Is this Science because I’m failing this in school

This year I got a great opportunity to work with a unique group of students in an after school program at St. Bonaventure University. I am fortunate to work with Dr. Anne Foerst, a computer science professor at St. Bonaventure. Together we applied for and received a grant from National Grid to teach STEM to a group of middle school girls who applied to our program from area school districts. Inspired by my mother’s struggles to break the glass ceiling and reach out to girls who are an underrepresented group in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

My Mom graduated from D’Youville College in Buffalo magna cum laude in 1947 majoring in science and mathematics. She returned to her native New York City and applied for teaching jobs but was told she couldn’t get one because she was a woman. Then Mom went on to get her Masters in Mathematics and Science at Fordham University. Mom worked her way through Fordham as a graduate assistant. She eventually returned to Buffalo and got a teaching job at D’Youville College. I told Mom recently that she was part of my inspiration for getting involved with our efforts to promote STEM skills to these girls at St. Bonaventure.

I spent the summer learning how to work with and program Lego Mindstorms EV3 robots. Our grant enabled us to purchase seven complete kits and to invite fourteen girls to the St. Bonaventure campus for a two-hour class that meets once every three weeks.  We’ve been meeting since late August with these girls and they are making great progress. I’ve seen them blossom as learners and leaders and they come to our sessions with a great enthusiasm for learning. At this week’s class we taught the girls how to program the color sensor. One the girls solved a problem I hadn’t assigned but by doing so showed great insight and application. She was clearly operating at the higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy. I asked her about her thinking and application and how she arrived at this unique solution to the problem. She replied, “I figured it out last time by just tinkering.” Then she said, “Is this science, because i’m failing science in school.” Dr. Foerst said, “This isn’t science, this is FUN.”  It was a poignant moment and it really warmed my heart because this girl now knows she is a scientist and a successful one too.

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The future is open

I came across a blog post from 8 years ago where I wrote about how I was working with students and talking about computers. In the post I shared that I used Ubuntu Linux as my operating system.  I still work with students and I still recommend Linux over any other operating system because there is something wonderful about software freedom. A lot has changed in 8 years. That was a time before Raspberry Pi and the iOT, Chromebooks, iPads and more. I was using a Blackberry as a mobile device then and an iPhone now. That was before FaceTime and Google Hangouts. In that time Linux has evolved too. It’s found in all the Chromebooks, Androids, and most everything else except iOS devices. Even Microsoft is using Linux these days. There are just so many things you can do with Linux. In addition to the open source operating system the Linux concept has spread to an entire open ecosystem that pervades not only software but philosophy too. Openness and transparency are becoming overarching goals of most forward thinking organizations. I always have enjoyed helping people. Linux and open source software help fuel that passion to assist others.

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Peace of the City

A few months back I purchased some surplus iPads from a local school district. I had intended to use them in an after-school program where I am a volunteer. When I discovered that I didn’t need them because we already had enough computers I laid them off to the side. A little over a month ago a young woman I had met at Mass at Mount Irenaeus announced on social media that she had been hired to teach at Peace of the City in Buffalo, New York. I asked if she could use these extra iPads. She thanked me and said, “Yes.” Soon thereafter I received a call from their business official who told me where I could bring the tablet computers. I drove to the city and followed the directions of my GPS. I took a reluctant tour of a neighborhood on the west side of Buffalo that not too many non-residents have seen. Eventually I got to the site which is the site of a former Catholic school. I knocked at the door and soon a staff member came to let me in. I dropped off the iPads and a Chromebook and had a short visit with the business manager and quickly left the neighborhood. As I drove away I thought of the children and how each day they came to this school and what an oasis of learning it must be in one of Buffalo’s less lovely neighborhoods. I thought of how little choice they had of their lot in life. Soon after my visit I got a nice thank you from their teacher, Emma on Facebook and then a note from the school too. What I didn’t expect to happen was the lovely note that came in today’s mail from Emma and a few of the students who had gone out of their way to craft lovely cards of their own creation. That really touched my heart and made me want to do more. Thank you to Emma and the children of Peace of the City who are truly a blessing in my life. Peace.

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Newly Minted

I’ve been using Linux as my primary desktop for quite awhile. Over the years I’ve used Mandrake, Red Hat, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian and now Linux Mint. Mint is a Ubuntu derivative which makes it part of the Debian tree in Linux. A bit over a month ago I gave my four year old MacBookPro an upgrade to Linux. I installed Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and eventually decided to try Linux Mint 18. I really like the Cinnamon desktop on Mint. It’s very intuitive and it makes using Linux on the desktop a snap even for a veteran user. I have a young friend who has had to rebuild his Windows 10 computer twice in the past few months due to malware problems and I think Linux Mint would be just the ticket for him. I’m also donating a spare laptop to an older friend and I’m giving that to her with Linux Mint installed.

Phil Shapiro recently told me that Steven Vaughn-Nichols wrote that Linux Mint was his favorite Linux desktop and I can see why.

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Another Happy Chromebook User

Recently my friend John came to me with a problem. His Windows 8 notebook computer which is only about three years old was getting tired and not running well. He wanted to know what my suggestion was. I said, “Get a Chromebook!” He wanted to know what that was and I did a bit of explaining but nothing really succeeds until a user experiences ChromeOS on a Chromebook. John picked up his new Acer 15.6 inch Chromebook at the local Wal-Mart. It’s a modest unit with only 2 gigabytes of RAM but any Chromebook veteran realizes that more than enough memory. Once the Chromebook was out of the box it only took about five minutes of minimal instruction to get John up and running. He soon realized that this inexpensive laptop was way faster than the Windows laptop it replaced. John wanted to know about antivirus and was happy to know that he didn’t need any. It always pleases me when I can help steer a friend in the right direction. What pleases me most is that Chromebooks are just another example of the power of Linux.

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An invitation to read the “The Open School House.”

If you’re looking for a fresh educational perspective and an invitation to build a school educational program that’s the embodiment of the maker culture then you ought to read “The Open Schoolhouse: Building a Technology Program to Transform Learning and Empower Students.” Recently written and published by Charlie Reisinger who is the technology director at Penn Manor School District in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

There is also a deeper ethical problem: reliance on closed source proprietary software teaches students a lesson of dependence on secret technology they are powerless to examine, study, share, and improve upon. If the social mission of schools is to amplify student potential, disseminate knowledge, and prepare students to have an impact on the world, then schools have a duty to help kids be free thinkers and self-reliant architects of their futures.

Reisinger, Charlie (2016-09-29). The Open Schoolhouse: Building a Technology Program to Transform Learning and Empower Students (Kindle Locations 304-307). Kindle Edition.

This book is a real invitation to think differently about how we educate our students and how you can use open source software and open source principles to invite student participation in the educational process.

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Everyday I try to think of at least three things that I am thankful for. Today I’m grateful to be in good health. I’m thankful that I have a purpose in life. I’m thankful that I have a grandson too. Fall is a time of transition and sometimes it’s discouraging to see summer end. The days become shorter, the mornings and evenings colder and everything just slows down. This is nature’s way of taking a nap. We need time to regenerate and rest. There are many other things to be grateful for in autumn and one of those is the changing color of the foliage. It’s time for apple harvests and apple cider too. A nice warm cup of cider with a fresh donut or muffin is a great way to welcome the chaning season too. Glad to be well and able to enjoy.

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