Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Time for the People to Speak Up

Anyone who thinks the government doesn't impact their lives should look at the work of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). One can argue that clean air and water are two of those "inalienable rights" endowed upon all Americans. Imagine what the pursuit of happiness looks like in Flint, MI these days?
Walt Handelsman comics
When government leaders change, decisions are made that alter the course of government programs. Changes to government environmental protections can have huge impact in our lives.

In a Democracy, people have opportunity to make a difference in important issues in society. We can elect new candidates who support ideas we agree with, we can run for office ourselves, and we can actively support these new candidates in their election campaigns.

Knowledge and understanding of current events, issues, and potential solutions to problems is an important factor in the success of government in a Democracy. If the people don't know what's going on, the political leaders will decide for them what's best.

In the 1970's, I was fortunate enough to participate in the YMCA's Youth and Government program for high school students. Young people got together to analyze important issues in California and wrote bills, resolutions, and judicial opinions on them.

Not only did we learn politics, but we learned that in order to make change you have be the catalyst of that change. I recall the first year I did this program we wrote a bill to require helmets for anyone riding a motorcycle. Today, I believe it's impossible to imagine a world where people would be allowed to ride a motorcycle on the streets without a helmet.

Fast forward to 2018 and we have a president and Congress that wants to reverse rules and laws at a dizzying pace. In particular they have targeted automobile mileage standards.

These changes are disappointing for me personally on multiple levels. Beyond the continued divisive nature of these political actions, this particular move also seeks to end something I saw as important back in 1978.

As you can see from our Senate Resolution 215, in 1978 we were seeking to use government to encourage more fuel efficient vehicles. The resolution sought a rating of 25 MPG or better.

At the time, I can recall paying anywhere from 50 to 75 cents a gallon for gas. About 15 years later I purchased a 3-cylinder Geo Metro that averaged 50 MPG and today I drive an all electric vehicle half the time.

Some estimates say that we pay at least five times as much for gas as we did in 1978. Why shouldn't we expect our cars to get five times the mileage today?

I believe that not only can we meet the original goals for MPG, and other sustainability efforts, but we should be able to exceed them. If we truly want to make America great, this is a perfect example of where we should be reaching higher and not going backwards.

It's time for the people to speak up.

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Back to school

After almost 30 years as an educational media and technology administrator I became a full time  teacher for the first time in 2015. Of course, one doesn't really just "become a teacher" at any time in life much less when you are already past the 50 year mark! It's hard work no matter how young or old you are. 

Studying with my kids!
Completing a teaching credential and Master's Degree in Education three years later wasn't easy either. Actually, the work truly wasn't difficult because I enjoyed doing it all. And, sometimes I got to do my homework with my two college students! The problem of course is there was never enough time.

Teaching full time and going to school full time is probably one of life's greatest challenges. I highly recommend it to anyone who is up for a roller coaster adventure for a daily life. 

Some days I feel like I'm "Teaching for America's Future." But I want to be clear that I don't work for Teach for America.

However, the school where I teach certainly fits the profile of Teach for America's focused efforts. When I became a full time teacher, I also decided to change school types. I ended up going from the priciest private schools in the Bay Area, to some of the highest of poverty schools.

The work feels like I'm teaching for America's future because recent studies on teacher shortages in America show that high-poverty schools are significantly more impacted by teacher shortages than all other schools.  Ninety percent of low-income schools have trouble hiring teachers for Special Education. 1 in 5 teachers in low-income/high-poverty schools are considered unqualified because they are teaching without a credential or they are teaching outside their primary subject area. And those that are qualified don't last long in these schools.

Mimi Lakritz - May 1981
"Standing on the shoulders of my ancestors"
For those who knew me growing up, there may be no surprise that I made this change given the fact that my Dad was a teacher at the same public high school for 37 years.

The real story about me today is about going back to school and going back to where I came from. I came from school and I've always loved school. My family was full of teachers and it still is full of teachers.

Another interesting family connection is that my Mom also went back to school when she was older. She completed her Masters Degree in Social Work in 1981 at the age of 48. We were all very proud of her when she did that. Now I know a lot more about what it took for her to do that at her age and under the circumstances of those days.

These past three years have been a long and challenging journey. Completing a Masters Degree is an important and valuable accomplishment for me. I learned so much and certainly could not have survived in the job had I not done this preparation.

Being a "new teacher" has had it's perks. I got to go to new teacher workshops at the beginning of the past two school years and I have had a mentor working with me weekly for the past year.

Teacher shortages wont go away unless we can convince more people to look seriously at teaching. Perhaps we need to promote teaching a little differently.  Unique teacher appreciation gifts, like the one I got my first year at my school, can be an important way to support teachers.

Unique teacher appreciation idea

I also enjoy teaching with technology and all my students got iPads these past two years so that helps extend their learning as well as my teaching. All students should be learning with technology. This program is crucial to the goal of bridging the digital divide for many of our families who cannot afford Internet access at home.

For now, I know I'm doing my part to prepare our young people to know the history of America and what it means to be good citizens of our young country. I've completed my own work and on June 1, 2018, I will graduate for the first time since 1983. I feel pretty good about all that.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Facebook Reconnect and Death Notice

I was a little bored tonight and procrastinating about some work I needed to do. After I finished dinner, I checked my email and trolled a bit on my Facebook feed.

Thinking about my online "friends" and wondered what was going on with some of the people I know but never seem to hear from anymore, I decided to plow through my friend list. I found about 25 "friends" who had deactivated accounts so I unfriended them as I scrolled down.

Rhonda and Brad top row. Getting
ready for the Governor's Ball in 1978.
I came across my friend Rhonda Mooney who I met in high school while participating in the YMCA Youth and Government program. She was from San Diego and I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley.

We met in San Luis Obispo at the elections conference in 1978. She was a year behind me in school, but we became friends and even went to the Governors Ball together in Sacramento that year. I visited her with my friend Dan Burgess once in San Diego but hadn't heard much from her until we reconnected on Facebook in 2012.

The most recent posting on her timeline was from January 30, 2016. Only four days ago. But it was odd to me because it was one of those pictures you see people post where there is a candle and a saying about when you are missing someone. My first thought was that she and a friend had lost someone close and her friend Terri was sharing this with Rhonda to help her feel better.
Rhonda, Dan, and Theresa circa 1978
As I scrolled down, I saw that Terri had posted several more of these types of images and videos over the past several months. It wasn't until I got down to June 15, 2015 when I found out that Rhonda had passed away last year. I knew she had some major physical problems but I didn't expect to see this news. I immediately searched the Internet for an obituary but found nothing. She was a very private person when it came to social media, and there were only a few pictures on her Facebook page.

Lisa and Rhonda
I was surprised to see one photo I had sent her from my visit to San Diego in 1978. I had the first comment on the photo: "I see you are playing the 'if we had Facebook in the 1970's' game. Well played."

I also found this beautiful photo of Rhonda and her friend Lisa.

I'm still kind of in shock about this news. Finding out that a friend died randomly via Facebook seems so strange and inhuman. On the other hand, had there never been a Facebook I probably would have never seen her or thought about her much the rest of my life.

I was having dinner with my daughter Emily last night and we were talking about those difficult years in Middle School and I asked her if she was still in touch with some of those friends. She said she was connected to them online, but she doesn't talk much with them if at all. Mostly she's moved on and stays in touch with her college friends and those people she's met since moving back to the Bay Area. I wondered silently whether or not she'd still know any of those people 35 years from now, and if being connected online would help keep them close. It seems unlikely to me.

I knew Rhonda loved cars and jeeps and driving in the desert and mountains and there were many postings about this part of her life.  I found out that she loved music and found postings about Roy Rogers and BB King -- two of my favorites. I read all the comments on Rhonda's timeline after her niece announced her death. She was very loved and is sorely missed by many.

For now I'm left with only the memories of those youthful days in high school and a good friend who is no longer with us. I'll leave you with the idea that technology can bring us together but it can't truly connect us as humans unless we make the effort to connect.

Looking at these two photos I took back in 1978 helps me recall her, but there was so much in life that happened since those days. We spoke on the phone once or twice a few years ago, but I can't say I knew her as she was when she died. I only have bits and pieces from her online profile.

And, I never got to say goodbye.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Enhanced Card Catalog or Massive Copyright Violation?

In 2004, Google began what it calls "an enhanced card catalog of the world's books." The Google Books Library Project is an attempt to provide an easy way for people to find books that are relevant to the research or current reading interests. Google states that it's ultimate goal is to:
". . . work with publishers and libraries to create a comprehensive, searchable, virtual card catalog of all books in all languages that helps users discover new books and publishers discover new readers." 
The Author's Guild says this is a violation of copyright. After this week's Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Google, the Guild plans to take Google to the Supreme Court.

On the one hand it might seem like Google is off base and the idea of creating a "card catalog of all books" is an unwanted idea that could cost writers and publishers money and market share in the world of ideas. On the other hand it might seem like writers and publishers are limiting the opportunity to get their ideas seen around the world.

Is it all about money? This question of copyright and the publication of content is more about how we use our technology to publish and access information. Access to digital data is growing so fast it's impossible for anyone to consume it all. And, digital libraries are popping up all over the place.

One example is the Digtial Public Library of America:

As Luis Herrera, City Librarian for the San Francisco Public Library says "think of it as a virtual library of Americana that's free and accessible to all."

The DPLA is just the latest effort in this area. The Smithsonian, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and California Digital Library (CDL) all provide free and open access to digital materials.

The University of California began the CDL in 1997 and has "assembled one of the world's largest digital research libraries and changed the ways that faculty, students, and researchers discover and access information." In fact, the California Digital Library mass digitization program is directly involved with the Google Books Library Project and with the Internet Archive.

If libraries are doing this, why then does the Writer's Guild want to stop Google? The Guild says the ruling will ultimately reduce the amount of produced content as writers lose interest in working in a field where they won't be able to make a living.

The Internet Archive believes that:
"Libraries exist to preserve society's cultural artifacts and to provide access to them. If libraries are to continue to foster education and scholarship in this era of digital technology, it's essential for them to extend those functions into the digital world."
As we've seen with the music industry, the film industry, news media, and almost any area of content, technology has allowed us to go beyond the traditional ways of communicating our ideas. These communication industries must continue to forge ahead with both the creation of new content and ways to compensate their writers, directors, producers, actors, and anyone else involved in the creative process.

If we do that then more information will be available to more people on earth. That would be a good thing.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Digital World Unveils The Art Of Traditional Photography

I've been taking pictures since 1972. My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic. In the summer of 1974 I took my first photography class at my local high school.

Between 1963 and 1975 Kodak produced more than 75 million Instamatic cameras helping to popularize a new mode of visual communication for the average consumer.

At about that same time Kodak also introduced the world's first digital camera. It took about 20 years before there was an "affordable" digital camera for the consumer.

For a short time in the 1990s savvy technology experts used software and either a scanner or video camera connected to a computer to capture digital video and still images.

Scanners create a digital copy of a printed photograph or other document while video capture allows you to create new digital imagery on your computer. Here's an example of a still frame from video I captured in December, 1995.

Using the latest QuickTime software available at the time I could capture a relatively sharp 320 x 240 pixel image. It was the first time I was able to easily post images on the Internet for family in friends.

*Note: Another historic moment in digital imagery came when a camera focused on a coffee pot was connected to a computer. The computer was programmed to capture still images and post them on the Internet.

Today digital imagery and video is so ubiquitous it's become part of the daily fabric of life. We now store and share our images and video on phones or various cloud and social media sites.

In the "olden days" it was common practice to order extra prints of our favorite pictures to distribute to family and friends. One-hour photo shops were created in an early marketing effort to instill a sense of instant gratification in consumers. Most offered a special two prints for the price of one deal which helped people share their images.

Today our digital images almost never get printed whereas our old photos are almost never available for viewing beyond the home. There are millions of people all around the world who have prints, slides, and negatives but we almost never see or share these images. Typically any digitized images are captured and shared via mobile phone.

In my personal photo archive I have tens of thousands of images captured over the past 40 plus years. I have maybe two or three thousand shot on film. Over the past 15 years I've used a variety of scanners to digitize some of these images but I doubt I will ever scan them all.

Recently I purchased a small, inexpensive scanner to quickly and easily capture images from my negatives and slides. It comes with a low resolution screen and allows me to scan 5472 × 3648 resolution images directly to an SD card.

Recently I captured a set of images from a series of color slides I created in my high school photography class.

No Photoshop or other image editing tools were used to colorize these pictures. These are scans of the actual slides as they were originally captured in my film camera.

Because we learned photography was an art our teacher taught us to use filters and other photographic tricks to manipulate images beyond traditional photographic methods. In this case we used infrared filters on our lens to create this effect.

Today we might think there is no art of photography because images like this can be easily created using digital photo enhancement and editing tools.

Some have argued all the digital tools and online sharing have caused the "end of photography." I don't think so.

I see big differences between photography as an art, as social media, as tools for marketing and branding, as journalistic and documentary resources, and as family history.

Photography as an art form will only grow as digital tools become more available to consumers. Photographers who are or want to be artists just need to find their passion and express it. There are more places to do this than ever before.

I'm happy to have had the opportunity to learn photography as an art form before the digital age. I'm also glad I was able to capture this image from my negative archives of Waldo Larson -- my first photography teacher. It was an honor to learn from him.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Book Report on Peter Rabbitt

In 1985 Charlie Brown and his Peanuts gang made it to TV with a wonderful animated tale called You're A Good Man Charlie Brown. At age 25, I probably didn't even watch the show which, like all the Peanuts TV shows, was a musical created for young children.

Charles Schultz was an innovative cartoonist who brought the average everyday world of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy, to life for all to see and enjoy.

Lessons learned were a continuing theme of the comic strip and the animated TV shows. The Peanuts gang taught us about friendship, trust, bravery, good sportsmanship, community, fairness, teamwork and many more important ideas.

In the late 1990's I was fortunate enough to come across a copy of You're A Good Man Charlie Brown which I was excited to show to my young children. 

Midway through the show I was stunned to see this segment, or "song," which is essentially a mini-docudrama that explored our educational system and the different learning styles students bring with them to school.

Amazingly, it also predicted the classroom of the future.

In this segment Lucy, Linus, and Charlie Brown are each working on an assignment to write a book report on Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.

One of the first things you see in the segment are the different learning styles each character brings to the task. Lucy pays little attention to the information she writes and is busy counting the words to ensure she meets the minimum requirements of the assignment.

Linus reads volumes of other texts and delves deep in his report to explore the history, psychology, and comparative literature of Peter Rabbit while paying absolutely no attention to how much time and effort he puts into the assignment.

Charlie Brown daydreams and worries that he didn't get enough sleep so he might not do a good job. He procrastinates, looks outside and feels like he really should be playing with his friends. He makes a sandwich and finally begins long after the two others are finished.

The brilliance of the depiction of these different learning styles is amazing enough for educators to see. But when you begin to see how Schultz portrays Linus using a personal computer to compose his paper then you realize that he really understood learning and our educational system long before many educators were asking questions about concepts like differentiated instruction and classroom technology.

And, while Linus is still doing his research in books, the way he uses the computer to simply edit his text is incredible.

This new tool allows him to erase and "do over" his writing to get just the right words for his thesis.

No need for pencils, papers, or erasers.

But wait, that's not all, because before you know it Linus is actually creating his own animation. Creatively typing away at the computer like the virtuoso pianist he is, Linus begins to make the words of his paper come alive in short animated clips that help him make his point.

This cartoon within a cartoon leaps out of the screen to the viewer who quickly understands that this kid is brilliant not only because he knows his information but also because he knows how to present it back in this amazing animated production.

I have used this short video many times in teacher professional development programs. My goal is primarily to engage teachers with the idea of using media and technology with their students and to encourage teachers to learn the tools themselves.

Using technology and media production in Project Based Learning has certainly come a long way since You're A Good Man Charlie Brown. I believe there is still a long way to go for this kind of learning to be ubiquitous in schools.

I haven't truly explored the different learning styles in this blog having mostly focused on the technology integration. That's my expertise and, to me, the excitement and engagement in learning demonstrated in this segment is the key point. 

While Linus may be pre-disposed to go further than his classmates with his education, we do not know how his experience may help teachers engage other students to expand their interest and improve their learning.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How to Find a Job From Ideas (and Some Surprising Government Technology)

Implementing a career change and getting the right job in the digital age is a complicated task. I am meeting with placement specialists, updating my resume and social media profiles, scouring career opportunity websites, and talking with everyone I know to get myself out there.

I am fortunate to have so many colleagues and friends who know me well and want to help.

Last week my friend Scott Landress asked me how the career change process was going. After I went over the whole story he looked at me and said, "Brad, so far I know what you don't want to do, but you haven't told me what you do want to do."

In reflecting on his point I told him it's difficult to imagine myself doing something different from what I've done professionally for so long. This was reinforced by placement people who told me I would have plenty of opportunity to apply for technology and IT related jobs, particularly positions similar to my recent experience in education.

Getting options and offers to do something else is going to be a bit more challenging. I'm going to have to sell myself.

With that understanding I set out to identify exactly what I wanted to do in this next chapter of my working life. I decided to begin back in the early days of high school when I took aptitude tests to help me figure out what I was good at and what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Job Title Search circa 1976
I still recall the three job titles that came to the top of the list after I took the career search surveys in high school: Architect, Occupational Therapist, and Photographer.

There were a few other interesting options in my search at the time including: Commercial ArtistPerforming Artist, Public
Relations Worker, and Recreation Worker.

Looking back at these job titles today (nearly 40 years later) it's amazing to think of the many skills it takes to do any one of these jobs well and the preparation needed to develop those skills.

Job Title Search circa 1976
What's not surprising are the job titles that existed then versus those that exist today. Which brings me back to that question of articulating what I want to do when I grow up.

With all the different resources available to HR directors and job seekers today I was stunned to find a set of powerful career development technology tools that help workers identify their skills and abilities. It also helps them find the titles of jobs they may be qualified for and interested in pursuing.

Where is this tool? You can find it online with the California Employment Development Department's "CalJobs" website.

I won't go through all the details but there are two very specific tools in this system that are fabulously helpful for anyone thinking about their work and wanting to improve their career.

Things Brad Can Do!
At CalJobs users build their resume using online tools that have 19 different steps. It may seem unnecessary for people who already have a resume, but once the process is complete this system magically presents jobseekers with a list of their likely skills.

These are very specific abilities that, for me, included: public speaking techniques; work as a team member; write administrative procedures services manual; use project management techniques; use computer networking technology; provide technical computer training; prepare cost estimates; plan meetings and conferences; make decisions; distinguish details in graphic arts material; edit video scenes; and another 116 possible skills.

Wow! Who knew that there were 127 specific things I could do for someone looking for a skilled professional?

Granted this is just a list, it doesn't say how much experience I have with any of these skills or how well I might do any of these activities. However, as someone looking to identify the job I want this was crucial information. This tool also gives me a strong set of words to use as I describe for people what I want to do and where I am focusing my search for a new career.

Occupation listing
The other powerful tool in the CalJobs system is the database of "Occupation Listings." Part of the process requires users to choose an occupation they are seeking. The list is fascinating when compared to the one I was required to use back in 1976. The CalJobs list is also fascinating for what job titles it does NOT include.

I've spent a good amount of time in my career teaching students, parents, educators, and administrators about the fact that we are often preparing students for jobs that haven't even been invented yet. Using CalJobs I've learned that my job for the past 17 years (Director of Technology) doesn't exist in their list of possible occupations.

Obviously not a lot of people have had this job yet.

I suppose I can feel fortunate in that I've been on the cutting edge of technology in education but I do know it can be problematic to tell someone you were a Director of Technology and their response is "what is that?"

Thankfully, the system provided an occupation I could use: "Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School." Seems like that occupation type combined with the actual title (Director of Technology) should get me past the initial confusion some people may have about my previous work.

So the process continues and I get closer to knowing what I want to do and what's out there as a possible career. The truth is there are many jobs I would do well in and the real questions are: what will make me happy, and what will allow me to earn enough money to provide for myself and my family?

One of the most astonishing items on my list of skills was "create art from ideas." While I absolutely love this phrase and wonder how I can find a job doing THAT, I am also realistic that there are even fewer people getting paid to create art from ideas then there are people doing technology administration in schools.

Trying to create a job from ideas is a great challenge. I am happy to know that the State of California has developed these powerful tools for job seekers. To me this is one of the best examples of our tax dollars well spent.

Now, if I can only get someone to speak with me about changing the time of this "notification of benefits eligibility interview . . . "

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