What is Essential?

As I prepare for the first workshop session this evening, I’m thinking about a comment by Richard K a few posts back about “computer-centric” technology initiatives. As he stated well, there should be a learning objective or problem to be solved first– not just a tool that seems like it would be cool to use.

MS Laptop ObjectivesI was thinking it would be good to give my workshop participants some examples, and one that came to mind was a 2004 Visio that I developed with Brad Baugher about the essential objective of the Middle School laptop program. In one sentence, it was “Increase Student Focus on Higher Order Thinking Skills.” The chart then graphically displayed how the laptops could do that by improving equity of access and opportunity for computer-mediated or enhanced learning experiences in these areas. Of particular interest was the objective of organization skills, which were identified as a problem area for Middle School students.

Here’s a PDF copy of the chart:

MS Laptops Essential Objective

Now, back to tweaking my presentation materials and class activities.

The Sensation of Discovery

San Juan Voyage

As promised, here’s a link to our photo gallery of last week’s cruise through the San Juan Islands:

San Juans Charter 2007

In addition to the sailing and exploring, it’s an interesting trip in terms of finding nature that is still wild in many respects. Stuart Island, for example, only has 20-30 residents. It has been logged many times, and there’s a dirt road around the island, but still it is quiet and peaceful.

On our last night, we stayed at Inati Bay on Lummi Island. Lummi is quite large, and has 500-600 residents on its north end, but we anchored at one of the few bays on the south end of the island. It was really deserted there. We hiked up a dirt road and found sets of silent logging equipment left lying around, as if the loggers had just left or simply vanished. It was somewhat scary for the kids, but a good example of natural isolation and how the tools we use to harvest are sometimes the only things there.

Anyway, back to my work on the ISM workshop that I’m starting tomorrow. I’ll be gone for four days to Salt Lake City to teach the workshop, and I’m looking forward to it.

Cumulative Learning

I’ve always liked the expression “it’s like learning to ride a bicycle.” Riding a bike is counter-intuitive (this thing should fall over), but once your body learns that the spinning wheels add inherent stability, then one can find the activity relaxing and exhilarating.

Doug SailingLast Saturday morning when we sailed down Bellingham Bay, we had about 20 mph of wind on the nose and occasional four to five foot swells hitting us. At first, we only had the main sail up, and we were heeling 5-10 degrees and slogging along at around 4 knots of speed. When the big swells hit, we’d almost come to a stop, dropping to 2 knots or less and then slowing gaining speed again. The ride was pretty uncomfortable as the boat was doing some radical hobby horsing. All of us were in the cockpit, knowing we’d get sick (me included) if we went below. We had about three miles of this to plow through.

At that point, we really didn’t want to upset our daughter, who was handling the swell relatively well but didn’t want to go faster. But then we remembered a story from Steve Dashew, a sailing expert, who noted that additional speed and sail could actually calm down the negative motion of a boat in rough conditions. Counter-intuitive, since “reefing” and reducing sail is the first thing one does in gusty conditions, but in our case the swell was the problem.

So, with lots of assurances, we ran out half of our headsail. The boat speed picked up to six and then even over seven knots, but the boat was surfing over the swells instead of plowing into them. The heel increased to 10 to 15 degrees, but we were doing a sustained 6-7 knots and were over with the 3 miles of rough stuff in less than half of the time. Even my daughter agreeed the boat motion was better, even if the heel was more.

I’d like to make a list of “counter intuitive” learning experiences, and think about if their value is cumulative. For example, the rougher conditions we face on a sailboat, the more confident we become the next times we go out. What used to raise our stress levels becomes exhilarating and rewarding. It’s as if the voices in our heads that say “you can’t do that” are proven wrong, and suddenly we find ourselves on new horizons doing things that only the experienced can enjoy.

I don’t think we’re expert learners in sailing, since there are many things about it that are real mysteries to us yet and other challenges that don’t come easily, but we’re on the cumulative step process and that’s very rewarding. Our kids are with us as well, and I wonder how they’ll reflect on this in the future.

Now that we’re back, I’ll post a photo gallery from the week of sailing later this weekend.

Two Days Left

At this moment, we’re moored at the dock in the Rosario Resort Marina. This is the “high zoot suit” night of the cruise, in which we take real showers (instead of foredeck sun showers), swim in a pool, and eat a nice dinner at the Moran Mansion. We’re winding down in the cockpit at the moment, listening to some hokey but relaxing Spanish guitar CD we found left in the boat’s CD player. I pulled out the laptop, and found that the marina has free Internet, so I’m catching up on work emails now that the water tank is filled, the trash carried out, and the kids are playing tether ball over on the playing fields.

It’s been a good week– some excellent sailing and good times at Sucia and Stuart Island. My son did a 90 minute trick at the tiller today and sailed us across the channel from Stuart to Orcas Island, and he was quite proud of himself. My wife sailed us up Spring Channel dead into the wind. I, of course, got the helm when the wind died and we motored the last hour to Rosario.

Here’s a “right now” picture, as she’s finishing the couple of dishes in the galley. It was nice to not have to cook and clean this evening. Tomorrow morning, we sail to either Lummi Island (Inati Bay) or Chuckanut Bay on the mainland for our last night at anchor.

Rosario Dockside

Update: the Spanish Guitar CD just broke down with a terrible sputtering of skips and sample repeats… :)

A Return to the Islands

Echo Bay, Sucia Island

It appears that things are working out. Our British Visas should arrive tomorrow. Our house sale is progressing well. A new owner has stepped forward for our Siberian cat. My car is gone, and we have a deposit down on my wife’s car. We have our plane tickets for July 5th.

At the same time, I have two professional commitments coming up. My materials are ready for the ISM workshop at the end of the month. I’m also looking forward to doing a presentation at the Lausanne Laptop conference next month in Memphis.

In the middle of all this, it made perfect sense to us to go sailing for a week. Tomorrow morning, we drive up to Bellingham Bay, Washington, to start our one-week charter of Vamanos, the Islander 28 sailboat we had last year. Our course is roughly the same as they, and we’re looking forward to quite anchorages and down time, mixed in with fishing, hiking and swimming. It’s a great sailing boat, and we’ll be back on June 22nd.

Image: our first night at Echo Bay, Sucia Island, last year.

Time Running Out

My final objectives at OES are coming to an end. In just the last few days I completed the main technology orders for next year.

From Dell, we’ll have 28 Latitude 520s, 15 Optiplex 740s, and a Latitude 420 for the head of school. From Apple, we’ll have 113 Macbooks, 19 iMacs of the 20 inch flavor, seven Mini Macs, an Xserve and 20 copies of Final Cut Express HD. From Xerox, we’ll have a new Workcenter 238 for the Middle School. We’ll have the latest versions of Cubase, Absynth and Maya, and about 13 more Mitsubishi XD206U DLP projectors. 23 19 inch Acer LCD monitors (AL1916WABD). We just opened up the first of two HP LaserJet M3027x MFP printer/copiers, which look very nice for around $1606 each.

There’s more to arrange, including a Dell server, more Meru access points, upgrade to PaperCut, a Point of Sale system, a possible replacement of the WebEvent system, but I have to leave something to Brad Baugher, the new Director of Technology.

A Toy, That Might Be a Tool

Asus EEE PCIt can be fun to try and follow vaporware. Engadget and others were hyperventilating yesterday about the Asus EEE PC that’s been announced. Seven inch screen, less than two pounds, up to 16 gigs of flash memory, Linux installed and Windows XP optional. Wired networking, modem, wireless. Digital camera. Starting at $199 in August?

The funny thing to me is that the marketing is all about how this is a great Internet toy. Shoot off your pictures from the beach. Shop at Target at the bus station. Store and play your music. Text message others. Use it for VOIP. It’s cool and hip for the young and cash strapped.

The only thing I haven’t seen so far is if it has a word processor, or spreadsheet capability, or the ability to view PDFs. That would be “work,” however, and not “play.” On the other hand, maybe that’s how they sell a million units and accumulate market share. In schools, I could see wireless networks swamped if these really became popular, and again there would be lots of access but maybe not much focus (other than for personal/fun uses).

So, it might come out or it might not. I can seem similar tools in the wings, however, and some will enter the mix. It’s funny to think that something that looks and feels like a small laptop could be specifically designed for entertainment but not productivity…

The Wheels Move Forward

Wow, it’s been a challenge lately. Since our kids’ passport applications from March appeared to have seriously stalled, we drove to Seattle last Thursday, spent the night, and then got them passports on Friday at the Passport office. This weekend, I spent several hours finishing the British Visa applications for all four of us, and Fedex’ed them to Los Angeles this morning.

Meanwhile, we have an accepted offer on our house, we sent off the documents to open bank accounts in London, and I’m prepping the cars for sale. I’m glad that I got to sail on Saturday with my brother and my kids– the wind was excellent on the Columbia.

Back on the ranch, we’re finalizing the budget for next year. We’re planning to move to an online comment writing system with FileMaker Pro (we currently have a client-based one), and we believe a front end Xserve running Apache and it’s own subset of the database might be most efficient and fast. We already have parts of the main FileMaker Database accessible and changeable via web interfaces, but we need better performance if three divisions are going to using it for comment writing.

Motorola QFor fifteen staff desktops, we’re leaning toward Dell Optiplex small form factor units with AMD chips and regular on-board video, with a gig of memory. We plan to roll out Office 2007 on new machines next year, but wait on Vista for a year. Thus, we’ll buy higher end video cards for the Optiplex units when we need them, since they’ll likely be less expensive in a year anyway.

Our network administrator has upgraded to a new Motorola Q phone/pda, and so far he’s quite happy. He had to download some information to the phone so it could do SSL syncs with our Exchange servers, but now he has local Outlook email, calendars and contacts on his phone. Not bad. The Internet access is a bit more expensive per month, but appears faster than it was on his Treo 650.

In about six weeks, I guess I’ll have to figure out what the phone options are in London. Ugh– back to the budget…

Image source: www.everythingq.com/tag/free/

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