Clearing the Cache - Education

Last Thursday, started writing a blog post to clear the cache of many different emails that needed responding to. I posted the first half and planned on posting the second a little later. Then my computer crashed and I lost my draft. So, I’m redoing it with a little additional information.

First, I should note that Tony Mena, whom I mentioned in that post and did a Music Monday review of last week has won an award for the poem I highlighted. Please, go check it out. We had to reschedule his appearance on Fiona’s Radio Show. We are talking about rescheduling the show for mid-December.


The big education news out of last week was the New Haven Promise, a plan to make college tuition available to all high performing New Haven Residents. This raises an interesting question. How do we make sure that students succeed? When I wrote about this, I mentioned the Citywide Youth Coalition. They will be getting together with people from Our New Haven at The Grove on Wednesday at 6 PM to talk about how people can work together in New Haven to help the schools and students be more successful.

Meanwhile, there is plenty to talk about in terms of education in Woodbridge. Last week, the Beecher Road School PTO and the Woodbridge Board of Education both had meetings in which James Crawford spoke about improvements to the school’s website. At the PTO meeting Penny Zamkov also spoke about the PTO website.

I have been a long time critic of how technology is used at Beecher Road. Back in 2008, I served on a committee to draft a three-year technology plan for the school. The committee did good work, with a key area of concern being around the use of the school website to improve communications. Mr. Crawford has been doing a good job with this, and I look forward to some of the additional improvements expected later in the school year.

However, the Board of Education meeting provided a good insight into some of the difficulties that the technology team faces. These difficulties are school policies and the views of some of the members of the board.

The most striking was when a board member spoke about not wanting the school to be an early adopter of education technology. This was during the discussion where plans to start introducing Web 2.0 tools to students was being explained.

Understanding Our New Haven Promise

Yesterday, I received a press release from the City of New Haven. It was announcing an event scheduled for this morning that would

be an announcement of national interest that will change New Haven and the region forever...
and will be viewed by every student at every New Haven Public School because the subject of this event will completely change their lives, their families and their neighborhoods. 

It sounded pretty exciting. Could this be an announcement about GoogleHaven? Or, would it simply be some overhyped city announcement.

What I found interesting is that it was tied to the site Our New Haven which is being run by the folks from Ripple100 who have been so involved in GoogleHaven and many other social media activities around New Haven.

It coincided with a ‘Social Media Sync’ gathering at The Grove. Many social media enthusiasts sat down to pancakes and share thoughts as they waited for the announcement.

The live stream started, stuttered, and then failed for many people trying to watch it. There just didn’t seem to be enough bandwidth, and GoogleHaven wasn’t the announcement telling people of more bandwidth to come. Instead, it was ‘The New Haven Promise’.

Already, venerable news organizations like the New Haven Independent have their stories about New Haven Promise up and if you want details about the program, it is a good place to start.

The article talks about Ripple100‘s involvement:

To promote the new program, the school board on Monday approved a contract of up to $20,000 with media consultant Andre Yap, and his business Ripple 100 on Chapel Street, to maintain a New Haven School Change/Promise Website from Oct. 26, 2010 to June 30, 2011. The money will come from the school district operating budget.

Andre was at The Grove to talk about The Promise. He talked about how a similar program in Kalamozoo increased housing values by up to 10% when it started. He spoke about people moving to the area. They would shop at local stores. They would build the workforce. They would make New Haven more attractive to companies looking to hire. It all sounded a bit like the liberal version of trickle-down politics.

This is where the discussion got interesting. One noted critic of the DeStefano administration said that he had always been skeptical of the city’s school building agenda. Yet with The Promise, it all came together. To have a successful program like The Promise, you need to have good schools. Promising tuition to students who achieve in high school doesn’t do much if you don’t provide better ways for them to achieve. Yet at the same time, providing better ways to achieve in school without incentives, without a promise, also isn’t going to do much.

There were discussions about how this applies to undocumented students as well as students attending magnet schools. While out-of-town magnet school students are not promised college tuition, proponents argue that local students will be more motivated. This will result in more motivated teachers, and this will benefit all students, no matter where they come from.

Many of the regulars at The Grove are tied to non-profit organizations and the question quickly moved to what can we, the members of the greater New Haven community do to help students succeed. As various people talked about different programs, the Citywide Youth Coalition was highlighted as a potential focal point and clearinghouse for people interested in helping New Haven High School students succeed.

There was also a lively discussion on Twitter. Some spoke about accessibility to post-secondary education for undocumented students and the importance of the Dream Act. Others wondered when a similar program would be available in their municipality. @Gaber205 tweeted, “I am waiting the similar announcement from Quinnipiac about Hamden kids. No?”

The New Haven Independent article noted

Promise will also pay up to $2,500 in tuition for in-state, nonprofit colleges and universities, including Albertus Magnus, Quinnipiac, Yale and Wesleyan.

So, Quinnipiac stands to gain from this, as does Wesleyan. Perhaps Middletown should be considering Promise as well.

The article at the New Haven Independent ended off with the standard back and forth between cynical and hopeful readers. In many ways, the success of the program most likely boils down to how involved the people of New Haven become. Those who sit back doing nothing but predict decay are likely to contribute to that decay. Those who take an active role in revitalizing New Haven can make a difference. It is a choice each one of us makes as we think about our social contract with the people around us.

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.

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