Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Unlocking a Future

Normally I don't advocate illegal or unethical activities but this one is too hard to pass up. George Hotz, 17, of Glen Rock, New Hampshire gained fame last week as the first person to successfully unlock Apple's iPhone so it can work on other networks other than AT&T. Cell phone companies in the United States are notorious for disabling features or locking their phones so they only work with the carrier who sold you the phone. I can also rant and rave about blocking features so companies force you to purchase add-on services and increase revenues but life is too short.

Well young Mr. Hotz has profited by his ingenuity to the tune of 3 more iPhones and a new sports car. CetiCell, a mobile phone repair service purchased Hotz's unlocked phone for the above mentioned items and an offer of a job consulting for the company. Not bad for someone who recently graduated high school.

It should be no surprise that AT&T and Apple are not happy about what Mr. Hotz has done to their prized product. However, this is an example of a digital native using technology skills he probably gained outside of school and profited by it. While I am sure Phone Hacking was not a course at Mr. Hotz's high school, I do wonder how teachers put his skills to use in his education. Did the teachers allow Hotz to use his creativity or did they hold him back? Teachers, I am sure there are other George Hotz's wandering your halls. Now are you willing to channel that creative talent by tapping into technology skills they obviously possess?

Teacher Bytes Episode 14

It has been busy here so I am a little late getting this edition out. Here is what I cover in this episode:
Yahoo Teachers
Firefox Campus
Google Sky

I also talk about a program that helps young girls get excited about science and technology, where do students go to first when starting a research project, and Gmail invades college campuses.

Here is the link to the podcast:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cutting class is now obsolete

Many schools in the United States are debating making students wear school uniforms but in the United Kingdom school uniforms have been around for many years. However, Lancashire-based manufacturer Trutex will be selling uniforms with tracking devices so parents can track their children's' movements. This decision was done after an Internet marketing survey showed 59% of parents would be willing to purchase the high-tech uniforms. While 50% of elementary-aged would wear the uniforms, teens are naturally more reluctant. This move by Trutex is based on parents' fears of children being abducted or leaving campus with the wrong people. You can be sure civil libertarians and conspiracy theorists will see this as evidence of "Big Brother" taking another step towards spying on citizens by of tracking their every movement.

Sydney Morning Herald article

Friday, August 24, 2007

Procrastinate yes! Wikipedia no!

ARS Technica reports on a study done at St. Mary's, a small liberal arts college in California and can be found in First Monday that shows Wikipedia and search engines such as Yahoo or Google are not the first place students look when starting a research project. Only 13% of students surveyed went to search engines and 3% went to Wikipedia first. This is compared to 40% who went to course materials for information and 23% who went to their library website first. Not surprisingly confusion and procrastination were cited as the top two things students first do for a research project.

Before you Wikipedia haters start celebrating, this is only one small college that attracts above average students. The article says instruction on proper research methods is still needed.

Research tools online and offline make for a harrowing research experience, according to a new study. While students are wary of Wikipedia and the like, there's also a clear need for resources like it.


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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Yahoo Goes to School

ARS Technica reports about the announcement of Yahoo Teachers, a website to help teachers use the Internet for doing lesson planning. First, to help collect materials for lesson planning there is widget called the gobbler. The gobbler has three buckets on the side of the website assigned to lesson plans and teachers drag highlighted text, images, or entire websites into one of the buckets. The information is then formated and saved into the teacher's portfolio. The saved information can then be formated into lesson plans with search tags. There are other lesson plans teachers can search and use. The lesson plans also have information on what state standards are covered in the lessons. The site will also allow teachers to network so they could collaborate on lessons. The goal developers at Yahoo are after is to create a tool that allows teachers create lesson plans easily. Yahoo Teachers not available yet but you can sign up to receive notification and view preview videos. If Yahoo Teachers works as promised this would be a great help to already overworked teachers.

Hacking education with Yahoo! Teachers

At the recent User Experience Week Conference, Yahoo showed off Yahoo! Teachers, a new collaboration space for educators, and talked about what went into its development.


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Google Sky: explore the stars

What Google Earth did for teaching World Geography, Google Sky can do for teaching about the universe around us. ARS Technica reports Google has added to Google Earth a view of over 200 million galaxies and 100 million stars that can be explored with the click of a mouse. Google is using material from the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Digital Sky Survey Consortium, CalTech's Palomar Observatory, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre, and the Anglo-Australian Observatory to recreate the universe. Some of the other features of Google Sky include searching for a celestial body by name, viewing constellations, accessing Hubble Space Telescope pictures, views of the Moon and planets, a guide to the galaxies, and the life of a star. Science teachers should make great use of this latest offering by Google.

Google Earth

Google launched Sky today, a new feature in Google Earth 4.2 that lets users explore not only our home planet but other galaxies, too.


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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A New Web Browser for Students

Firefox will be introducing a new Campus version of their web browser targeting students. This version will include three education friendly extensions. Zotero helps students collect, manage, and cite research sources on the Internet. With one click you can receive automatic capture of citation information from any webpage. The extension allows you to collect information about pages, organize the information, make notes on sites visited, store a variety of files attached to a selected webpage. Zotero works with both Microsoft Office and Open Office.

The second extension is FoxyTunes, which will control any media player while you are surfing. FoxyTunes is very Web 2.0 by allowing users to share what they are playing with friends via Twitter, receive information about album art and lyrics. You also may sign blog postings and e-mails with music you are currently playing. Just be careful of the RIAA.

The third extension of Firefox Campus is StumbleUpon. This extension helps you find material on the Internet based on your interests. This along with Zotero would be a great help in conducting research online. Another feature, good or bad, is the ability of a network of friends to share information on a particular subject.

While you can take or leave FoxyTunes, the other extensions have a lot of promise for students working on the online world. The Internet is changing the way students search for information and the extensions found on the Firefox Campus edition. However, these tools are no guarantee the information found online is legitimate. Teachers and Media Specialists still need to guide students on how to conduct research online by instructing students to question information gathered online by trying to finding other information that either proves or disproves other sources found on the Internet. However, it is encouraging there are tools that help get the job done.

Firefox Campus Edition

Friday, August 17, 2007

A New Begining

Today we had a district-wide pep rally to kick off the new school year and officially meet our new superintendent, Dr. Valarie Truesdale. The central theme of her message, as I understood it, was change is happening at such a rapid pace that we need to prepare our children to do things we can't even imagine. Dr. Truesdale stressed the importance of technology but her main challenge was to increase the literacy and thinking ability of the children in our district so they can meet the challenges facing them in the future.

No one can ever accuse me of telling teachers to use technology for the sake of using technology. Technology is one tool to use to educate children, like a hammer or a saw is used to build a house. You can't use just one tool and expect to build a quality house. Builders use blueprints to plan what a house will look like after it is finished. Then they assemble the necessary tools, supplies, and labor to turn the blueprint into reality.

When you use technology, not only have a plan on how to use it but how technology will fit into the overall goal of educating children to successfully function in a society that is not even defined yet. Don't be afraid to try new things with technology either. Set a goal to learn and master a new skill to use in the classroom and in your personal life. It is scary to step out into a new, unfamiliar area to do things you have never done before. Yet, it is what we are asking the students we will soon be entrusted with to do in the future. Should we not be willing to do the same thing we are going to ask of them?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Lesson Plan Wiki

As I was reading a Wired story on the top online educational resources one site intrigued me. Curriciki.org is a site that has been around for a while but with a new face. Formally known as the Education and Learning Community created by Sun Microsystems, the site continues to be a site where teachers can share and collaborate on best teaching practices.

The site hosts lesson plans members (membership is free) have uploaded. Since the site is a wiki this means other members can contribute ideas to strengthen these lesson plans. There is a review process in place lead by a team of experts in the fields of technology and education to ensure content is valid.

This would be a great site to visit for any new teacher looking for ideas in lesson planning. Veteran teachers could also benefit from this site to get fresh perspectives on a variety of subjects and provide input on this process. When I was going through teacher education in graduate school, a professor told me that teachers need to be good thieves of ideas from other teachers. While that may be one way of looking at it, this site should remind us that we should also be good sharers of ideas. If you use this site, make sure you eventually give back

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wikis taking over education

The people who changed the way we look up information is now wanting to change the way we get an education according to a PC World report. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., the people who bring you Wikipedia are now building a school using online collaboration. Most media specialists I know are probably now convinced this is a sign of the end of civilization as we know it because they despise Wikipedia. Critics of Wikipedia claim the information cannot be considered valid because anyone can edit articles on the site. However, David Warlick said at a conference I attended that Wikipedia should be a starting point of research. Find the information then the assignment should then try to prove or disprove the Wikipedia entry.

I digress. The coordinators are claiming the Wikiversity project is growing. The project has free online courses complete with free materials. The idea is to not only provide free education opportunities but to try different theories in education to see what works and what doesn't. This the part the that should interest the education community. Educators need to monitor this project to gain ideas on what works in online learning. Distance learning and online learning have rapidly become buzzwords in conferences and high level discussions. From credit recovery, to alternative learning environments, to helping children who can't get to school, online learning is getting a serious look with lots of money being spent to create these opportunities. Perhaps the Wikiversity project will be a low cost, low risk means of study. Just don't tell the Media Specialists.

Wikiversity Gains Momentum (PC World)

PC World - The online collaboration that has made Wikipedia one of the most used sources of information on the Internet is also being used to build a school and offer classes across the online world, and the project is taking off.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Need a quick PDF converter?

One of my pet peeves is getting a document to put on our school's website only to find it has been created in Microsoft Publisher. Unfortunately, Publisher files do not work well with other Microsoft Office applications such as Word. In other words, you cannot open a Publisher file using Word. Therefore if someone is trying to open a Publisher document Windows will look for a program to open the file unless you have Publisher, which many people don't.

The best way to upload any document is to convert the file into a PDF file first. There are two reasons for this. First, the Adobe Acrobat Reader is a free download and most computers have the program. Second, PDF files are smaller which saves space on websites. I have found an online PDF file converter by Neevia. All you do is go to the website, convert.neevia.com, click the browse button to select the file you wish to convert, then click convert. Once the conversion process is complete you can open the PDF file and save it. The website is free but there is a 1MB size limit on the file you wish to convert.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

An easy way to edit webpages?

Crunch Gear announced Texty which would allow you to edit web pages on the fly. After signing up for a Texty account you create a Texty edit using the site's WYSIWYG editor. After you are finished you copy and paste the HTML code into you website editor. Then whenever you wish to make any changes to your website away from your computer you log onto Texty, edit the appropriate Texty, including images, and your edits will automatically show up on you website.

The key is your ability of your website to be able to use Java. I tried Texty out on a website I manage for a school. The edits would show up on page previews but failed to show when I saved the page. This would be a good tool if you need to make quick changes, such as homework assignments to a website you manage from home. Also, if you are away from school and your computer you can post sub plans on your website away. The site is free so give it a try to see if you works for you.

Texty: Dead Simple Content Creation And Editing

Texty is a dead simple but useful new Internet service that you can use to quickly create and edit content on a web page with zero HTML or programming skills.

Go to the site, start typing text in a WYSIWYG editor, format it and add images. Click a button and get an embed code. Your text will appear in whatever website you add the code to. And if you want to make changes, go back to Texty and edit it. The changes will flow to whatever sites you’ve embedded it on. You can also add comment functionality to a piece of text, and create a RSS feed.

There are lots of great and easy to use content management systems on the web already. Blogging software is just one example. But if someone is working on a web page outside of something like a blog and wants to add a bit of text and graphics, this is a good solution. See our coverage of JS-Kit which has similar tools. I was surprised at how many people are looking for something exactly like this.

I’ve embedded a bit of text and an image below. Everything below this paragraph, including the image, is actually embedded from Texty.

Crunch Network: CrunchBoard because it’s time for you to find a new Job2.0

Click Here

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Teacher with the Right Stuff

The space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, August 8, 2007. Endeavour blasted off on Wednesday to resume construction of the International Space Station, freshly overhauled and carrying a teacher-turned-astronaut who trained for the ill-fated Challenger mission. (Charles W Luzier/Reuters)

I am a huge fan of the Space Program. When I was younger I would follow all of the Apollo Moon Missions with great excitement that has never gone away. Last July 4th, I got to watch a Shuttle launch from Walt Disney World and consider it one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Idaho teacher Barbara Morgan got to do something I can only dream of when she lifted off on the Space Shuttle Endeavour yesterday for a two-week mission to the International Space Station. Morgan was Christa McAuliffe's backup when NASA decided to put a teacher in space. Unfortunately, McAuliffe was killed when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded moments after lift off. Morgan stepped in and fulfilled McAuliffe's mission in discussing space exploration to students then she went back into teaching.

In 1998, Morgan returned to the Astronaut program full time and now is getting her turn as a Mission Specialist charged with helping build the International Space Station. Morgan will also do some educational activities during the mission which teachers and students can participate in. I wish you Godspeed Barbara Morgan on your mission and a safe return to tell us about the adventure of a lifetime.

Reuters - The U.S. space shuttle
Endeavour blasted off on Wednesday to resume construction of
the International Space Station, freshly overhauled and
carrying a teacher-turned-astronaut who trained for the
ill-fated Challenger mission.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Teacher Bytes Episode 12

Episode 12 of Teacher Bytes is now available. Here are some links to items mentioned on the show.

Open Office
Google Docs and Spreadsheets
Think Free Office


What do people say about your school?

Forrester Research CEO George Colony makes a case that businesses cannot ignore Web 2.0 in an editorial on News.com. Colony basically says that the days where businesses dictate the message they want people to hear about their company are over. Thanks to the Internet, the world has become more interactive through websites, blogging, wikis, podcasts, and other interactive tools. This old way of thinking can also apply to the way schools wish to give out information. Of course there are schools that do things like allowing parents to view grades online, have e-mail lists of teachers and administrators but is that enough? The main thing that struck me about the Colony's article is how companies and their CEO's are oblivious to what customers are really saying about products. Products such as Kryptonite Locks almost got destroyed because company executives failed to acknowledge what was written in blogs was true about their product being deficient.

Think schools are above all of this? Think again. Here are two websites whose purpose is to gather parent and student opinions about schools and teachers. Greatschools.net rates schools and also allows parents to rate schools. I looked at my schools review and it was not good. Another site, Ratemyteachers.com's purpose is for parents and students to rate and give opinions about teachers in their schools. I recently looked at both sites for my school and the reviews on Greatschools.net was not good and alot of teachers were reviewed on Ratemyteachers.com. I am sure not too many of these teachers know what is being said about them on the Internet.

Again, you may ask so what? Probably some disgruntled parent or student venting about not getting a grade they felt they deserved or some discipline matter so it shouldn't matter. Well remember, as these sites become more popular more people will be writing in them and worse, reading them. A bad review in one of these sites could mean the difference between getting a student who actually do well in your school and parents who could be an assest or having them go to another school. A local newspaper has a very active blog section. One of the topics that gets the most activity is schools. Also, people who are considering moving to the community will get on the blog and ask about the quality of the schools.

Do you know the answer?

Forrester Research CEO George Colony says today's boss can't afford to remain clueless about the burgeoning world of Web 2.0.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

$150 Laptop: Machine or Myth

Mathew Elliot wrote in the Crave blog about a Swedish company selling a laptop for $150. The Medison Celebrity features a large, wide-screen 14-inch WXGA display and weighs a reasonable 4.8 pounds. Powering the Medison Celebrity is a 1.5GHz Intel Celeron M 370 processor and 256MB of memory, a CD/DVD drive, wireless Internet, 40 GB hard drive, stereo speakers, 3 USB ports, and other features. The Operating system is the Fedora Linux OS.

On paper this sounds like a great deal and possibly doable given the components listed. In the present configuration the Medison would not be able to run Windows Vista. However, you can do some tweaking like upgrading the RAM to 1 GB so it could run at least a basic version of Vista or XP. At $150 you could buy two. One to use and one to experiment with.

Now before head online to find a way to purchase a Medison beware of this machine. You know the old cliche's about if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are many skeptics who wonder if this is a fraud. No major details have been given out or versions of the machine shown to the press or anyone else. Also, the president of the Medison, Valdi Ivancic, has plans to become Sweden's prime minister. The company who will be handling U.S. sales, 2Checkout.com, has posted a letter about these concerns and are promising customers' credit cards will not be billed until the item is shipped. The company further says they know Medison has been in business since 1996 but has not inspected the company or the product. Looks like 2Checkout.com is already doing damage control over this.

Medison says the Celebrity will start shipping in mid-August. Elliot, along with others, managed to order a Medison to see if the machine lives up to the hype. I will be keeping up with this story and will let you know what happens. Please stay tuned.

Meet the cheapest laptop in the world