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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Education, Research, and Development

Working in Western Alaska as an educator and technologist I have learned a lot about educational issues in the Bush and across Alaska in general over the past 8 years. One thing is constant: the complaints that the system is broken and that there are unique difficulties in every school and student population.

We all realize that there are things that need to be fixed. We all agree on the existence of half a dozen issues at least. Legislators, Governors, Mayors, and administrators come and go, all well meaning, but nothing changes.

When was the last major educational upheaval in the Bush? When was the last time we tried something truly, fundamentally different? Molly Hootch, RUS grants and VTC deployments statewide bridging geographical gaps in the late 90's?

I personally have had my educational philosophy altered irrevocably by the one-to-one initiative of the early 2000's. My ideal classroom will never be the same again. My students had voices in the learning and experienced being the teacher to their peers as much as I did. Multimedia projects offered ever-present opportunities to succeed. With culture, language, and place-based standards infused with the content I presented from text and online resources, the students formed their own opinions. The joy of exploratory learning and satisfaction of self discovery made every theme, date, and name "sticky" (as Seth Godin would put it).

Leveraging academic concepts in organic solutions is what problem solving in the real world boils down to. Complex issues, like Bush education (or American education in a broader sense), require complex solutions. There is no blanket to cover all. There is no silver bullet to win every battle. 
The cure for polio was not a happenstance. Interstate highways are not America's oldest roads. Trails were blazed and it cost blood, sweat, and tears. Risk and reward built American industry and created the one great Superpower.

What experiments are we trying to affect learning outcomes in early childhood education? 
How many risks are we taking "flipping" classrooms and districts nation-wide? 

Defense budgets through the 80's and 2000's were nothing short of disgusting to the average American. R&D projects led to (relatively) positive outcomes for our troops, though. Predator drones, laser guidance systems, body armor...

Energy independence in the US is a noted priority of both parties. Though rarely agreed upon in form and function, this goal is funded by billions annually. We now supplement power in the village of Alakanuk through wind energy. Solar cells in the siding of the new schools offset a percentage of the heating costs during winter, however small...

What cutting-edge educational RESEARCH is being done in Bush Alaska? 
How many dollars are we spending on DEVELOPING Alaska's future... our children? 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Art Therapy

Living in the Bush can be a struggle sometimes. Working in a town with no restaurants, movie theaters, or source of entertainment outside ball games at the school, life can be a bit drab. We have game nights, dinner parties, movie nights, and fiddle dances every now and again, but most of the winter is spent inside avoiding the bitter cold. This year, my 5th or 6th Bush winter, I thought I would try something new. 
While last in Anchorage I purchased a few paints, brushes, pastels, sketch books, charcoals, and canvases. This passed week instead of TV or video games friends and I practiced a little art therapy! 

Some of us beaded others drew. I sketched a bit and then tried my hand at acrylics on canvas for the first time.  I was inspired by the 1869 painting by painter William Rimmer called “Evening” or The Fall of Day”,  featuring a picture of the Greek god Apollo. Of course, the colorful version is more likely recognizable on the Swan Song album by Led Zepplin

I also tried out pastels for the first time, drawing up a scene from Kauai, Hawaii. I camped on the beach for a week in October and hoped to capture a bit of the majesty that is dawn on the Pacific.  

The following are the works my wonderfully talented friends created! I won't identify them without permission, but I will show off their work... 

I can only get better, as you can tell, so expect more pictures soon. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Straight Talk, not Small Talk

Lately people have been asking me "how is your year going?" or "how do you like the new job?" and the response is always the same. It's almost like the question "how are you?" or "how was your day?" Is the answer ever anything but "good" or "very well, thank you"? The truth is my days, just like the rest of my life, are up-and-down. 

My question then is: do I, they, or anyone actually care?

I have found myself pondering my resolution for the school year lately. I told myself that this year I would talk less and say more. I want to be a man of my word. I want to be a man of straight talk and concise/meaningful answers. I want my no's to be no's and my yes's to be yes's. I don't intend to be rude, short, or terse with anyone in this regard, only forthright and direct. Honesty, truth, and trustworthiness will be my goals.

All this is to set the stage for what I believe to be my current struggle in life. I love to ask myself questions, reflect on my choices, challenge myself daily, and create standards worth meeting. Recently I took a trip to Kauai. This was undoubtedly the most significant of vacations/experiences in my life. I came back refreshed and re-centered. I tried to re-create this trip recently by traveling to Las Vegas last week. You might think that's a funny place to be alone but the truth is we can sometimes hide in large groups. Becoming nameless and faceless allowed me to be invisible temporarily. Reading, lounging by the pool, walking the streets at night, seeing Cirque productions: these were all refreshing experiences, especially alone. The trouble is I still don't know myself. I failed in a number of ways to recreate Kauai. I didn't read what I wanted to, nor as much as I wanted to. 

I know what I want to be. I know how to get there. I just don't know who will do it with me. Who will challenge me? Who will be my support? Who will bring me down? Who will lift me up? 
I have met several wonderful people lately. My mind soars at the possibilities! I have many concerned and supportive friends. My family will continue to encourage and love me unconditionally. 
Will this be enough though? I think not. I will need strength and guidance from above. I will need grace and mercy for what I do. I will need wisdom and insight and sound judgment to discern His will for my life. I will need Straight Talk, not Small Talk. Please feel free, after reading this, to give me some Straight Talk. Challenge me.

I am not yet the man I wish to be. I am working progress. I am willing to learn and change. I am His.