Sailing Lessons

It’s strange how much we’re sailing as our final weeks in Oregon run out. Our house is on the market, the movers come on Tuesday, but we’re on the river. We sold our 27 foot sailboat a month ago, but we still own half of a Cal 20 with my brother, who plans to keep it. So, we’ve been taking it out twice a week or more.

Aurora, our Cal 20Yesterday’s sail was especially nice. My daughter was fairly scared at the start, since she prefers larger boats and her last outing on Aurora was very rough in terms of weather. Nonetheless, she enjoyed the sail more and more as we went, and was happy with her accomplishment as we motored back after dropping sails. “The heeling was the best part, like a roller coaster ride you don’t pay for,” she claimed.

My son turned 10 this weekend, so it was also a “birthday sail” for him. He got in some good tiller time, along with the archetypal “Doug, you need to head up, unless you want that barge to go over us…” He can start the outboard on his own now, and run it fairly well, which is a relief to me when it’s just the two of us on the river.

For more pictures, see Cal 20 Sail, May 26th 2007.

If things work out half-way well, we still have our one week charter reservation for the San Juan Islands coming up the third week of June. We have the same Islander 28 reserved as we took out last year, and we might just do the same islands again to reduce planning time.

In the end, of course, sailboats are a folly– even worse than most cars. I lost the “car bug” more than 20 years ago, but I have to admit that I find sailboats to be aesthetically-pleasing in many ways. I hope we can sail again tomorrow.

Odds and Ends

My wife and I had a bit of panic this week when we discovered our kids’ passport applications had run afoul in a supposed backlog of 90,000 applications. We had submitted two months ago, with the expectation we’d have them in 6-8 weeks, and now we’re planning a pre-dawn family drive to Seattle to get the applications redone in person. Fun! We have to have their passports to complete the Visa application packets.

DataTravellerOn another front, we’re evaluating low-cost USB Kingston DataTraveler drives. The one gig version is only $9 at newegg.com, and we considering it for the supply packet for all fifth graders. We also have some of the four gig versions ($36) that have been working, but not flawlessly, on our PCs and Macs.

Konica Color PrinterAs for color printing, we’ve had a second Xerox Phaser 6200 solid ink printer die, and we don’t plan on fixing it. We bought six of these, and they became half-way affordable with the third party ink sticks, but they don’t seem to have the longevity of the HP printers we’re used to. We can’t afford the consumables for HP color lasers anymore (but we still use a couple of 4550 workhorses) . So, we’re rolling the dice with a Konica Magicolor 5500. Our main attraction to it is the Extra Large toners that are supposed to be good for 12,000 pages (5% coverage) for less than $170 a pop. (Don’t forget that the printer needs four of these guys.) In addition, it needs imaging units (four) at around $160 each every 30K pages. Its speed and resolution also looked worth a try.

HP MFP PrinterOn the B&W front, we’ve been very happy so far with the HP M4345 MFP we purchased for the US library to replace a failing Canon copier. Yes, it can only copy 8.5 x 11 (legal if you use the ADF), but there’s a tabloid capable copier within walking distance and most students only want smaller sized copying. It replaced the HP 4100 printer, and students are actually using it for basic color scanning to email through the interface. Over the past four years, the HP 4100 MFP series units we’ve had in department offices in the US have held up surprisingly well for around 40,000 pages a year of printing and copying. We’ve had two with failed internal hard drives (around $400 to replace), but otherwise they are holding up well.

That’s it for odds and ends today. Later this afternoon, I’m taking my network administrator out for a sail on Aurora, our Cal 20. I never managed to hold a staff meeting on the water…

Is Technology Like Music?

We had a great tech team meeting yesterday (the OES tech coordinators, Net Admin, etc.). We discussed a range of topics, and at one point I asked a simple question: “Should the K-12 Technology Department become more like the K-12 Music Department?”

We’ve been working on technology integration for a long time, and it is paying off. Routine uses of technology are common throughout the school, and it becomes difficult to meet demand during peak production periods. This “pull” for technology was a motivating element of the Middle School laptop program.

At the same time, however, we wish there were more opportunities for students to do independent work with technology that is outside of the core curriculum. We have computer classes for kids in many grades that are becoming less about learning skills and more about exploring possibilities, but they don’t have enough time to really enable students to choose tools or do extended work on collaborative projects.

That’s when I thought about the remarkably successful Music program at OES, and how it has a high percentage of students in all three divisions coming in for “zero periods” and after school sessions to learn instruments of their choosing, practice and then perform with others. I could see something similar happening with unique software tools that students are interested in, but often don’t gain traction with if students just play with them on their own at home. In a guided, collaborative group with consistent meeting times, some fascinating project work and discoveries could take place. As in music, nearly all of the work could be project-based learning.

StellariumLike musical instruments, however, advanced software like Maya and Mathematica and AutoCad can be quite expensive (even in student versions). That was when we started talking more about open source “clone” software like Terragen, Blender, Gimp, and Stellarium. I showed off Stellarium, and we discussed adding it (and Gimp, and others) to the Middle School laptops next year. We also outlined a survey of US students to determine which open source software they would recommend for the US computer labs next year.

It became clear at that point that we could support “open source” clubs after school, that could enable students to share ideas and examples of their achievements with each other, and possibly even do collaborative projects using open source software. The value of this is that students could choose their tools and do much of their own learning, and we could support it fully since they would have legal copies of the software of their choosing (for personal, non-commercial work) on their own computers at home.

Our end goal is to create more opportunity to choose technology-enhanced independent project work in their core classes, but the clubs and after school opportunities could enable a more student-directed and dynamically productive environment. With an ongoing development of confidence and mastery, students could create examples that serve as models for project-based work in the departments.

Hmmm.

Image source: http://www.stellarium.org/screenshots.html

US Technology Recommendations for Families

US Tech RecommendationsFor the curious, here’s a downloadable PDF copy of the freshly revised 2007 US Technology Recommendations. It’s a three page document that discusses school-provided and home-owned computer options for students, along with example systems and cost-saving recommendations.

One change in the document this year is the inclusion of www.techhead.org, a Oregon-based consortium that enables students registered by the school to purchase reduced priced software and TI Calculators. A copy of Office 2007 Standard is $69.70, for example. We also share some online sources for less expensive Dell and Apple computers.

We also have the US Computer Use Survey being answered by students, and it appears that we will have a substantial jump in the percentage of students bringing their own laptops to campus this year. More on this later…

The Children’s Machine

There’s a great article about the OLPC at the Heise Mobil website:

http://www.heise.de/mobil/artikel/88916/0

OLPC screenIt’s the first comprehensive article I’ve read that covers both technical and political aspects of the project with up-to-date information and a balanced appraisal of the challenges ahead. It even ends with some market analysis of how Microsoft and Intel have responded to the OLPC project as it has evolved.

Another interesting issue is faculty development– the article suggests that the Papert-inspired child-centered approach of the OLPC almost seems to side-step the need for teacher training and involvement. The kids will construct their own learning experiences, which sounds exciting, but at the same time I’m a bit concerned about the concept of taking adults out of the picture in their cultural settings. I’ve seen decades of student-determined experimentation with technology (mostly game and communications-centered), often with thousands of hours invested by individual kids, but the results are a bit less than revolutionary…

We’ve seen kids develop their own culture of use around IM and texting and social networking, and I’m sure they’ll go further. As mentioned in the last post, however, I don’t see kids automatically creating an academic culture of technology use on their own. The OLPC has software and hardware specifically designed to do this, but the end result could be much different than imagined. Within the cultural structures of their communities, displacement issues could be considerable.

Good article– much to think about.

Image source: http://www.laptop.org/laptop/interface/index.shtml

Upper School Laptops

As mentioned in previous posts, OES has school-provided laptop program in the Middle School, but a “bring your own, when you need it” laptop environment in the Upper School. Both of these approaches have been evolving in tandem, and next year we’ll have the first set of ninth graders who had 1:1 laptops for two years in the Middle School.

US LaptopsTo prepare for this, we created a presentation for US faculty about the possible changes next year as more laptops come into ninth grade with more expectations of use. We don’t have all the answers for structuring, shaping and managing this changing environment, so we’re sponsoring a set of stipend days in the summer for US Faculty to come in and discuss the issues and help us create guidelines for improving laptop use in the Upper School.

The presentation is available here as a PDF download:

Upper School Laptops

It has been edited to remove examples of student work, but it may still give you some ideas about the differences between Middle and Upper School uses of laptops. Here’s two of the points that are made in the presentation:

— It would be better if we had a stronger culture of laptop use in the Upper School that was academic in nature and influenced by faculty instead of student-created and guided.

— Overall, the more we can influence and improve students’ actual use of computers, the more we shape a major part of their lives.

Films for Thought

At the third annual OES Tech Retreat at Rockaway Beach last weekend, we had some great conversations. We talked about curriculum determining technology needs, and the pros and cons of less powerful but more robust tools like the OLPC and the Classmate PC. We also had good discussions about how to revamp the OS X multimedia lab next year (read: $$$).

On the movie front, we saw Run Lola Run and Altered States the first night, and then One Week (1920 Buster Keaton) and The Matrix. Strangely, watching the The Matrix again did nothing for us– too old hat. The Buster Keaton film was more invigorating.

Altered StatesI was pretty surprised to see Altered States again, after seeing it when it came out in 1980. It really struck me as a “defense of the drug culture” sort of film, as if LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs would reveal a greater truth. It made me wonder if personal computers and the Internet haven’t led to a partial replacement for drug experimentation– and the goal of finding a greater truth through an altered state of awareness. (Think of game-induced states, and simply surf-induced dazes.) I remember when the The Whole Earth Catalog latched onto the early PCs as an avenue for self-education and enlightenment

We talked it out, and discovered how there are constant opportunities to alter the way our senses work. It seems as if it’s a human need, to avoid a constant clear view of what is around us. A cultural constant? It’s funny that a numerical machine that is essentially logical in design could be used so much for roughly the opposite.

Bad Start, Bad End

There’s been a bit of talk about a new NY Times article about 1:1 laptop programs that are being discontinued. The focus of the story is the Liverpool Central School District, which is stopping their program after seven years because they don’t see students improving their academics with the laptops.

My last sentence is awkwardly phrased, because that this how the article seems to focus on the issue. The students failed to use the laptops well. The faculty appear to be secondary, and mostly victims of the laptops. Not responsible, really.

I was also interested in the article because I’ve used research on the start of the Liverpool program for years when thinking and talking about laptop programs. There’s a detailed, 171 page report about the first three years of the program (through 2003) available for download. It’s a picture perfect report of a program that was consistently losing ground and support in its first three years, especially with faculty who were progressively backing away from the program. Given this type of start, it was pretty clear that the program wasn’t going to make it without radical changes in approach. However, I’m not sure that seven years of this program creates a great example of how laptop programs in general will lead to no academic progress.

In the end, there’s a lot to learn from the Liverpool program. First and foremost, it’s strange to think that students on their own with laptops will lead to advanced academic achievement, as if they will create a culture of academic use by default. Other stress factors such as lack of teacher preparation and involvement are also critical risk factors, as noted on other posts here.

The Juggernaut Continues…

Too busy lately to post. We just finished a month of work on our house, and it went on the market today.

Today, I also take the OES Tech Team to Rockaway Beach, Oregon for the annual technology retreat. I’m very disappointed that no one scored a Wii for us to “evaluate,” but we are borrowing the OES “trailer full of sea kayaks” for some fun on the water. If I have the entire team in the middle of Nehalem Bay as the tide is rushing out to the Pacific, I bet we can figure out some trust building exercises.

The movies of the retreat area also always a great source of debate and consternation, especially since I “treated” everyone to a viewing of War Games on the first annual retreat. Since then we’ve had films like Repo Man, Usual Suspects and Ghost in the Shell. This year looks like it might be Altered States and Woody Allen’s Sleeper.

Topics of Discussion for the retreat: Second Life, Parallels, Maya, Pro Video Cameras, Web 2.0, Technology Portfolios, Google Apps for Education, OLPC, Onsite repairs of laptops, MacBooks, Conferences, IM as academic tool.

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