Thursday, December 29, 2005

Free Web Software Tools

Here's a Free HTML editor that offers a graphic interface called First Page 2006 3 A very nice tool for creating school papers, web pages, and whatnot.

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My EO Smith Men's basketball stats

Last week, all three EO Smith teams won hard-earned contests against rival Windham teams.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that these statistics will never be completely up to date or comprehensive and as a result I’m dropping tracking team numbers. But eclectic and incomplete as these individual player numbers are here they come anyway…

The Ron-Ron team represents the lock-down defensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. The calculation is this;

((Rebounds + Steals + Blocked Shots + Disruptive Plays) minus (Bad Passes + Turnovers)) divided by the number of games. This is my Ron-Ron number.
The team after three meets is:

#34 Freshmen ((18 + 8 + 2 + 10) - 6) /3 = 10
#22 Freshmen ((18 + 8 + 1 + 4) - 3) /2 = 09
#44 JV ((13 + 3 + 1 + 2) – 3)/2 = 08
#40 JV (5 + 3 + 0 + 0) - 0 = 08
#34 Varsity ((14 + 2 + 1 + 5) - 3)/3 = 06
#15 Freshmen ((11 + 2 + 3 + 5) - 2)/3 = 06

The Bron-Bron team represents the most efficient offensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. These are the guys who put the ball in the hands of a shooter who makes the shot. The calculation is this;

((Shots Made + Assists) divided by (Shots Made + Shots Missed )) for that player. (Minimum 5 shots attempted) This is my Bron-Bron number.

The team after three meets is:

#15 Freshman .722 13/18
#20 Varsity .720 18/25
#40 JV .692 9/13
#22 Freshmen .657 23/35
#22 Varsity .600 12/20
#23 JV .600 3/5

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Modesty and Sacrifice

This year's Women's dance team's oufits are more modest than last year's and I, for one am grateful for that [and I'm fairly certain other parents feel similarly]. I'm not a prude but in my fifties I have anxieties about skimpy outfits on teenagers performing in public. This year's outfits make it easier to just enjoy the dance routines without feeling a little discomfort that someone might think I'm staring when I'm really spacing out.

And I don't think it's a bad thing for the boys to use their imaginations more. Mysterious forces like charm, personality, humor, and good nature advance and many of those qualitities are a far better metric for boy/girl attractions than just over-exposed looks.

At the last basketball game, however, a particularly loud spectator made an ass of himself screaming one inane chant after another [and I have my days as well]. He paid his ticket and everyone has a right... I went home with a headache.

But no matter how libertarians may argue that "you have a right to speak as long as...", I was offended when this spectator began yelling "More! More!" like a drunken sailor pounding the bar at Hooters as the dance team was leaving. I hope that whoever his friends are might gently remind this fellow where he is and how young these kids are. It ain't right.

And I want to also talk briefly about intimacies. The Bush administration has sanitized the war they're waging. Boys and girls of all nationalities are losing their lives senselessly every day. The killers all justify the deed in the name of their god.

As citizens we have to be sure to give our kids rich opportunities to dance with each other. In times of war these kids know and need to understand that war will claim some of their classmates. These are times when tenderness and kindness need to be the daily practice.

When Representative Murtha speaks about meeting soldiers who return so disfigured that their children are horrified to look at dad we need to remind ourselves of how beautiful each and every kid and parent is. Every silly love these kids experience is better than never feeling that emotion.

Peace on earth - everyday is a good day to practice that. You elected me to speak truth to power. I'm speaking it to you - you're the power. John Lennon said it best, "War is over --IF YOU WANT IT."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

EO Smith Basketball Game 2 series

The EO Smith Varsity and JVs won their games against South Windsor. The Freshmen lost.

I only have stats for the Varsity and Freshmen to update.

The Ron-Ron team represents the lock-down defensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. The calculation is this;

((Rebounds + Steals + Blocked Shots + Disruptive Plays) minus (Bad Passes + Turnovers)) divided by the number of games. This is my Ron-Ron number. In game 2, all Varsity players got a bonus Disruption point for unbelievable defensive effort in the final quarter.

The team after two meets is:

#34 Freshmen ((11 + 3 + 2 + 4) - 0) /2 = 10
#23 JV (7 + 0 + 2 + 0) - 1 = 08*
#22 Freshmen ((10 + 4 + 1 + 3) - 2) /2 = 08
#34 Varsity ((9 + 1 + 1 + 2) - 2)/2 = 5.5
#15 Freshmen ((6 + 1 + 2 + 3) - 1)/2 = 5.5
#44 JV (4 + 2 + 0 + 1) - 2 = 05*

The Bron-Bron team represents the most efficient offensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. These are the guys who put the ball in the hands of a shooter who makes the shot. The calculation is this;

((Shots Made + Assists) divided by (Shots Made + Shots Missed )) for that player. (Minimum 5 shots attempted) This is my Bron-Bron number.

The team after two meets is:

#22 Varsity .916 11/12
#20 Varsity .642 9/14
#15 Freshman .636 7/11
#20 Freshmen .625 5/8
#34 Varsity .600 6/10
#44 JV .600 3/5

Otherwise, here's the shooting percentage leaders;

Varsity .400 34/85
JVs .400 16/40
Freshmen .351 33/91

Free Throw Shooting percentage;

Varsity .692 27/39
Freshmen .382 13/34
JVs .000 00/04

Ron-Ron Number by team;

Freshmen (111 - 29)/2 = 41
JVs 47 - 21 = 26
Varsity (69 - 21)/2 = 24

Bron-Bron offensive efficiency by team;

Varsity .517 44/85
JVs .475 19/40
Freshmen .451 42/91

Shame on Simmons

I just got word saying that "Rob Simmons broke his word and voted in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as well as substantial cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, and other important programs."

He's all about -cough- "helping people", especially helping insiders help themselves [to our national treasures].

I suspect CABE will be sending him a certificate of appreciation any day now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Jodi Rell and Taxpayer's millions in the toilet!

Yeah, that last post gives you a taste of the effectiveness of CABE -shudder-. Here's another whopper. CABE's The Journal reports that "one of the goals of then Lieutenant Governor Rell's technology initiatives was to build a statewide network linking schools, universities and libraries together."

Oh, that ain't all. CABE "has recommended, that there be adequate annual operating funding to maintain, support, and operate the State Education network and that there be sufficient content on the network to provide every school and library with comprehensive and beneficial information."

Really. Let's ask Ms. Rell what this costed the taxpayers, the article says, "after four years and millions of dollars spent". That's right folks, MILLIONS OF DOLLARS SPENT!

Um, I hate to sound like a Monty Python rerun but did Jodi work for the Redundant Department of Redundancy when the State was spending MILLIONS OF [Taxpayer] DOLLARS to build something that sounds an awful lot like the internet but not as good?

In fact, CABE's suggestion for this thing is that we now find something to do with it. Huh? Why in god's name would we spend another penny on this?

Rell should be impeached long before we spend another dime on something like this. It's an outrage and an insult to people's intelligence that good money be flushed after bad.

Maybe, Rell never heard of the internet (CABE's Journal waxes poetic about the need to keep up technologically yet their publication is hardcopy only!). Or maybe her vision was a MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR copy of this freebie, SchoolTool.

I won't be voting for more of this any time soon.

Please, SOMEBODY, ANYBODY tell me the State didn't outsource the work. Lie to me if you have to.

CABE; Whose side are these guys on, anyway?

CABE is the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Inc. I just received their December issue of The Journal, their newsletter. If these articles are representative of the state of education in Connecticut, man are we in trouble!

Connecticut desperately needs an advocacy organization to truly promote the needs of citizens for education. I'm depressed reading this stuff.

There's a short blurb about the outcome of the Schaeffer v. Weast ruling that is perfunctory. BOE members who want a truer synopsis can read it here.

The Journal also listed The State Department of Education's "legislative agenda". The DOE obviously has too much time on their hands and is way overfunded because this cauldron of steamy stuff needs rethinking to say the least.
  • Redirection of use of school facilities
    They want some state grant money returned "to the state" if an educational facility is closed. My thought is, NO. Let's offer the taxpayers of that region a tax rebate or redirect the funds into an educational trust fund that can be applied to emergency situations. The state doesn't need any more money to waste.

  • Turn-key school construction projects
    Here they're saying new school facilities must (D'OH) have an architectural review and meet school space standards! Geezus, is the State brain-dead that in the year 2006 we'll be debating the issue of building schools that meet school space standards. Because if space is the issue I think they might as well debate the size of outdoor Porto-potties as well.

  • Limitation of change orders
    The state wants to limit to 5% "the amount of a change order". Basically, as written, this is meaningless since it doesn't limit the volume of change orders. What's needed is a rigorous walkthrough of orders in the first place and any nonsense better be caught early. Is that asking too much?

  • Reporting on the condition of school facilities
    This is about envoronmental concerns in schools. The article says "It is proposed to extend the reporting requirement [on long-term school plans and indoor air quality] to two years." Oh.
    Well it would be nice if the State EPA would check the quality of air on the school grounds as well and get this expense off the backs of school budgets. And in the age of concerns about pandemics, I would like to see an environmental SWAT team investigating any and all instances of potential flu outbreak hot spots.

  • Reading programs for priority school district students
    Too little information to comment on this.

  • Bullying Policies
    The State wants teachers to become the misbehavior police "to include bullying on a school bus and outside of the school setting". Like schools don't have enough to do already. They forgot to include bullying while day-dreaming. Just what schools need more paperwork and bureaucracy.

  • Special Education
    The State wants to dump Connecticut's protections to comply to the Schaeffer v. Weast ruling. This would be a rollback of superior legal coverage for parents of speciual education children.
    This is a stealthy, unnecessary manuever that lowers Connecticut's standards. parents need to let their State representatives know what they think about this.

  • Energy Efficient School building design
    Thirty years after Jimmy Carter... I'm speechless.

I'm joining the Policy Committee

...and I'm starting with a blank piece of paper. It's nice and clean. It's a great policy - short, sweet, portable.

I guess if I'm going to have to think about policy I had better start with suggestions from successful industry. Here's some of what Google's CEO has for Ten Golden Rules;

Hire by committee. Virtually every person who interviews at Google talks to at least half-a-dozen interviewers, drawn from both management and potential colleagues. Everyone's opinion counts, making the hiring process more fair and pushing standards higher. Yes, it takes longer, but we think it's worth it. If you hire great people and involve them intensively in the hiring process, you'll get more great people. We started building this positive feedback loop when the company was founded, and it has had a huge payoff.
Uh, oh - everybody's opinion counts! That's not the way things work in Bushworld. This No Child Left Behind (NCLB) stuff is all about soviet style central committee control of education by the state and feds. The first policy note I have is to work to eliminate NCLB.
* Cater to their every need. As Drucker says, the goal is to "strip away everything that gets in their way." We provide a standard package of fringe benefits, but on top of that are first-class dining facilities, gyms, laundry rooms, massage rooms, haircuts, carwashes, dry cleaning, commuting buses—just about anything a hardworking engineer might want. Let's face it: programmers want to program, they don't want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both.
Teachers are knowledge workers. So are students. Lots of Americans used to be and still are. EO provides lots of first-class stuff. The students earning money give great car washes, they commute a lot... My thought is that teachers want to help every student reach their individual learning goals not usher them into social engineering experiments that turn them into automa-test-takers. I keep hearing that tests get in the way of learning and burn out the kids from caring. NCLB must go!

But I'm going to add something here. Everybody must be fed. I'm sick of reading that Connecticut is skimping on kids getting a decent breakfast in school programs that should be caring for these kids. This is not necessarily a Region 19 issue but the voters better start chasing the State around to feed the kids. Hungry kids make life harder on teachers and parents.

And while I'm ranting, what ever happened to employer subsidized lunches? These guys are making way too much to say we can't afford feeding employees more economical meals.

* Pack them in. Almost every project at Google is a team project, and teams have to communicate. The best way to make communication easy is to put team members within a few feet of each other. The result is that virtually everyone at Google shares an office. This way, when a programmer needs to confer with a colleague, there is immediate access: no telephone tag, no e-mail delay, no waiting for a reply. Of course, there are many conference rooms that people can use for detailed discussion so that they don't disturb their office mates. Even the CEO shared an office at Google for several months after he arrived. Sitting next to a knowledgeable employee was an incredibly effective educational experience.
Check. The school is packed all right and the teachers I've met are very knowledgable and involved. My nice white sheet of paper is still mostly empty. This policy stuff is a snap.

* Make coordination easy. Because all members of a team are within a few feet of one another, it is relatively easy to coordinate projects. In addition to physical proximity, each Googler e-mails a snippet once a week to his work group describing what he has done in the last week. This gives everyone an easy way to track what everyone else is up to, making it much easier to monitor progress and synchronize work flow.
You know, a lot of teachers are doing this already. It's better than testing because we know exactly what kind of progress is being made by our kid. This isn't a policy thing, this is just good parent-teacher-student communication.

* Eat your own dog food. Google workers use the company's tools intensively. The most obvious tool is the Web, with an internal Web page for virtually every project and every task. They are all indexed and available to project participants on an as-needed basis. We also make extensive use of other information-management tools, some of which are eventually rolled out as products. For example, one of the reasons for Gmail's success is that it was beta tested within the company for many months. The use of e-mail is critical within the organization, so Gmail had to be tuned to satisfy the needs of some of our most demanding customers—our knowledge workers.
Now I've got something to work with. Before I was on the BOE a teacher mentioned that the State and NCLB tests didn't have feedback loops that allowed teachers and test administrators to talk back and comment on the appropriateness of the tests. I'm thinking maybe we need to change the government policy on this.

Let's open-source these tests so that the profit motive isn't driving education. Let teachers pick and choose and design tests that make sense. Let's get the edu-business lobbyists out of our lives and save time and money by getting the middlemen and middle bureaucrats out of our lives.

Policy Note; let's deal our own hand when it comes to educational materials and metrics.

* Encourage creativity. Google engineers can spend up to 20 percent of their time on a project of their choice. There is, of course, an approval process and some oversight, but basically we want to allow creative people to be creative. One of our not-so-secret weapons is our ideas mailing list: a companywide suggestion box where people can post ideas ranging from parking procedures to the next killer app. The software allows for everyone to comment on and rate ideas, permitting the best ideas to percolate to the top.
I like this! Letting students and teachers choose their own goals - think outside the NCLB borg - it's wild its radical - policy suggestion #3.

* Strive to reach consensus. Modern corporate mythology has the unique decision maker as hero. We adhere to the view that the "many are smarter than the few," and solicit a broad base of views before reaching any decision. At Google, the role of the manager is that of an aggregator of viewpoints, not the dictator of decisions. Building a consensus sometimes takes longer, but always produces a more committed team and better decisions
So maybe building kids who know how to negotiate, assimilate, and co-operate is a goal we should strive for. Is there a policy that can help this?

* Don't be evil. Much has been written about Google's slogan, but we really try to live by it, particularly in the ranks of management. As in every organization, people are passionate about their views. But nobody throws chairs at Google, unlike management practices used at some other well-known technology companies. We foster to create an atmosphere of tolerance and respect, not a company full of yes men.
Man, this has got to be on page one of the policy manual, Don't be evil. What if voters practiced this? Politicians? Government Education Departments? Hmmm. I like it.

* Data drive decisions. At Google, almost every decision is based on quantitative analysis. We've built systems to manage information, not only on the Internet at large, but also internally. We have dozens of analysts who plow through the data, analyze performance metrics and plot trends to keep us as up to date as possible. We have a raft of online "dashboards" for every business we work in that provide up-to-the-minute snapshots of where we are.
I've been very impressed with this administration's attention to detail. Principal Delereto's data is a monthly analysis of one aspect of educational activity at EO or another.

* Communicate effectively. Every Friday we have an all-hands assembly with announcements, introductions and questions and answers. (Oh, yes, and some food and drink.) This allows management to stay in touch with what our knowledge workers are thinking and vice versa. Google has remarkably broad dissemination of information within the organization and remarkably few serious leaks. Contrary to what some might think, we believe it is the first fact that causes the second: a trusted work force is a loyal work force.

That's what this blog is about. We're going to work together to make things better if we can.

I'm guessing there's more to policy than this so I'll get back to you after our first meeting.

Learning Software Tools - Java, Web

Software development techniques and languages for too long have been monopolized by insiders. If you're a Java student here are two useful downloads.

You and your child can freely download rich, industrial strength tools to learn with. You'll need a computer with a few gigabytes of disk space for everything but most newer home computers will suffice.

The Java Software Development Kit (J2SE 5.0) is available as a separate bundle here. Just download the separate bundle and follow the easy instructions. It will install itself on your machine so that you can use it to compile Java code into your own programs.

Next, get a copy of Eclipse, an open source Java Interactive Development (IDE) tool. This too will download and install itself by simply following the easy instructions.

(NoteToMyself: Finish this masterlist, add link to tutorials)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Free MP3/Podcast sites

This list will be updated from time to time. Use the leftmost permanent menu link to check it.

Here's my masterlist of legally free music sites. The caveat here is that these are largely new bands, songwriters, and who-not who may not necessarily be tasteful or sensitive to your cultural hot buttons. On the other hand, many songs found on these sites are topical, excellent, and very worthwhile. The blurbs explain the genres. Sample at your own risk but to the degree that these sites can guarantee; everything available is legal.

Soundclick Artists offering wonderful free music

Pitchfork Media from Northampton, MA

InSound from New York City

Rhino Podcasts - Rhino music samplers

Worthwhile Free General Software

This list will get updated from time to time and is a hot link on the permanent menu to the left. My masterlist of recommendations (use your own judgement, please) -

OpenOffice - a free office suite supported by SUN engineers and others

Firefox - some say this is the best browser available

AVG - anti-virus or AVAST

Google - Google offers a rich set of Software tools many of which I use and recommend highly

GIMP - an open source image processing program - A free image processing program from the Washington State University (heavy duty Windows OS required).

A free 3-D solid shapes modeler; SketchUp.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

EOSmith Basketball

The EO Smith teams (all three) lost their games to Maloney High. Oh, well.

One of my habits is to keep statistics of details and I want to introduce two categories that I will call the Ron-Ron team and another called the Bron-Bron team. These are strictly my own invention and they exist to celebrate the best defensive and offensive players to date on the three teams.

Now, I have two sons who play who may or may not show up on these teams from time to time. If they do it will be because they earned it (I'm a diehard basketball guy who plays with numbers no matter how they fall). Invent your own statistical categories if these don't work for you. And, finally, my stats are not perfect but I try hard.

Here we go.

The Ron-Ron team represents the lock-down defensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. The calculation is this;

((Rebounds + Steals + Blocked Shots + Disruptive Plays) minus (Bad Passes + Turnovers)) divided by the number of games. This is my Ron-Ron number.

The team after one meet is:

#34 Freshmen (7 + 2 + 2 + 4) - 0 = 15
#15 Freshmen (4 + 1 + 1 + 3) - 0 = 09
#23 JV (7 + 0 + 2 + 0) - 1 = 08
#44 JV (4 + 2 + 0 + 1) - 2 = 05
#22 Freshmen (2 + 2 + 1 + 1) - 1 = 05
#42 Freshmen (3 + 2 + 0 + 0) - 0 = 05

The Bron-Bron team represents the most efficient offensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. These are the guys who put the ball in the hands of a shooter who makes the shot. The calculation is this;

((Shots Made + Assists) divided by (Shots Made + Shots Missed )) for that player. (Minimum 5 shots attempted) This is my Bron-Bron number.

The team after one meet is:

#44 JV .600 3/5
#22 Varsity .571 4/7
#31 JV .571 4/7
#20 Varsity .500 4/8
#23 JV .500 2/4
#20 Freshmen .500 3/6
#12 Freshmen .500 3/6

Otherwise, here's the shooting percentage leaders;

JVs .400 16/40
Varsity .342 15/43
Freshmen .327 17/52

Free Throw Shooting percentage;

Varsity .666 12/18
Freshmen .333 05/15
JVs .000 00/04

Ron-Ron Number by team;

Freshmen 61 - 15 = 46
JVs 47 - 21 = 26
Varsity 27 - 15 = 12

Bron-Bron offensive efficiency by team;

JVs .475 19/40
Freshmen .423 22/52
Varsity .418 18/43

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Woody Allen and Motivation

From the article; "Woody Allen, New York’s auteur remakes himself–again" by Suzy Hansen

“I’m not intellectual,” Mr. Allen told The Observer. “I’m the guy that you see at home with the beer watching the Knicks on television, or the football game. I’m not sitting up in bed with my Kierkegaard or reading Dostoyevsky.”

For a moment, all those messy, sexy women in his films—who never seem to be able to choose a profession but always want “to write,” who read e.e. cummings when they’re told to by their more sophisticated lovers, who fall in love with Woody Allen because he’s their teacher—seemed less silly. In fact, he’s not unfamiliar with the inferiority complex. “I found myself—I don’t know why—attracted to what I guess you would call these kind of uncommercial-looking women,” he said of his teenage self. “They all were highly literate. They knew poetry and classical music and opera and novels and philosophy. And I was a major illiterate, and I couldn’t hold my own with those women at all. For the first time in my life I had genuine motivation toward education.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

BOE meeting topics

Last Tuesday was the first BOE meeting I attended since election to the Board. Despite the election of new officers and a fairly clean slate, we addressed many issues.

  1. Dianne Kaplan deVries, Ed. D represented the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding and outlined who the organization was (a 501(c)3 nonprofit) and their goal of reforming educational funding in Connecticut. The Board chose to continue the dialogue rather than take an immediate position on aligning with this group.

    While her presentation was certainly spirited, my primary concern with the concept is that the State's richest communities already receive the lowest state education funding and our perennially poorest communities get the greatest funding. Given this already 'unequal' funding the schools academically perform in inverse proportion to state funding (the big city schools routinely struggle and southwest Connecticut schools do well).

    The paradox is inescapable. If fairness is re-legislated as averaging out funding across the state, wealthy communities will get more funding despite no crying need for it and cities who have the crying need will likely lose funds. That is, unless educational funding is suddenly increased dramatically, small town Connecticut will still not receive any relief - (let's not kid ourselves here - in New York such 'reform' resulted in massive cuts in educational funding - see; here).

    Personally, I also didn't like the obfuscation of the word 'Justice' - tax reform is tax reform but this is a minor thing compared to an issue such as segregated schools.

    Apartheid education, rarely mentioned in the press or openly confronted even among once-progressive educators, is alive and well and rapidly increasing now in the United States. Hypersegregated inner-city schools--in which one finds no more than five or ten white children, at the very most, within a student population of as many as 3,000--are the norm, not the exception, in most northern urban areas today.
    - Jonathan Kozol
    (We'll come back to this issue soon.)

  2. We also discussed improving reading comprehension and aptitude. I had been thinking about an idea for some time that was warming received as a suggestion that should be tried. That is, the development and digital warehousing of podcasts of reading material and study guides used here in Region 19. Advanced students with good voices can read aloud and record MP3 study guides that students can use to help them read their assigned work. This will help those needing help without looking like they're studying and the digital tutor volunteers can get community service credits for their goodwill efforts.

  3. EO Smith's Principal, Mr. DeLoreto presented a number of topics, one of which was the fact that the school library was reducing its dependence on hardbound material and increasingly leveraging online digital resources - a great idea that broadens the pool of resources while reduces the cost of purchase and storage of temporal materials. [After the meeting, Mr. Silva noted that many school librarians are already [in]formally meeting to proliferate this idea across the district.]

  4. Mr. DeLoreto also took some pride in the fact that our class sizes are reasonable.
    I happen to think this is important information for parents for two reasons; 1. smaller class sizes are usually a metric indicating a better learning environment and 2. it means our teaching staff is not overwhelmed (and there's still way too much paperwork and nonsense coming from the outside for my taste).

  5. The cost of busing jumped out as quite an expense. [We'll revisit this as well].
An issue that I'll return to soon will be the rethinking of compulsory education, the re-invention of the high school curriculum as a stream of consciousness rather than a series of inoculations, and the integration of educational activity into our communities.

The $100 Laptop has arrived

MIT has developed an inexpensive laptop that will revolutionize learning in the third world. In future blog entries, let's talk about how this may help EO students develop learning relationships with the rest of the world.

From the article;

Digital magic for millions: Will cheap laptops create active learners or “green box” slaves? by Tran Le Thuy, posted December 9, 2005

TUNIS, Tunisia – Justin Mupinda hurried up to the crowded stall at the Tunis World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). “I want to see this device with my own eyes,” he said. He was among the thousands at WSIS who were curious about what was fast emerging as the biggest technology story of the event — a laptop that costs only $100.

The laptop — hailed by its developers as a technological breakthrough — was proudly displayed at the UN Development Program stand, with the slogan “One laptop per child.”

“I like it,” said Mupinda, a Zimbabwean IT expert and country coordinator for WorldLink, an organization campaigning to bring a million personal computers to schools in Africa. “It’s a good start toward getting more youths using ICTs” (individual computer terminals).

Mupinda’s enthusiasm is shared by many people eager to bridge the digital divide between poor and rich countries. “Our university has 25,000 students and it would be wonderful if all of them could have laptops to access the Internet,” said Alain Capo Chichi, manager of Cerco, an education project in Benin.

In Tunis, journalists covering the launch of the $100 laptop, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), frequently used the word “magic” in their questions about the device. And indeed, to many it seemed nothing short of magical. Not only is the green-cased notebook-size laptop incredibly cheap, it also has wireless connectivity and a hand crank allowing it to operate without electricity.

In the article one question that comes up is where will the content come from? The question sounds like a great opportunity for Region 19 students to begin thinking about how they might develop simple programs to teach foreign students subject matter of interest.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is Spending on Education Worth It?

From a recent article on Education from the New York Times, new studies suggest both the individual being educated is better off (the more disadvanaged reaping the biggest relative gains)AND each of us benefit as well.

This sounds like the kind of trend analysis that citizen's who vote on education budgets need to hear more about. But the article is really about the cost of education - is the benefit worth the investment?

Here are two snippets worth noting:

Economic View
What's the Return on Education?
Published: December 11, 2005

Start with what economists are confident about: the payoff to individuals. By measuring the relationship between the number of years of schooling and income earned in the job market, economists think that they have a good idea of what it's worth.

Alan B. Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton, says the evidence suggests that, up to a point, an additional year of schooling is likely to raise an individual's earnings about 10 percent.

For someone earning the national median household income of $42,000, an extra year of training could provide an additional $4,200 a year. Over the span of a career, that could easily add up to $30,000 or $40,000 of present value. If the year's education costs less than that, there is a net gain.

The payoff, of course, varies by individual. Another year of education will not have the same benefit for everyone. And school resources matter as well. According to studies by Professor Krueger and others, class size, teacher quality and school size can make a difference in the outcome. They have found that the effect of better schools is most pronounced for disadvantaged students.


Today, more Americans attend college than ever before, but the rest of the world is catching up. The once-large educational gap between the United States and other countries is closing - making it increasingly important to understand what education is really worth to a nation.

If economists are right, it is not just part of the cost of maintaining a functioning democracy, but a source of wealth creation for all. That means that investing in the education of every American is in everyone's self-interest.

Still, we're a long way from being able to judge the right level of spending on education - and how to achieve it. With a college degree more important than ever, the cost of higher education is rising steeply, creating growing stress for many American families. With more study, researchers may be able to identify ways of reducing costs while increasing the payoff from education.

Taking our cue from Socrates, the first step may be to recognize what we don't know.

Teaching Young Artists to Think About Art

Art critics are navel gazing these days. This New York Times book review asks where Art criticism has gone and where, in its absence, has Art gone.

The author wonders aloud if Art and artists have lost their way. In the context of high school art these questions are worth posing. Yes, young artists learn technique and experiment with medium. But what should they be thinking about? And who is their audience?

This article in many ways laments the extremist elements of art that have taken hold over the past thirty years or so - the masochism, shock, celebrity, and disenfranchisement of it all. When I see young adults tattooed, pierced, and desperate for attention, I cannot help but feel that these are artistic visions inspired by false prophets. The artistic community should not have to debase itself to get or deserve attention.

From the article [bolded text emphasis is mine]:

At the conclusion of "Art Since 1900," the four authors hold a round table, and their prognosis is equally dismal. Art, they believe, has become little more than "commodity production, investment portfolio and entertainment." Everything, they say, is turning into kitsch. But just as the formalist Michael Fried linked arms with the antiformalist Harold Rosenberg in their antagonism to contemporary art, so the oppositionalist October editors, with their objections to art's frivolousness and their insistence on the centrality of modernism, sound like no one so much as the traditionalist Hilton Kramer.

A single theme or complaint unites these otherwise disparate voices. Rosenberg lamented modern art's "anything goes" attitude. Ruhrberg writes that "in painting today, anything goes." By the early 70's, according to the authors of "Art Since 1900," "it seemed, as the song had put it, 'anything goes.' " Kramer has said: "With the eruption of the Pop Art movement, an element of demystification came into the art world, an element of cynicism, an element of . . . 'anything goes.' " If there is a presiding spirit over the art of recent decades, it is not Jackson Pollock, and not Andy Warhol. It is Cole Porter.

But how can art criticism cope with an ethos of anything goes? In an environment of perfect freedom, what is there left for a critic to criticize? For critics at newspapers and magazines, who astutely discuss current shows and exhibits, this is less of a problem than it is for writers who stake out theoretical positions. Some, like the writers for October, have turned to politics, interpreting art in terms of Marxism, or feminism, or gay activism or old-fashioned anti-Americanism (while the writers around The New Criterion have reacted to this leftist tendency with their own conservatism). Or they have found refuge in the higher realms of French and German philosophy, usually producing jargon-ridden criticism that is incomprehensible to anyone without a Ph.D. in European theory. We live at a moment when artists have been asking the kinds of questions children ask - What is art? What is it good for? - and critics have for the most part been giving answers not even an adult can understand. "Mommy, why have we come all this way to see pictures of soup cans?" "It's Andy Warhol, sweetheart, and he's wielding a sharp, insinuating heuristic chisel to pry at the faultlines and lay bare the sedimented faces of his surround. "

Mainly, however, critics who have not retreated into monasteries have often retreated in another way, according to the art historian James Elkins. They have, he says in his brief but heartily polemical book, "What Happened to Art Criticism?," given up being critics. They are expert at describing and evoking recent work, placing it in historical context, drawing stylistic and intellectual links among artists. But, with a few exceptions, they do not judge. A Columbia University survey of 230 art critics conducted in 2002 found that making evaluations ranked at the bottom of their list of priorities. Elkins calls this retreat from judgment "one of the most significant changes in the art world in the previous century." He writes that critics have become "voiceless," "ghostly," "unmoored." Art criticism, Elkins says, is in "worldwide crisis."

Worse yet, IMO, is an American public equally voiceless, ghostly, and unmoored who are incapable of making art part of the surroundng community. We too often settle for big city museums to intellectually insulate art from the public where no man, woman, or child can ask, "Why is this art? Why is this important? What does it mean?"

Maybe we need it as much as we need it. And maybe in a politically polarized society, it is the tie that binds.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Are High School Proms Decadent?

There seems to be a growing debate about an American institution, The Senior Prom. Certain Long Island High Schools are canceling the events claiming moral grounds for doing so. Or are young adults being denied yet another right of passage into adulthood that prevents them from ever discovering responsibility, joy, and farewell to their teens?

From the article;

"I think there is a general desire to bring religious values into public life, and these actions against the prom seem like signs of that," said John Farina, a researcher at Georgetown University who studies the intersection of religion and culture. "To some extent, it reflects the influence of John Paul II - his willingness to confront and resist the dominant culture. As a teacher, I wish more educators had that kind of backbone."

An opposing view was expressed by George M. Kapalka, a professor of psychological counseling at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J.

Resisting unacceptable behavior and banning it, he said, represent two different spirits in education. "This is just another example of the 'just say no' policy, which has failed miserably wherever it's been applied," Professor Kapalka said. "It would be better to start the conversation with kids about values earlier than to wait until senior year and ban the prom."


William J. Doherty, a professor of family studies at the University of Minnesota and author of "Take Back Your Kids," a study about overscheduled children, said in a phone interview that prom excesses like those cited by Brother Hoagland and Father Williams were typical of what he calls "consumer-driven parenting."

"We have parents heavily involved in orchestrating their children's experience because of this notion that experiences can be purchased," Dr. Doherty said. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, he said, he knew of one mother who did not want her daughter to go on a senior class trip to Cancun, but would not forbid it. "Her comment was 'how sad' it would be if her daughter was the only one at her lunch table to miss that experience.

"It's not that a whole generation of parents is crazy," Dr. Doherty said. "It's that there is a subset of parents who are crazy - and the rest don't want their kids to miss out."

Prom night may never replace abortion on the front line of the culture wars, but in small increments, the issue of prom night does seem to be forcing itself onto the agenda generally described as family values.

It seems to me that students and guidance counselors need to have a conversation about what the behavioral boundaries are in thinking about the senior prom so that students have a clear understanding of responsible behavior. Such conversations may pre-empt, to the degree possible, the isolated irreponsible event that could bring this issue to the forefront in shame or injury.

To summarize the article; material excess, drugs, and sexual behavior are all topics students need to talk about, understand the consequences of, and come to terms with on an individual basis. Parents and the school are not thought or behavior police who can magicallty prevent irreversible harmful activities. The community of students at EO need to support each other in defining and exercising right from wrong.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Don't be afraid to re-invent the wheel...

Here's a new invention that features robots taking advantage of square wheels. That's right, square wheels. It may become useful in applications such as Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) in nanotechnology.

Here's a description of the device:

The first prototype consisted of a car with 4 square wheels, in the general configuration of a typical car, with all 4 wheels mechanically connected together so they must all turn in unison. Furthermore, the rotational orientation of the wheels are sequentially off-set from one wheel to the next by 22.5° (¼ of 90°), moving around the vehicle in a CW or CCW direction as viewed from above.

“The weight shifting that propels the car is facilitated by a weight offset laterally from the center of the car that is moved in a rotational manner around the center of the car”, says inventor Jason Winckler of Global Composites. “The rotation is provided by a driven shaft extending vertically from the center of the car, with a lateral arm and off-set weight. As the shaft rotates, the weigh shifts in a circular manner around the car”.

“The shifting weight sequentially drives each wheel that is under the weight to sit flat on the ground, thus moving the other wheels in a rotational manner, and the car in a linear direction; reversing the direction of the rotating weight, reverses the direction of the car. There are also several methods for steering the car that are under development” says Steven Winckler, President of Global Composites.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Some thoughts on EOSmith's newspaper The Oracle

I had an opportunity to take a look at the latest issue of the school paper, The Oracle and have a small wishlist based on what I read.

It would be interesting to collect all the student book reviews and have a copy available at all Region19 libraries so that students could reference each other's favorite reading material. A good way to share interests and a very nice way for Middle School students to read ahead if they're advanced readers.

Although theater reviews are fine, I wish I could download a movie version or an iPod condensed version - maybe with some rehersal bloppers.

The paper might be better served in an HTML format that allows for links to author biography pages and so on.

Yearbooks are now being ordered but it might be interesting to bundle a DVD or CD with all the papers that came out over the four years of the graduating class's tenure along with MP3's of the school band performances, sports highlights, and so on.

What do you think might be worthwhile?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Free MP3 site

One of my favorite sites for finding contemporary music of all kinds (and plenty of international bands) is Pitchfork Media. They offer bands an opprtunity to get exposed in one of the nation's best music news web sites.

Now, I have to warn everyone - your mileage will vary with anything I recommend (it's a very mixed bag of pot luck genres). Our family votes whether to keep songs going on our jukebox player with Mom having the final edit. Our boys are guided and expected to make intelligent decisions without too much interference with their own developing tastes.

In any case, an inexpensive way to sample and enjoy new bands - click the title.

Participate in Matters of Life and Death - Cindy Sheehan visit.

The UConn Progressive Student Alliance has invited Cindy Sheehan to speak tomorrow, Monday, Dec. 5 at 7 pm (students admitted at 6:15, general public at 6:30). She will appear at the Student Union Theater at UConn.

Anyone in the Region 19 community who is interested should make an honest effort to attend. This is an opportunity to participate in something Jerzy Kosinski calls 'being there'. Students will someday look back at Cindy much the way Rosa Parks has been celebrated as a single human voice who changed the world.

Region19 needs to make her visit warm and appreciative.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

An Open Source Dictionary from Merriam-Webster

For english language lovers, here's an opportunity to add new words to the dictionary and define them. For young people who speak inventively this a very interesting place to lookup slang and specialized hybrid words and even contribute to their definition.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

For the record


I thought it would be fun to compare my picture before serving four years as a Region19 BOE member and after.