Friday, June 15, 2012

Rain Gardens and Storm Water Management in Madison, WI

A Rain Garden along a City of Madison Street takes shape
Rain Gardens are taking hold in Madison, WI. These are often installed by homeowners as a means to prevent rain water from running-off directly into the storm sewers.  The one pictured to the right was part of partnership between the City of Madison and the property owner.  The homeowner and City shared the cost of installation. This one went in last year during major street renovations.  The matting in the foreground was just removed and fresh mulch added to the bottom.

The big brown rectangle in the back is the Rain Garden.  It acts as a small catch basin allowing a recharge of the groundwater.  Madison is surrounded by 4 Lakes and the ensuing rise in the water table means that springs will come back to life.  Rain Gardens also serve as a way to filter out chemicals and debris that would otherwise find their way into the aquifers and lakes. To date, over 498 Rain Gardens have been installed in the City of Madison.

Father and Son Plant their Rain Garden (Photo Courtesy Wisconsin DNR)
So where does the 'Garden' part fit-in? Well, you actually go the next step and put in plants that will flourish in the damp conditions while filtering-out the chemicals.  Some homeowners have opted to create their own Rain Gardens on a smaller scale.  There are so many options and the University of Wisconsin-Extension has put together a free 'How-to' guide. 

It is very easy to get one started.  First of all, kids like to dig in the dirt. Now, you can let the little tikes loose with their shovel and pails and make them part of the solution.  Ahem, some adult supervision is going to be required here.  Seriously, clean water is important today and for future generations.  Involve your kids in the process and let them spread the excitement to their friends when they return to school in the fall.  Fresh water is a critical resource for our nation and we want to ensure that it is available for future Americans.

On a grander scale steps have been taken to stem the flow of storm water run-off into Madison's Lake Wingra.  After years of community involvement with engineers, a storm water retention pond took shape.  Acting much like a Rain Garden, storm water is held and slowly released into the Lake via gravity.  Take a moment to explore the work.  I hope you are inspired to spread the word about Rain Gardens and maybe even build one yourself!

Use the Arrows at the bottom to move around, and highlight boxes to zoom-in on details.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Swarm of Bees in Madison Rescued

Well, rescued might be a bit strong but they did find a new home.  Wonderful video showing how Madisonians work together.   In this case a swarm of bees took over a tree branch in Madison, Wisconsin.  True to local character, the property owner and his neighbor call-in Environmentally Correct help.  Two Beekeepers arrive in their Prius, don protective garb and gingerly move the swarm to a bee box. The property owner sacrificed some branches from the tree but we're all better off giving bees a home so that they not only survive, but thrive!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Final MEIT Blog

The MEIT Program has been one of profound personal and professional growth for myself.   I enrolled in the Master of Education (M.E.) in Instructional Technology at Cardinal Stritch University with the primary goal of being more competitive in my field as a Software Trainer.  Although I have worked with adult learners during my fifteen years as an educator, I wanted to become more well-rounded in a program with K-12 cohorts.  During this time I discovered that many of the adult learning principles are extensions of early education best practices.   There are slight differences but for the most part they mirror one another. 

A big boost to my skill set were the explorations of classroom strategies enhanced with technology and differentiated instruction.  The modifications I made to existing courses to incorporate collaborative technologies and authentic learning were valuable experiences that I will carry forth into my future professional work. 

One of the biggest areas of  growth has been the use of Web 2.0 technologies.  Already proficient with synchronous meeting spaces, the MEIT Program explored the use of wikis, blogs, social media and cloud computing resources.   What a pleasant surprise to find programs like Skype and Tokbox were free for videoconferencing.  I learned to cast aside the notion that anything you get for free can't be any good and embraced Google Docs, Zoho and other Web-hosted applications that did not require a thick-client.  

I did think that the MEIT Program would spend more time on thick-client tools that are still in great use by businesses.  Adobe Captivate, Articulate, Lectora and others are popular tools for creating Elearning modules.  Over time, these products will serve a diminishing market niche as firms transition to Web-based tools.   Thankfully, the MEIT Program focused on the learning strategies and presentation skills independent of any single tool.  It doesn't matter if the tools are in the clouds or located on my hard drive, it's all about the intended outcomes.

As I look back on my blog posts throughout the MEIT Program I can see where I transitioned from 20th Century technologies and strategies to ones that are relevant in the current millennium.   21st Century Skills are the new normal for businesses and education.  Critical thinking, problem-solving and digital literacy along with team/student-centric learning reflect the needs for today's economy.   Interestingly enough, in my own experience the digital natives of today are quite comfortable with new technologies but many lack the depth or strategies to obtain greater value in their use.   In that sense, my skill set has been enhanced not only by cloud-computing Web 2.0 applications but through a deepened understanding of their effective use which I intend to impart to others.

On a final note, I am sad to see the MEIT Program come to an end.  It has challenged my personal views of newer technologies and provided a new perspective on collaborative learning in the 21st Century.  Sure, I was pushed outside of my comfort zone but I came to realize that I was at the forefront of a new approach to learning.  I felt like an early explorer on the verge of a new frontier.  A few people had tread before me, but everything was new and the possibilities, well, limitless!   Am I still a Software Trainer?  No.  I am an eLearning Professional skilled in course design and delivery.  Now, I need to march forward and carry my new skills into my next workplace.

Friday, April 8, 2011

CEDO 599 - Week Two

In the second week of CEDO 599 - Culminating Experience:  Digital Futures, I have the clearance to move forward with my capstone project.  I am building a Website from scratch using the latest version of  Adobe Dreamweaver.  Over the past few months I've been dreaming of building the most fantastic site ever known to The Internet.  My project is to create a Website from scratch using Adobe Dreamweaver.  The Website's intended audience are potential employers and colleagues.  The project will help me gain valuable experience with Website layout, design and coding.  Sure, there were easier ways to go with this but I need the experience to have 'street cred' with technical folks I may work with at a later date.

I completed SMART Objective #1 where I identified all of the content that I will have on my site and placed on my Cardinal Stritch University ePortfolio.  I feel pretty good that I have identified and placed the artifacts on my site. At a later time, when I am doing the actual coding I can go to the source page and grab the artifacts, links and images.  

A the moment, I am working on wrapping-up Objective #2where I create a mock-up or site composition specification. The Digital Storytelling Course and Presentation Zen made a big impression on me.  It was very tempting to start designing the site based on the latest cool features in Dreamweaver.  In other words, start icing the cake before it was baked!  That is a major pitfall and I made myself go offline,think about my intended audience, draw the site by hand, and then create a mock-up in MS-Word.   It feels like there should be more, but that is just the pull of the technology and I am trying so hard  to not obfuscate my site with cool chotchkies and spinning widgets that shine and sparkle.  

Already  I am learning so much.  When I see a great site I let my Web-browser display the source code so I can see how they pulled it off.  It is very exciting to be finally tackle a professional goal I have had for the past few years. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

CEDO 599 - Week One

The final course in the MEIT Program has started along with my Capstone Project to wrap things up.  I will design a Web-site which will serve as a means to later publish my professional portfolio and establish Brian Adams as a brand in the market. The overall goal of the proposed project is to gain practical experience designing a Web-site using an industry standard tool: Adobe Dreamweaver.  I have never attempted to create a Web-site from scratch and it will require learning new software, designing, developing and publishing the Web-site.  The content will consist of public-facing content which describes myself, my career and exhibits materials while demonstrating technical and design skills which are a 'given' for Internet professionals. 

But why use an 'old school' tool like Dreamweaver when there are tons of Web 2.0 resources for building free Web-sites?  In fact, the MEIT Program has explored so many of these tools it almost seems like I am going backwards by using a thick-client to publish a site.  Well, Web 2.0 tools are widely available but business and educational organizations are still heavily vested in thick-client authoring tools.  The project will deepen my understanding of the underlying technology as well as practical considerations when consulting with Instructional Designers and IT professionals. Students, employers and even myself will benefit as I acquire the skills which permit me to design, develop and integrate educational experiences into existing environments.

Upon further review, the goal is a bit too ambitious for the thirty hour requirement.  Dreamweaver is a tricky tool and underlying CSS and its rules reminds me of my days as a programmer.  I decided to pare down the project so that it would be made-up of three truly SMART goals.  It will have three components:  CSS Template, home page, and three sub-pages with content. The Web-site for the culminating project will act as a shell upon which I will build-out my site following the conclusion of the MEIT Program.

I will use the site to showcase past, current and future accomplishments in my career.  Potential employers and colleagues can view my site at any time to see my work and interests.  RSS Feeds, links to blogs, and examples of ongoing work will ideally support my vision and mission statements.   Beyond the initial scope of the project, creating a Web-site lays the foundation upon which I may better understand the Web 3.0 technology looming on the horizon.   Needless to say, I am going to be very busy the next few weeks as I  kick it into overdrive to meet the goals of this project.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

CED0 565 - Leadership and Planning - Week Six

An Altered Definition of Leadership and Teacher Leaders
The final class of CED0 565 - Leadership and Planning concluded and the course altered my perception of leadership. In the past, I carried a romantic notion of a leader being the strong, rugged individual who could change a system overnight while leading a charge against the old and ushering in a new dawn.  A John Wayne or Steve McQueen making things happen while silently drawing-in others in their wake.  When John Wayne rides out of town, down the dusty trail, will the people keep working to sustain the good that came about?  Not likely as they were never true stakeholders in the change process.  I realize now that I held an idealized view of effective leadership and that it takes individuals working, not in a vacuum, but with others to create, attain and sustain a shared community vision.

I now see Teacher Leaders as blurring the lines between administration and teachers for the good of the students.  Blurring lines, in this case, is a good thing as it leads to better and more effective communication between administration and the teachers who have to generate results.  Teacher Leaders need and should be
 part of the recruiting and hiring process for new staff.  They should also be an integral part of any quality improvement initiatives at a school.  A better fit for the John Wayne analogy, was his role as Sergeant Stryker in The Sands of Iwo Jima. He trained the troops, oversaw their promotions within the ranks, and would never ask them to do anything he wouldn't do himself.  Stryker was tough, fair, and he earned the trust of his mean and they would follow him into battle. Stryker always communicated with the Colonels and Generals above him.  In turn, they respected him and his views and the overall outcomes were more effective.  Sergeant Stryker dies in battle, but he had trained other soldiers to take his place, and they soldiered on.

Leadership Potential

A big shift for me was that all of us have inherent leadership potential.  It takes all types and kinds of people to lead and affect change. Some leaders are wired for an in-your-face approach while others take time to sow seeds that raise awareness and create a groundswell for change.  While the more boisterous and brash individuals may  rub people the wrong way, they provide an opportunity to crack open topics and question why things are the way they are.  I see that I have been a leader and have even greater leadership potential in the future.  Unlocking that potential means utilizing the feedback from my leadership surveys to become a more effective leader.

In society, professionals such as doctors, lawyers and businessmen provide avenues for leadership in their practice and communities.  One would hope that good leadership is about raising the social good for as many in our society.  Teachers really are leaders in the shaping of young minds so that they may grow-up to be reflective and positive contributors to society.  Perhaps this seems like a Utopian view of leadership, but I have seen good things happen when good people apply themselves to seemingly hopeless tasks. 

Improving Education from Within

Since I am on a Hollywood theme, one of my favorite movies is To Sir, With Love.  The story stars Sidney Poitier as an engineer from the British West Indies who takes a teaching job at a tough, low-income school in London is quite powerful.  The older teachers are burnt-out, the younger ones are fearful of the students, and the students see no reason why they even need to be at the school at all.  Poitier's character has an epiphany and sets about changing the overall learning environment, or culture, at the school.  Poitier leads by example.  The change is rough, has its low points, but the school and students are better for it in the end.

I have always been moved by To Sir, With Love.  In the end, he finds his true calling as a teacher to students and as an exemplar to his peers and administration.  I can think of no finer depiction of a Teacher Leader who can and does change the system from within.  Yes, I believe that all of us can change the system or organization that employs us.  It takes effort, deliberate action, making time for others and raising awareness. And, while we walk the walk, show patience and understanding for those that are slow to come around.  In the end, they rise and join with the others.

Friday, March 11, 2011

CEDO 565 - Leadership and Planning - Week Five

Making Change Happen

The past week we completed the Change Game simulation and reflected as a group on what activities helped foster change in a system.  I also completed an assignment where I examined how change occurs in my organization.  When it comes to making change happen one has to do a lot of talking.  An e-mail, like a message in a bottle, may not reach the right audience.  Plus, it does not convey the same meaning as a good conversation where ideas are shared, connections are made and awareness of issues/challenges emerges.
Looking back at the Change Game simulation and my own personal experience with system wide change, understanding the overall system and interrelationships is critical to affect and sustain continuous change. It is not enough to create a coalition.  One needs to get system or organizational buy-in from all of the stakeholders.  Not everyone will embrace change or system improvement initiatives, but they do come around eventually.  Identify who the key influencers are in each part of the system and sound them out.  How do they feel?  What are their concerns about change?  Bottom line:  keep talking to everyone and asking questions.

Awareness of a need for change is always the first step and one that can not be skipped over. Be patient, have conversations, listen and reflect.  Things may not happen as fast as we like, but trust the system, and trust the people around you to see opportunities for improvement.