Monday, December 29, 2008

Another impact of the state budget crisis, because it is a crisis

Common parlance says we're in a recession, some would say a depression, that has spread world wide. But resident students with proper qualifications have never been denied admission to California state colleges and universities, but instead of protecting our future we are cutting financing to educate our future.

Relating to technology, one has to wonder (1) the impact on technology spending as decision makers contend with this crisis and (2) how can technology be used to assist in the crisis?

For the first thought, I surmise that if an organization invested in their technical infrastructure with good decisions when times were flush, the organization should be able to weather this economic downturn with minimal investment. This fact is why computer manufacturers and resellers are also caught up in the economy's vortex for the most part. But having put more money after bad, some organizations still have to make investments in technical infrastructure in this economy.

For the second thought, there has been a world wide push for online learning centers and universities to reduce physical and overhead costs and provide any time access to students from all walks of life. The UC system had begun research into the idea in the 1990's, quick Google & Yahoo! searches reveal nothing about this initiative. Equally notable for me is that U.C. Merced is a thriving campus where 2700 students physically attend classes. I have to wonder what the impact of implementing the Cyber Campus instead of or in addition to would have on our current budget crisis and need to enroll qualified students at a U.C.

This ties my 2 thoughts together: that decision makers have to think long term about finances and students, not necessarily in that order. In the 1990's I had access to data that foresaw this current crisis of surging student enrollments, yet for various reasons unbeknownst to the public (and I can imagine the political, the ego of a large structure vs. an unseen entity) the cyber university was not implemented to alleviate this system strain. So now additional funds in a strained funding and economic environment should be found to ensure students are able to obtain educations. Fortunately other schools and universities have opened their cyber doors for the past 10 years. Though financial resources threaten their traditional enrollment, I encourage these schools to consider expanding their online course offerings as a way to accommodate more students.

And on a side note, what is the point of having a major research facility in the heart of our state's agricultural economy if the campus does not offer a major in agricultural sciences? This is a cutting edge research field in countries where food supplies are difficult or expensive to obtain and a way for a university of the U.C. caliber could make a contribution to the world.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More on Creating a Class Site with Google Sites

I define a class site as a repository for all the information you present to your students in class, information in addition to what you've taught, and things they may find *cool* to tie in to their learning. However because web page design started off as a very techy thing many people are still hesitant to put their classroom information online. I'm here to tell you Google Sites is the answer to their prayers.

Google Sites is very wysiwyg*, just like typing a document in Microsoft Office and saving as a web page, but you're typing directly into a web page. Depending on your computer comfort level you could sign up for a Google account and play your way through setting up a site or read basic information about Google Sites or tutorials on making a Google Site before venturing forth.

The easiest way to start using Google Sites is to create one (1) Web Page and just type your information in. Use the Insert menu to add interesting options to your pages (a photo, a class calendar, maybe). When you're ready to explore even further, read about the types of Pages you can create and add to your site.

By masking the coding and limiting page options to the most useful any teacher can create a great looking web site for their class.

*wysiwyg: what you see is what you get

Friday, November 14, 2008

Paradigm Shifts: Asynchronous learning

Have you heard of Maybe you've missed an episode of your favorite tv show or like me you gave up television for time management but exclusively watch these tv shows on the web? Maybe you have a cell phone plan with data and an iPhone or Blackberry to stay connected at all times?

There is a new paradigm shift on the horizon ... as pervasive and as ubiquitous as cellular technology ... and it's changing students' delivery expectations. I've noticed that students are not patient in waiting for the slow connection at school: they click and distract the browser's download whereas when I was their age with dial up internet, waiting was all you could do! Does having access to communication and information anytime and anyplace mean instructors have to think about providing similar access to learning?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Opening Microsoft Office 2007 documents in older versions of MS Office

By now you've probably heard, "I finished my paper at home but it won't open at school!" or "I can't print it!". Because Microsoft did not create a backwards compatible document file system you cannot open files created with Office 2007 with any of the older versions of Office without performing an extra step.

First read this list of what happens when you convert the file from Microsoft Office's update site. If you still have some editing affected by one of these features you may want to continue using Office 2007. If you just want to view and print, read below.

The best way is to remember to change the document type in Office 2007 so it ends in .doc instead of .docx. You can change the document type manually in the Save or Save As dialog, or via your Preferences: Tools -> Options -> Save tab -> Default format -> change to "Word Document (*.doc)" instead of "Word 2007 Document (*.docx)"

The next easiest way allows you to view and print .docx files:
"In case you just want to view a docx file, there is a simpler way: rename the extension of file from .docx to .zip then extract the contents. Docx is basically a set of xml files. When you unzip the file, you get a folder named Word and inside that you can see a file named document.xml. To view the contents of the document, open document.xml."

The following was inspired by an article titled 5 Ways to Open a Docx file from that succinctly summarized what took me a few minutes of web searching to find how to open a student's homework file at the last minute of course :) I took the liberty of adding my own thoughts and re-arranging the order of the original list in my preferred order.

  1. Convert files for free online: Initially I used Zamzar to convert a student's file: you browse to your file, select the format you want to convert to, and go for it! Anther options is docx-converter, of course a web search will find many more...
    Pros: no additional software on your computers
    Cons: not a good idea for sensitive or high security documents
  2. Software specifically for converting files: this software does one job and does it right: drag your .docx file to the drop area and it's automatically converted and saved to the same location as the original file
    Pros: a small application that does one thing and does it right
    Cons: more software on our computers? even though it's really small
  3. Free software that opens any document: To open .docx files in Open Office you'll need to install the Open XML Translator.
    Pros: You should have OpenOffice available for users anyway because it can open almost any document type and you can encourage students to use it at home since it's free.
    Cons: OO uses a lot of memory so if you're a heavy application user be ware.
  4. Download more software from Microsoft: Microsoft provides what's called a compatibility pack that updates your current installation of Office to open .docx documents. The original one I downloaded was completely standalone and didn't require installing all other updates before installing it, but I can't find that online. The Mac version of the compatibility pack is called the Open XML File Format Converter.
    Pros: Installing allows users to independently complete their work instead of making your workstation special; integrates seamlessly with Office
    If you have an older computer you should check your hard drive's memory to ensure you have space for all the updates you may not have installed in the past

    In addition, why should we continue to financially support an inefficient system? Instead of using good software design principles and making the new file format backwards compatible and thus easier for end-users, they are forcing consumers to jump through all kinds of hoops and load more memory hogging updates on our computers. Now off my high horse, it is the most easily integrated option: once the compatibility pack is installed you can open any .docx file any time without any converting.

(Sources:, LifeRocks 2.0)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Students blogging about their perspective of their education

Yes there are millions of us educators blogging about our experiences educating today's youth. But how often do we hear our "customers", our students discuss their perspective of the decisions we educators and administrators make about what they learn?

In today's news (online news of trees!) I was introduced to a young woman named Katy Murphy who writes about educational issues in the Oakland Tribune. Her insightful article caught my attention from its catchy headline ("Oakland charter schools get high marks and skepticism"), and even more impressive was the thorough coverage of a divisive issue. Then I saw that in addition to reporting with this long time newspaper she also has a blog, The Education Report, where she discusses educational issues. I read that she is a high school senior and thought, how impressed are her college choices going to be that she already has so much professional experience?

Then I thought, how many teachers take advantage of the simple medium of blogging for academic exercise or creative writing to encourage future writers?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Creating a Computer Lab

When one thinks of creating a room full of computers I'm sure an astronomical cost comes to mind! Network infrastructure aside (that's all the cables, wires and network equipment to provide internet access) a class-sized computer lab doesn't have to come with a steep price tag. Here are some resources and considerations to creating your computer lab.

Finding Desktops
  • Businesses change computers regularly. You can check with large companies in your area to see how they dispose of old technology.
  • There are also organizations (usually non-profit) that collect used computers, refurbish them, then either give away or sell them at very economical cost to schools. We have OTX-West in Oakland USD.
  • Consider a Mac lab. The upfront costs of purchasing these popular computers is more than made up for with the ease of maintenance. Include a server and with AppleTalk's built-in capabilities you can control every computer from the server. Once everything is working you decide how to manage the costs of upgrading (I'm of the opinion that once it's working you don't mess it up until you absolutely have to; others believe in immediately upgrading because of security risks.)
Finding Software
  • Open Source and Freeware software is the way to minimize software costs. There are open source equivalents to almost every commercially available software package. Be sure to test the software for viruses, malware and advertisements.
  • Shareware is just like freeware except the designers ask for a small nominal fee to cover some sort of costs.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Adding Creative Commons license info from Microsoft Office

I installed a Microsoft Office add-in that allows me to set the Creative Commons license information for documents I create. This added a menu item under the File menu to set the Creative Commons license. I'm not sure of the implications of not including the United States under Jurisdiction because the U.S. has one of the highest penalties for copyright infringement, so users should be aware of this, but I thought this was an interesting tool to have in one's bag.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Trouble shooting a slow computer

Many viruses and trojans start when the operating system loads and sometimes following removal instructions didn't stop the madness. Or there's software that is very persistent on the computer and killing the process in Task Manager doesn't stop it. Msconfig allows you to specify what processes run at startup, which reduces the time it takes to begin working and the memory used.

In order to determine which processes are legitimate and which need to be killed, I Googled each executable in MSConfig -> Startup and this site kept popping up in my search when the process was legitimate. When the process was malware this site was not part of the listings...a welcome shortcut. You can also use this site directly to research processes. Of course the user should always be ware, and be sure to check multiple sources before deleting system processes. I usually compare my findings to Microsoft's description.

It was enlightening to see how many software developers use background processes to run software you don't use daily. I disabled them and noticed a much better running system. Also disabling certain applications allowed my computers to work more as expected: when multiple users log onto my lab computers I was able to control whether some software loaded or whether they didn't.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Inexpensive way to make binary counting come to life!

I just found a goody bag I won from Techbridge that I will use to bring computing to life for my students! I have a paper-based lesson on binary numbers from Computer Science Unplugged (which also has a whole curriculum about computer concepts "unplugged" from the computer), but my RAFT goodies also included materials to make binary birthday bracelets! Total score and I didn't remember I had this great tool! If these kids don't get binary counting after this then I don't know what better way to bring the concept to life...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Free websites! Create your class site today!

To reduce paper usage I project my lesson on a white board and have my students refer to the board as soon as they walk in the door. This does two things: minimizes goof off time and puts their attention on the task at hand. There are many projection methods, but I prefer the convenience of putting my materials online so I can edit any time, so I keep my lessons online.

We've mentioned Google's *free* website, Google Sites, which is very wysiwyg (ie. there's no need to know html to create a perfectly functioning website). My class site is hosted by Google Pages, the predecessor to Google Sites, which is great for quickly adding content. Did I mention that there are no ads?

The best example of a teacher website I know of is RedKid, by a former co-worker. His students blogged weekly as a writing activity, created graphics, conducted research, and played safe games, all from RedKid. Clearly he has a paid account, which is why his site is so customized and there are no ads, but you can approximate to achieve a similar effect.

Below are some other organizations offering free websites for educators. Some are ad supported, which means you may have to monitor to make sure they are appropriate for children.
  • Teach-nology: offers many graphics and Java to make your site enticing
  • EZ Class Sites: website but also provides student webpages & blogs, gradebook, and classroom management
  • School Rack: offers file storage, mailing list and calendar capabilities
  • Web School Pro: amazingly they offer free sites to districts, schools and teachers

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Improving Reading Skills

What happens when a student comes to your class with lower than grade level reading skills? I was recently asked to help find resources for such students so here are my findings: - there are some free materials but the subscription is really worth it according to one colleague - free materials - free materials - provided by the BBC so the content is very current

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Learning to Type

I personally learned to correctly type because I had too many free periods in high school so I loaded up on as many "flex" classes as they would allow. I was pretty quick on two fingers but hit the stratosphere once I could use all ten fingers! We had a discussion today on preparing technologically-savvy students, and most of our group had learned to type, but with the emphasis on testing and reading/'riting/'rithmetic most vocational courses have been abandoned. If you ever have time with your students or want a light lesson day, consider letting them learn a bit of keyboarding: it will always pay off in their futures. To this end I have compiled a few sites that I consider to be great for K-8:
  1. Dance Mat Typing from the BBC (use Internet Explorer!)
    very easy typing tutorial
    static but detailed tutorial
  2. Typing games to make it more fun to practice keyboarding
    Animated tutorial with short sentences to practice typing
    Bubbles help you find letters on the keyboard
    Tetris-like game - you type the dropping letters to win
  3. Typing Test to find your typing speed (wpm or words per minute) after you know the keyboard with all 10 fingers

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What I Learned This Summer: introducing computer programming

I attended a workshop this summer on Alice, a programming language targeted to pre-college students to learn computer programming. The workshop was held on the beautiful Santa Clara University campus (for you 4th grade history teachers you can't beat a free fieldtrip to this campus to see part of a real California mission...thanks Mrs. Tinsley!). Other workshops were held at 5 other universities around the U.S.

We learned to use Alice, developed curriculum to be used in our classrooms this school year, practiced this curriculum with students, and began a PLC that hopefully will be very active and creative all in 3 weeks! It truly was this easy!

Teaching materials are available at but Alice is such an easy software to learn if you spend time playing around. Books are available from Amazon: you won't need to latest edition to learn Alice so feel free to use an old edition. Update! An Alice textbook is almost wholly available on Google Books

Scratch logoI was introduced to Scratch by a colleague who taught students to animate their drawings. It's very similar to Alice in that students learn programming without worrying about syntax, but it's received more press (viral if you will) because of the social networking aspect of their website and because there's more flexibility to create your own characters. More to come on this...

Other options include:
  • Logo, my original programming language! Using a turtle students learn to program geometric shapes, then create programs to control the turtle's movements.
  • A co-worker used MicroWorlds EX successfully to transform an energetic class into mini-programmers! There is also a library of projects available to use in your classroom.
  • Lego Mindstorm are kits where you build a robot and use a computer to program commands to make the robots move. Very interesting to build and even more fun to program!
  • Squeak is an open source programming language very involved with the One Laptop per Child initiative.
  • BASIC is another of my earlier languages! It was much like today's languages where you type commands and there's a visible action. There are a few versions sure you don't use Microsoft's Visual Basic as a teaching tool!
  • Python is another free programming language, with an easy beginning tutorial
  • Arduino is an open source language that lets you build your own Lego Mindstorm-like kit!
As a "computer teacher" I reflected on why computer science enrollment is down nationwide: I believe the "dot-bomb" or "dot-bust" scared many students away to more traditional, financially secure academic disciplines and careers. There are students still going into programming: some I met this summer are going into gaming (computer, video, online) which is still hard core programming, is a lot more fun than programming databases, and is the only software industry not in the dumps; the stereotypical programmers who have been doing so since a young age and are self-taught geniuses; and those from other nations who've found jobs in the U.S., but we've seriously lost the diversity that was present on campuses at the height of the "dot-boom" due to good salaries and many job opportunities.

I'm not sure what the solution is to our nation's problem because while there is still a need for programmers, this is the low point of an economic cycle and the industry is no longer immune.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What I Learned This Summer: Google Services can be adapted for classroom use!

Google has distinguished itself in the search engine wars, and has been added to the vernacular as a way to describe online search: "let's Google that". I've been using Gmail since it was in beta because that's what in-the-know techies do, play with new stuff, and of course Blogger was acquired by Google. Something I learned this summer is that Google continues to create many tools that can be adapted for use in the classroom! Below is the memo I shared with my colleagues detailing many tools Google provides, though every day I run across something new.

Update! This is a comic book version of introducing Google's tools!

The first place I learned about was Google for Educators, which is a community specifically for educators to develop curriculum and share with Google how they use Google in the classroom.

Then I saw Google Docs, which allows multiple users to update the same document at the same time, and all changes are saved, which would be great for your students' group projects. I use it to store information I need in multiple locations instead of using a USB drive. All I need is internet access to access my documents. I also found out about Google Forms: I set up a spreadsheet to compile information, a link is sent to everyone who needs to provide information to me, and the information is uploaded to the spreadsheet! Imagine how easy it will be to collect data from now on!

Then I reviewed Google Pages, which gives you a free website hosted by Google so you can create a class website. Everyone now has access to Google Sites, but you get the same thing: a free website! Many teachers use Google Sites to organize their lesson plans and provide access to students who are absent. This site can also be easily linked to our school homepage.

Then I found Google Groups, where you can send and receive information from a bunch of people, and all the information is stored in one place. You can create a group page for each subject, each class, each period, however you wish to organize your communications. Or you can have your students create a Google Group to save information for group projects.

I used Google Calendar to store all our Roosevelt events, which you can view from our school website If you create your own Google Calendar, you can include Roosevelt's calendar and this way you'll know not to schedule a vacation around a time when you'll be busy at school! f you add yourself as a contributor, you can even post local events on Roosevelt's calendar so our students know about things happening outside their immediate environment. Or you can use a calendar to create your pacing guide, and share with your fellow teachers so during department meetings everyone can visually see where other teachers are with their curriculum.

Today I learned about Google Custom Search Engine, which allows you to preselect websites for your students to use for an assignment so they don't waste time on sites that are not helpful.

There's so much more! Just for you, I found links to everything Google provides so you can maximize your Googling.
If you think these tools are as cool as I do, you can also join:
or start your own Roosevelt group for your department, committee, student group...the possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Videos for Classroom Use

A teacher at my school asked the Technology Department to purchase software to download video so she could show video clips at school. Our school district blocked access to a common video sharing site so the video could not be accessed on campus. Knowing the priorities of our budget for this year I set out to find FREE resources.

First I found TeacherTube, which boasts lesson plan friendly videos on a site organized similarly to the common video sharing site (let's abbreviate c.v.s.s. for typing's sake). So far so good right? I looked up content related to the teacher's curriculum and found not so many quality offerings...yet. So we continued the search.

Having caught my students watching videos instead of doing math, I learned about Google Video, so I searched for the teacher's content and received a sizable number of hits due to Google's web dominance, but was reduced when I selected the "videos hosted by Google" option. Success! Videos played past the district's filter, even from c.v.s.s. Note: Google acquired the c.v.s.s. on 10/9/06.

But we can go further and apply NETS*T standards to employ real learning so we move along:

A handy Google search (key words convert dvd to web video) turned up a cNet video on how to convert home DVDs to web video, which I chose to implement after a harrowing experience in our auditorium playing a student-produced video from a DVD (it stopped inexplicably during the viewing!). Now you can take a DVD, upload the video to a "safe" website to show in your classroom, or write the converted video to CD to show anywhere (now that the file size is smaller).

Be sure to test whichever option you use to ensure it will work when you need it in the classroom!

Update! In my online travels I saw an ad for a Firefox add-on that downloads video! There are others but this one was not ad supported.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Using Technology to Improve Teaching & Learning?

I attended a workshop today where we discussed how to use technology to improve teaching and learning. At the prior workshop (which I had missed ;,) they proffered the following levels of technology use in education:
  1. Teacher using technology behind-the-scenes
  2. Teacher using technology for instruction
  3. Students using technology for learning
  4. Students using technology for teaching
This got me thinking about the technology and actions of each level:
  1. behind-the-scenes: grading software or database, word processing lesson plans, student handouts, letters to parents, notes from meetings, credential school work
  2. teacher instruction: POWERPOINT
  3. student learning: computer labs, online research
  4. student teaching: POWERPOINT
At the most basic use of technology in teaching is a computer (desktop or laptop), a projector, and Powerpoint slides. This also reminded me that I had promised a co-worker links to learn Powerpoint online, so I share the following to provide basic Powerpoint skills to get one started:

Friday, February 1, 2008

Tools-Online Bookmarks

Online tools that make life easier, more interesting, or are just way cool!

Online Bookmarks: the beauty of this tool is that you can access your best links from anywhere, not just on your main computer(s).

  1. social bookmarking
    I chose for my bookmarks because it's interface was easy for me to understand immediately, I can easily share links with my classmates, and it seems to be pretty popular in the online community. I don't like that it basically lists the bookmarks but I need to investigate further.

    These are tools to improve your experience:

  2. Most Popular Online Bookmarks and Filesharing sites
    Sure you have your favorite sites bookmarked on your home or work computer, but what happens when you need a site and you're not at home or work? Online bookmark and filesharing sites allow you to save your information online, which you can access anywhere

  3. Digg Social Bookmarking
    Digg is another prominent social bookmarking site, where you bookmark sites you and others find interesting , then the most popular are advertised worldwide.
  4. Yahoo! Bookmarks
    I'm not sure if this list is sharable otherwise having it interface with my Yahoo! email account is a definite advantage. More to come.

  5. Sharing Links: social bookmarking for educators
    Haven't tried this site out yet but it seems to be tailored to educators and can be used by your students safely.

  6. List of Bookmark Managers
    Comprehensive list of bookmark managers in case you wanted to compare some lesser knowns to the most popular.

Online Safety & Security

Yes many entities online are out to do bad things. Is that a reason to not join the Information Revolution? NOPE! So this section will highlight some basics to keep safe online.

  1. Great System for Maintaining & Changing Your Password
    A great system to maintain a very secure password. You know, when your computer forces you to change your password and you have to remember it but you're forced to change it so often you forget the password?

  2. Creating and Maintaining a Strong Password System
    Interesting system for changing a password regularly when you must have a strong (secure) password but you must remember it.

  3. How to Detect and Prevent Phishing Scams
    "Phishing" happens when individuals try to "phish" or retrieve your personal information for their use. It's a starting point for identity theft. This simple article describes the types of email messages you should NEVER OPEN. Once you automatically recognize potential phishing email messages you reduce your chances of getting a computer virus or corrupting your hard drive.