Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Microsoft Enters Online Apps Arena with Works

Tech Crunch reports Microsoft is creating an ad suported, online version of Microsoft Works that will be free to use. Micorsoft Works 9 is Microsoft's response to Google Docs and Google Spread Sheets, OpenOffice.org, Think Free Office and a growing list of applications that are free and increasingly web-based. The online version of Works is not released yet but reported to be coming soon (sounds like Microsoft).

If Microsoft is moving Works online, this shows that web-based applications are becoming useful and cost effective tools. I like the idea of web-based applications such as Google Docs. Web-based allows you to work on any Internet connected computer and you can save your work online. Google Docs allows users to invite others to work collaberatively much like Wikis do. The downside is your Internet connection must be dependable for you to do any work. Also, they can be clunky at times. I currently use a version of Open Office at home and have used Google Docs in the past. Both applications can do just about what I needed Microsoft Office to do.

Will applications such as Google Docs and Open Office replace Microsoft Office in the near future? No, nor should they try. Most people need just a basic application to start with. If you need to do more indepth work then you can move over to Microsoft Office.

Now you have an alternative for a student who says they either don't have a computer at home or don't have a word processor at home. Just point them in the right direction.

Tech Crunch Article

Good Mojo, Bad Mojo

On my podcast, Teacher Bytes, I talked about U3 Smart USB flash drives and how this mini operating system can allow you to use various applications on any computer. PC World has a story about a new application for flash drives and portable hard drives which mimics your personal desktop setup. MojoPac is an operating system that works on Windows computers. Unlike U3, MojoPac actually allows you use your applications from your computer on any other computer such as Word, Open Office, Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc....

This would be good for teachers who have useful personal applications which are usually not allowed on school computers. However, the downside is a long list of compatible games listed on MojoPac's website which students can plug and play on school computers as well. Hopefully, MojoPac won't become one of those well intentioned applications that kills the usefullness of flash drives much like cameras helping Internet able cell phones (such as the iPhone) get kicked out of schools.

Make sure to watch your students when they plug in a flash drive.

PC World Article

Maybe Reefer Madness Was Right

Reuters reports about New Zealand Medical researchers' claim that smoking cannabis joints is as bad for the lungs as smoking 5 tobacco cigarettes. The Medical Research Institute of New Zealand tested 339 people divided into 4 groups: cannabis smokers, tobacco smokers, those who smoked both, and non-smokers. "Those who smoked cannabis damaged both the lungs' small fine airways, used for transporting oxygen, and the large airways, which blocked air flow, the researchers said." In other words the lungs stop working normally. This along with a British report about cannabis smokers having an increased risk of developing a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia have British officials considering classifying cannabis as a more dangerous drug.

Article on Yahoo News

Monday, July 30, 2007

Make Sure Parents Know Cellphone Policies

Dory Devlin at Yahoo relates what public schools in New York City had to go through regarding cell phone policies. At first all cell phones were banned but the local school board, after parent complaints, changed the policy to allow students to bring the phone to and from school but not use it at school. After some easing of restrictions after the Columbine incident, cell phone restrictions are increasing after incidents of cheating or bullying using cell phone cameras or text messaging.

Now would be a good time to clarify your cell phone policies and make sure parents and students understand it.

Schools and Cell Phones Can Be a Volatile Mix

Check out school policies before sending your kids off to school with cell phones & gadgets.

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Math and Science Partnership Paying Dividends

ARS Technica reports the National Science Foundation's Math and Science Partnership helped increase student's test scores on Math and Science tests in schools participating in the program. Over 3,300 K-12 schools in 30 states formed partnerships with 150 institutes of higher education in the 2004-2005 school year. Studies found that elementary and high school students whose teachers participated in the program performed at the proficient level on standardized math and science tests. Only Middle School students' scores remained flat.

The Math and Science Partnership brings K-12 teachers to work with scientists, mathematicians, and engineers during summer training programs. The goal is for these teachers to bring back what they learned to their students to bring more appreciation and understanding in math, science, and engineering.

National Science Foundation teacher outreach program pays off for students

When higher education pairs with K-12 educators, the K-12 students reap the benefits in math and science fields.


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Friday, July 27, 2007

Episode 11 of the Teacher Bytes Podcast is now available. Hear John Woodring report and comment on news and information of interest to teachers.

Click here to get your own player.

Mobile Phone Novelist

The next time a student claims to not have time to do a writing assignment you may want to mention how author Robert Bernocco wrote Compagni di Viaggo (Fellow Travelers). The Italian IT professional penned the book using T9 on his mobile phone during commutes to and from work. Bernocco would write and save short paragraphs then upload his work to a computer later for further editing. By the way, he wrote it using long hand and not text messaging shorthand.

Commuter writes book using mobile phone (Reuters)

The book cover of Compagni di Viaggo (Fellow Travelers) is seen in an undated publicity image. An Italian writer decided to put his mobile phone to good use during his daily commute to and from work -- by writing a book. Robert Bernocco, an IT professional took advantage of his travel time by writing a 384-page science fiction novel, Compagni di Viaggo (Fellow Travelers), on his Nokia using the phone's T9 typing system. (Lulu.com/Handout/Reuters)Reuters - An Italian writer decided to put his mobile phone to good use during his daily commute to and from work -- by writing a book.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Turn Reports Into Comics

Comic Book Creator 2.0


Computing Unplugged reported about an interesting application which could liven-up reports. Comic Book Creator 2.0 allows users to create stories using digital photos, music, sound effects, videos and annimation. A demonstration on the Comic Book Creator 2.0 website showed how pictures of pets was put together using a template, text ballons, and other clipart to create a cartoon. According to the Comic Book Creator 2.0 website, the price is $29.99 and a free demo version is available.

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One Laptop Per Child on Christmas List

If you are thinking about a new computer for a child or thinking about a One-to-One initiative the One Laptop Per Child group may have your machine. The group is currently selling low-cost laptops to Third World countries to be used by school children. These machines were designed to stand up to childrens' use and abuse, operate in different climates, connect wirelessly to the internet, and last up to 12 hours on one charge. One feature which is unique among laptops is a handcrank to charge the battery if an electrical outlet is not avaiable. These machines run on the Linux operating system to help cut the costs of the machines. The price tag of the machines is said to start at $350.

Nonprofit may launch $350 laptop by Christmas (Reuters)

Nigerian pupils work on computers at a primary school in Abuja, in this May 30, 2007 picture. A non-profit group that designs low-cost computers for poor children hopes to start selling multimedia laptops to consumers by Christmas, a foundation executive said on Monday. (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)Reuters - A nonprofit group that designs low-cost computers for poor children may start selling $350 laptops on the commercial market by Christmas, an executive said on Monday.

One Laptop Per Child Foundation

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Online Education in Summer School

According to this AP article online summer school enrollment increased this year. However, there are two interesting points made in this article.

First, more students are using online classes to take upper level required courses such as honors algebra or other courses not normally offered during summer school. These courses are desired by some students for purposes of retaking a failed class or credit recovery. Yet, some students want to use online summer school classes to get ahead in their studies without cramping their summer activities.

The other point the article made is how some students are doing better in online classes than traditional ones because students are used to working with the interenet. It is well documented that students are comfortable using the internet to communicate with each other, chronical daily life, conduct research, and other tasks that are also done in traditional school settings.

Online summer school classes increasing

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) When Scott Landry flunked a math class in his Townsend high school this year, he was told he would not make it into the 10th grade unless he went to summer school.

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Here is a special episode of Teacher Bytes! Recorded at the Harry Potter Party at the Hilton Head Island Barnes and Noble. There were many teachers who volunteered as members of the Magical World of J.K. Rowling's novels. It was a fun evening.

Thanks to the management, staff, and volunteers for allowing me to podcast at the store and making the event a magical one for everyone who attended.

Click here to get your own player.

A New Way to Teach Programming

From the makers of Lego's Mind Storm comes a new tool to teach computer programming to children. Scratch is a free download that uses a graphical interface to teach basic programing concepts. Programs are saved in a proprietary file and can be uploaded onto the Scratch website or uploaded on any website using a downloadable Java applet from Scratch.

For more information go to http://scratch.mit.edu/

Scratch makes programming like playing with LEGO bricks

A new tool for teaching children how to program has come out of the computer science education research department at MIT, and is taking the Internet by storm, attracting budding programmers of all ages.


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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lowcost Method of Recording Lectures

The Jing Project could provide a cost-effective means of recording what is on computer screens. This Tech-Smith offering could be useful to teachers to record lectures and demonstrating new concepts for students to replay later. This would be especially usefull  for teachers with the new "Smart Boards" installed in recently new classrooms.

The Jing Project: The 3 Legged Dog Of Screen Captures And Screencasting

jingproject.pngThe Jing Project is a fairly new screen capture and screencasting tool from TechSmith.

Jing aims to make screen capturing and screencasting easier by providing the one program for both. Usage wise it’s simple to use. The screencasting tool is as good as any I’ve used before; unlike Screencast-o-matic it’s a software based tool and the difference in quality shows.

The Jing Project is free (at least for the time being) so I shouldn’t be to hard on it. It’s software I want to love and was prepared to write a completely favorable review about, until I tried to upload a screencast. Jing only saves screencasts in Flash (.swf). That may not seem like a big thing until you try to find a video hosting site like YouTube that will accept .swf files.

The built in sharing function in Jing allows users to upload their files directly to Screencast.com, a screencast hosting site owned and run by TechSmith; however if YouTube was the United States of America, Screencast.com would be a tin pot failed African nation; it’s horrible. I couldn’t access the test screencasts I’d uploaded via the Screencast.com interface, although I could view them directly. On a direct view there is no code present that allows you to embed the screencast on your site; whether this is only an option for paid hosting plans was not clear as there was no link on that page to a help or FAQ page either.

The screen capture tools are handy and if Flash files don’t bother you, then its a good screencasting tool. Overall the Jing Project is just like a 3 legged dog; you can easily love it, it barks, but it just can’t do everything a 4 legged dog could and should do.