Champions of Change Blog

  • Using Technology to Reduce Recidivism of Prisoners

    Brian Walsh

    Brian Walsh is being honored as a Connected Educator Champion of Change.

    Washington State spends on average $32,000 per year to incarcerate one offender.  Reducing the recidivism rate- the number of offenders who return to prison after release- is a vital part of correctional public policy.

    Correctional education is one of the most effective tools to lower the recidivism rate.  A recent meta-analysis by RAND found that offenders who participated in education programs while incarcerated were 43% less likely to return to prison and 13% more likely to become employed.  The Washington State Institute for Public Policy has found that adult basic education, post-secondary education, and vocational education programs, have a net return to taxpayers and society of at least $13 per $1 spent.  Prison education programs help offenders prepare for reentry and are effective tools in reducing future crime.

    As director of correctional education programs at Peninsula College, I lead our community college’s efforts to prepare offender students to be successful workers and citizens when they are released.  For over 30 years our college has partnered with the Washington State Department of Corrections to create meaningful programs in high-demand occupations. Washington State community colleges have been innovative partners for change in corrections education by providing access to quality adult, post-secondary, and vocational education that is responsive to workplace demands. However, as society has become more interconnected through the Internet and as technology has changed education, corrections education has struggled to adapt.

    For reasons of public safety and institutional security, most states do not allow adult offenders to have access to the Internet’s readily available resources.  My faculty and I have worked to replicate those resources by collaborating with agencies that provide open educational materials to the public.  We have created our own disconnected Internet that includes Khan Academy Lite, an offline version of Khan Academy; courses from the National Repository of Open Resources; and the Correctional Offline Educational Platform, a webserver providing offline access to thousands of important websites.  Our faculty is able to recreate the hybrid classroom of the modern community college by combining both face to face and online instruction. Our ultimate goal is to offer a flipped classroom through low-cost tablets that would take advantage of the time that offenders have, while reducing costs through the use of open textbooks and open educational resources. By finding ways to use technology safely within the prison we believe we can more effectively prepare offenders for release at a lower cost to tax payers.

    I like to tell people that we have some of the best students imaginable.  They do all their homework, even the questions that aren’t assigned.  They don’t interrupt class with their cell phone. They come to class wanting to be there and knowing that it is the best opportunity they have in prison for a quiet, meaningful way to serve their sentence.  But our students have committed some of the worst crimes imaginable.  And unlike the teacher who looks forward to visits from their former students, we do not.  Our hope is that by changing how technology is used in prison classrooms, our students will never come back.

    Brian Walsh, Director of Corrections Education, leads the offender education program for Peninsula College at two state prisons in the northwest corner of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula.

  • Bring Your Own Technology Advances Classrooms

    Heather Cox

    Heather Cox is being honored as a Connected Educator Champion of Change.

    As the daughter of two educators, I always understood the importance of education. Of course, as the daughter of two educators, I was also aware of the challenges in education. As a result, my path to teaching took a slightly curved route as I went to college and received my B.A. in Political Science from The Ohio State University. When my degree didn’t seem to “fit” my interests, I enrolled at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio to pursue my Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education.

    Upon graduation, I faced a struggling job market and decided it was the perfect opportunity to take a chance move south to Alpharetta, Georgia.  I spent my first eight years teaching at Medlock Bridge Elementary School in Johns Creek, Georgia. Here I began my work with technology integration, piloting the first Promethean ActivBoard in our building and joining Fulton County’s inaugural Technology Leadership Forum.

    Though an incredible school, the hour-long drive to and from work began to take a toll.  To begin the 2012-2013 school year, I transferred closer to home and landed at Crabapple Crossing Elementary School in Milton, Georgia. 

    As I began the new school year, my desire for technology integration in the classroom continued to increase. I again joined the county Technology Leadership Forum and attended my first meeting in the fall, where I had a chance to listen to Dr. Scott Muri, Deputy Superintendent of Academics for FCS, speak about how we could make a difference with technology in the classroom.  It was then that I knew I needed to start making some noise. The county was looking to expand their pilot of Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) programs and schools would be selected based upon their interest and initiative. With that, I returned to my school and started asking questions. Before long, the BYOT journey began at our school. 

    Like many new endeavors, the BYOT program was met with resistance.  Whenever people are faced with change, especially in a school, questions erupt.  Once we could bring in new technology to the school, we had to find ways to incorporate this with the instruction already in the classroom.  With the help of a team-teacher, I developed an after-school technology club for students to learn more about the devices we would be using in the classroom. 

    In addition, I began providing instruction and training for my team members to introduce them to new and different ways they could personalize learning for their students and transform their instruction.  As the 2013-2014 school year began, the BYOT pilot expanded to include our fifth grade and Talented and Gifted teachers.  Now, as a member of Fulton County’s first Vanguard Technology Team, I provide training and instruction for teachers, model lessons for other educators, and I continue my work as a fourth grade-teacher and grade-level chair. 

    However, the key to success with technology integration isn’t held within one person.  This White House Champions of Change program is honoring Connected Educators with the key to success in the word CONNECTED.  In order to lead any technology integration in schools, it is important to draw upon the connections – the innumerable incredible minds of educators near you and around the world.  The greatest gift technology gives us is the ability to be connected and expand our classroom beyond the four walls that surround us.

    Heather Cox is a fourth grade teacher in Milton, GA who loves finding new ways to inspire students, find each child’s gift, and incorporate technology into teaching.

  • Helping Teachers and Students Learn from Each Other

    Bud Hunt

    Bud Hunt is being honored as a Connected Educator Champion of Change.

    My journey as a connected educator started roughly nine years ago when I began blogging about my teaching practice.  I wanted to learn how to be a better teacher and how to incorporate the Web’s global audience and voice for my classroom of underprivileged high school students.

    Through the open Web, I rediscovered my passion for democratic education,  exploration and wonder,  the love of a good poem, and the right people to share it with.  I regained the power of connection with others around shared activities and interests. I was able to sustain myself as a passionate learner and help foster connections between my students and others all over the country.  What was new to me then, but is habit now, was the idea that somewhere out there was someone who could teach me something I wanted to know.  The challenge was that I had to find them.  

    Later, I would learn that what I was discovering about the power of interest-driven and peer-supported learning would eventually be known by some as Connected Learning.  My friends and colleagues at the National Writing Project and their network of local school-university partnerships that have been so essential to my professional development would call it inquiry-driven learning.  Whatever words we use, my experiences are like so many others’ who have taken to the Web - we  meet individuals who are similar and different from us, who will then help us to become better people.  

    When I left my own high school classroom to work with teachers and students in their classrooms, I noticed two distinct types of learners.  There were folks who saw a problem and responded to it with, “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out,” and there were those who, when faced with a problem, just decided to quit.  I came to realize that an essential job of any educator is to help people build the ability to solve problems on their own, and to  tinker their way to better situations for themselves and others.  That’s why I find myself more and more drawn to Maker communities, and to other projects and organizations that are helping to build capacity in others.  That’s also why I’m curious about how to cross-pollinate school spaces with non-traditional spaces like makerspaces.  We have a lot to learn from one another, and there are plenty of important ways that educators and non-educators (but still learners) need to be in connection and conversation.

    Technology, is often seen as an addition to the learning experience.  In the 21st century, in a time of Common Core State Standards, that is no longer the case.  Change is hard.  Doing right by our students and each other is hard.  Playing with the newest toys is easy, and can feel like change.  But is good instructional practices, like all good habits, take time and effort to develop.   The work of connected educators then involves helping learners to make connections to good tools and habits, and to break connections to the bad ones.

    I am honored to be named a Champion of Change.  I stand on the shoulders of those who have come before me, namely my teachers, students, and colleagues who have helped me to better understand myself and be a better learner.  Here’s to all those who work daily to ensure that our schools help us remember to be the best of ourselves, and to instill the values of democracy and public discourse that have been so essential to our growth and continued improvement as a nation. 

    Bud Hunt is an instructional technologist for the St. Vrain Valley School District in northern Colorado, where he helps teachers and students to thoughtfully apply technology to their interactions with the world and each other. 

  • Video: Veterans Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security

    Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Energy.

    Last week, Secretary Moniz joined other federal officials in honoring veterans that are working in clean energy and climate security at a "Champions of Change" event at the White House. The event honored 12 veterans that are using the skills they learned while in the service to help secure our clean energy future.

    Across the country, these veterans are making a difference in their communities, whether by launching new small businesses, advising large institutions on their energy efficiency strategies or providing education and training in renewable energy and energy efficiency to fellow veterans.

    The video above features a few of these veterans:

    • Joseph Kopser serves as the Co-Founder and CEO of RideScout, a startup smartphone app created to increase transportation efficiency by getting people out of their cars and into other public, commercial, and private options. A West Point and Harvard Kennedy School graduate, Joseph served in the United States Army for 20 years, retiring in 2013 as a lieutenant colonel.
    • Andrea Marr is a commissioning engineer at McKinstry’s Irvine, California, office where she advises large institutions on energy efficiency strategies. She served as a gunnery officer on two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and as a nuclear engineering officer during a third deployment.
    • Elizabeth “Liz” Perez-Halperin is the President and Founder of GC Green Incorporated, a green building general contracting and consulting firm. Liz also served in the United States Navy for over eight years as an aviation logistics specialist. GC Green is involved in an effort to broaden the outreach and impact of the green economy.

    Though these veterans have returned from active duty, their service to our nation continues here at home.

    Watch our latest video featuring highlights from the Champions of Change: Veterans Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security event and learn more about the Champions of Change program.

    Ben Dotson is the Project Coordinator for Digital Reform in the Office of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy.

  • Energy Storage Technology is Critical for Developing Secure, Dependable Renewable Power

    Adam Cote

    Adam Cote is being honored as a Veteran Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security Champion of Change.

    On December 21, 2004, I was in the mess hall in Mosul, Iraq when a suicide bomber attacked, killing twenty-two and wounding another seventy-two. Lucky to have been behind a large refrigerator, I was uninjured. In the pandemonium that followed I organized the treatment and evacuation of casualties and personally cared for numerous fellow soldiers. 

    When I returned from Iraq, I applied these skills as a quick thinker and problem solver in complex situations front and center to my work in the energy sector.

    My previous deployments to Bosnia and Iraq left me looking for ways to use my civilian career as an energy attorney to strengthen our economic and energy security here at home.  Coming from Maine, a state with some of the highest home heating costs in the country – yet some of the most incredible renewable energy resources – I started looking for a way to connect the dots between economic and energy security. How could we start integrating locally generated renewable power to increase our state’s energy security and reduce heating costs for families?

    In 2009, my business partners and I founded Thermal Energy Storage of Maine (TESM), a company dedicated to promoting the use of affordable, off-peak electric thermal storage technology as both an economical home heating solution for families and as a way to convert intermittently-generated renewable power into a stable, secure, and local source of power and heat. TESM promotes electric thermal storage (ETS) furnaces and room heaters, which consist of a super-insulated metal box with ceramic bricks and heating elements inside.  At night an automatic timer opens a circuit and the heater charges, converting lower-cost, off-peak power into heat energy stored in the bricks for heating homes and businesses. 

    Today our company works with Central Maine Power Company, Dead River Company, Madison Electric Works, Houlton Water Company and others to offer Mainers affordable, off-peak electric heating solutions that provide home heating at the equivalent cost of $2.25 to 2.90 per gallon of home heating oil. 

    Integrating renewable power into the U.S. power grid will require widespread development of energy storage technologies.  Today, plants using carbon-based resources, such as oil and natural gas, often maintain energy generation and load in a near-perfect equilibrium state. However, many renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, wave and tidal power can be intermittent and difficult to control to match load levels.  Energy storage offers a flexible and controllable load that can be available to handle renewable power deliveries whenever they occur.

    To use an Army colloquialism, energy storage is “good logistics” – it is a simple solution to a complex problem.   If we encourage and incorporate storage technologies in a variety of forms, we will make our entire energy infrastructure more flexible, efficient and secure. 

    Our company is dedicated to promoting the use of energy storage, and we are proud to add our voice to those calling for storage technologies to be recognized as a key strategic infrastructure goal for our country.

    Notification that I had been selected as a White House Champion of Change reached me at the Joint Forces Training Center at Camp Shelby, MS, where I was training with the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineering Battalion for our deployment to Afghanistan.  Although not able to attend the White House event in person, I am humbled and honored to be selected.

    Adam Cote is CEO and Co-Founder of Thermal Energy Storage of Maine and currently deployed as a Company Commander in the Maine Army National Guard 133rd Engineering Battalion’s Task Force Black Bear in Afghanistan.  

  • Clean Energy and Climate Change Are American Issues

    Robin Eckstein

    Robin Eckstein is being honored as a Veteran Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security Champion of Change.

    In 2003 I deployed with the 1st Armored Division, 123rd Main Support Battalion to Baghdad, Iraq as a truck driver. In Iraq, I drove supply missions in and around the Baghdad area. During that time there was no opportunity to reflect on the daily missions to deliver fuel to forward operating bases that left our convoys vulnerable to constant attacks. These forward operating bases were going through so much fuel that the convoys had to leave the safer confines of the main bases and put American lives at risk so that this dirty fossil fuel could be used up almost as fast as it was delivered. I realized there had to be a better way, but during war you don’t have time to worry about the “what ifs.”

    After returning home I decided to continue my service to the country by striving to make a difference in clean energy. In 2007 I began working on veterans issues with VoteVets.org. Then in 2009, the Truman National Security Project started a campaign called Operation Free, a coalition of veterans and national security agencies campaigning for comprehensive clean energy reform. This is where I found a true place I could make a difference and ease the pain of losing my chance to serve directly after being medically discharged from my combat disability.

    I boarded a bus with a group of fellow veterans from around the nation and we drove across the country speaking at hundreds of different venues, each time discovering that when a group of veterans discussed clean energy and climate change, it was no longer a partisan issue, but one that everyone in America could be concerned about. Whether it was a meeting at the Minot, ND, Chamber of Commerce or a VFW hall in Berkeley, MI, people could see the connections.

    Our message was amplified by the Pentagon’s move to take climate change seriously as a threat multiplier. The Department of Defense is taking the lead to help reduce that impact, because every solar generator that replaces a fuel-using one saves lives in a war by not having me or my fellow truck drivers dodging bullets to transport that fuel to forward operating bases.

    Bringing a no-nonsense message to the American people from honest war veterans proved that minds and attitudes could be changed. There has been a lot of forward movement on climate change and clean energy in the country, and there is more good work being done today. I know the changes the military is making now will mean fewer convoys being attacked because of the old fuel-guzzling ways of yesteryear. Not only did my fellow veterans and I make a difference by bringing the connection and the truth to Americans across the nation, but I also helped myself by continuing my service to my country and giving myself a reason to not let my disability win. I am honored to be a Champion of Change and thankful to all my fellow veterans that also spread the message on that big blue bus and the many others who helped along the way.

    Robin Eckstein is a veteran and a Truman Defense Council member living in Appleton, WI. 

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