Amazing time at Kenwood today


I have been in touch with Kenwood Assistant Principal Jessica Pitcher for quite some time about tech stuff in schools, even before her migration over to Kenwood. Since joining Kenwood, we have talked about how Kenwood is doing a full-fledged pilot of eToys with signicant help from the University of Illinois (MTSE and GSLIS). As mentioned several times on this blog, I have been helping out with a smaller-scale eToys excursion at Carrie Busey; ever since hearing about it, I have been itching to get into Kenwood to see how they are “doing” eToys.



Today I had quite an opportunity. Kenwood had a special event going on, and part of the event was to cram as much STEM stuff with eToys/Scratch as possible. I took some time off work (thanks boss!) and dove in.

(To the left is a partial schedule listing of concepts covered at Kenwood on April 16th)


First off, one of my favorite things about walking into any Unit 4 school is how open the doors are. Literally, almost every classroom has the door open. I was greeted at the front door and after signing in, I marched down to my first pick. It happened to be a split 4th/5th grade class, and they were working on creating an advertisement. The teacher left it up to the students what they wanted to sell; they had to come up with something and then attempt to make it flashy and likable. I talked briefly with the teacher and was introduced to a very common theme for the rest of the day; teachers are seeing themselves as facilitators. As door-openers. Not so much the safari guide, but perhaps the travel agent.


After that, I had the honor of meeting and speaking with the Kenwood librarian, Todd Lash. As another staff member said, Todd is the Energizer Bunny who doesn’t know when to stop. 🙂 He is full of charisma and passion for teaching kids about technology. He was in-between things, so I only had about 30 seconds of his time – more on him later.


I hit up a class that was using eToys to animate a seedling as it grew into a plant. The children had already Read the rest of this entry »

Unit 4 gives kudos to the BOE and Raspberry Pi's to Kenwood

Stephanie Stuart just put this out:

Truly board members are indeed volunteers; even just being involved on the peripherary as I have been, I know they put in a ton of demanding hours. It is no trivial task, and the feeble of heart need not apply. So my thanks also to Board Members.

My attention was quite piqued when I saw that notice that Kenwood would be getting 7 Raspberry Pi units (one in honor of each board member). The Pi is down to about $25, so this isn’t some huge expense. But that is the beauty of the Pi in the first place – it is an awesome, DIY hobbyist-era miniture computer that is cheap.

For those that might not recall, Kenwood is piloting a STEM curriculum out of the University of Illinois headed up by Martin Wolske. They have debuted the implementation of eToys (again, with strong University support) as reported by the NG with an element of addressing computer learning in the community (again, as reported by the NG, hat tip to Meg Dickinson). I hope to learn more from Avigail Snir at eToys Illinois, Director George Reese, and Kenwood staff Minsoo Park and Todd Lash.

For myself, I have been helping a 4th grade classroom at Carrie Busey with their own exploration of eToys. It is amazing to see the rich variety of how kids tackle problems and challenges. True, computers are not for everyone, and it shows when some kids struggle with the interface. But what I really dig is when another student leans over and teaches their peer.

But I have to confess, perhaps my biggest reason for this post is to brag that my daughter will be doing a demo of the Raspberry Pi at her school’s Science Night tonight; she will focus on a program very much like eToys called “Scratch“. She favors the paint editor and duplicating Scratch into a family. 🙂

Around the district

Lot’s of significant things happening, of all stripes. Where to begin, where to begin…..

To start things off, it is interesting and noteworthy to observe how the district is reacting to various parental (and staff) concerns. However you feel about social media, at the very least it does deliver a certain perspective of opinion and thus information. For instance, notice the interactions reported by various individuals in these recent situations:

A Dangerous Prospect“: families and concerned Clark Park citizens discuss the obstacles and challenges about Prospect near John Street and South Side school. The latest post has some responses from Dr. Wiegand, and so far it is relatively well-received. More important (I think), the “ginormous” signs that popped up recently are sending a message (at least to some parents) that the district is listening and acting in some fashion.

Kenwood PTA: Likewise, the Kenwood PTA has raised some concerns about the status of their “balanced calendar” schedule when they are up for renovation and temporarily move to the Carrie Busey building on Kirby. My impression is that the floor has been opened for parent feedback (using tools like online and paper surveys) regarding what kind of schedule they want in the context of all the renovation being planned. So far, it seems like the Kenwood parents appreciate this gesture.

CP4T: Champaign Parents For Teachers: A new facebook page/group that desires to show teachers they are supported by parents and that the board takes them seriously. Apparently there will be some discussion tomorrow, a call for a show of support at the next board meeting (next Monday, the Town Hall meeting, 6pm, Mellon Center), and a hint that there may be an opportunity to interact with representatives of the Champaign Federation of Teachers (aka, CFT, “Teacher’s Union”) at some point in the near future. No official word from the district, yet.

Next up, I mentioned the Town Hall meeting next Monday. Did you all know the sites being considered? A map is posted on the futurefacilities website; if you zoom in, you will notice that only the Country Fair and the Clearlake sites are somewhat near the current major population density (I had not even heard of the latter – that must be recent?). I am asking that Chuck Jackson bring the two large-format GIS maps to the Town Hall meeting; I believe these maps, aside from being very tangible, give a great sense of scale and scope. The PDF on the U4 website is not very interactive, and in my opinion, the lack of detail and the ability to zoom in even more makes it harder for me to conceptualize the pros and cons of these sites.


I am particularly curious why parents support outlying sites. Yes, I understand the draw for “more land” for the school, which may translate into a more robust athletic offering. For me personally, I weight that against the significant costs of transportation (which we already struggle with). I also understand the argument for “more land” for future growth. I mean, we should have been thinking about the future 50 years ago, but at least we are thinking about it now. 🙂 Personally, I would rather us find a practical and valid plan that works for the next 20-30 years, one that does not include a $500+ million referendum (or two), and collaboratively plan out “future growth” with the City that may include a future high school later on.

Finally, on a totally different note, Stephanie Stuart recently gave us a couple pieces of “cool things” going on in U4 schools. One is the progress of the Industrial Technology class at Central (as showcased by a 15 second time-lapse video) and the other is a new focus at Kenwood called “Technology and Literacy for the Community.” The latter features the integration of eToys into the curriculum and the collaboration with the University of Illinois. I had a change to sit in on an eToys class last week, and I talked to Dr. Martin Wolske and Kerris Lee today about this program. On the surface, some people are really going to love the focus on computer programming and some are really going to hate it. I would suggest caution at forming a first impression, because there is so much more beneath the surface. According to Dr. Wolske, one of the implied goals is to bring community together to address and solve various problems. What I found very encouraging after talking to both men is that they have a passion to address “big issues” like poverty and illiteracy on a relatively small scale (Champaign) as a stepping stone to attacking it at a larger level (Chicago, other big cities, overseas). How? By giving kids an open platform for creativity, instilling employable skills (both the hard skills of logic and programming, and the softer skills of interpersonal relations and conflict resolution) and teaching kids not only how to read, but to talk, listen and write as well. Of course, there are pitfalls and obvious issues. For instance, we all know there is no silver bullet, no panacea that will address all the issues. When I was working with the kids on eToys, it was obvious to me that some kids really got it (I saw some VERY impressive graphic artists), and some kids really struggle with basic instructions. Parents will be the same way. I am not sure what to do with that.

Wednesday @ Houlihans: recap of Jan 4th and PTA tech invite for Jan 25th

First the announcement: I am inviting a bunch of PTA folks in to get some web pages up and going. We will be taking over the Jan 25th timeslot. So for you others that were thinking of coming, you have been warned. 🙂

Yesterday at Houlihans, Pattsi Petri and I hashed out our thoughts. I am not going to be able to remember everything, so if there are any holes in my story….

I told her about CUWiki (a summary of which I have moved to a new “umbrella” blog) and we discussed the merits of finding community spaces, but we totally lack the understanding of using a wiki to accomplish that. I shared how the CUWiki group has looked at examples like DentonWiki and ArborWiki, and we talked about how similar attempts around Chambana have never really worked out.

We then Read the rest of this entry »

Reduced-cost internet for families receiving free lunches


This sounds promising. I acknowledge up-front that there are going to be many naysayers about this program, and some of them might even have legitimate concerns. Martin Wolske has striven to provide Broadband access to impoverished areas of Saint Louis, and after talking with him, I was highly encouraged to hear how such a project impacts the residents. Which is why I think this news from Comcast is promising.

I say this on the heels of Peisker’s latest update concerning “To The Point”, which is going paperless. It becomes a question of how folks consume news, which varies more and more as technology evolves. Some still like the tangible, tactile nature of printed things. That is how I personally prefer to read books. But some like RSS and feeds (count me for RSS feeds of Facebook and news). And there are many other options. Most of those options are online, especially the “cheaper” ones. In reality, “cheap” just means you are pushing the costs from one category or entity to another. Perhaps the only real “free” form of communication is face-to-face.