Author Alison Lee

(PART 3) A (Pragmatic/Optimistic) Recommendation from two Millennials (Ali and Mel)

This is Part Three (the finale) of a three part collaborative blog by Alison and Mel contrasting generational perspectives on passion, purpose, and pathways to success.

“Your message is great, but as 9th graders at a high-performing school, we’ve been essentially told what our paths should be for the next ten years (that is, to graduate from high school and attend a top-tier college). How do we make the choice to pursue our “musts” now, if our futures are basically decided for us through college?”

This question is a particularly interesting one; and it’s certainly one that we can empathise with. Our recommendation to the 9th graders would be to take the time to understand and discover your ‘musts’ without necessarily shedding your ‘shoulds’. There is beauty in being mindfully aware of both your passions and societal expectations, without also being impulsive. As teenagers, you’ve probably only been exposed to a ritualistic life that consists of mostly being at school and perhaps engaging in a few after school activities. Therefore, you probably don’t have a developed and comprehensive understanding of what your ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ even are yet – and that’s totally fine! There are ways to discover and foster your ‘musts’ while still pursuing your ‘shoulds’. For example, let’s say that a ‘should’ is: I should go to college. However, you also know that a ‘must’ of yours is: I must paint. Well, our advice would be to schedule time into your schedule at college to continue cultivating your skill as a painter whenever possible, and to incorporate this ‘must’ into your daily routine and practice, even if your efforts are primarily centered on your ‘shoulds’. You could even major or minor in the Visual Arts! Your college years are a wonderful time  (and perhaps the only time afforded to your young adult life) to explore, make space for, and cultivate the passions that you didn’t or couldn’t afford to in high school or potentially later in your professional life. For example, you could take an eclectic class or join an intriguing club that wouldn’t have been offered to you as a high schooler. You may discover a ‘must’ that you never even knew existed! In sum, we believe that it’s important to engage in reflective introspection while being open to new activities, perspectives, and environments in order to cultivate an evolving understanding of your ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’. However, it is not always beneficial to act impulsively and dispose of the ‘shoulds’ immediately. It’s worth considering what the intentions of the ‘shoulds’ are (economic stability, moral upbringing, mental and physical health are some of the intentions of ‘shoulds’), and whether and how your ‘musts’ serve those intentions – and whether those ‘shoulds’ apply to you. Oftentimes, you can pursue your ‘shoulds’ while still allotting time for your ‘musts’ to develop. Remember, understanding the ‘self’ is a lifelong process; don’t assume that you already know all of your ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’. Let life surprise you.


We wish you the best as you ponder your trajectories at The Crossroads of Should and Must!
Written By: Melissa Cesarano and Alison Lee

(Part 1) Millennials: Selfish Couch Potatoes or Optimistic World Citizens?

This is Part One of a three part collaborative blog by Alison and Mel contrasting generational perspectives on passion, purpose, and pathways to success.

If you Google the term “Millennials”, you’ll return about 17 million hits that all center on disentangling the psyche of the generation who has or just about reached adulthood today. There is great contention in understanding what drives Millennials; we are “entitled”, “narcissistic”, “lazy”, “overeducated”, leeches who live at home, diverse, entitled, and financially anxious; but we are also frugal, financially and technologically savvy, upbeat, engaged, increasingly global, socially and politically literate/active, share a common mistrust of religious leaders, government entities and military powers, socially liberal, and surprisingly optimistic despite growing up in an era of economic instability and wavering confidence in political leaders. Most critically, there are overwhelming disagreements about whether the millennial pursuit of the “perfect job” – that is, a job that fulfills intellectual needs, compensates generously for provided skill, purposefully addresses a real world demand, and respects the parameters of a work-life balance – is decidedly selfish/unrealistic, or a welcome departure from previous generations’ approach to careers and fulfillment. It is a debate that generates both derision and admiration from older generations, and point to a larger paradigmatic shift in a values system that is quickly evolving before our eyes: what fulfills us? What matters in a job? How do you quantify success? At what point does personal ambition come at odds with pragmatic considerations? What is the longevity of such a pursuit, and what are the financial, emotional, and societal implications down the road?

Where do you fall in your evaluation of what’s important in a career? How has the generation you belonged to, and the historical events surrounding your coming-of-age impacted how you defined success? What do you think of the millenial pursuit of the “perfect job?” Sound off and let us know how you define success, happiness, and career satisfaction in the comments below. 


Next week, a post on how one millennial has framed her pursuit of purpose and profession in a talk titled “The Crossroads of Should and Must”, and how one Generation Z-er, a Riverdale student, responded.

Games, Metacognition, Big Data, and Education – An Introduction

Hello, world! My name is Alison, and I am one of two new members joining the rethinkED team this year. I hail from a background of research, cognition, ed tech, and data science – I am currently a Ph.D student at Columbia University, Teachers College in Cognitive Studies in Education, and a M.S. student in Learning Analytics (Educational Data Mining) – and I’m very excited to share my perspectives on how we can re-imagine learning both in and out of the classroom. I hail from a sleepy farm town nestled in the western valley of the Watchung mountains in central New Jersey, where I emigrated to at age five with a twin sister and older brother from Hong Kong. I graduated from Rutgers University with a triple B.A. in Psychology, Philosophy, and Communications (Go Knights!), and worked in tech startups and educational companies before following my heart straight to TC.


I’m especially interested in the intersections of big data, technology, games, and the classroom. The “big idea” questions that drive me include:

–       What are some more effective ways we can use technological interventions to convey ideas (concepts, abstract systems and structures, complex interactions) more powerfully and interactively?

–       What kind of fruitful cognition occurs in play, exploration, and invention that can be co-opted for learning?

–       How can we use the latest advancements in collecting, analyzing, and representing data to empower both teachers and learners?

–       What are the needs in the classroom that teachers feel like are not being met by Ed. Tech, and how do we design tech to meet these needs more thoughtfully?

–       How can we re-frame what kinds of skills and competencies are necessary to succeed in today’s global economy, and how do we teach or facilitate these skills in the classroom?


Of course, this is only a part of a list that continues to grow every day! But, to complete a dissertation means to drill down on the specifics of one very robust idea, investigate it, and add just the tiniest addition of insight to the world previously unknown – I love this explanation of a Ph.D, so wonderfully depicted by a guy named Matt Might:


My calling is in investigating the metacognitive (“thinking about thinking”) responses to failure that occur in educational games, and how such cognitive processes are 1) related to formal learning later on, and 2) transferrable to learning contexts outside of the game.  An illustration: imagine yourself as a 10-year-old, playing a particularly difficult level of Mario. You fail the level, which then sets off a flurry of emotional and cognitive responses – oh crap! How did that happen? What did I do wrong? Do I actually know what went wrong? How do I fix it? What do I have to avoid next time? These metacognitive judgments – the appraisal of states of knowing, locating sources of cognitive dissonance, identifying gaps in knowledge, and employing strategies to adjust or reconcile this – are precisely the kinds of cognitive behaviors we want kids to engage deeply in when learning! The big questions are, then, do these kinds of behaviors in an educational game actually improve learning later on, and whether developing these kinds of skills in a game setting will transfer into more traditional learning contexts later on.


It is a privilege to be joining a pool of educators, big idea people, and all-around smarty pants here at Riverdale to address some of these issues that are so pressing in today’s education landscape. We’ve been lucky to have already observed a design challenge with Riverdale’s 9th graders, attended a talk on finding the balance between passions and pragmatism (keep an eye out for that post, coming up!), and collaborated on a design jam on how to re-think high school with some of RCS’s top educators. I look forward to hearing from the rest of the Riverdale community, and discussing (and likely debating!) some of the latest topics in education and technology with my cohort Jenna, Elsa, and Melissa here at rethinkED!


Talk to you all soon!


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