Helping building skills to help students be successful in work and life

See this Blog Post at: http://www.microsoft.eu/skills-and-education/posts/atc21s-defining-21st-century-skills-cm3l.aspx

In January, Microsoft participated in the largest gathering of Ministers of Education in Europe and around the world at the Education World Forum.  At the forum, discussion of ensuring our students have the right skills to compete in this global economy was top of mind.  In partnership with Cisco and Intel, with the leadership of University of Melbourne we had the opportunity to participate in two ministerial exchange sessions.

During these sessions, the Executive Director, Patrick Griffin gave an update on the progress of the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills Research Project, Singapore and Australia highlighted how they are engaging in the project and hope for how the project will influence the work they are doing in their countries and lastly the ministers discussed what are the policy, curriculum and professional development implications of implementing these new types of assessments and teaching interventions in their countries. At the American Educational Research Association Conference in New Orleans the team presented tasks and learning progressions to help students 11, 13 and 15 years old progress in competence in collaborative problem solving and ICT literacy-learning in digital networks.

The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project is focused on defining 21st century skills and developing ways to assess them. By achieving this, the project aims to promote the teaching and assessment of twenty first century skills at government, school system, school and teacher levels. By collaborating with other large employers, the companies aim to influence employer hiring strategies to emphasize these skills among new employees. By placing the assessment materials and technical components in the public domain and by making them available to large scale survey strategies, the project aims to influence a broad range of countries by publishing cross national studies of student attainment in twenty first century skills. These three approaches to the transformation of education, government involvement, company employment criteria and cross-national assessments of skill levels will act as a multi-pronged stimulus to curriculum change and enable schools to prepare students for living, working and thinking in the twenty first century.

There are many international and national assessment programs, assessment organizations, NGOs, businesses, research centers and individual researchers working on the specification of 21st century skills. This collaboration does not presume that one form of assessment should be imposed on every community. The goal is not to develop one assessment format. Rather, it is intended that there will be support for conceptual, methodological, and technological advances in assessment that can support the parallel efforts of many organizations and countries. It is expected that the assessment and teaching process developed within ATC21S will provide an exemplar framework that countries and organizations can use or draw upon with confidence. The project also aims to help inform the development of the next versions of cross national benchmarks such as PISA and IEA ICT assessment, as well as other international and national assessments in the next three to five years.  Already PISA has called for tenders to develop both the assessment and delivery platform for one of the ATC21S skills (Collaborative Problem Solving) under development.

The project has been planned to consist of 5 phases:

  • Conceptualizing the program and the development of a series of white papers
  • Hypothesis formation and development of the assessments and teaching and learning strategies
  • Coding and administration development
  • Trials of the assessments and teaching and learning strategies
  • Dissemination of the output to the greater education community: providing assessment tasks, teaching notes, developmental learning progressions, research papers, and technology to support the classroom as an open and shared source, with everything to be open to the public domain for use.

The project is currently at the coding and administration development phase and hope to enter the trials phase in the end of  the calendar year 2011.  In discussing with the ministers in London, the excitement around this project is three-fold:

  • No one has to date defined learning progressions for these 21st century skills. The learning progressions define levels such as the progression from novice to expert.  For example what is a novice, moderate, expert at collaborative problem solving?  Assessments to monitor developing competence and the relevant teaching interventions are needed to help a student grow in competence (and perhaps confidence) in order to demonstrate higher levels of performance and competence.
  • Today, most large scale cross national testing programs (e.g. PISA) results take a number of months’ or even years delay’ to provide feedback to systems, teachers and students. In addition they generally do not provide information to teachers on how to intervene or help students develop to higher levels of thinking or competence. Most formative assessments require teachers to observe, rate performance (often on very poor quality rubrics) and then decide on how to intervene. The rubric and the judgment error involved have led to a loss of credibility for this form of assessment, sometimes because of human error but also because of the poor quality of the scoring rubrics. The goal of this project is to create an automated system that as the student is doing the assessments the teacher is notified regarding learning intervention and students receive instant feedback. The project also intends to “background” quantitative data that educational jurisdictions can collect in order to make summative decisions at a system level. The systems will be able to identify the areas in which cohorts of sub groups of students are struggling and make appropriate curriculum change decisions or promulgate investments to increase effectiveness and efficiencies. These decisions will be able to be made in a much reduced time frame.
  • This is an international project with researchers and teaching practitioners working in 4 founder countries and possibly 3 associate countries. It will create an international standard and help encourage the learning environment needed to teach 21st century skills.

Principals and teachers at Finnish schools have realized the need for moving towards more innovative practices in order to support children’s growth as 21st century learners. However, at the school level the development efforts have – so far – mainly rested at the enthusiasm of single teachers. The ATC21S project aims at conceptualizing 21st century skills and even more – to design assessment and learning tasks for their promotion at schools. – together with the ITL research. The participation in the project finely complements our national attempts at systemic changes in our educational system in close international collaboration among schools, universities, companies and educational administration. (The project has also intensive links to Finland’s participation in ITL research aiming at understanding and enhancing innovative teaching practices.), Professor Marja Kankaanranta, NPM, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

To learn more about the ATC21S Project, please visit http://www.atc21s.org; participate in the linked-in community; contact the Executive Director Patrick Griffin or Microsoft Lead Rane Johnson-Stempson.  To learn more about our work with governments around the world visit: Education Leadership Website

Related content

Australia continues to think outside the box

So today, I had the opportunity to host an Microsoft Executive Briefing with the leading eLearning Companies in Australia.  I am so excited by what I learned and what it means for education across the world and specifically in the new five years.  I would like to share with you some thoughts and hope it challenges other governments to think BIG like Australia and I can only hope we in the United States will learn from their lead and follow suite.

In April 2009, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the government would commit A$43 billion (US$30 billion) to building a broadband network across Australia, calling it “the single largest nation-building infrastructure project in Australia’s history” and promising it would play a role in “turbo-charging Australia’s economic future.” He likened it to Australia’s 19th-century cross-continental railroads—an investment that linked the nation’s sparsely populated inland to its coasts. Considering the economic stakes for Australia, which had lagged behind other nations in broadband access, Rudd said the nation had to bypass private bids to build the broadband network and fund the network through public spending.  In other words, every Australian citizen will have access to state-of-the-art fiber broadband. The social and economic impact of this will be enormous.  The new superfast network will:

  • connect homes, schools and workplaces with optical fiber providing broadband services to Australians in urban and regional towns with speeds
    of 100 megabits per second – 100 times faster than those currently used by
    most people extending to towns with a population of around 1,000 or more
    people
  • use next generation wireless and satellite technologies that will be
    able to deliver 12 megabits per second or more to people living in more
    remote parts of rural Australia
  • provide fiber optic transmission links connecting cities, major
    regional centers and rural towns
  • be Australia’s first national wholesale-only, open access broadband
    network
  • be built and operated on a commercial basis by a company established
    at arm’s length from Government and involve private sector investment
  • be expected to be rolled-out, simultaneously, in metropolitan,
    regional, and rural areas.

Every person and business in Australia, no-matter where they are located, will have access to affordable, fast broadband at their fingertips.  This then leads to what can this mean for education and truly student centered learning.  Education without walls that really enables anytime, anywhere learning 24/7.

What excited me the most is the amazing work happening by the eLearning Companies and the hope I have of them coming to the US market and supporting countries around the world.

B online Learning: http://www.bonlinelearning.com.au:They have an amazing Master eLearning Course where they help companies think through their employee professional development, build customize eLearning programs and look at a comprehensive approach.  All their courses are delivered as fully interactive eLearning and collaborative programs with students supported by a Learning Coach.

Kinetic Education: http://www.kineticeducation.com.au: Focusing on literacy and numerous with an amazing line up of eLearning for Math, Science and English.  If we think about in early learning when students are learning the basics and then they don’t
receive competence but move on to the next grade level and then they continue to fall further and further behind.  Their online learning solutions help students get back on track.

Mediasphere: http://www.mediasphere.com.au/: One of Australia’s largest digital publishers they have eLearning solutions for corporations, governments and education.
I was most impressed by their Powerhouse CAMPUS solution it is much more than just a LMS.  And I hope to see their solution plug into Office 365 for Education very soon…

Training4Work: http://www.trainingforwork.com.au/I love what they do in 1:1 training for employees at companies focusing 3-4 weeks 1-2 hours structured coaching sessions with assessments and training.  At the end of the employees training 50% of the credit goes towards 3 year Bachelor Degree Programs in top Australian Universities.  I can really see the potential once they take this online and use powerful virtual tools like Microsoft Lync to connect trainers with students 1:1 virtually.  With the work I have done in Hawaii, I can see this being a great programs for several of the tourism and retail companies.

Open Universities Australia: http://www.open.edu.au: I love this concept! They work with 18 different universities across Australia and when a student enrolls at Open University they select one of the Universities as the University in which they will receive their diploma and follow program guidelines but a student can take a class from any of the 18 partners if they see a class that may meet his/her needs better.  Everything is online with super high quality classes and professors from the 18 universities.

I wanted to thank the folks for the time they spent with me and I do love Auzzies!

Another area I learned about was the work an Australia NGO is doing in the USA, Australia and with European Schoolnet and 38 countries in the EU creating a Global Learning Resource Connection. This will map education resources, curriculum, learning, national standards and assessments.  You can learn more here-http://www.jesandco.org/weblink-cat-ourprojects/web-cat-glrc
It is super powerful and amazing work.    I am really excited about the possibilities in education in the next 5 years.  Where Australia will go, the innovations in education and how the career training and academic online learning worlds will collide with the need for countries to be more competitive and help students with the skills to be succesful in work and life.  The power of Microsoft Azure, Xbox Kinect and Windows Phone 7 to
help companies like these scale their solutions so they can be utilized all over the world in different modalities and not just in Australia or a few places in the US.  I hope the USA can become as innovative as Australia!  Can we make the jump to scale and not just pockets of innovation?

ATC21S Calling all Crowd Sourcers

I have the pleasure to help spupport an effort to enable 21st century skills learning and assessment in schools and countries through a partnership with Cisco, Intel, Microsoft and the University of Melbourne.  Learn more about the project at http://atc21s.org

The ATC21S project is developing new forms of assessment and teaching approaches to meet the demands of the 21st century. One of the areas of interest is the assessment and teaching of collaborative problem solving. The goal is to deliver the assessment strategy through open source automated assessment technologies that can alert teachers to the appropriate learning intervention and give instant feedback to the students in order to improve their collaborative problem solving skills.

This is being done to capitalise on the effect of increasing availability of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and the fact that it has changed the way that people access and use information and collaborate to solve problems. Education systems are changing the way they respond by encouraging and instilling in students the skills necessary for collaborative work.

Since the start of the ATC21S project, the University of Melbourne Project Office has received hundreds of requests from individuals and organisations to become actively involved and contribute to the project. Thus far we have not been able to fully accommodate such a large number of requests.

On 5th April 2011, ATC21S will launch a Crowdsourcing Challenge (hosted by innocentive.com) to make use of the talents of those interested in contributing to the goals of the ATC21S project. The prize up for grabs is $US20,000. “Crowdsourcing” or “open innovation” are terms used to describe the use of work done by the public at large.

The Challenge is to create software module required for assessment of collaborative problem solving skills in schools. ATC21S envisages a multiplayer Flash game template & GUI that can export process log-files that describe user actions to other software modules which will eventually be part of the system. A range of open source and proprietary software is currently available for developing collaborative gaming scenarios. ATC21S anticipates that code from existing software could be adapted for this Challenge. To receive an award, the successful Solvers will not have to transfer their exclusive IP rights to ATC21S. Instead, they will grant to ATC21S non-exclusive license to practice their solutions. Any winning software will be will be in the public domain and able to be used freely by educational users in the development of assessment tasks.

More detailed information about this challenge including how to participate will be available at:  The InnoCentive website: https://www.innocentive.com/ar/challenge/overview/9932750
The Economist website: http://ideas.economist.com/challenges

I hope you are interested and please share with friends, colleagues, researchers and other innovators and help us transform education and support countries around the world to help skill up their citizens.

Kodu Game Lab: helping inspire the next generation of young game developers

The schools and universities of today are faced with a difficult task – making sure that the students of today are ready to solve the problems of tomorrow using tools and technologies that are either under development or do not currently exist.  Enabling the next generation of entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, engineers, and workers in general requires teaching young people to be self-driven, experiential leaners vs. passive receivers of knowledge.

When thinking about preparing students for the next generation of jobs and building national competitiveness, policy makers should think about learning environments that are different from traditional desk, pencil, paper and one computer shared among many students.   Students want to learn in the ways in which they work and play; the educational experience must therefore reflect a much richer technological experience, and be accessible wherever and whenever students can engage in learning.   Building these modern innovative learning environments requires new thinking about how best to reach students in an information rich-world.  There is a new trend of gaming in education that is taking students by storm and engaging them in their education in new ways.  Students as young as six years old are creating games with fellow students and trying to solve world problems in a fun engaging environment.

I am excited to announce that the full release of Microsoft Kodu Game Lab, a free fun tool that lets kids from the age of 6 upwards to build their own video games. Kodu helps kids develop real-world skills by encouraging them to analyze a problem and develop a solution. It also promotes Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  But most of all it’s fun!

In addition, we are also announcing the US Kodu Cup, a competition for kids aged 9-17
years old to win great prizes by creating their own video games.   Submissions close:
May 10, 2011 and Winners announced: May 25, 2011.

Learn more about Kodu, watch this fun video  Watch the Kodu Video

Chuk Mung Nam Moi! Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy New Year!

Chuk Mung Nam Moi or Gung Hay Fat Choy or for the English speaker Happy New Year!  The Chinese calendar, which resets each year in late January to mid-February, is one of the  most ancient calendars in the world. According to legend, the Chinese emperor  some 4,000 years ago held a race to figure out the sequence of animals in the  12-year cycle of his new calendar. The rat came in first by hitching a ride on  the ox’s nose and jumping over the finish line at the last possible moment  (crafty!). The rabbit was fourth, so we are currently in year number four in the  cycle.  Chinese astrologers are projecting “quiet, positive and inspiring” things to come along with the Rabbit.  Rabbit years are generally an  excellent time for arts, culture, world diplomacy and focusing on the family, which sounds good to us. But let’s get to the real deal, friends. What will our love lives look like for the rest of the year? In a word: sweet. The Year of the Rabbit is all about sensitivity and letting your love life unfold with patience.

As I lack patience this will be a great year for me to work on an area of improvement and hopefully the wise rabbit will rub off on me. Chinese New Year is one of the most important festival’s of the year for Asia.  In my words it can be summed up as a focus on family, culture and renewed hope and new beginning for a prosperous life, crop, job, family, etc.  So take some time today to celebrate your family, culture and new beginnings!

Education World Forum- ATC21S Update

 

Last week, Microsoft participated in the largest gathering of Ministers of Education in Europe and around the world at the Education World Forum.  At the forum, discussion of ensuring our students have the right skills to compete in this global economy was top of mind.  In partnership with Cisco and Intel, with the leadership of University of Melbourne we had the opportunity to participate in two ministerial exchange sessions.  During these sessions, the Executive Director, Patrick Griffin gave an update on the progress of the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills Research Project, Singapore and Australia highlighted how they are engaging in the project and hope for how the project will influence the work they are doing in their countries and lastly the ministers discussed what are the policy, curriculum and professional development implications of implementing these new types of assessments and teaching interventions in their countries.

 

The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project is focused on defining those skills and developing ways to assess them.  By achieving this, the project aims to promote the teaching and assessment of twenty first century skills at government, school system, school and teacher levels. By collaborating with other large employers, the companies aim to influence employer hiring strategies to emphasize these skills among new employees. By placing the assessment materials and technical components in the public domain and by making them available to large scale survey strategies, the project aims to influence a broad range of countries by publishing cross national studies of student attainment in twenty first century skills.  These three approaches to the transformation of education, government involvement, company employment criteria and cross national assessments of skill levels will act as a multi-pronged stimulus to curriculum change and enable schools to prepare students for living, working and thinking in the twenty first century.

 

There are many international and national assessment programs, assessment organizations, NGOs, businesses, research centers and individual researchers working on the specification of 21st century skills.  This collaboration does not presume that one form of assessment should be imposed on every community. The goal is not to develop one assessment format. Rather, it is intended that there will be support for conceptual, methodological, and technological advances in assessment that can support the parallel efforts of many organizations and countries. It is expected that the assessment and teaching process developed within ATC21S will provide an exemplar framework that countries and organizations can use or draw upon with confidence. The project also aims to help inform the development of the next versions of cross national benchmarks such as PISA and IEA ICT assessment, as well as other international and national assessments in the next three to five years.  Already PISA has called for tenders to develop both the assessment and delivery platform for one of the ATC21S skills (Collaborative Problem Solving) under development.

 

The project has been planned to consist of 5 phases:

1.      Conceptualizing the program and the development of a series of white papers

2.      Hypothesis formation and development of the assessments and teaching and learning strategies

3.      Coding and administration development

4.      Trials of the assessments and teaching and learning strategies

5.      Dissemination of the output to the greater education community: providing assessment tasks, teaching notes, developmental learning progressions, research papers, and technology to support the classroom as an open and shared source, with everything to be open to the public domain or use.

 

The project is currently at the coding and administration development phase and hope to enter the trials phase in the second half of calendar year 2011.  In discussing with the ministers in London, the excitement around this project is three-fold:

  • No one has to date defined learning progressions for these 21st century skills. The learning progressions define levels such as the progression from novice to expert.  For example what is a novice, moderate, expert at collaborative problem solving?  Assessments to monitor developing competence and the relevant teaching interventions are needed to help a student grow in competence (and perhaps confidence) in order to demonstrate higher levels of performance and competence.
  • Today, most large scale cross national testing programs (e.g. PISA) results take a number of months’ or even years delay’ to provide feedback to systems, teachers and students. In addition they generally do not provide information to teachers on how to intervene or help students develop to higher levels of thinking or competence. Most formative assessments require teachers to observe, rate performance (often on very poor quality rubrics) and then decide on how to intervene. The rubric and the judgment error involved have led to a loss of credibility for this form of assessment, sometimes because of human error but also because of the poor quality of the scoring rubrics.  The goal of this project is to create an automated system that as the student is doing the assessments the teacher is notified regarding learning intervention and students receive instant feedback.  The project also intends to “background” quantitative data that educational jurisdictions can collect in order to make summative decisions at a system level. The systems will be able to identify the areas in which cohorts of sub groups of students are struggling and make appropriate curriculum change decisions or promulgate investments to increase effectiveness and efficiencies. These decisions will be able to be made in a much reduced time frame.
  • This is an international project with researchers and teaching practitioners working in 4 founder countries and possibly 3 associate countries. It will create an international standard and help encourage the learning environment needed to teach 21st century skills.

To learn more about the ATC21S Project, please visit http://www.atc21s.org; participate in the linked-in community; contact the Executive Director Patrick Griffin or Microsoft Lead Rane Johnson-Stempson.  To learn more about our work with governments around the world visit: Education Leadership Website

Value of your Network

So I love this great idea from my friend Oscar Trimboli, an amazing individual from down under in Australia.  If you have not met him, you must http://au.linkedin.com/in/oscartrimboli.  His great idea is to give back to your network.  They take time to help you and you should take time to give them a little something back.  So I want to share with you some amazing individuals, great books and movies I have enjoyed.  As you can see I have been working a little too much and not watching enough movies.  My plan is to update my blog significantly over the holidays and catch up with the 1 year of quietness…  enjoy

People:two people I admire and hope I can someday change the world as much as them

Jacqueline Novogratz: Jacqueline totally inpsires me that people can take their talents and make great things happen!  I hope someday I can change the worls as much as she does!  She is the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund. Prior to Acumen Fund, Jacqueline Novogratz founded and directed The Philanthropy Workshop and The Next Generation Leadership program at the Rockefeller Foundation. She also founded Duterimbere, a micro-finance institution in Rwanda. She began her career in international banking with Chase Manhattan Bank.

Rich De Lorenzo: I absolutely love rich and so excited he is part of my life.  He is an amazing induvidual, with an amazing heart who will change the face of Education in the United States and hopefully the world.  If everyone followed their passion as much as Rich, the world would be significantly different and every child would reach their potential!  Rich co-founded the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC), whose mission is to help other educational systems reinvent themselves so that every child has the opportunity to achieve his or her dreams. DeLorenzo has been instrumental in the comprehensive transformation that has yielded phenomenal results in both academic achievement and the transitional skills. The Chugach School District was the only K-12 district to receive the New American High School Award and one of the first to receive the National Malcolm Baldrige Award. Community standards linked with state and national standards, effective instruction, meaningful assessment, and a strong accountability system has been at the forefront of this reform effort.

Books: three books who help me want to be a better person and help better the world

Leaving Microsoft to Change the world: I love this story and hope someday my paths cross with John!  I can’t wait to see where a Room in Read goes in the future…John Wood discovered his passion, his greatest success, and his life’s work–not at business school or leading Microsoft’s charge into Asia in the 1990s–but on a soul-searching trip to the Himalayas. Wood felt trapped between an all-consuming career and a desire to do something lasting and significant. Stressed from the demands of his job, he took a vacation trekking in Nepal because a friend had told him, “If you get high enough in the mountains, you can’t hear Steve Ballmer yelling at you anymore.” Instead of being the antidote to the rat race, that trip convinced John Wood to divert the boundless energy he was devoting to Microsoft into a cause that desperately needed to be addressed. While visiting a remote Nepalese school, Wood learned that the students had few books in their library. When he offered to run a book drive to provide the school with books, his idea was met with polite skepticism. After all, no matter how well-intentioned, why would a successful software executive take valuable time out of his life and gather books for an impoverished school? Leaving Microsoft to Change the World chronicles John Wood’s struggle to find a meaningful outlet for his managerial talents and entrepreneurial zeal. For every high-achiever who has ever wondered what life might be like giving back, Wood offers a vivid, emotional, and absorbing tale of how to take the lessons learned at a hard-charging company like Microsoft and apply them to one of the world’s most pressing problems: the lack of basic literacy.

“Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan” I  wish I had the courage to put my life in danger to make the amazing sacrife and changes iMortenson does.  He is the author of the most popular recent account of a part of the world at the center of American foreign policy. His views will influence how voters react to President Obama’s efforts in Afghanistan. However distasteful he finds the word “terrorism,” Mortenson makes no secret of his disgust with the Taliban. The heroes of this book are 14 riders, loaded with AK-47s, their horses “short legged and shaggy and iridescent with sweat,” who came across the Irshad Pass to Pakistan in 1999 and begged Mortensen to build a school in their remote part of Afghanistan. The school was built, and at the end of that struggle the author
saw their triumph as a path to peace for all. “They had raised a beacon of hope that called out not only to the Kirghiz themselves, but also to every village and town in Afghanistan where children yearn for education, and where fathers and mothers dream of building a school whose doors will open not only to their sons but also to their daughters,” Mortenson writes, “including– and perhaps especially — those places that are surrounded by a ring of men with Kalashnikovs who help to sustain the grotesque lie that flinging battery acid into the face of a girl who longs to study arithmetic is somehow in keeping with the teachings of the Koran.” After some initial reluctance, he embraces the U.S. military as part of the effort to bring education to children so unimaginably far from civilization. Soldiers provide personal donations and transportation of materials for some of his projects. But he  puts most of his faith in the Afghans themselves, particularly those who persuaded him to build more schools. He says they can crush the Taliban and overcome the country’s old cultural biases against educating girls. Mortenson
may be unrealistic, but the past decade of his life has been one improbability after another. It is unfair to expect him to lose hope now. He wants the United States to stay and help his friends save their country. He’s on a roll, and he doesn’t see why he can’t carry everyone with him.

The Joy of Living: Unlocking the secret and science to happiness: I had the opportunity to do a workshop with Rinpoche, love him.  Great insight, great understanding and he taught me to give my monkeymind a part-time job.  Love it- you will need to read this book to understand what that means!  The next generation of Buddhism is creative, cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary. Born in 1975 in Nepal, the author is among the generation of Tibetan lamas trained outside of Tibet, and he’s also a gifted meditator.  His brain activity has been measured during meditation, earning him the enviable sobriquet of “happiest man on earth.” He fuses scientific and spiritual considerations, explaining meditation as a physical as well as a spiritual process. Mingyur Rinpoche knows from experience that meditation can change the brain. He experienced panic attacks as a child that he was able to overcome through intensive meditation. If diligently practiced, meditation can affect the “neuronal gossip”—his imaginative rendering of brain cell communication—that keeps us stuck in unhappy behaviors. The meditation master offers a wide variety of techniques, counseling ease in practice to avoid boredom or aversion. Less is more; practice shorter periods more often, he says. His approach will be especially welcome for anyone frustrated by meditation or convinced they’re “not doing it right.” This book is a fresh breath from the meditation room, written with kindness, energy and wit.

Movies:that make you think how do we need to change our life and how to appreciate the cards that you have been dealt!

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire The power of teachers to transform people’s lives and how we all can help others to see their value and be contributors of society. In Harlem, an overweight, illiterate teen
who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.

Up in the Air Do we work too much and miss the important things in life?  How do we ensure there is more meaning.  With a job that has him traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him.

CoCo Avant Chanel: you can do anything you put your heart soul and dream that no one can stop you. The story of Coco Chanel’s rise from obscure beginnings to the heights of the fashion world.

Hello world!

So after almost a year of not blogging, I am back!  I promise to have at least a monthly update.  My first blog will be about my first year in my new role and what I have learned and how I have been inspired.  My next post will be about some amazing people I have met on the way.  I hope for my new blog will inspire people to change the world based on what motivates them and I hope tehse stories will inspire you.  Good-luck and let me know what I can change and how I can make this blog better.  Thanks!   Rane

Christmas a time for family

Well, yesterday was one hectic day.  Greg and I got up to head over to his Granmother Dot’s for CHristmas lunch at the Astor House.  We joked, talked and gave her Christmas gift.  Her Friend Olive joined us, who is a spitfire at 99.  She had already headed out with family for a morning breakfast in Newburg and then rushed back to make sure Dot was okay and not eating alone.  Wonderful lady who also taught in a one room school house in the midwest.
Next stop was to my Godfather RB and his wife Jan.  It was great to see tham and they are still volunteering with St. Mary’s Cross country ski team.  This is the 9th year!  What dedication, plus it makes it so they can’t take vacations.  RB is off on Jan 4th for a 3 week bike tour through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  He is crazy as they average over 100 miles a day and that is tough on normal roads.  Imagine that on dirt and rough roads.  We also met RB’s Mom who is up from San Louis Obisbo.
After that we headed to my brother’s new house to celebrate Christmas with the kids and my Mom.  Love their new 5 bedroom 2.5 bath house.  They are very happy and each kid has their own bedroom now, very exciting when you are 5,3, and 9 months!  My Mom of course had to do all the cooking but my brother threw is some Vietnamese Steak from the grill to mix in with the Turkey and dressing.  Never a dull moment at the Johnson’s.
We missed Pam, Gordon, Bryan, Christina, Gordy and Lily as they were celebrating in Seattle.  We will see them next week when we begin our house hunting in Bellevue.  USA here we come back home and now this blog will get a little boring as I will only have monthly escapades around the world and not weekly.  Happy Holiday’s All and hope 2010 brings much joy and happiness in your lives.

A special day for an amazing lady

Born January 22, 1920; Passed December 13, 2009.  On Wednesday, we spent celebrating the life of Helen Pattee.  Greg’s grandmother that raised him while his parents worked.  Helen was an amazing lady who taught in a one room school house in Iowa.  Could you imagine our teachers today, teaching and cooking breakfast and lunch for all their students.  I loved hearing the stories of how there was always plenty of food at Grandma’s house, fresh from the garden.  That explains why Pamela (Greg’s mom) always cooks way too much food.  Grandma Helen was so sweet and called me Greg’s little angel.  Jim, Greg’s cousin Gina’s husband lead a very nice service and rounds of sharing.  He also read Greg’s letter to Helen before she passed away.  Pam picked a great Poem, I would like to share:
 
Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye
 
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am gentle autumn rain.
 
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
 
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die!

Return to a car driving family

So we caved, our 3 year no car family has come to an end.  Yesterday, we purchased a car the new 2010 Lexus 450h.  So the good thing we will be a 1 car family and my goal is to ride my bike to work or take the Microsoft Commuter.  We got a Hybrid to do the best to the environment as possible being a car family.  It is also 4 wheel drive so we can head to the mountain and go snowboarding and cross country skiing.  It is super cool the cruise control can sense the car in front of you and keep the distance between the two cars, so no more slamming on the brake when the dork in front of you slows down.  Also, as a Microsoft Tech Geek it has many super cool tech geek features…. LOVE IT!  Below is a good review I found on the 450h from 4 wheeler magazine:
 

We just returned from a day in northern California testdriving the new Lexus RX 450h, and as you might expect, it’s a rolling encyclopedia of new-car tech. We’ll do our best to explain it all in thumbnails, but suffice to say, it’s a capable and civilized alternative to your run-of-the-mill crossover rigs.

The heart of the RX is the time-proven Toyota 2GR 3.5L V-6 (a variant of which Lotus will be using next year on its GT4 Supersport race cars), which has been refined for this application with the addition of an EGR system for improved emissions and cooling, and an exhaust heat recovery system to aid in quicker heat-up times (i.e., cold-start conditions). The motor also runs an Atkinson-style combustion cycle (the power stroke is longer than the compression stroke), which helps to achieve greater fuel economy and thermal efficiencies at the expense of horsepower. How to remedy? In the RX’s case, two ways.

First, the gas engine works in concert with Lexus Hybrid Drive, a battery-actuated hybrid system similar to Toyota’s (Prius) Hybrid Synergy Drive. The Lexus system can be run for brief periods at high speeds as well as at idle (and during braking) to provide an extra power boost as needed, such as on steep inclines or for passing. In the new RX application, the battery can provide an extra 50 horses to the V-6’s 245, resulting in 295 peak hp at 6,200 rpm. Second, the engine is mated to an electronic CVT transmission. We’re not too keen on these "pointless" gearboxes, but we do know that they have fewer internals to break, are less expensive than a conventional slushbox, and can keep an engine revving in its "sweet spot" longer than fixed-gear transmissions. Add everything up and you arrive at an EPA-estimated 26 mpg on the highway, 28 city, from a V-6 powertrain that is amply powerful, frugal, and super-clean (SULEV-rated) in operation.

The heart of the RX’s all-wheel-drive system is "Active Torque Control," which utilizes a pair of electric motors–one to power the front wheels, the other the rears, each housed in a gear-driven transaxle–to provide front-to-rear torque bias. The RX operates under normal conditions as a conventional front-drive. When wheel slippage is detected, the system activates an electromagnetic clutch-drive coupling device bolted to the rear differential to transfer power, front to rear, at splits of up to 55/45. (A third electric motor under the hood acts as a starter to power the batteries, and can recharge the other motors as needed.) An onboard power inverter boosts battery voltage to 600-plus, and converts the juice from DC to AC to drive the electric motors. Have we lost you yet?

The RX’s suspension is independent at both ends–the rear double-wishbone configuration a new feature for 2010–with two-mode onboard shock tuning for sport/touring functions, and standard wheels are 18-inch alloys, with 19s optional. Ground clearance, at under 7 inches, is less than optimal, and our tester’s 55-series Michelins, while sure-footed on pavement, don’t lend much sidewall for dirt duties. Thankfully, the Lexus’ interior is what you’d expect from this marque, with its trademark wooden steering wheel and leather everywhere. Shucks, this thing’s nicer inside than my house! (It’s probably worth more than my house is by now, too, but that’s another story.)

Picture of Greg and I, the salesman Dave and our new girl…

December Server BG Leads Offsite

This was my last trip in CEE as the CEE Area  IT Pro Lead.  It was a very fruitful discussion around Mid Year Review and H2 Planning.  We had great discussion and sharing of best practices across the region.  The amount of work and creative marketing that these teams can do with such little resources is amazing!  I also had the opportunity to have a great discussion with Gabi.  He is our BG Lead in Romania and he is finishing up his MBA and we had a very interesting discussion on the subject of Influence, Power and Authority.  I had an opportunity to have my last discussion  with my IT Pro Leads in Slovakia and in Czech Republic.  Radim allowed me to volunteer him to present IT Pro execution from Czech Republic.  I will miss Radim and Peter it has been a great experience with them both. 
 
On the last day we had an opportunity to take a walking tour of Bratislava, Slovakia.  This is one of my favorite cities, such rich culture, stories and absolutely cute village!  Did you know that Bratislava was the capital of the Hungarian-Austrian Empire.  Let me give you some facts on Bratislava from their tourist website.  Known as Pressburg to German-speakers or Pozsony to Hungarian-speakers, Bratislava got its present name only 90 years ago.  But the city has a long and proud history that dates back to pre-Roman times.  The hillsides on the edge of the city have been home to vineyards for centuries, and close to Bratislava are wine towns where you can taste the best – and it is startlingly good! – that Slovakia has to offer.  In the city itself there is plenty to see and do.  Bratislava’s long history – as home to Celts, Romans, Germans, Hungarians, Jews, and of course Slovaks – means there is an impressive range of architecture, languages and cuisine.  The handsome homes of the Austro-Hungarian noble families who built palaces here dot the city, and many of them are now open to the public as museums and galleries.  The castle, with its long and chequered history (it has been destroyed more than once), is now undergoing a major restoration.  There are great views over the mediaeval old town and the Danube valley from its fortifications.  Bratislava was once one of the most important centres of Jewish learning in Europe.  A unique memorial to its most renowned rabbi, the Chatam Sofer, and the city’s Museum of Jewish Culture celebrate this heritage.  Communism too left its mark: across the river, the unmistakable ranks of concrete housing blocks – paneláky in Slovak – line the horizon, with the unique UFO-style New Bridge in the foreground.  The Danube River itself is, of course, one of the city’s main assets.  There are several cafes along its banks, within walking distance of the centre.  The ‘UFO’ itself contains an eponymous bar high above the river.  The pedestrian decks of the New and Old Bridges are good places to watch the river traffic, including huge Danube barges, glide past.  Alternatively, you can take to the water yourself: daily hydrofoil services link the city with nearby Vienna.  A succession of four- and five-star hotels have opened in the city over the past few years and quality accommodation is now readily available.  There are also more cheap options than ever before, with several backpacker hostels in the centre of town.  Big pop acts often play concerts in Bratislava, while the Slovak Philharmonic and the opera and ballet of the Slovak National Theatre regularly put on world-class performances.  Numerous restaurants offering international cuisine – from Slovak to French to Argentinian to Japanese – and excellent local beer and wine fill the city centre, alongside lively bars, lounges and clubs.  If, having enjoying the food and drink, you feel like walking – or biking – there are almost unlimited opportunities in the forested hills to the north of the city, or along the Danube to the south, where inline skating is also very popular on the scores of kilometres of traffic-free paths.
 
Some pictures of my last trip.  I love you guys- please stay in touch and do amazing things in Microsoft Central Eastern Europe!  See you in Redmond or MGX!

CEE Christmas Party and BMO Party

It was my last hoorah with the CEE Team.  To end the year we headed to good old downtown Unterschleissheim to play pool, have some drinks, blow off some Rhythm of the Business Steam and watch Bayern Munich win finally 4-0!  Good times!  Why is it when you are too solber you are horrible at pool but once you have just a beer or two you become fabulous!  The a couple days after our BMO (Business Marketing Operations Group) party we had the whole CEE headquarters party.  It was a great little place at Middle Ring in downtown Munich.  Great food, great conversation and fun dancing to end the night.  It was an amazing ride for 3 years, I will truly miss the people, the culture, the countries and the experience.  Some prictures of great friends for life below. 

BMW Driving School TeamBuilding

So I participated in one of the best team building activities ever with my team.  We went to the BMW safety driving school in the pouring rain last Friday.  What an experience!  As much as I have a thrill for speed, it truly taught me how we drive way too fast as a society!  The great thing as everyone knows Greg says I already have 2 strikes against me- 1 being a women and 2 being Asian but to my surprise I did quite well in the driving school activities.  You wouldn’t even believe in the final times solemn race, I placed 3rd behind Claus (does race driving in Porsches) and Marin (my Croatian buddy).  Not bad out of 10 people.  We learned how to steer and brake properly, no more smooth braking-SLAM ON THAT BRAKE!  Did you also know our US teachers are wrong it isn’t 10 & 2 to hold the steering wheel but 9 & 3!  The most fun was we took off the DTC and drove 45km/h in a circle in the pouring rain, was quite scary but learning how to over steer and under steer… Here are a few of the pictures from the day, if you can do it- I would highly recommend it.  They also have an off road school with the X5-how fun that would be!  I will miss my CEE Server Team extremely, amazing good drivers!

EMEA EXPO

I get more amazed by this company every year.  A couple of weeks ago I had the great opportunity to join some of my Western Europe High Potential colleagues for a training in a three day training in Amsterdam.  The amazing accomplishments, stories and insights from these 90 people was a fabulous experience.  To also have Microsoft invest so much into us helps me feel proud that the company truly understands its asset is its people.  I would be more than pleased to work for any of the people I interacted with over the three days.  In these three days we focused on bring out our voices as leaders and what is critical in empowering our people and teams to be great!  So many of the things you know but when you get caught up in the execution and everyday hustle and bustle you forget!  I truly enjoyed our trainer, Martinuzzi, Bruna.  If you have never engaged with her, you definitely should.  Her energy was contagious and her insights into your soul quite perceptive.  I love my learning circle!  You are probably thinking what is a learning circle…  It is a great program in which you have 5-6 of your peers question you through a challenge your facing until you come up with the right solution to solve it.  You are not supposed to give advice but in the end a little advice is shared and with the years of experience in different parts of the business it is great to get a fresh mind to help you overcome blockers you are giving yourself.   It is unbelievable in the short amount of time how much trust you build and how much you can share with strong amazing people.  My guys are great and we will meet again in February in Barcelona, one of the most fabulous cities in Europe!  After the training, my husband joined me for a nice relaxing weekend in Amsterdam.  I do suggest coming in the summer not winter- it was really cold!  A few pictures of the festivities…

 

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