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Archive for the 'Education' Category

Back to school with the World Wide Web

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005

September’s arrival marks the beginning of high school in Cambridge. This year, computer science is required for all 6th- 9th graders and available as an elective for 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students. With thirteen sections of computer science in my gradebook (only the elective class meets for a full five periods each week), I am starting off with a schoolwide investigation of online identity via email, IM, social networking, and blogging. From there, we break into three tracks based on experience and developmental need.

For the fall semester, 6th and 7th graders will be learning to make websites using XHTML, CSS, and a text editor. The final project for this track is an enormous web that links all of the students to each other. (See last year’s Cloud City for a reference.) Inevitably, they will discover something like Video Codes 4 U and inundate their projects with a half-dozen embedded music videos. My outsider artists reinvent design with every non-standard tag they type.

While the 6th and 7th graders begin to actualize themselves as online publishers, 8th and 9th grade students will be learning to use Photoshop, Audacity, and other media editing tools in a unit (tentatively) titled “A Little Cut’n’Paste.” They already have XHTML/CSS skills, so we will be publishing their products on the web as a final step. These students, especially 9th graders, will have regular reading and writing assignments relating to current legal and ethical questions surrounding this type of cultural (re)production. Born in the early 90’s with hip-hop, affordable PCs, fast internet, and MSPaint, the junior high school students at my school bring insight and a novel perspective to discussions of creativity and originality.

The high school elective track is already in full swing. Today, the class formed task forces to organize a student wiki and have already begun posting reflection pieces on their blogs. (Collecting homework via RSS is a joy – it’s all timestamped!) Once we lay a bedrock on the wiki, I’m sending the students into the junior high classes to teach mini-lessons on dokuwiki syntax. After that, it’s on to Craigslist and the yellow pages to search for free hardware. Our goal is to build up twenty free-as-in-free-pizza PCs by January.

Expect the focus of this blog to shift towards education over the next few months as I continue to spend most of my free time developing curricula. If you have any old beige boxes, displays, or NIC cards gathering dust in a closet, basement, or cubicle, please contact me via: driscollkevin TA (We are 501(c)3 so your donation will be tax exempt.)

In the meantime, reading about Mr. Babylon‘s first week back in the Bronx makes me appreciate the intelligent, caring students I am fortunate to work with each day.

Summer of Code

Wednesday, June 1st, 2005

Google is dedicating a million dollars to spark a Summer of Code. Student developers may apply to receive 5000$, five hundred of which will be given to a mentoring organization of their choice. If this is anything like DC’s Revolution Summer in 1985, we are in for some seriously exciting new projects!

Fort Culture raises the flag

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2005

Today, Fort Culture goes public. I hope that a resource like this will elevate the general online discourse around issues of digital rights. To achieve the depth and accuracy we want, we need as much feedback as possible. When you have a few moments free, browse some of the topics, find your area of expertise and leave some comments!

If Fort Culture piques your interest, be sure to investigate the other exciting projects Downhill Battle has been engaged with for the last couple of years.

(PS: For the technically-minded folks wondering why we didn’t base the site off of wiki software, we found that the deployment of a flexible WordPress install fit better with the user experience we hope to encourage. For example, as we delve further into link-streams, integrating with will be much easier.)

Slides from Free Beer/ Free Computers online

Sunday, April 3rd, 2005

Slides from my recent talk, Free Beer/ Free Computers are now online. Given during the second Cloud City exhibition at the Massachusetts College of Art, this talk offers a quick’n’dirty history of personal computing, an introduction to the hacker ethos, an attempt to demystify the guts of the beige box, and advice on building a useful PC free of cost. Interested folks can check the PDF at

If you prefer another format, by all means make a written request and I will do my best to support you. Try kevin AT kevindriscoll DOT info. Happy hacking!

Charter schools critized on misleading website

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

In the latest example of intentionally mis-leading domain names, the anti-charter school group Massachusetts Taxpayers for Accountable Spending (MTAS) registered to catch traffic headed for, home of the Massachusetts Charter School Association (MCSA)

. Although the MTAS insists that it seeks accountability and reform, it has hardly provided a mature argument opposing the charter school system. Text on the fake-out website promotes references to charter schools as “gravy sucking pigs” and suggests that the specially-focused public schools
are little more than unscrupulous money-making ventures.

“It’s most unfortunate that presumably responsible people have put this out there,” [said Education Commissioner David Driscoll]. “Our students deserve better than to have adults act this way.”– Charter school foe casts Web: Same-name site angers officials, Kevin
Rothstein, Boston Herald, 18 March 2005

So what next? Does MTAS have a legal right to operate a website that appears to have a clearly misleading domain name? Paul Schlichtman, MTAS site operator and former president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, cites protection under the First Amendment. “It’s reasonable to put up a Web site about charter schools with a domain
name that talks about charter schools.”

Still I remain unconvinced. Although clearly unethical, I am not sure if it is unlawful. I suppose it depends on whether the MCSA previously sought trademark protection of its domain. In any case, it is disheartening to think that public discourse over the future of our state’s public education should find itself suddenly so deep in the aforementioned “gravy.”