QuickThing17: sprawl happens

São Paulo from Space,

20140406-235941.jpgCompress time, and the changes wrought by time, and you’re mind will surely be boggled. When it comes to population surges through growth and migration, a few cities truly capture this phenomenon.

Not until the last few decades has the globe moved from being largely agrarian to a majority of urban centers. And this is how it happened in Paris, São Paulo, and Los Angeles.




OneThing42: it’s the Instructional Team that teaches

The Instructional Team’s Capacity is the stock to change

Team2I spent a week reconsidering a very small start: what are the key stocks in the system of school reform. And I changed my mind. It is NOT a single teacher’s capacity, but the composite Instructional Team Capacity that makes the critical difference.  So, at the very heart of a school reform is a team of professionals committed to the learning of a group of students.  And those professionals are themselves learning. 

The difference is they already know how they learn.  They have to figure out two things:  first, what is it they wish their students to know and be able to do; and second, how do their students learn?

The School Reform Model version 1.5

With the Connector I suggest a relationship between these two Stocks.  Notwithstanding a few model-building niceties that will need altering, the core assumption is explicit.  This helps us ask questions about my idea . . .

Some questions come to mind

  • What do you have to do to build up an Instructional Team’s Capacity?
  • Mustn’t there be an minimal and optimal effectiveness of an Instructional Team’s Capacity?
  • What could an Instructional Team do (or a Student do) to slow or stop the forgetting of what a student learns?

These are a few things I will address in next week’s version of the model.  I am hoping you might comment on these questions . . . and that would help with the model.

QuickThing14: driving car companies crazy

Oregonians – and Americans – are car crazy no more

Here’s a surprising story . . .

Across the country, the generation coming up is driving less, owning fewer cars, and eschewing the idea of auto-mobility. Take in this graph of Oregon’s Vehicle Miles Traveled graph – it shows that present day VMT is at levels from the late 1980’s!

To be sure, some part of this results from the economic downturn starting in fall 2008. Nonetheless, this represents a dramatic turnabout in American culture.

Do you still need a hot car to score a hot date?

Almost half of 18-24 year olds would choose internet access over wheels.  I recall, now, a faint memory from about 20 summers ago:  beautiful day, a few kids out riding bicycles, running through the streets, being kids.  But there on the curb, oblivious to nature’s gift of a day and the sheer joy of play, sat two boys playing with their Gameboys.

It’s new generation!

Of course, there are a few explanations for this.  Increased density in the last 20 years has made mass transit a better deal.  Owning a car IS an expensive proposition.  Many young couples actually own a single car. My own children did not purchase a car until well into their 20’s, and only then when they had children.

The Portland Street Car routes have doubled, and are about to double again with the opening of the east side lines.

It’s taken a long time for all this feedback to take hold:  rising fuel costs, increased density in urban centers, improved mass transit, more convenient and low cost housing along those mass transit throughways, and a generation whose values differ from those previous relative to social freedom.

OneThing39: a summer for Common Core, STEM & Sustainability

Stepping away to learn so that we can find our instructional stride

The Creative Learning Exchange (CLE) and the Sustainability Education Summer Institute (SESI) sponsor summer conferences and institutes that help us all do our jobs just a little bit better – reaching out to teachers to prepare them for teaching about systems and sustainability.

The CLE sponsors the national Systems Thinking & Dynamic Modeling Conference for K-12 Education in Wellesley, MA, June 30 – July 2.  This conference features teachers and systems practitioners in a three-day Chautauqua of best practices from around the United States. This year’s focus is on the Common Core and STEM Standards, two profound threads of educational reform that have swept through school districts bringing change and new conversations.  This 10th Biennial conference brings together the systems community’s preeminent voices – Peter Senge, George Richardson, and Dennis Meadows.

Over the last two decades, I have participated and presented at this conference as it has criss-crossed the United States: Arizona, New Hampshire, Washington, and Massachusetts.  It’s the kind of conference where neophytes and experts gather to learn and share.  There are many great things about this conference:  teachers share best instructional practices in systems education, and system practitioners share their expertise with teachers.  It’s akin to writing teachers attending a conference alongside the best novelists in the country.

The Learning Tree at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island, WA

Across the country, near the northwest tip of the Pacific Northwest, SESI 2012 gets underway on Bainbridge Island, at a sustainability enclave called Islandwood.  This year’s event features three strands for sustainability educators:  start up teachers wanting to learn, best practices among current teachers, and a deep learning path for experienced teachers.  The first strand includes sessions in systems thinking.  And Fritjof Capra’s Center for EcoLiteracy is a one of the co-sponsors.

If you to step away from modern society and our urban landscape, then come here.  Islandwood will transport you into a sustainability dreamland where the rhetoric and hopes of environmentalism and sustainability are everyday practiced.  You can see what’s possible.  By the way, Washington state is one of the very states with requirements for sustainability education and systems thinking.  I grateful for the real honor to present and participate in SESI 2009.

Get out there!  Learn!  Teach!

QuickThing13: it’s the closed systems that may ruin you

Some cities’ drains do things we’d rather not talk about

I’m happy to acknowledge this small metal sign that my city epoxied to the curb above the street drain in front of my house.  It tells me – and everyone in our neighborhood – that anything dumped here is part of a closed system.  Water, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, lawn care products, detergents from car wash . . . all of it drains to the watershed.

And that’s not the only thing . . .

There are some cities that do not separate sewer from storm water;  it’s called a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). Under usual conditions, runoff goes into the sewer system that flows to the treatment facilities.  This works OK when the city is small and there’s no rain, but it rains a bit in the Pacific Northwest.

Illustration of a combined sewer system

As Portland grew and when storms came calling, the runoff overwhelmed the CSO system, with the overflow running directly into the streams and the Willamette River.

Fortunately, Portland started working on this in 1991 and it’s finally done – Portland’s Big Pipe will help.  That little metal sign is all part of that grand vision from two decades ago.

I love that little sign.

OneThing31: geeks to the rescue . . . again!

Recycling and revenging all at the same time

Free Geek started in Portland in 2000 and now operates in over a dozen cities in the US and Canada

When Free Geek opened its doors in Portland in 2000, they did so to tackle a real problem that I mentioned in the last entry (SmallThing8: just exactly where is “away”?) . . . how to keep really cool, really geeky, and really toxic stuff out of landfills.  And what a success story it’s been.

Free Geek has been diverting obsolete computing equipment from landfills for over a decade and putting reusable computers in the hands of people who need them but who often cannot afford a system.  In fact, volunteers earn a free computer after 24 hours of volunteering(it’s called a FreekBox). Currently, over 700 volunteers per month work in the various stations in the Free Geek warehouse on SE 10th.

The Cathedral of e-cycling on SE 10th in Portland. Click me!

It’s remarkable that the enterprise is entirely self-sufficient:  donations, thrift store sales, and material sales keep 35 people gainfully employed and hundreds of volunteers occupied.

Free Geek collects all the computing waste of the city offices.  It provides free computers through a grant process throughout Oregon and Washington.  It holds classes for all computer recipients.

Free Geek is a deep systems solutions to an intransigent growth problem:  where do I put it the old one?

Described in a system dynamics model, computing waste used to look like this:

No exit for the Landfill stock.  Old PC’s by the millions were going into landfills.  To be sure, there was some resale thrift second-hand stores, family hand-me-downs, school donations, and the like.  Still, with the advent of the personal computer in the early 1980’s and then the explosion of cell-phones in the 2000’s, the amount of e-waste has simply dwarfed our society’s capacity to contend with it.

Now it looks like this:

Steel goes to Schnitzer Steel in Portland

Plastic is “pelletized” and the sent to Total Reclaim in Seattle in ingots

Motherboards are sold to Hallmark Refining in Seattle for any precious metals

Wires, cords, cables, printers, drives, et al are sold to Metro Metals in Portland

As those at Free Geek will tell you . . . they’ve been “helping the needy get nerdy since the beginning of the third millennium.”

QuickThing7: Love the Loop and eat well

If you want to matter more in this world, read mattermore

Tap the heart for the full story

Click me to visit Greenopolis facebook

Mattermore blogs on sustainability, and recently posted a note on loving food (Ripe for Recycling) taps on the key ingredient of sustainability: knowing about feedback loops, and living inside them.

There’s a juicy treat of thoughtfulness here – healthy eating and thoughtful composting speeds up the organic cycle, reduces waste to landfills, and builds up the steamy and fecund nutrients on which our good food thrives.

Love the loop. And eat up!

OneThing28: sustainably fit for our times

Sustainability – living within Earth’s natural rhythms

Holding Earth

Cascadia - the great rivers of the Northwest and their watersheds flowing to the Pacific

The variety and beauty of the Pacific Northwest

The best way for us to talk about this was to use the elements of systems thinking to focus on sustainability.

  • What are the primary STOCKS of the Pacific Northwest we want to preserve? What (rising/declining) STOCKS threaten the Pacific Northwest?
  • What are the annual/decadal/epochal FLOWS within the Pacific Northwest we need to reduce? Increase? Repair? Honor?
  • What are the relationships among these STOCKS and FLOWS?
  • What BEHAVIORS emerge over time from among these STOCKS and FLOWS?

And so we started looking at patterns of behavior of the stocks we were interested in:  dam building, logging and tree-planting, growth of roads, shifts in car purchases, population growth and shift throughout the region, sprawl, and others.  We saw logistic growth, overshoot and collapse, exponential growth still unchecked, and we noted some absolute declines.  The growth (or decline) of one stock impacted still other stocks. In some cases, the feedback was quite distant in time or space (e.g., loss of salmon runs due to small-scale but ubiquitous dam-building).

With care . . . and systems thinking, we can sustain our only planet

For God’s sake . . . how do we regain equilibrium?

That’s when we started looking carefully at interconnections among stocks and flows.  It was a lot to learn – students realized that they needed a really different, and a really disciplined way of thinking about things so that they might tell the story about sustaining it.

Camp Snowball participants will learn that “Education for Sustainability . . .is a transformative learning process.”  It’s a kind of apprenticeship for living responsibly.  Students in the “Northwest Rhythms” course had to acquire a different set of learning skills so that they might generate new questions and make sense of their complex world . . . and make sense of it in a new and compelling narrative.  The process transformed them, indeed.

When I was a child, we learned about things.  Barry Richmond called them “the nouns of a system,” just a bunch of parts of speech lying around.  In education for sustainability, students learn about the relationships among those things, the “verbs and conjunctions and prepositions” as Barry might say. With this, students can compose a new world view. Holistic rather than reductionist.

Can we not read the sign of the times . . .

What systems thinking offers sustainability education is an accessible and critical tool that imbues students with a radical story-telling ability.

Hold on, everyone . . . we

are on the slippery crest of a rising paradigm.  There is much to learn . . . let’s get our students learning . . . so they can help us!

QuickThing5: Fullan and Senge

Michael Fullan

Peter Senge

Changed for good . . . 

Two of the most prominent change agents in education and business come together in Tucson  . . . Michael Fullan and Peter Senge.  In this brief video, Michael and Peter talk about their hopes and expectations for Camp Snowball.  The two of them will host a Leadership Forum.

For leaders in education, you could not wish for a more potent duo. Click the link below for a preview.

Camp Snowball Group News | LinkedIn

Then, click forward to Camp SnowballOnward!

OneThing24: Br. Jack and La Salle science students to the rescue!

Restoring a salmon run in Yakima Valley

La Salle High School students wade into the Ahtanum Creek to assist with salmon restoration

About 140 miles east-by-north-east from Portland, the Yakima Valley of Washington state opens the high desert land to the traveler in a dramatic way:  crossing the Ahtanum Ridge, one sees an expanse of orchards and rivers and mountain peaks that dazzle anyone from a city.  It fulfills the epic imagination needed to comprehend the term “promised land.”

And then one drives into the cities – Toppenish, Union Gap, Yakima.  It’s an area slammed by lean times, and the deep source of prosperity – the land and water – has been used hard for decades.  At La Salle High School in Union Gap, the small school established on 40 acres abutting Ahtanum Creek, students and an iconic teacher decided it was time to swim with the fishes. Along the riparian zone edging the school’s property, Br. Jack Henderson, FSC, and his students have started plantings and, recently, received a grant to start a salmon hatchery.

It’s the kind of thing all schools ought to be doing – noting its special place amid its environs and putting the collective intellect and physical capacity at the service of the local community.

Br. Jack presides over the raceway with the Ahtanum Ridge and riparian zone in the background

Here in Union Gap, La Salle students under Br. Jack’s tutelage, ever so methodically, restore and recover the salmon runs of the Ahtanum watershed, however minute its spread within the broader Yakima Basin and Columbia River Watershed.   In the small-scale operation that is La Salle’s salmon hatchery, their two raceways house fewer than 25,000 alevins.  Each morning before school and, again, before they leave for the day, students walk from classrooms to the far end of the property to feed the flickering fry, soon to be released in the spring time Ahtanum flow.

More and more high schools near waterways are doing this.  It’s the perfect, engaging kind of academics that teenagers are naturally drawn to.  At Warrenton High School at the mouth of the Columbia River, students have established the Warrenton High Fisheries Inc. (  http://www.kval.com/news/tech/101198554.html), and it is succeeding.  (Over on the far right of this page, you’ll see Moving+Things – click on “Life Cycle of Salmon.”)

This direct work of managing some aspect of a complex system enables students to comprehend the precarious time-bound interplay of multiple forces . . . how all those disparate things are really one thing.

La Salle science students

Some parts of our ecosystem are – in fact – in terrible shape, but students can play a part in restoration.  It’s likely to take a few generations to right the ship. Fortunately, there are teachers like Br. Jack and students like those at La Salle High School in Union Gap who give us hope.