Last year, I had a tiny spark of an idea to round up the professional circus artists in Victoria, BC. One thing led to another and I have been delightfully surprised at how easily it has all come together. It is so much fun to work with a team who are extremely passionate about what they do.
The artists that have assembled are exceptional. We have decided on the name: Island Circus Space.
We have some excellent media coming from the highest levels of circus (please sign up here. We promise not to bombard you with stuff. One email a month).
We will be offering workshops throughout the winter that will be leading up to our first show at the Metro Theater April 2, 3, 2016. The show is going to blow Victoria’s collective mind!
Our goal is to gather a circus tribe of 1000 people. 1000 dedicated circus fans signed up on our monthly newsletter will allow us to do just about anything and will provide considerable leverage when we are ready to negotiate a space.
We are looking for all kinds of support – from sponsors to volunteers. Anything you can do is greatly appreciated – even just sharing our site with your friends on your social media feed is very helpful!
In return for this support, we will be giving a ton of value through striving to build a contemporary circus infrastructure for Victoria that enables the community to make art, be physically active, collaborate and develop professional talent and shows.
29 Jun, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Developing a Startup in High School – My Year as Scrummaster, Manager and Impressario
Developing a startup is a monumental task. I cannot think of a more relevant learning experience for the age we live in. It sure feels good to ship a piece of hardware that will be used for years to come.
Last year, a scrappy group of blossoming student engineers and programmers got together and began forging ahead. I honestly cannot remember how I became their go to guy. Perhaps it was my passion for technology and entrepreneurship? Or maybe it was my impressario skills.
Whatever the case, last year, we began to do interesting hardware work for VIATEC and Limbic Media that you can see here and here. This year, we continued to strengthen that relationship doing more work for both organizations.
For Limbic Media, we focused primarily on building a water level sensor with a web component for the aquaponics system at Mason Street Farm. You can see it here. This was a very complex project that had many moving parts. It required sensors that sent information to a server and a web page that updates constantly. From a technical standpoint alone, the team learned a lot about sensors (which are the future in my opinion!), hardware in adverse conditions (water is so tricky!), server deployment, website heartbeats and much more.
As Manjinder Benning, Director at Limbic Media, says in the video link (see above!) – it really does come back to making important connections that are beyond just the tech sector; for example: global food security. The world is facing many difficult problems and these high school learners are beginning to help develop solutions. It does not get much better than that for school.
Manjinder Benning by the way is an awesome guy. I can’t say enough good things about him and Limbic Media. They are very community oriented and while this may be a bit biased, I think they are doing some of the coolest tech stuff in Canada. Keep your eye on Manj and the team at Limbic.
For VIATEC, the team began developing a cube prototype to pitch to Dan Gunn, the Executive Director. The idea was that it would be audio-reactive and respond to different environments. VIATEC are big supporters of many different cool events in the area and we wanted to make something that would stand out and accentuate their vital role in the tech sector of Victoria. It was super janky at the start, but after a few months of experimentation and design, we had ourselves a prototype. Check it out:
Dan dug it and gave us $3000 – 1000% more than I was expecting. It just goes to show you that you might as well think big. Dan gave us a budget to get creative. Thank you Dan!
Dan Gunn by the way, gave us a lot of support and help over the last 2 years. He is such an important figure in the startup scene of Victoria helping build it to a $4 billion industry. We can’t thank him enough for the commitment to our little school.
With that budget, Dan was excited to see what the team could do. And did we ever get creative…
The team sourced components from all over the place. Liam, a rising star (more on him in a moment), designed the boards that we then got built in China (among other components that came from there). It is truly amazing what can be done now. Major disruptions are coming from a couple of guys in their garage designing things that add tremendous value to people’s lives (think YouTube).
We then wrangled a connection with Camosun College’s Enterprise Point – an amazing, under cover team building awesome things for the world. Matt Zeleny, Applied Research Specialist, graciously gave us his time helping us laser cut and etch the acrylic panels. He saved us a lot of money and we are very grateful. The etching was such a time consuming process and we simply could not take up anymore of Matt’s incredibly valuable time, so we got them engraved elsewhere.
All of the joints for the cubes were 3D printed from Liam’s design which demonstrated innovation and creativity. Another student, Hugh, designed and printed the stands and when assembled, looked very, very cool:
And because they showed PSII’s committment to supporting the tech industry of Victoria, we were nominated for a Creative Excellence award this year.
Developing both of these projects was such a crazy process – as anyone who has ever built a piece of hardware knows, we ran into many problems that required lateral-thinking solutions. And as anyone who has ever built something that needs to be shipped, we ran right up to the deadline with the engineers still wanting to makes changes at the very last minute. Of course, they felt that they could have done and offered so much more. More can always be done, but at some point, you just have to ship!
We learned a lot this year. I would argue that we learned way more about how to and how not to work as a team more than any of the technical complications. We worked in Scrum methodology. It makes way more sense than the old waterfall style of project management. If you do not know about Scrum, I highly recommend you read this and get going on it.
They learned team work. And Leadership. They understand the importance of working together. But, they sucked. The entire thing broke down many times. However, in the end, there were some clutch moments and the team pulled through. Stressful and exciting.
I learned that we must stick with the agile process the entire way. The process can evolve – for example – we moved from the classic scrum board on the wall to Trello – which is a fantastic tool. I learned that I will need to bring doughnuts to the end of sprint retrospective meetings to ensure a good turn out (I still owe the team pie).
We all learned a lot about how to develop a startup.
That is one of my main M.O’s. I am hellbent on developing local talent and making teams succeed. This is most important to me because I strongly believe that we are in an age of exponential creation and it will require strong teams that can be super nimble and learn incredibly fast.
Einstein famously remarked that, “I don’t teach anyone, I just provide the environment in which they can learn.” That is what I have tried to do. In that environment, it really is up to the learner to make the most of it. Some take the bull by the horns, others…require guidance…
One learner who embraced his learning freedom was Liam. Absolutely none of this would have happened without him as lead engineer. He held everything together stepping up and doing work for everyone on the team. He is an excellent speech giver, dancer, musician, sailor, and of course…engineer. He is also now my close friend. Because that is how you really get to know someone – by doing and building things together. He has earned himself a spot on the mayor’s Economic Development Council, landed a job with Limbic Media straight out of high school, has a scholarship to the University of Victoria for Engineering, and knows how to build a startup and lead a team. He has also connected a deal between the City of Victoria and Limbic Media for a project worth $180,000. He has learned to be an entrepreneur.
Everyone talks about what learning should look like in this century. A lot of talk. I am doing it. Vive le Revolucion!
2 Jun, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Social Learning
I have exhausted a lot of emotional energy this year facilitating our open, social learning environment at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII). In my opinion, it is by far and above the best thing that we do at the school.
But it is really hard work. Really, really hard work. At PSII, our open environment, where each learner can interact with any other learner most of the day in small teams and groups, is fascinating to watch. And at times, very frustrating to watch (school would be so easy if it weren’t for the teenagers!). Through the good and the not so good, we have witnessed revolutionary social transformations in almost all of our students. I cannot overstate how powerful it is to see a teenager evolve from someone whose success was just being able to walk in the door last year to addressing the mayor in a council meeting to try to secure grants for a business idea this year. Night and day.
But again, it is really hard, exhausting work. I have had to deal with some major social issues. Like total team meltdowns. Or people not pulling their weight. Or dropping out of the team entirely 3/4 of the way through a major product in development. Or not showing up to a film shoot for 2 hours while everyone else had to wait and then the explosion, hard feelings and ruffled feathers that was the fallout.
With that said, the learning that has come out these situations is what is allowing our students to truly understand what it means to build something together. True blue collaboration happens when if one person on the team does not show up, nothing can move forward. It requires every single person to make it happen. This necessitates risk taking on both the students’ and teacher’s sides. This is the learning that needs to happen in school.
Most students that I see get zero practice in this type of learning. The learners at PSII certainly did not have any at the beginning of last year. Nearly 2 years of slogging through the difficult, interpersonal situations of the creative process has learned these kids a thing or two about how to really work together. Hence, the blossoming of so many young minds.
Again, this is the learning we need today. It is very easy to know things – made significantly easier by Google. The real problem is learning how to work together in the most highly effective way to find solutions to roadblocks that inevitably arise in creative endeavors.
I strongly believe in leading by example. One of our students, who last year broke out and learned she can lead through directing her first film, “Hey Blondie”, continued that excellence through leading another diverse team of students directing a second film this year entitled, “A Light in the Forest”.
Out of all of the other teams that I was involved with this year, this learner was by far and above the most organized, well-rehearsed and had the most effective team under her leadership. I would personally recommend her to anyone – she is without a doubt going to succeed in being a team lead (which she did not think she was capable of 2 years ago).
If you have a moment, this is what effective social learning looks like in action:
The trailer (if you have minimal time):
The full film:
7 May, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Guest Blogger for Enstitute
I have been graciously invited to be a guest blogger for Enstitute. As a teacher who is trying to change the education system, I am honored to be able to contribute to this innovative organization as they are trying to change how education happens too!
In case you have not heard of them…
“…Enstitute, a national non-profit, is reinventing apprenticeships for 21st century careers. Working to address both the growing cost of higher education as well as the current youth unemployment crisis, Enstitute provides young adults with one year, full-time, apprenticeships at high growth startups, small businesses, and corporations around the country to prepare them for the workforce and accelerate their career trajectory.”
I strongly believe in their model and I would really like them to come to West Coast, Canada.
Check out the posts (I hope to be adding many more…):
I have not posted a juggling video for quite some time. I had the opportunity to film a little contact juggling piece that I did to open up the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry’s first ever theater show. It was fun. I always love the starkness of the black theater mixed with the warmth of the wood floor, stool and guitars.
Recently, I have mostly been working on ball juggling. I have found endless things to work on. It is definitely contributing to my multi-prop number that I am putting the finishing touches on. It is kind of on hold as the street performing season is nearly upon me. In October, I already have a musician lined up to write an original track and I will definitely film it. Stay tuned…
22 Apr, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Embroiled in creating and inventing
For a long time, I have been meaning to update the site with all of the fabulous things that are happening at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry. I have been so embroiled in creating and inventing that I have barely had a moment to organize it into a blog post or two. Good problem to have!
For starters, here is a fabulous 3 minute speech about how one of our learners has found happiness at our school:
I have worked with this guy for 2 years, nearly every week, developing, practicing and rehearsing his public speaking skills. He graduates this year and has many university choices. I am definitely going to miss him.
Next year, I am proposing having a small space for alumni to come back and work with us. Kind of like a mini-incubator. We give them space for their ideas to grow, and they in turn help the younger learners progress. I have some kids with some seriously wicked skills that are all graduating this year. I would like to be able to continue our creative processes that we have worked so hard on for the past 2 years.
Last week, I produced the school’s first ever theater show dubbed, “PSII’s Big Little Show”. The learners did fabulous.
Here are the girls singing Riptide acapella:
This is an excellent example of emergent curriculum which is a very important concept at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry. I had no idea or plans that the girls were going to do this. It just happened throughout the rehearsal process. It is necessary to give people freedom to create instead of locking it down in a rigid curriculum that allows for no lateral movement.
26 Jan, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Victoria Circus Festival, April 2016
Victoria is ripe for a circus festival. I am dreaming big but starting small. This is just an initial call to artists, organizers and enthusiasts – let’s make this happen for April 2016!
Since the moment I was thrown off the Russian Swing, I have been fully committed to the circus arts. Among all the other craziness that has happened to me over the last ten years, it has been the one constant in my life. I will never stop doing it. It makes me happy. I want to share that love by building a strong circus community.
So, here is the tentative plan (please feel free to contact and tell me what else I need to do – I would really appreciate the input!):
Gather the circus community in Victoria. Looking for professionals (artists who are currently working or have done important gigs). I would like to organize a meeting just to get the ball rolling and start to hammer out some initial ideas and support. I am trusting that this will lead to an explosion of scintillating concepts for the festival as well as provide a tremendous amount of stoke and motivation for all those involved.
I am thinking that an entire weekend might be too much to begin with the first time out, so I was thinking of making it as simple as possible by doing the first festival as a one day event – an afternoon of workshops and an evening show. Victoria has shown a lot of support for the arts and circus, but I would really like to sell out something small than go big and be half full. If all works well and Victoria loves it, of course, we can go way bigger the following year.
Beyond just putting on an awesome little festival, I am very interested in gathering the professional circus artists in and around Victoria in order to establish a strong, dedicated team. Once the team has solidified, I would like to begin to offer summer camp programs in 2016. Again, looking for a small team to sell out the sessions. Keep it tight and make it funky.
The big goal is to step by step gather the infrastructure necessary to open a small circus school in Victoria. I think the process of starting a small festival, then offering summer camps to gauge community support is a great way to create a minimal viable product and build along the way thereby taking a lot of risk out of just opening up with a “build it and they will come mentality.”
Ultimately, I would like to have a dedicated space that combines a circus school with high school. As a teacher at the mighty Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII), I am in a very unique position to make this happen. We could be the first high school circus arts diploma program in Western Canada. And it could happen in relatively short order. PSII is growing like wildfire and a circus arts diploma would attract a lot more students.
But I am getting ahead of myself. First things first – a circus festival in Victoria and gather the team. The people that I have spoken to are already madly excited about the prospect and are surprised that it does not already exist. Well, let’s bring it into existence. Please contact me.
11 Jan, 2015
by Jake Comments Off on Tech Apprentice Program
Victoria has some incredibly talented youth who are highly technically skilled with large ambition. As a teacher at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII), I personally know some of them. They are doing incredible work through mentorships with VIATeC and Limbic Media; developing, creating and iterating projects that have potential commercial applications. Truly, they are learning the direct skills needed for the tech industry in Victoria: engineering know-how, content knowledge, critical thinking and problem solving all the while creating things of value for the world.
Keeping top talent must be a priority. If even one of these future apprentices strikes it big with an idea and goes onto create hundreds of jobs, I truly hope that they do it here in our backyard. In 2014, 884 tech companies in Victoria brought in 3.15 billion in annual revenue (see VIATeC report). According to Linkedin, these were the hottest 25 skills that got your hired in 2014. Notice the tech jobs. I see a very bright future for Victoria’s tech sector. The number one thing that we need to ensure is that we attract and retain the top talent.
Things are evolving rapidly, and the knowledge that computer programming students learn in first year is obsolete by their fourth year. These students don’t necessarily need university, rather, they need an apprenticeship; directly learning hands on daily, evolving with the industry in real time.
For example, one of my students is a dedicated programmer – it is his passion and it is what he wants to do with his life. He has already been programming for years, and he definitely knows what he is doing – especially when he practices 6-7 hours everyday. He is already working in a startup team using Agile Engineering to design, make and implement a product for the real world. You can see it here. He still has 2 more years of high school where he will continue to code everyday for real-world projects. He will have 6 years of experience and practice. In my estimation, he does not need to do 4 more years of undergrad work. He is good to go.
What he does need though is an opportunity to break into the industry. He needs to be mentored one-on-one with a local entrepreneur to get the skills necessay to be savvy enough to run his own show. He needs to learn to pursue life-long learning which includes a mixture of both theory and practice that make him industrious and scrappy. He needs to be working in a startup to really know what is going on and form strong interpersonal relationships and connections in the community. He needs to learn strong work ethic in a vibrant setting using the very best practices on hand. He needs to take important people out to lunch and ask them questions on a weekly basis.
We need to make this happen. There is an example. It is working. In fact, they are expanding. I have found no one else who is doing this but them. They are called Enstitute and are operating in New York, Washington, DC, St. Louis and Miami. Take a good look and ask them questions. I have found them to be delightful and open. Take a look at what their apprentices are saying here.
We need this for Victoria. Are we a truly innovative city or what? Tech is our largest industry – why do we not have this kind of system in place yet? It is doable – requiring only an incredibly talented impresario to connect the pieces.
I would love to do this. Currently, all of my energy is being funneled into starting up PSII and changing the school system. It is so exciting! It hasn’t been changed in 150 years and it looks like we will be the first to do so. Wow! I just do not have the time required for the initial set up. But I would love to help you in anyway possible.
On behalf of the tech sector of Victoria, I call on an impresario to step into the fray and lead this initiative. You already have one super loyal follower.
29 Nov, 2014
by Jake Comments Off on To no longer be needed…
The greatest reward a teacher can receive is to no longer be needed. The learners that I have mentored since last year have taken off. Of course, this does not mean that I am not still part of the team, which I most certainly am as Scrum Master.
However, they have learned to become independent of me: making plans, getting on radio shows, communicating with local companies and getting interviewed for TV (see video above). All of these things are happening without me in the loop. I did not even know they had made it on to the radio until they told me the following day.
Again, this is the greatest achievement for a teacher – to no longer be needed – which frees up my time to build other learners to this level of independent learning. Is this not the learning that we all want to see?
13 Oct, 2014
by Jake Comments Off on Inquiry: Question/Quest
After following the education debate for numerous years on twitter and doing my utmost to effect change, I have grown tired of the conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly passionate about education change, I am just tired of hearing about it and people saying what “should” be done rather than actually demonstrating what can be done. For me, it comes back to the cliche – actions really do speak louder than words.
An inquiry can be a big question or a quest. This is an excellent example of a quest. It involves numerous different competencies, most of all being collaboration. This particular quest was so big that it required a team to accomplish. That is the mark of true collaboration – something that is so big that not one person could possibly do it on their own:
So, please watch the video above as I feel it demonstrates what learning should look like now. The video itself was another collaboration from a different team of talented filmmakers at The Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry. They call themselves: PSII Productions. Here is another incredible example of what true collaboration in school can look like: