ellohay! West Michigan

‘Laptops for Sixth Graders?’

This is a great article to come across while surfing… I’m actually glad that it was written. I need to hear this kind of stuff.

Take a minute to read an excerpt from this article written back in 2004 titled ‘Laptops for Sixth Graders?’ about a grant offered through Michigan’s Freedom to Learn initiative (FTL), which allocates $68 million for school districts to lease laptops to kids for up to four years:

Placing computers in classrooms is, of course, only the latest educational fad, designed to divert our attention from the real issue, which is what our children actually know once they leave school. Sure, technology is important and students will have to be able to work with computers to be successful in the workforces of today and tomorrow.

But computer skills can be learned without handing out personal computers. They are skills a good percentage of children already know and use on home computers by the time they are in the sixth grade. Bringing any child up to speed who has no computer at home should be a matter of selective targeting, maybe even by giving out a small number of personal computers.

But this should never be confused with measures aimed at improving student academic achievement, particularly when studies have failed to reveal any such relationship. This appears to be another program where money is being spent, simply “because we can.”

Read the entire article posted here on Apr. 6, 2004 by Jeff Steinport

Jeff Steinport is a computer network administrator for Advantage Sales & Marketing of Walker, Mich. and treasurer for the Grand Rapids Board of Education. Jeff is also a member of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority board.

Alright, so the challenge is to do what? Make sure that when we design this project, that it’s genuinely good, advantageous to be involved with, different. It shouldn’t stink up the place with poor planning, ill informed recommendations, or inappropriate goals.

The frustration is palpable in this article. It would be a terrible thing to evoke similar sentiments in our future clients.

I’m going to speculate (this is only a guess) of the potential downfalls of this program at this time:

• Potentially, the computers were leased, not donated
• Potentially, there was no curriculum in place to integrate the computer as an effective tool
• Potentially, there was no infrastructure for tech support
• Potentially, the training sessions for teachers, students, parents were not in depth enough, or of limited use
• Potentially, there were no clear goals for the introduction of these tools into this environment
• Potentially, students weren’t using them appropriately
• Potentially, they were intrusive in the classroom

If we’re going to do this right, we need to do some serious homework. We need to know needs, desires, concerns from all parties involved. Our goal should be to make this program as seamless as possible, useful, accessible, sustainable, measurable.

Here’s another article titled “Giving Laptops to Sixth Graders Won’t Improve Their Education

Here’s an article discussing why the “State laptop program [was] erased

And last, but not least, the infamous Freedom to Learn website

What other kinds of things would make a program like ours go sour? What could we go so wrong in our plan so far, that would make you as a potential client feel as frustrated as Jeff was?

A Conversation with Ashima Saigal

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with Ashima Saigal, Director of Technology at Dorothy A. Johnson Center of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Grand Valley State University.

I explained the project, the few programs that we have planned, the thinking behind it all. She had some really good suggestions and encouraging feedback as well.

• We should definitely get the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) Organization in on it, get them to set up a buy one get one program for the citizens of the city of Grand Rapids.

• She also expressed that we need to build in a give/get aspect to the donation process. Donors give something and they get something in return.

• She expressed that getting clients involved in their community would be wildly important. For example, 10 hours of community service with Mixed Greens gets you one laptop computer. This will help our clients realize the value of the tools we’re providing to the community.

• Open Office may not be compatible with MicroSoft word file formats, the file format that most educator’s machines, school computers or workplaces use. That may cause some annoying problems for our clients.

While I was laying out all of the elements of the program, (the lack of connectivity between the hardware and education and support and wireless connectivity) I mentioned that there were only a few resources for getting ones computer repaired, i.e. the “smart kid next door” or the “tech-saavy nephew / co-worker / acquaintance or Best Buy’s Geek Squad.

She misheard me, perhaps thinking that I had mentioned that there was an organization of smart kids that fixed people’s computers for them, smart kids next door. I clarified, adding that something like that would be really cool. She said something to the tune of, ‘that would be so cool if that existed for real’. A troop of friendly nerds that could roam the streets providing tech support for a simple trade of homebaked cookies or iced tea.

So I’ve been chewing on that, writing a new draft of the mission statement without my head up my rear, drafting program outlines, and memorandums of understanding.

I’ve got some more to write about this meeting, but nights seem to be getting shorter, so I need to stop if I’m ever going to get anything else out of my head.

Thank you for meeting with me Ashima, hope to talk with you again soon.

A Conversation with John Helmholdt

Posted in clients, conversations, education, meetings, organization, partners, pilot, players, programs by forgr on March 16, 2008

About a week and a half ago, I had a phone conversation with John Helmholdt, Communications Director for Grand Rapids Public Schools. I left a voicemail a day earlier for him, and he called back less than 24 hours later.

Lee Weber from Dyer-Ives suggested I call him a week prior. She said he might be interested in this project.

So, he called me, wanting to know more, and was interested in how something like this might impact students, teachers, parents, the board etc. We talked about the potential structure, the benefits, the pilot program. I mentioned several times that we were just starting out, still int he discovery stage of this project.

And still.. the conversation after that went something like this, not quotes, just the jest (except for the part in quotes, that’s real):

John: So this would cost money right? And the machines would be leased or machines on loan?

Me: “Nope, once we get going, the laptops would be free and belong to the students’

John: Ah, interesting. What’s the catch? What would you want from us?

Me: ‘You would be our test audience, so you’d need to bear with us, and we would like feedback, that’s it’

John: Huh

Me: ‘Seriously, that’s it’

John: “Well, it’s a no brainer.” Marie-Claire, we should find a classroom, the one with the greatest need, and test it out’

Me: ‘Really?’

John: Yeah, let me talk to the right people and get back to you.

Me: ‘Okay then, great’

John: You’ll have to be patient with us, there’s a lot of people to get through before we’d be able to get back to you with a yes or a no.

Me: That’s good, because we have a lot more work to do on our end, you’ll need to be patient with us as well.

John: Okay, this is great, thank you so much for calling me.

So, what does that conversation mean? We may have a local audience, one that potentially lives in the same neighborhood together. They are potentially a complicated group, with special needs, and English may not be their first language. They are under served in the community in more ways than one.

What else does it mean? The pilot program organization is a little higher on our list of to-dos.

Pilot program, thoughts

I met with some chums for lunch this week to discuss a potential pilot program for the laptop project. I woke up early a few mornings ago and started writing ideas down for (potentially) getting this program started. IF this workshop/program/organization is truly needed in our community, it’s going to need to get rolling some time soon right?

I know I’m really getting ahead of myself here, and I know that I’m going to need about 10 more people to help me think about this (that are as crazy as I am) but I need to get this stuff out before I convince myself that this is all a waste of time.

So here goes.


WHO?Programmers, Developers, IT people/tech support, Students, anyone who wants to learn or has anything to offer.

WHAT? Round up computers (3 each to begin with), clear them off, record problems, install Ubuntu, install Open Office, install Firefox, plug ins, mark favorites, test, and make the homepage the portal or intranet, create aliases on the desktop. Give ready laptops to people. Eat pizza, drink beer, down monsters. Brainstorm about the concept, talk about potential problems, get opinions.

WHERE? Any large space with outlets, tables, centrally located, able to have food and drinks, stay as long as we want.

WHY? Introduce the program, get computers ready, get ideas from the community, get ideas for education, bring the community together on a level playing ground, do something good for the area, get sign ups for volunteers, get feedback, get potential donors, talk about their next steps.

WHEN? Friday into Saturday? (how long does it take to do?) Overnight, during the weekend? Several dates?

HOW? List from colleges, universities, corporations, studios of possible participants. Make checklist of process. Get an organizational committee together, create website to register participants.


Other notes:

Press Release?

Play Wii and XBox games?


Display ideas centrally, white boards or large sticky notes on a huge wall

Make sure everyone knows why they are doing what they are doing, get them to feel like they are participating in forming, improving, and nurturing their community.

Video taped? Photos? Audio testamonials?

Make sure everyone knows what their role is next, after the even(s) how can I help?

Get ideas for good links for audiences, (children, single moms, elderly, special needs, manufacturing employees etc.)

Portal/Intranet exploration


So, Scott thinks that before we do this, we need to legally be a non-profit, we need to have people already in line to get these machines, potentially run the program with just one area of the community (he suggests my street).

I have reservations, that’s four steps ahead. That’s too advanced for a pilot program. I want to fail fast. He suggested that I give one to my little sister, but she has a computer. What does she do with it? Play free online games, and type huge letters in Word… but she’s seven. AND that’s all she’s been taught that computers can do.

So who? Who are idea candidates? How can we support them at this stage in the game? How can it start?

I don’t have my notebook that I took notes with with me this evening, so I’ll comment later, but shoot, I’m stumped and I’m scared, but then again I was scared about the block party too…

Something new, updates

Posted in discovery stages, meetings, players, projects, research, wifi by forgr on February 16, 2008

So, overall the meeting with Sally went well on Thursday.

A lot of the questions (that I openly asked in the previous post) were answered, which is great, right? It’s good to communicate… it’s good.

About WiMax in Grand Rapids:

• WiMax is powerful, she said that during the demo she was going 70mph down the highway while streaming high quality video and checking her email. Cool beans.
• it will cost money to get a receiver/antennae or a card in your computer
• It will cost money each month for the service, (there’s a reduced rate for people in need, $9.95)
• There will be free hotspots all over the city, for visitors and wanderers
• Her team started the initiative in 2004, and basically corporate restructuring and logistics have caused the time delays
• The launch date has not been announced
• There is no formal plan to announce it to the public at this time
• She’s confident that people will learn about it by word of mouth

There are key questions that still need to be answered though, right? We’ll write more about those later…

She wanted to know about the project that I (roughly) introduced to her in my initial email. I explained our fantasy project. In short, she loved it and said “there should be more people in the world like [us]”.

On one hand it was refreshing to hear that there is genuinely a need for a digital inclusion plan, and that our project would thrive. On the other hand, I was actually frightened that there wasn’t already one in place. So the city has no plan and we’re all on our own?

From what I understand there aren’t any real plans in place at the current time for digital inclusion in this city. But Mayor Heartwell wants there to be plans, I’m pretty sure she said there’s a digital inclusion/digital divide board in its infancy currently… She was vague.

She did say we could get a letter of support from the mayor for our project though. Wow.

She cited a few independent resources for buying cheap computers, but not anything like a “program” or a “process” for individuals without real means to get a real quality machine in their hands. And no large scale training, workshop or support programs.

She did offer to provide contacts, and facilitate relationships with key individuals in the community. She did. I have a long list of people to call this weekend (and leave half-baked messages in their voicemail) but I’m actually excited about it.

• Community Media Center (workshop for non profits, web consultants for nonprofits)
• Grand Rapids Foundation
• Comprenew
• Mayor’s Wireless/Digital Inclusion/Digital Divide Advisory Board?
• Parks and Recreation

We also talked to Julie last night. Julie Julie, our Julie. She likes the project idea too. She gave me some potential contacts, maybe Hank Meijer would be interested? Maybe the Progressive Women’s Alliance? She says it’s good, smart, new.

Alright, I’m going to the Red Cross Indian Village Apartment Fire Reunion in a little while, so I’m going to go try to chill out for a bit. See if I can leave some more cryptic messages in people’s voicemail boxes too.

Cheers and happy Saturday.