Saturday, November 7, 2009

Movember


Hi,



I am growing a moustache this year for Movember. I have decided to put down my razor for one month (November) and help raise awareness and funds for men’s health – specifically prostate cancer and depression in men.

What many people don’t appreciate is that close to 3,000 men die of prostate cancer each year in Australia and one in eight men will experience depression in their lifetime - many of whom don’t seek help. Facts like these have convinced me I should get involved and I am hoping that you will support me.

To sponsor my Mo, you can either:

• Click this link and donate online using your credit card or PayPal account
• Write a cheque payable to ‘Movember Foundation’, referencing my Registration Number 143555 and mailing it to: Movember Foundation, PO Box 292, Prahran, VIC, 3181

Remember, all donations over $2 are tax deductible.

Movember is now in its sixth year and, to date, has achieved some pretty amazing results by working alongside The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCFA) and beyondblue: the national depression initiative. Check out further details here.

If you are interested in following the progress of my Mo, click here. Also, this link has heaps of useful
information.

Thank you

Friday, August 28, 2009

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Drops In

This week during Kevin Rudd's visit to Lismore, he made time to come and visit OLHC Primary to have a look at the school's netbook program. He arrived without any fanfare (and with a surprisingly small contingent of security personnel) in the front seat of a sedan. He was very relaxed and made time to stop to speak to any children who wanted to meet him and was very friendly and interested in what they were doing. The Year 5 class he visited have been doing a unit of work on genealogy and using the Internet to research their family tree and to plan a virtual trip to the countries of their ancestors. He was very patient and considerate in all his discussions with the kids and laughed and joked with everyone. One of his aids was joking and teasing him and he gave back just as good. As he was walking around the classroom he noticed one student using the web cam on a netbook, so he bent down and put his head on the child's shoulder so the student could take a picture with the web cam. It was really a kind and considerate gesture and something the student will never forget. The PM commended the kids for their work and said he wished he had a computer when he was at school. It is a great testament to our country that a leader can stroll in to a school and listen to kids without pretence, scripting or the need for a huge security apparatus. I couldn't imagine it happening in many other countries. In all the excitement we forgot to take Kevin down to the Kindergarten room. Perhaps this was one place his security had advised him not to visit. I know through personal experience of the security dangers. Kinders also have the knack of asking very tricky questions. I am proud to say I survived as a Kinder teacher for one year but constantly having kids pulling at the hairs on my ankles while reading stories to them can wear you down. This was despite placing a security cordon on the floor around my chair with masking tape. What hope would Kevin have if I couldn't keep them in control?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Netbook Project Progress Report

Since May this year I have been working on a project with OLHC Primary School, South Lismore, NSW. The project is seen as an important trial for other schools in the region for many reasons. It is the first large role out of netbooks in the primary school environment where each child has a computer on their desk. Each of the 60 year 5/6 students has a HP Mini 2140 Netbook for use during the school day.

The netbooks are charged each evening in lockable trolleys (PC Locks). Each trolley hold 16 netbooks and only require one wall socket to recharge all 16. The Netbooks are fitted with 6 cell batteries to provide longer battery life between charges. Despite being used solidly for 3-4 hours a day, the netbooks are yet to run out of charge during a school day. This includes other younger grades, starting to make use of them during down time. The netbooks run a version of Linux called Edubuntu instead of Windows and are connected to the Internet using a Cisco wireless network.

So far the project has surpassed all expectations. The HP Minis seem very robust and we haven't had a hardware fault with one of them. The students took to the new operating system like ducks to water and already know more about it than the teachers. There continues to be bugs in some of the open source software that we are addressing each week, but overall Ubuntu seems at this stage, to be more than viable alternative to Windows. The ability to add programs across the network at will, without the need for expensive licences and time delays alone has many advantages. Added to this is the knowledge that reducing software costs has allowed the school to put more computers in front of students.

All of this is of no use, unless the focus is on learning rather than the technology. Although it early in the project, the devices are opening doors to learning that were not accessible before. Both teachers and students are beginning to see that they are now learning in a community not a classroom. I have been co-writing learning activities with teachers at the school and delivering these activities using Learning Management Software (LMS) called Moodle. This has allowed me to expose teachers to new pedagogy and web2 tools that they are incorporating into their teaching repertoire. This LMS is also allowing students to access learning activities and upload their assignments from anywhere that they have Internet access.

My advice to anyone embarking on a similar venture is to be ambitious and aim high in terms what technology can deliver in improving learning outcomes. I can also now see that the continuing reduction in price of the netbooks means that parents should be more than happy to co-contribute to such a program if it means their child will have a netbook of their own to use at both home and school. After all, students spend only 20% of their time at school and 80% outside and as adults we don't like sharing our computer with anyone else. Edubuntu also makes such an idea easier in terms of management and security. The infrastructure costs and overall planning is very important but a 1 to 1 netbook program should never be about money, but improved learning opportunities for students.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Open Office Wins

I have been using Open Office (the free and open source office suite) for 6 months and am a convert. There were some annoying differences about the product that reminded me how set in my ways I am, but I am totally sold on it now. Small, sleek and powerful. If you want to know why you should give it a go, you can check out this link. Features such as being able to create PDFs from your Writer documents or exporting your slide presentations as Flash SWF files are enough reason to interest many. I have collected a list of links for you this week to help you jump in. The suite doesn't have a good clipart collection packaged with it but you can easily add open source collections. The pick of collections for schools is WP Clip Art which includes instructions for downloading and installing the collection into OO. I have found some problems opening word.docs in OO, particularly where tables and marcos are concerned, but the problems are not major. If you are concerned about compatibility with Microsoft Word, You can set Open Office Writer to save all your documents as word.doc by default or download and install the Sun ODF Plugin for Microsoft Office which allow MS Office to open ODFs . But I feel once you start using it, as I have, you won't go back to MS Office and you will soon convert your friends and colleagues as well. As for students, they don't have the same hang ups as teachers. They won't even think about the differences. Do your school a favour and load it on every machine and then send kids home with a copy to install at home. If it doesn't work out, just uninstall it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Educational Technology Brain Food

I had a request this week from a subscriber wanting some links for a parent who requested that her child not use computers at school and that she would prefer her child be given worksheets when the rest of the class where using computers. The teacher wanted some information that would convince the parent that computers are an essential part of education at school and home. The argument is moot because computers are pervading more aspects of our lives. How many handwritten letters, for example, have you received this year? Is learning handwriting more important than learning touch typing? I try to respect others when their opinions differ, and I can see some truth in the belief that we may be becoming slaves of Information Technology rather than masters. What happens for example, when the power fails and you can't use your Interactive Whiteboard? For this reason I have tried to air the views of both sides of the debate in the links I have prepared this week. My stance in terms of Educational Technology has always been that no gadget can be a panacea for poor teaching. Rather than trying to win arguments, a more productive use of time is be the best teacher you can be using ED Tech and let it be a case of the "proof in the pudding" with the achievements of students in your class. One way to improve your knowledge and skills is to engage in some professional development by subscribing to Educational Technology Blogs where other educators share their ideas and experiences. I hope the blogs I have collected will help and by all means, please send me links to ones not on the list that you think are worthwhile and I will add them.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Teaching Writing: You Be The Expert

The theme of my newsletter this week is Teaching Writing to Year 1-2 and I have to admit that the process of learning to write remains a mystery to me despite teaching for 25 years. Teaching kids is not like fixing computers. There are no zeros and ones, just a lot of shades of grey. My error rate in teaching writing would obviously be lower say, than in performing brain surgery, but there were always kids in my class that I couldn't motivate no matter what I tried. For this reason I am quite wary of Literacy experts (or any experts wearing ties for that matter for it was their sophisticated models that provided our present economic mess) telling me what works. So please take my suggestions with an equal grain of salt. There is no one solution suitable for every student. One tip is to try as much as possible to provide kids with an authentic and meaningful purpose for writing. Telling them they have to write because they will need it when they grow up just doesn't cut it any more. Plumbers earn as much as doctors in Australia and I don't know many who write poetry in their spare time. There needs to be a more immediate reward. Why not try publishing student writing in a book or on the Internet? Why not appeal to their egos? Advertisers do it to us every day. And finally, get the kids to write copious amounts every single day and don't worry if you can't correct it all. You don't have the time. Better to let them write more, than hold them back until you covered it in red ink. My writing improved significantly when I was writing essays every night. It took my a while to work out that it is like learning to surf. You have to do it every day if you want to improve. Have strict rules for editing work that is to be published and don't worry about what isn't published. Reflect also on how many hand written letters you have posted this week. The sooner the kids have computers on their desks the better. Have a look at the links I have provided for you this week and see if you can find anything that might work in your classroom. Keep an open mind and keep trying out new ideas. It is more art than science. You be the expert.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Find A Kid To Fix It

I finally handed over netbooks to each of the year 5 and 6 students this week and it was a momentous occasion for me. I have dreamed of what it would be like if all the kids in my class had their own computer on their desk since the day I started teaching 25 years ago. All those years ago I had one Microbee computer with a cassette tape drive in my classroom that took 30 minutes to load a simple program. This week I was in front of a class of students who were all connected to the wireless network, accessing the Internet, shooting and editing video and emailing their work to their teacher to mark. I had spent a lot of time preparing an image for the netbooks, making sure all the software was working and ironing out security issues but I knew that there would be problems bound to surface. I also wasn't sure how the kids would go navigating the Ubuntu interface that is slightly different to Windows. I decided the best approach was not to spend too much time talking to the kids about the computers but to let them explore the new machines, stand back and watch what happened. I handed them out, fully charged with a 5 hour battery life and told them to try everything out. Within about 5 minutes some of them had worked out how to use the built-in video camera, change the wallpaper, customise the desktop and discover nearly all the bugs that I hadn't anticipated. I realised I should have given them the machines sooner rather than trying to work out what the bugs where myself. It was really amazing when you consider that they had never seen Ubuntu or any of the software programs that came installed. If I had done the same thing to a group of adults I am guessing there would have been frustration and people giving up because the software wasn't exactly what they were familiar with. So if you can't work out how to use something on a computer, hand it over to a 10 year old for five minutes and then beg them to teach you.
Am I worried that I will have to make changes to 66 new machines to fix the problems that the kids found? Not at all. One of the many great things I am finding about Ubuntu (yes it is free as well) is that I can make changes to the one master copy of the software on their netbooks and as soon as they restart their machines, the changes are automatically installed and enabled.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Chalk Makes A Comeback

It was a pretty challenging week on the North Coast of New South Wales with cyclonic conditions bringing widespread flooding, gale force winds knocking down trees, power lines and eroding beaches and schools being shut for 2 days because of fears of children being stranded in flood waters. It was the third such event this year and I think we have had enough rain to last for a while. I learned a few valuable lessons from it all. The first lesson was how much I rely on computers and the Internet and the second was the importance of radio in these situations. Being without power for a couple of days and not knowing what was happening in the local area, I spent quite a bit of time sitting in my car listening to ABC local radio for information on road closures as well as flood and weather warnings. I can't express more highly the value of this service. People were ringing the radio station and asking questions about how to get to different locations to avoid the flood waters and other listeners were ringing up with suggestions. It really turned into an interactive medium. Evacuation alerts were being broadcast warning residents to move to higher ground. The information also greatly helped me navigate my way to work and I found the reports were pretty accurate and up-to-date. Well done ABC local radio. I am going to buy a portable radio before I forget. Thanks also to Country Energy whose workers must have spent days sitting up in power polls in high winds and bucketing rain trying to get the power back on. I am also going to buy some chalk. It might end up being useful for those long days at school without electricity.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

No More Trouble

I don't watch TV. It has the same effect on me as drinking Kava. I particularly avoid TV News and newspapers. Why? I always found the news depressing but living in China helped me give up the habit completely. After spending 3 years with no English TV and no news, I was happily oblivious to terrorist attacks, pandemics and political controversies and I found my state of ignorance actually made no difference to my life at all. (perhaps more optimistic about the human race). I also just can't stomach the bias. As the song says "Don't believe the hype". I know I should watch a little, being an educator, but I have found that having an RSS reader on my iGoogle page allows me to get the news I am interested in sent to my desktop. I did see something on the RSS this week that got me thinking. Civilians in Sri Lanka and Pakistan caught up in the crossfire of war. It always seems to be women and children who get in the way of boys with their deadly toys. It reminds me of a cartoon I once saw where a kid asks his dad, "How do soldiers killing each other solve the world's problems?" As Mahatma Gandhi said "If we are going to bring about peace in the world, we have to begin with the children". For me that means it starts at home hopefully and teachers can do something about it in the classroom. So this week I have collected some links related to Peace Education which I hope you will make use of. I have included the usual, paper cranes and songs. I don't usually go for that kind of thing but I was impressed with Playing For Change and their version of Stand By Me and No More Trouble . My personal view is that singing about peace doesn't do that much except making you feel good. I am more interested in teaching about the root causes of war which is feel are lack of tolerance and an excess of bias, greed and racism. These are really hard values to challenge because most kids come to school with their parent's views firmly entrenched. But we can all do a bit to chip away at the wall that divides people and stop glorifying war.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Intranet

I am starting to see a few schools buying scanning kits for the photocopiers. These allow you to digitise all those old useful worksheets you have been dragging out of the filing cabinet every year for centuries and turn them into editable files stored, displayed and distributed to students without the need to photocopy them. Punch in your Inbox number. Load the tray with 100 double-sided worksheets. Press Scan and walk away. No more dragging around filing cabinets when you move schools. No more hoarding mountains of paper in the spare room or garage at home and no more wasting paper. I am sure you can think of many more advantages. Why haven’t you heard about this technology before? Because photocopy suppliers make money from every page you print, not from you turning your photocopier into a scanner. So ask your principal about it now.
So once you have scanned all the worksheets and handouts, you are going to need a convenient, safe and accessible place to store them. We have all been guilty of losing valuable files on old thumb drives that die on us just before the beginning of a lesson. One answer to this problem is a school Intranet, which is best described as an internal and secure Internet for your school. Intranets are great tools for collaboration and a place for students to save and display their work. They also support efforts to individualise learning and use constructivist pedagogy. Students can collaborate on projects, have more control over their learning and participate in learning that interests them. This is all great in theory but it won't work unless the teachers and students find the Intranet useful, usable and convenient. If teachers have to learn html to be able to display their next lesson on their IWB, the Intranet will die. This is where Content Management Systems (CMS) are essential. A CMS allows you to enter content much the same way as you would with a word processing program and without the need for learning html coding.
There are many free CMS software downloads and the one you choose will depend very much on what your school wants to achieve with the Intranet. Your goals are the most important place to start, so I suggest that if you are serious about creating a school Intranet or improving your existing one, read carefully the excellent free resources provided by James Robertson, a Sydney based expert in the field of Intranets. That way at least, you will build the Intranet that achieves your goals and hopefully it won’t be a case of the “tail wagging the dog”. My advice is to consult widely with other staff from the start and find out what things they find really annoying about your present Intranet or tasks that can be made easier, such as programming (always a winner) and deliver some small improvements that will win you support and build momentum for change in your school. This is much better than asking people what the want. Most people don't really know because it is all new to them. Solve a problem for them and you are a winner. Find out what the problems are now and work on solving those first. Once you decide on some goals and some timeframes, it is probably also worth thinking carefully about the best CMS for your needs have a look at my links and visit sites like Dave's Educational Blog . Ease of use, for example, is not always the best reason for choosing a CMS. You have to think carefully about governance and a policy for content creation as well as making sure someone is responsible for maintaining every page of the site so that content is always up-to-date. Happy scanning.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Adaptive and Assistive Technology

I ran into a teacher the other day who was singing the praises of a new type of software that would be terrific for some reluctant readers in his class. He told me the software could read out texts is a spoken form. He saw a demonstration of it but was flawed by the cost. I agreed with him that the price was outrageous and being a bower bird, I would try and find him a free version. I found a couple of programs and having a play with them, I realised that Text To Speech (TTS) software has got so many other applications. I haven't paid much attention to this kind of software before, and regretably to Adaptive and Assistive Technology in general, but it got me thinking that I should do some more foraging for some free alternatives. I expanded my list a little and tried to find other types of free Adaptive and Assistive Technology and it made me remember when I first asked some of my students in china to use their mobile phones to create a 2 minute film. Some of these students had very little English but were able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in the visual form with stunning clarity. The same is possibly true with students will special learning needs. So let them lose with something like Photostory 3 or the powerful and simple to use Linux alternative, Smile or with their mobile phones and see what they come back with. Most of what I listed is for Windows or Mac but I am sure you would be able to find lots of Linux alternatives. And if you can't find it, contact the The Ubuntu Accessibility Team, who volunteer there time to improve the accessibility support on the Ubuntu platform and the software that runs on it, as I am sure they would enjoy the challenge of creating something for you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Death By Powerpoint

Sorry, but I just cringe every time I have to sit through a Powerpoint presentation. If you want a good laugh, read "Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely" by Edward Tufte. To its credit, Powerpoint has been around for 20 years, and if used effectively, can be a useful tool. Let a class of kids loose on Powerpoint and you usually get lots of clashing colours, annoying noises, animations and not much useful information. I usually start with a lesson on how to prepare an effective presentation and I am fairly strict with the rubrics I set for assignments using Powerpoint. I just really needed a change and this week searched for other presentation alternatives. I like Open Office Impress and think that it is a good free alternative to Powerpoint for most presentations. I think Impress has actually been engineered to be similar to Powerpoint to allow MSOffice centric types an easy transition. I found a few interesting online tools but the prize so far goes to Prezi . It is a non-linear presentation tool that allows you to zoom in and out, move around at will and save your presentations. It takes a short time to learn to use and is such a breath of fresh air compared to Powerpoint. There are some shortcomings, which will no doubt become apparent as you use it but the concept of a zooming presentation tool is quite exciting and revolutionary. You can sign up for a trial version.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Video Is Coming To Your Classroom

I can see in the near future when students will search for and view videos related to content they want to learn about, when they need it and not when we feel like teaching it. If you haven't paid much attention to Teacher Tube and You Tube before, you had better familiarise yourself with them quickly. There are so many good tutorials appearing on these sites now that you can use in your classroom. If you have problems viewing You Tube at school there are various tools such as Keepvid and FLV Player to help you. There are many advantages to saving your lessons as video tutorials. How many times in your life have your taught that fractions lesson to Year 6? You can almost do it in your sleep, so why not share it with other people and have it as a resource to pull out once a year. You can do the lesson well once on video and keep it for future use. A little more work at first certainly, but you will have it very ever. Kids who are having trouble understanding the concept can watch it several times until "the penny drops". There are many students who have not been served well by traditional classroom instruction who are going to benefit from this change. Remember when you missed school for a week because of illness and missed learning a whole topic in Math, never to really catch up? If you are a visual learner like me, the advantages are obvious. I have been slowly working through Tomaz Lazic's Moodle video tutorials and I must say it is my prefered way to learn what I need to learn. And that is a key point. We learn things when we need to learn them, not when someone teaches us. As Winston Churchill said, "I like learning but I don't always like being taught". It is also a great way to help kids revise for exams. If you don't believe it is going to happen soon in the primary classroom, look at what has taken place in higher education. Most univerities offer lectures in video format.
Let's face it. Most of us are digital dinosaurs. We grew up in the pre-digital age while the kids we teach have been born into it. We are going to have to get with it. So how do you do it? A simple way is to use free software like Cam Studio which allows you to record all screen and audio activity on your computer and and save it as a video. So you really don't need a video camera really at all. Start by visiting Teacher Tube and looking at how others have done it. And it is not such a new thing after all. Have a look at Ma and Pa Kettle's Maths instruction video for a laugh. One of my old favourites that I have shown many kids over the years, Donald in Mathmagicland is also worth a look. Why didn't I present this information in video format? Good question. I will work on it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Moodle

You may have guessed by now that I like free stuff or as Australians say, I am tighter than a fish’s bum. I object to having to pay for resources that are freely available on the net. That is one of the main reasons I made my collection of links called Primary School available to you. I think it is kinder to think of myself as being like a Bowerbird. Collecting digital treasures for my website nest. If you are not an Aussie, have a look at this video from David Attenborough. Moodle is one of these treasures. I am looking for new ways of delivering content to students that takes advantage of the power of ICT and I am finding Moodle to be fairly exciting for the following reasons:
  • It is FOSS (free and open source software).
  • Being FOSS it is constantly evolving and improving.
  • It is modular and you can add useful objects and tools to it (the number and range of these will increase).
  • It allows teachers to create a course (unit of work) and deliver this content to anyone, anywhere, any time.
  • Learners only need a browser such as IE or Firefox (Please give Firefox a go) and an internet connection to use it.
  • It allows you to create your course and improve on it each year (no more handing in programs, I hear you say)
  • It allows you to collaborate and share courses with other teachers and so, reduces the incidence of duplication (how many of us are creating the same units of work today and reinventing the wheel?).
  • It manages assessment and student feedback really well.
Ok. I admit there are a few hitches. You will have to move out of your comfort zone and learn something new. I get sick of teachers telling me, "Not more things we have to learn!", but that is what life is all about. If you don't learn, you don't grow. My suggestion is that you start by watching these videos. Then look at the examples I collected and then log in to the Moodle demonstrations at http://www.moodle.mylearningspace.com.au/ and http://demo.moodle.org/ and learn how it works (I am a novice too and hope never to be considered an expert at anything). One of the problems I have found is finding primary school Moodle courses that are available for public viewing. You have to log in as a guest and I often find I am locked out, so it is difficult to view good existing examples. The other problem is that, while you can run Moodle on a single computer, you really need to get a computer nerd to download and put the Moodle software on your school or regional education office server so you have somewhere secure to store the precious courses that you create. You can get around this by using a free Moodle hosting service such as Ninehub.com as a way of dipping your toe in the water. They host the Moodle courses for you and the only drawback is a bit of google advertising at the top and bottom. When you open a new account at Ninehub.com you can easily create a new course and play around adding topics, resources such as links and activities such as quizzes or forums. Once you have created something useful in this account, test it with the kids at school, then show it to your IT administrator and convince them to host it on your school or regional server. If this fails just leave it on Ninehub.com . They also offer a paid service if you want extra features. To me Ninehub.com looks like a good place to start (I hope I am not proved wrong sorry). The other problem with Moodle is that it looks really high school centric but I am sure that once primary teachers like me get a hold of it, there will be new modules and new ways of using it that are more suited to primary schools that will emerge. Go on. Do yourself and your students a favour and have a go.

P.S. No sign of the new netbooks yet that are ordered but I am hoping we can get hold of them by next term. Hopefully, I can have a couple of decent units of work ready to deliver via Moodle when we get the devices up and running.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wikis In Education

Simply handing out netbook computers to students without rethinking the way we teach is a waste of time. I fear that many devices intended for high schools as part of the governments Digital Education Revolution Plan will end up collecting dust. Inservice training for teachers is the only thing that will make the devices truely useful. Teachers need to see how the netbooks can be used to enhance learning. Teachers need to learn new strategies in small chunks and have successes with these strategies. That is why I have been called in assist with the netbook trial at OLHC Primary South Lismore. I have been working 1 to 1 with teachers each week and helping them move forward from where they are at in terms of IT use and I am really enjoying it and starting to see changes already. I have started playing around this week with wikis and how we can use them in the classroom. We are starting with a wiki where teachers can plan a unit of work collaboratively. Each teacher can add content, suggestions and resources and we should have a really useful unit of work ready for next term. I have chosen to use Wetpaint and I like the way you can add some useful widgets such as a Photobucket slideshow. I also like that you can email Wetpaint and ask them to remove all advertising if the wiki is for educational use. We are also looking at how students can use wikis for their work. There seems so many possibilities. The Wikis are private at the moment but we will make them public when we are happy for other teachers to see them. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This Textbook Is Broken

I had a link to a video entitled " This Textbook is broken!" sent to me today by Chris from his Betchablog. It says a lot about the future of education and how kids view using textbooks.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Software Success

I have been busy for the last two weeks deciding which netbooks we will use for the school trial as well as assessing, evaluating and trialing open source software applications that we can add to the student netbooks. We narrowed the choice to the Intel Classmate 3 and the HP Minibook. HP Minibooks won out because of durability, a 4 year on site warranty, price and features. As for software, there is no end to the amount of free software you can easily download for Ubuntu. Some of the highlights so far Open Office 3, which can save and read in word.doc format, The Gimp, which is an excellent Image manipulation program, iTalc which lets you view and control other computers in your classroom network including seeing what all users are viewing and locking screens. There are just too many more programs to mention here. And yes, there is no need for authentication codes or money. The other pleasant part is that when I couldn't work out how do something using The Gimp, for example, I posted a question on a forum and had solution really quickly. I have never had that kind of success with Microsoft software problems.

To add to this, the process of downloading and installing the software is very simple. Ubuntu uses a Synaptic Packet Manager to manage all downloads. You search for the software you want inside the manager. It looks for the software download site on the internet. It downloads and installs it with one click. Simple.
I only had one major software problem that looked to be unresolved. The school uses Promethean IWBs in all classrooms and I couldn't find Promethean software and drivers to support Ubuntu. If we couldn't get around this it would mean that teachers would have to keep Windows running on their computers so they could use their IWBs. It was the only piece of Windows software that we couldn't do without. I sent a lot of emails everywhere trying to get some help and fortunately Promethean decided to release a Linux version of their software and drivers. I downloaded it easily and so far it works like a charm. So far so good.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Is There Anyone Out There?

I have been scouring the internet unsuccessfully this week looking for other schools who are using Linux, Ubuntu or Edubuntu. I have had a lot of open source software evangelists and techies wishing me luck and saying how important the project is but it appears that most schools seem to think it is too much of a brave new world to move to Ubuntu in preference to Windows. A couple of computer support staff in schools have told me their bosses have let them load Ubuntu onto an old standalone computer or two just to show them how it works but nobody out there seems to have taken up Ubuntu across their school. This has created more feelings of excitment for me but also the feeling that I am travelling on my own.

In other news about the project, the jury is out on which netbook we are going to use for the trial. I have been playing with the Intel Classmate 3 . One teacher asked me, "Are you going to choose the Bob the Builder laptops?" The classmate has some good features such as a handle but I get the feeling it is not as robust as the HP Minibook. I didn't like the twisting hinge and the Classmate's keyboard and felt it wouldn't last more than a year in the hands of primary students. I tried out the classmates touch screen and tablet PC features also but thought they were a bit of a gimic and wouldn't be supported by Linux software anyway. We will have to make a decision soon as to which device to adopt. I have also been waiting to hear which devise the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) decide to buy for High School Students as the sheer numbers they order will reduce the price greatly I imagine.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Windows V Edubuntu: The Battle Begins

I really enjoyed wiping Windows of my computer last week and installing Edubuntu, an Linux distribution of Ubuntu that comes bundled with lots of applications suitable for use in the classroom. But I keep finding that I need to use Windows for so many tasks that I have previously taken for granted and I haven't worked out how to do the same tasks using Linux. I have also found that the drivers required for some hardware such as IWBs doesn't seem to be available yet in Linux. This has meant that I have had to install Windows as well on my computer and boot to either Windows or Edubuntu depending on what I need to do. What happens if I boot to Windows to use a IWB? I keep using Windows and revert to my old ways of doing things. Hopefully this will pass but it reminds me that moving to using Linux all the time as an Operating System (OS) means a lot of relearning for me and a lot of time. Time is never easy to come by when you are a teacher but I will battle on. Why bother? It's all about choice. I want to be able to have a choice in terms of OS and not feel that Windows is the only computer environment where I can work comfortably and I also like the idea of free software, especially for schools.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Parent Meeting

With any project such as this, parental support and participation is essential and I am happy to report that the school had a big roll up to our information evening, where staff spoke to Year 5 and 6 parents about the pilot IT project. We told them about developments in the Federal Government's Digital Education Revolution plan and how it would eventually impact on primary schools. Our plan for a managed wireless network in the school and the environmental benefits of using digital content in the classroom in reducing the school's carbon footprint. He then went on to speak about the origins of Open Source software and the benefits to the school community of embracing the use of it. My role was to introduce the operating system, Ubuntu and the particular distribution we are intending to use which is called Edubuntu which comes bundled with applications suitable for educational purposes. I wanted to reassure parents that the operating system uses a graphical user interface that children and parents would quickly become familiar with. I then went on to show them Open Office which is a free alternative and powerful office software suite.
We collected parent questionnaires at the end of the meeting in order to gauge parent views about what parents would like to see come from the pilot and I will spend some time next week reading through them. I do feel that the response was quite positive. We had one dissenter who challenged the whole notion of using computers in schools, but generally the response was quite positive.
This week for your homework boys and girls, I would like you to visit the Open Office website and download and install a copy to try. You can choose to save any word processing documents as .doc if you are worried about other people not being able to open and read the documents you create. I would be very interested in your feedback about it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

OLHC Primary Lismore Netbook Trial Begins

I have just started a new project working with OLHC Primary School, South Lismore, NSW. The school is getting an netbook computer for each of their 60 year 5/6 students. The project is seen as an important trial for other schools in the region for many reasons. It is the first large role out of netbooks in the primary school environment where each child will have a computer on their desk all day. The netbooks will be running a version of Linux called Edubuntu instead of Windows and the network management of the system, both from a wireless and software point of view is going to be new territory for all involved. On the educational side, it is going allow teachers involved in the trial, to really explore new ways of learning and I feel priviledged to be part of it.


For me it is very exciting (get a life I can hear you saying). I started this week by banishing Windows from my notebook computer, installing Edubuntu and so I feel that I have jumped in at the deep end. It felt quite liberating saying goodbye to Microsoft (for now anyway). For a long while I have had the feeling that I didn't really have a choice about the software I use in the classroom but after giving Edubuntu www.edubuntu.com a run this week I can see that it is more than just a viable alternative. Not only is it free (and all of the applications that come with it), I like the way my new Gnome desktop works. It is only early days of course but I am very optimistic about it and know that the kids will adapt to the new OS and applications, much quicker than any teacher can.


So now the fun begins and I hope you come back and read my blog and comments from others each week in the hope that you can learn from it as well. My first task is to work out an effective way to store and recharge the netbooks each night in a storeroom at the school so if you can offer any suggestions about this it will be greatly appreciated.