Archive for April, 2016

CS certification In Montana: ain’t going to happen soon

April 30, 2016

Due to an insatiable desire to cause myself pain and discomfort I have gotten on the “let’s try and get a CS Ed program started at my local university” horse again.  I am simply trying to get a way that Montana teachers can get a CS certification without getting a BA in CS.  At the moment the only way to get qualified in Montana to teach CS is to get the CS degree and then get a degree in education or get a Business Ed degree which includes no CS, just business apps.  The Business degree does not come with the CS certification.  Since none of our colleges offered a CS Ed program I asked the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) for what is required for a CS certification program.  They do have such a document.  The document was interesting to say the least.  There were some requirements that just seemed a little out of place for a K-12 certification.

(vi) demonstrating knowledge of and the ability to construct multi-threaded client-server applications

Uh, right.  I am not even sure what that is.  Here are some others.

(vii) demonstrating knowledge of and the ability to construct web sites that utilize complex data bases;

(viii) demonstrating knowledge of and the ability to construct artificial intelligence and robotic applications; and

(ix) demonstrating knowledge of the principles of usability and human computer interaction and be able to apply these principles to the design and implementation of human-computer interfaces;

I passed this on to my friend that teaches CS at the university.  He spends a semester teaching (vii) with his CS majors.  His comment on (viii) was “Wow”.  I kind of have an idea what (ix) is talking about but I am not sure I would want to do it at the high school level.  Some of the other requirements were to be knowledgeable with at least one of the following languages; C++, Java, C# or Ada.  Ada?  Who in the heck uses Ada as a teaching language?  How many people use Ada period?  You would think that somewhere in that list would be something appropriate for middle school kids.  A teacher knowledgeable in Scratch or Alice or Small Basic or half a dozen other possibilities would be so much more useful to a K-12 system than any of those in this list. The document goes on with needing be able to demonstrate familiarity with four high-level programming languages.  Seriously?  Four?  Somebody needs a reality check.  This is supposed to be for teaching CS K-12, not 13-16 and also not full time.  After reading these standards I really understand why the Montana colleges are so reluctant to offer the program.  There are just not enough CS teaching jobs to make building such a program worthwhile.  No pre-service teacher in their right mind would do the program and no teacher wanting to get a CS certification would have the time to commit to the number of courses this would require.

I looked through the requirement for a mathematics program.  It actually makes sense.  The math requirements list is shorter.  We are doomed by bureaucracy.  I will continue to fight the good fight but it is not looking good.  Must be a philosophical thing I have.  I want to teach kids CS, not make CS professionals.


Cell phones in school seem to be a bad idea

April 27, 2016

Articles like this get me wondering; is the problem the cell phone in the classroom or is it that the classroom has not caught up with the cell phone?  Being an old fart and used to the traditional pre-cell phone classroom I am going with the first option but I am just not sure if that is correct.  Education does not seem to handle changes in technology well.  Those of us that have been in the business a while can remember the big stink over the calculator.  There were all sorts of dire predictions if they were allowed into the classroom and I have to say many of them were and still are true.  Kids do not want to do mental math, they look for every answer in the calculator instead of looking at the problem first, and the list goes on and on.  On the other side of the fence more time can be spent on problem solving than on “trivial” arithmetic and computation.  Then TI came out with the TI-92 and we were all going to Hell.  Kids will never learn to think if they have one of those devices of Satan.  Now it is WolframAlpha.  I love WolframAlpha.  I can convert gallons to acre-feet in a second.  Admittedly I do not seem to need to do that too often but I can if I want to.  WolframAlpha can do anything I can mathematically dream up.  But it still cannot problem solve.

So back to the cell phone thing.  Ban them from the classroom, use them as needed or accept that the new generation lives on the thing?  I have been taking the middle road lately just to see what happens.  My own little study.  Through diligent observation I have concluded that a student with a cell phone in math class with the intent of using it as a calculator is using it as a calculator about 20% of the time.  Maybe less.  Not very scientific but very realistic.  The gist of it is that cell phones in the classroom are a major distraction and, as the calculator issue proved, users are going to turn into uneducated idiots.  Well, maybe not that bad but the things are going to have a detrimental effect on student focus.  No great revelation there.

I do like then for some uses.  I give my students things like find the length of the major and minor axis of an American football and find its volume.  I do not teach the formula for the volume of an ovoid, they have to find it.  On the way they learn what a major and minor axis is, they have to read a little algebra and they have to find a website that is readable.  It allows me a broader set of problems than the text offers.  Years ago I would have given the same assignment with a CRC manual.  The thing with the CRC manual is when they were done they were not going to continue reading it for entertainment value.  With the phone when they are done they are off to who knows where.

Next year I am going to bail on the cell phone use.  It has great possibilities but the management is just too much to deal with.  Use it once and the kids expect to use it all the time.  With the cell phone they have a strong tendency to not get things done in class.  Or out of class for that matter.

I need a Microsoft school techie camp

April 19, 2016

You know, one of those two day events where Microsoft comes in and shows the school techies everything they ever need to know about what Microsoft can do for a school and how all of it works.  OK, so the camp should be more like 2 weeks but I do not think any techie can commit to something that long or expensive.  Right now I am getting buried by all that is happening in the school tech world.  Things like Office 365 vs Google Apps, EES licensing, Group Policy, Windows 10 deployment, hosted Exchange vs Google mail, OneNote, OneDrive, Azure Active Directory, and about a dozen other things I do not even know exist and would really help my school survive better if I knew about them.

With budgets as tight as they are Google has started to be the go-to option for schools.  The trouble with that is that Google Apps are just not professional grade nor are they the dominate apps in the outside-of-school world.  Google also is not the backbone of a school’s infrastructure.  Servers, login management and computers that use high level software are all going to be Microsoft.  No matter how much school techies complain about Microsoft or try to eliminate Microsoft it is still the King of the Hill.  But Microsoft school techie training is non-existent.  I can get the names of five local Google certified trainers in about sixty minutes.  Trainers who can train the staff on apps and train the techie on deployment and management.  These trainers specialize in schools.  I have no idea where to find a Microsoft trainer who is local or who specializes in schools.  Next month one of the local schools is hosting a two day Google Fest for education.  A third day is the tech thread.  I have never ever heard of a Microsoft Fest for education.  Maybe Montana is too far out for word of something like that to be heard.

There are lots of places to get Microsoft certifications.  School techies do not need Microsoft certifications.   They need to know what is cheap, is going to work and how to keep it working with a $3.85 budget.  Oh, and considering the average training level of the average school techie (I started as a math teacher that could spell Microsoft) they need to know what is idiot proof and stupidly simple to manage.  Example: most school techies can spell SCCM but no school techie has time to fiddle with it for a month to try to make it work.

The school techie job is like nothing I have ever seen in the techie world.  In business the techie is usually a specialist and if it is something outside their realm they call in another specialist.  The school techie, especially a small school, has to be a jack of all trades.  The techie has to have a smattering of servers, wireless, anti-virus, firewalls, content filters, desktop systems, Window, Mac, Chrome, repairs, cable pulling (in dark crawl spaces with large hairy spiders), software of all kinds and a dozen other things they do not know they have to know.  The training for all this is usually minimal.

It would behoove (I do not think I have ever used “behoove” in a written document before) Microsoft to get in the parade before we all get used to suffering with Google Apps.  I have been to a Microsoft show-and-tell.  There is some really nice Microsoft stuff out there but 2 hours is not enough time to do anything but take a quick note to look it up on the internet when back in the office.  When I get time.  Microsoft does have events for teachers.  I have attended a two day event on TouchDevelop and a one day event on Microsoft Innovative Educator (basically Office 365, OneNote and some odds and ends).  The first really does not need any techie input.  The second really needs a techie thread with multiple days.  Guess who is going to get the call when the teacher decides to use these tools and can’t quite figure out what to do?  That MIE event should have been two days just for the teachers and a third day for the techies.

There is just so much happening out there in school tech-land that learning it on-the-job and on-the-fly is not cutting it any more.  If Microsoft wants to keep their stuff in the education market they have to give the training to the people that actually talk to the school administration as to what to purchase.  Yes, events like MIE are important for the teachers, but they do no good if the school tech cannot support it.

Is the Chromebook dead?

April 18, 2016

Last week I saw a $219 Windows 10 Lenovo with a solid state drive.  It booted in about 10 seconds.  It was only a Celeron processor but it was still a nice little laptop.  This seems to be a Chromebook killer.  I have never been a Chromebook fan, paying $200 – $300 for a free browser just seemed a little odd.  The big selling points for the Chromebooks has been the super-fast boot up and the remote manageability.  The first reason appears to be trivial.  In the classroom it is not.  The minute or two of boot time always seems to take longer and there are always one or two out of twenty that are just stubborn and want to take their time.  For often tech leery teachers this time loss just reinforces their opinion that tech is a pain.  Chromebooks were a jewel in the boot up department.  Hit the button and there was the screen.  Of course from there things were limited to a browser but teachers were finding work arounds and good solutions to their needs.  It is the second selling point that really sold Chromebooks and it is the second selling point, in my opinion, that should have never even been a consideration.  Remote management is nice, in fact for a large school with hundreds of computers it is almost a must, but to make a buying and deployment decision based on the convenience of the IT department is just ridiculous.  The shortage of IT staff in schools is a reality so making a decision based on the ability of an IT department to support a device is going to be a buying issue, ridiculous or not.

Due to my school’s economic situation (poor) I as the IT staff do not have a lot of labs or school owned devices to maintain.  We go real strong towards BYOD so the Chromebook vs. Windows laptop has not been an issue for us.  We are looking at expanding our laptop numbers in the elementary school and I was seriously considering Chromebooks simply because of the price.  A decent Windows laptop was in the $400 range, a Chromebook was $200.  With a $219 Windows 10 laptop available the Chromebook is dead. Now if Microsoft would just come up with a way to flash the OS.  Maybe next year.