Back From the Islands

Course in San JuansOkay, we’re back from our first “real” cruise. We’ve done overnighters, but this was our first full-week cruise on a chartered sailboat. We had an Islander 28 for a week in the San Juan Islands from San Juan Sailing in Bellingham, WA.

Lessons Learned:
First and foremost, we can do it all, on our own, with no big problems. We used all we learned in the ASA classes, and more (anchoring, mooring balls, fuel dock, managing the head and provisions, navigating with chart plotter and paper charts, checking on the diesel, etc.).

Additionally, our kids did great. Our nine year-old son fished almost every day, and our seven year-old daughter became increasingly relaxed throughout the trip. We worked hard on not “overdoing it,” and we succeeded.

The trip went so well that we’re already planning next year’s trip. We hope to reserve the same boat for two weeks, but visit Victoria, Canada, for three nights, and then one or more of the Canadian Gulf Islands before checking back in to the US. We looked over a Crealock 34 as a possible alternative boat, but it didn’t seem worth the extra $$$ given that we fared just fine on the Islander 28 with the two kids.

As for the Islander 28, it sailed beautifully. We could balance the boat perfectly when sailing, and let go of the tiller for brief periods with no problems. The main was perfectly manageable, and the roller furling on the 130 genny worked fine. We liked the open interior and fold-up table in the cabin. In fact, my wife has a crush on Islanders now.

Pictures from the trip are available here. (There are 75 images in the gallery, so feel free to feel bored.) A day-by-day account is availabe here.

We’re ready to go again…

Lunch at Obstruction Pass
Lunch hook at Obstruction Pass State Park.

A Week-Long Voyage

Islander 28 SailboatTomorrow morning at 8 a.m., we take off for a five hour drive to Bellingham, WA, to start our week-long charter of Vamanos, an Islander 28 sailboat. We plan to visit Sucia Island, Stuart Island, Rosario and Inati Bay in the San Juan Islands.

Vamanos is the smallest sailboat in San Juan Sailing’s fleet, but she should be all we need for the trip, even with our two kids along. Next year, we might charter a Crealock 34 if we enjoy the voyage this year.

Sailing with kids, however, isn’t always relaxing. Our first race last week with kids was a pretty sterling disaster, but it was a memorable experience. The bad part is the kids are always on one’s mind, even when the weather conditions change radically and really dictate that your full attention should be on the boat. Afterwards, our kids were very proud of how they handled themselves, and I doubt we’ll encounter anything nearly as frightening during our week in the San Juans. In fact, we’ve been told to expect to be motoring at least half of the time due to light summer winds.

But now, it’s time for some sailing, exploring, fishing and (hopefully) relaxing.

The Land of Xservia

We’re finally making some progress with our two new Xserves. One will be the file server for the 7/8 grade laptop program, but we wanted the shared home directories to be picked up and used by Windows as well. The other will be a dedicated Workgroup Manager for the laptops, allowing us to have group policy control over groups of computers, alter printer permissions, etc., on the fly with them all. Not a bad idea.

Implementation is another matter. We want kids to log in via Active Directory, have mobile home folders that auto-backup certain file types, have interfaces and preferences controlled by Workgroup Manager, and have the same home folders when they log into Windows machines on campus.

So far, we have Workgroup Manager working now with AD-logins and preferences. We’re still a bit stalled with the Windows Services on the file server. Overall, though, we’re on the right track. We also monitor the iBooks with Apple Remote Desktop 3.

Another note– we’re faxing the PO for the 10 AP Meru system today. Details to follow.

Follow-up on Meru

Our meeting with the Meru reps went well, and we’ll likely sign off on a controller and ten access points this summer. Eight will go into the Middle School, and two will go into the Upper School.

A clarification: we won’t be using their high-end “wireless switch” device for super-high density environments. That device puts four APs into one box with a setup that enabled all channels (and even splitting protocols). Cool technology, but overkill for us.

Instead, we’re using their controlled system that will put all eight APs in the Middle School on the same channel, and to the client laptops all APs will simply look like one AP. The controller for the APs handles all the load balancing and transfers of clients, so that all the time normally spent by laptops picking and choosing APs is saved.

The controller also “time splices” bandwidth to clients, which increases bandwidth and enables the APs to max out at around 128 clients instead of the normal 20. If 128 were really on the same AP, service would slow down, and APs can even be set to max out and relay clients to other APs at a lower number of max connections.

As for MAC address authentication, the controller handles it, so that once a laptop is authenticated by MAC address in the building, it’s good for all the APs in the building handled by the controller.

The controller we’re buying can support up to 15 APs, and that can be extended to 30 APs by changing the licensing for the unit. It can also controll APs in different buildings, such as the 2 APs we will put in the highest density area in the Upper School.

As for mixing Meru APs with our existing Apple APs, the client laptops should pass between them with no problem. All APs will still have the same SSID.

If this works as planned, we’ll add another 10-20 APs next year in other buildings, which will be managed by our first controller.

Wireless Density

We’re moving forward on many fronts.

Meru NetworksThe “big ticket” item for next year may be a Meru wireless network system for the Middle School building, where we may have as many as 180 wireless laptops active at once next year (250+ the following year). The Meru controller and access points self-configure and balance, and they receive laptop traffic on all channels, like a switch. They are used at colleges and universities in “high density” environments, and we’re meeting with the representatives with final questions today.

We finalized the PaperCut configuration for our Macs yesterday, and it appears that it will work as we want. For OS X users, there’s an open dialog pop-up all the time that shows their remaining balance (all users get $5-10 a month for printing, that doesn’t accumulate), and then B&W pages cost 5 cents and color prints 20 cents. Each print job tosses up a dialogue box showing the cost of the job and requests authentication. After that, the cost is subtracted from the running balance. Windows users on our domain won’t have to authenticate every time. Home-brought laptops (Macs and PCs) will require the client software and authentication every time.

We have no plans to charge students for printing, or even excess printing, but we do want them to have to request and say why if they need more than $5-10 a month for printing. Also, the software is smart enough to charge 5 cents a page for B&W jobs sent to color printers.

We should receive our Higher Ground sample Shuttle Bag later this week. Meanwhile, I have two new Xserves to figure out– iBooks users will authenticate via Active Directory, sync mobile folders on an Xserve, be controlled by Workgroup Manager, have off-campus logins, and have Apple Remote Desktop active. When students log into a Windows machine on campus, their home folders should appear from the Xserve. Simple, right?

Ah, the relaxing days of summer.

Farewell, NECC 2006

As I sit here with a coffee and a hotspot, here are some closing thoughts on NECC 2006.

I really enjoyed doing the Low Stress Laptop presentation, and the audience was one of the largest I’ve had. Here’s a copy of the handout and the presentation:

NECC Low Stress Laptop Handout PDF

NECC Low Stress Laptop Presentation PDF

One interesting question at the end of the presentation: have the laptops changed pedagogy? I answered yes, and shared an example of how teachers are using iChat on the iBooks in the classroom. For an inclass writing assignment, a student may finish early. Since he and the others are logged into iChat with the teacher, he can hand in the assignment as an iChat attachment, and thent he teacher can respond with what he should move forward to (as the other students continue to work). The teacher feels this type of exchange can really help students work at their own pace.

As I was leaving the presentation room, I was accosted by Richard Kassissieh! Well, it more like a surprise meeting– I’ve been reading his blog for some time, and it was fantasic to finally meet him. He’s moving up to Portland to be Technology Director at Catlin Gable School, and I have a sense that we’ll be up to no good rather soon. (I’m very sorry to have missed his “0 to 60: A New Online Community” presentation, but I’ve already downloaded his handout and presentation from here. I was in the ocean during his time slot…)

I also went to a session called Ubiquitous Computing: Near Future and Far Horizons yesterday– 1:1 laptop research and a district with 9600 student laptops and 2500 faculty laptops. It was noteable because about two dozen superintendents were escorted in to hear the positive research. At the end, I couldn’t help myself and asked a question about sustainability: In the future, can high schools be like colleges and universities, and have students bring their own laptops to school if they meet recommendated standards and requirements? (This is what we already do at OES.) The answer was that in a longer time frame, years in the future, when Negroponte’s $100 laptop is in K-Marts, that might occur.

Hmmm. I know that in some states schools can’t require families to buy laptops, but that doesn’t mean they can’t allow “bring your own, if you have one” policies, and provide loaners to low income families, etc. Seems like a long time to wait…

I had a looong breakfast meeting with a certain tech person from Harker School this morning, and we solved all of the world’s problems, of course. Two points of discussion: maybe a group of us should present on how home laptops can be used and supported in high schools (as is done at Harker and OES and some other high schools we know), simply to get the ball rolling in the minds of tech and admin folk.

Secondly, we wondered if a group of us should help present a curriculum coordinator’s view of Computer Science K12. For example, is the real way to appraise content on the Internet through trying to verify sources (good luck on Wikipedia), or is it to bring back logic into the K-12 curriculum, as part of The New Liberal Art of computer science I discussed a few days ago. We agreed that the importance of this issue goes well beyond that of creating better computer scientists. I’m glad he attending the day-long session with the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) group tomorrow.

Higher Ground Shuttle BagI found a possible alternative to InfoCases for out iBooks next year from a company called Higher Ground. I’ll let you know what I think when I receive my sample case, but I was impressed by their prices and quality.

My favorite moments of the week– wading in the warm Pacific surf yesterday at the public beach on Silver Strand. I brought my travel bike and got in three rides this week. The first day, I cycled to Point Loma, America’s Cup Harbor, and Shelter Island and checked out sailboats and enjoyed seeing families partying on the Fourth of July. The last two days, I rode around San Diego Bay twice to Coronado, and then took the ferry home in the evening. Yesterday, I finally took the time to visit the beach and wade into the waves. It crossed my mind to just keep going out…

Okay, time to hike to the Hyatt, check out my bags and snag a taxi to the airport.

Cultural Morality?

I just left Nicholas Negroponte’s keynote about his international $100 laptop program. It was the most complete presentation I’ve heard about the project, and afterwards I got some “hands-on” time with the prototypes and OS of the little laptops.

The funny thing is that there are elements of this program that completely baffle me. I think back to Redmond O’Hanlon’s Into the Heard of Borneo, which raised interesting questions of how first world products and services could have radical effects on indigenous cultures, and how the societies themselves could be permanently transformed by the integration. The end result could be a community that is much less sustainable and independent in the long run, or one that dissappears entirely.

To really get behind Negroponte’s program, one has to beleive that a major infusion of small, sturdy and Internet-enabled laptops will be a definite benefit in villages that don’t even have electricity yet. As he noted, in some pilot programs the parents likely the regular laptops used by the kids because they were the brightest light source in their homes at night.

So, I have one reaction that makes me think hard about how this is different or the same as missionaries building churches and converting the populations to Christianity. Is what is being provided stronger and better than what is being displaced? In pilot programs, the argument is that the laptops leverage the kid’s ability to learn and to teach each other. The laptops are about learning about learning, problem-solving, programming, the Papert approach, etc.

Yet, at the same time, it’s reported that the first English word the kids learn is Google, and then they live on Google. I see that more as a content tap, mostly into commercial content, and mostly into culturally different content. World travellers cringed when they saw small villages with TVs, and the people watching Dallas re-runs. The Internet offeres two-way communication, but is most of the content really superior to that of Dallas?

If we look at 1:1 laptop programs in the US, we can’t even find an accurate database of what schools are doing what. Many programs simply deployed laptops with no clear training or support structure, and teachers and students went into sink or swim mode. Will the countries who receive these laptops in bundles of one million do it differently, or are we saying that it doesn’t matter. Is simply deploying, with the mesh wireless system and Internet connection enough… Sounds like a judgement– I cringe when I hear any argument that “nothing could make matters worse.”

At the same time, of course, I’m attracted to positive potential benefits of the program. Cell phone communications, and the Internet, have been strong, interesting forces in China. Could these laptops effect interconnected social change in other countries? New ways of thinking?

I have an idea of doing some world travel in a few years, and visiting schools as I go. A trip at that time may be well timed to help with this project, through evaluation and “reporting back” if nothing else. Of course, I would like to do more than just focus on this project– what else is occuring world-wide in schools as a result of the presence, or lack of presence, of computers and the Internet?

The picture below is from the One Laptop Per Child site. It’s the prototype I played with– note that the screen swivels and folds back into a tablet form. Also note that the “hand crank” mechanism has now been moved to the AC adapter brick, which is why it’s not present on the laptop itself anymore. The prototypes with the on-board crank had stress issues.

Orange Prototype of $100 Laptop

Controversial Laptops

The third session at the PNAIS TechShare I was involved in concered student laptops. It was fun, because we simply admitted that 1:1 student laptop programs are controversial at the start, and we reviewed three different positions one could take on the issue:

Position I: Student Laptops are Unnecessary

• Laptops are too expensive and too complicated to maintain
• Laptops are distractions in the classroom and lead to attention loss
• Kids use computers too much at home—school should be a haven from computers.
• Schools educate kids best with face-to-face interactions, not face-to-screen.
• Laptops don’t address a problem or need in most schools, and nor will they ever.
• Several schools have started 1:1 programs, only to stop them.
• Academic research has not proven clear benefits from 1:1 laptops.

Position II: Student Laptops Are Inevitable

• Laptops used to cost over $2000. Now good laptops can be had for less than $1000.
• Today, the cost difference between laptops and desktops is incremental, but laptops can be used more frequently than desktops.
• In the coming years, laptops will become even less expensive, or laptop alternatives (small phone/tablet hybrids) will become commonplace and relatively inexpensive ($500).
• Later generations of software for laptops will improve reliability and reduce support needs.
• Increasing numbers of private and public colleges and universities are requiring laptops.
• As more kids have laptops at home, how does a school argue that “no laptops are allowed or needed”?

Position III: Student Laptops Are Essential

• The “smoking gun” that proves the need for laptops is that high percentages of independent school Middle School and Upper School students have problems with organization.
• Maybe we expect more of students today of tracking their work, deadlines and commitments. If nothing else, they face more distractions for time and attention.
• If a fair percentage of these students can be helped by the “all-in-one-place” benefits of laptops, easy access to online course pages, combined calendars, and other resources.
• The communications benefits of individual laptops may equal or exceed the productivity benefits.
• Teachers have always had to adjust classroom management techniques for different generations of kids. Why would technology necessitate a “locking of techniques” that pretends that current and future generations don’t use computers?
• If the kids, teachers and school is going to evolve and move forward on multiple fronts (organization, communications, productivity, classroom management, student-centered learning), then student laptops are essential.

During the course of our discussion, we noted that there were strong and true points in each of these positions. We added two more points to the third position. First, laptops can help overcome equity of access for students of different economic backgrounds (when schools provide low or no cost laptops to financial aid students that are the same as everyone else’s laptops). Second, 1:1 laptops can ensure equity of access for boys and girls, especially during the critical middle school years.

We knocked around other issues, such as who should buy and own the laptops, laptop cases, insurance plans, and implementation strategies. Here’s a copy of the TechShare Laptop Session Handout.

Meanwhile, on the fourth of July, I sit in the PDX airport and wait for my flight to San Diego for NECC. My “Low Stress Laptop Programs” presentation is tomorrow at 2 p.m., Room 32 A/B. I’ve heard that normal people do things with their families on the fourth…

A New Liberal Art

In the Computer Science K-12 session at the PNAIS TechShare, we had a good discussion of the evolution of technology in schools. First we had computer teachers and labs, teaching keyboarding and applications, mostly in isolation of core subjects. Now we have integrators, integrating technology into core subjects.

The session made the argument that we are doing students a disservice if we only focus on technology integration, which is primarily in service to existing subjects. The problem is that often the integration is automation instead of innovative, and the entire subject of how computers truly work is overlooked– we create better consumers of technology who are more than ready to use Word, PowerPoint, iMovie, PodCasts and a range of browsers, but not innovators with technology.

What’s missing is basically a new liberal art– that of algorithms, symbolic reasoning, logic and programming experience. Math departments will acknowledge the importance of these “ways of thinking,” but normally these experiences are not part of their curriculum. With this experience, students can see and use computers in much more relaxed and sophisticated ways.

I’d like to think I’m example of this– in HS, I had some BASIC programming courses, ASCII graphics, etc. I thought they were valueless. In grad school, as I used computers more with students, I found that I was much more comfortable with problem-solving, and learning basic tags in HTML was no big deal. Suddenly, I was moving into innovative areas, and one core reason was that I was building on premises learned in the “worthless” programming classes I had years before. They were the seed.

For my own children, I hope that they can be innovators in their chosen fields in the future. They may not choose computers as a form of innovation, but I want to be sure they know they are capable of doing so and make an educated choice.

Should all children be offered the same opportunity? Additionally, if we as a society are going to really discuss the new “breakthroughs” in bio-engineering, genetics, nanotech, and a host of other culture and world-changing technologies, shouldn’t we all have some idea of the algorithms and “ways of thinking” that are at the heart of these advances?

I borrowed heavily for this session from the Association of Computing Machinery‘s report titled “K-12 2003: Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science.” It provides grade by grade learning objectives for computer science and the associated “ways of thinking.” The thought-provoking report is available for download here.

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