Intercultural Exchanges

4 Generations

My colleague and I are working fairly furiously to focus and structure our presentation for NAIS later this week. The name of the session is “Simple Online Tools for Local, National and International Community Building,” and it is scheduled for Friday, March 2: 1:30 – 2:30 pm. The challenge is that we have so many resources and options to discuss, as well as interesting examples to share.

One example is the eight minute film titled 4 Generations by Robert Thompson. It’s already been discussed on many blogs, but it’s worth a view if you haven’t seen it. It’s amazing that the problem was defined and resolved in just 12 days, and then the film completed in just 12 days, and then viewed and considered by thousands shortly afterwards.

Ugh– back to the presentation and handout work… That, and I turned another year older today… I’ll post copies of the presentation and handouts here when we’re done– maybe a trip to Denver is just what I need right now.

A New Plotter/Poster Printer

HP Designjet 800psToday we should receive an HP Designjet 800PS, which is a plotter/poster printer that can handle rolls of paper up to 42 inches wide. We’ve had and used an HP Designjet 500PS for three years, and we’re pretty amazed by what it can do.

For example, we’re now in the middle of printing science posters for US students. About 80 students will bring either large scale PowerPoint files (up to 36 x 52 inches) or InDesign projects (saved as PDFs) for full-color printing on glossy or semi-gloss paper. The resolution is ink-jet photographic quality, which is great for their images, text, graphs and other data. One student might have us print as many as three such posters for their science project, and we charge their accounts for only the cost of the materials. A 3 x 4′ poster might be $12 if done without a background, or $24 if done with a colored background. The colored background posters might take 20-30 minutes each to print.

We’ve bought a second unit (the 800PS) because now the Middle School science students want to do the same. The unit was expensive ($5,700), but the consumables are surprisingly affordable. We also use the printers to create photographic quality enlargements, signs for the development and admissions offices, posters for the theatricals, and a host of others around campus.

Three Days

It was a nice three day weekend over the Presidents’ Day weekend.

Daugther on BikeOn Saturday, my son had a basketball game and played hard even though he had been home sick on Friday. He took it easy Saturday afternoon, so I took my daughter cycling on the bike path along the Columbia River near the airport. It’s a nice, relatively flat and car free path that’s good for seven year-olds like herself. She rode really well on her own bike, and her control and form are really improving. She did 17 mph on a downhill and 12 mph on the flats for some of the ride. By the end, we had both done nearly 9.5 miles for the day. (That’s quite a bit more than I ever did on a bike at age 7).

On Sunday, the whole family went cycling on the same path, with my daughter as ride leader. My wife hadn’t been on her bike for quite awhile, and my son was ready to get out. Afterwards we had a “reading session” at the Lucky Labrador in Multnomah Village.

Williard VegaToday (Monday), my son and I geared up for an afternoon sail on our Cal 20 (tossed the outboard in the trunk, found all our gear, and drove out to the marina). Unfortunately, it decided to rain like crazy as soon as we got there, and and we had to bail even though the wind was great. We went to look at boats instead, and our favorite was a fun trawler/motor-sailor called a Willard Vega Horizon. 30 feet long, inside and outside steering, two levels, and a delightful rounded aft deck with integrated bench seating. I’m not much of a motor boat guy, but this would be a fun boat to explore the river with friends or do a week-long trip with the kids. Willards are known for having economical diesel per hour rates.

Tomorrow, back to the office!

Visual Translation

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, it’s worth noting that there are interesting ways to communicate online without translation.

The Global Voices Online site is an interesting introduction to world-wide blogs and individual perspectives. I was particularly interested in its post about Photoblogs in China, and how they can communicate ideas and views without translation (and possibly without censorship).

China Mash is a good example of this type of photoblog, and I admit that my mind begins to wander and tries to feel the everyday lives of the people and places represented in the images (which are posted daily).

For connecting two schools together that don’t share a common language, I wonder what it would be like for a classroom in our school to take on the responsibility of a photoblog that is in sync with a photoblog from Asia. By in sync, I wonder if we could have a different topic each week or month, or a focus on holidays, or a current issue that we focus our images on.

Images, not words, but carefully taken and selected images that elicit responding sets of images selected with similar care from another set of students in a much different culture and place.

Building International Connections

NAIS 2007A colleague and I are developing a presentation for the NAIS Annual Conference (March 2, 2007) about inexpensive ways to connect students between different schools and different countries. So far, we’re thinking of showing several different scenarios (perhaps five different departments) over a 3-5 year period for beginning and developing inexpensive international collaborations.

To begin, one thing we’re looking for are sites that help teachers connect with teachers internationally. I used one many years ago to do a simple email exchange between three classes in three different schools, and I’m hoping we can find some worthwhile “interconnection” sites for the start of the process. We have started from connections that our teachers already had, but it would nice to have a well to go to.

So far, I have the following leads:

The Intercultural E-Mail Classroom Connections: this is the site I used in the early nineties to connect my Washington, DC students with two classrooms in other states.

The Classroom Connection Program links Social Studies and Language Arts classroom internationally.

The ePals Global Network claims to have the largest community of classrooms collaborating with each other.

The Wisconsin Department of Education has a nice site with a collection of sources for teachers who wish to build international connections, with links to CEARCH, KidLink, and the Peace Corps Worldwise Schools.

If you have used any of these sites for building international connections, or have other resources to recommend, please let me know about your experiences either through a comment to this post or via email.

Next Generation Comment Writing

We successfully began the move from paper-based comment writing (by faculty for students) to database comment writing about three years ago. We built a custom solution through our Filemaker Pro SIS system, in that US faculty have a “Comment Writer” application that automatically links to their classes and students when it is time to write comments. Additionally, it links them to their advisees comments as part of the process so they can review, change and print out their advisees’ comments in advance of them going home.

Overall, the system is pretty advanced, with multiple history versions of all comments as they are revised, repeated general comments, styled text pasting. In the end, the faculty mostly compose their comments in Word and then cut and paste them into the system when they are back on campus. This allows them to write comments anywhere, and have a solid backup in case there are any problems with the heavily-used database in the final stages of pasting, reading and printing.

For the Lower and Middle Schools, which are primarily on Macs, we’ve been dragging our feet a bit. It is harder to get the client software installed on the Macs, and the reports in the Lower School are much more sophisticated than the Upper School forms. So for next year, we’re going to an online comment writing system. Our FileMaker server will provide a secure online portal to paste in reports for students and to read the comments of advisees. We will do this with either the automatic page creation options in FileMaker Server 8, or use the latest version of Lasso to achieve it.

For our faculty, this means they will continue to compose in Word, but then they can cut and paste in the comments at home as well as school. More importantly, we won’t have to install and configure client software on their laptops (a 20 minute process in many cases). To begin, we may pass on the option of styled text, but add a Java interface the second year so that text can be made italic or underlined, etc.

It will be a job to recreate the LS reports into web forms, and we make make templates in Word so that they can choose check boxes, etc., as they compose the text parts of the reports. The Word element is still a bit clunky, but the important thing is that we can free both faculty and staff from the worst part of the old way of doing things– the printing, duplicating, collation and gathering parts of the process.

Can All Tech Staff Empower Others?

I had a great meeting with morning with our half-time web manager (the other half of his position is to write for the school web and print publications). He’s ready to move forward to empower the MS and US staff offices to post direct updates to their divisional pages on the public web site using Contribute software, just as he has successfully done with the LS office this year. All the weekly content will be updated by them, and they also send an email to all parents in their division with the link to the new content and a downloadable PDF version if they want to print it. This replaces the emailed PDF version we once emailed out, which replaced the weekly paper version we had.

OES Online CalendarsThis is a pretty significant move for the divisional offices to have this level of participation, but time was freed up by discontinuing the print version that they had always prepared. This “distribution” of responsibility also follows the very successful creation of 8 calendar managers who maintain the whole school WebEvent calendar by submitting or approving events to multiple calendar layers. Again, we could have had one central person do this, but distributing the work empowered staff by altering their jobs (but replacing the non-centralized paper calendars they used to do).

To me, this type of distributed responsibility and training is very exciting. We do the same with the administrative databases (no central database report person, for example), the phone and HVAC systems (physical plant staff remain trained and in charge), the librarians (managing their databases and the AV and amplification systems), and of course the faculty (maintaining their own collaborative web sites, using the database comment and grade system, trouble-shooting their own laptops and printers, and taking ownership of their classroom technology and projects).

We even empower our parent volunteers as much as possible– the online parent volunteer system was specifically designed so that the lead organizers could alter options and assignments and get reports at will. (Our custom developer of the FileMaker Pro SIS system does a great job of designing himself out of the system in terms of year-to-year changes.)

This is a hard row to hoe. It can take a lot of follow-up to effect change, and sometimes it seems like we spin our wheels. When it works, however, we solve problems instead of maintain them. In fact, in many situations, everyone on our tech staff is charged with trying to empower others and distribute responsibility and ownership of the the new ways of doing things. This can be messy, and it radically affects how we choose new systems and deployments, but we also feel it’s cost effective and true to the mission of the school. Integrating technology is part of the lifelong learning curve of everyone on campus, even if difficult and slow at times.

Standard, Routine and Exceptional

Sometimes, it’s important to be as clear as possible when talking about technology goals in the Lower and Middle School. Here’s a quote about objectives from a document I’m working on.

In terms of academic technology use, a school typically is looking for three types:

Standardized: Skill sets taught by technology coordinators or teachers that are important to but not taught in the classrooms by the teachers. Examples include file management, keyboarding, basic image manipulation, common features in Microsoft Office, and basic uses of the library subscription databases.

Routine: Technology skills that become common in the everyday classroom and learning experience. Examples include typing papers, conducting and documenting online research, using digital cameras and scientific probeware, using Excel to analyze and graph data, using the school online portal to access assignments, and exchanging files between home and school. The standardized instruction lays the foundation for routine use, but the classroom teachers also expect and support students with routine uses of technology as part of the teaching day.

Exceptional: At least once a year per grade level, students should be challenged to go further with technology as part of an important core subject project. In most schools, this project is lead by teachers with the help of technology coordinators to design and implement the project (but with the goal of the teachers gradually assuming ownership of the project over time). Examples include narrated slide shows in first grade, student-made web pages in third grade, audio or video productions in fifth grade, and inter-school or international collaborative work in seventh grade.

What’s interesting about these three categories is that they are a type of flow chart. Over time, the objectives taught in the standardized computer classes will become routine classroom uses. Over time, the exceptional uses of technology (laptops, heart rate monitors in PE, GPS units) also become routine uses as well if they stick. Thus, we keep moving forward.

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