I have developed a pretty thick skin (or so I like to think), but am still vulnerable when people appreciate our work :)
We recently interviewed a parent who had participated in two of our Family Science Courses. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
The family couldn't attend the first session of our CardioVascular Mechanics course and the mom told me that her daughter was so disappointed that she cried!
Getting the Family Science Program off the ground has been such a battle. I got the idea in 2006 after reading an article about the Open Classroom in Salt Lake City Utah and then kept trying to implement it with little success in various schools. We would get 2 parents, sometimes 1 at the sessions and our brave volunteering engineers would continue teaching to the one student and one parent. Sessions at Shenandoah and Trinity were total failures. Many people told me that the model wouldn't work in an urban setting, especially with some of the more jaded LAUSD schools.
But I kept repeating to myself that you have to give everything a second chance. Change a couple of things and try again. And things usually got better the second time around.
We have now done 4 successful Family Science Courses at Shenandoah and 2 at Trinity with attendance between 60-70 people.
We also have some basic formulas down that help us go to new schools and run a pretty solid program. The formula seems simple now, but I guess its not that simple, otherwise the journey would have been much quicker and less interesting.
We even replicated the program up in the Salinas/Pajaro area with the help of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We weren't there at any of the sessions, but the model is sufficiently robust that it can take replication. The little town was so happy with the sessions that they got the local TV station and newspaper to cover it :)
It is an interesting lesson overall, sort of like what Gladwell's book Outliers talks about as well. It takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work to achieve any kind of success. It is about being intelligent and having staying power. It does take about 2-3 years before you start seeing any results and then maybe another 2-3 before you start getting known for what you do.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Our Urban School Needs Map project is humming along. The project is super cool with many far-reaching ramifications. The goal is to develop a visualization tool (with the help of a team of very kind Italian researchers from Density Design) that would help us determine which schools are the most needy in a particular area and which ones would make good long-term partners. The former decisions are based on freely available data on school performance, school crime, zipcode poverty, crime and education levels.
To determine which schools would make good long-term partners, we look for interesting patterns in the data. For example, we found a correlation between change in school crime and change in school administration. Exciting stuff!!
The map will be freely available to all and the hope is that it will help schools become more transparent and accountable.
We will also run large teacher and parent surveys that will help us add to the statistical data to determine which schools would make good long-term partners. This recommendation tool would be useful for funding agencies to help them determine which school they should support.
We just finished extracting the school crime data using some neat tools developed by a local startup. We then plugged the data into geocommons to get the following maps. You can also view the original map here.
Some other cool examples of such maps are:
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I love beautiful things - paintings, photographs, flowers, mountains, melodies and writing. I try and share some of this appreciation along with the curiosity about how each of these is created. I have also realized (thanks to working with Ioana), that beauty is in the details, it is a way of life, an acquired perspective (for some) - kind of like a new lens you put onto your camera or a deeper understanding of a fundamental physics concept.
By the way this photograph is taken by Romesh Bhattacharji (click here for more amazing pictures from north-east India).
I want to bring these perspectives to children and show them that learning can be so amazingly rich. I had a very colorless formal education, but explored crazy worlds of books after school. We had a very deep, dark mysterious black wood cupboard that had book collections from two grandfathers, two uncles and my mother. I learned about cheiromancy, talking to plants, how to fly planes, buddhism, photography, sailing, art, dogs and mountain climbing. I wish I could share the same free-wheeling curiosity and love of learning with children. Schools today (especially here in the US) are way more interesting than my prison-like, churning-out-suitable-wives-for-indian-men school (Sophia, Meerut), but I still get the sense of so much regimen, boredom and lack of beauty.
I hope we can change that through our sessions that dont have a "correct" end result, or a pre-determined path to success and through our materials that share a fascination with the beauty around us.