Archive for June, 2007

The Bonds of Remarkability

Posted on June 20th, 2007 in The New Learners | Comments Off on The Bonds of Remarkability

Today was my last official day serving the school district where I have worked for the last eleven years. For the last twenty days, I have been met with an outpouring of love and appreciation from so many wonderful people. I have received cards, letters, smiles, handshakes, gifts of all kinds, and have been honored by meals and gatherings with colleagues and friends. Why is this so remarkable? It’s remakable because the RELATIONSHIPS are the evidence of an investment in the pure celebration of our shared existence. What is truly remarkable is the realization that I will no longer share the common physical space with so many wonderful and innovative people on a daily basis. “So what?” you ask. This is what . . .

When we find those who make us better than we were before knowing them, we must strive to strengthen the conduits that form linkages between our respective nodes. If distance becomes the barrier, then time must adapt to allow relationships to continue their development in new ways. If time is the barrier, then protection of the premium (i.e., time) and coordination of shared contexts will facilitate the reunion of the kindred spirits. So who’s already headed for NECC? Is there a local conference that some may attend? Can I be invited to present in your district and take time out for us to connect?

Then what of the new frontier? In this new culture and climate I have expectations to locate all of the “early adopters” who will join the network this summer. The power of the network grows with each new node that is added. This growth is exponential. So hold on to your laptops, the best is yet to come.

Can you teach Amanda Fish?

Posted on June 15th, 2007 in The New Learners | Comments Off on Can you teach Amanda Fish?

I drafted this vision scenario in the foothills of the North Japan Alps in December, 1996 while on vacation with my wife and first child. It has served as the vision scenario for an elementary school district for the last decade. While much of the technology has changed, the vision of learning expressed in this narrative remains the exception rather than the rule. What will it take to transform learning environments now that the 21st Century is here? How will teachers become learners and learners teachers as the quantifiable targets of AYP eclipse the power of innovation? Who will be “crazy” enough to break the chains that bind remarkability from reaching the mainstream? Who will remain in the public system to support those who can only hope that innovation will replace rote and creativity replace complacency. Here’s to the crazy ones . . .

A Morning with Amanda Fish
(circa 1996)

Amanda sat at her desk watching the E-mail load from the server to her hard drive. Normally she would let the mail collect unattended, but this morning she was anxiously awaiting a reply from a professor of music history at Nanzan University in Japan. Two years earlier in her sixth grade study of world cultures, Amada worked with a group of students on the similarities of world cultures. Their study led them to many discoveries, not the least of which was a greater appreciation for the role music has played throughout history. Amanda, who studied violin at school since kindergarten, recalled how excited she was to bring information to her group from her music background. It was actually her teacher, Mrs. Feldman, who encouraged her to share her music background with the group. As it turned out, others in the class with a similar interest in music would later gather as a group to play at the seventh grade variety show as a send-off for the exiting eighth grade class. She smiled for a moment thinking about what the seventh graders might present at her eighth grade send-off.

An alert indicating the arrival of ‘new mail’ broke her muse as she noticed four new messages. Her attention was drawn immediately to the third message – a large file from Masayuki Watanabe with the simple subject of . The message was brief, a simple note thanking her for offering to share the project upon its completion and that the information she requested was attached. Before having a chance to unstuff the attachment, the silence of her room was broken again as her father called Amanda to breakfast. She logged out of the server and shut down her laptop before placing it in the book bag with her other school materials.

”How’s the portfolio coming?” asked Mr. Fish from the kitchen as Amanda appeared ready for school.

”I think I just got the files from Mr. Watanabe,” she beamed. “I’ll let you know if they do the trick after my project time this morning.”

”Whatever…,” her father sighed, “you know your portfolio presentation is scheduled for next week. All of your teachers, coaches, and representatives from the high school will be there, not to mention Dr. Fields. Are you sure that project from sixth grade needs these ‘final’ touches?”

”Dad, once the presentation is over,” pleaded Amanda, “my portfolio will be burned onto a DVD where it will stay forever in the tower archives at school. Other kids will use it to get ideas and maybe offer suggestions or comments. I won’t have another chance to finish World Beat before it goes to press and I want it to be as close to finished as possible. This is how I will be remembered at school. Besides, in sixth grade I had no idea where this project would take me.”

”You’re beginning to sound more like your mother every day.” needled her father.

”Will Mom be home for my presentation?”

”Didn’t you read her message yesterday?” puzzled Mr. Fish. “She has to stay on the project two more weeks, but plans to join your presentation through a video conference. I asked Mr. Morris to reschedule your presentation for the distance learning lab. I notified everyone of the room change. Only two have yet to reply to my E-mail.”

As Amanda walked to the bus stop, Mr. Fish left follow-up messages on voice-mail for the two participants who had not responded to his E-mail request. He then logged into the ‘read only’ version of Amanda’s portfolio one last time before heading off to work. He could feel that familiar lump in his throat swell as images from Amanda’s career crossed his television screen. The violin recital in Kindergarten where Amanda sported pig tails and a 1/4 size violin was followed by her explanation as to why this artifact was selected for her portfolio. One button click away was her performance in the eighth grade ensemble. The music director, Mr. Polk, offered comments and words of encouragement to Amanda through an embedded sound file. Mr. Fish knew he would have to stop at this point or risk being late for work. He quickly sent confirmation to Mrs. Fish that the schedule for her video conference had been set.

Arriving at school, Amanda performed the usual routine of opening up her notebook, logging in her user ID, selecting her lunch from the on-line menu, and checking to see if any new mail had arrived. This day she also took a moment to upload the file received from Mr. Watanabe to her file server account. Once verified by the homeroom teacher, all login information is sent to the attendance module of the student management system housed on a central file server in the District Office. Here, all attendance and medical records are stored in a relational file that is attached to other information linked to Amanda’s career. Since much of this information is confidential, multiple levels of security and data protection have been installed. Only a select few District employees have access to the entire file.

Even Amanda’s lunch selection is related to this file in terms of which menu choices she selects and the amount spent each day. All lunch information is recorded so that not only can the family be assured Amanda is served a balanced meal, but the food service group and school nurse can improve their services as well. It is said that the cost of school lunches has decreased as a result of savings in reduced food waste. Through this system every child is provided a balanced meal without regard to financial means. When Amanda’s parents were both temporarily out of work, they arranged to credit her lunch purchases to the school account. Since no money actually passes from students to cashiers, Amanda was not aware of any difference in her lunch service, nor were her peers.

Once situated in homeroom, Amanda checked her digital planner to see what meetings had been proposed for her project periods. She had been invited to a meeting by members of the conservation club to videotape an interview with a member of the Preservation Society about the marine life population of Big Bear Lake. There is a standing policy that three students must conduct video interviews. One student videotapes the interview while another takes notes and a third conducts the interview. Though Amanda had once been a member of a biology group studying the water quality of Big Bear Lake, she had already scheduled her morning in the MIDI center to complete her World Beat project.

Prior to being dismissed to the project centers, all homerooms view the Morning Show broadcast. Many of Amanda’s friends have been involved in the production of this program. She would often see them riding the early bus, and more often still, taking the activities bus home in order to produce this five minute broadcast. Amanda recalled how, when a news set was required, various community members, teachers, and students pulled together to design, construct, and outfit the new studio. Three students even received credit in their CAD course for the set design. Though it hardly looked finished from the back of the broadcast studio, on the monitors it was larger than life.

This morning the guest was the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Fields. After the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, Dr. Fields greeted the district with his familiar smile and driving enthusiasm. Some students still refer to him as “The Wiz” since he always seems to know so much about their lives in and outside of the school. Most of the eighth graders know that he is one of the few people with access to all records contained in the district database. At any given time he knows performance indicators, health records, academic standings, class schedules, and any other information contained in the database. Amanda never forgot the time in fifth grade when Dr. Fields asked her to help him with some “musical fractions.”

Amanda had been struggling with fractions and wondered what she had to offer “The Wiz” in music. They met in the orchestra room where sheet music was projected on the screen. Dr. Fields asked Amanda to play the music, a simple melody she had learned on her violin. Dr. Fields asked how she knew which notes to play long and which to play short. She replied as any fifth year music student would. He then used the music software to arrange the notes in different ways, replacing whole notes with quarter notes and half notes. He asked her to play each new modification. A few times she had to correct his changes as he would sometimes replace a whole note with a half note and three quarter notes. He then asked Amanda to use the MIDI station to modify Bach’s Minuet in G major. After experimenting with changes in tempo and different rhythms, Amanda began to realize the mathematics of music. She also realized something about the man known to her friends as “The Wiz.” The broadcast continued as Dr. Fields addressed the entire district. In addition to the Morning Show being broadcast to all classrooms and commons spaces in the six schools over the wide area network, it is also broadcast via the cable network to all homes and municipalities in the community. Bilingual and foreign language students translate the message into Spanish, Korean, and Russian for the bilingual community while a “picture in picture” window is always accessible for real-time sign language translation.

The message was brief as Dr. Fields reminded the eighth grade that all portfolios would be due the following week. He also announced the summer seminar schedule that was sure to be filled within days. Amanda remembered her father talking of summer school as though it was some kind of punishment for doing poorly during the school year.

She could not imagine this as many students preferred the summer seminars to camp or even family vacations. The summer offerings were an opportunity to extend one’s understanding beyond that which was gained in the previous year. Some of the offerings were standard, like the advanced mathematics course Amanda took the summer following fifth grade. Others were more experiential like the Fine Arts seminar that brought students to the Art Institute of Chicago after an in-depth study of “With Open Eyes” software, the Civic Opera for a study of cultural stories, and a river tour of Chicago’s architecture (with an added stop in Oak Park, to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio.) Amanda could hear the “ohs” and “ahs” of the students around the room as each seminar was announced. She knew there would be a rush to get the applications submitted before the end of the week. Though, her only interest was to finish the World Beat project.

Once homeroom dismissed, Amanda headed straight for the MIDI lab in the Fine Arts wing. Except for the keyboards and headphones, one might imagine the MIDI lab to be another Science lab as it is outfitted with equipment for tone generation, some donated oscilloscopes, and a variety of devices used to measure and manipulate sound. In fact, many science classes schedule the MIDI lab for experiments with light and sound. Amanda got straight to work downloading and unstuffing the files from her fileserver account. The first folder contained sound files from various traditional Japanese drums. She sampled these and played them back at various speeds. Once sampled, she added the sounds to the emulator bank and opened the next folder. A collection of still and video images for the drums were added to the other image files in her project folder. Finally, a translated history of the drum and drum making in Japan would serve to answer questions she had posed to Mr. Watanabe through an E-mail link on his webpage. With a few minor changes, her World Beat project would be complete.

Amanda’s World Beat project started as a result of changes in teaching and learning throughout the curriculum in her school district. Instead of spending each year systematically executing chapters in the social studies and science textbooks, Amanda’s teachers and the entire district adopted a “less is more” philosophy which stressed the importance of in-depth learning integrated across the curriculum through collaboration and team building among learners.

Amanda joined a group whose theme of study was “change” with a focus on changes in world cultures. In their study, the students set out to find similarities in changes throughout cultures around the world. They decided to branch off into different areas to uncover more information. It was at this point that Amanda was coached to use her background in music to support the group.

As her study continued, Amanda found herself seeking experts in areas not only from music and history, but also geology, natural resources and agriculture. Each new discovery led down a new road of study. One of the hardest challenges Amanda faced was to decide which things to pursue and which to abandon as they were all interesting and related in some way to her study. The answer came in the form of a deadline the group had set. There wasn’t enough time to pursue all the roads she had discovered. Amanda focused on changes detected in musical instruments of cultures from various regions. This information added support the group’s hypothesis that there exist more similarities in world cultures than differences. The project was shared by the group as a multimedia presentation depicting the growth of the United States as a united nation of world cultures. Many cultural artifacts were displayed as pictures and sounds which had been collected from various archives on the Internet, libraries, and art gallery resources on CD-ROM. Though satisfied with their accomplishments as a group, Amanda could not let go of the unanswered questions she left on those abandoned roads.

In the two years following that project, Amanda continued to pursue the questions that arose from her study. She reached out to cultural anthropologists and experts in plate tectonics. She contacted Oneida’s web site for information about tribes of Native Americans and universities in Africa, Europe and South America. Amanda’s World Beat project was originally based on the notion that all the world’s cultures shared one common instrument; the drum. It was her belief that unlike other instruments which had changed or been introduced over time, the drum was indigenous to all cultures of the world. To illustrate her conviction, Amanda used 3D rendering tools to join all major land masses on the face of the earth as one large island. She then used advanced multimedia authoring and animation tools to bring the globe to life as it rotated on its axis. On each rotation, tremors could be seen on the surface of the island as the sound of a resonant drum began to beat so low it was barely audible. With each beat the sound grew louder as the tremors became more pronounced and chasms began to form on the face of the island. Then as each fault tore a piece of land away, a new drum with a higher pitch began to beat. Each drumbeat fellaborated on the World Beat project and those represented in cultural traditions throughout the world. Finally Amanda allowed the project to reach a pause in its development as she added it to her portfolio.l into harmony with the others as they played a rhythm unto themselves. As all the pieces of land followed the projected paths to their current global positions, their individual drums played to accompany the deepest and most resonant drum. Once in position, multiple areas of each land mass became active buttons to bring forth the images and sounds of the native drums of each region. The materials used for each drum’s construction and cultural meanings were displayed in fields accessible from hot spots within each image. Also activated from hot spots were QuickTime movies of the sound waves generated from each drum as it had been sampled. Amanda’s project would have been complete at this point had she not taken time to reflect on the process by which the project was created.

Amanda became aware that at every step of the project’s development, there were always individuals with whom she would interact and become familiar. She recalled Mr. Polk’s expression as he played the tympani for a sound sample and Tami Schurr, a community member and part-time drummer who shared her knowledge of every drummer she had ever admired. Amanda then thought of all the relationships she had established with individuals around the world and in her own community. It was then she became aware of another road, the one that had been before her all the time. Amanda now saw the similarities of people of many cultures who gathered in a shared interest over the course of the World Beat project. Amanda modified the project to present the drum as a metaphor for the heart which symbolized love – the greatest element of all cultures and the human race. Now, in addition to all of the images and movies already contained in the project, Amanda included the images, voices and identities of people who collaborated on the World Beat project and those represented in cultural traditions throughout the world. Finally Amanda allowed the project to reach a pause in its development as she added it to her portfolio.

The Crazy Ones

Posted on June 12th, 2007 in Misc | Comments Off on The Crazy Ones

Back in the day, Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign included a commercial with black & white video of a bunch of “the crazy ones, the misfits”, including Einstein, Bob Dylan, and Frank Lloyd Wright. In true mashup fashion, someone took the voiceover and animated the text. Here is the result:

And here is the original: