Bad Lab Partners

bad lab partner

Science Lab. Maybe it was “biology lab”, “chem lab” or “physical science lab” – but you remember it. For most people it was a time of angst. You would be given a project that you did not want to do that would last at least a whole period and your real goal was simple: get it done without embarrassment. Social embarrassment was to be avoided at all cost, especially since most of the time your lab partner was a randomly assigned roughian – or two – or more. Academic embarrassment was an even greater issue! You asked questions but learned early on that the teacher’s answers showed you that you had no idea what was happening and sometimes they didn’t either!

We all have stories that we remember with a tragic fondness that go back to our science labs in middle and high school. In particular there is usually one memory that triggers a chuckle and maybe even a shake of the head followed by “I can’t believe that happened.” For me, it was in chemistry lab. I won’t rat my partner out – he and I were good friends at the time. We were boiling purple cabbage – the coloring or pigment is an indicator of acids and bases like “liquid litmus paper”. The accident was simple. My partner muttered, half toward me, “I don’t think the beaker is hot.” After the last word, “hot”, his hand clutched the cabbage brew and held it long enough to move it from the hot plate into the air. OF COURSE IT WAS HOT!!!!

What followed was predictable. The cabbage juice spilled as he turned the beaker sideways out of reflex. Unable to hold it at all, he dropped the beaker and the familiar splash and crackle of broken glassware followed. The cabbage juice, stain, smell and all, splashed onto my off white pants. Thanks to my lab partner, I and the purple, staining, smelly cabbage juice were one and the same for the rest of the day.

Later that day I jumped off my bus and the dog that normally came to greet me came within 20 feet, sniffed the air, mused with a whimper, and walked away. He was not really shaking his head, though deep inside I knew that if a dog could do that in digust he would have.

Now, I laugh! It is a great memory, makes a great tale, and did not deeply damage anyone. I would bet that we all have those stories – the “lab partner from hell” stories or the “you will never believe what happened” stories. Considering that these things were common experiences it is great to see where we have all moved on to in our lives. After a lab accident or trauma things are always looking up!

Now it’s your turn. What happened to you in high school or college? Did you think the lab shower was shut off and pulled on the emergency chain only to find that the water was really on resulting in a thorough dousing? Ever clean a test tube with a pure sodium pellet in? (If you ever do, prepare for a loud “bang”). Let us know your story! After all that, things ARE looking up!


The Quadrantids are Coming!


meteors across sunset

Stunning! One word that often describes the streaks of light that appear in dark skies several times each year. Meteor showers are sources of awe and wonderment! At the same time, they are fickle – conditions have to be right. Few or no clouds, low light pollution, and a nearly new moon all can make the experience spectacular. If any of these conditions are not met, the experience can be a bust.

The first meteor shower of 2019 is upon us already! The Quadrinids are here! They will peak this evening and can be best seen after midnight tonight (January 3rd). Also, the farther to the North you live, the better your chances of seeing them. The best place to look is to locate the Big Dipper’s handle and imagine the handle pointing to the area of the sky where you are most likely to see these streaks of light. The best news is that we are on the verge of a New Moon which will lead to a lunar eclipse in just a couple days!

I would love to hear about your experiences in seeing the Quadrinids. Leave a note below, or contact me in any number of ways. May your skies be clear and your meteors be bright!


Things Are Looking Up – 2019!


Happy New Year! 2019 is a blue, open ocean – where will you look? Where will you sail??

A new year starts out with amazing possibilities. Looking forward means “looking up” and taking time to be in the moment, present, and intentionally looking skyward. Sometimes, this can spark our imagination as it might when we realize that it was 50 years ago this year that mankind first set foot on the Moon. Other times, like this Thursday evening, this means that if you look to the sky and you can see deep darkness, momentary flashes of light may appear as a meteor shower is in full bloom.

As time has passed, we look up less and less. In that direction – up – we can find wonderment, peace, imagination and tranquility. Looking up may make us feel small, but after all, we are 1 of billions of inhabitants of 1 species on a non-descript planet in an average solar system in the rural arms of a common looking galaxy with 100 billion (could be more) stars that is one of 2 trillion galaxies! If looking up and seeing Orion’s Belt or Polaris inspires curiosity, understanding that we are spectators in the big scheme of a truly universal ballet should help with the awe of perspective.

As 2019 passes, I hope to enlighten and indulge your inner curiosity. My hope is that you will add to this site, and that together we can build on and reinforce what we see, feel, think and learn – all from looking…UP! Happy 2019 everyone!

As a treat, here is a VERY HOMEMADE video of a Dec launch from Cape Canaveral, about a 2 hour drive from my home. At least the first 30 – 45 sec capture the excitement and wonderment of the people assembled, all of whom are “looking up”!


Maker Spaces – Why They Matter to CTE

MakerSpace NLSC Stuff

Families engage at the makerspace at SkillsUSA’s latest National Skills Competition. Folks of all ages made everything from packaging to race cars.

A big space with stuff to get a fun job done. The job might be mechanical, electrical, or even digital or aesthetic arts. The space might consist of tools, electrical equipment, 3D printers, robotic equipment, or paints. What is it? IT is a “makerspace”, sometimes called a “hackerspace” or “Fab Lab”.

According to Popular Science magazine, as of 2016 there were over 480 makerspaces active and in the United States. This is roughly the same as the growth of makerspaces in Europe, and in line with growth worldwide. This represents a 1400% (14 times) increase from 2006 – 14x growth in 10 years! Interestingly, this parallels the growth in interest of career technical education (CTE) in the US. How many people are involved? This from the “Extension” website:

“The Atmel Corporation, a worldwide leader in the design and manufacture of microcontrollers, has calculated that there are approximately 135 million adult Makers in the United States. This is over half (57 percent) the American population 18+ and does not include the millions of children and teenagers who are active in STEM projects through science fairs, robotics teams and tinkering in their basements.”

WOW!!! and … what is driving this?

Maker Banner NSCF17

Signs like these are becoming more and more common given the 14x increase in makerspaces since 2006!

One hypothesis, mine, is that millenials are a vastly different breed, and are interested in becoming relevant doers, not trivial fact-monsters! Growing up with the knowledge of the world at their fingertips, they can find facts and see “how to” with ease. It is applying, building, analyzing and synthesizing that turn them on!

For CTE this is a critical trend because hands-on practice and mastery are important in fields like phlebotomy (drawing blood) and manufacturing. Spaces like these also illustrate how manufacturing in particular has changed and become more inexpensive and more hi tech.

So, this is a “kick off” to a topic I will come back to. For an older article that I posted on the Learning Liftoff blog, feel free to visit here. It is more than a way that CTE at schools like a K12 Destinations Academy can be done “hands-on” if the courses are virtual and online. It is a grass roots movement not that different from my grandpap tinkering with my mother’s 1961 red Corvair decades ago. But it now resonates with the DNA of an up and coming generation of doers who want to get things done and create uniquely. How will this change work in the balance of the 21st century? or design? or Saturday afternoons? I would love to hear your ideas! Let’s get to work!


This Isn’t Your Daddy’s Vo Tech – Part 2

Game Comp at Skills NLSC17

Game designers competing at SkillsUSA’s National Competition. This didn’t exist when I was growing up. Today, many programs can be found, even in high school.

Welcome or welcome back. In Part 1, I noted that the percentage of “middle jobs”, those requiring some college but not a 4-yr degree, have risen dramatically as the workforce has grown. In 1973, there were about 11 million of these jobs in the US. Now, it is estimated that there are over 41 million. The need has almost quadroupled in the past 45 years! These are jobs like: nursing assistant, paralegal aide, construction manager, and computer engineer. (See “Pathways to Prosperity”; all data cited in this post was provided to the reference document by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce)

Although I want to talk about the CTE experience here, I also want to whet your appatite. Want to know what you earn in  STEM fields? Check out an article I wrote long ago called ” 3 Surprising, Fast-Growing, High-Wage STEM Careers “.

Today, the experience is different as well, and in exciting ways. Many if not most courses can be taken online. Ivy Tech is a statewide two year post-secondary institution in Indiana. More than 20 associate degree programs are offered in high-demand, high-paying fields! If you want to know the salary prospects for their programs, go to their “Programs Wheel” which kept me busy for some time (Scroll down a little when you get to the page – I am easily amused!).

I have done much of my life’s work with NASA and with K12. Most NASA employees are not 4 year degree holders! K12 has public, online high schools in many states called “Destinations Career Acadamies” . These schools provide COMPLETE programs that include SkillsUSA chapters, employment and leadership skills training, and work-based experience programs. They help students get ahead. Students graduate with more than a diploma, they graduate with knowledge, skills, and even certifications that it took many people like me years to learn! If you are in Idaho, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah or Ohio, you should check these out and see what is possible in today’s world!

All in all, the world of today is vastly different than when I grew up. We have Starbucks, HD TV, and the New England Patriots are actually pretty good now! Also, think about the jobs of today – most didn’t exist 20 – 30 years ago! These efforts by Ivy Tech, K12, and many other secondary and post-secondary institutions are bold in size and scope, but will be common in the future. Yes, this isn’t the old Vo Tech when you get on a bus and learn about cosmetics (which you can now do online!). It is the new, practical norm in education, where learning about 3D printing and agribusiness are exciting gateways to a prosperous future. To see how excited, see the 16,000 people, 6,000 of the students, in the video below of the opening ceremonies of the SkillsUSA 2016 National Competition. As Howard Hughes used to famously say when he saw a great idea “(It’s) the way of the future.” Let’s get to work!

Comments, questions and opportunities are always welcome. My hope is to START conversations – not appear as an authority on everything I write about. Hopefully I will act as a “provocateur” and inspire you to contribute your thoughts and feelings!


What Does CTE have to do with Independence Day? (or “A Short Reflection on Growth”)

Nashville Fireworks parabolas 2017 07 04

Fireworks over Nashville caught by a friend learning photography. While not a perfect photo, is it not spectacular?!

Independence. What does the word conjure in your mind? For me, an image appears that goes back 240 years (no, I wasn’t there!) to when a group of scrappy adventureres with a “can-do” attitude fought. It is said that winners get to write the history of an event, and so we have a great story that is celebrated! But the key to me is that they fought. They struggled. They grew. They overcame.

Comparatively, in the United States today, life is easy. Cars, cell phones, and even indoor plumbing are a few of the advances that have extended life expectancies and taken away some of the coolness to being scrappy, hustling, and working hard. Career technical education (CTE) still retains that sense of independence! How? Great question.

First, you have to explore. You find areas that you might not like. Careers that are not interesting to you, or require too much time in classes and not enough “doing” for example. You find areas that you DO like – and you consider them occupations where you can settle down. That exploration is important. It can be done through formal classes or just by being alert.

Then you have to grow into that field. You learn about it. You practice it. You fail sometimes, succeed others. It is not likely that you will build a birdfeeder, style hair, or program an app perfectly the first time – but perfection isn’t needed. Our forefathers were far from perfect! You just need to stick with it, remember why you are there, and eventually (speaking from the experience of many) great outcomes, projects, opportunites and people will come your way!

Nashville Fireworks weep willow 2017 07 04

More inspiring photography from Nashville.

We are not our occupations, just as America is not its wars. Yet, our work dictates so much about our lives. My hope for you this Independence Day and beyond is that CTE and your work spawns great growth. I know that 240 years ago, just the effort toward an important cause was all important, and look what came from that! let’s get to work:)!


This Isn’t Your Daddy’s Vo Tech! – Part 1

Sinage at the Idaho Technical Career Academy (ITCA) being placed onto their building campus. The name of the school along with the logo, two intersecting places, one red and the other blue, adorn the building.

Idaho Technical Career Academy (ITCA) has worked to meet the skills gap need. For 4 years it has served as Idaho’s first public, virtual, online career academy. 

Would you agree that much has changed in 30 years? Put another way, what is the same today as it was in 1987? That was the year that Michael Jackson was “Bad”, and Rick Astley was “Never Gonna Give You Up”. High school students were either “college prep” or “vo-tech”. Being a vo-tech student didn’t have a great vibe. Usually it meant you weren’t college material and you needed to learn how to repair cars, electrically wire a room or style hair.

The biggest differance between vo-teck of the 1980s and career technical education (CTE) of today is about workforce need for “middle jobs”. According to “Pathways to Prosperity”, 30 percent of jobs by 2018 will require some college or an associates degree. This is almost the same percentage of jobs that require a bachelors degree or better (See “Pathways to Prosperity” – Figure 4, P. 7; all data cited in this post was provided to the reference document by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce).

In the same document, a different analysis (Figure 1 if you like figures) shows that in 1973, 12% of the workforce of 91 million people fell into the “some or no college” category. By 2007, that number had increased to 27%! A staggering increase when you consider that the 2007 workforce had 154 million people – an over 60% increase! In other words, to fulfill the needs of todays workforce, many more students will need some college, and not a four year degree, and that is the biggest difference between now and 30 or so years ago! Like it or not, CTE IS today’s college prep program!

In an earlier post, I quoted Mike Rowe (paraphrased here) that the U.S. has 6 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. – 3 out of 4 do not require a 4-year college degree! Now we know many of the jobs do require some college. But, they do not require the suffocate-you-with-debt type of college experience! They mean spending some time in a community or technical college or a trade schools as options. I would have loved being directed into a culinary arts program, or opportunities to earn IT certifications!

Rather than wax on about the topic, I will post part two in few days. Above is the aerial view – the big footprint. In my next post I will talk more about how the experience is different for students and families today, and not just different – better! Let’s get to work!

Comments, questions and opportunities are always welcome. My hope is to START conversations – not appear as an authority on everything I write about. Hopefully I will act as a “provocateur” or “brat” and inspire you to contribute your thoughts and feelings!



How DO They Get Hands-On Experience Anyhow??

SkillsUSA Heavy Mach Oper

Heavy machine equipment is shown here that is part of the SkillsUSA 2017 National Competitions

There are many different types of schools these days. Charter schools, blended schools, online schools, and magnet schools are a few of the types that you hear about. In all of these cases, students who take Career Technical Education (CTE) electives enjoy the courses because the content is practical and practice-able. One question I hear often is: “How does a student get the hands on experience they need to be successful?”

In many cases, the most important part of the answer is the same: “NOT at the school teaching the course.” Yes, there are Vocational Technical centers with equipment that can be used – I am excluding that for the moment. In most cases, students have to take several courses before they are ready for hands-on experience. Once ready, there are several options and they are all the same for each type of school:

  • Job Shadowing, Internships and Apprenticeships: These work-based experiences can be arranged through the school or on ones own.
  • Part-time or summer job: Students work in the place/field that they are interested in gaining hands-on experience – for example, doing basic web design for a local IT company or painting houses for a construction contractor.
  • Dual Credit Courses at Community/Technical Colleges: Student takes a course and earns high school AND college credit while working on industry standard equipment
  • Other – Maker Spaces, CTSO competitions (ex: SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Competitions) , and other opportunities…

The point is, the opportunities are as good as the depth of the partnerships built by the CTE program! The location, format, and delivery of content for that school matter little, and less as more schools use online content.

The bottom line: there is a shortage of workers for these areas, and businesses and colleges are excited when they find interested young students. Use your school as a partner, and together, explore these opportunities. This is a KEY FACTOR in choosing the right CTE program for your student!

One factor that makes today very different and the need to consider careers when students are in high school can be found at: “Career Readiness: Career Planning Starts in High School“, and old article that I wrote but that you might find informative.

What about the “soft skills” though? Let’s tackle those another day:) For now, let’s get to work!

Inspired @ SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference

SkillsUSA World Team _ US

SkillsUSA US Team to compete in the Skills World Championships against 70 other countries.

Bad news, bad news, bad news. It’s all over the airwaves and internet today. But last week at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference, all I saw was good news and inspiration. Imagine an event with the spirit of a religious revival where 16,000 people including 6,000 students competed, shared and grew. Imagine these young people as well-spoken, hip, respectful, talented teens who have worked hard to ply their skills in trade. Now increase what you are imagining by 10x. THAT is the good news I saw last week.

Most Americans aren’t aware of the Skills Gap. There are 6 million unfilled jobs right now, and 75% of them do not require a 4 year college degree according to celebrity and Trades champion Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame). Most are high-wage, high-growth jobs that are waiting for qualified workers. However, there is a DIRE shortage of qualified workers – and that is the Skills Gap. (See Mike interviewed on “Tucker Carlson Tonight”) He thinks that American suffers from thinking that hard work isn’t cool anymore. Is he right? I think so.

But for the 6,000 student-competitors, hard work IS cool. They came, they worked hard, they left proud. The most amazing thing about the event is that most of America has no idea it happened! Maybe it wasn’t cool enough to crack into television but is should have been. They created games, made great foods, and fixed cars. They excelled in interview competitions, nursing challenges and manufacturing problem solving. All in all, it was a week of great achievements and in some cases, on-the-spot job offers. It was the best of America! and it was inspiring.

As a result, I left a blogger – this being the first of many on topics related to CTE, STEM and other educational issues and models who’s time has come. Maybe it’s time for working hard to be cool again after all.

Welcome – Let’s Get Started! (Warning – dated!)

Photo of me, Pat Keeney, with a smile and a suit on.
Welcome and thanks for stopping by.

I haven’t seen it all – but I’m sure trying to! welcome to my blog. I’m Pat Keeney, and I am pleased and excited to meet you. I have always believed that we are put here on Earth to help each other out and as I get older, I am realizing the I better get to helping folks out with knowledge that comes from 41 years of work in 34 calendar years! No, I am not a workaholic. In fact, I have been able to work in a career that really has consisted of following one dream after another.

I was a classroom teacher for many years, but never the type to go home when the last bell sounded. I coached, and later found ways to work in education that were truly great fortune. I have had the chance to see education and learning from many different facets. While working for a wonderful company, I was able to homeschool with my son and daughter. I have taught with the best, listened to the finest minds in education, and worked with some of the most amazing people on the planet. I am in awe of the people I have come in contact with.

And yet, education continues to find itself in crisis. Consider the state of Tennessee where about 1 in 3 people have credentials beyond high school. By the year 2018, almost 2 out of every 3 jobs throughout the US will require some type of credential beyond a high school diploma! It isn’t hard to figure out that Tennessee is a state in crisis! It is also a state in action!

Tennessee Promise is an initiative that has been built the way that the best things in our country have been. It’s a program that has spawned from a great idea, then tested, and now the state plans to invest in its youth and its future by providing an education, at no cost, through a student’s sophomore year! That is how you answer a crisis!

We need more of that. I have had the opportunity to collaborate on many ideas and programs, that have made a small difference, but not on the scale of Tennessee Promise. My hope though is that I can offer you some of my experience and knowledge to help you learn better, and weave through the most confusing time in human history to know the best choices in education. And I want you to help!

What do you want to hear or know about? If I don’t know the answer, I can get it for you – which is what teaching is all about anyhow. So I thank you for joining me in this quest and as with any trek, we will not know where we will end up but together will be the better for it. Welcome!