Archive for category Farside

Still in transit…

Getting to south Africa has proven to be a bit of a challenge. Not because of paperwork or documentation because that all went very smoothly. So glad we followed the South African Embassy process. That proved to be the best part of our overall paperwork.

But, the time it takes on the flights and the connections in between makes it a bit of a daunting task to travel about a third of the way across the globe to the south. The kids have handled it well, seasoned travelers as they are. We are in Johannesburg and about to board our final flight on the leg to Kasane where we will spend the next week in this general region.

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All checked in…

26 kids – 4 adults – passports and documents from a dozen countries.

All clear!  On the plane! Everything checked to destination. Life is good on the first leg of our adventure!


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Africa began…

The Ambassadors gathered at school for our departure at 3p today and the mood was good.  All was well prepared and every ounce of luggage utilized for the trip to meet the benefactors of their efforts.  Clothing and other gifts were packed in every nook and cranny.

So, as we now prepare for the long journey ahead (and the math tests I’m proctoring for some on the airplane), the mood is good and I feel a bus ride song is imminent.

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Africa Begins

I’m heading off tomorrow for an adventure with 27 of our high school students.  After a quick board meeting, I’m on a plane to Africa to help out with our school building projects in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  My thanks to all who contributed to this project both through the many activities throughout the year and via the Director’s Challenge fundraiser, which has raised US$13,000 thus far to push the kids to their goals.  You can still contribute to the project until the remaining spots are filled.  Contribute to the Director’s Challenge via PayPal or by direct payment to the AAS Cashier.

I’m heading off tomorrow for an adventure with 27 of our high school students.  After a quick board meeting I’m on a plane to Africa to help out with our school building projects in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  My thanks to all who contributed to this project both through the many activities throughout the year and the recent culmination through the Director’s challenge raising US$13,000 to push the kids to their goals.  You can still contribute to the project until the remaining spots are filled and completing the challenge while I’m away.

While I’m gone, I’m going to try and push out blog entries on my experiences with the kids.  So, please stay in touch via the Zimplicity blog and feel free to subscribe for my email feed to get notified of new content.

Finally, my thanks to all involved in Parent Conferences today.  I had a chance to spend some extra time in the North Gym this morning and there was a tremendously positive buzz in the room as both Middle School and High School reaffirmed our parent partnership for the work ahead in the final months of school.  Please offer your feedback to MS and HS administration for their hard work in preparing and implementing the new format.  They plan to review and continue to refresh their process next year based on your important input.

I should note that during my absence, you can seek out Ian Forster, Deputy Director, or Melissa Schaub, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for any concerns.  They will be capably steering the ship while I’m away.

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The Poetry of Change

Shift & Solitude

When seeking change,
The mind softens
And in solitude our thoughts pause.

Static becomes pliable;
We shape a perception,
And a new mold emerges from objectivity and innovation.

Embracing a new reality
Involves passionate argument,
Often with ourselves in equal measure to those around us.

We battle for our new beliefs.
But, we only win the war
When we live what we conceive.

— Jon P. Zurfluh

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Simplicity is our enemy…

A couple of issues are nagging on me and, as I watched an old TED video by Dan Meyer, some thoughts formed on why we are struggling with change and reform in schools (or anywhere for that matter).  Dan quoted David Milch with the following when reflecting on the ills of a sit-com society:

It [television] creates an impatience … with irresolution….

We can see examples of this in every aspect of life.  We see it in politics and government.  We see it in advertisement and product delivery.  Certainly, in computers and technology, we have examples of this modality where immediate gratification drives our interest and decision making.

In fact, a recent parent conference confirmed my ongoing frustration with this simple solution mentality.  My son, who is generally a capable student, made a mistake on a recent test.  In one section of the test, he failed to read a direction that required students answering false in a true/false section to also correct the statement to make it true.  Like many of his classmates, he failed to follow this subtle direction and, thus, an “A/B” grade became a “D.”  At the conference held to discuss this issue, it also turned out that this was an object lesson in “following directions” and the teachers actually expected many of the students to mess up.  As luck would have it, the principal sat in on our conference and reiterated the school’s belief that this was a fair judgment of what my child was “taught.”  After all, “we have to teach kids that there are consequences in life and you don’t always get second chances.”

After holding my breath for a few moments, I simply asked for assessments that actually measured what my child knows and can do.  The response was, “we are not doing standards based grading, so we can’t do that.”  Interesting for a district that cites Stiggins on their website as a key reference and has pride in a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.”

So here is where simplicity fits into this discussion:

  1. We like the simplicity of object lessons, because it means we don’t have to monitor students as they work to assure success.
  2. We like the simplicity of quick and easy solutions because we can stand stoically behind them as ingeniously logical and sustainable despite the mythology upon which they are based.
  3. We like standardized tests and common core curriculum because we don’t have to be accountable for the hard work or results associated with our own professional expertise.  Instead, we can just implement and follow instructional guides with little thought to adaptation or unique insight.
  4. We like the political election cycle because we can regularly blame whoever is in power and vote them out only to find similar reaction to those elected in the next cycle — and on and on and on….
  5. We like to eliminate technology and leading edge curriculum from schools because they are far too complex to allow in a simple solution environment — and we might have to struggle a bit to get it right.
  6. We like making parents sign forms (with a witness signature) for every image that may accidentally be displayed on a school website (if there were any school website pages actually updated regularly) because we like the simplicity of signatures and absolving ourselves of responsibility.
  7. We like the simplicity of spending oodles of money contemplating geo-engineering to fix our planet in the future rather than conserving resources today – it’s simple and I don’t have to deal with it.

You get the picture?  We have allowed simplicity to guide our thinking to the point of seeking the 30-minute solution to all our problems.  We elected a president to a 4-year term of tough change only to be abandoning his efforts halfway through our commitment. We look for simple and quick solutions around every corner.  An economic meltdown should be solved in a fortnight.  Somebody please wave the wand and make 10% unemployment turn into 5% by morning.  Elect me and I can make that happen.  Right!?!?!?!?

Politics, education, and life are complex matters.  Get used to it.  Turn off the TV, read a book (I dare you), write frequent letters to your elected representatives, and realize that the world still turns at roughly the same velocity as it did decades and centuries ago.  Give our kids a break and let them explore the wonders of the universe rather than just mastering the drudgery of sanitized benchmarks.  Open their minds instead of hardening their hearts. Please?!

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Motivation – Again!?!?

Seems like the week to discuss motivation and as I consider various links and tracebacks, I’m found bringing together some ideas into a new framework of understanding many things I have written before and will likely ponder in the future.  This video brings this thinking to specific relief.

We have discussed previously how setting our sights on common denominators (e.g. high stakes tests, common core curriculum, etc.) seems somehow counter-intuitive.  Additionally, many others have offered insight into the dangers of these practices.  Any other approach seems just too challenging to discuss in the midst of political wrangling, decaying facilities, and budgetary degradation.  We seek the average because we have lost the incentive to reach for something that often seems beyond our grasp.  We have lost the pioneering spirit.

In this video from 1972, legendary psychiatrist Viktor Frankl offers an important message about our motivations and our expectations for each other.

Whether we are talking about advances in science, travels to Mars, or the development of new curriculum, this simple video may be the piece that helps us all get past our limitations and our struggle with mediocrity.

We must find a way to seek for children more than our perceptions of their limitations.  We have to provide for the true and honest development of their pioneering spirit.  As the video declares, we must seek point far “north” of mediocrity and find our destination somewhere between average and eminently closer to excellent.

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Chinese government’s funding of Southland school’s language program fuels controversy

An interesting article on how fear often overtakes our logical sensibilities. That being said, there is good reason for caution here – but not for the reasons cited by the opponents.

Chinese government’s funding of Southland school’s language program fuels controversy –

Worth a read and consideration of the scope of these programs…

BTW – Here’s another one for reference, too:

Math lessons in Mandarin: Local schools go global.

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Motivation & Daniel Pink

It seems fortuitous that I wrote last night on Mike Rowe and then found Daniel Pink shortly after to reflect on the nature of motivation.  These are two very nice videos back-to-back and tell us much about the new age of work and accomplishment.  Similar to the theories (dare I say facts) presented by Pink, I’m writing this instead of the paper that is due in my doctoral class – my incentive, “grade” based class where I do work for the carrot of a piece of paper that somehow distinguishes me from everyone else – hogwash!

In reality, much of what Pink describes is true for me – I select projects where I can be creative and add to the base of knowledge rather than looking for the position with the greatest pay potential.  Performance has always been a motivator and I read about Google’s 20% only to say “Yeah!” and “Right On!!” and “That Makes Sense!!!”

The fact that we have had it wrong for so long is what amazes me.  In schools especially, we seem all too caught up in a Pavlovian reality and stretching to a different kind of conceptual framework seems unreachable.  Could it be that our most difficult students are trying to tell us something that has nothing to do with their “condition?”  Maybe we have so tightly closed the lid on our children that they have no choice but to move constantly amongst realities – one after another in quick succession – to the point that we no longer understand them because of their divergence from our norms.

Pink may have the new age of motivation in his pocket, and his dialog on the topic has inspired some divergent thinking at the very least.

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Anagnorisis & Peripeteia

This week I had an opportunity to read scholarship submissions at Wilson High School for the vocational education program.  On the table was two years full tuition and books for a vocational path of your choice (primarily encouraging state colleges and vocational schools).  Of interest was the fact that I had the honor of sitting across the table from past Washington Senator Joe Stortini, currently restaurateur of some notoriety from Joeseppi’s Italian Ristorante on North Pearl in Tacoma.   Our cordial discussion and history walk was enthusiastic and energizing.  Joe was key to early educational legislation including the many tweaks to collective bargaining and implementation of constitutional mandates to fund basic education.  Between 1969 and 1977 he sponsored or co-sponsored many bills during a complicated time that included the emergence of many of the foundations that are being debated today during less comfortable economic times.

But, our discussion turned to the programs in Tacoma to encourage the options for kids beyond the typical college bound mentality that often dominates the conversation in many circles.  This is understandable in an environment focused on test scores, standards and a desire to assure that 100% of our children are prepared for post-secondary education.  What Joe and I talked about was the reality that many kids need another path – whether in the arts, or metalworking, or the culinary arts – they need a path for success that doesn’t label them a failure if they can’t get into a “acceptable” college.  The video below confirms this notion, although you will need patience to get through the dialog to reach the conclusions at the end.  But, the anagnorisis of this is clear when you consider Mike Rowe’s insight into “Dirty Jobs.”

I like that he points out we are “at war” with the notion of work.  It is clearly true that we are in the process of creating ever new generations of complacency where we have been taught that work is bad and following your passion means finding the “get rich quick scheme” that will fuel an early retirement.

Mike has introduced me to my peripeteia.  How about you?

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The Story of Stuff

While I don’t want to be a Scrooge during the holidays, I have to say that sharing this with my family (thanks to my wife) was helpful and kept us from getting too carried away in the materialistic aspect of the season.  Much more important to focus on the things that really matter:  family, health, opportunity, strong beliefs, loving relationships – the things that make us the most human and the things that we must hold as eminently more valuable.

Watch here and then check out the site that is linked below:

The Story of Stuff

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Critical thinking? You need knowledge – The Boston Globe

Critical thinking? You need knowledge – The Boston Globe

THE LATEST fad to sweep K-12 education is called “21st-Century Skills.’’ States – including Massachusetts – are adding them to their learning standards, with the expectation that students will master skills such as cooperative learning and critical thinking and therefore be better able to compete for jobs in the global economy. Inevitably, putting a priority on skills pushes other subjects, including history, literature, and the arts, to the margins. But skill-centered, knowledge-free education has never worked.  more…

Ed Hirsch brought this to our attention many years ago and this mantra is re-emerging as critical in a world that often swings out of balance with each new innovation.  Technology has much to offer here, but most significantly, it gives us access to vast amounts of “knowledge” that is constantly in a state of transformation.  While I value constraints on teaching critical reflection as part of the access dilemma, I propose that this confluence and fluidity of information is our best hope of enabling children to build quick and efficient access to elements of knowledge that must underlie a robust framework of process skills.  Thinking and knowledge go hand in hand on the net like never before.  So, before we tip the pendulum too far in the knowledge direction, lets seek the happy balance where each extreme is mutually supportive.

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Quick idea…

Another version of the same old mantra –

If I know something, I can repeat it.
If I understand something, I can discuss it.
If I truly grasp something, I can create on my own.

Thus, students must be able to articulate their learning (not just products) in order to assess whether they truly grasp a topic or just understand it.

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Amazing song – We need teachers to learn…

A wonderful song for reflection as vision and mission statements are reviewed and re-thought.

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

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While rules are always important, they are not the most critical things in life. In fact, it is the exceptions that excite us, empower us, and stretch the boundaries of our imagination.

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The Real Crisis

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Star Trek, CNY, Noah’s ARK, & Leadership

Three interesting events linked in my consciousness and have driven me into inspiration.  Stay with me while I meander through my thoughts.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year for the 10th time in Asia has caused me to look deeper into this phenomenon with each passing year.  The fireworks, the chaos, the calm and the almost surreal intermittent quiet that descends on the city drives one to ponder in more interesting ways about looking both forward and back.  The almost constant fireworks for 15 days and the non-stop celebration bring special focus to the year – more so in many ways than the calendar based version of the “western” New Year.

Stay with me now – while listening to the reverberations of crackling explosions, I remembered an episode of Star Trek entitled “The Return of the Archons” — an a often forgotten scene where computer controled minds of a civilization are regularly released for 12 hours  allowing a rampant expression of destruction and “celebration” by the population – an escape valve that balances against close control and monitoring.  Roddenberry’s depiction of the essence of humanity is played out in this way – under control and conformity of mechanistic intervention “the body dies.”  Human spirit – creativity and inspiration – are the key to life.

Follow on this with an email from AISH ala Bambi Betts:

From Peter Drucker, management guru extraordinaire:

“What is the manager’s job?  It is to direct the resources and the efforts of the business toward opportunities for economically significant results. This sounds trite — and it is. But every analysis of actual allocation of resources and efforts in business that I have ever seen or made showed clearly that the bulk of time, work, attention, and money first goes to problems rather than to opportunities, and, secondly, to areas where even extraordinarily successful performance will have minimal impact on results.”

More accurately, the allocation of resources might be described as going to the status quo in yet another attempt to maintain equilibrium.  Deviation from conformity drives us all to naturally steer the offender back on course through layers of bureaucracy and the subtleties of long standing paradigms.  These limiters provide a powerful lid to exactly the innovation and powerful deviations that are most needed in an age of economic meltdown and global disaster on our very doorstep.

So what does Noah’s Ark have to do with this.  My guess is we are all looking to a higher power in a time of fearful contemplation.  I am not really suggesting a religious theme of Armageddon here.  In the midst of the above musings, I settled in to watch a humorous film (Evan Almighty) on a modern day Noah and his Ark.  The character playing God (Morgan Freeman) in this popular movie posed some particularly thoughtful questions part way through the drama.

“Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”

“How do we change the world?”

“One single Act of Random Kindness at a time. (ARK)”

So how does this connect, you ask?  The theme here is ultimately about breaking down the barriers of conformity. It’s about letting creativity and its random spirit spur us to create that which is not yet conceivable.  The human spirit is about randomness.  Chaos theory reigns supreme when you want to accomplish something beyond the status quo – and this is most certainly true when many fearfully cling to a narrow view of what is right, acceptable, and sustainable.

A complex world with difficult problems requires significant out of the box thinking.  Are we ready to initiate the “Red Hour” to solve them in the most creative way possible?

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JibJab – Love it.

Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

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Dashboards in Schools

I recently had a verbal and email dialog with a colleague on the transplanted Business Intelligence concept of Dashboards.  Essentially, this concept revolves around how to keep leadership informed on key elements of organizational success so that strategic decisions can be made in a timely and efficient manner.  In schools, the focus shifts more to keeping elected or perpetual board members informed of school “status” with regards to all of the metrics we typically use to describe finance, learning, and accomplishment of strategic initiatives.  This email is my online brainstorm of the data side of how we change the face of school management and the measurement of stakeholder satisfaction.

My thinking has been around translating the corporate model of dashboards (see Business Intelligence) into something that might work for education.  I’ll explain a little bit to see if we are on the same page and then you can help me push the envelope.  I’m, of course, also thinking about this from the technical side.  I don’t have a specific engine yet, but the theoretical models are forming and my database people assure me that they have code ideas to back this up.Here’s what I’m dealing with relative to my board and why I’m looking at this to answer their questions and keep them informed as we grow.Budget – I’m trying to get my board to see the big picture on budgetary concerns, so I see models for broad brush looks at budget and expenditures.

Broad based totals in simple mathematics – I’d also like to converge this with a timeline function so that historical data is available.  E.g. – I see a drop down list to select a month and have expenditure bars grow or shrink according to the budget year.  Thus, capital expenditures will likely show early expenditure vs. salary which is pretty even vs. supplies which will likely be somewhere in-between with a bit of frontloading.  For each stage in the process, there would be trendlines that would then adjust based on the most recent data.  This trend can also be based on encumbrances if your financial system supports this.  For far reaching examples of data/time analysis, you should look at data – Think of this example using admission data.  Again, I’d like to look at trend line data like the gapminder example.  With current database information from our student records system, it shouldn’t be difficult to develop a similar interface.  This would show grade level and gender components with overlays for nationality and other factors – all generally available depending upon how you do your archive data.  It looks like Google bought this engine from them.  It’s called Trendalyzer.  Also, look at for another example of live charts.

[New note:  Power School (Pearson) has a dashboard component for their school management software.  Very nice widget oriented approach.  According to sources it was just released recently as part of PS Premier 5.1.2 – (info & here).]

Engagement data – based on scheduling components. I’d like to show engagement data that identifies staff contact time with students.  So for any moment of the day, you can see what percentage of staff are engaged in scheduled activities.  This is an important one for my board as they have high expectations for this.  Besides a time based method, there would also be totals and summary methodologies. 

Project data – this is a Gant style, but it shows summary positioning on action plans – this would be RSS style with percentage complete and upcoming milestones.  These would update on daily or weekly basis and could be linked with any flavor of project management methods or just regularly updated static data.  Milestones and statements of progress could be simple blog style posts.

Satisfaction data – student/parent – We have been moving toward more online survey data collection recently and I have been considering that single event data collection seems inadequate to guage progress over time. Recently, I went through immigration at Shanghai airport and found that they had installed customer satisfaction data collection units at each passport processing counter.  The unit flashes for individuals to offer their feedback to the officer in the form of smiley face options.  You’ve probably seen these.  Although I’m not interested in mounting these on the teacher’s door (although that’s an interesting thought), I have been conjecturing about more regular single or small “dipstick” survey opportunities on our parent website and via email polls.  This process can be automated based on random selection at login or randomly sent emails so that data collection for randomly selected segments of the stakeholders is relatively constant and ongoing.  Where the dashboard comes in is relative to real time updates of this data based on submitted results.  A thermometer, if you will, of sentiment.  The data and questions could be focused around various aspects of school operation.  It could be grouped or sourced from all stakeholder groups.

Assessment data – this one is trickier, but could work based on compilation of assessments if a scale score can be derived, or if some other type of norm referencing is used.  This could also be centered around criterion referenced tools.  Summary data would show trends, again, over time.

I’m still thinking about other metrics that can be gathered over time more or less automatically.  We always seem to have a wealth of data, but we’re never sure where to put it.

The work on the website components for this likely exist in a combination of open source projects (about 20 of them in current development on Sourceforge) and a variety of BI off the shelf packages. 

Here’s one example of an open source option:

There are many others.

That’s what I have.  I’m interested in this, but I’m time crunched right now.  Lot’s happening here, but I do have some people to explore this further. I’m looking for cost effective solutions (read – free) to turn the data into something usable.  I’m still forming my thoughts on this a bit and continued dialog might help push me down a certain path.  I could also see EARCOS playing into this for regional based data warehousing and cross organizational trend analysis.  I am also trying to think of options for the Learning 2.008 conference that might start a more productive dialog on this topic.

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With the Mind in Mind…Evolution

I won’t pretend to be a lead scholar on this topic and will, where appropriate, link you to the authors that are leading thinkers in this area.  The premise reads like this:

At a recent conference on technology tools for educational use, the statement was made that we “must come to grips with the evolution of the human brain.”  This stirred some controversy in the crowd to say the least.  How can you call this evolution?  What about the studies that point out how the brain can’t handle multi-tasking without giving up long term memory?  What about ….?  Haven’t you gone too far with this…..?”   etc. etc. etc.

So I consulted my handy search engine and found a couple of links to share and will conclude with  my thoughts.

First, from one of the leading theorists of brain research, I lead with the work of Dr. William Calvin and his book A Brief History of the Mind.  His concepts of how the brain has developed over time are interesting and although he lays out a belief that the brain has some catching up to do with regards to biological evolution, he has laid a framework for the next wave of brain “evolution” that is likely now that we have generally gotten ahead of ourselves.

Speaking of frameworks, no discussion of the brain can happen if you haven’t watched the TED video of the speech by Jeff Hawkins – Brain science is about to fundamentally change computing.  Jeff postulates that current theories of brain science lack a framework and, thus, we really know very little about the brain and it’s adaptability – but we are about to see a significant shift in our understanding because of his recent work in this area.

So, the question remains – Is the brain evolving as we get smarter and understand more and more about our world and everything around us?  I can’t answer that question, but I can’t help but look at history and conclude that it seems that the brain is always catching up with our own creativity.  Similar to the classroom, we have people that reach across a spectrum of brain “capability” and those that are at the front of the line are creating a world of increasing complexity.  If we accept the Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest,” we must accept that these leading thinkers will propel us down a path of increasing brain capability.

The educational connection here is not about whether or not the brain is actually evolving.  I think it is a forgone conclusion that the brain will continue to develop and pass on genetic enhancements over long spans of time.  The real question is how to deal with the growing changes in the world and how to best prepare children to live in this world where brain capacity will determine survival.  If we can’t accept that the mind is changing – and likely faster than other biological aspects of the human species – then aren’t we doomed to delivering another unprepared generation onto society?

Even if we can’t agree on evolution (and don’t get me started on the creationist debates at the root of this), can we at least agree that the challenge of education is the preparation for what is clearly on the horizon rather than what we remember?

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