Long time — many changes!

Hi, All

Wow– no posts since February 2014!  Much has changed, including my job title.  I’m not the Director of Operations at the American School in London, and I work on both daily operations and long-term facilities projects and development.  I’ve been working on a campus development project since 2010 that includes a new art building and subterranean swimming pool, as well as new and refurbished science spaces, and all of those projects are now moving along.


Much has changed at home as well– we not own a small brick bungalow in Pinner, a suburb in North London, and with the help of the council we have refurbished the house to suit my wife’s needs.  She moved home just about three months ago, and she loves the home and our neighborhood.

More updates later– and sorry for such a long break!


Updates from London

Hi, All

Quick update– my wife is gradually recovering from her injury and making progress at a specialist recovery center. It’s about 30 miles away, so now I’m a very careful London motorcyclist who commutes out of town three days a week. We’ll be moving to a new place in July, which hopefully will be better positioned for the commute to see her (but still easy for our son and daughter to get to school).

The Director of Technology position is filled, and my building projects are moving apace. We have sold our 34 foot Rival sailboat, and it feels strange to be boatless. It also feels strange to be a father with a son in the college application process (Doug is a junior now in HS).

On the tech front, we’re looking to increase our school Internet connection from 100 mbit to at least 200 mbit, if not higher. Some quotes look too good to be true and we are investigating.

We’re also thinking about a new virtual server system. Our favorite SAN option at the moment are Nimble Technologies. We might opt for the 12TB CS220 SAN to get us started with two Dell head servers.


The High School 1:1 program is going well in its first year with no big problems so far. The tech team was complemented for having established such a strong infrastructure in advance of the start– our Meru wireless system has been stellar with over 1000 simultaneous devices online occasionally. We’re adding 20 more access points in April to get us up to one AP per classroom.

We also just added two more 3D printers — Makerbot Replicator 2X units. This is in addition to our well-used one-year-old Makerbot 2.


Sorry I won’t be to any conferences this year– I’ll miss them. However, for at least this year, I need to stay close to home and keep up the commutes and support to my wife and her recovery process.


Director of Technology

Just a note– my operations role at ASL is growing as more projects come online. I’ve been performing a dual role of Operations and Technology for several years through a master planning and building permit process. As of 2014-15, I’ll be shifting to a full-time Director of Operations role, meaning that the Director of Technology role will be available at that time. If you are interested, the postion is posted at http://www.asl.org/page.cfm?p=5032 and the closing date for submission is 14 October 2013.

I’ll post an update about summer technology works shortly.


A Difficult Path

Just an update– sorry that I’ve had no time to post for several months. Back in April on spring break, my wife had a serious accident. She is recovering gradually, and I’ve spent many hours at hospitals just to be with her. She has shown some good improvement in the past three weeks, and I hope to post positive updates in the future.

Thank you to all those who have sent thoughts and words of support!


Can Curriculum Mapping be done in a Learning Management System?

Last week, I had an hour-long meeting with our K12 curriculum director and curriculum mapping expert. In essence, we stared at our learning management system (LMS) side-by-side with our curriculum mapping system and asked ourselves the following questions:

1) How much of the structure and content of LMS already overlaps with curriculum mapping, and vice versa?
2) Would the LMS allow all content uploads or additions be tagged with standards and benchmarks?
3) How much does not overlap at all (especially the search and reporting and timeline features of the curriculum mapping tool)?
4) If the LMS has no unit structure, is it because the faculty build their LMS pages using any format (one long page, one page per assignment, one page per unit)?
5) If we are always going to need to have two systems, would it be best just to keep them separate and iFrame or SSO the curriculum mapping tool into the LMS?
6) Could we structure the use of the LMS (one page per unit, units on calendars tied to a unit timeline report, standards and benchmarks assigned to content as loaded, essential questions in a tagged content box that makes it appear in a curriculum map search and display module, year to year curriculm map transference) or not?
7) Is there a way to transfer existing curriculum map information into the new structure in the LMS?
8) Are we being too single minded thinking that the current curriculum mapping pardigm is the only or best way to do curriculum mapping, instead of doing something new or more simplistic in the LMS?
9) Is it our goal to share all or most of the curriculum mapping information with students to make it more meaningful (and maybe even parents)? (If so, it doesn’t seem like public access to the curriculum mapping tool does this very well.)

As usual, there’s a fear of losing features when we talk about going from two systems to one (or 1.5). I’d like to think that we could say the current overall approach to curriculum mapping is X percent effective, so even if we lose some features, that’s okay as well as the effectiveness increases significantly (especially in the area of sharing with a larger audience).

That’s it for now. Our next step is to bring some tech coordinators and teachers into the next meeting, and white board what our essential goals are. We will find out if it looks like two systems are required or if the training or compromises of using the LMS (even if adapted and enabled with a reporting interface) might be worth the hassle.


Minecraft as Education Tool

Minecraft was noted as a possibly strong, open-ended educational tool by one of the featured speakers at NAIS last week, and I will note that both my son and daughter are and have been fans of it (especially watching videos of other’s creations or gameplay).  This is a fun video about educational options:


Just do it– learn to code

I agree with this video– I have fond memories of learning to code BASIC on a PET computer as a sophomore in HS (saving my work on cassette tapes).


Notes from the NAIS Annual Conference 2013

The following are my notes from two keynotes of the NAIS Annual Conference 2013.


Jim Collins

Good is the enemy of great

The hallmark of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.

Innovation should be empirically validated. In the Arctic, Scott used motorised sleds and ponies, which both failed in the freezing cold. Amundsen used dogs, which were empirically proven in the arctic environment. This, one innovation was a big gamble, and the other was a scaling of a known option.

A distinctive American strength is to scale innovation greater, not create innovation. We take new ideas from elsewhere, and scale them like no others.

Successful organisations have: disciplined people, thought, action, and building to last.

Ying and yang: preserve the core balanced with stimulating progress. Preserve and change. Values balanced with practices. Easy to confuse a value and a practice.

In world of academics, freedom of inquiry is a core value. Tenure is an academic practice. Tenure can protect you whether you are thinking or not. Some protect a practice by wrapping it with a core value. This stops progress. Practice must be open to change. A value must not be abandoned.

Southwest Airlines– a highly effective business plan– copy of PSA in Texas. (Pacific Airlines.) They used a photocopy of their business plan. Exact same recipe in two different US locations (not in competition). One changed 20 percent (Southwest) and one changed 80 percent (PSA). Southwest was far more effective over time.

Understand what works right and why. It is dangerous to be successful but not understand why you were successful in the first place.

What is a great institution? It provides:

superior performance relative to mission (must have results, not just culture)
distinctive impact on the world it touches (if you disappeared, would you leave a hole that couldn’t be filled by other schools. Who would miss you and why?)
Achieves lasting greatness, independent of its current leadership. It can’t be tied to just the leaders.

Amundsen and Scott faced similar challenges and produced very different results. The answer cannot be circumstance. All Collin’s research suggests that greatness is not a function of circumstances. It is a matter of conscious choice and of discipline.

12 questions for leaders:

    (answer one a month for a year)

    1. do we have the level 5 skills to make the painful decisions necessary to build a great school.
    2. do we have the right people on our school bus. Are 95% of seats filled with right people? Can we get higher than 95%?
    3. what are the brutal facts? Leaders start with brutal facts.
    4. for our school, what is our hedgehog? What can we be the best at? How do we improve resource engine– cash, people and brand recognition and reputation?
    5. How can we commit to a 20 mile march a day, to accelerate clicks on flywheel?
    6, What is our BHAG? Big hairy audacious goal? Bad BHAGs can get you killed. Good BHAGs are set with bravado and deep understanding. How can you set it clear and definable and achievable, but also a transformation effect on kids.
    7. What core values will we not change for 100 years? What is our core purpose that would be unifiable hole if we went away?
    8. How can we embrace the genius of AND. Vs. the tyranny of OR. Blend creativity and discipline. Actualise with your life that real creativity begins at 50 years of age. Creative powers do not decline with age? Best symphonies are not your first. Everything up to 50 is preparation. We make good with our lives after 50.
    9. What existential threats does your school face? How long do you have to act on them?
    10. What is the right 20 percent to change, and why?
    11. How can you increase your return on luck? Good luck and on bad luck? Best chapter in Good by Choice. Big winners are not luckier than losers. We all get good and bad luck. What do we do with luck we get?
    12. How many of us have a stop doing list? What should we stop doing? If you have more than three initiatives on your to do list, you don’t have a to do list.

Cathy Davidson

Davidson argued that “monotasking is a myth,” and that our students naturally gravitate toward multitasking because it is a natural state of our brains, not an unnatural one. Children growing up on farms are master multitaskers, but schools were invented to train students to monotask, making them more efficient on assembly lines in factories. Multiple choice testing, and A B C D E F grades are also part of the “streamlining for efficiency” that are hallmarks of todays educational practices, and the vast majority of these techniques were invented between 1875 to 1925 to suit the needs of their times.

Our times are different. Nearly all of us can go home, log in, and post unfiltered ideas to everyone in the world with an Internet connection. We no longer search and strive to access scarce information resources– instead, it is a time of plenty with hundreds of thousands of possible sources to decide from. Yet, we continue to teach to letter grades, using simplified tests, and preparing students for a world that no longer exists. Her work with companies suggests that it now takes 1-2 years to retrain the best college graduates into realising that employers do not use letter grades and putting down a wrong answer is not an instant dismissal. Instead, employers want employees who work together, realise they don’t have all the answers, but know how to access resources to find and prove new solutions.

Five things we can do to shift away from the paradigm of 19th century, Industrial Age, time driven education practices.

    1. Rethink liberal arts as a start up curriculum for resilient global citizens. Link the learning of the liberal arts to one another, to specialised knowledge, and to life outside of school. Not a huge challenge, but it’s not done. Students can come up with solid examples of how studying philosophy can change their thinking about today’s world, but typically they are not asked to do so.
    2. Move from critical thinking to creative contribution. We should go back to be more of a “maker culture,” where we translate an idea into action, and not just tear it apart critically. For example, all four year-olds should learn to code. We live in a world with an open architecture that can be easily built upon, but we’re not teaching kids to code. Even young children can learn iterative thinking that they can build on, just by playing with Scratch software.
    3. Make sure what you value is what you count. What about creativity and originality? Have students write a class constitution. Count and measure what you value together.
    4. Find creative ways to model un-learning. Being done at Duke University– doing a musical with elderly people. They learn about ability and disability, health and lack thereof. It’s the exposure to others unlike themselves (young twenties) that enable them to learn outside of themselves.
    5. Take institutional change personally. “Institutions tend to preserve the problems they were created to solve.” “Institutions are mobilising networks.” Example: a traditional building making a sustainable hotel, instead of a wasteful one. This resulted in the country’s first platinum LEED certification. 80 workers did that, just learning online, with no special training and never having done it before. They took it personally, and they didn’t find it that hard. They didn’t monotask.

So concludes my notes from NAIS 2013. It was great to see and talk with so many colleagues and old friends, and I look forward to the next opportunity.


Innovative Learning Spaces: 12 Takeaway Points

I really enjoyed doing the “Innovative Learning Spaces” speed innovation session at the NAIS Annual Conference yesterday. I had a good turn out for all three 15 minute session.

Here are the 12 Takeway Points I shared:

    1. New construction isn’t necessary
    2. Peripheral computer lab design is the new norm
    3. STEM and STEAM labs are exciting
    4. Larger, changeable learning spaces suit changing pedagogy
    5. Flexible, moving furniture is great, with caveats.
    6. Portable technology is optimal for “horizontal” learning
    7. Fixed technology is preferable for “vertical” learning
    8. Every school should have flyspaces
    9. Interactive environments (LEAP or Smallab or Kinect) are fun
    10. Well-planned and used teleconference rooms are achievable
    11. VLS systems can complement traditional learning spaces, but our core value is person-to-person relationships
    12. Augmented-reality (via iPad or Google Glasses) is close or here

Out of the Box: Innovative Learning Spaces (NAIS 2013)


I have the honour to offer a “speed innovation” session at the NAIS Annual Conference today at 1:30 p.m. The topic is “Out of the box: Innovative Learning Spaces” and I plan to adapt some of the materials I used at my 2012 ISTE presentation on the topic of innovative learning spaces and the role of technology.

The sessions I’m doing today are only 15 minutes long, so to focus the discussion I’d like to address the following trends:

— learning spaces becoming increasingly flexible and large and student centered
— modern computer labs
— design centers for STEM and STEAM
— Learning Commons concept for libraries
D-school flexibility concepts
— fly spaces
— immersive learning experiences (like Smalllab)

The core questions I’d like to discuss:

— learning itself becoming more dispersed and differentiated
— reports of college-level students requesting course materials be e-reader friendly
— the “near future” of digital textbooks
— growth of online courses
— growth of home schooling
— use of 3/4G devices to improve teaching and learning “in the field”
— increased use of technology for life-long learning and interaction by parents
— learning spaces becoming international: return of the teleconference room
— learning spaces becoming global: the Avenues school concept

It’s common for us to rethink traditional classrooms (and make useful changes in space, furniture, media access and presentation), but at the same time it is worth addressing how the full learning sphere of learning is changing for students and extending to almost every waking hour. This can be too much of a good thing, but the potential for how life-long learning changes and improves is remarkable.

Additional resources:

Learning Spaces, a free Educause book: http://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/books/learning-spaces

Horizon Report 2012 K12: http://k12.wiki.nmc.org/

I look forward to the session!


Google Glass….

Just for the record, I don’t want to think about these in a school environment yet…


Acer C7 Chromebook– An interesting option

About a year ago we ordered one of the early Chromebooks to evaluate. We rather liked the concept of having a browser-based, inexpensive laptop that worked well with Google Apps, but the model we had was flawed in that purely having a browser interface on the screen was confusing, and swapping between tabs to write a paper (such as from Google Docs to resource pages) seems like it could have been a challenge. It also wasn’t clear if off-line files would work, since it only had 16 gigs of solid state memory, etc. Finally, the pricing for the domain management suite (free for one year, massively expensive the following years) just didn’t make sense.

Over the past year, we believe a lot of these issues were addressed. I don’t have confirmation yet, but I believe the pricing structure for ongoing management from the Google Domain console has improved. Also, we ordered in an Acer C7 Chromebook for evaluation (£199):


Unlike the Chromebook we tested last year, this one has a 320 GB hard drive and an overall better build and feel, despite being over £100 less expensive.  The keyboard feels fine, despite an unusual split return key, and the screen is large and bright.  Number one problem: only a four-hour battery life, which is irritating but not a deal-breaker in a £200 machine.  As a comparison, we paid close to £74 each just to have a bluetooth ZAGG keyboard and case for the iPads– maybe for keyboarding, it would be better to have 10 Chromebooks backing up 20 iPads, instead of 20 iPads with bluetooth keyboards?

Just as importantly, the Chrome OS now has a windowed environment, meaning that multiple Chrome windows can be opened, and not just tabs.  The offline files option for Google Docs now appears to work (also enabling document creation when the Chromebook is offline), and it is fairly easy to drag files from the Chromebook to a jump drive, and vice versa.  Downloading a basic image editing app, we found it could talk directly to our Picasa cloud-based galleries, edit images, and then save copies to the local hard drive.

Not all reviews of the C7 have been positive– there are other Chromebooks with better battery life, faster solid state drives, and perhaps better keyboards and less size and weight.  For the price point, however, the C7 is interesting.  Also, if we can manage the device from our Google Domain Control panel, then all the better.

In our current scope of tech integration, iPads are doing great in grade four and possibly lower, and Macbook Airs are doing great in grade seven and higher.  In grades five and six, there are great things being done with collaborative documents in Google Apps and other online services, but these objectives don’t need Macbook power or iPad touch interfaces.  Maybe in that niche, a Chromebook could be a well-fitting tool for the core work, with iPads or Macbooks as supplemental.  We’ll look into it.


The construction of small traditions

I enjoyed attending a “fathers only” presentation by Michael Thompson at our school this week. He addressed about 60 fathers in the room (not bad at a 7:30 a.m. start) with the concept that it is very easy for a father to feel “disqualified” from being needed or actively involved in the raising of children.  Fathers can be less able to calm a crying baby or less present for recitals and play performances because of work travel.  At the same time, he emphasized how critically important the relationship is between the father and his children, especially once the children are full-grown and looking back at their childhood experiences and relationships.

Thompson’s advice was to actively and thoughtfully invest in the “small traditions and routines” of how a father builds a relationship with his children.  These routines might be very small (something routinely done at the breakfast table or when riding together in a car), but in the long run they will form the positive, lasting points of definition that children remember. Members of the audience shared examples of these routines, including father and sons who make a point of visiting classic baseball fields for games together over a multi-year period, or spend a lifetime trying to see all of Shakespeare’s plays together live on stage.

Some routines die out (such as singing or reading to children as they fall asleep), but then they should be replaced with new traditions– Saturday breakfast out.  Or even shopping together in a mall for a few hours, which one father did with his daughter because he had the patience and she could be the authority in terms of what shops they visited and what they saw and discussed.  Afterwards, they had a lunch together.

In my case, I enjoy the morning bicycle ride to school with my son, and how every morning we can have a short talk when locking up the bikes about the day, or the ride in on the London streets, or anything we feel like.  Cycling in London is a little scary and dangerous, but we overcome it together.

Another touchstone in our family is the sailing trips, in which we don’t have much choice but to come together and face some hardships and discomfort.  Luckily, we are aware enough to feel proud afterwards.  As my daughter once said, “Doug and I never fight on the boat,” because doing so simply wouldn’t do.

For good or bad, our next challenge together is a point-to-point bicycle tour from one side of England to the other.  It’s called the coast to coast challenge, and it’s only about 140 miles from the Irish Sea to the North Sea on a pretty route just south of the Scottish border near Hadrian’s Wall.  We have all the train and B&B reservations to do this over four days during spring break, and we just bought new bikes for the kids so they are ready for the ride.  Steph and I still have our touring bikes, and the kids know their parents have done many cycling tours in the past, before they were born.  Our best was from Seattle to California (camping all along the Pacific Coast), but we also did the Shenandoah Valley many times, and across Maryland and New England, the San Juan Islands, etc.

Steph on rest break (collapse), cycling in the San Juan Islands

So, doing a trip like this with the kids has been a goal for a long time, and now we think they are old enough.  I simply hope it isn’t 37 degrees and pouring rain for every second of the trip (as it is doing now in London for day-after-day on our February break).  To their credit, however, the kids are riding every day this week to tune up for the ride, despite the very cold and wet conditions here!


The emotions of going digital

This thought-provoking post by Susan Lucile Davis has been out awhile, but I found myself referring to it again this week:


The feelings of fear and mourning associated with digital learning she refers to are becoming less common, but we still witness them.  There is a “coming of age” sequence in middle and high school as students become increasingly able to self-monitor and focus their technology use, but it is a challenge to engage and help with the process.  The journey is unique for each student, and  they need to own the process and their decisions as they hear our advice and see us model postive choices and uses.

Parents who witness their children learn to self-limit and focus digital learning believe that a remarkable, long-term asset is gained.  (I include myself in this group.) They approve of the challenge starting in middle school, even though there are adults in the workplace who themselves struggle with these issues. Students learning to master these opportunities will make mistakes and face distractions, but the skills aquired and critical thinking developed are well worth the effort.


Windows 8 Pro Tablet/Laptops











I recently had the chance to trial a Samsung Ativ Smart PC for about two weeks.  Of all of the new Windows 8 Pro tablet/laptops I’ve seen so far (including the Lenovo Yoga 13), I believe I liked the form factor of this model the best.  Unlike the others, it had a true tablet feel when detached from its keyboard/laptop base.  Compared to my iPad, I really liked the 16×9 aspect ratio screen and the full Microsoft Office.  Many features of the “Metro” style touch interface began to make sense (the tile interface), and I really liked reading email and web pages with the tablet in portrait orientation.  Plugged into the keyboard base, the tablet became a laptop with a standard hinge arrangement but thin and light (similar to a MacBook Air).

All that said, I still sent it back after the trial.  The things I didn’t like about it were primarily related to the current status of the Window Pro operating system, and not the hardware.  For example, the free “start menu restorer” program for bringing back the Windows 7 Start menu broke and I was too cheap to pay for the commercial one.  Office 2013 was fun, but Outlook didn’t work correctly with our version of Zimbra yet (but it should when we upgrade Zimbra to version 8 this summer).  Also, I didn’t see if the Veracross client software worked on Windows Pro yet, which would be essential.

So, it was fun to see a device that could be both a regular laptop and a creative tablet and e-Textbook reader in the future.  I’m tempted to buy a Surface Pro tablet when I’m in the US for NAIS in February, since its build quality is getting good reviews (but it may have the lingering operating system issues).

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