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October 2006

School of the Future

I heard an interesting story on NPR recently about The School of the Future, a new high school that opened in West Philadelphia last month which is designed to give students the tools they need to excel in the 21st century.

And by "tools" they mean a fully connected learning environment that is constantly investigating new instructional practices to improve student achievement. To that end, it offers some of the most advanced technology offerings available, including:

  • a laptop and home broadband connection for every student
  • campus-wide Wi-Fi
  • student IDs embedded with smart chips that track attendance, open lockers and pay for meals (in 2007 they'll even track nutrition information for meals purchased there)
  • plasma screens and video projectors in the classrooms
  • an Interactive Learning Center offering streaming media content on a variety of subjects
  • a digital format for all paperwork and school assignments
  • access to digital cameras
  • special software for teachers to track students' attendance and progress, as well as adjust curriculum
  • a conspicuous absence of pencils, paper, textbooks, chalk and blackboards! (which are so old school)

What's also neat is that the school day itself more closely resembles the real-world workplace: it is project-oriented and based on appointments rather a traditional class schedule. Students attend a 7-hour day, but use software to schedule classes, meetings, meals and activities.

The school was first concepted in 2003, when Philadelphia School District CEO Paul Vallas pitched the idea to Microsoft, which subsequently dedicated a full-time staff member and a technology architect to the project, in addition to purchasing naming rights to the visitor center. The district itself put up the bulk of the cost -$61.4 million, which is a normal budget for area high schools.

The School of the Future will serve 750 students in grades 9-12, all admitted by lottery.  Over 98% of students are minorities and most live below the federal poverty level.  There are no academic or discipline performance required for admittance, but each student must apply to college in order to graduate.

This is such a great idea; hopefully more big business (and small for that matter) will find ways to donate time and materials for similar ventures.

Microsoft has a nice microsite dedicated to this particular project where you can take a virtual tour of the school.




Outsidein_1 Steven Berlin Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You, recently unveiled his newest project: outside.in.

It's a location-based site that pledges to "collectively build the geographic Web, neighborhood by neighborhood" by aggregating local information from blogs, online newspapers, discussion threads and government sites, among others.

Visitors start the outside.in experience by providing an address (street/city/zip or neighborhood) of interest and the site returns all the real-world conversations, discussions and news items (think restaurant openings, crime reports, open houses, little league scores...) about that area that it can find. It has a neat Google Maps-based dashboard that lets you "drive" through neighborhood streets and drill down on different locations to see what people are talking about.

The neighborhood data is limited right now, since outside.in is relying on user input to build out the content: visitors can submit stories or blogs for inclusion on the site, and provide relevant tags for indexing. Submissions are currently reviewed by an editorial staff, but outside.in plans to offer a public submission queue where registered users can approve new stories. 

outside.in is a clever site with a simple interface; it has the potential to be a sort of wikipedia for hyper-local content, and I'm interested to see how it grows.

Breast Cancer Awareness

October is dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness, a cause near and dear to my heart because my mother is a survivor.

So, I was particularly moved by a new campaign for BlueCross BlueShield of Massachusetts that broke this week, Isabel's Story. In the spirit of full disclosure, BCBSMA is a long-time client of my employer, PARTNERS+simons, and I participated in the campaign development. It consists of TV & radio spots, billboards, print, and online advertising, all driving to a microsite that houses a full-length video and links to various breast cancer resources and information.

While I'm proud of our efforts on the campaign, the real star of the show is Isabel, a local woman that was diagnosed with the disease at age 28, went through chemotherapy, and has been cancer-free for a year now. She is beautiful, confident, and strong, and was kind enough to share her story  not only with us but with all of the residents of Massachusetts. If you live in this state you'll surely see lots of Isabel in the coming weeks.

Isabel_centergraphicAnd you're likely to see a lot of other great cause marketing initiatives this month. Among them:

On October 2nd, Yahoo!turned its home page pink for the whole day in support of Estee Lauder's Global Landmarks Illumination Initiative -- the illumination of worldwide landmarks in pink lights to raise awareness about breast cancer.

Yoplait continues its Save Lids to Save Lives Annual Drive, with the goal of donating  $3 million to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Campbell's Soup replaced its ubiquitous red-and-white cans with pink and white versions and doubled sales of its top varieties at its biggest retailer, Kroger. Campbell's will donate $250,000, or roughly 3.5 cents per pink can, to the Susan G. Komen Foundation through Kroger in exchange for its doubled order.

As part of Shopintuition's Thinking of Pink promotion, they will donate a portion of proceeds to breast cancer research, and shoppers can get 20% off all orders this month using the promo code "awareness" at purchase.

Coach offers up its own pink accessories and donations to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation while Target has an array of products for the cause as well. And Kerry Purcell chronicles dozens more options to shop for the cure in a recent Boston Herald article.

Together, these initiatives (and many, many more) are building awareness and providing investments in much needed research, education, screening and treatment for this disease that affects roughly one in eight women in their lifetime. Think Pink. Pink_ribbon_1