Archive for the ‘PPSEL’ Category

Bread Making Community-Led Learning

June 2, 2011

Palouse Prairie School implemented a Wednesday afternoon program that invited community members to come for 6 weeks and work with 8-12 students on some learning activity.

I choose making bread. It was an interesting experiment, we need better tools to help students and facilitators talk about achieving learning outcomes.

Here is the lesson plan and associated notes as a Google doc. See also this photo essay including the building of the mud oven (not by students).

Communication Tools for a Small Community Organization

September 20, 2007

Recently we (at CTLT) have been talking quite a bit about portfolios as tools for leaders and learning (as opposed to showcase) portfolios as vehicles to make learning visible. I’m part of a team working on a white paper for IT managers on the futures for Learning Management Systems. We agreed to work that process in public with the hopes of gathering more input. (Slow going so far)

I’m also involved with Palouse Prairie School of Expeditionary Learning and its communication needs are really the focus of this post.

We have several needs:
Ready communication by email with an audience. We have struggled to maintain lists of supporters, have ended up with multiple lists, have had lists go stale, have undoubtedly had people who wanted on the list get lost because getting them on was not simple.

We have also struggled with documents. Managing the most current version of a document, keeping up files of minutes and agendas, too much email tag.

Public facing web site. Something simple to maintain, fresh, with access to the resources that might be wanted. Something that can be the ready answer to how do I…

Calendars of Board meetings and other activities. This is pretty sparse.

All of which leads to email tag, phone tag, missed opportunities, missed meetings and general struggle.

Presently we have a Blogger blog for news (and open to comment), a Google Group (email in perspectives), and a website made with Google Pages, and two Google calendars (a private one for the Board, and a public one). We don’t have a place to keep working documents for collaboration, and we don’t have a public archive of our documents (given that we are attempting to launch a public entity, making the documents public seems reasonable).

What we don’t have is the perspective of having a portfolio of this project, a place to lay out our goals and our tools for assessing progress toward those goals. The Google Group allows email postings, and interested people can subscribe themselves to get emai but the UI & display is clunky. Blogger allows comments but you can’t subscribe to it as readily (unless you are RSS enabled). Google Pages does not allow distributed ownership/ editing and isn’t working too well to pull all these pieces together.

We need to unify all this into a structure that the Board, and other supports, can readily maintain and that makes a good public facing presence for the project. It seems that might be some form of project portfolio, but the platform is not clear.

Online-Offline Community and Saving The Bus

April 9, 2007

In January 2007 a group of riders on the Wheatland Express bus launched a campaign to save the bus from possible demise due to University of Idaho cancellation of funding. You can see the website at

This is my reflection on what I learned in the project and the role of blending online and face-to-face communities in its success.

As with most things, it starts with Theron Desrosier and his analysis for me about Noam Chomsky’s comments about new political communities. Chomsky spoke at Washington State University April 22, 2006 and in his remarks Theron heard ideas about a new political process where the community develops its “platform” and then seeks candidates to implement it (as opposed to candidates declaring a platform (competing platforms) and then forcing the electorate to choose the lesser of evils among them). As Theron and I have come to understand some of Chomsky’s ideas they involve facilitating a community talking to itself about what it feels is important.

A key assumption that SaveTheBus faced relates to local politics and online community. Local communities think of themselves as face-to-face and in this mode they perceive that they talk among themselves. But face-to-face communities are limited by logistics of meeting one another. Online communities are assumed to suffer from lack of attention due to their ethereal nature, but they have the advantage of being attended on an asynchronous (when you can) basis. Our challenge was to learn how to mix these modes of community so that the online one could help overcome the limitations of face-to-face meeting.

The bus is a unique face-to-face community. It is fairly small, and its members attend it on a regular basis (while riding between campuses). But, at the same time, its a fragmented community. Riders are on different schedules and some riders never see or know one another. Further, the seating arrangement is conducive to 1-1 conversation, but not to mixing or group discussion.

Theron and I believed that an online community could be joined to a face-to-face one in ways that could overcome the limitations of each, and in ways that subscribed to Chomsky’s ideas about a community building an agenda and taking it to leaders.

To explore those ideas, I created an online space where bus supporters could email why they valued the bus and why it should be saved. Using small signs on the bus, riders were informed of the site, encouraged to subscribe to updates from the site and visit it regularly. A logo was created out of the site’s URL. The press was directed to the site, and when particularly compelling letters arrived they were forwarded to press and radio reporters as story ideas.

Periodically, the emails were compiled and printed, four to a sheet of paper, and distributed on the bus. This served two purposes — it brought the website to the people and it gave the community something to talk about as they rode.

Some of the most compelling authors to SaveTheBus were encouraged to resend their letters to one of the local newspapers (two campus papers and a city paper). When possible, letter writers were encouraged to add a sentence reference to in their letter to the editor to market the site.

For me, the most compelling evidence for the success of the strategy is not the saving of bus funding (which did happen) but the richness of the site and the multiple conversations that were triggered around the community. The letters from riders provided a rich context in which to understand the importance of the bus to multiple constituencies. They also served as a means to further conversations, as when readers would comment to authors “I saw your letter…”

Further, the effort developed momentum in larger face-to-face audiences, as when Tom Lamar opened his comments on the role of mass transit at the MoscowClimateChange forum ( with the comment “We have to save the [Wheatland] bus.” Radio Free Moscow and KUOI radio each aired stories, as did the Daily News, UI Argonaut, and Daily Evergreen newspapers.

The site was also used to post data about the bus and its riders. This helped the community frame the discussion around evidence that it found important and provided a single place for new visitor to the community to find both context and perspectives. To bring the data from the site to a face-to-face community, we created a two page flyer that listed key data and quotes, which was distributed at a public forum.

The site was a Google Group threaded discussion, and as it grew, it became somewhat jumbled and reading became more difficult. To reach the important audience of university decision makers, a community member compiled all the letters into a printable anthology. This document, by its size, carried its own rhetorical weight.

The current status of the project is that the bus funding appears secured for another year and, more importantly, the community knows its voice and understands the multiple reasons why the bus is an important resource.

An important conclusion that I draw from this work is that the web can be integrated into a local community’s political organizing. It requires effort to make the site participatory, with multiple perspectives and authoritative, with data that has been collected about the problem and is open to inspection, support or refutation.

Another conclusion is that the web site needs to be brought back to the community through active agency. This can include email updates by subscription, redirecting key documents from the site to the press and other key communicators, and by bringing the contents of the site to the community in print and other media. Finally, as a matter of reader logistics, the Google Group failed because it quickly became cluttered. An RSS feed from the community site to a more managed web presence could help readers new to the site get oriented to key documents as well as the current discussion.


March 23, 2007

SHAREPOINT HOSTING : Sharepoint Web Hosting, Sharepoint Services Web Hosting Rated #1

Joshua Yeidel ran across this resource and was testing unauthenticated (truly public) features published from within an otherwise authenticated site. Seems to work. Could be an option for light-weight content management on a public website and collaboration by a private community

On Rubrics, Critical Thinking and Five-year Olds

March 7, 2007

Earlier this afternoon I met with the CTLT Learning Designers to look at some of my daughter Karina’s Montessori work and think about rubrics that I have been writing for Palouse Prairie Charter School that I am helping to create in Moscow, Idaho.

The work that attracted the most attention of the Designers was a bound portfolio from Karina’s first semester and an unbound collection of the same type of work from her second semester. The portfolio is a chronological collection of all the work of this type. I believe the unbound collection to be complete. It also has a few items from her 4th semester added.

From the discussion, I got a homework assignment, which was to ask Karina to select from the unbound collection “some” pieces that showed “her growth.” She and I talked before dinner about this task, and about how she had grown in ability in many ways. I regularly note this idea to her (couldn’t use a spoon, couldn’t get shoes on right feet, etc. and now can and does.)

The work in question is called “Metal Insets.” It is done with colored pencils on 5” square paper. A metal stencil is laid over the paper and its single simple geometric shape is traced. Then the student is to draw lines back and forth from edge to edge in the shape. “Quality Work,” the teacher’s term, looks like teeth in the mouth of a monster and this is called “jaws.” The lines that zig-zag back and forth are to stay within, but reach the perimeter outline.

The teacher showed us her notebook where this exercise is described and its primary purpose is to develop the hand and the skill of holding the pencil with a light touch, preparatory to penmanship. A secondary goal was to create a pleasing design or form, but the teacher stressed that metal insets are not art.

For this study 38 metal insets were examined (the unbound collection). A 39th was discarded during the process because it had a metal inset on front and back and we became confused as to which side we were examining. Karina does many metal insets that do not meet the “Quality Work” criteria as I understand it.

Karina was eager to help with my homework and sorted the pile into two groups while I was absent (it took about 2 minutes). One pile she called “Yes” the other “No.” I presumed that “Yes” was her denotation for “shows growth.” There were 10 Yes and 28 No.

I asked Karina for the rules for each category and wrote them down as she dictated. Words in brackets [] have been added to provide clarity
•    I stayed in the lines (mostly)
•    I like the shapes [of the stencil used to create the outline(s)]
•    [I used my (currently)] Favorite colors
•    I did “jaws”

•    Not my favorite colors anymore
•    I scribbled
•    Not my favorite shapes – I don’t like circles

To check how reproducible this classification was, I shuffled the two piles and then with her to check me, I classified each piece “Yes” or “No” giving my reasons from her list (above).  I was not able to do this work and keep records of my scoring. The biggest reason I seemed to be wrong in my classification was “favorite color.” “Not favorite color” was pretty easy (brown and black), but what makes favorite was harder. There must be a hue of purple and pink that are not in favor now which I could not recognize. Karina reclassified three (of 10) of  her “Yes’s” to “No.”  She also reclassified four (of 28) of her “No’s” to “Yes.” The reasoning for these changes was not clear.

I then found two more items that we had overlooked during our classification activities above. I evaluated each by her rules and found each a “No.” She agreed. These were set aside and not considered further. (One might be “Quality Work” the other is not.)

I then asked if she could adopt her teacher’s perspective and classify the 38 items as “Quality Work” or not.  The “Yes” pile now contained 11 items (10-3+4) and the “No” pile 27 items. I asked for the rules for “Quality Work” and wrote them down as she dictated:
* stayed in the lines [of the perimeter figure]
*  jaws
* color does not matter
* no scribbles

The 27 “No” pile was sorted into 5 “Quality work” and 22 not. The “Yes” pile turned out to have all quality work, despite my questioning what seemed to be scribbles and even lack of jaws on several. One of the pieces, dated May 10, 2006, has this annotation on the back from the teacher, “This is one of the most beautiful Metal Inset this whole year [smiley face] Cindy” In the procedure above, this item was first classified a “No,” and then later re-classified a “Yes.”  It was also classified “Quality Work.” It does not look like “Quality Work” to me, so the praise raises a concern to me that the artistic quality of the piece might impact its assessment.

Using the language of the Palouse Prairie School’s Critical Thinking Rubric (adapted from WSU’s Critical Thinking Rubric) I think Karina was demonstrating she could identify and summarize the problem, but did not articulate nuance or embedded issues. She also showed that she could identify her own a perspective, and it has some richness and is not her teacher’s cultural norm. She could also recognize the perspective of others (the teacher). She did not identify if this perspective was right or wrong, or if there might be yet more perspectives. (Another activity would be for me to classify the items with a rubric I create and see if she could understand and implement mine to sort the work.)

I then sorted the 38 items by date of creation (recorded on the back in a woman’s hand). Seven had no dates (six scored “No” and two scored “Quality Work”). The date range is 1/18/06 to 1/19/07. All but the last 4 items are from Spring 06 (ending May, 25) Of the dated items, the “Quality Work” pieces are scattered among the  dates with no obvious pattern, while the “Yes” pieces are mostly recent.

Charter school moves ahead with plans

January 4, 2007

Charter school moves ahead with plans

Proposal could be approved Jan. 11 and sent to state commission

By Kate Baldwin, Daily News staff writer

Monday, January 1, 2007 – Page Updated at 11:28:01 AM

A proposal for a new Moscow charter school should head to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission this month after facing some delays this fall.Palouse Prairie Charter School board chairman Nils Peterson said the charter school board likely will approve its charter proposal at its Jan. 11 meeting. Once approved by the board, the proposal will be sent to the state commission for authorization.

“We did not submit the charter when we’d hoped,” Peterson said, referring to earlier plans to submit the proposal to the state by Thanksgiving. “The task turned out to be more complex than we’d estimated and then holidays intervened.”

The proposed charter school first sought its approval through the Moscow School District. Its board members stopped that process in September and decided to go through the state commission instead.

“The parents that I talk to, as well as other community members, have been interested in how we’re progressing and anxious for us to make it to this next milestone and have a charter,” Peterson said. “It’s been a very positive experience.”

While the change caused some delay, Peterson said the charter benefited in multiple ways from the detailed input it gained from the Moscow School District.

The proposal has been revamped with improved sections for its learning outcomes, its student handbook and its budget, he said.

For example, the learning outcomes section creates a tighter system of accountability for the school that will use the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound model, or ELOB. Peterson said this model uses a variety of principles that can’t be measured by the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.

The charter school still will require students to meet the minimums set by the ISAT, which is the state’s tool for meeting the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind act. However, the charter school will have additional standards that coincide with its hands-on learning model.

Peterson said the learning outcomes section of the proposal now includes a rubric for measuring critical thinking and reflective thinking through a portfolio system.

“I am very excited to be holding ourselves to standards, I think that will be different,” Peterson said.

Once the proposal reaches the commission, there will be the same time frame for approval that existed through the Moscow School District. The commission has 60 days from the receipt of the proposal to conduct a public hearing in Boise. There then will be another 60 days before the commission must make a final decision.

“It could run us out well into May or June,” Peterson said.

According to its proposal, the charter school is scheduled to open in August 2008. It will serve students in kindergarten through sixth grade. As the students graduate sixth grade, the school will expand to serve first seventh grade, and then eighth grade.

The original plans called for a school with roughly 80 students. Further study over the past months revealed the school should plan for a range of 110 to 120 students, Peterson said.

“We’re not worried that we can reach the kind of enrollment number we’ll need,” he said. “As we get a little further in the process, you’ll start to see us become more visible in terms of a marketing effort to build up those numbers of people who have expressed interest.”

The proposed school has not taken steps toward opening a facility or hiring staff. Those are “things that just have to wait until we have a charter in place,” Peterson said.

Kate Baldwin can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 239, or by e-mail at

Charter school optimism

September 29, 2006

(Appearing in the Daily News, Letters to the Editor, 9/29/06)
As readers of the Daily News will know, a local group of parents and educators have been working on the plans for the Palouse Prairie School, a new public charter school in Moscow. It is based on the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, a learning model that emphasizes love of learning and the importance of service to the community; there are some 150 ELOB schools around the country, including two highly successful ones in Boise and Pocatello. Now, at a milestone, we want to provide everyone with an update, and to thank the community for the strong support the proposed school has received.

As part of the process of starting a public school, a school charter that meets all the requirements of Idaho law has to be written. It is quite a tome, and a critically important one, as it will steer the school in years to come. While assembling the charter, we have strived to work with the community as much as possible, first through a public presentation in May, then through presence at the Farmers Market, and most recently at a public hearing organized by the Moscow School District. We have been greatly heartened by the amazing support for the school from the community, especially so at the public hearing. As a result of that meeting and many helpful suggestions from Moscow School District Superintendent Candis Donicht, her staff and the Moscow School Board, we now have a completed charter in hand, ready for submission to the Idaho Charter Commission. We expect to receive word from the commission in November about the fate of our application. We are optimistic the school can open in fall 2007.

If you would like to receive updates on the progress of the school plans, please send an e-mail to

Olle Pellmyr, Palouse Prairie School, Educational Organization, Moscow

School will meet standards

September 11, 2006

(Appearing in the Daily News, Letters to the Editor, 9/11/06)
Moscow School District is reviewing the charter for a new school based on the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound ( model. Cindy Bechinski, MSD curriculum director questioned if the ELOB model could meet the Idaho Content Standards. At the State Board of Education Web site I found Idaho State Achievement Test data for every building and district, by grade level and subject. I looked up the ISAT scores for Anser Charter School in Boise and Pocatello Community Charter School, both ELOB schools.

What I found belies Cindy’s concerns. I examined sets of 24 scores in grades 3-6 in each school in three subjects: math, reading and language. I focused on students scoring at the “advanced proficiency” level. The state’s Web site does not give enough data to analyze for demographic variables, such as socio-economic status, ethnicity, or English proficiency, so I did a pair-wise comparison of each school to its district. Looking at the sum of “advanced” and “proficient” categories (the “passing” level) the ELOB schools beat their districts 21 of 24 times. Looking at “advanced proficiency” only, ELOB schools beat their districts 19 out of 24 times. Not only did ELOB beat the district (I had no way of subtracting the ELOB school’s score from the district average), they beat their districts handily, 13 out of 19 times the ELOB school had more than 10 percentage points more “advanced” students.

Another of Cindy’s concerns was Palouse Prairie School’s proposal for multi-age classrooms, and the difficulty of meeting grade-level assessment targets with kids of multiple ages. It is worth noting that Anser uses the multi-age model with obvious success.

The Palouse Prairie’s learning objectives are deeper and richer than ISAT, but in this era of testing, we are confident the school can meet Idaho standards and its own excellence goals.

Nils Peterson, Moscow

Learning and thriving

September 9, 2006

(Appearing in the Daily News, Letters to the Editor, 9/9/06)
I am gratified a committed group of parents, educators, and other community members continue to advance their vision for a new charter school in Moscow. On Aug. 17, the charter for the proposed Palouse Prairie Charter School was presented to the public. This meeting was an important and necessary part of the complex process of creating and chartering a new school. Though I was unable to attend, I understand that the general tone of the meeting suggests that more effectively educating school district staff, the board of trustees, and the general public about the vision and merits of the proposed charter school is a critically important next step.

At the heart of the Palouse Prairie Charter School’s proposal is a teaching/learning model known as Expeditionary Learning/Outward Bound. Currently used in numerous schools across the nation, ELOB creates hands-on, project-based learning experiences that integrate multiple strands of the curriculum into relevant educational activities within the classroom and the community at large. My son had the good fortune to experience ELOB while attending the local Renaissance Charter School. Though satisfied with the school he now attends, he still reminds me that his two years at Renaissance remain his favorite years of school. He and many of his friends thrived academically with the ELOB model, and I would like other children in our community to have the same opportunity to learn in such an engaging and exciting classroom environment.

Our children are a diverse group of learners with a wide variety of learning styles. In a community that rightfully prides itself on its support of diversity, I believe we must consider all educational proposals that offer our youth an expanded menu of environments in which to learn and thrive.

Donald Stanziano, Moscow

Charter school worth a good look

August 29, 2006

(Appearing in the Daily News, Letters to the Editor 8/29/06)
Lately there has been much focus and debate about the starting of a new public charter school in Moscow called the Palouse Prairie School of Expeditionary Learning. When looking at the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound model,, and hearing stories about its effectiveness from those who have experienced it first hand, it is hard not to be excited and hopeful that the Moscow School District will support EL as an option for the children of Moscow.

I am a parent who is completely awestruck by those who, over the past two and a half years, have put in hours of hard work to carefully craft a charter and have held public meetings to educate people about the EL model.

Most of the original board members involved in the conception of this school have had personal experiences with EL that affected them so profoundly they now have a selfless drive to create this type of learning experience for the children of Moscow.

I say selfless because they stand to receive no personal gain with the creation of this school. They are not teachers hoping for a job or parents who want their children to attend Palouse Prairie School.

They are educators and others from the community who have seen with their own eyes how amazing it is to have a learning model where children, teachers, and parents are tapped into their inner drive to learn and contribute.

The passion and selfless devotion of these founding members is testament to the power and effectiveness of expeditionary learning.

There are currently two successful EL charter schools in Idaho. If this letter has piqued your curiosity, please check out their Web sites: and To learn more about Palouse Prairie School:

Lahde Forbes, Moscow