China Bolsters Copper Market

The United States is crawling into 2014 with the Federal Reserve Board doing everything it can to stave off deflation. Years of zero percent interest rate policies along with the current $85 billion per month in stimulus have failed to generate inflation in anything but the stock market. This leaves GDP well below 2% and unemployment remains stubbornly high. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank just cut their rates in half, now at a.25%, to spur any kind of economic growth of their own. Typically, two thirds of the world, North America and Europe mired in economic doldrums would lead to a generally soft commodity outlook. However, China’s growth continues to be the real story and this is best explained by the inner workings of the copper market.

China’s growth rate continues to exceed 7.5% and is expected to register a third consecutive quarter of growth, which may top 8% for Q4. The vast majority of this growth is in building. Industrial infrastructure and residential construction continue to boom. China’s arcane domestic investment laws are partly to blame for this as their residents have very few open channels of investment other than real estate. Further muddying the waters is their version of the loan qualification process, which now accepts hard assets, like copper as collateral. This has put China in the top spot in global copper consumption. In fact, they consume approximately 40% of the world’s copper shipments.

We often refer to copper as, “the economist of the metals market.” The logic follows the line of copper as a base need for economic expansion, which we view as building stuff – houses, electronics, buildings, cars, etc. It appears that the Chinese growth story is bigger than old world economic malaise. The copper market has seen renewed interest in commercial buying since Bernanke’s tapering talk in August signaled an, “everybody out of the pool,” moment. In fact, cash copper prices are trading above the copper future’s price and copper miners are negotiating just how high they’re going to set their premiums for 2014.

The current spot premium is around $.05 – $.07 per pound which reflects the highest premium since the collapse of ’08. The surge in demand is prompting premium increases of 50% and higher as producers negotiate with Europe, Asia and America. Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer has announced plans to raise Chinese premiums by 41%. There are similar increases of 50% for the U.S. and up to 75% for the European Union. These price rises come in the face of an expected surplus of 200, 000 tons (less than 2% of total market) after experiencing a three-year supply deficit. In spite of the projected surplus, Codelco has openly admitted that they’ve hedged none of their forward production.

Commercial traders in the copper market were what tipped me off to the market’s increasingly bullish outlook. I was so busy looking at our domestic economy that I didn’t see the rebound in their buying after initial talk of tapering, which pointed to slowing growth and declining demand created the bearish scenario I outlined in Augusts’, “Copper Points to Slowing Economy.” Clearly, the cash market premiums are leading end line users to hedge their future needs through the purchase of forward copper futures contracts.

The largest net long position I can find for commercial traders in the copper market is near 40,000 contracts. This was made during the July sell-off. Previously, the largest net long commercial position I could find was in February of 2009 when copper was trading at $1.75 per pound and we were coming out of the major market crash. What the market is seeing now is a greater willingness to own copper at much higher prices. This buying support is putting a floor in the market around the $3 per pound level and is prolonging the sideways market direction that has persisted throughout the year. The longer this occurs, the closer we are to breaching the downward sloping trend line that originated at the 2011 highs around $4.80 and now comes into play around $3.36 per pound. Obviously, a move above this would confirm the move for 2014.

We see two potential concerns in this 2014 scenario. First of all, China has always been an opaque marketplace where the economic statistics produced by the government must always be taken with a grain of salt. There is talk that end line demand is nowhere near as strong as Chinese imports suggest. However, for our purposes, it is pretty irrelevant if China is using their copper imports or, storing them. Either way, supplies are being taken off the market. Secondly, much of the mining that’s counted in moving us to surplus is in new mines whose production is only estimated. Therefore, their production numbers aren’t yet solidified. Finally, all things considered, copper may be one of the best physical assets to own as we approach 2014.

Online Bachelor Degree in Business Management and Online Universities

As market complexity increases, many developed as well as developing countries have come under pressure to keep up with the developments in the field. Hence, more and more companies are looking for the aid of experienced business consultants and business managers to keep up with the changing market. The graduates who have completed their online bachelor’s degree in business management(BM) is able to provide analysis of and suggest about how to improve the profits, productivity and the organizational structure of the company. As the technology is becoming advanced day by day, the companies are not leaving any leaf unturned as they are recruiting many business professionals and business analysts.

Online degree programs in BM include:

  • Accounting degree
  • Advertising and marketing
  • Business administration
  • Business management
  • Communications degree
  • E – Commerce and E – business
  • Entrepreneurship degree
  • Finance degree
  • Human resource
  • Leadership degree
  • Management degree
  • Operations degree
  • Organizational management
  • Project management degree
  • Public administration
  • Travel and tourism

Online bachelor’s degree program in business management is designed in such a way to help students in planning and executing effective strategies of business management. Students are taught about problem solving and other market strategies. The eligibility criteria for getting admission to this course are high school diploma or any such similar GED certificate from any accredited school. Students can understand the subject better if they have an interest for latest market trends and business. Also some institutions offer the course to those who are working and experienced and have completed the age of 25 years.

The different aspects of BM such as:

  • Business ethics
  • Marketing laws
  • Economy
  • Organizational behavior
  • Productivity management
  • Financial management
  • Real world management
  • Marketing concepts
  • Art of managing employees
  • Investments
  • Risk assessments etc. are covered in the course.

Recent research statistics have shown that there will be a huge rise in the job opportunities in the business management field by 2014. Students who pass out from online degree course are grabbed by several multinational reputed companies and other global firms. Some of the industries that offer job opportunities for graduates are automobile, aviation, information technology, finance, banking, tourism etc.

List of Colleges and Universities Offering Online Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management

  • University of Phoenix Online
  • Walden University Online
  • Online Kaplan University
  • Grand Canyon University
  • Ashford University
  • Westwood College Online
  • Capella University
  • Liberty University Online
  • Everest University Online

Six Ways to Showcase Your Curriculum to LCME Using Intelligent Curriculum Management Software

When it comes to curriculum, preparing for your accreditation review can be a complicated process. The Liaison Council on Medical Education (LCME) in conjunction with the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is more intensely focused on maintaining the standards around curriculum than ever before. What does this mean for your school?

  • Accreditors are asking for more proof and more rigor around standards, which means you have to track and report on more information in more detail and at more frequent intervals.
  • Your curriculum committee is held to a higher standard than ever before, which means you need the right tools to adjust your curriculum on a more frequent and planned basis as the needs of society change.
  • Instead of making changes once every four or so years, you need to demonstrate a process of continuous improvement.
  • The LCME is phasing out CurrMIT and putting a new Curriculum Inventory Portal in place to facilitate a more frequent transfer of more detailed information. Your school will be required to have tools in place to enable this data transfer by 2014.

This trend toward a more rigorous focus on curriculum standards is expected to continue and will likely increase. The implications? Waiting for years between accreditation reviews and then conducting a major overhaul just months before an accreditation review will likely no longer be an acceptable practice.

Do you have the resources and tools to manage these changes?

Traditionally, accessing, tracking and presenting curriculum information has been an onerous task, requiring many hours of research, analysis and tedious report writing on behalf of administrators. In many cases, significant duplication of effort is spent exporting data from one system and uploading it to another, and hours are spent formatting the data in Word or Excel. As accreditation and reporting requirements become more rigorous, and the amount and frequency of information and detail required increases, many traditional methods of reporting will simply require too much overhead and become unsustainable.

So what is the answer?

Intelligent curriculum management software. With recent software innovations, you can virtually eliminate the duplication of tasks and save vast amounts of time spent unnecessarily accessing and re-entering data. With all data centralized, you can easily track, aggregate, sort and analyze information, and then directly link it to national reporting databases, such as the LCME’s CurrMIT.

Currently, many schools do not upload their curriculum information to CurrMIT because they don’t have an efficient process in place to do so. However, by 2014 all medical schools in North America will be required to systematically report their data against national standards through the LCME’s new Curriculum Inventory Portal (CIP), which will replace CurrMIT. To do this, every school will need to have some sort of tool in place to facilitate the data transfer. One of those tools is intelligent curriculum management software.

Here are the top six ways you can use curriculum management software at your school:

1. Give All Stakeholders a View

Your school needs to enable students, residents, faculty, and administrative staff to access their learning objectives, course schedules, assessments and learning materials – often across multiple geographic locations. To further complicate matters, each stakeholder group requires access to different types of information, and at different access levels. This is a daunting challenge, especially when you consider the number of faculty, students and courses at your school. Nevertheless, access to much of this information is actually required under LCME accreditation standards. For example:

  • The ED-3 standard requires that all medical students, faculty, residents and others know the objectives of your medical program.
  • The ED-24 standard requires that residents who teach must “receive a copy of the course or clerkship/clerkship rotation objectives”.

Using intelligent curriculum management software, all of your information is entered and stored in a central system. You are able to set up different access levels and customize software views for unique audiences – which can be accessed through any computer or mobile device that is connected to the Internet. The result? All of your stakeholders will be able to access the information they need, when they need it. And you will be able to export and report on this data at any time.

2. Identify Gaps and Redundancies

The LCME’s ED-37 standard mandates that all medical schools must monitor their curriculum, including the content that is taught in each discipline, in order to ensure that educational objectives are achieved. With new software technology, you are able to track objectives, content and learning activities for every course, and easily identify redundancies and gaps. Better yet, you can say goodbye to accreditation issues as you will be able to easily demonstrate the comprehensive nature of your system and access specific course and learning details.

3. Track and Report on your Different Teaching Types

The LCME’s ED-5-A standard requires that “the methods of instruction and assessment used in courses and clerkships will provide medical students with opportunities to develop lifelong learning skills.” This means you need to link educational and assessment methods back to individual learning experiences, and then report on this data in a way that showcases the types of teaching that make your school unique. With intelligent software, all data school-wide is tracked centrally, enabling you to more easily create reports for accreditation purposes.

4. Demonstrate “Hot Topics”

The LCME’s ED-10 regulation requires that in addition to basic science and clinical subjects, your curriculum must include “behavioral and socioeconomic subjects”. These subjects fall into the category of Hot Topics or issues of the day that many government agencies, including the federal government, would likely be interested in. Using intelligent software, you will be able to track and report on where and when these hot topics are taught in your curriculum, and satisfy educational requirements.

5. Reduce Time Spent Entering Data for LCME

It can take up to eight to 10 hours for administrative staff to enter data for just one course into the CurrMIT system, and this doesn’t factor in maintenance time. Imagine how much time you’re wasting by manually entering in the data for every course in your curriculum? With intelligent software, you can link directly to the CurrMIT system and simply transfer the existing data that was originally entered by your faculty. With the LCME transitioning to a new CIP in 2014, it’s important to make sure you select a curriculum software tool that will be able to transition with you.

6. Get More Done Than Just Mapping

With traditional curriculum mapping software, you only access your software sporadically to map or make adjustments, and the rest of the time it falls out of use. With the new comprehensive and intelligent software available today, mapping is completely integrated with other functionality that is used by staff and students daily, including scheduling. Because you’re using the system as a part of your day-to-day operations, you will be much more likely to keep your mappings up to date and avoid costly efforts to quickly produce mappings for accreditation.

As accreditation standards around curriculum continue to tighten, how prepared is your medical school to track and report on more and more data related to learning – and keep up with the increasing demands of learners and competency-based education trends? Do you have the right tool in place to meet the new LCME data transfer requirements for their new CIP that will be in place for 2014?

By implementing the right curriculum management software system, you can better manage vast amounts of data, meet important accreditation requirements and demonstrate a process of continuous improvement. You will eliminate task duplication and drastically reduce the amount of time spent entering and re-entering data. Best of all, you will gain a comprehensive system to map, manage, schedule and assess your curriculum.

Panzer 88 – Gary Kurtz Develops WW2 Sci-Fi Fantasy Film

At American Film Market, I was invited to a special presentation of “Panzer 88″ a film in development. It was most enlightening seeing how a film of this magnitude is promoted. The sizzle video, the elaborate picture brochure, and the talk by producer Gary Kurtz gave an intriguing picture of how the film will look and the many aspects of developing and producing it. I had an opportunity to talk with him and from he and other participants gather details about this upcoming production.

Additional details were gleaned from the promotional brochure, trade stories, industry websites, and online interviews. This article provides an overview of this fascinating film being ready for production. Of course, changes will likely be made so information presented here is based on available information.

Entitled “Panzer 88″ this WW2 film takes place in October 1944 as a five-man German tank crew motors across Russia in retreat. To develop this WW2 film project they have assembled a notable creative team. They include Gary Kurtz, the Oscar award-winning producer of Star Wars, American Graffiti and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, director/writer Peter Briggs (best known for co-writing Hellboy), and Richard Taylor and Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop (The Hobbit, District 9, and King Kong), who have signed on to handle the film’s physical productions.

Producer Kurtz said that the film is a “visceral, reality-based story with horror overtones.” It’s a combination of the monster genre and a period piece war movie. The film thus caters to the WW2 armor fanatics with adrenalin-fuelled tank-to-tank battle scenes. It also caters to the audience in love with the suspense of a supernatural world, as a vengeful Creature will stop at nothing to see this tank crew die. Another target for this film is video game players who are into sensory cinema, an audience with an incredible visual literacy.

The Story

The movie opens 100 years previously with a flashback. A child is being told a bedtime story about the history of Krytepka, her Russian town. In the story, Marauding Cossacks invade the town and kill Irina, Rabbi Loew’s daughter. Bereft, the Rabbi forges supernatural pact to save the town and a monster-like Creature emerges, driving horseback attackers away.

Several miles away from this ill-fated village, the story segues to “Present Day” late 1944. In as swift, frantic tank-battle scene we are introduced to the heroes of the story. Exploding from the edge of the forest, the King Tiger, nicknamed “Isla” inadvertently stumbles upon three Russian T-34 tanks. A tense tank battle scene ensues and we see “Isla’s” men in full action. They are seasoned professionals. We also see how tough the King Tiger’s is as it takes on hits and returns fire. With its reinforced armor and 88mm cannon, it is no match for the Russian T-34s.

The crew is a microcosm of Germany at the time. Kessler, the commander, is a member of the Nazi party because his rank requires it, not because he wants to be. Heinz, the loader, is sort of an Aryan poster boy, blond and pretty, with no real notion of what Aryan means. He’s an innocent participant.

The gunner, Wolfy, represents the average person, the one who is manipulated to do wrong. Director Peter Briggs says, “For me, he is the most interesting.” Another crewmember is the grizzly old driver, Max; one who would rather not be involved. Kurt, the radio operator, is the new kid and it’s through him we see the story unfold.

The crew of “Isla,” needing to restock supplies and refuel, passes through the current-day town of Krytepka. To their disgust, they find that SS Troopers have gotten there first and massacred everyone. Strange supernatural occurrences affect them: a forewarning of things to come. Leaving the town, they pass the walking wounded, and remnants of abandoned German vehicles. These visuals elevate the theme of the movie. While this is a retreat of men and machines, it is also a retreat of ideologies, a questioning of the war, ones country, ones duty, and ones accountability to human values.

At the depot, the crew picks up their mail and stocks up on supplies. An altercation occurs with a rival Tiger 1 Panzer crew over fuel allocations. However, Colonel Bauer steps in halting the standoff, and then gives Kessler fresh orders to meet up with a King Tiger Battalion assembling across the ice plain. While adding fresh armor to the tank’s hull, a raid by allied fighter-bombers forces sends Kessler’s crew scurrying for cover, unaware they are being followed by a group of vengeful Russian partisans. To make matters worse, the Russian Partisans have radioed Kessler’s position to their command center.

Unable to secure the needed supplies at the Depot, the crew stops to hunt a deer for food. They find more than they bargained for–the lone and lost SS Officer Huber Gottfried. Gottfried, a junior SS officer, is partially responsible for the extermination of a small Russian village. He creates division among the crew driving a wedge between their camaraderie and teamwork. He’s a charming sociopath with a sadistic bent, an immoral compass, and the one actual dedicated Nazi in the story.

With the SS man onboard, the crew of “Ilsa” sees a huge hulk looming out of the Russian mists. It’s “Gustav” the giant siege gun built by the Krupp Munitions company in Germany. Its destruction later in this fictional version suggests what might have happened to this giant siege gun in its finals days.

“Ilsa” heads out across the ice lake where every creaking sound puts the crew’s nerves on edge. Along the way, they pass an eerie column of frozen and abandoned tanks, many sinking into the ice and jutting up at odd angles. Eventually, they come to rest for the night at an abandoned and half-destroyed church, where another disturbing night awaits them. While the crew beds down for the night, Kurt, the radio operator, has a jarring supernatural experience.

They are not alone. Out across the ice plain, the crew of the Tiger 1 tank, the one Kessler’s men encountered back at the Depot, is about to experience a more violent otherworldly event.

The next morning the crew wakens in a morning fog. Heinz, the loader, investigates a sound, and unearths an old Russian truck buried in the snow. However, off to the side in the fog, something else draws his attention. He calls out to the others, and they advance on a grisly sight, the crew of Tiger 1, the one they encountered back at the depot, all five are impaled on high spikes.

Before they can process this mayhem the sound of a Russian SU-100 killer tank seeps through the morning mist. It is accompanied by a white command tank, one from the previous encounters. In addition, Russian Partisans with rocket launchers emerge and a ferocious tank battle ensures.

After eluding the SU-100, “Ilsa” hurries into the woods, switches off her engines, and hides. There they discover the Russian Partisan they took inside during the battle is a woman, Nadia. The chain of command unravels with Kessler injured and unconscious. Then when Gottfried’s questioning of Nadia goes array things take a surprising twist when she unveils a grenade that she’s smuggled onboard.

Things become more desperate when out there somewhere, the arrival of the Creature takes the action to yet another level.

While Max and Heinz undertake repairs on “Ilsa,” Kurt and Wolfy venture on motorbike to the tank graveyard they passed earlier. There they find a replacement firing pin for their broken cannon. Barely escaping a frozen drowning from a sinking tank and roaming pack of wolves, Kurt plays a deadly game of cat and mouse with the Creature around of icy metal hulks.

Just in time, Wolfy rescues Kurt, but they loose the firing pin in the process. The two escape on the motorcycle and head back across the ice-plain to the tank, the Creature in hot pursuit.

Frantically racing to join up with Max, Heinz, and Gottfried at a repaired “Ilsa,” a perilous mid-ride transfer to the tank proves challenging with the vengeful Creature on their tail. When bullets, grenades, and rocket-launchers are thrown into the mix, Heinz and Wolfy are rapidly lost to the Creature.

The final showdown takes place at the giant siege cannon where demoralized remnants of the crew await rescue. Having discovered Kurt’s secret, Gottfried chooses to make his move atop the giant cannon. Unfortunately for Max, the Creature also makes its appearance and “Ilsa” is no more.

Kurt and Gottfried’s tense standoff is interrupted by the tortured whistling of the torn-apart King Tiger tracks and the final battle for survival is on. So ends the published synopsis. However, there has to be more and that’s why you’ll want to see this movie.

Pre-production

Putting this story into cinematic terms will be a challenging job. First off, the military hardware is a logistic nightmare. Accumulating the number of working tanks that are required for the battle scenes would be budget prohibited. Gary Kurtz told me there is only one working King Tiger tank and that is in War Museum, thus unavailable. He went on to say that Peter Jackson/ Richard Taylor’s Weta Workshop would be building one. A Panzer 88 King Tiger weighs about 60 tons and the replica would weigh in at about 15 ton. By using lighter materials such as aluminum, plastics and fiber composites, the weight can be kept down, yet make it appear authentic. For cinematic purposes, this tank would appear fully operational.

Weta will also build the interior sets of the tank. Director Peter Briggs states that these interior sets would be placed on hydraulic ball joints to duplicate affect of movement across rough terrain. Currently, they are planing on building three interiors for the three models of tank they will be using. For “Ilsa” the set will have removable sections, which will allow camera access for full coverage of the tank’s interior. He also plans to use hand-held camera when in the mists of tank battles. There will also be some combination of jiggle/rack focus/45 degree shutter, possibly in conjunction with a C-G “shimmer” concussion blast. This, in combination with visual and sound effects will replicate much of the tank’s battle action.

A combination of C-G, miniatures, and green screen against realistic backgrounds will be used for much of the exterior scenes. For instance, the pursuit of “Ilsa” across the ice plain could be shot in Sweden using 1/4 scale tank in a live setting or in New Zealand with a cyclorama using the same miniatures. Moving plates would be C-G’d in for the background.

In such close-quarters, claustrophobia adds pressure to the crew. It becomes a story of five guys in a tin can who keep getting hit by the unforeseen. The director likens it the Das Boot where to survive; they must work as a team and not give in to their fears. However, in Panzer 88, the arrival of the SS officer creates disharmony and opens up those fears.

To mark the passage of time and distance, beauty shots of the terrain such as frozen waterfall, the abandoned hull of a capsized ship or the marvel of the Milky Way above them will be used. Another beauty shot considered is the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in the background as the tiny speck of the King Tiger tank moves across the Russian arctic landscape.

The Creature will be a hulked-up entity twice the size of a human being and will be a green screen digital composition to gain the right perspective with the other characters and military machinery. He might be creature in a suit, with facial and other CG replacement and sometimes 100% CG. Director says, “He’s a fairly fiery bad ass: he’s most definitely not indestructible, but you need to pour an awful lot at him to make a dent.”

Smoke, fog and snow will play a major part in the atmosphere of the film. They will play into the horror aspects of the film as they hold up a curtain of intrigue as to what’s waiting out there. Fake snow, green screen plates, and a healthy dose of manufactured sounds will round out the production filming. In addition, authentic looking costumes, uniforms, armor & weapons will likewise give the story that authentic lived-in look.

The budget for the film is reported to be around 40 million, which is a moderate amount for an independent film. Talks with stars such as Gary Oldman, Jay Barucchel along with Thomas Kretchman have been reported as casting possibilities. Liev Schreiber has all been mentioned.

I suspect that the film will be action driven with limited dialogue. Much of the drama plays out with maneuvers of the tanks, soldiers, and Russian partisans. However, the major force will be on the expressions of the crewmembers as they face one dilemma after another. Such coverage makes the film more action oriented and thus easily marketable to foreign territories.

While the crew is the protagonist of the film, the director does not see them as being sympathetic. It is more likely we will admire them for their professionalism and the dangers they overcome. They are innocent pawns who stumble across a chain of events that turns them from being warriors into becoming victims. They don’t understand why the Creature is obsessing on them. Yet, we understand the aims of the Creature and sympathize with it. This is the moral dilemma the audience will have to play with and will undoubtedly create considerable commentary among audiences as well as reviewers.

Marketing “Panzer 88″

Carnaby International, based out of London, will be the marketing/sales force behind the project and will shepherd its placement in domestic and international markets. Carnaby is an integrated independent production and sales company with the specific purpose of financing and producing British feature films. To date, Carnaby has produced and co-produced ten feature films. Panzer 88 will be a truly international film with cast, crew, locations, and facilities crossing many borders. The project is being presented at the Berlin Film Festival for additional pre-sale commitments.

Financing and marketing “Panzer 88″ embarks on new territories in filmmaking. Few films have ventured into telling a story from the loser’s point of view, much less between Germany and Russia. Therefore, this film should attract an eager audience wanting to explore this slice of history.

In this story, no one wins. There are no heroes. Only victims of devouring ideologies. In a way, it might be considered a tragedy where we care, feel and identify with the tragic struggles of admirable characters. Thus, there is a high emotional connection between the story and the audience.

The 1981 movie Das Boot is a comparable film with a budget of 14 million and a worldwide box office of 85 million. Adjusted for inflation the budget would now be around 37.8 million and box office of 229.5 million. Das Boot is about a WWII German U-Boat crew facing the boredom, filth, and the sheer terror of a precarious mission. The similarity is uncanny and while the film did okay in the U.S., 11.4 million (30.8 adjusted), it did exceptionally well internationally.

In Das Boot, what I found appealing is the diversity of characters, their wants and emotions. It wasn’t just about the mission; it was about compelling characters dealing with one crisis after another, each in their own way. They dealt with moral issues, family issues, mechanical problems, and their internal fears. With such characters, we strongly identify.

Similar characters are found in “Panzer 88,” as they too must deal with the same issues. While many WW2 films glamorize war measuring success by territory gained or the number of casualties inflicted, we rarely see the brutal carnage inflicted or the horrors experienced by the participants. Panzer 88 has an opportunity to show the realistic side of military action and bring a new dimension to such films. The mission is secondary; survival of the team becomes paramount in Panzer 88.

All these elements will draw audiences to this film, its story, its characters, and its dimension of horror. Another element is the realization of this story, the photography, the military hardware, locations, and the computer graphics. The way these are incorporated into a seamless story line that informs, entertains, scares us, and most of all, tugs at our heartstrings. These are my expectations for “Panzer 88.”

Extras

One thing viewers will look forward to is the behind the scenes video. This is a complicated and imaginative production and how it came together will be of emense interest to its audience. Interviews with the stars and the production team will display the many aspects of producing a film of this magnitude and the tremendous efforts behind it.

Links to online photos and sketches can be found at Panzer 88 Movie – Google Search and Facebook.com/Panzer88Movie.

This is a movie, whose concept is grounded in imaginative databases. It has a creative team that is highly capable of using these innovative tools to create a masterpiece. Panzer 88″ will be a monster hit the world over because it has a universal story, compelling characters, intense action, unique concept and a highly professional team behind it.

CREDITS: Proposed cast includes Gary Oldman, Jay Barucchel, Liev Schreiber, and Thomas Kretchman. Director-Peter Briggs; Writers-Peter Briggs, James Cowen and Aaron Mason; Producers-Gary Kurtz, Andrew Loveday, and Priscilla Ross,; Art Director- Kim Sinclair; Production Manager-Philip Sharpe; First Assistant Director-Richard Matthews. Casting Director-Steve Daly; Art Department: Armor & Weapons-Matt Appleton; Supervisor: Weta Workshop-Robert Gillies; Concept Artist-Stuart Jennett; Head Creature Designer-Paul J. Mendoza; Design & Effects Supervisor-Richard Taylor; Concept Artist-A. J. Trahan; Sound Department: Supervising Sound Editor-Mike Hopkins; Sound Designer-Dave Whitehead. Special Effects Department: Special Effects Supervisor-Steve Ingram; Visual Effects Director of Photography-Alex Funke; Special Effects-Weta Workshop. Studio Facilities-Stone Street Studios. Panzer 88 was slated to go into production March 2014. No revised date has been published.

Your 401-K: How to Make Money Investing in 2014, 2015 and Beyond

Some people make money investing in 401-k plans consistently, while most make money and then give most of their profits back in a bad market. In 2014, 2015 and beyond, good money management and asset allocation are the keys to investing money in 401-k plans if you want to KEEP the money you’ve already accumulated in your plan. Here’s how to do it.

Investing money in 401-k plans is the key to a successful retirement, but for over a dozen years it’s been difficult to make money and KEEP IT. Twice investors have been clipped for 50% or more investing money in 401-k funds. Good money management in 2014, 2015 and beyond and a change in your 401-k asset allocation could help you protect your assets. After all, if you take a 50% loss, you’ve got to then double your money just to get even.

If your plan is typical you could have a dozen or more options for investing money in your 401-k plan, and all but one or two of these are mutual funds: mostly stock funds and bond funds. Do you know where your money is? Money management is your job if you want to make money over the long term, and step one is to review your 401-k asset allocation (your portfolio) from time to time, at least once a year. If you haven’t reviewed your portfolio lately do it now. You might be taking more risk than you think.

Stock funds have outperformed all other options for over 5 years running. This means that if you had about half of your assets in stocks 5 years ago, you’ve likely got the vast majority of your money there now. And this means that a big decline in the stock market in 2014, 2015 and beyond could severely hurt your plans for retirement. Sometimes it pays to be heavily into stock funds. Other times it’s best to be more conservative when investing money in 401-k plans.

If your 401-k asset allocation shows that you are more than 50% invested in stock funds consider cutting back. After 5 very good years, the stock market could be running out of steam. If your plan offers a safe STABLE ACCOUNT that pays interest, take advantage of it. It could pay 3%, 4% or more, and you won’t find interest rates like that anywhere else. Remember, investing money in 401-k plans is a long-term proposition and your future retirement income will depend on whether or not you make money investing consistently.

Bond funds need your attention as well. These have been good options for over 30 years because they perform well when interest rates are falling. When rates go up they LOSE money; and in 2014, 2015 and beyond rates are expected to go up after falling for more than 30 years. In other words, bond funds are NOT safe options. If you want to lighten up on risk, your plan likely offers one or two safe options: a stable account and a money market fund.

Consider the stable account first because it will pay a higher interest rate. As for your 401-k asset allocation: equal allocation to a safe option, stock funds and bond funds makes good sense, both for the assets you hold and for new contributions going in from your paycheck. With this asset allocation average investors you can still make money investing in 401-k plans if present trends continue. If the stock market tanks or interest rates rise, money in the safe options will soften the blow.

Investors need to understand that both the economy and market trends change. You can make money investing in 401-k plans over the long term without taking undo risk. The key to success for 2014, 2015 and beyond is good money management and more safety in your 401-k asset allocation. Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry, and to keep some powder dry in safe options, awaiting future opportunity.

B2B Content Marketing Statistics and Trends: How Do You Measure Up?

The Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs recently published their annual B2B Content Marketing: 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends–North America report. Looking back at 2013 and ahead to 2014, the study revealed many intriguing B2B content marketing statistics. You will definitely want to check it out for yourself, but below are a few key findings to help gauge how your content marketing efforts measure up to your competitors.

Not surprisingly, B2B marketers who had a documented content strategy were more likely to consider themselves successful (66 percent compared to 11 percent), and the majority of the most effective marketers (86 percent) said someone oversaw their strategy.
Key takeaway: Your business needs a leader to own your B2B content marketing activities. Whether you outsource content or manage it internally, give one person the primary responsibility of executing your plan.

Marketers used an average of 13 B2B content marketing tactics last year. Seven tactics surpassed 70 percent in popularity, topped by social media, articles on their own websites, eNewsletters, blogs, in-person events, case studies, and videos. The most successful B2B marketers rated blogs as the most effective tactic (79 percent), while infographics have seen the largest year-over-year increase in usage.
Key takeaway: Your business needs to use a diverse set of tactics to connect with prospects and customers. While blogs and social media will likely continue to be the best B2B content marketing tactics, you should also consider repurposing content as eNewsletters, case studies, white papers, videos, infographics, and online presentations.

B2B marketers used an average of six social media platforms. SlideShare, Google+, and Instagram saw the largest increase in usage, but the top three platforms are still LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook (in that order).
Key takeaway: While you should continue to engage with prospects and customers on the most popular social media platforms, branch out to other sites on which your target audience hangs out. The most effective social media sites will, as always, depend on your industry and type of business. They can range from video-sharing sites like YouTube to presentation-sharing sites like SlideShare to Google’s favorite social networking site (its own, Google+, of course!).

At 82 percent, brand awareness has been the number one goal for marketers for the last four years. After brand awareness, the top B2B marketing goals were lead generation, customer acquisition, thought leadership, engagement, and customer loyalty.
Key takeaway: While you are undoubtedly trying to achieve many goals with your B2B content marketing strategy, they all start with creating and sharing high-quality content your target audience wants. If you don’t provide it, they will find it with a competitor.

On average, 43 percent of B2B marketers use a combination of in-house and outsourced resources for content creation. Although large companies outsource content creation more often than small companies, more small companies plan to increase their budgets over the next twelve months.
Key takeaway: B2B content marketing spending will inevitably continue to rise as businesses of all sizes–and in virtually every industry–reap the benefits of implementing an effective content marketing program. With so many options available and competition steadily increasing, you need to define a specific strategy that is tailored to your goals. An unfocused approach will likely result in spreading yourself too thin in too many different areas.

How does your business measure up to these B2B content marketing statistics and trends? Which tactics have been most effective? How do you plan to outperform your competitors this year? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Critical Mass on the Russian Internet

The Internet holding Rambler Media is known to every Russian-speaking user of the World Wide Web. It’s the first and the oldest Russian search engine. Search, news, an introductions service, mail on rambler.ru, the famous Lenta.ru, the goods catalogue on price.ru – for many years all these maintained Rambler as the market leader on the net. However, in the last few years, the company has been losing turnover. Certainly, the company has remained in the top three companies on the Russian net – Yandex, Rambler and Mail.ru – but reliance on old projects has become harder and harder to sustain, and fireworks from new ones – except the purchase of a block of shares in the contextual advertising company Begun – have not been remarkable. Their TV channel brought a series of losses, and was consequently sold. Mobile content initially generated decent profits, but then also began to stagnate. This spring, the company witnessed a change of all its top management. We invited one of the new team, Artur Akop’yan, Financial Director for the Rambler Media Group, to an online interview.

1. Can Rambler at last become competitive and marketable? Will it at last be possible to be proud of the company? Why does Rambler, unlike Yandex, not sell a full range of contextual advertising? How are you going to position Rambler?

- Rambler is a multi-service information Internet-portal offering a wide range of opportunities for work, information searching, communication and entertainment in the modern world. Rambler should be a portal that’s convenient and interesting to use every day. As for marketability, the company’s core business, its Internet division, has been profitable for several years already. In the future, we hope to bring you a number of pleasant surprises, so that you can be genuinely proud of us. We see our task as being to retain Rambler’s market position. Our priority is to increase traffic and the number of users, and also to improve the quality of our services.

2. How successful do you consider the existence of the Rambler-TV television channel? Has the investment justified expectations?

- From a purely financial perspective, Rambler-TV was very successful. We sold it at a significant profit (in January 2007 a deal was finalized for the sale of the channel to Prof-Media Holding for $23 million, the initial investment was considerably less). The question of expectations in terms of audience ratings is not so relevant for us now. In 2006, Rambler’s board of directors took the decision to focus exclusively on Internet development and, in that context, the sale of non-core business has been very successful.

3. Right now, hundreds of new companies are trying to “catch the spirit of Web2.0″, to “create a social network”, and are generally full of hope that a start-up in this field is going to garner then success. As a financial expert, and as a representative of one of the leading Internet companies in Russia, could you give your considered opinion on the prospects of such start-ups?

- As far as source of income goes, in a market like Russia’s, the preference for business models connected with profit from advertising is going to be with us for a long time. For Rambler, and for other major players, it will be a long time before other means of attracting income (including direct provision of services), play more than an utterly insignificant role in our financial results. As a financier, when I hear of yet another plan to “create a social network”, the main question that I want to ask is: how deep are the investors’ pockets for this project?

4. I’ve got an idea for an Internet project, but surely if I take it to web-development specialists there’s a good chance that they’ll develop my idea without me, or work with me, but then create a clone, a perfected version, already knowing all the plusses and minuses of my project. How can I protect myself from outcomes like this? What is the minimal sum needed to create an Internet portal from nothing, and are there financial structures that might actually be interested in start-ups?

- As I see it, at the current stage of market evolution, to create an Internet portal from nothing, especially a portal for a large public with a horizontal line of services, is practically impossible, or at least demands the investment of tens of millions of dollars. On the hand, it’s possible to develop a specialized service with the outlay of only a few tens of thousands of dollars. There are investors of that type right now, but, as far as I can tell, there are far more people interested in investing than there are realistic projects. As to your question about the protections of ideas: certainly there is that type of risk, and it all depends of the choice of partner. I should add, however, that it’s very rare to find a project that is genuinely unique, and that offers something that can’t be found anywhere else or can’t be realized by other people.

5. It’s often said today that there’s more money in the Internet than there are interesting ideas, and that all more or less interesting projects are snapped up. If that’s true, then what types of buyer are there around? What kinds of site generate buyer interest? Do the current profits of a project have decisive significance, or are the idea itself and the prospects for development more important?

- It’s almost impossible to give a clear classification of the types of investor. Individual investors can be swayed by current profitability or by future prospects. To answer that question would require separate research. I’d like to warn against following general trends. There has been a lot of talk recently about social networks, about blogs, about instant-messaging systems and Internet messengers. In fact, the market for such resources is already saturated. The pioneers in that market have already had the chance to take the pickings, or to sell out to the biggest players, and further new investment in that type of project is pointless.

6. What do you think about SEO (search engine optimization)? How long will it take for search engines to come up with a personalized information search on the Internet, which will take into account individual requirements, search history, etc. And will that not spell the end for SEO?

- There have been several estimates given recently for the size of the market in search-result optimization. According to some of them, it has reached $50 million dollars per year in Russia and the CIS. It’s a big industry. The battle between the human intellect and search engines reminds somewhat of the chess games with artificial intelligence (the battles between Kasparov or Kramnik and Deep Fritz or Deep Blue). Obviously, search engines are going to get more intelligent and more relevant through personalization (through narrower settings around users’ interests), through more intelligent setting of parameters, through better quality filtration of spam (doorways), and through a host of other algorithms. But it’s a little too optimistic to predict the end for search optimization. It’ll get harder for them, but there will still be opportunities for flashes of human intellect.

7. What do you think of advertising on blogs, and how good are the prospects for this sector?

- It is possible to make money from your own blog, but not much. I would point to three basic means: contextual advertising, hidden marketing and sponsorship. For personal blogs in Russia, as a rule we’re talking about tens or, in the best case, hundreds of dollars per year. As an example, take the recent noisy announcement of a contract between Soup Fabrik and Alfa-Bank ($50,000). Obviously, the commercial potential for that type of project can’t be compared with the opportunities or budgets for media, banner or contextual advertising. There is only really potential for projects that have existed for more than a few years and have a strong original concept with specific content. Good examples are Alex Eksler’s original project, where there are always numerous commercial advertisements. Also, Internet Things, the authors of which are looking for “favorite sponsors”. Secret marketing is, of course, secret, so it’s impossible to point to definite examples of its successful use. Although you could use the example of the recent post on the Norwegian Woodsman’s blog about the Macdonald’s factory. Most bloggers think of him as a hippy. There is an enormous public living in the blogosphere and, undoubtedly, that public is interesting to advertisers. But it’s still questionable whether or not there exist the tools or even the spaces to meet the requirements of those advertisers.

8. How much longer are the prices for banner advertising going to continue rising?

- The Internet in Russia is only just beginning to develop, growth for Internet access penetration is forecast for the next five to six years, but it’s already realistic to talk about the Internet having reached a critical mass to be of interest to advertisers. For now it is only 1.6% of general advertising budgets, while in developed countries that figure is closer to 5-6%. That suggests great potential for growth. Rambler is trying to unbalance the market by unnecessarily increasing prices for advertising. Nonetheless, thanks to the growth in our audience and the increase in interest in our advertising users, we have been able gradually and slowly to increase the price for a thousand displays.

9. What is the growth potential for regional and highly specialized segments on the Internet? Will they be able to escape from the shadow of big-budget projects like yours? As far as I can tell, they have two possible paths of expansion – to stop being targeted or to come under the umbrella of the strongest players on the Russian Internet.

- Highly specialized projects can live very well in their niche, if their concept is in demand. If the project is a copy of some competitor’s and there is a strong desire to beat them, then the deciding factor is really the support of the portal. Regional projects are a different matter. In many respects, they exist in a different world. In fact, it’s less that they need the portals, and more that the portals need them to increase their penetration in the provinces. From an economic point of view, access to regional and to national traffic in the regions is slowly leveling out, although nothing is going to change the fact that local resources know their area better, and that makes them more interesting to local users. The local listings business (a good American example would be Craigslist), undoubtedly has a definite potential. Neither Rambler, nor Microsoft, nor Yahoo! are capable of, or interested in, providing an information resource for the timetable of turning off the hot-water supply in Ussuriysk. And there are users who want not only to take pride in Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, but also to find suburban train timetables for their local station, and cinema listings for their neighborhood. A resource like Rambler should consolidate those resources – through searches, through special projects, and through promotion. But we don’t want to swallow up all regional resources and, what’s more, we can’t.

UK Mortgage Market Review

The Mortgage Market Review

Getting a mortgage is no longer as straightforward as it used to be and is increasingly becoming difficult. Add to this, the difficulty of raising a sufficient deposit. Unfortunately, it may become more challenging to get a mortgage from 26 April 2014 when new rules come into effect, commonly known as the Mortgage Market Review or MMR.

Background to the Mortgage Market Review

Partly due to the property boom, in particular 2005 to 2007; and the severe financial consequences faced by some; the Financial Services Authority conducted a full review of the mortgage market as highlighted in its discussion paper of October 2009. In particular, the Financial Services Authority looked at the regulatory framework to ensure that risky and sometimes, irresponsible borrowing of the boom years is a thing of the past and that consumers are better protected.

Shelter fully supports the changes. Interestingly, in Shelter’s Consultation Response it highlights that the “FSA’s own data shows that nearly half of mortgagor households have either no money or a shortfall after living costs and housing costs, a stark statistic which further highlights the extent of our affordability crisis.”

The Mortgage Market Review Implementation

Buy to let is not affected by the Mortgage Market Review and buy to let lending remains unregulated. The Mortgage Market Review only applies to residential mortgages.

Borrowers will need to satisfy lenders of their income. Effectively, an end to self-certified UK residential mortgages which were popular in the boom years. Evidence of income must be provided by all borrowers.

A significant change is a move away from income multiples in assessing how much a borrower can lend to strong affordability checks to check expenditure versus income to see if a borrower can really afford the mortgage applied for.

Any application for an interest only mortgage will also require the lender to delve a bit deeper than simply taking the word of the borrower. Lenders will looks closely at the proposed repayment strategy and its credibility.

With some exceptions, all face to face and telephone mortgage sales must be on an advised basis (in a nutshell, this where the borrower is advised on the best mortgage).

Some lenders have already announced their changes whilst other have already implemented their new stricter lending policies.

Conclusion

The Council of Mortgage Lenders Director General, Paul Smee, states:

“The introduction of MMR regulation will bring the largest change to how the mortgage market works in over a decade. The industry has shown that it is ready, and we anticipate a smooth transition into the new framework. We hope and expect the new rules will provide a robust and stable framework for the long term. We hope that any transition issues can be managed in a way which minimises their impact on the borrower, and the CML is ready to assist the FCA in this task.”

The Council of Mortgage Lenders has been working closely with the Money Advice Service to produce online guides for anyone wanting to apply for a residential mortgage under the new rules.

The Mortgage Market Review is designed to protect consumers. Borrowers should check revised lending criteria that applies from 26 April 2014, be prepared for a longer mortgage application process compared to previously and should be fully prepared to provide evidence of income and expenditure.

A Quick-Start Incubator Model for Hybrid Math and Science Programs in Kentucky’s School Systems

Abstract

An educational program “incubator” is comparable to a business incubator in that it is a start-up program that may be implemented on a larger scale if it is deemed successful. “Success” may be measured by a number of parameters: the participating students’ standardized test scores, end of course exam scores, ACT/SAT scores, number of students meeting college acceptance criteria, and/or the general perception of the program within the school district/community. A more subjective measure of success, but no less important, is the sustained interest of students (with a focus on young women) in the sciences throughout their primary/middle/and high school years. It is this subjective measure of success that led to the development of this particular “incubator” model’s concepts and strategies.

Introduction

The “incubator” model that I present is not from the perspective of a life-long educator, but from the perspective of a career scientist, an application specialist, an operations manager, and a middle school/high school science teacher for only the past seven (7) years. I readily admit that I am not an expert on pedagogy. However, I believe I have mastered thinking out-of-the-box and applying those revelations to systems that may require a different approach to achieve mandated outcomes. I do not believe the system of education in Kentucky is broken, far from it; there are many great minds and passionate, dedicated people in all levels of Kentucky’s educational system. Nevertheless, I do believe that any company/industry/system that does not embrace an investment in research and development is destined to stagnate. As we have seen with the United States’ status in math & science education in comparison to say that of Finland’s, I believe an evaluation of alternative concepts is in order.

Target Audience

This three (3) year incubator targets a student population from 8th grade through 10th grade – providing accelerated online curriculum, college affiliated dual-credit coursework, water quality and biodiversity fieldwork, science-themed monthly public presentations, and student mentoring at local elementary schools. Students would have the option at the end of year three (3) to start taking college courses full-time in year four (4), having earned enough credits to graduate from high school. The other options available to students in Kentucky would be attending the Gatton Academy at Western Kentucky University, or returning to their home school and take AP level coursework plus electives (ideal for athletes with 2 years of eligibility remaining).

Student Selection Reasoning: The eighth grade student population selection is based on the following reasoning: in Kentucky, an eighth grade student’s science exposure is minimal at best. Since science is not tested in Kentucky’s middle schools at the eighth grade level, some middle schools do not offer science classes in order to double up on social studies which is tested in eighth grade. By incorporating these students into an incubator, it provides greater continuity for science students and a focus on retaining young women’s enthusiasm for the sciences.

Budget

The initial funding required for this incubator model is dependent upon the availability of resources: classroom access, classroom amenities (calculators, chairs, computer workstations, lab workstations, SMART Boards or tablets, tables, white boards), curriculum, laboratory supplies, teacher salaries, and transportation. If existing teachers are used to staff the model and a location for the program already exists then initial start-up cost may be 50-75K dollars. Annual costs, if just for resupply of used equipment and materials, are approximately 25k-40k per year.

Staffing

Full-time teaching positions: This incubator uses a POD concept. The POD concept is a middle school team model using four (4) Highly Qualified designated instructors (these are the strongest in Language Arts/Math/Science/Social Studies pedagogy and content knowledge available, regardless of certification (high school/middle school)). Project SCALE-UP is designed to support ninety (90) students within a classroom, in this model a cohort, therefore each of the four (4) facilitators will mentor fifteen (15) students per session during the school day.

Location

Location(s) for this incubator could be: an Alternative school campus, or one (or more) of the existing high schools. The selected location(s) should have sufficient space for two large classrooms with multiple electrical outlets and internet access (wireless or LAN). The classroom need to have multiple large-volume printer/scan/fax devices to support student work. One of the classrooms will be used for laboratory activities, so extra water/gas access points will be needed as well.

Transportation

Transportation to and from Incubator Site: Transportation of students will be defined by the decision for the location of the incubator site. If the site selected is on the campus of the district’s alternative school program(s) or a separate magnet school facility, then consider the transportation plan 1.

Transportation Plan 1: In the morning, students are taken to their home high school, where they are transferred to the incubator site in a second bus – arriving at the incubator site prior to the incubator school day starting time. In the afternoon, students will need to end their school day early, in order to catch the transfer bus back to their home high schools prior to the end of the normal high school day. Students will then take the normal bus route home from each high school. Depending on the number of high schools in the district, additional transportation costs will be the costs for running the transfers to and from each site. School day hours for the incubator site will need to be adjusted to allow transportation of students to and from their home high schools.

Incubator located within the High school locations: If the incubator site(s) are located in the existing high schools, then consider transportation plan 2.

Transportation Plan 2: Students will follow the normal transportation routes to their home high schools in the mornings and in the afternoon. There are no additional transportation costs and no changes to the hours for the incubator’s school day required in this model.

i. Program Transportation Needs

Depending upon the size of the school district, and the number of students included in the program, there are a number of options for program transportation.

Option 1 – Dedicated School Buses (Eminence Independent School District Model): The model employed by the Eminence Independent School District is ideal for a Project SCALE-UP design program with cohort sizes of up to 90 students. In this model, two (2) school buses equipped with A/C and WiFi capability are dedicated to transport program students to all activities during the school day; the buses are used in normal district transportation be- fore school and after school. This concept provides flexibility in transporting program students to field work activities, on-campus college courses, and student mentoring activities, with WiFi access for coursework and research during transportation and on-site. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the vision of the leaders in this district; the simplicity and versatility of their program is exemplary.

Option 2 – Using School Vans (Bullitt County Model): The model employed by Bullitt County’s Advanced Math and Science Program is ideal for cohort sizes of 24 or less students. School vans, in this case 8 passenger vans, where used to transport students to research sites, other schools for mentoring, and to local museums/college campuses for presentations. Use of vans requires that one or all of the instructor’s undergoes driver certification every two (2) years, and there is competition for the use of the van with fall/winter/spring sports and other school groups. If all 24 students where to attend an offsite program or event, then a school bus would be required.

ii. Other Considerations

School programs, student testing and extracurricular activities: It is necessary to plan to transport students to their home schools for events such as concerts, pep rallies, and state exams. This may be as simple as transporting the students one-way, either to home school from the program site or from the home school to the program site. School buses will be required for this transportation.

Sports/Band: Students who participate in sports and/or band require special consideration. It is extremely important that these students do not feel like they must decide between participation in the program vs. participation in sports or band. Although, these students may find as they continue in the program that academic success may be inversely proportional to participation in extracurricular activities. Participation in marching band will require some creativity in scheduling, however since most high achieving students participate in band, I would address that reality early.

Curriculum

Online Curriculum: My teaching experience in the disciplines on math and science have left one indelible impression, printed curriculum is the weakest link in our system of education. From that point in time which it is printed and then distributed to the classrooms, it is out of date. Our foundation of knowledge changes too rapidly during the three to five year textbook selection cycle for the curriculum to ever be relevant. Online curriculum, with yearly cycles of content review is the best option we have at this point.

I readily admit I am not an expert in textbook funding, so I apologize for any wrong assumptions in this treatise. However, I am expert at the scientific analysis of issues and implementation of solutions, so it is from this perspective that I present the following for your consideration:

Research into textbook adoption for the students in Kentucky, yielded the following information: The budget, according to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), for FY2015 textbooks is $21,700,00.00; the number of high school students in the public schools in KY is approximately 400,000 – this number works well in this incubator model. This yields approximately $54.25 per student for FY2015 available to purchase curriculum. Based on my experience and relationships with the online curriculum vendors (Apex Learning, Edgenuity primarily) at a volume of 400,000 licenses the $54.25 per license is very reasonable. I feel very comfortable that a contract could be negotiated without issue. Please keep in mind that online curriculum would be for ALL disciplines – not just math and science.

Flexibility for course selection is a topic that requires a mention in this discussion. I personally found that an online offering of languages (Spanish, German, French, etc.) offered without dedicated instructors to be difficult for students to master. A district may consider offering the language component to the college/university partner to facilitate; also increasing the number of languages available as well.

An additional positive for the implementation of online curriculum, an A.P. certified teacher may not be required to teach their A.P. level courses. This is very beneficial, especially during the program design stage, when addressing the needs of Gifted and Talented students.

A final point for consideration is this: as school districts invest in technology for student use (iPads, laptops, and such) is the use of online curriculum not the next logical step in the evolution of our classrooms?

Project SCALE-UP: Project SCALE-UP [1, 2], initially introduced by Dr. Robert J. Beichner (North Carolina State University) as “Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs” and now renamed as “Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs”[1, 2], is the foundational model for this incubator program. Utilizing a cafeteria-style classroom, round tables seating anywhere from 6-9 students, up to 10 tables per classroom, upwards of 90 students can be accommodated at one time. Project SCALE-UP introduces the use of tangibles, ponderables, and concept inventories in the classroom along with large classrooms (in square footage) that accommodate lab activities and classroom activities in the same physical space. Combined with the aforementioned POD teaching concept, a unique synthesis in hands-on learning plus online curriculum and facilitation by the teachers can occur, and be very successful. And, may be easily adapted to fit the facility, even within an existing space at a high school.

“Flipped Classrooms”: Isn’t this just a model of a “Flipped Classroom”? The short answer is “no”; an explanation is required however. The “flipped classroom” concept revolves around the implementation and use of online curriculum in a standard classroom, usually with a student population equipped with iPads or laptops. Project SCALE-UP and in-turn this incubator takes the “flipped classroom” to the next level by surrounding the students with purposeful, targeted activities that exponentially increase the rigor and inquiry-based learning opportunities.

Suggested Curriculum Themes: As a vocal critic of too many disciplines (Astronomy, Astrobiology, Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, etc., etc., etc.), I continue to seek thematic units that require students to master the Liberal Arts (Language Arts +Mathematics + Sciences + Social Sciences) to successfully complete the unit. There are three (3) that I have used (I’m sure there are others), that I offer for your consideration: Astronomy (recognized as a super-science), Pond/Stream Water Quality & Biodiversity studies, and Sustainability. These three (3) thematic units may be used individually as the subject for one school year’s study; incorporated into public speaking opportunities, science fair concepts, student fieldwork, and student mentoring activities.

Concept Inventories, Ponderables, and Tangibles: How to implement each in the classroom, I remember their implementation sequence in alphabetical order.

Concept Inventories [3], alphabetically leads the list and should lead-off the school year as a pre-assessment (an inventory) of a student’s prior knowledge of common sense concepts and ideas. For example: why are there four (4) seasons? – draw the relationship between the Earth and Sun to support your answer. It is through the implementation of concept inventories and the data obtained that I chose to redesign my incubator to include 8th grade students. Do not fret, one does not need to reinvent the wheel, there are a multitude of research-based concept inventories that may be accessed on the Internet. Concept inventories are traditionally multiple-choice format.

Ponderables [1, 2], teachers may be familiar with the term bell ringers or openers, however these two “concepts” do not meet the rigor of a “ponderable”. A “ponderable” is a pencil and paper thought exercise for students, no guidance for a solution is given and the rigor of the question is such that student-research is required to complete the activity. The timeframe for a “ponderable” may be 10-15 minutes, it measures a student’s ability to research, conceptual knowledge, creativity, and organizational skills. I’ve had success in the past creating “ponderable” questions by taking “missed” questions from a concept inventory and deleting the multiple-choice answers. “Ponderables” are more subjective than objective measurements of student abilities.

Tangibles [1, 2], consider a “ponderable” that is not a pencil and paper tool but a measurement tool for a student’s hands-on abilities and understanding of concepts. For example: using a single sheet of notebook paper, fashion the tallest, free-standing object possible. “Tangibles” gauge a student’s creativity, and application of concepts to a hands-on activity.

Suggestions – Student Laboratory Activities: Think college-level and career-oriented activities. The implementation of online curriculum in the classroom, specifically the science disciplines, comes complete with a set of “dry lab activities”. These activities are useful for the most part, however given the amount of lab time available, these were the first thing I scrapped. I am a firm believer that for students to be successful in college labs and in careers where lab proficiency is a necessity, you can never start too early. When developing start-up and operating budgets for your program, this is not the area to be conservative or short-sighted. Consider the industries in your area, possible collaborations, college/university special- ties, and latest trends in employment. My suggestion – think biotechnology (electrophoresis/PCR/DNA analysis), think instrumental chemistry (gas chromatography/polarimetry/melting point apparatus), think electronics (circuit boards/programming), and think robotics. Select lab benches and tables that give you the most flexibility and bang-for-your-buck. Consider electricity, gas, and water requirements; safety needs; and ventilation requirements. If you have funds left over, purchase a high quality reflecting telescope, a remote data transmitting weather station for the roof of the school, and lots of plasticware and consumables for the labs. Consider purchasing pre-packaged lab activities to avoid storage of large volumes of solvents and acids/bases, and they have readymade student activity outlines. Do not forget to research activities at NASA to incorporate as lab exercises as well, especially in your Astronomy unit. I am an experimentalist at heart so this is my passion.

Student Fieldwork – Collaborations and Topics: Arguably, students take-in and retain more information and master more skillsets outside the classroom than inside. I find that I can teach more, across all disciplines, in the field – especially “observation”. And, if those skillsets are applied to a curriculum that captures their attention and imagination then it is a no-brainer. I can provide two examples that were a tremendous success for our program in Bullitt County; I am sure that these can be replicated elsewhere.

During year one of our program, we established a collaborative partnership with Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (Dr. Mark Woorms, Claude Stephens, and Andrew Berry ) in Clermont, KY. The students in our program performed biodiversity studies, GPS mapping, and water monitoring studies (pH, temperature, conductivity, BOD, fecal coliforms, flow rate analysis) on a multitude of streams and ponds throughout the forest. Student’s developed databases for the information interfaced with GPS mapping software, and presented their data to parent and professional groups in our area. Students monitored the streams and ponds Fall, Winter, and Spring – it was never too cold or too wet to discourage participation.

During year three of our program, we established a collaborative partnership with the Kentucky Science Center (Andrew Spence) to allow our students to present science topic demonstrations to visitors at the Center. Our first experience with the students was “DNA Day” at the Kentucky Science Center where students from our program facilitated electrophoresis analysis of “pseudo-DNA” for 900 elementary, middle, and high school students. The student attendees inoculated their own gels, followed the migration patterns in the electrophoresis baths, and then made an educated interpretation of the results. Our students enjoyed themselves more than the attendees.

Scheduling

Hybrid school week plus hybrid school year: I am truly an advocate for changing how we look at the school week and the school year; having the tools mentioned in this article just allows for implementation of the changes more efficiently.

Hybrid School Week: Is there an advantage to mirroring a college weekly schedule? A resounding “YES”. Students leave the comfort of their homes and the familiarity they have with high school classes and curriculum to participate in an alien and at times overwhelming environment called college. If students are not prepared, armed with the study and coping skills necessary to succeed – I believe we are setting them up for failure. I encourage you to design your incubator in such a fashion as to gradually push students outside their comfort zone while they still have the support structure around them.

For example: establish class schedules that are Monday-Thursday, Tuesday- Friday with Wednesdays open for labs, fieldwork, and study halls. Assign work on Mondays that is due the following Thursday; Tuesday’s work to be submit- ted the next Friday. And, most importantly keep an updated syllabus for every class online and do NOT accept late work unless due to an excused absence. For labs, prepare a lab exercise manual listing all the labs to be completed that semester requiring completion and preparation of lab reports in the appropriate, documented format. Prepare your lab stations prior to the start of the semester, allow students to organize their time and efforts to complete all labs by the established deadline. Hold the students accountable for the submission of their work on time. You are in the classroom to facilitate their success, not to spoon-feed them knowledge.

Hybrid School Calendar: The advantage to using an online curriculum is the ability to prepare a syllabus that implements year-round school scheduling. An instructor can use the summer months to reinforce student weaknesses: reading and writing techniques, study skills, and the preparation research papers. Instructors may also schedule refresher courses to keep students on top of their games prior to returning in the Fall, especially math skills. I am also an advocate for utilizing discussion boards and cloud technology for students to submit commentaries on books in the reading lists I assign for the summer. This keeps students from writing the dreaded book reports that they procrastinate writing and I wish to avoid grading. The discussion boards’ generate conversations that I can monitor and contribute to in real-time.

Conclusion

This article addresses just the tip of the iceberg when considering the establishment of an “incubator” for a hybrid education program in your district or within a single school. Without a tremendous initial capital outlay and using existing teaching resources, an “incubator” could be established within an existing high school to determine the viability of such a program with your student demographic. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of faculty selection; the teachers must be facilitators of knowledge not merely instructors. Having access to online curriculum does not minimize the role of the teacher in the classroom, it enhances it. And, finally, always remember “transparency” is critical in the success of your program incubator. Your administration, parents, students, and teachers must have input. And by soliciting input you can, in the best of all world, ensure that you have buy-in from all groups. Establishing ownership at all levels of the program contributes to the success.

References

[1] “Beichner, R., Saul, J., Abbott, D., Morse, J., Deardorff, D., Al- lain, R., Bonham, S., Dancy, M., and Risley, J. (2006). Student- Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Pro- grams (SCALE-UP) project. In E. F. Redish and P. J. Cooney (Eds.), PER-Based Reform in University Physics. College Park, MD: American Association of Physics Teachers

[2] “R. Beichner, and J. Saul, Introduction to the SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs) Project. In Invention and Impact: Building Excellence in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education, proceedings of a conference by the Am. Assoc. for the Advancement of Science, April 2004, Washington DC, 2005.

[3] “Development and Validation of Instruments to Measure Learning of Expert-Like Thinking.” W. K. Adams & C. E. Wieman, 2010. International Journal of Science Education, 1-24. iFirst, doi:10.1080/09500693.2010.512369

Kelly Cleavinger, Eruditio-Demutare.com

April 25, 2014

Role and Responsibility of an IT Project Manager

Working on and leading a project would seem to have a lot in common, so selecting competent contributors to lead and assign work packages seems fairly logical. A milestone is a date when you expect a specific part of a project to be done. A good project manager will have the skills required to make the most of a limited budget and also to minimise risks within such a role. All must be managed together if to be a success. There are many ways in which a deliverable can be carried out and the way in which it is executed.

Upon approval of scope changes by the Change Control Board and Project Sponsor the manager will update all documents and communicate the scope change to all stakeholders. The manager executing the project will be involved in the entire lifecycle, from beginning to end. Any delegation of approval authority to the project manager should be done in writing and be signed by both the sponsor and manager delivering the project. Within the overall organisation, there will probably be teams defined as functional, project, or matrix structures. The project manager will deliver change requests to the owners for his/her immediate attention, and produce/obtain baseline schedule after approval from the sponsor.

A project is considered to be temporary endeavour because the goal is to deliver a specific product or implement certain process(es). A project is a temporary organisation, established to fulfil a specific remit. Project management is more than knowing how to build a team. Emphasis lies on the core methodology, risk management process, and contract management process as well as other aspects of the lifecycle. A successful project process must address the various phases of the overall lifecycle. The final values have to be agreed upon in a negotiation between the project delivery manager and the customer.

Students interested in earning higher degrees in project management often have undergraduate degrees. Degrees in project management have become an option when choosing a degree, which many institutions offering a wide variety of project management degrees requiring full-time attendance or part-time correspondence courses, making project management a career choice for many people with a through grounding in management and project methodologies and strategies such as IT project manager using PRINCE2 that sets out to separate various aspects of projects from planning, authorisation and execution to closing down a project.

Benefits derived from successful projects are not always straight forward as some projects endeavour to save money and others to simply processes. The term is highly relevant in a Project Management environment since most projects do not make any revenue and spend their initial capital in their execution phase.

Due to some major problems, some projects are abandoned during execution stage. When evaluating options, the whole-life value should be considered and not limited to the short term initial investment. Sometimes it’s best to spend a little and save a lot if the project is discovered not to be feasible proposition for the organisation early on. Projects within large organisations are almost always started in response to solve problems or fulfil a newly identified need.

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