Stones to Schools

gregm If you don’t know who Greg Mortenson is by now you should. He is an ex-climber who, while trying to climb K2 was rescued by the people of the village of Korphe in northern Pakistan, has built over 130 schools in rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. His Central Asia Institute has done more for bringing peace and stability to  these unstable countries and thus more safety to the rest of the world than all the bombs and bullets from the West.

His first book Three Cups of Tea tells the story of how he ended up in Korphe and kept his promise to help build them a school. His second book Stones to Schools continues the story of how one school lead to another and then another. Mortenson’s success in reaching out to the most needy in the most remote places on earth has got the attention of the US military and his book Three Cups of Tea is now required reading by officers in Afghanistan. When Mortenson was trying to raise money to build his first school in Korphe he was lucky to attract a 1/2 dozen people at a REI store, now thousands of people wait in line to see him and he raises hundred of thousands of dollars a day.

One of the stories he tells in Stones to Schools is about his “dirty dozen”, the team of local men he has put together to help him build the schools. Some of the men are uneducated, one an ex-Taliban, a few were smugglers. They come from many different ethnic and religious groups and at one time would have been trying to kill each other. But, what seems to pull them together is their loyalty to Mortenson and his dream of educating girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As I am reading this I think about our members of Congress. They all speak the same language and the religious differences have not caused any wars in the last 100 years. So why can’t they focus on passing laws that make health care available and affordable in the US?

The Taliban is trying to stop the building of schools for girls in Afghanistan. They are burning schools, killing teaches and throwing acid in the face of school girls. The religious fundamentalist in Afghanistan only see their interpretation of the Koran as the correct one and will kill anyone who does not believe their truth is the only truth. This monolithic thinking also happens in America, my version of economics, culture, environment, politics, etc is the one true version.  They reject the idea that maybe there are other versions that could also be true and as a democratic state it is our duty to find a way to merge the different versions. By at least recognizing there are many different points of view and the political process is not about winning and loosing, a way can be found to meet the needs of most of the people most of the time.

Online Curriculum Grant

The school I work at recently received a large state grant to develop an online curriculum that can meet the needs of at risk students. One of the positions needed is a person who has experience developing online courses with Moodle and has been a classroom teacher working with at risk students. The job will require recruiting and training 20 teachers, who will develop the curriculum content. The using the content develop an online curriculum that will help at risk and special ed students earn high school credits so they can graduate from high school. I meet all the requirements of the job and hope to be able to take on the position.

I also decided that developing this grant is a process which can be developed into a presentation at edtec conferences. Other educators would be interested in how the grant was developed and implemented. So to keep a record of the process I am going to blog about it.

Our school has a new curriculum director and she was hired just before school started. She is over seeing this grant and another as well as all the other responsibilities she has. So, it has not be easy to have a long conversation with her about all the questions I have about how developing this online curriculum will work. She has already hired a person who will help me (if I get the position) develop the Moodle end of this. He is not an educator and has no experience with Moodle. His experience is in databases and assessment design. He will help develop the assessment part of each course.

The grant group has started a Google Wave as a way to communicate about issues, meetings, and ideas. So far the group has found Wave very useful and will use it in the training process.

This blog will also be a way for me to work out ideas and questions I have.

Re: An Inconvenient Truth

Pete Reilly is an education blogger that I make sure I read as often as possible because he gets me thinking. His recent post titled An Inconvenient Truth was not about global warming, but about the disconnect between educational mission statements and how they are embodied in schools.

When the exective director of the school system I work in called together a group of teachers and supervisors to write a vision statement it was more about what we now do than a vision of where we want to be. The school system serves special ed students so developing 21 century work place skills was not something we thought about. Once the process was complete we all went back to doing our jobs pretty much the way we always have, not giving much thought to the process we went through. I can not tell you what our vision statement is.

The staff at the school are generally dedicated teachers who work with some very difficult students in isolated classrooms and it would be helpful if at least once a year we reviewed the vision statement that brought us together for a couple of weeks.

The new dog


Originally uploaded by manz1964

We made the big decision to get another dog 1 1/2 years after Hannah died. After a couple of months of looking and talking about it we contacted and within a few hours we were signed up and decided to take Hera aka Pudge who we will call Willa. She is a yellow 4 year old lab and we could not have picked a better dog.


Netvibes in the classroom

I have had a Netvibes account for about a year, ever since Will Richardson demonstrated it at a conference I was at. My interest in Netvibes was increased when I saw how Michael Wesch uses it in his classes, but I never took the time to really learn it. Now that I have read  how Jeff Utech uses Netvibes I want to dig in and really learn how to use Netvibes. Give Jeff’s blog post a look and see what you think.

Publishing Then and Now

If you have not seen the movie Julie/Julia you should. Not only because it is fun and Meryl Streep is always great, but because it is a great example of why the Internet has changed the way we live, work and learn.

The movie’s main plot revolves around Julie Powell, who lives in Queens with her husband, and her attempt to cook every receipt in Julia Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. The other half of the movie follows Julia Child, who is living in France in 1949, as she learns to cook and struggles to write and publish the cookbook.

Julie Powell starts a blog, this is 2002 just when blogging starts to become popular, as a way to chronicle her life and cooking. As the movie moves back and forth between the two women and their lives you start to see how quickly life has change due to computers and the Internet.

It takes Julia 2 years using a manual typewriter to do the first draft of the cookbook. Julie uses a computer to write her blog everyday. Julia has several false starts as she and her co-writers try to get a publisher interested in their cookbook. Julie’s blog starts to be read by hundreds of people and she is featured in a NY Times article. This exposure gets her several offers from book publishers.  Julie write a book, Julie and Julia: 365 Day, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, which is popular and becomes the movie Julie/Julia.

As I was watching Julia Child struggle to publish her book I was struck how different it is today. Julia, like Julie, could have self-published through a blog or wiki. She could have made videos and posted them on YouTube, or use a self-publishing tool like Lulu and sold it on Amazon. Today anyone can become an author or a make a move, it is just that not all of them will be at Barnes & Noble or at the movies.

Lessons from Mozilla

In case you don’t know, Mozilla is the parent of Firefox, Thunder Bird, and other free open source applications. Mozilla grew out of Netscape and Firefox is now the second most used browser (300 million users) after Internet Explorer.

In this talk at WordCamp in San Francisco, Mozilla CEO John Lilly, talks about 7 insights and 2 problems in Mozilla.


  1. Superior products matter
  2. Without excellent experience and utility the rest is meaningless
  3. Communication will happen every possible way, make sure it is reusable
  4. Make it easy for you community to do the important things
  5. Surprise is over rated, it is the opposite of engagement
  6. Communities are not markets, members are citizens
  7. The key is the art of figuring out whether and how to apply each of these ideas


  1. Engaged citizens are noisy
  2. At scale there are no maps

So what does this have to do with education? It has everything to do with education because the 18th century model no longer works and we need to look at what is working in the world of open source. Education, like American auto makers, is being forced to change and the transition will not be pretty. So watch John Lilly’s talk and see if you agree.


T.H.E. Journal reports that Texas is leaving the door open for schools to purchase electronic textbooks in addition to paper books.

While this change does not take education to the totally open and flexible iTunes purchasing model as some would prefer, it does provide significant flexibility to districts. In addition, it opens up the Texas market to a large number of companies that heretofore had no chance to compete. For the basal publishers that have owned the market, creativity and flexibility will, or at least should, become a new mantra.

California’s e-learning proposial is stil being sorted out.

There are already worrying signs that California is trying to go digital on a shoestring. Traditionally, publishers provide schools with a complete package: student textbooks, teacher’s guides with sample lessons and tests, and teacher training courses. In the emerging model, teachers must assemble their own package, combining e-books with free course “wikis” (shared online resources any user can update or revise), and networking with other teachers over the web to share best practices. It’s a new responsibility some would prefer to avoid.

The digital divide needs to be closed not just in hardware, but even more important in what to do with the hardware and software. Most teachers are not online in any significat way and and have never created a wiki or blog. Schools will have to open up their filtering and the 19th century modle of edcation will have to be scraped.

Eldery Parents

I am visiting my 96 year old father and 85 year old mother who are both in poor health. It is important to stay mindful of the drama that plays out in families so that divisions do not become wider. It is amazing how quickly children can divide into camps about what is the right thing for mom and dad to do. Spouses of children are not spared the trama and can be deeply involved also.

Moodle math course

I have been working on developing an online geometry Moodle course as part of the grant that I am currently working under. Every time I develop another Moodle course I learn more and more about the power and versatility of Moodle. The Assignment block is a Moodle function that I was familiar with but had not used. It allows you to design the course so that students can not proceed to the next lesson unless they pass a quiz at the end of each lesson.

I am also using Geogebra, an interactive math website. This will give the students real experience in constructing geometric shapes. They will be able to discover geometric rules by manipulating the geometric shapes they build.