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Author: Liam

Agile Unschooling, Week 2

This week did not go as well for @liam.


I did the same as last week, set a bunch of intentions for throughout the week before our 10:00am set-the-week mtg, but this week I’ve been terrible at completing things.


Partially I think I set my sights too high, intended to do too many things.  Last week was perhaps so successful because I managed to finish everything every day, so the momentum built up.  This week, I fell behind pretty fast and did not have much motivation to catch up.


So, next week, fewer intentions!

Agile Unschooling, Week 1

Whoohoo!  We start Agile Unschooling with eight people total.


We have our first meeting on Monday, October 12.


I rearranged my Trello kanban board to have column for each day of the week, instead of just one for “today.”

It went really well and I felt super accomplished at the end of most days and the end of the week.


Picking things from the backlog and spreading them our over the week made it look like I had so much stuff I was going to do, but so little on each day.  Keep in mind that I have about 4 hours of repeating daily stuff that’s gotta happen every day.


It was great.


At our end of the week reflection meeting, only two people were present in addition to myself.  We had a nice checkin, talked about our blogs, set loose intentions for the weekend, and did ∆-up.

Outreach Emails

Since we’re a nonprofit, sometimes super nice people at big and small companies are willing to donate or discount their goods or services for us.

I just Emailed a company about this very thing.  We’ll see what they say!

If writing a similar Email, this here example might be helpful to you.



Hey (support lead) and (ceo),
I’m writing to you from Agile Learning Centers, we’re a small group of schools where kids can direct themselves and their own learning in a supportive environment using agile tools and practices.

Two years ago we were one school, then two, then five, and now ten.

With everything that we do across the schools and within them, we have a huge focus on creating shareable value so that others can benefit from our work.  Our students asses their own work and share it through keeping blogs instead of getting graded on simple tests.

Over the summer, a number of facilitators collaborated on writing an ALC StarterKit to share what we’ve learned from starting schools and to provide an outline for starting a school as an ALC, if the reader is so inclined.

Since we put the StarterKit up online for free this summer it’s been downloaded over 175 times in 28 countries.

Naturally, having that kind of attention creates a lot of Emails, which is why I’m writing to you.

Would you consider sponsoring us with a license to use Groove?
We’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and half our facilitators work as volunteers because of their dedication to the work.  The good people at Slack were nice enough to sponsor us earlier this month, so we’re really excited about the potential of the Groove/Slack integration.
Right now we have about 8 people on the back end that would need accounts, and paying for Groove is way out of our current budget, but from all of the other systems we’ve looked at (Zendesk, Salesforce, Insightly, CiviCRM), Groove seems to be the best.
Having a solid help desk system would be huge in helping us focus more on work, and less on Email.
Thank you for your consideration,
Liam Nilsen



Groove, the team-email software I was reaching out to, didn’t end up sponsoring us with software.  But personally I think that’s because of a company policy, not because of a poorly written outreach email.

Display Full Names on Slack

If everyone’s weird user names confuse you (they confuse me), you can set it so that you see every users full name instead of their “fun” username.  In Slack, go to ​Preferences​ > ​Message Display​ > ​Message Options​ then check the box to show real names.


Step 1

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 11.08.22


Step 2

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 11.08.58


Step 3

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 11.09.13



The default on Slack is now set to automatically display full names.  If you wish to see usernames instead, follow these same directions.

Agile Unschooling – Starts Tomorrow!

I wrote up this whole READ ME document for the Agile Unschooling project.  It outlines the whole plan. It outlines the whole plan for how we’ll start.  Two months from now I’ll rewrite it with everything we’ve learned from the experiment.


Setting it up on the site

On the Agile Unschooling webpage, there’s some basic info about what the project is.  Then there’s a button that leads to the READ ME document.  Underneath that there’s a line of text that asks you if you’ve read the READ ME doc.  When you check the little “Yes” box, the button that leads you to the signup page appears.  This is achieved through setting up an HTML field in the Gravity Form editor, then setting conditional formatting (under Advanced) that only shows the HTML field until “Yes” is checked.  See below:

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 22.05.25




To hide the Submit button that appears on all Gravity Forms, I added a Hidden Field and labeled it “KludgeToHideSubmitButton.”  In the Form Settings, I added a line of conditional formatting that hides the submit button if the “Kludge” is ____.  Since the kludge is hidden and you can’t iteract with it, there are no possible set of circumstances that will change it and show the submit button, so it’ll never appear.   See screenshot below.

I reverse-engineered this solution from the Tuition Slider found on most ALC tuition worksheet pages.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 21.59.30







Give it a try!





Here’s the code to make those cool buttons.

<div style=”text-align: center;”><a id=”ttfmake-1413919479″ class=”ttfmake-normal color-black-background ttfmake-button” style=”color: #ffffff; font-size: 20px; font-weight: bold; padding: 10px 14px; border-top-left-radius: 3px; border-top-right-radius: 3px; border-bottom-right-radius: 3px; border-bottom-left-radius: 3px; background-color: #ee3342;” href=”http://URL goes here/” target=”_blank” data-hover-background-color=”#e5e5e5″ data-hover-color=”#000000″>Button title goes here</a></div>


You can change all sorts of things like what color the button is, what color the text is, what color the button is when your cursor is on it, what color the text is when your cursor is on it, the size of the button, etc.  It’s pretty simple HTML, so try reading the code and playing around with it if you want to make a button.


I’ve been having fun playing with the ALC logo lately.  I was sitting on an airplane a few months ago and I sketched out a whole bunch – I’ve been meaning to upload them for ages.


Here’s one I just made for ALC Asheville website I’ve been scheming.  A site that would talk about the various ALC things going on in Asheville. . . because there a two such things.


Visit to the Great Northeast

Visit to the Great Northeast

I went on a somewhat unexpected trip to the Northeast a few weeks ago.  Unexpected because typically at this time of year I’d be at Endor, but with Endor not happening on-site this semester I’m free to travel around doing computer work remotely.  Yay! (see Agile Unschooling)

My old friend, housemate, and former co-worker at Endor and Not Back To School Camp, Brenna, was heading up to Vermont for NBTSC, so I jumped on board to visit the Yankee states.



The first stop was Philadelphia, where I had hoped to visit my friend Margie Sanderson at the Philly Free School.  Unfortunately the school was closed that entire week due to Pope Francis’ visit the following Saturday.  “Pope Week.”
On the way back down to NC a few weeks later we stopped in Philly again.  I got to see Margie and talk Free School, but didn’t have time to visit the school.  I’m always careful to choose my words talking about Unschooling or Agile Learning with people from a conventional-school background because I don’t want to make it sound like I’m judging their path.  I found that talking with someone who works at a Sudbury type school requires even more tact, at least when talking about ALC.  Margie was really interested in ALC stuff, but from what I understand the Philly Free School has a great culture and isn’t looking for more tools/practices/collaborators.  So, every time I pointed out where ALC does things differently than a Sudbury school, I felt like I was judging Margie’s schools philosophy.  I don’t know that she took it that way, but I’m making sure to be extra tactful next time I discuss ALC stuff with DFS folks.



I went on to Connecticut to visit my parents and sister, who’s the first in the family to go to high school.  My adult brother (it’s his birthday today!  Happy Birthday, Ingmar) and I were/are Unschooled to this day.  As is she, in a certain way.  My sister chose to go to high school after spending a year at Beacon, a Northstar Network School in New Haven.  The school she goes to now is called Wright Tech – a state owned trade school that they just spent $91,000,000 renovating.  Unfortunately, it seems like they blew the whole pot on facilities and spent about thirty minutes on Craigslist looking for their “teachers.”

I’ve always been hesitant to judge what goes on in a conventional school since A) I’ve never been, B) free daycare is a great social service, C) I have great respect for teachers and what they set out to do.  That being said, every single thing my sister tells me about her school makes me think of one thing.  Looking through the lens of the hallowed 3rd root of ALC, the media is the message, she paints a picture of high school being a place where throughout their day they model the routines and rules of a prison.  They’ll do things like write down 25 of the United American States, but if they go over 25, they get points taken out!  What in the world.  Pretty clear 3rd root lesson there is to DO WHAT YOU’RE TOLD.

I suggested to my sister that she start a student union; that she put together a simple document to spread around the school to build text messaging lists, and then take action through a strike, sit-down, walk out, etc.  My sister’s school is only on its second batch of students since reopening renovated, so the student body is about 150 strong.

She was worried about what most prospective union organizers are.  She said the staff would say “you’re being disruptive, we’re going to expel you.”  I told her that wouldn’t happen if she had a strong union presence behind her.  I said “. . . the school isn’t there so that teachers can have jobs, it’s there so that you can get educated.  It’s not there for them, it’s for you.”  And now I can’t remember exactly what the context of that statement was, but I thought it sounded good.  So there it is.
As of now, my sister is not starting a union.  But we’ll see.


When I was a teenager, I played with the idea of going to high school.  The one reason I wanted to go was to organize.  I wanted to start clubs for like archery, I wanted to start a union to improve the rights of high school students, I wanted to start a spontaneous non-romantic speed dating session during lunch, I wanted to run giant games of Assassin.  Like the movie Rushmore.
So, in short, ALCs are my ideal “school” because they’re set up like a student-organizer’s dream space.


New York

After some time in Connecticut, I went to NYC to attend Maker Faire.  There I saw @failspy and @douglasawesome exhibiting Galactic Nemesis.  I also saw my old friend Jay Silver present on “Casual Inventing,” which he summarized by saying “. . . the invention muscle is more like a sphincter than a bicep.  You’ve just got to relax and let it do its thing.”  I work with Jay as the community manager at his company JoyLabz.  Jay is an incredibly well educated and smart person, who despite having attended a huge amount of school, is all about Unschooling.  Jay creates hardware with Unschooling-type philosophy embedded into them – things that get you to look at and interact with the world in different ways.  You might be familiar with Drawdio, or Makey Makey, or Singing Fingers.

After Maker Faire I went over to @abbyo’s where @drew and I played with the pattern function on Illustrator, which eventually led me to make this awesome Trello board backdrop.  Which I will gladly show you how to use, but likely not ever blog about.



The next day I visited ALC NYC!  Whoohoo!  It was great.  It was super cool to meet all the students and to work IMG_1318jam with lots of other ALFs.  Six ALFs, all in the same place, wow. In alphabetical order: @Abbyo, @abram, @bear, @drew, @liam, and @ryanshollenberger were all present.  I felt very welcomed by all the students as well.  Some were curious about who I was and why I was there, but mostly people just accepted that I was there and didn’t think much of it.  No one was shy or nothin’, it was great.  I had a bunch of work to do on Agile Unschooling, so after participating in the student led spawn point and setting intentions with them, I sat down and did some writing.

IMG_1325I walked in on a discussion about ALC Network governance with @bear and @drew which was pretty interesting.  I really loved being in a place where I could just stumble upon that happening. So much energy at that ALC.

I also really loved the space.  Made me think about how things would have been different at Endor last year if we had had a place like that.  Huge windows, lots of different rooms, tons of couches, lots of tables and work stations and stuff, a three minute walk from Central Park. . . ugh.  So good.

Got to watch the latest episode of my favorite sci-fi cartoon Rick and Morty with @failspy.

I ended up having such a good time that I stayed the night to attend school the following day as well.  And then I got to see @tomis, too!  Yay!

Then I went to NBTSC and presented on ALC, more on that next time in:


Endor Fall 2015

Become a CyberALF!Network-Orbit




Alright, I’ll keep this brief because I really just want to write this up for the ALF newsletter Drew is sending.


Due to a number of factors that I’ll expand and reflect on more later, Endor won’t be operating as your typical ALC this fall.


Instead, we’ll be prototyping a kind of Agile Unschooling.  A way for those at home, either Unschooling, or Homeschooling, or Colleging, or what have you, to use the Agile Tools and Practices at home.


We’ll meet regularly online via Google Hangouts to set intentions together, collaborate on projects, and hold each other accountable to our intentions.  This opens us up to have participants (what you might call “students”) and facilitators (CyberALFs) from all over the country/world!


I’ll be visiting Unschooling writer/Legend Grace Llewellyn’s Not Back To School Camp this fall to do a workshop on ALC, aaaand, recruit motivated Unschooled teenagers to join in on this experiment.


How you can get involved

You can become a CyberALF!  If you’re interested, put your name down on this Trello card.  You can also join the #Slack channel agile-unschooling, if you’re on the #Slack, to be a part of the conversation.

If you’re a student, you can join us!  You can join us from your ALC if you want.  Click here to signup to be a part of this flagship internet ALC.

Blake on Productivity

My old friend Blake Boles writes a bunch and has a high level of self-awareness.

He wrote this great post a number of months ago about his work-flow techniques.

This post covers a lot, (website denial tech, break time, avoiding obsession) but what made the biggest impression on me was this:

. . . My least productive days happen when I wake up, open the laptop, check my e-mail, and then dive into doing whatever seems important.

The truth is: I need a goal. I have plenty of big goals; those aren’t what I’m talking about. I need a small, manageable, specific goal that can reasonably be accomplished tomorrow morning in 3-4 hours of productive work.

The best time for me to create this goal? The day before, when I’m wrapping up my work. That’s when I’m most clear about what needs to get done and roughly how long it will take. I put it on my digital sticky note (more on those in a moment) and leave it there for my future self to discover in the  morning. If I complete that one goal, then I consider my day  a basic success.

This technique of setting intentions the day before is intriguing and I’ve been meaning to try it (regularly for at least a week) for months.  Now these aren’t the type of intentions I would necessarily make at Endor or at another ALC, but more the intentions I’d set for myself on a home-office day where I’ve got mountains of administrative work to do.  Or rather, the day before such a day.

This is kind of like the Set The Week meeting.  It’s easier to set “hard” intentions for later in the week when you’re not being faced with a daunting task today.  This differs though because it’s not just setting intentions in advance, it’s setting intentions when finishing up the day before.  When you do that, you’ve got this extra clarity.

This is something I want to explore for myself, and maybe play with developing it as an ALC tool.

So, I intend to give this a try.  And also check in with Blake about whether or not he still does this.  And then report back on both.

Digitizing Everything

We’ve started digitizing all of our various boards that used to be made of foam board with sticky notes on them. We’ve set up a Raspberry Pi computer hooked up to a giant flat screen TV that came with the other Black Mountain SOLE furniture we’ve been using since moving to OS AVL.


We’ve moved the schedule to Google Calendar (it looks different on our end), zooming in on today in for our Set The Day meeting each morning. This way reoccurring events can be easily set to repeat on that day, at that time. We don’t have location slots on the Google Calendar like we had on the foam boards, so instead we’ve been using colors to indicate where something is happening.


It’s been cool to see the schedule change now that we don’t have time slots; things can now be scheduled for as long/short as we want. This has been helpful for a number of meetings, meetings that really should only be scheduled for thirty minutes, but used to take up a full hour on the schedule – filling its container as predicted by Parkinson’s Law, and usually disintegrating into something entirely different by forty minutes in, a process that usually frustrates the event organizer and makes them feel disrespected.


Digitizing the schedule also makes it possible for participants coming late to be a part of the Set The Day meeting, since they can watch it happen in real time on their mobile phone, and even add their own offerings and events so that we can see them on our screen.

The digitized schedule at Endor


Our Community Mastery Board (CMB) has also been digitized, on Trello.

We found that people weren’t really ever looking at the physical board up on the wall, and that having it available for reference at all times online was more valuable. In our last Changeup Meeting the digitized CMB was projected on the wall, at about 8×10 feet which made it easier for people to see.


We also added another column for people to add their name once they had read and understood all of the new things in the Implemented column, so that those not present at the Changeup Meeting (physically or mentally) could look at the board later and find out what was decided. This column contains everyone’s name, and the participants add the current week’s label to their card to show that they’ve read and understood what’s been decided. There’s a different label for each week so that it’s easy to see what’s been added since the week before.


Putting the CMB on Trello also allows us to have conversations about each proposal in the comments stream of each card. We can also view its history, provide more in-depth explanations of the proposal, attach links, track votes and see when things haven’t moved in a while through the Card Aging “powerup.”


Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 2.02.42 PM
The digitized CMB at Endor


Already digitized, though not streamlined, is communication.

We have digitized communication but it’s a bit complicated. We communicate via Email, but not everyone checks their Email. We use a Facebook group, but not everyone uses Facebook. I’ve started using the communication tool Slack in my other work, so I’m thinking of establishing that for next year. It seems a little late in the game to set it up now – I don’t think we could all get in the habit of using it to the point that it would become effective. So, next year. (I have a goal of having a 1-to-1 computer/participant ratio next year, so we’ll start next year with an orientation in the tools we’ll use; Google Calendar, Google Drive, Trello, Slack, etc.)


Another thing I want to digitize is signing in and out. Endor participants are free to come and go as they please – as long as they sign in and out with the time and a signature. I’d like this to be streamlined to the point of ID cards with RFID chips in them so folks could just “beep” in and out. Before we get to creating that, though, I want to set up a little Trello board for attendance. Using another Raspberry Pi, I’d like to have a little display by the door for participants to move their card from “at Endor” to “out for lunch” to “gone for the day” etc. This hinges on having another digital display, however. The only ones we’ve got our giant flat screen TVs, so we’ll have to work on that one. A perk of having this on Trello would be the ability for participants to let everyone know if they weren’t attending. Say you wake up sick, so you get out your phone and move your card to “not coming today.” It would take some getting used to, but I think it could work! Participants are supposed to let an ALF know if they’re not coming, but this doesn’t always happen. Partially, I think, because of the lack of streamlined communication, and partially because it’s a direct message. I have it in my head that people don’t like sending direct messages to people, so moving a Trello card would have a much lower level of effort and thus be easier. I’m curios to hear what Endorians think of this! Thoughts?