Local Governments, when faced with specific problems, often convene special task forces. These task forces have a typical format. They are focused on a specific problem. These problems are broken into their component issues. Stakeholders are identified and politically well connected people that have time, interest and some basic level of expertise are recruited and a timeline is established for the taskforce to meet specific outcomes.
Social media has the potential to turn all of this on its head. Political connections are supplemented with connections that have been strengthened through the use of online tools. Experts in specific areas can be found and connected to online. In New Haven, a growing group of people have worked together to promote New Haven as a location for Google to roll out its high speed Internet testbed and to organize Social Web Week, referred to by the hashtag #swct. Now, they seek to continue their discussions in City Hall about the possibility of a Social Web Task Force.
The initial reaction was similar to what any local government would do. The interested parties gathered in City Hall with the goal of identifying the key objectives, stakeholders and outcomes. Yet something interesting and different emerged. Instead of establishing a list of objectives like: use social media to help the residents of New Haven better understand what is happening in the public schools or the aldermanic chambers, a single objective emerged. While a specific phrase was not used, the idea is something like establishing a framework or platform to enable connections between New Haven stakeholders to improve the quality of life in New Haven.
This, of course, begs the question, who are the stakeholders in New Haven? The answer was immediately clear. Everyone. With such broad goals, how do you proceed? How do you measure outcomes? Based on some of the ideas from the GoogleHaven effort, it was quickly agreed that we need to connect 100 people with ideas about how to improve the quality of life in New Haven to people that can help make those ideas happen.
Some people immediately thought about a platform in terms of the technology. Perhaps some thought of something like SeeClickFix on steroids. Yet a platform or framework for accomplishing this task may be more about the people and their connections than the underlying technology. It may be that technological tools already exist and what is really needed is getting more people thinking about and aware of how they can use such existing tools to help make connections that will strengthen New Haven.
In many ways, this leads back to Open Space Technology, the underlying ideas behind unconferences such as barcamps and the upcoming Podcamp in Connecticut. With thousands of stakeholders, any of which may have great ideas that need to be heard, it would be presumptuous for the couple dozen people in a conference room in City Hall to come up with the list of issues to be addressed. Instead, a process to facilitate anyone in New Haven finding others to work with them on ideas to improve New Haven should be established. Done right, this will help people get better services from their government and bring better ideas to their government. It will use social media to reduce bureaucracy. It will help make local government much more of a government, of, by and for the people.
One set of ideas is likely to be ways of further refining the process of using social media to facilitate people connecting to share ideas with others in New Haven. So, while there are initial goals of connecting one hundred people with one hundred ideas in one hundred days, the process will be iterative. It will change and even better methods will emerge. From a technology perspective, it will be similar to Rapid Application Development. It seems like Open Space Technology and Rapid Application Development logically go hand in hand.
Perhaps a good way of looking at this is in terms of an ‘untaskforce’. An untaskforce is to task forces what an unconference is to conferences. Will New Haven succeed in setting examples of new forms of local government interaction based on untaskforces? Folks at City Hall appear receptive and the people behind GoogleHaven and #swct appear eager to build upon their earlier successes.
Join New Haven in exploring an untaskforce. Share your ideas about how we can help people use new tools to better connect and share ideas about improving New Haven. What do you think the framework or platform should be like? There will be a meeting next Tuesday at City Hall at 9:30 in the morning. I will be there. Between now and then, I’ll mostly be on vacation, so I may not be responding to messages as quickly as normal, but let me know your ideas, or simply show up next Tuesday.
What started off as the End of the Year Celebration for the Multi Age Group Program at Beecher Road School in Woodbridge, CT ended up becoming a forum on national educational reform.
The Multi Age Group, or M.A.G. program at Beecher Road School is a special educational opportunity where students in grades one through four participate in learning events together. While the name focuses on the age grouping, there is much more to the program. Key highlights include an integrated curriculum where a topic is explored throughout the year in all disciplines. For example, this year, the students focused on bluebirds and invasive species. Last year, the focus was on water. The integrated curriculum also provides many opportunities for hands on learning.
Other aspects include a strong focus on respecting all people. Instead of the dichotomy between teachers and students, education is focused on learners helping other learners, whether they be adult learners, fourth year learners or first year learners. To facilitate this, there is a strong effort to make the learning environment as democratic as possible. Students hold meetings to discuss important issues that they face.
The End of Year Celebration started off like so many other end of year ceremonies. The students filed in as friends and family sat in the auditorium. They sang a few song; songs that the students chose. This was followed by individual performances. In introducing the first performance, Elizabeth said that she learned how to express herself in MAG. She then did an interpretive dance to the music of Alice and Wonderland. She received a hug from a classmate after her performance. The opening comment, the dance and the hug provide a good insight into the MAG program.
Abby recited a poem by Shel Silverstein which brought forth another aspect of MAG:
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What's right for you--just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
Other students expressed sadness about leaving MAG. Yet the penultimate individual performance tied it altogether into the discussion of national educational reform. Daniela read a piece about MAG, Twenty Years Later. The twentieth reunion takes place as a pot luck dinner in the Beecher Road Cafeteria. It reflected a sense of sharing that both pot luck dinners and MAG exemplify.
The MAG program has grown in such popularity that they have their own building. The students have gone on to great things as ball players, dancers, veterinarians, artists, and teachers. The underlying theme is that all of them are using their skills to make the world a better place. They have worked hard to help children with a Children’s Imagination Center. They have seen great success in addressing environmental issues. One of the students has gone on to become the first woman president of the United States. In that role she has worked to make sure that programs like MAG are available to students in every school in the nation.
The students in MAG have been brought up in a trying time. They were born under the shadow of 9/11. Their country has been involved in wars during their whole life. There has been a crippling recession and an ecological disaster. Yet through all of it, Daniela’s words reflect a common belief of many MAG students summarized in a quote on the back of the program. “It will be what we make it.”
The MAG program is a phenomenal success. It has helped students learn to express themselves, to dream, to work towards fulfilling their dreams, to help things become what they can be, if they make it. Will the dream of national educational reform based on ideas from MAG become a reality? If these students are any indication and hold fast to their dreams, it will.
(Cross posted at the WOodbridge Citizen.)
This morning as I was doing my regular rounds of assorted blogs, I found a blog post about an effort in Seymour by students to have school policies changed to allow the wearing of flip-flops at school. The author seemed outraged that the students would have the audacity to disapprove of school authorities’ rules. I have a very different perspective. Personally, I don’t have a strong opinion about whether or not students where flip-flops to school. However, I do think it is very important for high school students to learn the appropriate way to petition for a governmental redress of grievances; a right guaranteed us in the First Amendment.
I wrote a comment to the blog post, but the author appears to have not accepted my comment, so I am sharing it here. What do you think? What are the best ways for students to learn the proper method of challenging rules that they disagree with? Is petitioning the Board of Education appropriate? Is getting media coverage of the issue appropriate? Is civil disobedience appropriate? Should people mindlessly follow rules that others create? Are there other ideas?
Here’s my comment:
It sounds to me as if it was a very beneficial educational experience and I hope the teachers and educators are making the most of it. At least based on the article presented, I don’t see any example of students ‘bucking the law’ or administrators ‘hunching down, possibly bailing from fear of ejection’.
Instead, I see students following the law, and learning about fundamental American freedoms. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to petition for a governmental redress of grievances. This is what they are doing. The article describes how the petition is aimed at the appropriate governing board, the town Board of Education. The Board of Education appears to be making an appropriate consideration of the petition, balancing the desires of students with issues of safety.
While it might be more desirable if students were seeking to redress a grievance of national importance, it is good that they don’t feel that there is an issue of that importance to address. Tuition is not an issue in a public school, and while the issue of what students can wear on their feet seems minor, it may well seem to them to be about unfair treatment by the school administration. As noted in the article, students in neighboring schools have the right to wear flip-flops to school.
Yet what is important is that this is an opportunity for students to learn and experience the proper method of redressing a grievance, instead of bucking the law. How will the Board of Education respond? What other lessons can the students, as well as other citizens of our country learn? We will have to wait and see on this, but personally, independent of my view about footwear choices, I applaud the students, as well as any educators or parents that are assisting them, in exploring this fundamental American right of petition for a governmental redress of grievances.
One day more,
Another day, another destiny,
One day more until opening night of Amity Performing Acts run of Les Miserables. One day more.
As I watched these clips, I thought of the high school musicals I performed in. I always had bit parts, but still I remember the excitement, the dreams.
What a life I might have known
Are Amity High School students humming One Day More as they walk the halls today, their heads full of dreams? Is the excitement there as palpable as it was for me and my friends the day before opening night?
Tomorrow we'll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!
P.S. Tickets are still available.
Shortly after Apple released its new iPad, Woodbridge Board of Education member Steven Fleischman attended the National School Boards Association annual conference in Chicago. The new iPad that he carried with him attracted attention from many other school board members in attendance.
At the April meeting of the Woodbridge Board of Education he hooked up his iPad to a projector to give a report about the annual conference, perhaps making the Woodbridge Board of Education the first board of education to use an iPad for a presentation to the board.
Dr. Fleischman’s presentation covered many important topics, including how technology can be better integrated into the curriculum, and the importance of school boards, administrations and teachers working together on a shared vision. He spoke about how all of this needed to focus on twenty-first century skills.
Yet many of these ideas are not new to members of the Woodbridge Board of Education. Before Dr. Fleischman spoke, two Woodbridge students used some of the schools technology, including a smartboard and iPhoto to present to the board information about what they were learning from the school’s world languages program. The board also approved Woodbridge’s participation in the Cooperative Educational Services’ Title II grant ‘to create a 21st century learning environment for World Language students’.
This grant will use technology including ‘interactive whiteboards, Flip video cameras, iPods, multi-user virtual learning environments, Google Earth, Skype, and others’ to provide a rich opportunity for students to learn Spanish and Chinese. The program will include Beecher Road School, the Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School and Southern Connecticut State University. Besides the technology, an important focus will be placed on professional development.
The Woodbridge Board of Education, together with the teachers and administration of Beecher Road School continue to work together to find ways to use technology to make learning world languages and other twenty first century skills more exciting.
(Cross posted at the Woodbridge Citizen.)