Archive for August, 2010

It has begun.

August 27, 2010

Today is the first full day of school.  We have 11 kids in Programming I and 8 kids in Advanced Programming.  In a school of 200 that does not seem too bad.  This year our Adv Prog is offered for college credit through the local University of Montana College of Technology.  A three credit course for $120 is a killer deal for the kids.  I have to use the CoT text, Visual Basic and somewhat follow their goals but the CoT directions were to teach the topics in any way I see fit.  We are rewriting our Programming I from scratch.  We are trying to wean ourselves from a strictly VB based coding course to a more language independent course with a much larger plan/design/code concept behind the course.  It should be an entertaining year.

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CS and Teacher Education

August 18, 2010

It is interesting the things that get put on the shoulders of the CS teacher.  Our elementary (1-8) tech teacher has to teach typing, Office, audio and visual software, very basic “how to run the computer” to 1st graders, a little Scratch programming in the 7th and 8th grades, along with anything else that is trendy or a classroom teacher needs.  All of this with very little background or education in the field.  Luckily she is young, very smart and enjoys the variety.  Oh, she also does some tech work for the building.  She ends up with all these chores because the classroom teachers are totally unprepared educationally to teach these topics.  The older the staff, the less likely they are able to teach “computer stuff”.  In his latest blog, Alfred Thompson says “we need more computer science teachers who know what they are doing”.  This is the absolute truth but schools also need classroom teachers that are academically prepared to teach the minimally required “computer stuff” so computer science teachers can teach computer science.  The nine month contract with summers off needs to become a 10 month contract with a month of professional development and continuing education.  Education is evolving too fast for the present static post-employment teacher education system that is the American standard.  Leaving it up to the teacher to further their own education really is not a practical system.  Many teachers cannot afford to pay for further education, many work during the summer to make ends meet, and many really do not want to learn something new.  Of course there would be some minor details to overcome; unions, budgets, and government bureaucracy come to mind.

Classroom of the future

August 9, 2010

Most teachers look at laptops in the classroom as a distraction.  The kids are on Facebook during math lecture.  Instead of writing an English paper they are writing emails.  This is not the fault of the laptop or the internet; it is problem with student management, classroom design and teaching methodologies.  The student management aspect is a major can of worms so I am going to bypass that for now. 

Look at the typical high school classroom physical setting.  The teacher has a board at the front of the classroom and the students are in desks facing the board.  Since the teacher wants the students to have good notes the teacher spends a lot of time at the front of the room writing on that board.  The board may be a fancy Smart board but it is still positioned in the same place boards have been for hundreds of years.  Math classes are famous for this arrangement.  If students are using laptops all the teacher sees are laptop lids.  Not the best view.  Now give the teacher a device like an eInstruction InterwriteMobi pad.  The Mobi is wirelessly connected to a computer which is projecting to a screen (again to the front of the room, but hey, it has to go somewhere).  The teacher now has a portable slate which allows them to write from any position in the room.  Presently there is a math teacher in my school who uses a Mobi to teach from the back of the room.  He said it took some time to get used to a different style of presentation but the result was worth the time.  From the back of the room there is no issue with the teacher knowing who is doing what on their laptop.

This portable slate idea can be carried another step.  The Mobi/PC connection will allow up to 9 pads to operate simultaneously.  Now the kids can interact with the board without having to go to the front of the room (not always a good moment for most of them).  If a kid has a comment or suggestion, hand them a pad.  I sound like a salesman for eInstruction.

An alternative is if every kid had their own tablet laptop with the right software then they would have the ability to each project to the projector, receive files from the teacher (assignments, etc.), be able to take written notes, get someone else’s written notes (this has issues good and bad) and other things I cannot imagine.  There is software that allows the teacher to control this environment with classroom management software (CMS) (Smart Sync is one I know of).  With this software the teacher can control what the student sees on their tablet, and the teacher can see what the student is looking at.  The teacher that has the Mac lab (the same teacher mentioned above) says the iPad will do the same thing as the tablet PC and the CMS.  I hate to say it but here it is – there is an app for that.

My classroom of the future has every student with a laptop like device with broad access to the internet and with the ability to share files digitally and by projecting on the wall.  Instead of the teacher giving the student a list of questions (as in a math class) to solve, give then one problem and tell them to find 5 more like it with solutions then make five of their own to share.  There would be more in the way of collaborative assignments/projects through something like OneNote.  Projects would not require face-to-face meetings; kids could actually be in different classes and be on the same project team.

I like the 1-1 student/laptop idea.  In the job market and in life today this is the way it is.  We should be training our students for the future and having a laptop/tablet/pad at hand at all times is the future.  There are just so many issues in a school environment to overcome that the “Poof, let it be!” approach is not going to work.

School wireless network: who and what

August 3, 2010

The Montana techs have been discussing their school’s wireless access policy.  So far the sample is rather small but the general approach seems to be a guest network and a staff network.  The guest network is for students and is rather limited.  There is also variability as to the use of student devices; laptops are OK, iPads and the like are not OK and so on.  Due to a very limited budget my school has implemented the simplest possible wireless system; I plugged in some cheap Linksys wireless routers into the system and left it at that.  I am not too worried about the neighbors using up the band width; our old building barely lets the signal go in the next classroom and is almost undetectable outside the building.  This system works because I may have a maximum of 10 laptops on the system at once.  This is a stop-gap solution but it does fit with my philosophy of wireless access; anybody, any time, any gadget.  The internet access does go through my content and anti-virus filter so we are still only allowing the same internet access that the regular student lab computers have.  I do worry about someone infecting our system from the inside but all of our computers have a local anti-virus product so I am hoping that will keep us secure.

Restricting a student’s access to the internet at school seems to me to be a really bad idea.  These kids future will be dependent on the internet.  The school should be teaching internet use, not restricting it.  Our technology courses should be offering a lesson on “How to get the most out of your cell phone” – to 3rd graders.  Every student should have access to the internet all the time, be it in class, in the hall, at lunch, whenever they need it.  This is what they will encounter in the higher tech level job market.  There are bound to be issues with an open wireless system but they need to be recognized and solved, not put off until next year.