ALA opens application period for Libraries Ready to Code grants

The American Library Association (ALA) has opened the application period for grants to develop public and school library programming that promotes computer science (CS) and computational thinking (CT) among youth. The grant opportunity, announced last month, is the latest phase of the Libraries Ready to Code (RtC) initiative of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), sponsored by Google.

Through a competitive request for proposals (RFP) process, a cohort of 25-50 libraries will be selected to receive grants of up to $25,000 to design and implement youth coding programs that incorporate Ready to Code concepts. Through these programs, the library cohort will collaboratively develop, pilot and rapidly iterate a “Ready to Code” toolkit containing a selection of CS resources for libraries and an implementation guide.

For more information about this funding opportunity, go to

Wouldn’t it be great to have Minnesota see some of these grants?

Learn to Code – a kids program in Winona working through Project FINE

I’m delighted to share details on an initiative from Project FINE and supported by the Blandin Foundation. It’s a great sample of what you can do with a kids coding class, if you have a college nearby…

Learn To Code program activities began in August 2016 with the summer camp.  In our grant proposal, we planned to host two camps: one in Winona and one in St. Charles.  During the camp planning phase, we worked closely with the College of Business at Winona State University and they generously allowed us to access technology and space on-campus to host a combined camp for youth from Winona & St. Charles.  This was a great benefit for the students, because we had a wonderful technology setup, with laptops, ipads, dual monitors for instruction and plenty of classroom space.  It also gave the youth a chance to visit the Winona State University campus and become familiar with a college classroom setting.

We were fortunate to have a local instructor to teach coding to youth at the summer camp.   He works in the technical support field and had previously taught coding classes for a local charter school.  Our camp sessions were held over 2 weeks from 4-8pm each weekday.  We originally planned to host the camp for 2 hours each day, but our instructor suggested we expand the camp time to allow the kids more hands-on experience, and the timeframe worked out very well.  16 youth participated in the camp, and they learned basic coding principles and how to use XCode to modify existing apps for games.  They worked together to modify and develop games and learned how to use a test mode to simulate the app use on a computer.  They also learned how to access their apps on an ipad, check for bugs, identify coding errors and make simple adjustments.

Following the coding camp, after-school sessions were held in both Winona and St. Charles during the 2016-17 school year.  Based on our experience with the app camp, we chose to host the Winona sessions in the fall of the year and the St. Charles sessions in the spring.  This allowed our volunteers and staff to focus on assisting one group at a time and gave more continuity for the youth.  50 students participated in the after-school sessions and they each learned to create multiple apps.  During the summer camp, we gained a greater understanding of the difficulty of creating apps or games and the challenges of writing code.  For the after-school programming, we decided to use a simpler block method of coding and used “Scratch” curriculum and activities developed by MIT.  This was a good choice, as the after-school sessions were shorter and less intense than the camp and the simpler coding format allowed youth to jump right in and begin creating code.

Throughout the after-school sessions, we had a group of 10 volunteers who served as mentors for the youth. They were a wonderful addition to the program, allowing for more individual assistance for youth and providing technical knowledge that was beyond our staff capacity.  The majority of the volunteers were college students studying in technology- or computer-related fields, and a few were young professionals already working in a career in technology.

One of our additional goals for the project was to provide information about STEM-related careers and increase interest through visits to tech companies or educational institutions.  The volunteers helped with this goal throughout the project, serving as role models for the youth and sharing their educational and work experiences.  We also toured the Winona State University campus during the summer camp and visited Minnesota State College Southeast in April 2017.  At Minnesota State College Southeast, the Dean of Trade and Technology gave the youth a tour of their various technology classrooms and lab spaces and shared the many technology-related opportunities they offer.  We also visited Benchmark Electronics, which is an international electronics company that engineers and manufactures a wide variety of technology products that are used in health care, manufacturing, transportation and other areas.  The youth learned about some of the products they design and manufacture, and saw various stages of production from concept drawings to computer boards to assembly and completed parts.  It was a great tie-in to our Minnesota State College Southeast visit, as our tour guide was an alumnus who has worked at the company for many years and now holds an upper-level management position.  The youth were very surprised to learn about all the different products, the type of coding and technology used to created them, and the many technology career options in the Winona area.

Congressman Emmer Supports Focus on Tech Apprenticeships

News from Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer on building tech skills…

Last week, Congressman Tom Emmer (MN-06) cosponsored the Championing Apprenticeships for New Careers and Employees in Technology (CHANCE in Tech) Act.

“As I travel across Minnesota, employers often express their frustration with the current skills gap and worker shortage facing our state and the nation as a whole, especially as the tech sector expands in Minnesota,” said Emmer. “As of April, more than 15,000 jobs in Minnesota’s technology sector remained unfilled – jobs with average annual salaries of nearly $100,000. I have had the opportunity to tour some of the apprenticeship programs and private-public partnerships in the great state of Minnesota and it is clear these programs are going to be the key to solving the skills gap currently plaguing our nation. I am proud to cosponsor the CHANCE in Tech Act to foster the creation of these private-public partnerships and cultivate new apprenticeship programs so that the generation of tomorrow has access to education that will bring this nation fully into the 21st century and beyond.”

“The U.S. is expected to have 1.8 million unfilled tech jobs by 2024. The deficit is not because of a lack of desire by American workers, but a dearth of workers with the necessary IT skills,” said Elizabeth Hyman, CompTIA’s Executive Vice President of Public Advocacy. “If neglected, the IT skills gap will affect our country’s ability to protect national security interests and to compete economically on the global stage. The CHANCE in Tech Act introduced today will address the growing IT talent challenge by encouraging public-private funding for apprenticeship programs in the technology sector and providing students with the necessary skills to compete in the 21st Century workforce.”

The CHANCE in Tech Act will direct the Department of Labor to assist in the promotion and development of access to apprenticeships in the technology industry.

2nd Annual GigaZone Gaming Championship Set for Sept. 29-30 in Bemidji

I’m not even a gamer and I have to say – what’s not to like here?!

2nd Annual GigaZone Gaming Championship Set for Sept. 29-30 in Bemidji

The region’s stadium style e-Sporting event returns with over $4,500 in cash and prizes


(Bemidji, MN) (June 22, 2017) – The first stadium style eSports event in the region, the GigaZone Gaming Championship returns to the Sanford Center Ballroom in Bemidji on Friday, September 29 and Saturday, September 30.


Northern Minnesota’s best League of Legends teams will compete for more than $4,500 in cash and prizes and teams interested need to register by July 1st at  The League of Legends tournament is free and open to anyone 13 years of age or older that resides in the 218 area code.


In addition to the League of Legends Tournament, the public is invited to participate in open console and arcade gaming along with tournaments of Street Fighter 5, Mario Kart 8, Madden 18, Overwatch, Super Smash Brothers, Magic the Gathering, and more.  Pre-registration for the Overwatch and Madden 18 tournaments will begin on Tuesday, September 5 at 4 p.m. until full.  All other tournaments will be open registration at the door the day of the tournament.  Admission is free for both tournaments and the event plus there will be a chance at great door prizes throughout.


“eSports has explored across the country and coming off the success of the first GigaZone Gaming Championship last November we are making this year’s event even bigger and better.  There is a large gaming community in our area and this will showcase not only some of the region’s best but give everyone a chance to get in on the action!” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.


“Our cooperative continues to expand one of the largest rural fiber gigabit networks in the country and that brings many advantages to our members.  The GigaZone provides extreme speed and low latency which are critical for the best online gaming experience which the GigaZone Gaming Championship showcases,” added Leo Anderson, Paul Bunyan Communications Digital Services Supervisor.


For more information on the 2017 GigaZone Gaming Championships visit


“We’re excited to bring this back to our region!  Whether someone is a big time gamer or not the GigaZone Gaming Championship is a great chance for people to come together, have fun, try out a wide variety of video games, and experience the growing eSports phenomenon.” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

Community calendar catches on in Fairmont

I always enjoy highlighting BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) projects. It’s fun to hear how folks are using broadband. Some porjects are entirely unique and some really catch fire. Knowing that, I was intersted in hear that Fairmount was really happy with their online community calendar.

Community Calendars are hard. They require constant updating. In theory, it’s great to get folks to add in their own events. In practice that great idea doesn’t always catch on. Fairmont’s calendar has caught on.

I think they had two secret ingredients: they worked hard to get people engaged and invested AND they found a calendar system that works for them.

I asked Margaret Dillard at the Chamber how they got peoeple to use and update the calendar. She said…

It is gaining the reputation of being a one-stop online presence for events here. Previously, the chamber was responsible for attempting to keep track of events, happenings and entertainment throughout Martin County, so our strength comes from working with multiple government entities and other organizations. In addition, we utilized billboards, newspaper, radio, CER catalog, chamber and city social media and publications and email campaigns.

Next I asked about the calender software. It seems they were able to grow a community calendar from the online school calendar. And better yet – the school calendar comes from a Minnesota company. I contacted Ray Drestke, CEO of the company for more info. I’m going to include most of what he said because – having worked on community calendar projects myself, I know that folks who are looking into this will appreciate the details. (And the rest  of you can save this until you might need it.)

We are based in Winona, MN and are a 24 yr old company that has a suite of 16 web software programs and 5 mobile apps that serves the K-12 and College market.  We currently serve over 5,000 school organizations in 44 states. (


The calendar behind the Fairmont project is the Community Calendar version of our popular Activity Scheduler.  Activity Scheduler is a school calendar and Athletics Management System used by over 5,000 schools for the last 16 years.


With the Community Calendar, we set out to solve 3 problems that every community has:


1) Some say “there’s nothing to do around here.”


2) Community and Event Planners say. “Argh, if i had known these other 2 events were happening that weekend, I would have scheduled ours for a different weekend.”


3) Some say, “I would love to have gone to this event if i had only known about it beforehand.”


Why solving this has traditionally been hard:

1) Most of the organizations in any town have web sites that have calendar events on them.  But it forces the community to go to so many sites to get a real picture of what’s happening.

2) Nobody has time to enter their events on multiple sites

3) Even if you could afford to hire someone to aggregate all the calendar data in a community and repost it to one calendar, things still slip through the cracks. Date/time/location changes are mostly missed, etc.

4) Nobody wants to use a shared calendar as their organization’s calendar.  They want a calendar that is 100% theirs.


Solution: So, with the rSchoolToday Community Calendar, the goal is no one has to rekey anything!  Every organization in your community that wants to participate (city/county government, chamber, CVB, churches, youth groups, Park/Rec, schools, service organizations, etc) can have their own low-cost rSchool calendar, and that becomes their Web site calendar. It is simple to use, powerful, 100% editable, includes a free mobile app, and can be branded to match each organization.


When data is entered into each organization’s calendar to show on their web site, those events automatically also write to the community calendar.   And, the schools are likely already using our calendar so their data will already be in the Community Calendar.


But…”I have spent so much creating a special look to the calendar events on our CVB page – I don’t want to lose that.”  No worries.  rSchool can feed calendar data into any other calendar that can accept a data feed. So, by using the rSchool calendar to enter the data, you have the best of both worlds.


Advertising?  You can choose for NO ads on the calendars. Or, you can use our Local Ad model and control the ads on your calendar.  you can feature all local businesses and charge whatever you want each month or year. This can make the Community Calendar a powerful revenue-generator for the community as well.


Buying Tickets online for events?  If you have a ticket program, you can link any ticket site to that event in the calendar to make things easy.  Don’t have a ticket app? We can provide one.


Social Media?  Your community can promote any calendar event to their social media sites.


Can I be selfish?  “I only care about restaurants, live music, art galleries and soccer.”  No prob. Select the things you care about, generate a personal calendar, and push it to your smart phone or tablet. Now any changes to those activities auto-update your smart device.


But I tend to forget….No worries, sign up for reminders and change notices for the activities you care about and receive email or text messages automatically.

Chisholm and Balkan Township get Blandin grants for wifi on buses, community portal, community hotspots

Hibbing Daily Tribune reports on recent Blandin broadband grant recipients…

Chisholm and Balkan Township are among the recipients. The two communities have been identified as being largely underserved by broadband access of 25 megabits per second upload and 3 megabits per second download, according to a press release.

The projects include:

• Wi-fi on buses: Chisholm School District will equip two school buses with wi-fi, especially for students on the longest routes, who live most remotely and participate in special activities, to complete homework.

• Community website/portal: Created to be the “go to” online hub for Chisholm, consisting of an interactive community calendar, links to community resources for residents, tourists and potential business developers.

• Hot spots: equipment will be placed at high-volume areas in the community currently lacking strong connectivity.

• iPad/Hotspot check out: equipment will be made available for checkout at the Chisholm Public Library for two-week installments.

The Chisholm Community Foundation (CCF) has awarded a matching grant to help bring these projects to fruition.

IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips said addressing broadband in unserved and underserved areas of northeastern Minnesota is a top priority for the region’s residents, businesses, schools and local units of government — especially in rural areas.

“We’re pleased that partnerships such as this between Blandin Foundation, St. Louis County and IRRRB are helping a half dozen communities move forward in implementing creative ideas to increase broadband use and to promote future development,” he stated in a release.

As a precursor to project grants, Chisholm and Balkan Township, in collaboration with Hibbing, Mountain Iron/Buhl and Cherry Township, launched an effort to assess the community’s current broadband access and use. This knowledge will inform current and future project development.

“Today’s rural leaders know that for their communities to reach their fullest potential, they need a strong Internet connection,” said Blandin Foundation President and CEO Dr. Kathleen Annette in the release. “We’re honored to stand with the City of Chisholm and Balkan Township as they pave the path to a broadband-enabled future.”