Chicago Green Jobs

The Three R’s: Now Brought To You By Robitussin!
December 22, 2010, 9:00 am
Filed under: Innovation in Education

And F is for Floppy Disk!

We’re coming up on the winter solstice and you know what that means! A total lunar eclipse AND a looming deadline for anyone looking for a good deed to do to make the baby Jesus happy on his birthday. Well, I’ve got a doozy of a deed for some lucky duck out there: represent the interests of the Los Angeles Unified School District as they start selling access to their kids to corporate sponsors.

I can practically hear you shout “Really? Have we finally come to Polynomials brought to you by Pepsi? What the hell do we pay taxes for then?” Funny you should ask. Check out these fun facts from a New York Times story:

In the past three years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has cut $1.5 billion from its operating budget, now down to $5.4 billion. As recently as last month, 1,000 more employees lost their jobs in layoffs. And Governor-elect Jerry Brown suggested Tuesday at a budget forum that schools could expect more drastic cuts when he presents a new state budget next month.

Okay fine. We have to work with what we’ve got in this life, and we’ve clearly got a community that can’t or won’t raise enough money through corporate and personal taxes to educate its citizens. And hey – selling naming rights to a school stadium isn’t so bad! $1.5 billion is a big gap and if they can pull in some real dough then maybe this is a sensible way to manage in These Hard Times! So how much cash are we talking about?

“Officials say the plan could generate as much as $18 million for the schools.”

So…we’re going to have a Dora The Explorer Elementary for a measly 1.2% of a budget gap three years in the making? The piece doesn’t say if this estimate represents a one time or annual payment, but there is no way to massage these numbers and feel good about the answer.

So here’s where the good deed comes in folks: don’t let LAUSD sell its birthright for a mess of pottage. These guys need a pro to put an accurate price on a captive audience of more than half a million members of an extremely desirable market segment. And they need a barracuda to write up the contract. Not only should LAUSD squeeze every single dollar possible from this deal, they need the flexibility to end it.

You know, just in case there is a Christmas Tax Miracle.


Can You Teach Gumption?
December 20, 2010, 9:34 am
Filed under: Creating Green Behavior Change, Innovation in Education

Well, not *these* cool kids.

All the cool kids these days are interested in figuring out how to teach problem solving and critical thinking in schools. So how do you teach these things if you do if you don’t have a copy of The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer or a mom as rad as that guy from Groupon has?

According to the New York Times the new chief accountability officer of the NYC Department of Education, Shael Polakow-Suransky, thinks part of the answer is overhauling standardized tests. Polakow-Suransky’s take is that since teachers are already under pressure to teach to the test we might as well give them a test that promotes the learning of useful skills. Take a look at this sample question from the NYT piece:

“Students would be asked to calculate the diameter that a straw needs to fit through a juice box’s hole, then write to a juice box manufacturer whose straws keep getting stuck in the hole to explain why its diameter should be changed.”

This is a great test question. Not only does it elicit information about math and writing skills, the structure of this question teaches three important ideas:

1. Context is everything. This problem is built around a situation in which being able to calculate the diameter of a circle would actually be useful (if not exactly thrilling). When I was a kid I delighted in claiming that I would never ever use math when I grew up, so why bother learning it? I was sort of right in that I really don’t swan around doing long division for kicks. But I was mostly wrong because now I’ll never get to be a roller coaster design engineer.

2. Problem solving is interdisciplinary. The structure of the problem communicates that having both technical skills AND communication skills will get you farther than either on their own. This is certainly true in real life where the really interesting and well paying jobs tend to be held by the well rounded. *

3. Ideas are worth sharing. Look how this question just assumes that the student has every right to start a conversation with a business executive about solving a problem. This is a subtle way to teach students that it’s a good idea to take your ideas out for a walk in the world and see how it goes.

It’s not that a kid would see this one question and be instantly inspired to devote her life to a fulfilling career in juice box design. But I bet that the cumulative effect is to make the point that a good education gives you the tools to solve problems and effectively communicate ideas rather than to memorize a bunch of the right facts.

*I can get away with this generalization because being Justin Bieber is not interesting.

Unfortunately Success is the Product of Learned Behaviors, Not Magic
December 14, 2010, 10:50 am
Filed under: Creating Green Behavior Change
Join this group immediately.

If you would like a halo of billions and billions of dollars join this group.

If you’ve got to go listen to one of those dreadful inspirational talks that crop up in every profession, you might as well pick the guy who decided at the tender age of 13 that he wanted to be a professional speechwriter when he grew up.  Suneel Gupta, VP of Product Development at Groupon, totally killed at a recent ChiPMA meetup with a great talk about the practical side of being a successful entrepreneur. My take on his talk is that entrepreneurship is a set of learned behaviors and attitudes – it just looks like magic in the halo of billions and billions of dollars.

Gupta’s origin story is pretty grand. It seems that one of his teachers showed the class a gripping speech by JFK. Then she showed them a picture of the guy who actually wrote the speech, which blew his mind and instantly inspired him to be that guy instead. Gupta called his mom and told her that he wanted to be a speechwriter when he grew up, and in an act of totally clutch parenting she told him that he had everything he needed to start that day. So he did. And here’s the cool part: he started biking to local politician’s offices and offering them his speeches. None of them actually used them, but eventually Bart Stupak recommended that weird kid with the ideas to Rahm Emanuel and he was on his way with his first speechwriting job.

This is a great story – it’s funny and it illustrates at least three behaviors and one truth that anyone can learn:

Three behaviors to cultivate for entrepreneurial success.

1. Ignore fake barriers. Did being 13 stop Gupta from becoming a speechwriter? Did being 12 keep Peter Wiggin from becoming Hegemon? No. No it did not. And it’s not just age – people talk themselves out of doing things because they don’t have the right degree or the right connections or a perfectly uncluttered block of time. The best way to jolt out of this rut is to…

2. Do something. This was one of Gupta’s main points and he’s got the embarrassing stories of being turned down by politician after politician to back it up. I bet those first speeches were absolutely dreadful. But they were necessary because everyone has to start someplace – no one ever in the history of time has created perfection on the first try. Which means that you have to…

3. Get the hang of fucking up. As a perfectionist I think this is the hard part. I’m working on convincing myself that it’s like learning how to fall in martial arts: it’s the first thing you learn and one of the most important because if you can’t do it right then even if you become the best eventually you’ll get hurt really, really badly. The trick is to learn from your failures and apply the learning to the next iteration instead of collapsing into a miserable wet heap of self-loathing. That’s right folks – you learned it here first!

And here’s the one big truth: Everyone – even Rahm Emanuel – wants to work with people who care enough about the work that they are willing to ignore fake barriers, do something, and get the hang of fucking up. You can teach skills but you can’t teach attitude.