Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

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Filtering by Tag: Research Trip to Innovative US Schools

My American Twitter Diary

Twitter is text messaging service where you can subscribe to other's text messages, and they can subscribe to yours. I go to twitter.com and send a message and 217 people will receive that message. Similarly I receive 269 people's text messages. Twitter turns everyone into a sort of text radio transmitter, sending out text waves. Reading Twitter messages is like standing in crowded room. You pay attention to certain conversations or broadcasts, and participate it ones you choose.

I highly recommend it to people who can find the time to use it. You meet amazing people on Twitter. The text messages must be 140 characters or less so everyone has to be ultra concise. I follow a lot of educators who post messages with great ideas and technologies they have come across. I also get into great conversations, since you can direct messages at particular people by starting your message with "@" and their name. You can see all my messages at http://twitter.com/steve_collis

Recently I went to America to see a range of schools there. I thought it would be interesting to review all the Twitter text messages I sent while on the trip! Here they are. It is like a micro-diary of my trip.

About a 100 messages over 14 days... I put the ones which tell you what I am actually doing in bold:

Fri Oct 24 03:21:38

NewProfessionalBlog: On the maiden flight of the Airbus A380

Sat Oct 25 05:17:03

Safe in Atlanta. 1.15am here but I am wide awake! Ron Clarke conference
tomorrow. 1st impressions of US: lovely people & large serving sizes

Sat Oct 25 21:47:24

just bought a tacky top for 'prom night' tonight. Proper Internet not
quite up and running yet... almost. Ron Clark Academy jaw dropping.

Sat Oct 25 23:39:28

stuck in Atlantan traffic! What fun!

Sun Oct 26 04:11:57

Finally I have my wireless internet running. The silly thing needs
software to install - software you have to download from the internet!

Sun Oct 26 04:13:41

Oh the humanity. So I had to try to freeload a connection - wondered the
streets of Atlanta until I finally eked out the 12 mb download!

Sun Oct 26 13:10:02

Listening to Kim Bearden, cofounder of the Ron Clark Academy. She is
telling her story. Riveting stuff.

Sun Oct 26 19:22:30

NewProfessionalBlog: The Ron Clark Academy - PART 1

Mon Oct 27 03:13:16

Posted observations of an astonishing school in the US:

Mon Oct 27 17:46:36

@maggiemarat Are you going to the T&L conference, perchance? We are
about to board a plane to Seattle

Mon Oct 27 17:49:32

Now that I'm connected and am in America, it's time I extended my US
network on Twitter. Can you DM suggestions for US educators 2 follow?

Mon Oct 27 18:00:58

@loonyhiker hi Carol from the Atlanta airport. I've been in the US for 2
days now. Experiencing minor culture shock but it's a lovely place!

Tue Oct 28 00:54:07

at baggage claim in Seattle! intending on claiming my baggage! See if I

Tue Oct 28 01:16:50

gorgeous sunset in Seattle with autumn trees dense along the highway

Tue Oct 28 04:46:29

using Twitter seach to figure out who else is at t&l conference in
Seattle and make twitter friends with them!

Tue Oct 28 04:47:23

@markomni lovely place just downstairs from the Pan Pacific,...

Tue Oct 28 04:54:41

@roswellsgirl late reply now but I've seen some pretty interesting uses
of moodle. Keen to chat at t&l. Listen for my Australian accent!

Tue Oct 28 05:09:20

@dmcordell I am in the US and will be at t&l - would be delighted to

Tue Oct 28 05:14:02

Found delightful place to eat tonight. No sugar no batter, no fat, no
deep frying, no cream on the side, no massive refillable softdrink.

Tue Oct 28 05:24:47

@cwoldhuis no time for a photo, I was too busy capturing it in a text
message in 140 chars or less. Gilbert was disgusted at me typing away!

Tue Oct 28 05:51:57

@ldumicich I KNOW! It's insane isn't it! Last night I had sashimi. I
tells ya, it wasn't sashimi once they had battered and fried it!

Tue Oct 28 17:25:15

Coffee in the US is beautiful! Tastes like coffee in France. Much better
than Australian coffee and I don't know why.

Tue Oct 28 21:12:03

heh heh Gary Stager's presentation about to begin - drawn into debate
with him about Ron Clark's methods.

Wed Oct 29 23:45:52

I feel like head butting something.

Thu Oct 30 01:43:56

on top of the Needle in Seattle. Nice view!  Next catch Monorail and find some grub.
Then to airport for overnight flight to Chicago.

Thu Oct 30 11:10:26

Arrived in Chicago. Now rental car
on wrong side of road
to the Illanois

Maths and Science Academy.

Thu Oct 30 11:11:30
thanks @ausbetina and @ackygirl for the OzTweets!

Thu Oct 30 12:53:55
Broadcasting my breakfast in Chicago http://tinyurl.com/6689ts

Thu Oct 30 12:59:07
Watch me and my colleagues have brekky at the International House of
Pancakes in the US of A http://tinyurl.com/6689ts  LIVE NOW :-)

Fri Oct 31 01:56:20

Now in Philadelphia. Two school visits tomorrow - Science Leadership
Academy and Delaware County Christian School.

Fri Oct 31 12:09:09
> 1 million expected in Philadelphia, just down from our hotel.
Why? A baseball victory I hear. Exciting, but transport to SLA hard.

Fri Oct 31 12:10:51

@chrislehmann looking forward to visiting your school this morning!

Fri Oct 31 15:29:43
The Science Leadership Academy was fascinating. Will blog on it asap
(gotta post part 2 of Ron Clark first)

Fri Oct 31 15:31:25

Next, Delaware County Christian School, and navigating the big parade in
Philadelphia - it's going mental due to a huge baseball final win.

Fri Oct 31 15:35:47

Bizarre mix of Halloween and baseball parade in Philadelphia. They should
move election day to today too and make it a trifecta.

Fri Oct 31 22:17:10

Very long queues just to get onto platforms at Suburban Station in Phili.
Luckily we were coming out, not in.

Sat Nov 01 15:07:06

Now en route to New York on a train. Quiet weekend and then IS 339,
Beacon School, School of the Future, and Suffern High School, then home!

Sun Nov 02 04:07:53

Spent today walking around New York. It's HUGE and full of tourists like
us, even more than I remember in Paris. Saw stand up comedy 2nite.

Sun Nov 02 16:32:14

@TCFR moi aussi je viens d'arriver a NY. Je visite des ecoles ou ils font
des choses extraordinaire (pas forcement avec l'informatique)

Sun Nov 02 20:02:49
@Mrs_Banjer good morning! Quite cold in NY - it is 4pm here. Enjoy your

Sun Nov 02 21:28:27

Slammed against a wall with a new blog post. I'm publishing anyway. It is
very rough! Twitter will announce it shortly automatically.

Sun Nov 02 21:52:19

NewProfessionalBlog: Very 1st Draft Summary of Some Ed Discourses...

Mon Nov 03 22:03:32

Obama's granny died. Lots of b

Mon Nov 03 22:03:55

lots of buzz in NY about the election.

Mon Nov 03 22:08:01

The end of what feels like a very long day. Visited IS 339 in the Bronx
this morning and the Beacon School this arvo
. Ah so much to blooooog

Mon Nov 03 23:12:52

@ldumicich Have you ever looked a potato in the eye?

Mon Nov 03 23:27:49

@nstone I am reading Robert Ludlum at the moment. Bears no resemblance to
reality I am sure.

Tue Nov 04 14:36:41

Sitting in professional development sessions in School of the Future in
NY http://tinyurl.com/6jpew3(New_York_City)

Wed Nov 05 04:18:53

Absolutely delighted to be in New York for such a significant day in the
history of America
! It's quite moving!

Wed Nov 05 04:32:25
I am very impressed with McCain's speech. It was sensitive, gracious,
sincere. Well done America. Not a moment too soon! (if 4 yrs late)

Wed Nov 05 04:37:30

The crowds in Times Square and at The Rockefeller were very
international, Americans almost a minority. I was there until an hour ago.

Wed Nov 05 04:38:39

It was funny - the TV people were trying to get everyone to chant, which
we all did, but I could hear Dutch, French, and New Zealandish!

Wed Nov 05 11:29:34

This will be my last tweet for many, many hours. Off to Suffern High in
to see @maggiemarat this morning - then v. long trip back to OZ!

Wed Nov 05 22:21:36

free 15 minute wireless internet cards being handed out in JFK airport.
sigh... I kept walking past in various disguises to get xtra ones.

Fri Nov 07 04:19:41

Back in Sydney, jet lagged, & feeling rather disoriented after a very
intense couple of weeks. Have purchased and installed "Far Cry 2".

Sat Nov 08 07:02:30

In a foul mood cause my body thinks it's 2am. Listen, body, it's 6pm,

Mon Nov 10 10:15:50
Dear Twitter, sorry for ignoring you. I admit to taking you for granted -
the friend that is there according to my agenda, my time. Oh well!

The Ron Clark Academy - Part 2

This post was published to HappySteve at 10:21:35 AM 30/10/2008

The Ron Clark Academy – Part 2

In Part 1 I described a lesson I observed at the Ron Clark Academy. It was a site to behold!

In this post I will describe the school in more detail.


The school is deliberately located on the rough side of town, in a building that was formerly a rope factory. I believe there was also a brothel on site. They’ve purchased other nearby buildings with the intention of using them in the future.

Out the front the three of us

Physical Appearance

On the front gate is huge metal lettering spelling out 7 key words, each from a different continent. I can’t remember what the words are. One was “reveur” – French for dreamer. Students visit a continent each year.Bottom of slide

The foyer is an open space with stairs up to the second floor and a big blue slide that curls its way down. The big blue slide stands out enormously and really is the signature of the building. Students and teachers use the slide as they wish.



All the walls are covered by amazing graffiti paintings by the world famous graffiti artist “Totem” (http://www.mr-totem.com/totem2.html). They found out that Totem lived nearby and he agreed enthusiastically to do the art. Every room has rich murals by him. The entire school is like an art gallery!

Along with the big slide, the artwork establishes an immediate creative atmosphere in the school. None of the oppressive plain walls with square paintings that many schools have, which communicate the importance of order and conformity.


The bathrooms also have the beautiful graffiti, and much more besides – decorated mirrors, a dinosaur stuck on the wall.

Here are some photos:

Boys croc


The boys' toilet with a dinosaur.



Girls b

Girls b 2

The girls' toilet.

Girls ent

I remember hearing that when students at most schools are surveyed about what they would like to improve at their school, they very often put “clean bathrooms” at #1. What a powerful message students receive about themselves when the toilets are sparse, plain and dirty! Dirty because some students make them dirty, but then that feeds back onto itself. Dirty toilets will get dirtier, and it is demeaning for students, utterly undermining messages teachers are trying to send about conducting themselves with dignity.

If a school’s toilets are really nice and looked after, the students will look after them too, and their sense of dignity and worth will be powerfully established.

Themed Rooms:

Each room is themed and generally reflects what topics are being studied. Here are some examples:

Plane 2

Car 1

Jazz records

Jazz 1

Jazz stage

Plane 3


The Gauntlet:

This room has a maze of tiny rooms separated by locked doors, around a central room blocked off with one way glass. They put problems in each room. When the student has solved the problem a key is dropped into the room so they can go to the next one.

Gaunt rooms

Other Displays:

Student work is posted around the place. One noticeable example is a set of newspapers written by the students and featuring the students’ photos on them.

Mag with student

House System

There is a huge spinning wheel in the front foyer split into quarters representing the four   Wheel houses. Each is a named with a word from a foreign language – one of the words on the front gate of the school. Students are assigned a house by spinning the wheel when they join the school, in a ritual similar to the choosing hat in Harry Potter.


The teachers all have a brilliant track record and many of them have a string of awards behind them. Their appointment to the RCA was via a video submission and comprehensive interviews etc.

The staff work very long hours, and are wholeheartedly committed. They get involved with the students’ personal lives, visiting the students’ homes, regularly taking the student out to places, for example to the theatre or hosting them in groups at their own homes for dinner.

The founder Ron Clark and cofounder Kim Bearden both teach full time, all day, as well as running the school. They work very very long days.


Slide from top

After School Program

Students have a choice of a very wide variety of afternoon activities after school run by the teachers and by local parents and volunteers. These change from term to term and cover every topic imaginable, and are often practical in nature.


Students visit 6 of the 7 continents by the end of their 3 years at RCA. This is funded by sponsorships and is integrated with intense study in preparation for the trip.



Student have homework each night which they must complete.

Parents are required to support them as a prerequisite to enrolment. They have regular lessons for parents, for instance teaching them Mathematical techniques and rules, so that parents can help their child at home. These are very well attended (jam packed!).



Parents commit themselves to being actively involved in the school and supporting learning at home.

Bottom of slide


I shall conclude with my thoughts on what I saw in part 3.

The Inaugural Beginning to my Research Trip to the US

Tomorrow afternoon I fly to America with my Principal Stephen Harris, and colleague Gilbert van der Jagt.

The theme of our two week trip is 'innovation'. We want to see schools that are taking non-traditional approaches to education. We've been planning the trip for some time, researching various places over the Internet, and I've been particularly involved in locating schools in Philadelphia and New York.

I must confess, I am no geographer. When I first met with my boss about the trip he had to explain to me what cities in America were where in America. I really didn't know.

This is the diagram he drew for me on that day:

A Map of Stephen H's Brain

Needless to say I left the meeting still rather confused. It is probably a good thing he didn't label any of his dots.

Anyway, here is where we're going:

The Ron Clarke Academy, Atlanta (we'll attend their conference)

The 2008 T+L Conference, Seattle

Illinois Maths and Science Academy, Illinois

The Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia

Delaware County Christian School, Pennsylvania

IS 339, the Bronx, New York

The Beacon School, New York

School of the Future, New York

Suffern High School, New York

I must warn you, I intend to blog quite madly during the trip, and document my personal experiences along with my professional observations. I'll put it all up here as I go, on the move, and then sort it out into better order when I get back to Australia. This is a sharp break with my normal blogging mentality of blogging occasionally but with care and attention.

I'll even try to stream live video when I can using http://www.ustream.com.

I'll send text messages using Twitter. See them at www.twitter.com/steve_collis

A Note About Mobile Phone Roaming in America:

I've done a lot of research about this in preparation for my trip. What I really wanted was for my HTC TyTN 2 phone to work in the US. Now, it's not too hard to get the phone component to work, although it's not cheap, but to get an Internet connection too (for email and sending messages on Twitter) costs a fortune. $20, Australia, per megabyte!

There are services that let you rent a SIM card, or an entire mobile phone, but they really only offer it for phone calls, not for an Internet connection - with one or two exceptions that are as expensive as me simply using my own mobile phone.

So what is one to do? I thought we were all hyper connected but I can't take my phone overseas and expect to use it without paying a mint.

My Solution:
What I finally have settled on, is renting a USB Wireless Internet card - from these guys. This will cost about $150 US for the fortnight, and give me unlimited data on my laptop. I'm going to try using Skype to make phone calls. I'm quite relieved to have found this solution, because I was beginning to get withdrawal symptoms simply at the thought of being disconnected from the Matrix for 14 days, during a really exciting time of my life.