[Edu-sig] Re: Around again

Kirby Urner pdx4d@teleport.com
Sat, 16 Sep 2000 11:58:45 -0700

>In that spirit - can I ask you to elaborate on your efforts. But beyond 
>curriculum matters, perhaps.  In the spirit of the latest phase of Python, 
>what I am particularly interested in at this point is your work viewed 
>as a venture (profit-making or not, not being the point) - and what in 
>the ideal world could I or others interested do to support you in 
>furthering your efforts.

Interesting question (at least to me) -- thanks for asking.

Starting with the small and close to home, my 6 year old is starting
1st grade in a public school with a non-traditional design, in that
parents like me are expected to volunteer X hours per month, including 
in the classroom if we feel up to it (and not necessarily in the same 
classroom as your child).  

The middle school teacher was, according to my wife, quite pleased to 
get my letter spelling out my desire/willingness to work with middle 
schoolers.  I also volunteered, in the PS of that letter, to get 
Python working on one or more iMacs by downloading it off the 
internet.  Schools have a lot invested in Apple technology, so one 
area in which I'm going to maybe learn more is how to use Python 
on an iMac.

An avenue I've tried, and did not succeed at, was getting on staff
with the local Math Learning Center, a non-profit, university-affiliated
group (as I recall), that fields trainers in connection with MLC 
curriculum materials, provides teachers-in-training and teachers-in-
service with workshops in how to implement specific products and 

My Nov 1997 memo to the MLC is at http://www.teleport.com/~pdx4d/mlc.html
and is still my message in a lot of ways:  given the new technologies,
smaller consortia of public and private sector interests are in a 
position to compete with the text book behemoths when it comes to
providing age-appropriate curriculum materials.  I think Jeff Elkner's
project to provide such materials, and to pass through the LiveWires
stuff (from the UK) is a case in point; no one needs to wait for
McGraw-Hill to come up with its "Python for 10th graders" hard 
cover offering.  I've got a linked page discussing MLC's rebuff of 
my overtures.

One reason I don't make much headway as a curriculum writer, is that, 
with mass-publishing came a lot of momentum for certain ways of doing 
curriculum, and teachers are by now accustomed to moving forward in 
lockstep, with states choosing from a small selection of text books 
meeting their standards.  In the USA, the "math war" gets fought at 
this level (of setting state standards -- in California especially).  
This is where to fit that open letter to Secretary Riley in the 
Washington Post, counter-rhetoric from the NCTM, and lots of 
nastiness on the AMTE listserv (now shut down).  Lots of investments 
hang in the balance.  It's a high stakes battle for hearts and minds.

However, given the growing homeschooler movement and also charter
schools, along with the private schools, I still have plenty of
prospects.  One is to team up with Stuart Quimby of Design Science
Toys and help him manage a Zope server tying together various 
product lines with lesson plans (only some of them authored by 
me).  Stu and I have been discussing this (he's in the process 
of moving his factory and has way too much on his plate for things 
to develop quickly -- but at least DST is profitable enough to 
be considering this venture).

Mostly, I've envisioned myself in those workshop MLC-stype settings,
working with present and future teachers, demonstrating how to
use various curriculum materials and artifacts effectively. Vendors
and solution providers who stand to gain if educators order their
wares would be among those sponsoring my team of presenters. Python 
would fit into this mix (didn't in 1997 because I was entirely unaware 
of it back then).  Here's a rough picture of what that would look like: 

If you have any advice re what steps you think I should take next, 
I'm all ears.