Thursday, April 28, 2011

This Post Will Get More Interesting as the Day Goes On

Conducting team interviews
at a previous M3 Challenge
It's M3 Challenge time again!

Today I'm in NYC to cover the 2011 Moody's Mega Math Challenge Finals. We're going to be taping all the presentations and talking to all the people involved so we can make some more awesome videos about applied mathematics.

New this year, we're broadcasting the entire event live on USTREAM, which you can watch in the window below (I hope). If you're tuning into this post before 1:30PM EST, you'll probably just see a recap of last year's event. Between 1:30PM and 6:00PM you should see the event as it takes place, along with some of my interviews. After that, you should still be able to watch the archived clips.

Video streaming by Ustream
If you don't know anything about the M3 Challenge, check out a few of my other posts on the contest. You might also want to read up on this year's challenge problem so you have at least an inkling of what everyone's talking about.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Revelation About Charter Schools and More on Reading with Your Child [Video]

All books featured in this
episode must contain the
number 7 in the title
I've been looking forward to this week's episode of Classroom Close-up, NJ a bit more than I normally would. Mostly because the segment I produced for this show, "Literature Links", was the inspiration for what became the most viewed post on this blog, "Unlocking the Keys to Reading with Your Child". I don't know for certain, but I think it was probably popular because other parents could relate to my realization that I could be doing more to help my children develop their reading skills.

"Literature Links" begins at about 20:00, but be sure to check out the other three stories in this week's show.

Next week: Mural Club! (which has since been retitled, "Get on the Wall")

If you're interested in public education, visit the Classroom Close-up, NJ Facebook page and click the 'Like' button! To find out where I'm headed next, subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Which is Harder? Making a Mashup or Carving a Statue? [Video]

Show 17 airs tonight which means we're getting close to the end of another season of Classroom Close-up, NJ (a season is usually 20 episodes). It also means I'm currently working on a segment for the upcoming season finale where we recap the entire season by mashing together stories with some common themes. The package I'm putting together will focus on public schools efforts to provide a thorough education for every student and what that means. It will probably incorporate clips from stories we aired about ESL programs, gifted students, and students with disabilities, including the S.A.I.L. story we taped in February, that leads off this week's episode.

While I'm looking forward to revisiting this story and several others for the final episode, I always struggle with editing my show 20 package. Partially because I'm working with another producer's material for parts of the segment. It's great stuff to work with, but I'm not as familiar with the footage because I wasn't on the shoot and didn't edit the original story. Mostly though, it's the challenge of trying to combine four or five stories into five minutes. I always compare editing a story to making a sculpture. You start off with a big rock consisting of hours of tape and interviews, and then chisel it down to 5 minutes that looks like something. My analogy starts to break down when I'm starting off with five finished statues to work with. I think some of my past show 20 segments have bordered on (and drifted into) being just clip packages, which I really want to avoid this year. Which means, I better get back to work, since there's only two more episodes before the finale.

On next week's episode: Literature Links!

If you're interested in public education, visit the Classroom Close-up, NJ Facebook page and click the 'Like' button! To find out where I'm headed next, subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How I Became a Transit Geek and Simplified My Freelancing Expenses

Possibly the last new car I'll ever own.
Spring break has arrived. Not only is it the beginning of a week that will be spent finding ways to entertain the kids, it's the one-year anniversary of the Bausers becoming a single car household. A year ago, we were packing up the station wagon to head out on a cross country, family-visiting adventure, when a neighbor's friend showed up and offered me $300 for my car. This wasn't a totally out-of-the-blue event. The buyer and I had discussed a potential sale several weeks prior, but up until that moment, I hadn't committed to parting with my ten-year-old VW Jetta. Seizing the opportunity, I accepted the personal check, hurriedly retrieved my tape cassette adapter and EZPass, and watched him drive away in the first new car I'd ever owned. Just like that, we were a one-car family.

A lot of people think I'm crazy. How can you possibly live in suburban New Jersey, have two working parents, one kid in school, another in preschool and get by with only one car? Surely this self-imposed exile is the result of surging gas prices and economic distress? I won't deny that economics influenced our decision to rebut the statistics showing American's owning an average of 2.28 cars per household with 35% owning three or more vehicles. While the potential savings did play a part, a number of other factors also came into play.

Long on character, short on parking.
A couple of years ago we made the decision to move into Princeton Borough for its great public schools, world-class university, and thriving downtown. Proximity to Princeton had been one of the main reasons we decided to move to New Jersey and we'd always regretted not buying our first home in the borough. We had three "musts" for our new dwelling. It had to be close enough to walk to town, it had to have more than one bathroom, and it had to have a driveway. Well, in a town of less than two square miles, you don't have a lot of buying options (at least in our price range) and we ended up settling for just one of our three primary criteria. Location.

Walking to school.
We purchased half of a 100+ year-old double on Bank Street. It's in a charming little historic nook of downtown Princeton, one block from the town square and one block from the university. You can indeed walk to just about anywhere for anything. The schools, the post-office, coffee shops, restaurants, pharmacy, and groceries are all within walking distance. It's hard to imagine a more walkable town that isn't a major metropolitan area.

Riding Tiger Transit
Princeton also has amazing mass transit options. An NJ Transit rail station that connects to the Northeast Corridor Line sits less than a half mile from my door. It can get you to New York, all around New Jersey, to the airport, the SEPTA lines in Philly, and onto an Amtrak train, which can get you to almost any major city on the east coast and beyond. We also have multiple NJ Transit bus routes, private bus lines, free campus shuttles open to the public, and when all else fails we have taxis.

So you can see, we were primed for the one car lifestyle from day one, yet we clung to our second vehicle for more than a year. What finally made us take the plunge?

Parking was a problem. Our new downtown abode had no driveway so we were limited to street parking. Other than the inconvenience of looking for a spot, it's not that big of hassle. Well, other than the fact that Princeton has a "no overnight street parking" ordinance. You get a ticket if you leave a car parked on the street for more than an hour between 2AM and 6AM. I don't know why they have this ordinance. I suspect it has something to do with keeping the college students from parking cars all over town. "Surely residents are exempt from this tyranny?" you ask. Sort of. You can get an overnight parking permit for the street you live on if you don't have a driveway, but you can only get one per household. So the wagon got a street permit and we rented a space for the Jetta in the parking garage behind our house. Problem solved for just $165/month.

Then the parking garage was condemned and I didn't have a place to park my car anymore. None of the other garages in town had spaces available. I could get a municipal parking lot permit, but this would only be for overnight parking, so I'd still have to find somewhere to park my car between 9AM and 6PM. Since I work from home most days, this was going to be a major inconvenience. For three months, I paid my neighbor $75/month to let me keep the car in the alley between our houses, but this was technically illegal, and hard on the car because I had to jump the curb to get into the alley. To top if off, the Jetta failed its state inspection and was going to need over a thousand dollars in repairs to in order to get a new sticker. I was now seriously considering this one car thing, when the final piece of the puzzle fell into place.

Join Zipcar and get $25 in free driving!
Join Zipcar and get
$25 in free driving!
I discovered that Princeton had Zipcars. Zipcar is a car sharing service that lets you use cars by the hour or by the day. They have locations in a number of major cities and college towns. Two Zipcars lived in the municipal parking garage a minute's walk from my house. I signed up for a membership. Now I had access to a car on the occasions I needed one and didn't have to worry about where to park.

The best part of being a Zipster (other than not owning a car) is that you don't have to pay for insurance, vehicle maintenance, or even gas (every Zipcar has a gas card inside that you use to fill up the tank). That said, Zipping definitely wouldn't work for someone who needed to drive to an office every day (Zipcars cost about $8/hr or $60/day) or go on long trips (you only get 180 free miles per day). You also need to plan ahead because getting a car on the spur of the moment can be tough. You have to reserve your cars whenever possible. For a home-based worker such as myself who plans most of his trips far in advance, it works well. On the days it doesn't, Lauren's office is only a few miles from home, so I can take her to and from work and keep the car.

It's also greatly simplified my business expenses. Gone are the paper mileage logs I would buy every January and promptly banish to the bottom of my glove box. Zipcar gives me a mileage report on each individual rental. For clients that pay my mileage it acts as a receipt, and on the occasions when the mileage reimbursement would be more than the actual rental fee, I charge my client the lesser of the two amounts, so it saves them money too. Also gone is the hassle of trying to keep track of the personal and business use of my vehicle. When I rent a Zipcar for work, I just make a note in the system at the time I reserve.

Ticket home.
Funny thing is that even though I rely on my Zipcars, I find myself using it only when absolutely necessary. I've enjoyed learning the train schedules, finding all the bus stops, and figuring out how to connect the transit dots to get where I need to go. I also bought a bike for my longer trips across town. Being more transit savvy has also made me more likely to use mass transit away from home. Last year I went to Pittsburgh for two days and spent a total of about $25 on transportation, most of which was a Super Shuttle to the airport on the day of my return because I didn't feel like walking to the bus stop. (If you ever fly into Pittsburgh, the 28X Airport Flyer bus is awesome, fast, and cheap.)

So that's my story. What about you? Would you ditch one or both cars if you could? Have you already?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What’s the ROI of a Healthcare Technology Startup Seeded with Your Tax Dollars?

The founders of No Gadget Too Complicated, LLC
I recently started working on a video about a new device that could help millions of patients confined to hospital beds by preventing the formation of pressure ulcers, more commonly known as bedsores. During the taping, I met and interviewed the four co-founders of the company behind the invention, No Gadget Too Complicated, LLC.

I can hear what you're thinking.

"Adam’s producing one of those pharmaceutical or medical training videos he takes on to pay the bills when he's not working on cool stories about public education."


"Well, surely Adam was at one of those neat e-patient conferences where they talk about all the latest innovations in Health 2.0 and online patient communities."

Wrong again.

On location at High Point Regional High School
I was actually on assignment for Classroom Close-up, NJ doing another story about the great things happening in New Jersey's public schools. This time I was at High Point Regional High School in Sussex and the four partners were all under the age of 20 (two of them still in high school). The students designed the device as part of a high school engineering project and are currently seeking a patent for their invention.

The device, known as the Pressure Sore Relief System (PSRS), uses sensors and special motors placed under a mattress to stimulate blood flow to different parts of a patient's body. PSRS has several advantages over other systems currently used to prevent bedsores, some of which still rely on nurses to physically move patients or simply work on timed intervals with no intelligence behind them. PSRS is also cost effective because it can be used with a standard hospital bed mattress.

After the project took first place in the electronic research and experimentation category at the 2009 National Technology Student Association Conference, the students were encouraged to patent their device by one of the judges who since has mentored the group and donated to their fledgling company. The students have also received guidance and help from their teachers, the community, and local legislators.

I think this story is just another example of how much public education has intensified in the last few decades. The engineering program at High Point is impressive and is providing students with a huge head start on their careers. Think about it, here are four teenagers that are on the verge of patenting a medical device. Their success and subsequent journey has also influenced High Point’s curriculum as the school plans to add lessons about business development and the patent process to guide future students that find themselves in similar positions.

I probably won't touch on this angle in the show, but another important theme in this story is the selflessness it takes to be a teacher. How many future business ventures will the faculty I interviewed at High Point directly or indirectly contribute to? No doubt many, and I know that none of the teachers or the school will try to claim a stake in those achievements or any subsequent financial rewards. Even when they put in hours of their own personal time and energy to help students achieve that success. Selflessness just comes with the territory when you're a teacher. (Just be clear, the school will brag to the world and hang plaques everywhere, but it will always be about the students.)

You could say that's not much different than the corporate world. Smart managers give the credit to the team. Sure they do, but the managers usually take home the fat checks and the companies take home the fatter profits. Of course, now that I've said that, I'm a little worried that some clever education reformer will demand schools like High Point cling to IP rights so the profits from student inventions can be used to offset property taxes.

I generally think that trying to treat education as a business is a flawed concept. However, with all the recent debate about how to best evaluate teacher effectiveness, maybe what we really need is to develop some kind of formula that can measure the true ROI of teachers? Do they have a standardized test that measures regional economic impact, new business developments, and relative health of a population?

What do you think? What other variables would we need to include in a teacher ROI formula? Would you support public schools profiting from the work of students if it meant lower taxes?

If you're interested in public education, visit the Classroom Close-up, NJ Facebook page and click the 'Like' button! To find out where I'm headed next, subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter.

Monday, April 11, 2011

And I Thought Doing It in Five Minutes Was Hard [Video]

I got an email the other day from Mike Piotrowski, one of the teachers I interviewed for the "Gami TV" story that premieres tonight at 7 pm on NJN. He wanted to let me know that he saw the finished package and he dug it. I love getting those kind of emails.
240 ticks

However, the rest of his message was a bit of a bummer.

The day after we taped the story he found out that Absegami was going to scale down its homeroom time from fourteen minutes to a mere four.

"Big deal," you might say, "It's just homeroom. All they do is take attendance and do announcements."

Not at Absegami. For the crew of my favorite high school news cast, it's a very big deal. Homeroom is when they air their live morning show, which used to run fourteen minutes. Since February, they've had to try to do it in four.

Take it from someone who makes five-minute videos for a living. Four minutes is nothing. Even in the nightly news world the average segment is about 90 seconds. Throw in an intro, outro, and transitions and you're not left with time to do much more than fancy announcements. And while I'm sure Gami TV will be the most kick-ass four-minute show possible, it definitely won't be the same intense real-world experience I witnessed back in January.

Mike and his colleagues are trying to bargain with the district to get at least four of those minutes back for next year. He's hoping tonight's story will send a positive message to the board members, administration, and community to help their cause.

The "Gami TV" story starts at about the 7:20 mark, but make sure you check out the other great stories in the week's episode.

Speaking of working within time constraints, I ended up cutting a couple of angles out of this story in order to make the five-minute mark that I really wanted to tell. The biggest cut was the angle about Mike being a boomerang. He was a student at Absegami, went on to a career in media, then took the alternate certification route so he could come back and teach the program himself. This got reduced to a "Gami TV Alumnus" super. It also tips off the fact that we record the host's bits before the packages are finshed when Wendell mentions the missing angle in his lead-in... because I told the writer that's what the story would be about. Oops. The other angle that got short changed was the school's film production program, reduced to single B-roll shot and brief mention in the voiceover.

So you see, five minutes is not a lot of time. Neither is four.

If you're interested in New Jersey's public schools, visit the Classroom Close-up, NJ Facebook page and click the 'Like' button! To find out where I'm headed next, feel free to subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Wonder How Much 2,500 People Weigh?

Rob Causton looks like a gym teacher.

I mean, he's got it all down. The shorts. The whistle. The commanding presence.

He looks strong.

Archers at Oxford Central School.
At least that was my initial impression when I met him last month while covering a story for Classroom Close-up, NJ. The story (airing next season) is about the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) which helps bring the sport of target archery to millions of students in schools across the United States by providing a detailed curriculum, training to teachers, and affordable access to equipment.

More specifically, the story is about the archery program at Oxford Central School where Rob teaches. Oxford was able to start its archery program with grant assistance from the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife that helped to purchase the equipment. Now, in addition to giving every student in grades 4 through 8 a chance to learn the sport, Oxford boasts an archery team that recently won its fifth consecutive state title.

But before I go any further, let me tell you a bit about Oxford. It's a pretty small town. According to the 2010 census, the population is about 2,500 people. Oxford Central is the only elementary school in the district teaching about 300 students in grades K thru 8. Correction, it's the only school in the district period. Oxford doesn't have its own high school so students from Oxford go on to attend a regional high school or a private school.

The "Drive for Five"
Now, I'm not here to knock sending/receiving relationships, it's what small towns all over NJ do to make their school budgets work. However, I do think every town likes to have something to call its own. To "put-it-on-the-map" so to speak. In many places, that ends up being the local high school sports teams. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the Blue Streaks have a ton of fans in Oxford, but there's something different about having your town's name on the uniform.

So it was really wasn't that surprising to learn how much the people of Oxford love their five-time champion middle school archery team. It's the only game in town. One of the great stories I heard was about the return from their first trip to nationals, when their late night bus pulled into Oxford. Not only were they met by parents and families, they were met with a police and fire department escort.

What else did I witness in Oxford?

I saw middle schoolers shooting bows and arrows with amazing accuracy. An archery scrimmage with a visiting school. A shoot-off to decide both the individual male and female state champions... with all five participants from Oxford. Lot's of awesome "thrill of victory" stuff.

Shoot-off in Oxford.
I also learned how Rob was able to bring a sport to his school that everyone gets to be a part of regardless of physical ability. I watched Rob working with a visually impaired student so that she could target shoot right alongside her classmates (and in case anyone is wondering, the student can hit a bullseye). I heard about higher student test scores related to the concentration skills students develop through archery. I talked with another student whose best memory wasn't her team's state titles, trips to nationals, or her own individual success, it was seeing her dad (also a team coach) on the sidelines watching her compete. I saw alumni, now in high school, returning to cheer for their team along with parents and teachers in the stands.

So I think my initial impression was pretty accurate. Rob Causton is strong.

He's a strong teacher who's mastered the art of teaching to the point that he can use it to lift up a student, a class, and an entire school. With the help of his students and colleagues, he's even able to lift up an entire town.

If you're interested in New Jersey's public schools, visit the Classroom Close-up, NJ Facebook page and click the 'Like' button! To find out where I'm headed next, feel free to subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter.