Teacher Changes Bring Large Turnout to Woodbridge Board of Education Meeting

The reassignment of a second grade teacher to be a reading specialist and the hiring of a new teacher to fill her place brought out one of the largest crowds to attend a Woodbridge Board of Education meeting in recent years.

Over the summer Language Arts Specialist Diane Krivda accepted an assistant principal position at the Bethany Community School. Ms. Krivda was a valued member of the Beecher Road community and it was with mixed feelings that her resignation was accepted. There was sadness that a great educator was moving on mixed with joy about the continued success of her career.

PodcampCT : The Edge Between Knowing and Not-Knowing - #PCCT

Years ago, I read a fascinating paper entitled Our Best Work Happens When We Don't Know What We're Doing. It had been presented at the 1999 International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations and talked about how “learning involves working at the edge between knowing and not-knowing”.

It seems like this paper provides a useful framework for understanding Podcamps. First, I should make it clear that it is not about trying to do something that you don’t know how to do. Any attempt by me at brain surgery would be unlikely to be some of my best work. Instead, the paper talks about “the edge between knowing and not-knowing”. I should also note that it has been years since I’ve read that paper, so my thoughts may have drifted from some of the original ideas in the paper.

To me, a good podcamp exists on the edge between knowing and not-knowing. It is important to know how to create an environment where people can learn. Podcamps grow out of the open space technology and unconference traditions where learning comes out of treating everyone as an equal and focusing on facilitated discussions instead of presentations.

I write this blog post a couple hours before PodcampCT starts. We still do not have a set agenda. We won’t have a set agenda until after people have checked in and shared there ideas for the sessions to cover. Even then, there will be a bit of flexibility in the agenda. Yesterday, I wrote some initial thoughts about a possible PodcampCT agenda, but the real agenda will form as the people gather, and the list of people attending continues to change as new people register. Even over night, new people registered, and I expect we’ll have people registering at the door.

One person contacted the PodcampCT organizers writing

I'm being asked to pay $25 and maybe more to receive, well, nothing specific, but it'll be about social media. Do I have that right?

The schedule lists time slots, but no definite topics to be covered...

I'm used to implied contracts – when I sit down at a restaurant table I expect to be served food, and I commit to paying for what I order.  But I'm a little stuck on this implied contract: if I give you my $25 what, exactly, will I receive beyond the opportunity to interact with other people who also paid the $25 and want to receive some value for it?

Is this kind of transaction a "new normal" for online business: give me money and you'll get, well, something, probably? 

The writer received several replies pointing out that, no, they don’t have it right. Participants will received some very specific information about social media. Definite topics about social media will be explored. The issue is that people don’t know the exact details of what specific topics will be covered. The conference itself exists at the edge of knowing and not-knowing.

As an aside, when I pay my $25 at a restaurant, I often sit at the edge of knowing and not-knowing. Yes, I could go to the same restaurant everyday and order the same clams and linguini. Assuming the same chef is there with the same ingredients, I can be pretty sure about what I’ll get. However, I like try new restaurants and new dishes. I like to experience something new, and learn more about what I like and don’t like. The same applies to Podcamp, except that it is a potluck where everyone brings their favorite dishes.

I do not know what I am going to learn today. If I knew it already, I’d probably have already learned it and would get less out of Podcamp. Instead, I am going with the expectation of learning something I don’t already know.

I know a fair amount about location specific social media. I’ll check-in on Foursquare when I get there. I might check in on some other systems as well. I know that some bright people will be there who know a lot more about location specific social media than I do. I hope to sit with them and others seeking to learn from one another and discover something I don’t know about location specific social media.

I also know a fair amount about the use of barcodes in social media. I’ve written a fair amount about QR Codes. I am hoping to sit down in a session talking about QR Codes. I suspect I won’t learn much that I don’t know about QR Codes already, but I expect that some people will ask questions, most likely about use cases, that will cause me to learn something new about how QR Codes can be used.

I know the framework of the schedule, four sessions, probably between five and seven concurrent tracks, with time for networking during coffee, lunch and afterwards for drinks. I don’t know what the group of people who gather will end up thinking is important and I hope to learn something from that as well.

On one level, I know exactly what I’m doing today. I’m going to Podcamp, a chance to learn about social media. On the other hand, I don’t know what I’ll be doing. I’ll be hanging out on the edge of knowing and not-knowing about social media. I’ll be moving that edge for myself and I’m pretty excited to be going.

Building Virtual Worlds on the #N900

You are in a maze of twisty little packages, all alike.

This is a long article about attempting to build virtual worlds on cellphones. It starts off with some general thoughts and history that I encourage everyone to read. It then goes into some technological details more applicable to geeks. If you are an impatient geek, please skip to the technical discussion.


Perhaps I played too much Adventure when I was young. Perhaps somewhere along the way constructivist theories of permeated my approaches to learning and entertainment. Perhaps my rules about computer games for my children wore of on me. Whatever the cause, I’ve been spending a bit of time trying to build various virtual world tools for my Nokia N900 cellphone.

When my eldest daughters were in elementary school, I told them they could play an computer game that they could write. They played in Logo, they wrote MOOCode, and I hope they learned the joy of creating and of understanding what makes things work the way they do.

As I thought about what to get for a smartphone, I wanted a device that reflected this. I wanted a device that I could get in and write my own programs for. Yes, I could have chosen to become an iPhone developer. Friends have done that. But the iPhone needs to be jailbroken if you want to really have fun with it. Android looked like a much better platform, and I almost went that way. Yet many Androids are also locked down pretty tightly. So, when Nokia came out with a linux based cellphone that is about as open as you can make a cellphone, with some pretty nice features as well, it became a clear choice for me.

One of my early projects was to install Squeak on my N900. Squeak is a Smalltalk programming environment that is particularly popular amongst constructivist oriented elementary school educators interested in teach children to program games. It is also the basis for some interesting virtual worlds projects. Unfortunately, the font was too small and I hadn’t gotten reading glasses yet, so I put it aside for the time being. One of these days, I’ll come back to it and figure out how to resize fonts and objects.

As I watched the Olympics last winter, I thought further about virtual worlds on the N900. What I would really like to tackle is building a Bobsled in an Open Source Mobile Virtual World Experience on the Nokia N900. At that point, I considered trying to build the Naali viewer to connect to OpenSim virtual worlds.

There were various N900 programmers interested in this, but it also got put on the back burner.

Yesterday, in response to recent developments in virtual world education, I wrote about Running OpenSim on a SliceHost VPS. John Lester, commonly known as Pathfinder in the virtual world communities went one step further and wrote a great blog post about Running OpenSim and Imprudence on a USB Key. He spoke about having a virtual world in his hands, a world of his own creation, using pieces that he had built or borrowed from other virtual worlds.

Two days earlier, he had written a great blog post about the current turmoil in virtual world education, With every Exodus comes Expansion. His efforts to hold a virtual world in a USB key in the palm of his hand, I believe, is simply a starting point for this great new exploration. With the USB key as a guidepost and previous experience to build upon, I felt it was time to start exploring a world within my N900.

At this point, I will move from narrative to a hacker-adventurers log. If you are less geeky, you may want to skim over this section. It documents my exploration of the maze of twisty little packages I have just started exploring. I realize I may lose a bunch of people at this point, and may have already lost quite a few. However, I encourage you to read this to get an insight into what can be the joys of exploring computers and virtual worlds on mobile devices.

Beecher Road PTO Meeting

Monday, the Beecher Road School PTO held its first meeting of the new school year. Mothers, fathers, teachers and administrators were all in attendance to hear Second Grade teacher, Peter Halsey talk about the Responsive Classroom.

Mr. Halsey has been a long time responsive classroom consulting teacher. He spoke about the importance of teaching students good social skills to complement their academic skills. To do this, the classroom environment should be child centered with as much intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic motivation as possible. Students who have choices in how they will learn their academic material will be better motivated.

Key aspects of the responsive classroom is the morning meeting and teachers not only talking about appropriate behavior, but modeling it. The teaching methodology fits nicely with the Reading and Writing Workshop methodologies that the school has adopted based on work at Columbia Teacher's College.

Woodbridge School District Superintendent Dr. Guy Stella also attended the PTO meeting and talked about how the responsive classroom related to the school climate project. This project tracks improvements in student behavior. Just as data from the Connecticut Mastery Tests is being used to continually improve the academic performance of Beecher Road School Students, data from the school climate project can be used to improve the social performance through programs like the responsive classroom.

The meeting ended with a vote to approve the PTO budget and a discussion about various PTO goals for the year. Popular events like the Halloween Hoot are returning and there are many opportunities to help with the PTO. To encourage greater participation, the PTO continues to have babysitting available during PTO meetings and is now having a raffle for attendees. All parents and teachers are encouraged to participate in coming PTO meetings and activities.

Note: This article was originally written for the Woodbridge Citizen. I encourage residents of Woodbridge to read the Citizen, and to consider writing for it.

In addition, I encourage parents in all communities to attend and write online about their boards of education and parent teacher organizations.

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Woodbridge Board of Education Explores Achievements and Infrastructure

Monday night, the Woodbridge Board of Education, at its regular monthly meeting explored several aspects of achievement as well as the state of the Beecher Road School building infrastructure.

The meeting started off with an executive session where the board conducted an exit interview with outgoing Principal Mary Lou Torres. Principal Torres has been an important part of the Beecher Road School administration and is moving on to a new position starting in October. While the primary focus of Beecher Road School is the success of the elementary school students, good educational programs recognize that we all remain students throughout our lives, and celebrates the successes of not only the young students, but also the students that are part of the staff.

Early on in the meeting, Principal Torres, assisted by sixth grade teacher Nancy White spoke to the board about the Tri-State Consortium.

The Tri-State Consortium is a learning organization devoted to assisting its member public school districts in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey in using student performance data to develop a rigorous framework for systemic planning, assessment, accreditation, and continuous improvement.

Last year, the Tri-State Consortium visited Beecher Road as part of the administration's ongoing effort to improve the quality of education at the school. The consortium recognizes the successes of the school and made recommendations about areas where the school could improve. A key area that they focus on is professional development and professional learning communities. Beecher Road School does well with its profession development, and Principal Torres' successes are a good example of this.

Following the discussion of the Tri-State Consortium report, there was a lengthy discussion of the results of last year's Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMT). The test results are usually reported in the context of schools in similar districts, called a District Reference Group (DRG).

Woodbridge scored well in its DRG as well as compared against the state as a whole. In terms of the No Child Left Behind Act, Woodbridge made Adequate Yearly Progress. However, for a high performing school district like Woodbridge, adequate may not be enough, and the board discussed how the CMTs fit into a larger framework of student assessment and other methods of analyzing the CMT scores so that the district can continue to learn from its previous experiences and improve the quality of education that is provided.

The presentation of the CMT results was the last one that Principal Torres and Ms. White will give together as Principal Torres moves on. Her service to the school district was recognized and the board moved on to the next item on the agenda.

Beecher Road School was built in phases starting in 1960, with important parts of the infrastructure being nearly fifty years old. There are major concerns about the boiler, sections of the roof and the air quality in sections of the school. A building committee has been investigating what it would take to update the infrastructure, including getting sections of the school to meet new building code standards and be more energy efficient. Such a project will be expensive and the board sought to understand which parts are most urgent, and which parts might be deferrable until we are in a better economic time.

The long board meeting continued with addressing its regular business, including correspondence, approving financial reports and hearing reports from various committees. During public comment, one parent spoke up expressing his thoughts about the CMT scores. The meeting ended with the board settling in to its continued discussion about the long term goals of the board.

Woodbridge Board of Education meetings typically occur on the third Monday of each month and are open to the public to observe and comment. Citizens are encourage to attend and participate.

(Cross posted at the Woodbridge Citizen)

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