Sack Lunch Productions & Lessons for Students

I’ll admit, I am late to the party with this unbelievably ingenious company who specializes in bringing the…party…to your home city. I’m writing this on the morning of Stamford’s first Slide the City event, a subsidiary of Sack Lunch Products who deploy not only the 1000ft water slide party, but also the Dirty Dash and Lantern Fest. They’ve picked up steam with media lately and for good reason. If you’ve read this blog at all, you’ll know I am a huge fan of companies that make everybody involved a winner. I mentioned Campus Job as one such example, and SLP is just another. The biggest reason is their ingenious franchising model for their various events. To understand why this is so intelligent, and to potentially provide a lens to examine real-world intelligence for students, let’s dig a little deeper into how the process works.

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Infrastructure

SLP’s staff is actually tiny. They basically have a small sales team, a web developer, a materials manager, and a media person. For a company whose trade is to host enormous in-person events, this is unheard of. They achieve the goal by leveraging each host city’s local resources to deploy the events. The company scouts each location, choosing cities with enough local Parks and Recreation infrastructure to recruit volunteers and sponsors for the event. When it locates a city, it makes the pitch and allows the city to purchase a one-day franchising deal from the company. They provide materials, branding, and media support, as well as the actual slide, and the town does the rest. It allows them to keep their overhead costs incredibly low for an in-person event. It’s quite amazing.

Revenue Model

The way the company makes money is through a standard franchising agreement, which basically include a one-time fee and royalties on revenue gained through the event. With such a low overheard cost of operation, this company needs very little from each event to be hugely profitable. The events themselves charge riders between $15 and $45 for anywhere between a single slide or unlimited slides.

Everyone’s a Winner

Why is this such a great deal? It makes everyone a winner. The company wins because they make money doing something that makes people smile. The cities win because they also make money doing something that makes people smile, since they get to keep a portion of the revenue they earn through the event. Finally, the consumers win because they get to have an unforgettable experience for exceptionally cheap, and they also generally get to have fun at the larger series of events that cities tend to organize around Slide the City, like live music, farmers markets, and such.

I’ll be off to our city’s first event in just a few hours, but I have learned quite a lot already from examining their great model. I hope you did too!

BLC15 Conference Roundup and CS50

It’s time for another excitement-packed conference roundup. This time, I packed a bag that was far smaller than anything my fiance could possibly condone, and made my way to Boston for Alan November’s Building Learning Communities conference. Remarkably, there was no issue getting here. If you’ve read any of my previous posts on how fortunate I am on my travel adventures, this is quite a surprise. I think the curse must be limited to airplanes. That is, until I arrive to the hotel, which I was lucky enough to be staying in during a fire that broke out at 3AM during an National Science Teachers Association conference a few years ago. Minor hiccup.

After arriving at 11:20 and checking in as fast as possible, I made it to the Technology Leadership workshop run by Shawn Fortin who remarkably resembled a spartan-racing, probably more funny, Horace Mann principal version of Jimmy Fallon. I suggest that he create a version of his school’s morning announcements called “Early Morning with Shawn Fortin”. It even rhymes with Fallon. The session on leadership focused on a lot of big picture ideas that many schools forget about during large-scale implementations of anything, but in this case the lens was technology. At the forefront of these were these first two steps towards sparking change:

  1. Develop a shared vision – This is something that your staff not only understands, but also believes in and is willing to do.
  2. Share leadership responsibility – To get people believing in the same vision, it helps to involve them in its development (duh, but this is forgotten too often).

The rest of the steps actually don’t matter if these first two aren’t accomplished, because any great leadership initiative or plan requires execution, which is impossible without a staff that shares the vision and feels empowered with responsibility. I would have liked to see a few more details about how to make these things happen, as they’re difficult, but it certainly was a good thought-invoker.

After a quick lunch at the most confusing Au Bon Pain I’ve ever seen, Erin Klein’s session on inspiring creativity was next. It started with a reading of a children’s story which was remarkably well practiced. If you don’t know already, Erin’s work presenting at conferences across the country has rightfully made her a bit of a superstar at these types of events, and her presentation skills and delivery represent those of an outstanding speaker. While this session was geared towards elementary and middle levels, and I have a bile-inducing repugnance for teaching that age, I still think her advice was applicable in spawning curious questions in students who may have lost interest for various reasons. We eventually migrated to a dutifully heavy story about a discussion revolving around child abuse and the song “Alyssa Lies” which had maybe quite a bit of gravity to it, but furthermore proves the effectiveness and impact of a teacher brave enough to dive into such extremely sensitive issues like abuse, bullying, and others. As a series of anecdotes of students being creative, the session worked, however after around 30 minutes I think the point was made and as a secondary teacher, I was ready for some more content specific to that grade level.

Following this I began to search for places to eat dinner in Boston. After a Facebook query turned up great results, a quick google search revealed a place that specialized in my favorite charcuterie: The Salty Pig. After a short walk through the rain, I made it, and quickly took up residence at the bar. We have places like Barcelona in Stamford that will serve this type of food, but the Salty Pig was clearly a specialist in meat and cheese boards. The giveaway was the unbelievable compliments of their homemade mustard and pickles, which were amazing. I might go back for lunch.

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Yep, I took a picture. Yum.

After an uneventful evening in the hotel which threatened to extend my travel curse, I woke up excited for the main reason I came to this conference: the sessions on CS50 with Dave Malan. Before I even got to the sessions, I was blown away by Blake Copeland’s identical experience to mine as someone looking to learn how to code. The difference was he was in high school and nobody at the cathedral of learning he went to could help him achieve his goal. It was a fantastic talk.

Then came the main event: a three hour session on the world’s greatest blended learning product, CS50. If you don’t know, this is a Harvard introductory computer science course only in disguise: the real gem beneath it is the quality of technology utilization on display at all corners of this program. The online content supports are ridiculous thorough, comprised of full-length lecture videos, brief problem walkthroughs, relevant literature, a complete code reference on class material, and fully developed problem sets for each week of the course. The in-person structure is also as it should be. CS50 doesn’t echew the sage-on-the-stage model: it embraces it, turning the classroom into a stage for Dave Malan’s emphatic and energetic lectures, and settling for nothing less. Then, it takes these lectures, whose replays are all available online, and extends them through a robust office hour and recitation schedule bolstered by a teaching staff of over 60. Last, because of the quality and scaffolding present in the curricular material, enhanced by educational technology being utilized by this outstanding team, the course is able to treat the humanity in its content to multiple culture-building exercises, such as CS50 Fair, Puzzle Day, and Hackathon, all of which are in-person, all of which build social skills and all of which foster collaboration and interpersonal relationship building. In short, literally every single teacher on Earth can learn a thing or two from CS50, from technology novices to the most seasoned wizards. I myself will be off to the CS50 AP bootcamp in a few weeks to get trained on implementing this at the high school level, something I am excited for.

Oh, and I went back to the Salty Pig for dinner a second time. It was that good.

Why The Women’s World Cup Is A Victory for American Schools

It’s been a nice little break from writing on the blog here: always have to take some time to refresh after a school year is over. Now that July is upon us I’m back, and it’s time to talk about one of the most unbelievable performances I’ve ever seen on a soccer field. I’m talking about the US Women’s victory over Japan in the World Cup.

Congratulations to the US Women for their victory - via Reuters

Congratulations to the US Women for their victory – via Reuters

It’s not a secret that our Women’s Soccer Team has been one of the best teams in the world for a long time. While it used to be a very small field of competitive teams back when the Women dominated in the 90s, the scope is much more fierce now, with teams like Germany, Japan, Brazil, and England all fielding title challengers. The field was also recently expanded from 16 to 24 in this year’s event, another great sign. The reasons for this of course are both increased funding for women’s programs across the world as well as improving TV ratings for the event. The causes of both of those phenomena are not to be overlooked, because they signal a victory for both our country and specifically the American school system. Title IX legislation has been in place for 43 years now, and we are continuing to reap the fruits of that labor.

If you’re not aware, Title IX grants equal opportunity by law to women in education and sports. To oversimplify it: for every men’s athletic team there must be a women’s athletic team at a public school or university. While funding gaps do still exist with amenities and such, the truth is that the United States is a world leader in gender equality in athletics, if only because it’s mandated by law and completely ignoring the outstanding accomplishments of our women on the athletic fields. Since Title IX’s inception, female participation as increased 545 percent at the college level and over 1000 percent at the high school level nationwide. Focusing on Soccer for a moment: the United States have won the Women’s World Cup three times, the most of any nation. Comparisons to the men’s team are unfair, mainly because the country as a whole started late on what is truly the world’s game, but it does prove an emphatic point that as global leaders of the sport for one gender we’ve won three world cup championships, and as followers for the other gender we’ve earned none.

But there’s more about soccer that is not apparent to the average observer that must be underlined. First of all, unlike many sports, the rules of the game for men and women in soccer are identical. Unlike every other major sport, there are no differences between the men’s and women’s game. The effects of this are apparent when you watch the way the teams play on the field. In this year’s rematch of the last World Cup Final, Japan’s tiki-taka style reminds you of the $1B value of Barcelona FC. The Americans’ defensive and steely approach reminds you of this year’s English Premier League winners Chelsea. The point is these women are not playing their own game: they’re playing the game that everybody already loves, and when it comes to gender equality, that fact is crucially important and something our school systems directly address. They may not receive the same resources in many college-level programs, but women’s teams are treated the same way, celebrated the same way, and coached the same way as our men’s teams. Our schools make an effort to celebrate female athletes and the dividends are apparent on the world stage.

Perhaps most apparent is, once you understand that Soccer is identical for men and women, the level of pure skill displayed by the american team this past sunday was awe-inspiring. I’ve grown up playing and watching soccer: the third and the fourth goal scored by the american team are goals that the men’s team would simply be unable to do. Lauren Holliday’s volley looked simple, but it only looked that way because her technique in taking it was flawless. Carli Lloyyd’s performance resembled that of the legendary Diego Maradona, but her goal from half field is not only the greatest goal in women’s soccer history, but it surely lands in the top 5 goals every scored by any human. Her half-field lob was not an accident – and the fact that she executed it well enough to complete her hat trick was a feat I’m not sure anyone on the Men’s team will ever match. These two goals demonstrated that not only are women being encouraged legally and socially on the athletic field, but the time spent training and honing their skills are paying off in big ways for the United States.

Our country’s gender gap with professional sports is still pronounced, and personally I watch more men’s sports because they’re generally at a higher level of play than the women, or the rules of the women’s game make it more boring or tame. Soccer is different though, and if we proved anything last night, it’s that our women might simply be better players than our men. I’d love to see the women’s professional soccer league get a real boost, because the MLS is decidedly poor quality, but who knows what will happen there. What I know is that last night’s world cup win over Japan started 43 years ago with landmark legislation forcing gender equality on our athletic field. That legislation was targeted at the place it knew where it could take a real foothold: America’s schools. That’s why it wasn’t just a victory for the players on the field yesterday, but a celebration of everyone involved in the athletic training of our outstanding female athletes.

 

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