Open World Learning -- FANTASTIC education non-profit

Sunday 07 September 2008 at 22:24

I volunteered in the summer program for OpenWorld Learning at Creekside Elementary. According to the OWL mission statement, "OpenWorld Learning supports children's school success by tapping the power of digital technology and peer teaching to ignite a love of learning and leadership." What they're actually doing is education reform through a compelling use of computers. I also think they're an outstanding organization.

As you read this next quote from their site, please know that this isn't just a marketing blurb. They're actually doing it.

Students ... learn advanced technology skills that include animation, Internet research, multi-media presentation and computer programming. They learn these skills by creating projects in MicroWorlds - a child-friendly, multimedia authoring tool and computer programming language developed at MIT. It is striking to see the creativity and ingenuity of our students as they use the MicroWorlds computer programming language to create personally meaningful projects in art, animation, multi-media presentation, interactive software and game design.

This is computational thinking. They're using MicroWorlds logo and teaching elementary-aged kids to program. If, like me, you were introduced to programming on an Apple II, logo is a lot more than turtle graphics. Here's an extended excerpt from an email I sent them in August:

I first learned about your program as a volunteer in a Challenge Math program at Columbine Elementary here in Boulder. In the Spring of 2007 they were considering your program which eventually opened up at Creekside instead.

In May 2007, I emailed Chris Meyers. He replied about 5 minutes later, copying Lysa who in turn replied again in less than an hour. It took me a week to email again, but Lysa replied again that same evening. I visited Western Hills Elementary a week after that. Only two weeks from my initial cold-call to my first introduction to your program and the two weeks of delay were entirely due to my schedule.

My next contact with your colleagues was at the 2008 Impact Awards dinner in April where I learned about the summer program scheduled at Creekside. In early June, I contacted Christi -- having lost track of my original emails with Lysa. Christi forwarded my email to Lysa about 30 minutes later and Lysa replied to me the same afternoon copying Kate. Within a few days I had an employee handbook and application forms in my hands. The background check took about a week. That Friday I joined you at Mi Casa for a MW Workshop where I was immediately able to help create a micro-lesson. The following week I worked my first day in the program at Creekside.

I've done a fair bit of volunteering and you folks are by far the most organized and responsive organization with which I've ever dealt. For that matter, you're way ahead of the commercial businesses I encounter too. I'm completely impressed just from an organizational standpoint. Your speedy communication demonstrates a genuine respect for my time and I sincerely thank you all for taking me seriously from the outset. It's pretty inviting to work with you. I also appreciate that even as a volunteer you gave me an employee handbook -- that set clear expectations, and also invited me in as a member of your staff. These are simple things, but they really made an impression on me. The way you brought me into the organization made me take my own role more seriously, too.

I very much enjoyed my time in the program this summer and look forward to finding a way to remain involved. Please share this applause with the rest of your organization if you think that's appropriate. I genuinely appreciate the work you're doing and the way you're doing it.