both teams are benefiting tremendously from his experience and knowledge base that he is continuously growing. Indeed, he is the one who built the Island Circus Space website.
That is what he has been able to accomplish in school, because school for him has been an incubator of his passions.
1 Sep, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Island Circus Space
Last year, I had a tiny spark of an idea to round up the professional circus artists in Victoria, BC. One thing led to another and I have been delightfully surprised at how easily it has all come together. It is so much fun to work with a team who are extremely passionate about what they do.
The artists that have assembled are exceptional. We have decided on the name: Island Circus Space.
We have some excellent media coming from the highest levels of circus (please sign up here. We promise not to bombard you with stuff. One email a month).
We will be offering workshops throughout the winter that will be leading up to our first show at the Metro Theater April 2, 3, 2016. The show is going to blow Victoria’s collective mind!
Our goal is to gather a circus tribe of 1000 people. 1000 dedicated circus fans signed up on our monthly newsletter will allow us to do just about anything and will provide considerable leverage when we are ready to negotiate a space.
We are looking for all kinds of support – from sponsors to volunteers. Anything you can do is greatly appreciated – even just sharing our site with your friends on your social media feed is very helpful!
In return for this support, we will be giving a ton of value through striving to build a contemporary circus infrastructure for Victoria that enables the community to make art, be physically active, collaborate and develop professional talent and shows.
29 Jun, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Developing a Startup in High School – My Year as Scrummaster, Manager and Impressario
Developing a startup is a monumental task. I cannot think of a more relevant learning experience for the age we live in. It sure feels good to ship a piece of hardware that will be used for years to come.
Last year, a scrappy group of blossoming student engineers and programmers got together and began forging ahead. I honestly cannot remember how I became their go to guy. Perhaps it was my passion for technology and entrepreneurship? Or maybe it was my impressario skills.
Whatever the case, last year, we began to do interesting hardware work for VIATEC and Limbic Media that you can see here and here. This year, we continued to strengthen that relationship doing more work for both organizations.
For Limbic Media, we focused primarily on building a water level sensor with a web component for the aquaponics system at Mason Street Farm. You can see it here. This was a very complex project that had many moving parts. It required sensors that sent information to a server and a web page that updates constantly. From a technical standpoint alone, the team learned a lot about sensors (which are the future in my opinion!), hardware in adverse conditions (water is so tricky!), server deployment, website heartbeats and much more.
As Manjinder Benning, Director at Limbic Media, says in the video link (see above!) – it really does come back to making important connections that are beyond just the tech sector; for example: global food security. The world is facing many difficult problems and these high school learners are beginning to help develop solutions. It does not get much better than that for school.
Manjinder Benning by the way is an awesome guy. I can’t say enough good things about him and Limbic Media. They are very community oriented and while this may be a bit biased, I think they are doing some of the coolest tech stuff in Canada. Keep your eye on Manj and the team at Limbic.
For VIATEC, the team began developing a cube prototype to pitch to Dan Gunn, the Executive Director. The idea was that it would be audio-reactive and respond to different environments. VIATEC are big supporters of many different cool events in the area and we wanted to make something that would stand out and accentuate their vital role in the tech sector of Victoria. It was super janky at the start, but after a few months of experimentation and design, we had ourselves a prototype. Check it out:
Dan dug it and gave us $3000 – 1000% more than I was expecting. It just goes to show you that you might as well think big. Dan gave us a budget to get creative. Thank you Dan!
Dan Gunn by the way, gave us a lot of support and help over the last 2 years. He is such an important figure in the startup scene of Victoria helping build it to a $4 billion industry. We can’t thank him enough for the commitment to our little school.
With that budget, Dan was excited to see what the team could do. And did we ever get creative…
The team sourced components from all over the place. Liam, a rising star (more on him in a moment), designed the boards that we then got built in China (among other components that came from there). It is truly amazing what can be done now. Major disruptions are coming from a couple of guys in their garage designing things that add tremendous value to people’s lives (think YouTube).
We then wrangled a connection with Camosun College’s Enterprise Point – an amazing, under cover team building awesome things for the world. Matt Zeleny, Applied Research Specialist, graciously gave us his time helping us laser cut and etch the acrylic panels. He saved us a lot of money and we are very grateful. The etching was such a time consuming process and we simply could not take up anymore of Matt’s incredibly valuable time, so we got them engraved elsewhere.
All of the joints for the cubes were 3D printed from Liam’s design which demonstrated innovation and creativity. Another student, Hugh, designed and printed the stands and when assembled, looked very, very cool:
And because they showed PSII’s committment to supporting the tech industry of Victoria, we were nominated for a Creative Excellence award this year.
Developing both of these projects was such a crazy process – as anyone who has ever built a piece of hardware knows, we ran into many problems that required lateral-thinking solutions. And as anyone who has ever built something that needs to be shipped, we ran right up to the deadline with the engineers still wanting to makes changes at the very last minute. Of course, they felt that they could have done and offered so much more. More can always be done, but at some point, you just have to ship!
We learned a lot this year. I would argue that we learned way more about how to and how not to work as a team more than any of the technical complications. We worked in Scrum methodology. It makes way more sense than the old waterfall style of project management. If you do not know about Scrum, I highly recommend you read this and get going on it.
They learned team work. And Leadership. They understand the importance of working together. But, they sucked. The entire thing broke down many times. However, in the end, there were some clutch moments and the team pulled through. Stressful and exciting.
I learned that we must stick with the agile process the entire way. The process can evolve – for example – we moved from the classic scrum board on the wall to Trello – which is a fantastic tool. I learned that I will need to bring doughnuts to the end of sprint retrospective meetings to ensure a good turn out (I still owe the team pie).
We all learned a lot about how to develop a startup.
That is one of my main M.O’s. I am hellbent on developing local talent and making teams succeed. This is most important to me because I strongly believe that we are in an age of exponential creation and it will require strong teams that can be super nimble and learn incredibly fast.
Einstein famously remarked that, “I don’t teach anyone, I just provide the environment in which they can learn.” That is what I have tried to do. In that environment, it really is up to the learner to make the most of it. Some take the bull by the horns, others…require guidance…
One learner who embraced his learning freedom was Liam. Absolutely none of this would have happened without him as lead engineer. He held everything together stepping up and doing work for everyone on the team. He is an excellent speech giver, dancer, musician, sailor, and of course…engineer. He is also now my close friend. Because that is how you really get to know someone – by doing and building things together. He has earned himself a spot on the mayor’s Economic Development Council, landed a job with Limbic Media straight out of high school, has a scholarship to the University of Victoria for Engineering, and knows how to build a startup and lead a team. He has also connected a deal between the City of Victoria and Limbic Media for a project worth $180,000. He has learned to be an entrepreneur.
Everyone talks about what learning should look like in this century. A lot of talk. I am doing it. Vive le Revolucion!
2 Jun, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Social Learning
I have exhausted a lot of emotional energy this year facilitating our open, social learning environment at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII). In my opinion, it is by far and above the best thing that we do at the school.
But it is really hard work. Really, really hard work. At PSII, our open environment, where each learner can interact with any other learner most of the day in small teams and groups, is fascinating to watch. And at times, very frustrating to watch (school would be so easy if it weren’t for the teenagers!). Through the good and the not so good, we have witnessed revolutionary social transformations in almost all of our students. I cannot overstate how powerful it is to see a teenager evolve from someone whose success was just being able to walk in the door last year to addressing the mayor in a council meeting to try to secure grants for a business idea this year. Night and day.
But again, it is really hard, exhausting work. I have had to deal with some major social issues. Like total team meltdowns. Or people not pulling their weight. Or dropping out of the team entirely 3/4 of the way through a major product in development. Or not showing up to a film shoot for 2 hours while everyone else had to wait and then the explosion, hard feelings and ruffled feathers that was the fallout.
With that said, the learning that has come out these situations is what is allowing our students to truly understand what it means to build something together. True blue collaboration happens when if one person on the team does not show up, nothing can move forward. It requires every single person to make it happen. This necessitates risk taking on both the students’ and teacher’s sides. This is the learning that needs to happen in school.
Most students that I see get zero practice in this type of learning. The learners at PSII certainly did not have any at the beginning of last year. Nearly 2 years of slogging through the difficult, interpersonal situations of the creative process has learned these kids a thing or two about how to really work together. Hence, the blossoming of so many young minds.
Again, this is the learning we need today. It is very easy to know things – made significantly easier by Google. The real problem is learning how to work together in the most highly effective way to find solutions to roadblocks that inevitably arise in creative endeavors.
I strongly believe in leading by example. One of our students, who last year broke out and learned she can lead through directing her first film, “Hey Blondie”, continued that excellence through leading another diverse team of students directing a second film this year entitled, “A Light in the Forest”.
Out of all of the other teams that I was involved with this year, this learner was by far and above the most organized, well-rehearsed and had the most effective team under her leadership. I would personally recommend her to anyone – she is without a doubt going to succeed in being a team lead (which she did not think she was capable of 2 years ago).
If you have a moment, this is what effective social learning looks like in action:
The trailer (if you have minimal time):
The full film:
7 May, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Guest Blogger for Enstitute
I have been graciously invited to be a guest blogger for Enstitute. As a teacher who is trying to change the education system, I am honored to be able to contribute to this innovative organization as they are trying to change how education happens too!
In case you have not heard of them…
“…Enstitute, a national non-profit, is reinventing apprenticeships for 21st century careers. Working to address both the growing cost of higher education as well as the current youth unemployment crisis, Enstitute provides young adults with one year, full-time, apprenticeships at high growth startups, small businesses, and corporations around the country to prepare them for the workforce and accelerate their career trajectory.”
I strongly believe in their model. Unfortunately, they have decided to close their doors. Perhaps in the future, we can build something similar here on the west coast of Canada.