Why I love non-traditional students

student mom

One of the best things about my job is that I meet new and interesting people almost everyday. Each class is filled with people from all walks of life. This is especially true at the college where I teach. Our student body is diverse, made up of people from many different cultures. We get students fresh out of high school and we get adults of every age that come back to school after a long hiatus.  Some of these students fit into the typical stereotypes, others surprise you.

In my first semester teaching an introductory biology course I had a student whom I will call “Mike”. Before the semester begins we get a roster of our class, complete with pictures from the student ID cards. Mike’s picture immediately stood out to me. He was clearly older than the other students, had a full beard and a somewhat wild-eyed expression on his face. On the first day of class he came in covered with tattoos and looking a little menacing as he sat in the back of the auditorium. I thought for sure he was going to be a trouble maker. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, he was the best student I had that semester. He had been out of school for a while but was back to study for a degree in nursing while working the night shift at one of the local hospitals. His grit and determination were impressive.

I have a special place in my heart for non-traditional students. My mom pursued an associates, a bachelors and a masters degree while having five young kids at home. I think that’s probably one of the reasons I feel called to this vocation as a teacher. My childhood was framed in the context of higher education and learning.  I tell my students if my mom could do it, they can do it too. Nontraditional students come into the classroom with a lot of different challenges. They have kids, jobs, spouses and aging parents. Most haven’t had a biology class since high school, if even then. But if you ask my colleagues, non-traditional students are often some of their favorites and here are few reasons why:

1) They are motivated. They may not always understand the course material, but they have the internal drive and motivation to put forward the work to learn. They work hard and they make time in their busy lives to study.

2) They take responsibility for their grades. We often encounter students that blame professors for their bad grades and poor performance. It is refreshing to have a student that accepts responsibility for their success.

3) They are interesting. My non traditional students have a wide array of life experiences. Some are parents of children older than my own and share their own war stories of raising kids. Others own their own businesses or have amazingly cool hobbies (i.e. dressing up in elaborate costumes for zombie walks and DragonCon). It is fun to get to know them.

Each student embarks on their own personal journey in education. Some of those journeys are a straight line from start to finish while others zig and zag taking lots of twists and turns. I am privileged to be at one stop along the way.

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Photo taken from here — http://www.flickr.com/photos/83633410@N07/7658248924/

7 Reasons Why The Makers Movement Is Revolutionary

maker artists

7 Reasons Why The Makers Movement Is Revolutionary

Chris Anderson has been watching trends in innovation for years while working with “The Economist” and serving as editor for “Wired” magazine.   In his new book “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution”,  he claims that we have experienced three industrial revolutions.   The first involved physical manufacturing.   Through the power of machines and automation, innovative ideas can become physical products at large scale.   The car started as an idea.   Manufacturing helped make the car available to the community.    He observes that the second revolution is the digital revolution.  Because of the internet, the best innovative thoughts, ideas, and education are now available to us in our smart phones and our browsers.

The Makers and DIY Movements are combining the power of the first and second industrial revolutions.   Here are 7 reasons that young entrepreneurs should consider watching trends related to the makers movement.   The world needs your creativity!   The good news is that you’re not alone!

Manufacturing on your desktop:  Chris argues that we are now in the third industrial revolution.  Why?  The world of manufacturing and the awesomeness of digital have collided.   3D Printers, CNC machines and other related tools enable hackers to test and prototype ideas for physical products.    Lower cost products like the Arduino/Rasberry pi’s enable makers to rapidly prototype electronics in our homes, offices, and schools.

Improve upon existing digital designs: If you’re interested in becoming a maker of toys or art, you can use thingaverse.com to discover existing 3D models and designs for inspiration or re-mixing.   If you’re interested in making flying drones, check out http://diydrones.com/ connecting you with a community of drone loving makers.   These communities openly share and promote designs for new experimental DIY aircraft.    Want to learn how to make the next Facebook.com or social network?   The programming and database technology to help you start is available for free.   In many cases, the education resources are also freely available.

Internet helps you to scale: Let’s say you’ve designed a new piece of art or jewelry using a personal 3D printing technology.   You are ready to mass produce and sell this product on ebay ,etsy or your personal website.   You can now use websites like Shapeways.com or others to transform your digital design into a large scale production.

3D printers help product designers prototype and sell ideas:  In discussing the Pebble watch, Chris Anderson argues that digital fabrication technology helped Pebble to become successful.    The act of prototyping their watch enabled them to share their innovative concept for a watch that integrates with your IPhone with early adopters on Kickstarter.com.    Early adopters loving the prototype rewarded the innovators with over a 10 million dollars in backing funds.  The story of the Pebble watch helps to highlight the power of passionately improving a product idea and asking the community to help fund your dream.

Demand for physical goods will always be high: The demand for digital apps and web services is high.  We live in a material world. (“And I a material girl/boy…”)    The community is excited to discover your art that exists in the physical world.   Entrepreneurs with ideas in medicine or home automation will need help to prototype their electronics and their revolutionary products.   The demand for innovations in our physical world will always be the largest market.

Prototyped and shared is better:  The ethos and culture of the makers movement is equally as important.    Many inspirations and innovations are happening through the act of dreaming, designing, making, validating, and repeating the process.   Sites like YouTube help us to share our innovations and rapidly get feedback from the community.

Learning Resources are inexpensive:  Want to learn more about this revolution?   Check out Instructables.com, an awesome site for exploring DIY products and detailed procedures for making them.   We have collect together additional learning resources on our design page.

Check out this great interview with Chris Anderson on an interview with the Economist.   The motivations shared in this post were taken from this interview.   I hope you enjoy it!

Welcome to the maker and DIY revolution!!   As an entrepreneur, what is a problem that you care about?    What are you passionate about?   What would you make?

Photo taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/cassidy/506390272/

Related Resources

  1. InventToLearn – Very cool book on makers movement in teaching
  2. Michael’s Free Book Index
  3. 5 reasons to love Khan academy for computer science
  4. 7 ideas for creating a student centered learning environment by Paul Andersen
  5. How to build a social networking site for free using Elgg
  6. Jennifer Pahika challenges us to “code a better government”
  7. How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?
  8. 10 resources inspiring improvements in education through open innovation



5 Reasons To Think Carefully About Your Dreams and Design Your Career


I wanted to share a post I wrote to help motivate college students in designing their career as business leaders and paying attention to their dreams and passions.   I hope this post helps you as well.

In the book “EntreLeadership”, Dave Ramsey coaches business leaders to design their enterprises with the following phrase: “Start with a dream! End in a goal” .   As we help you design your life as an entrepreneur and business leader, we challenge you to dream big.

Think about a time in your life when you couldn’t wait to get out of bed and work on a project?  Think about a time where you were very passionate about working on something.   What were you doing? What strengths were you using?   Why are those moments so meaningful for you?

We challenge you to find the intersection between your strengths/passion, market needs, and what people will purchase.

Strength Need Pay

During our family road trips, my wife Sarah and I are very reflective in our conversations.   During a talk we had taking our kids to the zoo, we started to reflect upon the following question:  What does our dream job look like?  What type of work helps us feel passionate and excited about our day?   As we talked, I sketched out this funny little sketch.

Agile, Creativity, Business

During my most potent and engaged times of life, creativity, agile culture, and a spirit of caring for our community have been the magic ingredients of those moments.

  • As a choir director, I started learning the craft of continuous and incremental improvement with our team of volunteer music ministers.    I loved how collaborative and fun our choir was in making music.
  • As a software developer for a distance learning company, we were not supporting a cold sales process.   Our team was helping to connect adult learners with hope.   With the hope of getting a better education and degree, these learners can help their families and careers to thrive.
  • As an agile coach for a research institution, I really enjoy helping our software teams serve the community with creative software solutions.  It’s especially fun to help organizations find ways to streamline their processes and push the boundaries of knowledge and technology.


5  Reasons To Think Carefully About Your Dreams and Design Your Career.

1. Dreams and passions focus the design of your career:  Life is too short to do work that lacks meaning.   It’s very easy to let other people or the market to craft your personal career direction.    By thinking about your dreams and putting your dreams on paper, you are more likely to realize them.

2. Live your life with purpose:  Our generation is not satisfied with simply chasing careers that make money.   Our generation seeks meaning, to serve a higher purpose, and use our passions. Live a life uncommon.

3. Dreams and passion help you endure when times are challenging:  In the school of building a business or leading, you will face critics and failure.   If you’re doing something that matters, this will always happen.    If you decide to center your career path on your personal dreams and passions, you can motivate yourself to endure these challenging times.

4. The world needs you and your insight and creativity:  In the media, it’s very easy to find problems.   Entrepreneurs need to practice the craft of designing solutions.    The world needs leaders like you who aren’t going to sit around for someone else to care.   As business innovators, we need to work together to make the new apps that make a difference.   As leaders, we need to invent the new business models that inspire changes in health care, education, and our families.  Entrepreneurs are in the business of making positive change.

5. Design your career:  As you consider your dream, we encourage you to dream big.  No.  Dream bigger!  Take the time to write your dream on paper.   Take 20 to 30 minutes of quiet reflection.    Write down a few ideas of how you want to make a difference in the world in 5 years.   You are the captain of your ship of life.   Live your life with purpose.

Check out the following TEDx talk by Josh Levs.   Josh, a very passionate entrepreneur and journalist, challenges us to achieve the impossible by breaking the system.

Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jakeandlindsay/5524669257/sizes/m/in/photostream/


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Growing Young Scientists

Michael and I have two beautiful little boys, ages 2 and 4. With a software engineer for a dad, and a biologist for a mom they are destined to be total geeks. Right now hey are rambunctious little bear cubs, but there are things that we can do as parents to nurture their curiosity and help them to develop their scientific minds. There are lots of resources and tips found online, but these are the things that we do regularly.

1) Get outside.

Old Faithful

Backyard Plants

Allow your children to explore the world around them. This can mean traveling to really awesome locations like Yellowstone to observe the majesty of Old Faithful or it can be as simple as just checking out what’s growing in your backyard, or watching the birds in a feeder on you back patio. The more children are exposed to the miracles of nature, the more they will want to explore on their own. Trust me, they will ask questions that you never dreamed to ask. Encourage them to make observations and comparisons about what they see.

2) Experiment at home.

One of my favorite easy experiments for kids.

There are all sorts of experiments that you can do with kids at home. You can find a good list here or explore on your own (Pinterest is great for this!!!). The experiment in the picture above uses milk, food coloring and dish soap to demonstrate surface tension. Other home experiments can be done to explore density, temperature, textures, basic physics, etc. You can help your kids to start making their own hypotheses and predictions.

3) Cook with your kids.

Measuring Tools

Cooking is one of the best ways to teach kids how to follow a list of instructions. With my college students I am amazed at how many of them cannot follow a simple protocol. Working in a science lab is just like cooking in a kitchen, the only difference is that you don’t eat what you make. Cooking is also great for teaching kids how to measure and count.

4) Let your kids get dirty.

The sand table. A.K.A the thorn in my side.

This year our boys got two sand and water tables. They love them. I have grown to hate them because the sand and water create messes of epic proportions. They are wonderful, however for teaching the boys about fluid dynamics. They learn how to build and dig. They feel the movement, not just observe it.

There are sooo many things we can do with our kids that I haven’t listed here. What sort of activities do you like to do with your kids to encourage them to become scientists in their own right?

Related Posts

Related Book: http://www.inventtolearn.com/

#HackForChange : Inspiring Students To Thrive By Positive Social Connections

I hope your Monday is going well.  I’m pretty excited to share my experience in HackForChange this weekend.   It was a great weekend of coding to address civic challenges.

What’s the problem?


What did we build?

You can review our prototype and needs analysis at this link.  It was great to collaborate with our team from Mercer Engineering Research Center and Christopher Marney.

I want to say a special thank you to Chris.   He’s a very gifted developer, business leader, and maker.   While our prototype had some major challenges, he helped me keep a cool head so that we could be ready to demo on Sunday.   It was so much fun hacking with him.

Link to prototype: Changella


I would like to improve the model we’ve prototyped.  Our model involved four stages.

1) Finding Strengths and Passions.

2) Dream about a positive future for the student.

3) Designing a plan to work toward the dream.   (business plan and marketing plan)

4) Doing the plan using validated learning ( see Lean Startup )

We especially want to target “at risk” students who are not inspired to finish high school. We want to give them inspiration, mentorship, resources to help them get to the finish line of high school.  We want them to know that they can create their own opportunities. They can create their own jobs.

I feel that I need to reach out especially to Boys and Girls clubs and “Mentors of Bibb County” to see how this tool can contribute to their mission.

I would love to hear your feedback.   I would like to know what you feel is strong in our prototype and our needs analysis.  I know it needs a lot of organization and work before it can hit the road.   The core idea that needs feedback is the following: Can a social network to mentor high school student entrepreneurs to dream, design, make, learn, and continuously grow help?

The success of this idea rides on the quality of the mentors. Making the site attractive to teens and marketing it is also important. Access to the technology is also a consideration. (smart phones, computers)

Can we inspire “at risk” students by connecting them with positive social relationships and mentors?


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3 Strategies to Break the Cycle of Poverty for Students and Families

Macon promise

In Paul Tough’s book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character”, he underscores the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.  How should our educational system reach parents and students who are trying to break the cycle of poverty?   This past year, I had the opportunity to start volunteering with an organization in Macon, GA focusing on helping students succeed in the face of poverty.

Macon Promise is a movement and leadership organization in Macon, GA seeking to help students/families thrive and overcome poverty in 4 key schools.   As we have mentioned in this post, this is a very challenging problem.   The issues related to helping students succeed to high school and beyond are complex.

As I draft this post, I start to reflect upon why this issue moves me so much.   If I reach back to my childhood, I recall some of the people who made the most impact in my life.   My brother Francis and I are very blessed.   We have wonderful parents who gave us 110% to make sure we could succeed in life.   We are not the perfect family.   No family is.   We, however, always knew that our parents loved us.   Mom and Dad always worked very hard to make sure we could go to the best schools and had the best opportunities in life.

I also think about Irene and Jimmy Williams.   Irene and Jimmy were a very kind elderly couple who opened their home to me and my brother.   We always thought of them as our adopted grand parents.   When mom and dad had to work, it was always fun getting to spend the day at their home.    I have very clear memories of learning how to draw, watching Star Trek, building forts, climbing trees, getting frosties, and tons of great childhood memories.   Their kindness and love made a huge impact in our lives that words can’t express.   Irene and Jimmy came from very humble backgrounds… They, however, were generous with their lives.

Why does helping students succeed and breaking the cycle of poverty matter to me?  My short answer is that I have been given a gift that I can never repay to my parents, Irene, Jimmy, and the countless other teachers who helped me become who I am.  Because of this blessing, I feel I need to give back.   I believe that every child needs an Irene or Jimmy.   They need someone who believes in them.    They need someone who loves them.   They need someone who doesn’t care about their background, but chooses to be a good mentor and guide to help them succeed.

What’s is the need in the Macon Promise Neighborhood?

  • In 2011,  it was documented that 1 in 3 people live in poverty in Macon, GA.   At one high school, the graduation rate at one school was 47% .
  • In 2009, Forbes magazine ranked Macon, GA as the 7th poorest city in the US.
  • For more details on the critical needs in MPN,  please read their proposal.

The Hope of Macon Promise Neighborhood

  • Thanks to the leadership of Mercer University and the collaboration of many community partners, change started in the Macon Promise Neighborhood.  I really appreciate the principles driving their work.   They are outlined in this proposal:
    • Mindsets determine students’ ability to learn at a high level of expectation.
    • Risk factors subvert children’s educational success; protective factors increase children’s resilience.
    • When parents are engaged with schools and have an educational plan for their own futures, their children will succeed in school.

From my position as an app developer, I would like to find a way to make a small contribution to help “at risk” students finish high school, find meaningful work, and thrive.   Today, I will be volunteering in a nationwide service project called “HackForChange.”  This service project event will gather together technology professionals and innovators in the government space with hopes of prototyping and deploying small technology solutions that will help our communities.   I hope to contribute a solution around this challenge.

We only have two days to draft our solution.  So,  we will need to be extra focused.   I wanted to ask for your help in this challenge.  Firstly,  please consider filling out this quick two question survey.

Secondly, pray for all the developers and leaders who are participating in this “HackForChange” movement.   Please pray for the leaders of Macon Promise too.   They are a very hard working team in need of your support.   To learn more about their impact and work, please visit http://maconpromise.org and their blog at http://maconpromise.blogspot.com .


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