Sunday, August 12, 2012

First person politics with my children...

The sun rose bright and clear this morning. As my two high schoolers and I headed out the door, we were greeted with the first cool morning in months. There is a change in the air; a political change. With this in mind, we took a short trip north up I-77 to the NASCAR Training Institute and experienced part of what makes America great: the political bus tour.

A week ago I received a Facebook post inviting me to get tickets to see Governor Mitt Romney on the campaign trail in person. I requested three tickets so my children could come along and we waited for today. We wanted to get there early to make sure we got good seats, so we headed out before breakfast. Traffic was heavy, so our GPS really paid off by taking us in a back way, bypassing much of it.

We waited in line with other eager supporters. As the line inched forward, we passed the requisite 3 or 4 protesters (yes, there were literally 3 or 4, not three or four hundred). As for the Romney fans, there seemed to be thousands. We met small business owners who were happy to share their stories with my children, Isaac and Darby. Being interested in politics himself, Isaac listened and discussed viewpoints on key issues and differences between the Liberal and Conservative platforms. A writer named Dr. Truth shared a Liberal parody book loosely based on the "Cat in the Hat" with Darby. We all thought the writing was amusing and might have thought it hilarious if so much of it had not been true. I love it when adults take time to talk to future voters and not just brush them off. Isaac was especially happy when the voter registration volunteers asked if he was registered; thinking he was eighteen and not three years younger.


The morning almost ended on a sad note as we approached the metal detectors to enter the building where Governor Romney and his newly announced running mate Paul Ryan were scheduled to speak.In one of four rows of waiting mothers, fathers, babies and the like, we were eight people back from the gate when the fire marshals came out and announced there were too many people and we would have to view the speech from outside. Disappointed, the kids and I walked back around the building to come face-to-face with at least a thousand more people in the same boat as us. I later heard that of the 2000 expected attendees, there were almost 5000 people. While we were sad not to see the speeches in person, we were excited that the turnout was so high in our swing state.

We were not detoured. We stood on a grassy hill overlooking the event and waited and talked until the buses arrived. We knew the buses were coming, not because we saw them, but because the wave of cheering came around the bend. And so from the hill we listened to the speech those inside witnessed first hand. And, although we would have liked to have been there too, the company of fellow conservatives around us made the experience worthwhile.

At the conclusion of the speeches, we waited for one last view of our candidates, hoping for a photo moment. A short time later we were reward for our patience. Governor Romney and Paul Ryan came out to us, hopped up on a picnic table and took the time to present their message to us in person. Thanking us for being there and building excitement for the next few months leading up to November. It was exciting for all of us.


Last fall I had the chance to see President Obama speak during his American Jobs Act bus tour in Jacksonville, NC. His bus tour was like Governor Romney's, fly in and then take a bus for a few stops in the state and then fly to the next state. A true bus tour would take too long and not accomplish enough in this age of information. I am just happy to have been able to see both. And, based on what I have heard, I think the direction we need to go is on the Romney and Ryan bus!

To my Liberal friends, I appreciate your willingness to accept the words I am sharing through our country's support of "freedom of speech." We live in tough times and for those of you who know my story, you know I believe in what the conservative party is doing to make our country stronger. My family and I were in the 99% before it was cool, and through patience, hard work and sacrifice we have survived. As a former small business owner, I know the best thing the government can do is reduce corporate taxes and, within reason, reduce regulations that kill business and not build it. While I may not change your point of view, I do ask that you look at the "change" that has occurred in America resulting from the current administration and reflect on whether or not it was the change you wanted.

Most importantly, I ask my conservative friends to do your best to support our candidates. It is a right, a privilege, and a responsibility of all Americans to get out and vote!

Click here for more information on the Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Campaign.

- Ken

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sharing my passion for narrative learning and games

I am writing this post tonight from my hotel in beautiful (but stormy) Wilmington, NC. It is here that I am both attending and presenting at the Global Learning Technology Conference on the campus of UNC Wilmington.

The Halls of Education at UNCW

Details, Details

Your ABCs

Front Row Seats

Being the first year of this now to be annual event, the population is relatively small, but very focused and dedicated to the application of learning technology to improve outcomes in education at all ages. There are participants from K-12 schools, Colleges and Universities, and my current favorite, corporate learning. The mix is fairly even and the topics range from LMS systems and online learning to games in education. 

Speaking of games in education (which I will also be tomorrow afternoon) the keynote presentation "Let the Games Begin" by Lucas Gillispie was absolutely awesome. The work he is doing with applying game theory to K-12 education is right on target. If you are unfamiliar with his work, please check it out at http://edurealms.com/ He provides free resources for all to learn more about this emerging model for education.

As for my presentation tomorrow, it is titled "Problem-Based Learning using Game Masters, Storytellers and Gamification." Feel free to click on this link to view and/or print the presentation and notes in its entirety.

- Ken

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My daughter, a poster child for learning in the 21st Century

(see our post on Dr. Allison Rossett's page, too.)
It is my humble opinion (and rather biased, I will admit) that my 8th grade daughter, Darby, is a prime example of what it means to be a 21st Century student. She is well on her way to a lifetime journey of learning, limited only by having enough time to obtain all the information and skills she desires. And just how does my prodigy achieve this array of abilities? Is she a savant? Is she genetically enhanced? No, she has simply grown up in the generation that acknowledges the classroom is just one small element in the larger educational picture. And, like those “Where’s Waldo” pictures she and I shared when she was little, she now searches for anything, anytime, anywhere courtesy of the technology of today.

Last year I had the opportunity to see her in action first hand. I was hospitalized for over a month, during which Darby came to stay with me for a full week. Not wanting to get behind in her schoolwork, her 21st Century learning skills and adaptability kicked in and she not only kept up with her work, but completed her assignments in half the time required by her peers. The following is her version of the story…

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Working outside of school would have been very difficult if I didn’t have all the resources I have today. When my dad fell ill this past fall and I knew I had to be with him, I brought along some clothes, my laptop, cell phone, and my iPod Touch 4. I visited my dad every day in the hospital, bringing along my laptop and iPod.

I acted like it was a regular school day. I would set up my laptop and go straight to my school email. Every middle school student at my school has a school email that connects them together on the same server. My best friend would email me after every class, telling me my assignments. I had no textbooks with me, but that was OK since we all have online text books.

So the only problem I had would be math, a subject hard to learn without guidance and initially we thought there would be no way to send me worksheets in a quick manner. Then my math teacher found a way to send worksheets by scanning them into the computer and then emailing them to me. I was able to fill them out using the highlighter and sticky note option in Adobe reader giving me a place to write my answers. I then emailed them back to my teacher. I even took two math tests during the two weeks I was gone. I couldn’t allow myself be behind by two weeks, besides when your alone and bored in an unfamiliar place, you begin to miss school, even the class work.

During this time, I had to send in two “article of the week” assignments.  These require you to read an article from CNN, the New York Times, News Week, etc., highlight important things, make comments on what you have underlined and write an 8-10 sentence review on the article. So all I did was use my common sense and my excellent ability to work with Microsoft Word. I copied the article into Word and used the highlighter option to mark the key items, and then I used the comment feature and made my comments wherever I felt was necessary.  After I made all my comments, I did a page break and wrote my 8-10 sentences on the articles, like the one I did on how “texting can affect your driving.” Thanks to spell check, I made sure everything was ready. Then, using my student email, I sent it straight to my English teacher.

The last assignment was for Language Arts and it befuddled me a little, but then an idea hit me right on my head. What I had to do was make vocabulary note cards. The first problem that occurred to me was I had no clue what the words were let alone their definitions. Sending a text would be too big and take too long for any of my friends to enter in class, so what they did was a little more creative. They took a picture of the words and definitions with their cellphone cameras and posted it on my Facebook wall. Now I had the exact word with the exact definition. No text abbreviations or all the confusion that comes with that. This assignment requires you have to have the word written on the front of a note card with an additional seven times for spelling practice, then on the back you have to write the definition and how to use it in a sentence. Unfortunately a computer can’t legibly take large pictures of all fifteen note cards together, so I took my iPod touch 4 and used its camera to take pictures, front and back, of each note card. For each picture there is an option to email the pictures, post on Facebook, etc., so I emailed the pictures to my teacher and bam, got a ten out of ten on the assignment!

Growing up in the twenty first century has opened many educational doors for me. If I don’t understand something all I have to do is hop on Google to find the answers. I have some of the best teachers at my fingertips including Khan Academy, a site that really helped me with all of the math I was learning. My smart phone was with me so I could look up anything at any time. Going to school could become such a brand new thing. This is a great study and it raises a huge question. Do we really need teachers? I got along fine without one; can every child get around without one? Maybe we can use teachers in the classroom to help with homework and receive our main learning from online teachers.

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When I hear how far behind we are in education in the United States - many other countries are facing this as well - I have to question which generation is being used as the baseline. I believe, if we provide more “guide on the side” instead of “sage on the stage,” teaching them more about how to fish for what they need and less about feeding them a morsel at a time, we will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome. These children want to learn. As Darby said, " Maybe we can use teachers in the classroom to help with homework and receive our main learning from online teachers." I know in her experience using the Khan Academy, she was able to pick and choose from a variety of instructors until she found the one who presented the material in a way she could understand it. With a network of similar subject matter experts in all subjects (see MIT and Harvard's new OpenSource college courses for example) and for a variety of demographics, students from around the globe may finally have equal access to the best instruction for their own personal condition. These students will find a way; with technology and access we just need to let them.

- Ken and Darby

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Half Way There...

Wow, where does the time go? Last post in January and now it's May - sorry folks lie intervened. So here is the "Reader's Digest" condensed recap:

Recovered from surgery and back on my feet - nice war wound for the beach this summer. Passed my second anniversary at Ingersoll Rand and loving it more each day. Davidson/Cornelius is a great place to be for us during the High School years. Kids are doing great - sports, play, honor role, music, etc. I completed the first half of my grad school work with a 4.0 average - latest project is here https://sites.google.com/site/how2haiku/ and I successfully hosted one of the sessions at the East Coast Games Conference again this spring - "Game Mastering Problem Based Learning." Trudie is doing great - she is on the Cathedral School and Diocese of Raleigh team working on the new Cathedral in Raleigh and stays extremely busy juggling the rest of our lives. Our family has had its ups and downs over the past few years and we are fortunately in our up swing this year. And, to top it all off, I finished installing the hardwood floors I started last September (the week before I almost didn't make it) and the house in Raleigh is now ready to become the Sorority House for my oldest next year.

Whew! Probably missed a million things in between, but that's the short version. So what's on tap for the summer? Well, no school for me - the courses I need are unavailable this summer. That means for the first time in a long time I will be focused on actually vacationing with the family and not kind of vacationing while balancing school or work or whatever. Isaac (I.C.E. Ike) and I will be producing his music for YouTube airing and working on his track skills. Darby is doing theater in GA and starting cheer leading for the high school when she joins us out here in July. Alex is directing at the theater in GA this summer! She starts her junior year in college in the fall. Trudie and I will get some well needed "us" time. We will all have our annual beach trip and plan on taking advantage of the National Whitewater Rafting Center in Charlotte. Izy and I may try to hop over to see Grammy and Grampa at Dollywood if we can coordinate our schedules.

I look forward to writing more this summer. Hope to not have four months go by the next time.

- Ken

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Winning the Lottery

My son asked me a few weeks back what I would do if I won the lottery. Coming from a 15 year old, this question is loaded with inherent risks, not the least of which involves a beach, a nice umbrella, and lots of margaritas. So I did what any good father would do and I stalled while collecting my thoughts and devising an answer which would have Solomon qualities without sounding pretentious (no small feat by the way).

The first thing I did was to lay out a financial plan for how much money it would cost to pay off all debts and create several separate accounts from which taxes, maintenance and other associated fees would be drafted for the next 50 years (if I live longer than that, I will count my blessings). The second step was to forecast other living expenses like food, clothing, medical and other family expenses (I do have three children with the potential for marriage and grandchildren). And, the last step involved what I would do with the rest of my life (I hope I am only half way there at this point).

This third stage proved a bit more difficult to map out after the mandatory long vacation with my wife visiting the places we have not had the opportunity to explore. It was here that I realized I like to work; or more accurately, I like to create. And by create, I mean bring ideas and innovations to life; especially with my wife and children. We have been blessed with many talents, most of them involving the performing arts like singing, playing guitar and piano, song writing, movie and theatrical production, and multimedia. The struggle prior to winning this hypothetical lottery has been living day-to-day and living out our passions nights, weekends and any spare moments we can find. And, so it was here I decided to invest the balance of my hypothetical fortune.

On our next long drive, not forgetting my son's original question, I put forth my thoughts and waited to hear his response. With a seriousness only a fifteen year old could convey, my son never laughed or batted an eye, he simply said, "Dad, we need to buy some lottery tickets." And so we did. We have a running agreement that we will never buy for winnings less than $120 million - $60 million after taxes - because starting a performing arts company without significant investment would be ludicrous. And, we only buy one block of tickets, because if it is going to happen, it won't matter how many tickets we buy. And in the meantime, we will work our hardest to reach a point where we can be what we want to be because with God's blessings, just being born into a family like ours is the same as winning the lottery.

- Ken