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!