A universal language

International space stationOver the holiday weekend I watched a few things that solidified my appreciation for mathematics and science.

For two nights in a row the international space station “flew” over North Texas at a rate of about 27,700 km/hr (or 17,210 mi/hr). It looked like a star shining across the night sky. I watched in amazement that this man-made machine was orbiting the Earth with people inside. We’ve forgotten how cool space exploration can be.

I also watched as a control room of rocket scientists (seriously) cheered as the Phoenix Mars Lander made it safely to the red planet. For fun I started to follow the Mars lander on Twitter to get updates from the mission. (Note: This is a clever use of the micro-blogging platform.)

Lastly, I enjoyed some Mythbusters on the Discovery channel. They do some very cool, fun, and dangerous stuff on the show.

All three of these led me to a common theme: We would be lost without mathematics and science.

Consider what Thomas Friedman says in The World is Flat in the section called The Quiet Crisis where he explains the areas in which he believes the United States is deficient:

Today, we should be concerned about the gaps in our education, infrastructure, and ambitions that threaten to weaken us from within…

We simply are not educating, or even interesting, enough of our own young people in advanced math, science, and engineering…

It takes fifteen years to train a scientist or advanced engineer, starting from when that young man or woman first gets hooked on science and math in elementary school. Therefore, we should be embarking immediately on an all-hands-on-deck, no-holds-barred, no-budget-too-large crash program for science and engineering education.

I want to encourage young parents to consider working through fears of math (especially word problems) or science confusion. Seek out the answers to your kids’ questions to light that intellectual spark early in life.

Of course, we keep in mind the right-brain tools as well, but consider what Jodi Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, in the 1997 movie Contact had to say: “Mathematics is the only true universal language.”

I’ll be encouraging my kids to appreciate math and science. I want them to know It will be ok to be smart. And who knows, maybe my kids or grandkids will be blogging from the moon.

New Media for School Districts

Being Social has its benefits!

How do you engage your district’s community?

How much do you rely on the traditional media to reach your community?
School PR people can have some fun with new media, but where does one begin?

There is a difference between talking to and talking with. It should be understood that social media, when applied correctly, like a conversation, is talking with a community.

New Media (or social media) can be categorized into 7 main types
[From Kami Huyse’s Communication Overtones blog: If the Shoe Fits…Social Media in Seven Boxes]

I. Publishing Platforms: These consist of platforms and tools that allow the author(s) to set the content of the initial offering. Most offer a way for others to comment on the content and include RSS feeds to syndicate the copy

II. Social Networking Sites: These sites allow users to interface by becoming friends and/or sharing favorites. They allow the individual user to have their own space, while also incorporating links and other connections to other users

III. Democratized Content Networks: These sites allow all users to contribute equally, usually with some sort of ability to vote for the best content, or to override, in the case of Wikis, previously submitted content.

IV. Virtual Networking Platforms: These often require third-party interfaces to participate (though some can be accessed through the browser), and consist of a virtual reality experience with other users.

V. Information Aggregators: These are publicly available, machine driven aggregators of niche content, usually with some human editing (such as adding RSS feeds) involved in the process.

VI. Edited Social News Platforms: These are sites where users recommend links and can make comments on the stories that make it through the human editors

VII. Content Distribution Sites:
Sites that allow the user create, collect and/or share content and distribute by providing RSS, code and/or e-mail options. Widgets would also fall into this category.

In School PR we can start by focusing on Categories I and II. (The others might have some school PR use and commenting on their uses is highly recommended.)

I. Publishing Platforms
Blogging – A school district official blog can be a great place to get the conversations going. Think of the district’s Web site as the source for information and a district blog as the water cooler, around which you engage in more of an opportunity for conversation

[Example from Mansfield ISD’s Your Mansfield ISD blog]

The basic idea behind the Your Mansfield ISD blog is that if your home is located within our district boundaries, our schools are your schools. And let’s face it – a school district is a large organization with lots of moving parts…Our goal with this blog is to simplify many of these complexities and also key you in on many of the great things that are going on.

Some considerations when starting a district blog: Do you have blogging policies/guidelines? Will commenting be turned on/off? Note: this one will make administrators nervous. What will you do if/when your staff decides to blog?

Podcasting – Podcasts from a school district can be integrated and, like blogging, become part of any effective communication plan. Many teachers are already using podcasting to engage students in and out of the classrooms. School PR people could explore this option at a district level as well.
[Example Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Off The Page Podcast.]

II. Social Networking Sites
For many school districts sites like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. are likely blocked from student/staff use because of potentially inappropriate content. In a few cases, sites such as Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, etc. are left open. I am not going to argue for or against any social networking site’s being blocked/unblocked at this point. But, when this opportunity arises I would encourage school PR people to explore the potential for district use. Consider creating a Facebook, Ning, or even MySpace profile for your school district.
[Example: Mansfield ISD uses Twitter: http://twitter.com/mansfieldisd, related post on districts using Twitter.]

These new media tools can be used to deliver relevant and useful content to communities in a format that is either already gained in popularity or continues to be on the rise. Either way, catching up or keeping up with social media’s impact on school communications is at least worth looking into or even worth jumping into with both feet.