Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Laptops Update

I currently have 29 of the donated laptops in use in the classroom.  I would like to get two more of the laptops functioning for my classroom, then I will pass on the rest of the laptops to Brian Conklin, the science teacher, and Mike Squires, the computer tech.

I counted 19 Dell Latitude D600's and 10 D610's that are in use.  The D600's have built in microphones, which will be very handy with the voice recordings that speech and English classes will do.  The D610's do not have microphones, but have a faster processor speed.  I am not sure why Dell downgraded the lcd panels on the D610's, but I did notice that all of them have a lower screen resolution than the D600's.  While the D610's have a faster processor and some have larger hard drives, I think the built in microphone and higher screen resolution makes the D600's more usable for the classroom.

The laptops have been used by the English, yearbook, and speech students this quarter.  They will be also used by the photography students next semester as we get into digital photography and photo editing using Photoshop.  Students have enjoyed the flexibility of using the laptops at their assigned seats rather than moving to the computer counters along the walls of the classroom.

The only setup that I have left on the laptops is to map them to the classroom server folders and to connect them to the printer.  Currently, all 29 laptops in service have internet capabilities with a secured connection using the classroom wireless router.

Creating a Podcast Using CamStudio

I used CamStudio to create a demonstration podcast for the speech students.  CamStudio is a software that is designed to create a screenshot video so you can effectively show others how to use software.  CamStudio is extremely easy to use, and created a sleek video of how to create a slideshow podcast.  For the Speech class semester exam, students are using PowerPoint to create the slides for the podcast.  It was a breeze to create a video to demonstrate how to save the PowerPoint presentations as jpg slides.  I was then able to show how Audacity is used to record the voiceovers for the podcast - I recommended that a separate audio file be created for each slide.  I used CamStudio to show how Audacity files are then exported as mp3 files.  Finally, I was able to demonstrate how both the jpg slide files and the mp3 files are imported into Windows Movie Maker where the audio and pictures are matched up and a final product in the Windows Media format is created.  I did make the initial mistake of creating a demonstration video that is longer than 10 minutes.  As I was reminded this morning, YouTube has a restriction on length of videos for it's regular accounts.  I resorted to a quick fix of using Windows Movie Maker to cut the video into two segments saved as wmv files.  While the original CamStudio format is an avi (much better quality format), the two part wmv files turned out okay.  I did lose video quality, but am still happy with the results.  Below are the two videos, let me know what you think:


Josh reminded me about etherpad.com a few days ago.  It is a really interesting web tool for collaborative notetaking.  I used it for the first time in one of my classes today, and it worked out pretty well.  We used it for semester exam review.  I did forget at first that only 15 people can collaborate on one etherpad notebook page, but soon remembered when a few students mentioned that they got bumped off.  After I introduced it to the class, and we played with it for a couple of minutes, we used it successfully to create a semester exam review document together.  We then copied the document into a Google Doc and shared it with the class so they can utilize it to study for the semester exam.  Etherpad has a function that is supposed to export to a Word doc, pdf, or Open Office doc, but none of those would work.  The only export functions that worked were export as html and export as text - both acceptable, but a Word doc or pdf were preferred.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Laptops Donated

St. John's Hospital donated 40 Dell Latitude D600 laptops to my classroom at the end of last week.  The laptops all have 1.8 ghz processors and 1Gb of RAM - better specs than all but two of the existing classroom computers.  Most of the laptops have 60 Gb hard drives (we stumbled upon one so far that has a 75 Gb hard drive).  Approximately 30 of the laptops appear to be in a decent quality - ready to install an operating system and the necessary software.  Of the other ten, three have torn up hinges, and another one has a bad lcd panel.  I hope to use those four as a salvage to end up with at least five total good laptops out of that stack.

Since the laptops came from the medical field, their hard drives had to be erased before I received them.  I installed Windows on one one laptop, Plainsman01, over the weekend, and then set it up with Microsoft Office, the Adobe Web Premium suite, the Adobe Design suite, Skype, AIM, Firefox, and a few other necessities, including a second Gb of RAM from one of the battered laptops.  The laptops do not have cd-roms, but instead have a second battery.  I took the laptop to the conference that I attended on Tuesday, and the battery life appears to be approximately 7 hours.  I set up a second laptop, Plainsman02, on Tuesday evening with Windows and Microsoft Office, and fine-tuned which drivers are necessary for installation and placed them on a flash drive.  On Thursday evening, two yearbook seniors stayed after school for two hours and started the installation process on eight more laptops.  Plainsman03 was set up with Windows, Microsoft Office, the Adobe Design suite, Firefox, and we installed a second Gb of RAM in it as well - it will be used by the yearbook Editor in Chief for electronic submissions to the publisher.  The other seven laptops were set up with Windows, Microsoft Office, and Firefox.  Taking about an hour for supper, I worked on the installations until about 12:30 a.m.  I know it's a little obsessive, but I wanted to have nine of the laptops ready for the B1 English class to use so they could all blog during the same time today.  All went well this morning . . . nine students of the 23 in the class used laptops and were excited to use them.

I will have yearbook students and whoever else would like to help out with installations work on the remaining 20-25 laptops.  Since I have enough computers functioning in the classroom now, I can take my time setting up the rest of the laptops.

After I get the total number of functional laptops determined, I need to make a decision about the desktop computers in the classroom.  Do I replace them with the laptops, or do they still have a purpose?  I also need to propose a new classroom setup to the administration.  I would like to have back-to-back counters installed in two rows where my existing rows of tables are sitting.  I would like the counters to be "breakfast bar" height and have bar stools for seats.  I would like to give the students the opportunity to sit or stand as they prefer.  The counters, having backs on them, will adequately divide the students who are sitting across from each other and will also provide extra tabletop space of the students' books, the laptop, and notebooks, etc.

The one thing that I do need to work out in the next couple of weeks is which breakers control my classroom outlets, what else is on them, and how much more amperage they can safely manage.  I need to find a place to store the laptops so they can charge each evening.  I would like to slightly remodel the cabinets in my office for the task, but will have to have electricity run to them in order for that to happen.  I may just have to get five power strips and find a safe way to stack the laptops so they can charge overnight.

All in all, I am excited about the donations and can already foresee the possible uses of the laptops on a daily basis.  Thank you to all the IT staff at St. John's Hospital for the donation, and thank you to Mollie, my wife, for telling me about the laptops becoming available and making the contact connection between me the IT staff at St. John's.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Diverse Results from Rationalism Project Survey

Josh and I created a Google Forms survey to get a sense of how the students felt about the collaborative project after it was completed.  When I checked the results of the survey, there were 140 responses, nearly all of the students.  Most of the students rated their experience based on working with a partner as good.  86% of the students responded that the use of technologies such as Google Docs and Email as tools to complete the project was effective.  Various forms of communication were used to communicate between partners.  I was surprised to see that cell phone calls only accounted for 3% of the students, while Facebook accounted for 24%, and Other accounted for 69%.  Only 1% of students polled found the Rationalism Project to be not effective in teaching the qualities of the American Rationalism Period.  The suggestions of what to change in the project ranged from changing nothing to changing the project so it was not a partner project and was only done in class.  Overall, I feel the project was a success in more ways than we imagined.  While we learned a few things that need to be done in order for the project to run smoother, I personally am very pleased with the way things worked out in our first collaborative inter-school effort.  The summary follows:

140 responses

Teacher's Last Name
Rate your experience based on working with a partner.
awesome - everything went well and communication between partners went smoothly
good - everything went well and communication between partners was effective with few issues
okay - the project was completed as a team and communication between partners took place but it was a struggle
bad - the project was completed with little assistance from your partner and communication between partners was a problem
horrible - the project was not completed as a team and there was little to no communication between partners
Rate the use of technologies such as Google Docs and Email as tools to complete the Rationalism Project.
not effective
Check other forms of digital communication that were made outside of class.
My Space
Cell Phone Call
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
Rate the effectiveness of the Rationalism Project in teaching you the qualites of the American Rationalism Period.
very effective
somewhat effective
not effective
If you could change one part of the project what would it be? Why?
It was very hard to get things done and communicate with my partners when everyone does things last minute or not at all. I think maybe we should have had a deadline for each virtue, so that everyone did everything at the same time and not right before the whole project was due. I would change nothing because it was so AWESOME.choose your partners. that way you know that the partner you choose is actually going to put effort into the project so that you are not doing it completely by yourself. I would just do it in class. Working with another school did not help this project out at all.I ...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Google Moderator

I just ran across Google Moderator.  It appears to be a great tool for students to present questions that they would like the teacher to address during class.  Class time is never long enough to address all the questions that students have - nor do students always think of their questions during class.  I set up a Google Moderator series for American Literature - Rationalism Period.  I sent the students an email asking them to post questions that they have regarding the Rationalism Period.  Google Moderator not only allows the students to present questions, but it also allows them to vote on questions that they think are important.  This tool will allow me to address the most popular questions first.  I'm looking forward to using the tool - in theory, it should be an effective way to give everyone in class a voice.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rationalism Project Update

As we're closing in on the first official deadline (tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m.), we are running into a few speed bumps with our collaborative project between Farmington HS and Pleasant Plains HS.  Some students have not received invitations to a Google Doc from their partner.  This may be a result of mistyping email addresses into the invitation screen of Google Docs.  Students also appear to be rushing into the process without much communication with their parters.  While both issues are cause for frustration, I also see that some "real world" issues are surfacing here.  People in the business world experience similar communication problems as well.

I also have noticed that some students are having difficulty grasping the concept that Google Docs saves to the internet.  They are apparently too used to creating a document and emailing that document - if edits are required, they then make a new document and re-email it.  The great thing about Google Docs - the part that seems to be escaping them - is that the document is still out there.  It can be edited any time, and once the Save button is clicked, those who Share the document are able to see the updates.  Likewise, those who share the document as collaborators are able to edit that same document and those updates are saved to the internet for the owner of the document to view/edit as well.  I am slowly making headway with the concept.  Sometimes the technology aspect seems so easy to me that I have to backtrack and think about the steps from multiple angles so I can explain it better to the students.  Those that have figured it out have had the "gotcha" moment, and all is good with them.

One of the things that Lee and I discussed today that may make a project like this run more smoothly is to put more time between the biographical sketches due date and the first project deadline - probably a week.  That will give us more time to make sure the students are all set up with one Google Doc per group, and it will eliminate the issue of not having the correct email addresses.  Then, when the actual project is initiated, the groundwork is set, and the students can focus on the project itself.

I think everything will fall into place tomorrow, and we'll be back on track.  I've been fielding emails this evening and have been seeing progress within the groups.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Two former students were guest speakers in English class today via Skype video chat. The grads spoke about the importance of learning MLA citations before getting to college. They stated that while the college they attend had a research class their freshman year, MLA format was briefly covered, but students were expected to know and use the format properly. One of the grads added that he had a psychology class that required APA format. Both grads said that if a student did not do citations or did not do them correctly, then that student would go before an academic review board and face a possible academic probation or expulsion. The chat session was well received by the junior English class.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Google Docs Galore

I have been playing with Google Docs in my classroom a lot this week.

The speech class used Google Docs at the end of last week to discuss "beautiful people" and how they may appear as if they have it all, but have their own issues.  The speech students partnered up and each team created a Google Doc consisting of a couple of paragraphs about their celebrity of choice.  They then shared the doc with me.  When time was called on the discussion, I projected each doc on the the screen with ease while each team spoke about their paragraph.

The accelerated junior English class used Google Docs for their review study guide for the Puritan Test.  I had planned on using Google Docs, but not quite the way that it turned out.  In the A5 class, we had a student who was talkative, so we dared the student to stay quiet for a certain period of time.  The "dare" quickly became the "Quiet Game," and we did our review through Google Docs.  I started the document and shared it with all of the students.  I then typed in topics of discussion for the review.  Each student then added information to the document as he/she saw fit.  At first, there was some goofing around with silly phrases, font size, and color changes, but after a bit, that settled down and the document became a valid study guide for the exam.

The B1 class (the larger class) was set up in a similar fashion.  Since we found out that if too many people are working on the same part of the document at the same time, Google Docs freaks out a bit, I paired the students up into 11 groups and assigned specific topics for each group to focus upon in the Google Doc.  The initiation of the doc was much the same as the other class - a little goofing around with the tools, but soon everyone got into the study guide.

I feel like the playing around that was going on at first was beneficial to the process.  Even though some students started to get frustrated at those who were playing with the tools, the students who were playing around were also learning the toolbar and the functions of Google Docs.

The English and Speech students also learned about Google Chat.  I explained that Google Chat was a nice tool to use to communicate during a lesson if the discussion was based on the lesson.  I let them know that if they used it to discuss info based on classroom discussion, then most teachers would approve of the use of Google Chat.  However, I did warn that the students need to ask the teachers for permission before using it because some teachers are not comfortable with that practice yet.

The English classes are all set - they have the Google Docs background that they need to start working with Farmington High students next week.  That end is in place, and the only thing left is that Josh and I finalize the student Rationalism Project handout.  We should be able to finalize the document by Thursday.  We have been "walking the walk" by planning the project using Google Docs and Skype video chats.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Collaborative Project between PPHS and FHS

Met with Jenni Durbin, Lee Scropos, and Josh Piper (Josh was present via video chat) about the collaborative project between Pleasant Plains High School and Farmington High School American Literature students.  Krystal Oh and Jamie Naylor were also present and offered advice on the project.  We decided the project will be based on Benjamin Franklin's 13 virtues.  The basics of the project are as follows:
  • students will research Benjamin Franklin's 13 virtues and journal about what his virtues were and his process for attaining the virtues
  • students will then work in partner groups using Google Docs to collaboratively brainstorm lists of their virtues and the rationale for each
  • student partner groups will attempt to attain their virtues for seven days as Ben Franklin did.  Each student will keep a journal log of his/her daily progress on the virtues.
  • student partner groups will collaborate on a summary of their experiences.
We then created a generic rubric for each stage of the process.  The best part was that we worked in Google Docs with Josh so we could simultaneously see/edit the document throughout our meeting.  As the process is coming together, I am becoming more relaxed about the planning stages.  It is starting to feel like a typical interdepartmental collaboration that I've done with the history teachers in the past.  At the same time, I am getting excited that students from both schools are going to work on this project together.

We have a few things to work out in the next week to ensure that the project is going to work.  Josh is checking in with the FHS tech coordinator to make sure his students will have access to gmail and Google Docs.  All of my students and Jenni's students have Google accounts - Lee needs to make sure that his students finish creating Google accounts.

A little tweaking of the rubric and an outline of the project and our expectations is all that is left to prepare.  The rest will be up to the students.  I think I will try to arrange video chat introductions of the students sometime next week.  I will also begin work on pairing up students.  We will have some groups of three since there are more PPHS students that will be involved in the project than FHS students.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Collaborative Projects

I have been thinking about what literary period to start a collaborative project between PPHS students and Farmington High School students.  I think I will propose a small-scale project over Franklin and his virtues to start us off.  Jenni and I are meeting next Wednesday to figure out our plans . . . maybe we can video chat with Josh, and the three of us can work it out.  If we decide to begin with Franklin, we could pair PPHS students up with FHS students and have them work on Google Docs to write a collaborative report and create a presentation with Google Presenter that can be presented to another group.  The project could be based on Franklin's virtues and the system he put into place to track his success/failures in following the virtues.  I then envision a more involved project for the Romanticism period.

Josh and I have also both created online journaling venues for our classes.  He used a a wiki format with PBWorks.  It is amazing that we both came up with pretty much the same idea without really discussing it.  I think we both may have mentioned online journaling in passing, but did not say anything more than that.  I did make my class blogs public whereas the FHS wiki is private (may be entered by invitation only).  My personal view is that the students will give more attention to the quality of their work in a public format, but I understand the concept of keeping work on a private level as well.  As I read through some of Josh's students' entries, I could see how tentative they were with the process.  There is a different mindset between regular and accelerated students - I may have had to do something different last year with the regular junior English class (i.e. ease them into the process)..

Friday, August 28, 2009

I just signed in to text blog entries from my phone. If this works, it will potentially benefit students who are stuck on a bus or who are nowhere near a computer when they are ready to blog

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Email blog posting

I just texted a test blog entry, but it has not shown up yet.  I mentioned to the students that they could set up their blogs so they could email entries to their blog.  This is my first entry sent through email.  This will also be a great way to make entries to the blogs, especially in light of the issue that one of the students is having with AOL.  AOL will not let her get to the controls of her blog, and Internet Explorer is not functioning properly on her computer.  I mentioned the possibility of emailing entries as an option - I'll have to check in with her next class to see if she tried it or decided that she is going to blog from school computers.

On a different note, my dad called me tonight and mentioned that Waverly schools gave each of their students a laptop with digital copies of all of their textbooks on it.  He said that the students will use the laptops to take notes, take quizzes/tests, etc.  Apparently, the laptops were funded by a grant - I'll have to check into that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Seeing the sparkle in a student's eye he/she does something exciting

I have had the discussion with several teachers and, heck, a lot of other people about that amazing feeling I get when I see the sparkle in a student's eye when he/she figures something out, learns something new by experiencing it, teaches the teacher something, or (sometimes) "finally gets it" after several attempts.

Today I was blessed enough to experience that feeling several times.  As my previous entries alluded, I have been pretty excited by the students' response to blogging.  This afternoon I also felt like a kid at Christmas when I assisted the student who is the lead webmaster with the assembly of his new computer.  As I found out halfway through the process, he had never built a computer from components.  We installed the motherboard in the case, plugged in the various cables, installed the processor and its heatsink/fan, installed the RAM, installed the dvd writer and connected it to the IDE slot on the motherboard and to the power, installed the hard drive and connected it to the SATA slot on the motherboard and to the power, installed the graphic card, and hooked up the mouse, keyboard, dual monitors, and power.  The entire time the student had a grin on his face and was having difficulty putting in the final screws because he was getting so excited.  We did make a minor assembly error, but after some problem solving, the pc fired up beautifully.  While software was installing on the first pc, the student jumped into the assembly of the second pc with newfound confidence.  The experience of building the tool that he will use to create/edit pages on the district and high school websites has already given the student more pride than he had last year as webmaster.  Once again, I was getting just as excited as the student and was fairly giddy not only to see the new machine in action, but also to see the student beam with PRIDE at having assembled it.

Yeah, I worked for a couple of hours after school with the student assembling the pc and installing software, but seeing the reaction and excitement of the student throughout the process reminds me why I love doing what I do.

Creating Student Blogs - Fun??!!!!

It was just as much fun for me to see the English students playing with the set-up of their blogs as it was for them to individualize the appearance of each of their blogs.  A few students have already posted their first assigned entries.  I am excited to not only see the thought put into the entries, but also to see that students are experimenting with the various tools of the blog.  Several students have already left comments for their peers.  Some students are already tracking changes to their friends blogs by selecting to be a "Follower" of those students' blogs.

While some students are still a little tentative about writing in such a public realm, mostly nervous about what to write, the majority of the students are welcoming a fresh approach to journaling.  The best part of this project for me is that a "chore" has become a fun thing to do.  Students in the past loved to share their journal entries in class by reading them aloud.  We never seemed to have enough time to please everyone who wanted to be heard.  Students are not only excited that they will be able to share their blogs with their peers, but they are also appreciative that their journals are going to be read by more than just the teacher.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Start-up of Online Journaling with the English Class

Today I went through the process of accessing the student blogs with the accelerated English class . . . at least as far as I could in class.  Jenni Durbin and I ran into a couple of snags along the way today, but all is well now.

Jenni found out that because our school firewall hides the individual IP addresses of each computer connected to the server, only sending out one IP address to the outside world, Google let one student create a Gmail account and blocked us for the rest of the day.  Our firewall is designed to deter hackers from accessing individual pc's, but the feature hindered us a little today.  Google only allows one Gmail account to be created per IP address per day so we asked the students to take a couple of minutes tonight to create their Gmail accounts at home - problem solved.

The issue that I encountered was a little less of a problem but was not resolved until after school.  I found that blogger.com was blocked by our school's CIPA filter.  The students and I had access to our blogs since the domain of the blogs is at blogspot.com, but, unfortunately, the controls to sign in to the blog, make new posts, and access the settings menu are all housed at blogger.com.  I called our computer tech and explained that rationale for unblocking Blogger, and he "whitelisted" it.  After he did, I was able to access the settings menu as well as all other menu items.

A few students expressed some appreciation in the different approach to journaling.  Some appear nervous about using the blog, but all are making the effort.  I am looking forward to the first entries (assigned for homework today).  Next, we will spend a little time reviewing writing by other students and leaving comments about the writing.  I plan to model how to give constructive, meaningful comments next class.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Amazing Epiphany!!!

Wow! Next spring I need to set up the outgoing sophomore/incoming accelerated junior English students with blogs so they can complete their summer journals online. That will ensure that students are working on their blogs progressively throughout the summer and will also ensure better quality journaling since the blogs will be public.

Journals Online

I contemplated the functionality and access of both options: having students type journals on the google sites page or linking each student's page on the site to a blog that the student would type on. I feel more comfortable having the students work on a blog format since I will be able to limit editing access to each individual student and myself. I was concerned that with the google sites format, all of my students would have access to each other's pages and would be able to edit other students' journal entries. To me that is too much temptation for pranks.

The blog becomes an attractive alternative because it allows each student to have ownership and allows for public comments after each journal entry. I have convinced myself that this is the way to go. It only took me about 10 minutes to create 10 student blogs. I will add each student in as an author of his/her respective site after they acquire a google account (gmail).

Later this evening I will draft an online expectations that reemphasizes the school's computer use policy and identifies specific expectations for Mr. Langley's Classroom.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Journals on the web

I am trying something different this year - students in junior Accelerated English will compose their creative writing journals online. I set up a website tonight to experiment with the layout. I think it's close to what I want . . . functional anyway. Check http://sites.google.com/site/mrlangleysroom

There are two classes, and each student has his/her own page on the site. Each student page is set up in a two column simple layout. The student will type the journal entries in the left column and will format the date as the Header. The second column contains a calendar, clock, and a dictionary.com gadget. I am still debating on the right way to go. If I go with the current setup, all of my students will have access to edit anyone else's page - everyone will be on the "honor" system. I will be able to see a history of edits, but there is still a high level of trust.

The next option is to set up a blog for every student and create a link from the Google site I just built. If each student has his/her own blog, then no one else will be able to change that student's writing, but will be able to leave comments about the work. The more I think about it, the more I am talking myself into going that route.