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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Alive in Memphis: the Beale Street Music Festival 2011!

Hi, ya'll,

My son Colin and I are in Memphis, TN for thie year's Beale Street Music Festival (the people jam formerly known as the Beale Street Blues Festival, and we haz a blast last night. Here we are near the end of the night at the SoCo Blues Shack...

After a mostly uneventful 3 hour or so drive down to our West Tennessee capital (did you know there are 3 Tennessees? Yup, East, Middle, and West) we drove right up to the Broad Street loft occupied by friend and professional photographer David Nester and rang his doorbell. David, David, David. The former resident of his two story studio/residence reportedly sank a quarter of a million dollars into it and he has only recently purchased it outright for considerably less after maintaining a mortgage that became wonky due to some bank mergers and our most recent hard economic times. It's on a CUTE little strip of historic commercial buildings and I think he was right to do so. His remarkable collection of art and artifacts make me feel righteously proud of my home office organizational skills. (That won't mean anything to anyone who hasn't seen how remarkably cluttered my office is, but please just imagine, especially if you've seen my desk at work.) David gave us some great tips on getting around in Memphis, and we are using them daily.

Our hotel is out past the airport, for a number of reasons, and I'm not sure I'd repeat that when we come back next year. The half-hour one-way driving time spends a bit too much time, though we're really being relaxed about our focus. It's a quarter to 10 a.m. and Colin's still asleep, though I got up at 7:30 or so, copping just about my normal 6 hours of sleep after crashing at 1:30. We have a shortlist of absolute musts, and we're right on track, though the advancing heavy rains might cut us even shorter. There's supposed to be an inch or two of heavy rain on Sunday, a development the weather media had led us to believe wouldn't develop 'til Monday. Oh well, Weather is.

last night we arrived around 6 at the venue and after paying $20.00 for parking walked its length to catch the lay of the land. Riverfront Park is a sprawling narrow greenway and the Fest takes up it all. No food or beverage is allowed through the gates, requiring purchase of, for example, a 3 dollar soda, a 6 dollar beer, and food starting at 5 dollars for a corn dog. We did partake of a 10.00 barbecue nachos basket that hit the spot, and I limited myself to one beer. Just won't do it. That had the notable side effect of enforcing sobriety at a music event, one that I savored, surprisingly. I'll do it again today and tonight. It may be growing on me.

Last night:
Manchester Orchestra--good, melodic, prog-rock maybe? We just heard them in passing but I enjoyed what I heard.
Egypt Central--eek, angry, abrasive sort-of-metal from shirtless wild men. Not my cup of tea, and it made me rue the omission of earplugs from our gear.
Cake--A fantastic, fantastic show, despite their immovable denial of our repeated "1,2,3,LOOOOOOng JACKet!"
MGMT--We actually ran into these folks at Huey's when we stopped in for world famous burgers before heading to the festival grounds. They were roaming around the picturesque bar and grill shooting video so maybe Colin and I will get our 30 seconds of fame in their next video release!
Slightly Stoopid--Niiiiice, chill, clever, intelligent music very weed focused. I'll put them on when I wash the car, most certainly.
Grady Champion--hot mouth harp to a three-piece guitar and drums backing band at the Blues Shed, literally a small stage with lights and sound and a roof over it, off in the north corner of the Fest. We returned there to hear Kenny Brown, a clear master of rustic classic acoustic blues. His slide work led us to comment that we would repeatedly return to that stage.

Finally: Flaming Lips, ya'll. I am not a fan, or wasn't, and now am. I'm going to pop a few pics in here to explain just how justified our staying for the last act of the night was!

I certainly never expected to see an abstract girl cavorting on a giant video screen morph into a gigantic pulsating female private part with the band members coming onstage through a door at its center. And the titillation continued with more naked video loop and giant plastic sphere crowd surfing! It was a proud parental moment to be standing there with my 15 year old!

More later: We're off to explore Memphis and to identify a less dear parking option for today and tonight!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hellloooooo. I've been a bad blogger.

Actually, I have been a very good worker. We have just been so very busy at my work that I've let my blogging slip. I just want to punch the virtual clock here to note a couple of developments:

First, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's announcement of a partnership with Pearson Learning (aka Florida Virtual School when it comes to digital content) to produce 24 courses in math and literacy serving all grades K-12 ( What's more, 4 of them will be made available for free to schools.

Says a Foundation rep:

Each course will serve as a 150-day curriculum and will harness technological advances such as social networking, animation, and gaming to better engage and motivate students, Judy B. Codding, the managing director of the Pearson Foundation, told reporters...Secondary-level courses in math and elementary-school-level courses in English/language arts are to be available for the 2013-14 school year, and the entire suite of courses and accompanying tools are slated for the 2014-15 school year, Ms. Codding said. The four free courses—two in math and two in English/language arts—will be posted online as soon as they are finished, she said.
Lots of questions ensue: Which courses? What does "free to schools" mean? Does that mean that students can use, for example, FL Global School's teachers and take the course within their LMS (Learning Management System) for free? Woot!

I doubt it though. More likely, content will be "free" to schools for use in their own LMS, assuming they have one and  the wherewithal to load digital content into it and manage its delivery using teachers, assuming teachers have been trained (and perhaps certified) to teach online--which, let's face it, isn't the same thing as bricks-and-mortar teaching. Pardner, I can tell you right now that just having the content is, yes, a good thing, but supporting it and delivering it entails much more than popping a web link out to teachers or kids.

Anyway, just a little glimmer of what every day in my own professional life looks like now. It's been a wild ride and it's getting nothing but wilder as we continue to craft online learning options for a public school system that has never really had them to offer. Again, woot.

I'll be trucking down with my son to Memphis this weekend for the Beale Street Music Festival, formerly the Beale Street Blues Festival. Last year it was rained out by the May Floods, but this year's weather looks better, having just suffered huge hits from the giant weather pattern that killed nearly 200 Alabamans and dozens of Tennesseans. If I can celebrate the music festival online at all I will, and at the very least you can look for pics here and in Facebook!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Please Call Your Tennessee Congressman or Senator

and ask them to support House Bill 0732, the "Virtual Public Schools Act" slated to go before the Senate Education Subcommittee today. Here is the bill:

and just because I can, here it is in clickless form:

By Brooks H

AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 16, relative to virtual schools and to enact  the "Virtual Public Schools Act".

WHEREAS, meeting the educational needs of children in Tennessee's schools is of the  greatest importance to the future welfare of the state; and

WHEREAS, closing the achievement gap between high-performing students, including the gap between minority and non-minority students, and between economically disadvantaged  students and their more advantaged peers, is a significant and present challenge; and

WHEREAS, providing a broader range of educational options to parents and utilizing existing resources, along with technology, may help students in Tennessee improve their academic achievement and

WHEREAS, many school districts currently lack the capacity to provide other public school choices for students whose schools are high priority schools; now, therefore,


SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 16, is amended by deleting  the part in its entirety and by substituting instead Sections 2 through 10

SECTION 2. This chapter shall be known and may be cited as the "Virtual Public Schools Act."

SECTION 3. The purpose of this chapter is to provide Tennessee families with an alternative choice to access additional educational resources in an effort to improve academic achievement.

SECTION 4. As used in this chapter, unless the context otherwise requires:

(1) "Sponsor" means an LEA or the department of education; and 

(2) "Virtual school" means an independent public school in which the school uses technology in order to deliver a significant portion of instruction to its students via the Internet in a virtual or remote setting.

SECTION 5. A virtual school may be sponsored by an LEA or the department of education may establish a virtual school. A virtual school shall be a public school and shall be provided equitable treatment and resources as any other public school in the state.

SECTION 6. A virtual school shall provide each student enrolled in the school:

(1) Access to a sequential curriculum that meets or exceeds the curriculum standards adopted by the state board of education. The sequential curriculum shall have an interactive program with significant online components;

(2) The same length of time for learning opportunities per academic year that is required by law for public school students, unless such school can show that a student  has demonstrated mastery or completion of an appropriate subject area; and

(3) Regular assessment in language arts, math, science and social studies.

SECTION 7. A virtual school shall maintain an administrative office within the state.  This office shall be considered its principal place of business.

SECTION 8. Any student who is eligible for enrollment in a public school in this state may enroll in a virtual school. Sponsors are authorized to charge tuition to any person not enrolled in a public school in this state.

SECTION 9. In order to encourage collaboration among LEAs, a virtual school is authorized to operate according to the authority granted by the Educational Cooperation Act compiled in chapter 2, part 13 of this title.

SECTION 10. A virtual school shall be evaluated annually by its sponsor based on the following criteria:

(1) The extent to which the school demonstrates increases in student  achievement according to the goals of its authorizing contract and state academic

(2) The accountability and viability of the virtual school, as demonstrated by its academic, fiscal and operational performance.

SECTION 11. This act shall take effect July 1, 2011, the public welfare requiring it.


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