We are dynamic

I enjoyed reading Thomas Friedman’s recent NY Times Op Ed Piece:


It’s title is “The New Untouchables,” and it describes how there are patterns developing in the recent lay offs because of the economic downturn. Those staying in their jobs are flexible and willing to envision new ways of doing business. They are creative and productive. They aren’t set in single track molds, and they are fine with change.

He goes on to argue that education needs to be part of the recovery, in that we need more “untouchables” in our work force. Education needs to encourage innovation and open-ending thinking. Education needs to become dynamic.

I think about our work with technology, and how it has opened with many petals and facets, but at the center is an appreciation of the individual and his or her interests, efforts and creativity. So, yes, a good technology program is dynamic and changing and challenging. It’s what we’ve been working on for many years.

However, the simple presence of technology doesn’t do much. It’s just a part of a larger change in mindset. Jim Collins was pretty close in saying that technology is only an accelerator– it doesn’t create change, but it can enable it.

A Migration to Veracross

I had three meetings yesterday to start our next phase of moving to a new student information system. We are moving a large, FileMaker Pro 6.5 database to Veracross this year, we a planned cut-over date of early July 2010. In the divisional meetings yesterday, we did a quick review of the improved web portals for students, parents and faculty, and then looked at the Administrator/Staff portals and ES2 Client software that allows direct access to the SQL database.

There are several things that I like about this project. The great majority of our users should be fine with the web interfaces for using the system. Veracross is a single user, unified database with strong de-duplication systems to ensure that we don’t create hanging records. I like that the interfaces can be customized (to both increase or decrease) sophistication on a school-by-school basis. I also like that we have a dedicated account manager, and Veracross spent significant time with us in London, and we visited them for a day in Boston, during the research process for a new student information system.

So, on to the next steps– planning the specific reports and forms and transcripts we want, determining a sensible ID system for individuals, families and households, and visiting Boston with all of our current database for a solid set of working days to kick off the project.

Update on Zimbra Email Transition

We’ve been progressing on our Zimbra email system transition. We did the official cut over at the end of August, but there was no easily way to transfer much of the information out of our previous system. As a result, we’ve been posting “how to” documents and helping users move contacts and email folders from the old system to the new. We have to shut down the previous system on November 25th.

To begin, all users have been primarily using the Zimbra browser version, but we’ve had test users also using the Zimbra Desktop clients, OS X Email, iCal, iPhones, and Microsoft Outlook clients. This week we are posting help sheets to all for setting up iPhones (email, contacts and calendars), Zimbra Desktop on both OS X and Windows, OS X Email and iCal, and Microsoft Outlook. Some of these clients are a bit complicated to set up initially (Outlook, for example), but we’ve found them to run reliably so far once set.

iPhones and Zimbra have been particularly useful for most users, since the native Mail program on iPhones works well with Zimbra.

The new email system has had a learning curve for the school, but this is a long-term project and the previous system had 9 years of development (and dead ends), so we’re not trying to rush this system. It’s honest work, and it has been enjoyable seeing the new system evolve with complicated shared resources and calendars. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen organization decide to stick with a proprietary, single client email system, and it’s fun to work with a standards based system that is designed to work with many clients and devices.

Bus Tops– Fun Idea!

I like this

London from Arts Council England on Vimeo.

I wonder if they will accept student work…

Saturday Morning at Ray’s

Ray's Jazz Cafe

We’re enjoying a Saturday morning break at Ray’s Jazz Cafe, which is inside the classic Foyle’s Bookstore in downtown London. We got up early and had breakfast at the Borough Market, walked across the Millenium Bridge, and after this we plan to visit the “Forbidden Planet” bookstore.

Wife and kids are reading at the moment (Wolf Totem, Warrior Cats, Still Cruising) while I tap away on a Samsung NC20 netbook and a Vodaphone 3G wireless stick. My book is The Long Way, by Bernard Moitessier.

Bernard Moitessier is considered one of the true sea gurus of the 1970s. In the first round-the-world, single-handed sailing race, he was winning, but then he decided facing the crowds and prize money and honors would be too much of a drag. He was enjoying the oceans too much, and sailed another halfway around the world to land in Tahiti. Hmmm.

His book is half sailing and half poetry, and near religious connections with the wind, seas and sea life. He may have had weak connections with society, but he was truly connected with his boat and life on the sea. His equilibrium was his own.

We made some good progress this week on tech issues. Zimbra is evolving nicely, and we now have email, calendars and contacts running the way we like on iPhones. I like how Outlook is working. I like how OS X Mail works, and iCal. And even the browser version of Zimbra is really useful.

For now, though, back to the southern oceans, a small boat, and a single sailor.

Bernard Moitessier

(Image Source: http://www.marieponponniere.org/images/Joshua.jpg)

Back from the Solent

Okay, it’s time to get back to work. We had a great four days of sailing on the Solent over the October Break:

Jim and Steph

Full photo gallery: http://www.photos.sailingvoyage.com/v/album_045/

Hokey short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-jAm_yb59o

Our view at Newtown River

RAM – A Video About Student Laptop Use

The following is a fun but challenging CGI video about how student laptops can become a bit “distracting” and maybe even create “dependencies.” We’re sharing it with our students and parents as part of a larger discussion of managing laptop use:


Here’s a quote from its creator:

RAM (Random Access Memory) is an animation about becoming too reliant and emotionally attached to your personal computer. It is an exaggeration of my research on recent trends of dependency and attachment found in children for their PCs, especially in the US and UK.

(Thanks for locating this, Colin!)

Middle School Laptops: How to Set Limits at Home

Fyi, here’s an article I wrote for parents not long ago.

Suggestions from ASL Parents for ASL Parents

Throughout the school day in the Seventh and Eighth Grades, students use MacBook computers. One class might be writing, another researching, another accessing Athena (online academic content), and another making presentations or movies or even music.

Within the ASL environment, there are a lot of rules to be followed. Students are not allowed to use iChat, or play games, or watch movies for fun in class or out of class. Doing so results in a laptop strike, and three strikes produces a white slip, or confiscation of the computer. In some cases, it has resulted in a loss of privileges, the computer staying at school, or disciplinary proceedings.

Internet use and misuse is taken seriously, and Internet histories and “cookies” are spot checked to verify where the students have been voyaging online. Evidence of inappropriate communications or sites, or any indication of cyber-bullying is immediately reported to the Principal and Assistant Principal, who then speak directly to parents.

At home, many parents also make rules about the computer use. It is no fun at all, parents tell us, to have your kids “use the computer for hours and hours and hours” instead of interacting with the family. It is also frustrating to see homework become a mix of socializing with friends, playing games, watching YouTube, surfing the web and maybe writing the paper that is soon due. Having kids “privately” playing online can raise a range of other concerns and safety issues.

These are all very real concerns, and every year we hear from parents who make individual family decisions about the “rules” for computer use at home. Here are some of the best we’ve heard this year:

1) The computer can only be used in the kitchen, or the family room or the living room when mother or father is present. It may not be used privately in the child’s bedroom or other rooms in the home. This is the most common rule created by ASL parents, and it recommended as the best way to remain aware of how much students are using the computers, and what they are using them for. This rule is perfectly reasonable and common among ASL families– it’s definitely not “cruel or unusual.”

2) Recreational computer use should be limited. Computers can be used for relaxing in a number of ways—the latest way in my home is leaving on the live web cam on Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park (to spot passing wildlife and the geyser). However, mixing recreation (chatting with friends, visiting fan sites, watching videos) can distract from getting work done and result in less effective studying. Every family has to decide what the limits are for recreational computer use (30-60 minutes a night in some families) and whether or not it can be done during homework time. Many families only allow the recreational use AFTER homework is done (not before or during).

3) Set a nightly time limit for all computer use. “We finally put our foot down,” one parent told us. “We now ban all computer use after 9:30 p.m. They get turned off no matter what.” For other families, the limit might be 8 p.m. or 10 p.m.—the really important thing is that there is a limit, and that family time is just as important as computer time.

4) Checking Internet History and Cookies is recommended. Another top recommendation from ASL parents is to tell children in advance that their Internet browsing history and cookies will be occasionally checked, and that is a condition of using the computer at home. The advance warning should also review what type of sites are not to be visited by the children, and what type of consequences there could be if such sites show up in the history files. Typically, reviewing the information has to be done every two weeks, in front of the child, on a random basis. This review will help parents identify what sites are the most popular, as well as what sites are being visited “away from school” and “away from home.” Note, however, that some misleading information may appear (such as “Adult Friend Finder” traces, simply from visiting a Facebook page).

5) Knowing about iChat, social networking pages and Twitter is recommended. Some parents will insist on knowing their children’s passwords for email accounts or online sites like Facebook that may be used. Others parents will create their own Facebook accounts, and insist on being “friended” by their children as a way of being mostly aware of what is occurring on the site. It is well known that Middle School students can begin the process of broadening their social connections with other students online, and many experts (such as Michael Thompson and Perry Aftab) advise against “cold turkey” banning of appropriately used social tools, but that doesn’t mean that a parent needs to be kept out of the loop. Many parents of Middle School students will choose to put limits on how much privacy their kids can expect and have.

6) Ask for help if needed. We hear interesting stories about how “the school says I have to use the laptop every night for four hours” and “the school says you can’t put limits on my computer use.” As noted at the start, ASL has many limits on computer use at school, and we’re happy to accommodate requests for help on these issues. Last year, the software “white list” was designed and implemented to increase the focused academic use of the laptops. By request, we can enable Apple Parental Controls (to limit software use, see below) or install K9 Internet Protection software for parents with concerns about inappropriate online content.

7) Prepare for the Future. The last recommendation we hear from parents is that the issues posed by computer use (either with school laptops, or home PCs, or computer use at a friend’s house) are the beginning of an interesting series of parenting challenges that don’t stop for awhile. As one parent noted, “Once the computer things were worked out in Middle School, the stage was set for new challenges in High School: dating, drinking, staying out at night, driving and a whole range of issues where we had to be clear about the family rules.”

At the moment, we’ve implemented our own versions of all of the recommendations above when our children use the three laptops we already own.

High Tech Coconuts

I’m definitely in a project-based learning mood this week, especially if it involves science and the outdoors.

It’s worth reading about the High-Tech Coconuts deployed and used by students at the Academy of the Pacific. The NSTA article listed there shows how students are using GPS enabled, sensor-equipped “Niu” that they cast into the Pacific ocean and then track as they float with ocean currents. In addition to GPS, the Nui have digital cameras and satellite senors.

Nui is the Hawaiian word for coconut, but it also stands for “Nature Imparts Understanding” at the school. I like it.

October Sky

Maybe I’m just feeling sappy lately, but I watched the 1999 film October Sky again last night, but for the first time with my kids. The movie is a picture-perfect example of self-directed, expert learning directly after the launch of Sputnik. It’s based on a true story of a boy in coal mining town who isn’t going to get a football scholarship to college (like his older brother), so he’s pretty much destined to work in the mines. But that pesky Sputnik keeps crossing overhead in the October Sky.

Elements of this film could be called sappy, but the actual home movie footage of the real boys at the end of the film is remarkable. Reminds me of growing up in the country, which is almost a dangerous thing now that I’m raising my own kids in a city of 7.5 million people.

October Sky


(Fun note: Hickman’s memoir, the basis of the movie, was called Rocket Boys. The movie title, October Sky, is an anagram of the original title.)

Random Acts of Internet Kindness

This video has great examples and is half-way inspiring. We should be proud of both the Internet and what people achieve there (and why).

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