• #engagEDnwi | Exploring EdTech June 17+18

    Integrating ever-evolving technology into curriculum is a task every 21st Century educator faces. On June 17 and 18, educators of the Region will have the opportunity to discuss and learn ways to bring new technology into the classroom.

    The engagEDnwi eLearning Conference will be held at Lowell High School. Over the two days, the conference will feature sessions on different educational technologies and methods for utilizing them.

    Jay Blackman, Director of Educational Technology of the Tri-Creek School Corporation (of which Lowell is a member), emphasizes the importance of integrating such new digital methods and materials into the modern classroom.

    Online and blended instruction has had incredible growth over the last few years as an alternative to onsite classroom learning,” Blackman said. “Technology has certainly replaced traditional materials and methods of instruction in some cases.  

    “The challenge to schools is to be able to meet the needs of students who have more requirements and less time than ever.”

    The conference is mostly aimed at school administrators and teachers, although Blackman added that student teachers and workers in higher education might also be interested. The sessions will entail using new programs and technologies, integrating them into instruction, and leadership in building a strong education culture.

    “Attendees will be able to choose from a variety of sessions,” Blackman said, “from specific classroom programs…to strategies that teachers can use to ensure that students are connecting to the material.”

    Topics discussed in the sessions include 3D printing, using tablets and apps, building classroom websites, using Google effectively, and evaluating teachers’ use of technology.

    “The key is selecting technologies that best match instruction,” Blackman said. “It should never be the other way around.”

    The session will also notably feature one of the first official announcements of the new Indiana State standards for math and language arts, which replace the Common Core standards the state recently rejected.

    To learn more visit their website


  • Academic Showcase: IUN and IUSB

    Indiana University Northwest - Gary, Indiana

    Indiana University Northwest, or IUN, is located on Broadway street in Gary, Indiana. On a 36 acre plot, IUN boasts 9 buildings dedicated to their many degrees ranging from certificates to masters degrees. IUN offers many bachelor degrees in their Arts and Science colleges, as well as master degrees in their Business, Education, Arts and Sciences, and Health and Human services colleges. Because IUN is a satellite school of the famed Indiana University, IUN has the unique capability of offering all the services Indiana University can offer, while retaining the warming atmosphere of a small campus.

    Currently there are a little more than 6,000 students attending IUN. Due to this, class sizes are small and students have more opportunities to interact with their professors. IUN is also very affordable, with credit hours currently costing $204.99 per credit hour. Online classes are also available, as technological learning has been becoming more and more popular every year.

    IUN also offers a Fitness Center, Health and Wellness Clinic, Dental Clinic, and Intramural sports for their students to take advantage of. This is a popular and convenient school for many of you in the Duneland area. I have just scratched the surface of what IUN has to offer. If you haven't heard of Indiana University Northwest before, get online and take a  look.

    Indiana University South Bend

    Indiana University South Bend, or IUSB, is located in South Bend, Indiana right along the St. Joseph River. IUSB is the 3rd largest Indiana University campus which is comprised of 10 academic buildings scattered across 80 acres. IUSB offers more than 100 degrees. Their undergrad programs include Liberal Arts, Sciences, Business, Education, and Health Sciences.

    They also provide an extensive masters program including Sciences, Arts, Business, Education, Liberal Studies, Music, Nursing, Public Affairs, and Social Work. With only 8,300 students attending this university, and a 15 to 1 ratio between students and professors; students get that same small campus community feeling. IUSB is also very affordable with credit hours currently priced at $199.62 a piece. The campus also houses a 100,000 square foot student activities center.

    I have personally been in the student activities center, or as they call it, the SAC, and let me tell you; it is awesome. The SAC contains three full sized basketball courts that is surrounded by an elevated track for runners to use. On the perimeter of the building are offices and racquet ball courts. The SAC is also used to host just some of the school intramural sports, which includes: soccer, volleyball, softball, flag football, basketball, and more.

    Finally, the thing that sets IUSB apart from most of the satellite schools in this area is their student housing. Positioned across the river from IUSB there is an apartment complex dedicated to students that can house up to 400. The apartment complex is linked to the campus by way of a really cool arched bridge. It's a really neat part of campus that gives life and personality to an already very nice campus. If any of these things has caught your attention, check out their website. 

  • An update on previous 2015 blog topics

    Several of the posts I’ve written here each week had an immediacy to that moment, or were on subjects that had no expiration date. Some subjects I’ve discussed, however, have had new developments since I first wrote about them. So, here are updates on a few things I’ve covered, a small refresher course on what’s happening in the Region and beyond:

    • Gary/Chicago International Airport Expansion: The airport’s expanded runway is now open! Meanwhile, we haven’t heard much new about the plans for that third Chicago airport that Illinois has been planning to build for decades…
    • South Shore Expansion: The proposed expansion of the rail line passed a big hurdle by getting funding approved in the state budget. After years of seeming stagnant, it looks like it’s going to happen.
    • Illiana Expressway: The proposed toll road had the support of our Governor Mike Pence and former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. But then current Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner beat him in the election last year, and, after keeping mostly mum on the subject during his campaign, rescinded his state’s support. It looks dead for the time being. But while I was wrong on this, my New Year’s predictions about the Airport and South Shore are looking pretty good right now.
    • Indiana Toll Road: The Australian firm IFM ended up buying the Indiana Toll Road, keeping it in private hands. We’ll see if they have better luck than the last owner.
    • Elonis v. United States: The Supreme Court case over whether one Anthony Elonis’ violent Facebook posts were legitimate threats or (as he contended) constitutionally-protected lyrics ended with the Court ruling 7-2 in favor of Elonis, overturning his conviction for making criminal threats. This is major because it’s one of the first cases to directly deal with free speech over social media, but it surely won’t be the last.
    • Glenda Ritz: Indiana’s beleaguered Superintendent of Public Instruction did, unfortunately, have her powers removed by the state legislature. However, since then, Governor Pence’s popularity has tanked, making him looking quite vulnerable in the 2016 election. And who’s among those competing for the Democratic nomination to take him on? None other than Glenda Ritz.
  • Education opens the mind as well as career doors

    For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I thought I’d take the time to talk about the importance of education. Not about policy or programs or curriculum, but a personal story about how education can enrich one’s life beyond the classroom.

    There’s no doubt that racially, Northwest Indiana is divided at least on geographic lines. Those lines have been bending and fading since the turn of the millennium, but the disparity between races from place to place is quite high.

    I live and grew up in Schererville, and most of my neighbors have been white. I was educated in the Lake Central School Corporation, where the student body was mostly white. Neither the community nor schools were completely white, and by and large the environment was quite tolerant if not especially diverse. Still, it was very far removed from the African-American or experience, which for me and I'd guess many others was something we only read about in school (and come to think of it, our school lessons never really went beyond the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s).

    Things changed substantially when I attended Purdue Calumet. The university had a much more diverse student body than any of my previous schooling, encompassing many races and economic backgrounds. In classes and as a student journalist, I heard countless different personal stories and outlooks on the world, including several experiences and opinions on any number of things that I would not have been exposed to otherwise. Even though I could never get these experiences firsthand, just hearing them was a major eye-opener.

    This shaped my worldview more than any textbook or TV documentary. And this is one reason why I support any programs that make it easier for people to go to college. Besides education making for more and better life and career opportunities, being around and interacting with people of all backgrounds can give you a better understanding of the world and a more personal empathy for people you might not otherwise meet.

    President Obama recently announced that he supports making two years of community college free to all Americans. His opponents are of course decrying this idea (though let’s face it, they’ll rail against anything he says no matter what), but the costs of giving people this chance are highly outweighed by the benefits, in the classroom and out.

  • English Writing education, in and out of the classroom

    Writing was always my strongest suit in school. When everyone else had trouble with writing prompts or essay questions on tests, I could blow through them pretty easily. I could get through a term paper or longer assignment quickly, rather than taking the many weeks we were given to read and write out something. And I started writing more personal things on my own in my teen years. So, it was pretty natural that I’d become a writer.

    My degree in English Writing (from Purdue University Calumet) had a rather nebulous list of required courses. Most majors have a very fixed list of classes. Mine had only a few mandatory ones: the general introductory English courses, one in journalism and one called philosophy of art, which was like an English literature class in which you discussed the themes of a collection of works. Otherwise, students were free to choose from a list of classes ranging from journalistic (review writing) to artsy (creative writing) to business-oriented (business writing, which had at least as many management and business students as English) to graphic design and computer writing courses. I took all of the above, with an emphasis on computer courses because I figured writing for the web and other technologies would be a useful skill set.

    I learned some valuable skills from all the classes, no doubt. However, my degree represents only a small part of my education. Every classroom may have taught me specific skills, but what really developed my style, voice and ability was writing outside of classes. My internship with the university relations office and my job with the campus newspaper was instructive. I wrote much more frequently and with urgent deadlines, which really sharpened my skills more than a syllabus planned at the beginning of a semester.

    So, in pursuing a degree like this, the best advice I can give is to write as much as possible in addition to the classwork. Even if it seems like a lot, if you’re cut out for writing, you’ll be able to handle it. And practice makes perfect!

  • Every Student Succeeds a baby step for education reform

    No Child Left Behind officially ended last week. Mostly.

    Under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, much of NCLB’s more stringent testing is history, although students will still face federal testing annually in grades 3-8, and once in high school. However, rather than being subject to uniform federal standards, individual states will now be responsible for setting most standards, evaluating teachers and schools, and deciding how to rectify schools under their jurisdiction.

    But then, the federal government recently has been pretty accommodating in granting exemptions from certain NCLB standards. So, ESSA sort of just puts the writing on the wall (that everyone agreed NCLB wasn’t working) into official paper form. 

    The law is a step in the right direction (it also gives funding to some early education programs, which I am for), but it’s just that, a step. It’s the equivalent of admitting there is a problem, which is only the first step to solving a problem.

    With power reverting to the states, one would think this is a good time to put the old “laboratories of democracy” concept to work, allowing states to experiment with new ideas and policies and see what works. I might be inclined to agree, but unfortunately for Indiana, the people running our lab are pretty out of touch.

    So, I hope this is a new beginning for the discussion of improving the education system in this country, not the end of it for a while. Sadly, though, I think Indiana is out of luck as far as effective reform goes until we get a new Governor and state legislature.

  • Governor Plays Politics Over Sound Education Policy

    Indiana Governor Mike Pence announced his 2015 legislative plans for education in a speech last week (you can read it here). The meat of the plans, by which I mean the ones that affect school-aged Indiana children directly, should arouse skepticism.

    In his speech, the Governor spoke of the importance of pre-kindergarten programs, but announced no plans to try to obtain more funding for it. One might remember that earlier this year, the Governor rejected federal funding that would have gone toward expanding pre-K for low-income children in the State.

    Pence also strongly supports more funding for charter schools. This, despite the fact that charter schools statewide received much lower performances grades this year than public schools. Among the schools with “D” grades were a few in Gary and one in East Chicago.

    This isn’t to say charter schools as a whole are a bad idea, and that public schools are always sterling. But they don't seem to be working in our state, and spending more on something that isn’t working is like continuing to use teaching methods that aren’t reaching the students.

    Continuing to fund underperforming schools and denying funds for poor kids' pre-school doesn't sound like serving the state. What they sound like is political maneuvering from our Governor at the expense of it.

    In education alone, Pence’s resistance to Common Core and his stances that rankle teachers make him a polarizing figure, but nothing stinks of politics more than his working relationship with Glenda Ritz. Ever since the State Superintendent was elected in 2012, the Governor has tried to undermine her at every turn. He’s finally disbanded his alternative education committee which he created solely to challenge Ritz's authority, but he’s still trying to remove her from the picture.

    There are elected officials who govern, and there are those who are just ideologues. Our Governor, unfortunately, is the latter instead of doing his job as the former.

  • Governor's disconnect is bad for Indiana

    Barely a week after the passage of SB 101, the state legislature and Governor Mike Pence hastily added new language to outline certain (but not total) legal rights related to sexual orientation (the reception to the fix among LGBT rights groups has been pretty tepid). But that was after the state received tremendous blowback from all but the most lockstep members of the political right, and our governor entered the national spotlight somewhere between a villain and a laughingstock.

    This isn’t the first time Pence has been on the national stage in a less-than-stellar fashion. Earlier this year was the short but notable saga of Just IN. We’ll never know if it was, as Pence claimed, simply a press release site rather than a state news source. Even if it was, though, the glaring obviousness of its negative reception highlights a sort of disconnect shown by this Governorship.

    If that disconnect went no further than a boneheaded PR snafu, it would be forgivable. But it’s manifested in other ways that maybe haven’t gotten the national media’s attention, and are no laughing matter at all.

    After the Mitch Daniels era, state taxes were very low, so low that both parties seemed to agree more revenues were needed. Yet one of Pence’s first acts as Governor was another tax cut. Another thing on which both parties seem to be in agreement was that public education funding is too low. Instead, Pence still focuses on charter schools, clashes with Glenda Ritz at every turn, and dropped Common Core without much of a plan for what would replace it.

    Simply put, Pence seems to be more of an ideologue than an effective governor. The cynical speculation is that he’s getting in good graces with a narrow sector of the conservative base so he can run for President (an idea that, if it were a longshot before, seems like an impossibility now). But maybe he truly believes in every decision he’s made. Unfortunately, that ideology is clashing pretty starkly with the reality of what’s happening in his state.

    Fortunately, a few recent events have bridged that disconnect. Even if his fix for SB 101 may not be perfect, he at least heard everybody and was driven to do something. Also, in relation to the HIV outbreak downstate in Austin, he’s swallowed his political views on anti-drug measures and approved a needle exchange, which seems to be the right thing to do.

    These were both extreme instances that were too obvious to ignore, but nevertheless, they still poked holes in the ideological bubble in which our Governor seems to reside.

  • Homeschooling's untenable economics

    In the debate over education funding, the focus of which is mainly funding public schools or providing vouchers for charter schools, you never really hear about another option that’s out there: homeschooling. More than three percent of the school-aged population are homeschooled.

    There might be a reason this option is rarely discussed, however. Upon looking closely, it’s pretty apparent that homeschooling is probably not a viable option for many people.

    This conclusion actually has nothing to do with curriculum or any of the common criticisms of homeschooling, believe it or not. The old stereotype is that home education consists of fundamentalist indoctrination, but many homeschooled individuals have gotten standard educations, thrived at college, and become well-adjusted adults. The argument that homeschooled kids miss out on socialization is not entirely true, either, as they still can participate in after-school activities. Some public schools also allow homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular activities and even sports.

    If it is inviable, it's simply a matter of economics.

    Homeschooling is treated like private schooling. According to the Department of Education, the average cost of private school per year is nearly $8000 for elementary school and more than $13000 for middle and high school. While homeschooling doesn’t charge tuition, the parents have to provide all the materials of a school like textbooks, workbooks, testing, and so on. Despite not quite reaching private school levels, even pro-homeschooling organizations admit the costs can add up.

    Here in Indiana, the median household income in 2013 was $48,248, according to the U.S. Census. That figure was slightly higher in Lake County at $49,035. On that budget, a few hundred to a few thousand per year per child is a considerable expense. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that an adult in the household would have to devote much of their time to teaching, ostensibly sacrificing employment and, ergo, a good amount of household income.

    Is homeschooling worth the cost? Well, I've found that's the point where research shifts from figures to mostly opinions about the topic. I honestly can't say, but the question is kind of a moot point if it's unaffordable for so many.

  • ISTEP debacle presents standardized testing reform opportunity

    You might have seen headlines recently about the state legislature wanting to cut the length of ISTEP testing for Indiana students. If you haven’t been following this issue, the gist of it is that Indiana’s decision to reject Common Core wasn’t very well thought out. The rejection meant the state had to hastily draw up its own curriculum and standards, and with that its own standardized testing.

    The resulting exams are estimated to take up a whopping 12 hours of classroom time to administer. Now, amid bad press and criticism from the education community, the factions of government are blaming each other while rushing to mend this debacle.

    Indiana’s specific case aside, the effectiveness of standardized testing like ISTEP has been a topic of debate for years. I’m not a teacher, and I don’t know the numbers offhand about the success rate of ISTEP or other tests (if there are any solid numbers). All I can add to the conversation is my experience in school.

    I think the best example would be the Spanish classes I’ve taken. In high school, I took Spanish for three years. I had three great teachers, and all three years, the classes consisted of assignments that involved either writing words and sentences or speaking in front of the class in Spanish. In other words, we learned by actually using the language.

    In college, I took four semesters of Spanish. I had good professors each time, and we did some similar coursework to what I’d experienced in high school. But the majority of our curriculum consisted of homogenized (you could say “standardized”), one-size-fits-all online multiple choice exercises. I passed the classes, but while I actually learned at least some Spanish from high school, I mostly just forgot everything from college as soon as I finished each assignment. Similar, I’d imagine, to how many students forget all the stuff on ISTEP or any other big test as soon as they finish taking it.

    The difference significantly affected my opinion on standardized testing and curriculum. The way to effectively learn anything is to practice, to utilize it in daily life.

    Governor Mike Pence’s decision to reject Common Core very well may have been political (Common Core has become a target of the conservative movement of late), but since Indiana’s in the position of creating new curriculum, we should take this opportunity have a real conversation about how to effectively teach our kids. A conversation that includes the issue of standardized testing.

  • It's the ISTEP, stupid!

    You might have missed it in the news, but one of the most wide-reaching laws of the new millennium, one that had support across the political spectrum and was touted as a major achievement that would fix our education system, might be dying a quiet death.

    The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002, was an extensive piece of legislation with many different parts. But one thing about it everyone seems to agree on is that its strong focus on standardized testing was ineffective, putting tremendous pressure on schools and teachers without effectively teaching students.

    Well, almost everyone.

    Indiana just signed a law instituting stricter standards for ISTEP testing. Specifically, there’s a much higher pass-fail cutoff, which it’s estimated will immediately increase the percentage of students failing - which will, in turn, drop letter grades for certain schools. Which could, if such ratings persist, cause control of said schools to go from their community to the state.

    To a cynical observer, considering the state’s unfavorable policies toward public education since the Mitch Daniels administration, this could be construed as a way to force public schools into state control or closing. But even if these new standards were meant to positively motivate students and schools, it’s hard to see that happening after it’s been tried already, especially since Indiana’s new standards are higher than NCLB.

    Why is the state taking this route? They rebuffed federal standards by rejecting Common Core, and yet now they’re doubling down on the standardized testing focus that was a pillar of NCLB.

    The answer, I think, is that much anti-Common Core fervor is less about finding an effective education policy than a rallying cry for small-government ideologues. Well, it doesn’t matter if it comes from the state level or federal level: when something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And does anyone want to argue more standardized testing and stricter accountability standards have worked?

  • Kathleen Gibson | AdjunctProfessorLink.com

    Filling vacancies for adjunct professors takes quite a bit of time, apparently. While there’s no shortage of qualified candidates, it is just a matter of finding the right professor for the right teaching job.

    Adjunct Professor Link seeks to make this process as quick and easy as possible. The website, founded by Kathleen Gibson, helps both higher education and professors.

    A graduate of Valparaiso University in political science and a Juris Doctor, Gibson has taught graduate courses in law and humanities. Her experience as an adjunct professor and as a university administrator.

    “I understood the difficulty of finding a job, having to find a personal contact to put me in touch with a school.” Gibson said. “More recently as an administrator, I found out the difficulty of finding good adjunct instructors.”

    Adjunct Professor Link, which Gibson describes as sort of a hybrid between a social network and job search site, allows adjuncts to create a profile free of charge. They can upload their personal information from their existing social network profiles such as Facebook or LinkedIn, while providing further information on their qualifications, such as their field, experience, credentials and location. They can also post pictures and video, and share their professional achievements such as recommendations or links to their published works.

    Members can join as one of two sets of educators. One, Professional Educator, consists of professors looking to teach full time, mainly career faculty seeking to eventually attain tenure. The other set, Expert Instructor, refers to educators with a specific skill set or expertise that is qualified to teach. For such instructors, teaching is generally a secondary profession.

    “[They] could be older professionals looking for a second career,” Gibson said, “or individuals trying to stay current in their profession, or to share their experience. They can be very valuable in the classroom.”

    Universities pay a subscription fee to gain access to Adjunct Professor Link’s profiles, and search by certain criteria to find the right individual for the job. According to Gibson, a big criteria is simply geography, but they can search under such subject as discipline, years of experience or even teaching style.

    The site also features a blog in which professors or universities can post content or start discussions. However, Gibson stipulates that the point of the site really isn’t inter-professor communication or networking.

    “We’re more focused on helping adjuncts be found [by universities],” Gibson said.

    So far, Adjunct Professor Link’s focus is only on the Northwest Indiana area. However, plans are in place for expansion in the near future.

    “The goal is to take on a second market in January,” Gibson said. “Probably the Chicago Market, then establish other markets across the country.”

    To learn more visit the site: http://www.AdjunctProfessorLink.com

  • Newsletters

  • PETAL et al. | An education in gaming


    Organizations that help people get an education and find a job that suits them are numerous. But jobs in the fields of computer animation and video games? That is something not too common.

    PETAL et al. is one such organization, which was founded and run by industry veterans Pamela McMillan and Clarence McMillan (both of whom are also instructors). The goal is to help aspiring individuals who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to get the education they need in the field of entertainment technology.

    “The college education for this can be very expensive,” Pamela McMillan said. “I also want to help people develop skills to find a job or start their own business in the industry. This [allows] one a chance to work on their own, if necessary, and these skills can be used in any industry.”

    The most prominent industry that PETAL et al. prepares its students for is video games. However, the field is broader than just games. Other sectors this training can prepare students for include computer animation, graphics, scripting and even advertising.

    “Video game development is featured, because currently that's where the demand is,” McMillan said. “That can change at any time. Last year, the demand was for scriptwriting, character development and storyboarding. Two years ago, the demand was for Android development, and we taught them both.

    “Video Game Design and Development covers animation, computer graphics, music/sound, [and] scriptwriting. Our training focuses on entertainment technology arts which is very broad, and can easily cover all of those. We [also] focus on technology, business and project management as well as the creative and communications/marketing side.”

    PETAL et al.’s curriculum is divided into the technological aspects, the artistic aspects and leadership in coordinating projects. The sessions mostly consist of small classes, but also include one-off workshops and boot camps over a few days.

    The creative aspect is usually what draws people to this field, but McMillan is quick to point out that designing the visuals and storytelling are only a small part of creating a game.

    “It is not just cute or mind-blowing artwork,” she said. “There’s a scientific aspect. There are mechanics taking place behind the game. I would say 20% creative, 80% technical, and that could easily change depending on a lot of things.”

    She also advises aspiring game designers that much of the job involves completing specific requests at the behest of the employer. To stay afloat in such a competitive industry, a person must stringently meet deadlines, which often means working more than a standard eight-hour day and forgoing free time.

    “It looks fun, but it is very challenging and demands devotion, time and attention,” McMillan said. “Many never realize the level of commitment required or work involved until they try it.”

    However, helping those who are up to the challenge get a leg up in the industry is a fulfilling experience to the PETAL et al. staff

    “There are many creative and talented people, [and] we would like to help remove barriers,” McMillan said.

    The group is looking to expand their operation into the northwest Indiana region.

    To learn more visit them at: http://www.petaletal.org/

  • Pre-K benefits should outweigh politics

    Last week, Governor Mike Pence rejected $80 million in federal money that would have gone toward providing pre-schooling for low-income children in the state.

    Indiana isn’t exactly a stranger to cuts in education at all levels, both have occurred under Pence’s term and in the Mitch Daniels' era before that. And yet, despite being lower end on education spending per student among the 50 states, Indiana still has a graduation rate in the upper eighties, which is high. However, the state’s public pre-kindergarten services are slim to none.

    There is debate on the merits of Pre-K for academic performance. However, studies have shown that beneficiaries of such programs are less likely to break the law, and have better developmental, motor and cognitive functions. In other words, the benefit is in socialization and mental development.

    I discussed before how other countries have government programs operating at more advanced levels than we do, and similarly, another country is a good model for how Pre-K works. This time it’s France, where public preschool is provided to all children. They are guaranteed to learn all the beginner lessons and motor skills that they’ll need for regular school, whereas in the U.S. only those whose parents can afford to send them are so lucky. And it costs less per student than most public schools here.

    So it’s no wonder support for Pre-K programs (maybe not programs as good as France’s, but at least something) crosses political lines more so than other issues. It’s also no surprise that the Governor’s decision has been met with disappointment from many state businesses that are generally supporters of his. His rationale for doing so sounds like political speak, like it was more out of an anti-federal ideological position than pragmatic. But frankly, what’s most important is that children get the best education, not that each plan fit within one ideology. And it would be best if children’s education gets started on the right foot when they’re most impressionable.

  • Rebecca Manis & the Hammond Challenger Center

    Challenger Center Hammond Indiana

    Challenger Center Northwest Indiana Hammond

    Located at the southernmost point of the Purdue Calumet (soon to be Purdue Northwest) campus in Hammond is a building that on the outside could pass as just another university building. But the building is not affiliated with Purdue, and inside is a different kind of learning environment. An environment that offers hands-on education in the form of mission simulations, which cater to all ages but mainly serves classrooms full of tweens and young teens.

    The Challenger Learning Center is named in memory of the crew members lost in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. Founded by the crew’s families, it aimed to give younger students the opportunity to work together and solve problems in similar surroundings to a real space mission. The first Center, located in NASA’s home city of Houston, Texas, opened in 1988.

    Today, there are over 40 Centers located across four countries. Among them is Hammond’s, which has been in operation since 1999.

    At the Learning Center, participants take part in missions modeled around different areas of space exploration. Completing these missions involves working together with one’s team members toward each objective. The missions also integrate various subjects from the classroom.

    Challenger Center Director Rebecca Manis“All our programs integrate language, math and science as students are completing hands on activities that require them to communicate, calculate, observe, hypothesize, record, analyze and more,” Director Rebecca Manis said. “Social studies comes into play when we highlight the history of the space program or astronauts have contributed to the understanding we have of space travel and of our universe today.”

    The missions are all developed by the Challenger National Office, located in Washington, D.C. However, while all Learning Centers get the same missions, Manis points out that what happens on the missions is often different and exciting for every group of students.

    “A mission flown at our center might look very different from a mission flown at the center in Oakland, California,” Manis said.

    Over sixteen years, the Center has gone through some updates, and not just accounting for changes in technology over that time. The missions’ curriculum has been updated to integrate current trends in science and space exploration. For example, there has been much recent discussion on the exploration of Mars.

    “We’ve added a science activity lab that focuses on Curiosity and the work she is doing on Mars,” Manis said.

    Another major issue in science is the environment.

    “Our newest mission, Earth Odyssey, focuses completely on climate change and the effects that humans are having on the Earth,” Manis said.

    The Challenger Learning Center offers packages for birthdays, summer camps, families, and even corporate retreats. Their most frequent visitors, however, are classes of middle-school age students.

    “This is different than a field trip to say, a museum, where they might see many things, but not actually be drawn into the exhibit to participate,” Manis said. “Outside of learning the space-related content, they must be good communicators, problem solvers and teammates.”

    As for how they respond to that experience, Manis relates a few person stories.

    “We hear students walk out of here daily saying, ‘That was the best field trip ever!’" she said. “And we know of college students who are in engineering programs or aerospace programs because of their experiences here.”

  • The Duneland Innovators Community

    Duneland Innovators northwest Indiana Chicagoland

    What a year! 2015 has seen the Duneland Innovators brand expand quite a bit. If you haven't been following down every avenue, let us outline some of the biggest developments here for you.

    Probably the most notable addition to the offerings is our monthly event series. On the first Wednesday of each month, a local professional takes to the presentation stage to talk about their ideas on a relevant topic. If you follow us on Facebook, you can watch the video recordings of presenters you may have missed. There have been a lot of great dialogs started during the Q & A sessions that follow the presentation. If you're looking for networking opportunities, these events are an excellent platform to meet others working in northwest Indiana. If you'd like to join the group, connect with it on Meetup for updates and announcements.

    Social media channels are vital for us to spread the messages embedded into our content here on the site. While we endorse a "Facebook first" strategy, you can find unique promotions on Duneland Innovator's Twitter account as well. We even share pictures occasionally on Instagram from the events or "behind the scenes" moments while filming. Join the conversation and let us know your thoughts on articles that interest you.

    Producing video segments based on articles and from events has been a really fun new endeavor. The crew has turned out approximately 50 videos since we started with the format this Spring. Not too bad for a little boutique operation like ourselves. Look for more announcements about our video efforts in the new year.

    We're now releasing 3-5 original pieces of content each week and every month reach thousands of people via all of our channels. It great to see people engage the stories, particularly for features that highlight organizations and individuals in our community. If you have a story that needs to be told or would like to contribute content to the site, please get in contact with us by calling (855) 404-6016 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    Thanks for a great 2015.

  • The Microsoft Hololens: The future of augmented reality

    The recent announcement of the Microsoft Hololens has brought another exciting competitor to the smart wear arena. The best way to describe the Hololens is as a blend of the two biggest names in augmented reality and virtual reality, the Google Glass and the Oculas Rift respectively. Microsoft's offering looks like a hockey visor with a thick head band.  If you haven’t seen the introduction video for the Microsoft Hololens, check it out here.

    The Microsoft Hololens mainly utilizes augmented reality to make your surrounding environment more interactive and responsive. Augmented reality can best be explained as overlaid image elements that interact with a real environment. There are apps out there right now that use smartphone cameras to do augmented reality, albeit on a very basic level.

    Education Technology

    What really excites me about the Microsoft Hololens are the teaching possibilities. Online courses have been on the rise in recent years, but there is still a stigma that they can never capture the hands-on classroom experience. Augmented reality can assist in bridging that gap by allowing online learners to have a simulated classroom experience. The Hololens could also have a significant impact on actual classroom experience by allowing professors to create immersive material that engages students more than the current techniques.

    What I really like about the Microsoft Hololens is that it is targeted towards actual functionality. There is not a single shot of someone in their preview that does something really spontaneously. Everyone in the preview for the Hololens is focused on a specific work task, entertainment feature, or learning function. Microsoft seems to understand that users don’t want or need to wear the Hololens at all times. Probably a lesson learned from the negative reaction to people wearing Google Glass in public.

    While there is no release date for the Microsoft Hololens yet, I assume that they will begin making it available within the next year. The project looks very far along as it leans on the team responsible for the Xbox Kinect. The Hololens embodies Microsoft really well. It presents a functional product for businesses and schools to use how they see fit.

  • The Pride of Purdue Northwest

    Remember that survey to select a new mascot for when the Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central athletic programs combine next fall? Well, the name has been announced: the Purdue Northwest Pride.

    Yes, Pride. If, like me, you’re wondering how that will be depicted in logos and on merchandise, apparently they plan to adopt a lion design as soon as the merger of the two universities gets final approval.

    I’ve stated before that I’m not the biggest fan of singular team names such as this. And since they’re going with a lion logo, why not just call themselves “the Lions”? It sounds cooler, frankly, to be named after a majestic and fearsome animal than an intangible. Then “pride” would be a more obvious choice for the fan club or the student section at their games.

    Then again, considering that the most high-profile team named “the Lions” isn’t exactly synonymous with success, I can understand why they’d want to avoid that moniker.

    Anyway, the name is just the beginning of things. There’s been talk of the Pride joining NCAA Division II, although since neither PNC nor Purdue Cal fields a football team, that’s uncertain. There also has been no announcement yet as to where the Pride will play. So, I suspect this will still be playing out after the universities merge next fall.

    There’s also still this final season to play for the Panthers and Peregrines. And as a graduate of Purdue Cal who worked in the sports section for the campus paper, I must say it feels rather odd that the school I attended (in name, at least) and the teams I frequently covered will soon no longer exist. Until now, the only people I know who could say that were at least middle-aged.

    Even though I’m still in my 20s and only a few years removed from college, I can’t help but feel a little old.

  • The State of Referendum

    If you have driven around the region these last few years during the month of April, you may have seen signs in yards asking voters to vote “yes” on a school referendum.  

    In 2008, the state legislature passed a law that changes the ways that a district is able to levy taxes for the operation of schools within the district or for the cost of construction.  Since that time, several districts within the state have had referendum votes for small tax increases to offset the limitations set by the law. I live in Hebron and it took two separate elections to pass one in our school district.

    The first vote in 2013 failed by only four votes- 547 to 543.  The defeat resulted in Metropolitan School District of Boone Township having to make several cutbacks.  The greatest of which was the termination of six teachers, which meant some classes would be overcrowded.  In a town with nearly 2,500 residents, voter apathy may have played a role in the measure being defeated the first time.  In our family's case, we did not vote in this election, and thus did not vote for the measure at all.  At that time, our home was not affected by passage or defeat, since our oldest child was not yet in school. 

    The measure did pass the following April, and it did so by just 23 votes.  The passed measure called for an increase of $0.21 per $100 of assessed property value.  This meant that a home with an assessed value of $135,000 would see an annual tax increase of around $130.  We did vote yes on the second referendum, because our son was about to begin Kindergarten that following August, so we wanted to ensure we were investing in his education.  On his first day of school, his class size consisted of only 22 children.  

    These two elections brought out much emotion on opposing sides of the measure.  For us, we were looking out for what we felt was in the best interest of our children.  For a couple in town on a fixed income, whose children have already been through school, I can certainly understand the reason for them voting no.  Although these referendums are fairly new, it is still too soon to tell if there will be a long-lasting impact. In the case of our district, seeing exceptional grades on our son’s report card is a great start.