Thursday, June 21, 2007

My Presentation at FOSSED 2007 Part II

Wow! Thanks to the Web 2.0 session yesterday, I learned how to use Show to upload my presentation and then embed it in this blog.

This is a cool Web 2.0 tool that will make creating exciting classroom websites easier.

This is an awesome conference. Lots of help and support and camaraderie.

My Presentation at FOSSED 2007

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Afternoon of the TeacherTrack at FOSSED 2007

The rest of the morning was stellar. We progressed through using blogs with students to using wikkis. I learned about 'camelcase,' a language used by some wikkis that creates separate pages when you list a name together like this: JoeSchmoe. This is a good shortcut for teachers.

After wikkis, we moved on to Google Apps. Google has any number of applications that lend themselves to classroom use. Check out these applications:
Google for Educators
GoogleEarth Lessons
Docs and Spreadsheets I use this for reviewing student teacher work and for colloborating with teams--grade level, Special Ed., curriculum work, etc.
Searching Tips

You've all heard of YouTube. Now, there is TeacherTube. It's a site where teachers upload their instructional videos for classroom use. It's very cool!

This afternoon we've had an informative presentation on FLOSS by Bryant Patten, the executive director of The National Center for Open Source and Education (NCOSE) . He compiled Free Software for Schools . This is an invaluable resource for teachers no matter what platform they use--Linux, Mac, or PC.

There is a new feature to this conference. It is scheduled labtime. There are great machines to work with, great technical support, and great conversationalists. All in all, it's a great addition to the conference!


Here I am, back in Bethel, Maine, at the 2007 FOSSED Conference. As it was last year, the weather is nice, the food is spectacular, the people are amazing and the dorm rooms . . . are dorm rooms.

This morning I'm participating in a Web 2.0 session. We're only a short time into the first session and already I have some great ideas! I want to have my students blog with their 4th grade Care Buddies. I'm also thinking of setting up a classroom blog, though I have to double check our Acceptable Use Policy. I think it's okay but, I want to be sure.

More later . . .

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Lesson Planner

Writing lesson plans can be tedious.

Don't get me wrong. Creating lesson ideas is a fantastic process! And thoughtful planning is a key to successful implementation. But, finding the standards, typing the standards either full text or with some 'secret' code, delineating the process in either prose or steps, recording materials needed, resources available, homework, reteaching, and assessment can be tedious.

But, my life is suddenly easier . . .and yours may be, too, if you use This is a great FREE tool. Register and start planning or borrowing plans from others. There is a simple "double-click" process to select appropriate standards from your state. There are save, email, and print options. The template is easy to use and has standard word processing editing tools available.

Give it a try, I think you'll like it.

I've inserted a lesson I wrote up using
Time: 30-45 minu
Teacher : Deborah White
School: Asa C. Adams School
Grade: 2
Subject: Reading/Language Arts
Unit/Theme/Skill: An Innovation on "Little Cloud" by Eric Carle
Standards Taught:
ME 2 Rd - A.1 Seek out and enjoy experiences with books and other print materials.
ME 2 Rd - A.3 Make and confirm predictions about what will be found in a text.
ME 2 Rd - A.7 Ask questions and give other responses after listening to presentations by the teacher or classmates.
ME 2 Rd - B.2 Draw logical conclusions about what will happen next or how things might have turned out differently in a story.
ME 2 Rd - C Students will demonstrate an understanding of how words and images communicate. Students will be able to:
ME 2 Rd - D Students will apply reading, listening, and viewing strategies to informational texts across all areas of curriculum. Students will be able to:
ME 2 Rd - E.1 Tell about experiences and discoveries, both orally and in writing.
ME 2 Rd - E.2 Respond to stories orally and in writing.
ME 2 Rd - F Students will write and speak correctly, using conventions of standard written and spoken English. Students will be able to:
ME 2 Rd - F.1 Edit their own written work for standard English spelling and usage, as evidenced by pieces that show and contain: - complete sentences. - initial understanding of the use of pronouns and adjectives. - evidence of correct spelling of frequently used words. - few significant errors in the capitalization of proper nouns and of the words that begin sentences. - few significant errors in the use of end stop punctuation (e.g., periods, question marks).
ME 2 Rd - G.1 Dictate or write stories or essays which convey basic ideas, have sequences that make sense, and show evidence of a beginning, middle, and ending.


Read Little Cloud by Eric Carle. Engage the students in the reading of the book, soliciting observations and predictions. If a student doesn't make the connection between the book and the activity of cloud-watching, teacher should ask, Have you ever looked at clouds and noticed their shapes? Do the shapes ever remind you of anything? After this point has been made, teacher should ask the students if they are familiar with the word, drift. Help students clarify their definition. State: I like to imagine snow drifts are different things just like Eric Carle and I like to imagine clouds are different things. You are going to create a page for a class book called "Spring Snow". Your writing will follow Eric Carle's style in this book. Using the white board, the teacher will write, Spring Snow drifted. It changed into . . .(student completes sentence) Spring Snow liked . . . (student completes sentence).

But first you will gently tear a shape from the white construction paper to make your Spring Snow drift. (demonstrate) You turn it this way and that way until you see something in it. (demonstrate) Use your glue stick to glue your snow drift onto the brown paper. We will be making a book with your pages so please make sure you hold your paper this way. (demonstrate which way you want the children to hold the paper) Then you will use a marker to carefully write your sentences. On my page I am going to write . . .(demonstrate). Any questions?


Student may use keyboard for writing component.

Take dictation for the sentences.

Provide a personal model for desktop use for copying.

Assign a peer partner.

Notes & Materials:
\"Little Cloud\" by Eric Carle
white construction paper
brown construction paper
glue sticks
white board


Class Performance:

Teacher observation of final product including creativity of snow drift, adherence to format, use of rich descriptive words, correct spelling of known words, legible penmanship, correct sentence format.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Volunteers and Techies

Volunteers can make a program. Last night, 5 community members with Linux technical expertise met me at school to see if our recycled machines were dead. Great news, the tech-gurus not only got everything up and running, they taught me how to trouble shoot some basic issues!

Yes, I've begun that long journey to the tech side. Actually, it's not even close to that but, I have learned a few tricks of the trade. And if I can learn them, anyone can.

What I learned:

~how to reset the boot order
~how to reset the memory card
~how to disable the hard drive
~and most importantly . . .checking the cables

Pretty simple stuff, but a whole new level of skills for me. Tech people could train all of their users on the simple stuff. It takes patience on the techie's part, practice on the user's part, and a sincere belief on both sides that the user can't make the situation worse by trying some strategies.

You can do it!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

New Feature at Google Maps

Google Maps has just released a cool new feature for non-techies. Originally you had to be a programmer type if you wanted to create a mashup. (A mashup is when a web application allows users to develop new content by allowing some programming privliegds. Or at least that's the best that I can infer from perusing Wikipedia's definition.) Now, Google Maps has added user friendly tools so that people can create their own personalized maps. Maps can be created and have placemarks, lines and shapes, notes, photos, videos, and audio to them.

This has great potential as a classroom tool. Think of all the subjects that can be mapped and personalized with student research! I'm planning on using this with my first graders next September when we do our unit on "Our Community".

I did a quick map that you can look at here. My Town is just a quickie done to see how easy this tool is in reality. And it is easy. Let me know if you or your students make a map. I'd love to see the results.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

My new scrapblog


Have you discovered Scrapblog yet? Scrapblog is a cool, new web based application. It's a user friendly digital scrapbook. It's free. The finished Scrapblogs can be published privately and only accessed with a password or published publicly. They can also be printed. It's a great tool for classroom teachers and students that can integrate photos, videos, audio, and text into a finished book. The format is user-friendly. I found that uploading most, if not all, of the photos that I thought I might use all at once made the whole process seem speedier.

Just off the top of my head, I can see these being used to document field trips, project-based learnings, units of study, and reports of all kinds.

The post above has one I did to demonstrate some of Scrapblog's features. It was embedded from the Scrapblog site.

It's Budget Time!

It's that time of the year when most school budgets are in the process of being developed, presented to governing bodies and (hopefully) approved. Many of the costs of education are out of local control~heating, electricity, gas for buses, health insurance~to name a few. Fortunately, one area has a viable alternative. This alternative might not cut costs but it definitely will give a school more for their dollar. This alternative is (obviously) the use of Linux and Free and Open Source Software.

Besides saving money, the use of Open Source allows students (and some teachers) the opportunity to become more than just end users of a product. The opportunity to explore the technical side of an operating system and to tinker and tweak with software programs is a powerful educational tool and may be the carrot for a reluctant student.

Linux Insider posted an article today (04/03/07) by Lisa Hoover. Her article, Stretching the Education Dollar with Linux is a good overview of information about switching to Linux. It is a good article to share with administrators, technical folks, and yes, even classroom teachers. I appreciated the section that compared the different Linux distributions that are geared for education. Read the article. Share the article with the decision makers. You might end up with some very cool technology.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

My Session at FOSSED 2007

I will be presenting at FOSSED 2007. (Free and Open Source Software in Education)

Here is a description of the session.

"Ok, I've got Linux/Open Source in my what?"

This session is for non-technical classroom teachers. Other sessions might teach you about the applications that are available with a Linux Operating System. This one will help you learn to think about how to use the application to enhance your teaching. Get lesson plans and ideas that you can use in your classroom or in the computer lab to integrate technology with your everyday curriculum. (If you are a technical person who has to work with classroom teachers, this session might give you an insight into teacher-think.

FOSSED 2007 (Free and Open Source Software in Education Conference)

The FOSSED Conference for 2007 is open for registrations. (Free and Open Source Software in Education) It used to be called NELS (North East Linux Symposium). This is a much more descriptive title.

The conference was originally for those techie types. However, a few of those techies were actually classroom teachers in disguise. They quickly realized that teachers were an essential element for the successful adoption of Free and Open Source software. Consequently, they added a teacher track to their original Maine symposium. It was such a success that they quickly added a teacher track day to their New Hampshire symposium. This year, with the new and improved title, will have 3 locations-Gould Academy in Bethel Maine, June 19 -22, 2007, UNH in Durham, New Hampshire, July 8-11, and Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C., August 5-8 2007. This expansion demonstrates that the organizers, David Trask and Matt Oquist are amazing folks!

This conference should be a mandatory event for at least one classroom teacher in every school. The sheer amount of knowledge and skills and contacts that an attendee walks away with makes this an investment in the success of technology integration in classrooms. I attended last year and was impressed with presenters who were willing to share not only during defined sessions but also after hours in the dining hall, in the hallways, in the dorms, and in the local pubs. It was a 24/7 learning experience. It also changed how I use technology in my classroom. Instead of using it for mere drill and practice or publishing or beginning research, I know look at how technology can enhance everyday lessons, improve home/school/community communication, motivate and engage learners, broaden and deepen learning experiences, facilitate differentiation, in short, help me a much more effective classroom teacher. It also gave me some tools for talking with techie types as well as provided me with some perspective on the techie jobs.

Check out this conference! Come to this conference!
See you at this conference!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Open Office Presentation

My students and I were studying the genre of "How-To" Books. Usually, as part of a similar study, I would have the class create a big book that summarized their knowledge of the genre. This time I decided to have them create a Presentation in Open Office. The end result was very cool!

As with any genre study, we immersed ourselves in "How-To" Books. We read them aloud, we read them in small groups, we read them by ourselves. Next, we brainstormed characteristics or features or attributes (I used all three words to increase vocabulary and to make connections with other academic subjects, particularly Math and Science.) and listed them in small groups. Then we compiled one giant list of features of "How-To" Books. I put the list up in an accessible place in the classroom so that the children could add additional features as they discovered them.

Each child made a list of topics of things that they knew how to do. From that list, each one chose a topic to create their own "How-To" Book. While this writing and revising and conferencing was going on, I had 2 children come to the Linux workstations to learn how to use the template I had created. Earlier I had created a template in Open Office Presentation.

This was saved into "Mrs. W's To-Do" folder that appears on each student's desktop. I walked the first 2 children through the process of using the template and saving it and dragging it to the "Mrs. W's Pass-In" folder. Then these 2 children taught the next 2 children who taught the next 2 until everyone had created their page. The original 2 children were on call as Experts during the process.

The next step had my MAT intern reading everyone's page and then finding 2 - 3 appropriate images for each page and downloading them to a folder. He then worked with each child, walking them through the process of choosing and placing an image.

During snack time one day, I called each child up to choose a background color for their presentation slide. I put all the slides together and showed it to the class. Then I showed them the options for transitions and together they each chose a transition for their slide.

It was a great demonstration of their knowledge of "How-To" Books, it taught them some basic use of Powerpoint-type presentations, and provided a spiffy way to show off during Parent/Teacher Conferences.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


Spelling correctly is an essential skill for students. Many student assessments require them to demonstrate knowledge and skills via paper and pencil tasks. Just like penmanship and keyboarding, spelling needs to be fluent so the student can concentrate on the content of the writing.

One way to give your students another tool to master the skills in spelling correctly is to use Spelling Time at This website is free and allows the teacher or the parent to customize the spelling lists that the student works on in grades 1-5. The site uses a combination of interactive technology and the repetition of drill and practice work.

I recently signed up as a teacher and added all of the students in my class. I used the usernames and passwords that the kids have already to sign on to their K12LTSP desktops. They already have those memorized and there isn't a good reason to assign them multiple passwords to remember (or for me to keep track of).

A particularly nice feature of this site is that it allows teachers or parents to create spelling lists or graded lists can be used. Our school system uses Sitton Spelling so I am able to customize the lists to that program. The lessons can also be printed out as well as accessed online. Individual reports are also generated which helps the teacher and the parent measure student achievement.

There are extra features like a weekly 100% list for those who score 100% on their Weekly Spelling Test and a Word of the Day to enhance vocabulary skills. This site provides useful tools for the classroom teacher and the student.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Web Browser Home Page

At our school we decided that we wanted the web browser to open up to our school's homepage. Several of us have Portaportals (check out to set up your own free web-based bookmarks organized the way you want it) that link off of the school's homepage. Mine can be seen at

Here are the directions to set each of your students' accounts to set the default page when they open up FireFox on the Linux workstations.

Log into each account and open Firefox from the Applications menu, under the "Internet" heading. When the Firefox window opens, select the "Edit" menu. From the Edit menu choose "Preferences"(at the bottom). A dialog box will open and the "General" tab should be highlighted. In the "Home Page" section type the url of the page that you want to be the home page. Close the dialog box and your home
page is set. Click the home key in the browser window to be sure
it worked.
Good Luck!

I'd like to thank my UMAINE MAT student for figuring out the process and then writing the instructions.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Schedules and Limited Resources

Teachers lives are governed by schedules. There are lunch schedules, recess duty schedules, and bus duty schedules. There are schedules for each subject including library, art, music, and phys. ed. Then there are schedules for staff meetings, parent meetings, and professional development meetings. Consequently, many of us organize our classrooms with schedules. Schedules help us ensure that our students complete a variety of school work and have equitable access to classroom resources.

There are many ways to create classroom schedules for computer use. I'm not going to tell you how to set up a schedule for your classroom because the specifics of your classroom life are different from my classroom life. However, I do want to tell you a few things about the use of computer schedules.

Computer schedules should be equitable in time for ALL students. You wouldn't deny a student the use of a schoolbook (unless vandalism was involved) because they hadn't finished their work or because they were too smart. Computer use should not be just for the ones who have finished their work or only for those who need extra drill work.

Computer schedules should provide a balance of specific assignments and free exploration. Both experiences are valuable educational activities. Assignments should also be an integration of teaching new technology skills as well as demonstrating content area knowledge.

Computers schedules should be flexible. Students are absent, move in, move out, and have different needs. The schedule needs to allow for variables in students and in days filled with fire drills, inside recesses due to weather, and surprise classroom visits by the principal. The schedules also need to be flexible enough to deal with non-functioning workstations. This is a big issue for classroom teachers because so few of us have the technical skills to do much trouble shooting for ourselves. We have to wait for the TechGuru
to come and fix things for us. This is frustrating! Some teachers opt for the "I won't use it unless I have enough for everyone and everything is 100% reliable." This is not the solution. Every classroom has limited reources of every kind. We don't stop teaching because we have only 12 rulers. We have the students share. We need to apply the same mindset to using computers in our classrooms.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Penmanship or Keyboarding? Is there a difference?

At the beginning of this school year, I had 5 working recycled K12LTSP machines. So, using the computers was manageable for small group work. (Unfortunately, I'm down to 2 working machines. We need technical expertise.)

I organize my classroom so that penmanship practice is first thing in the morning. As I thought about using the Linux machines during that time, I realized that keyboarding is as essential a skill as penmanship. I created a rotating schedule so that each student had keyboarding practice at least twice a week during penmanship time. In my book, the skills are similar - fine motor, efficiency, fluency, visual and spatial organization. I required my class to use TuxType. They had to use practice mode for about 1/2 the time and then could play one of the games for the second half. I stressed the use of both hands. None of the students will win any speed typing competitions but, there is a small amount of carry-over with the skills when they are using the computers for other tasks. My personal penmanship philosophy is "legible and efficient" and I feel the same way about keyboarding. Both take practice, require a certain amount of muscle control, and will take time to develop fluent skills.

TuxType can be found under the Edutainment label under Applications. A student with disabilities in my classroom enjoys changing the language it is presented in. He thinks it is quite funny to practice typing in Armenian or Russian. The rest of the class does too.

Does your school or classroom teach formal keyboarding? What age/grade does that occur? Who teaches it? Who decides how it is taught? Is anyone using standards or benchmarks or assessments at any particular level? Like any subject, fundamentals need to be taught. In K-2, we teach letter formation as well as how to write a good story. If we teach with computers, we need to teach the physical skills of tool manipulation as well as the critical thinking skills of particular applications and resources.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Directing Student Use (or misdirecting it?) and Teacher Friendly Directions for Childsplay

After my students learned how to log on (and log off), and change their desktop backgrounds, I moved on to using some of the applications. I had envisioned and planned a slow, methodical process for each student to learn how to navigate to a program and use it. Fortunately, my students knew better and I had enough sense to let the synergy of the learning process take over.

I gathered the class in front of the workstations and had them walk me through the log on procedure. Then I demonstrated going to Applications in the upper left hand corner of the screen and sliding down to the Games menu. I showed how to slide the mouse over to the programs and directed them, no, told them, that they could "ONLY go to Childsplay or GCompris" (which is actually labeled Educational Suite GCompris). I then demonstrated the basics tools and buttons of each program. The first group of 5 started to work. It was NOT a quiet work time and the rest of the class kept drifting up to the bank of workstations to observe and comment. But the level of engagement and the conversations about what they were doing was exciting. Each student contributed. Each student observed. Each student thought. And by the end of the morning, each student had tried stuff out.

At the beginning of that week, I insisted that everyone continue to ONLY use Childsplay or GCompris. However, two things happened that reminded me I was wrong for insisting. The first was a technical problem. For, the most part, our recycled workstations weren't producing sound and since our technical help is extremely limited, sound was not going to be fixed that first week. Both of the programs I had limited my students to had sound, and a few of the activities within those programs depended upon sound to interact meaningfully with the user. Secondly, I had made the rest of the applications seem extra-desirable by limiting my students. It wasn't long before individual students took the risk to try out the other games. Soon, every single student had tried other games despite my constant reminding that I wanted them to ONLY use Childsplay or GCompris. I had planned that I would introduce each application slowly and thoroughly. What a boring plan! My students knew better and engaged themselves in learning the other games and helping each other learn the other games. The dynamics of learning around the workstations transcended all the other pre-determined social strata in the classroom. Every student was new, every student discovered something, every student shared their knowledge and skill.

I was reminded, once again, to stand out of the way when students take control of their learning.

Here is my initial attempt to explain Childsplay to the rest of my team of K-2 teachers. My colleagues wanted non-technical information about what they were having their students use. This was what I gave them. They were appreciative. Several of them used it as a resource for parent volunteers. Hope it helps you!

Go to Applications and click on Games. Slide down to Childsplay and
click on it. The Childsplay window will open. It will show a cow
while the program is loading. The next screen is mostly blue with a
series of icons.

~The first icon of 2 blue pegs and 2 red pegs can not be played right
now because it requires sound. It is a version of Memory using sounds
instead of images. Hopefully, we will have sound soon.

~The second icon is letters and numbers with a speaker. This also
requires sound. It is a matching game.

~The third icon is a windmill scene with a penguin and falling
letters. This does NOT require sound so you can use it now. The
object of the game is to type the falling letters before they touch
the ground. This is good for letter recognition and keyboard
orientation. Clicking on the elephant gives you a screen with the
aim, the suggested age group, and the # of levels. Clicking on the
trophy gives you the high scores and clicking on the stop sign takes
you back to the icon screen.

~The fourth icon shows 2 airplanes and two cards. This is the game of
Memory. It does not require sound. The aim of the game is to find
matching pairs of images. If you are successful, you get to enter
your name on the high score list. Clicking on the elephant gives you
a screen with the aim, the suggested age group, and the # of levels.
Clicking on the trophy gives you the high scores and clicking on the
stop sign takes you back to the icon screen.

~The fifth icon is of an air hockey table. This is basically a game
of air hockey. The player can choose to play by themselves, with a
friend, or against the computer. It's a good eye-hand coordination
activity and develops the skills of controlling movement on the
monitor by using keys rather than the mouse. Clicking on the elephant
gives you a screen with the aim, the suggested age group, and the # of
levels. Clicking on the trophy gives you the high scores and clicking
on the stop sign takes you back to the icon screen.

~The sixth icon is another sound based one. I'll give you more
information about this when we get sound.

~The second row of icons begins with a group of green letters. The
first level of this game shows a picture, a word, and indicates that
the player should spell that word. Subsequent levels leave out some
of the letters. This helps with sight word recognition, spelling, and
keyboard orientation. Clicking on the elephant gives you a screen
with the aim, the suggested age group, and the # of levels. Clicking
on the trophy gives you the high scores and clicking on the stop sign
takes you back to the icon screen.

~The next icon is a group of red numbers. It is an activity where the
user needs to put the right numerical operation (+, -, x, /) on the ?
in the number sentence. This is done by dragging the correct symbol
to the question mark. This is hard. But, it doesn't let you place
the wrong symbol. Clicking on the elephant gives you a screen with
the aim, the suggested age group, and the # of levels. Clicking on
the trophy gives you the high scores and clicking on the stop sign
takes you back to the icon screen.

~The third icon in the second row is a game of Billiards. It involves
using both the right and left mouse keys to be successful. The right
key is for aiming and the left button is for hitting the ball. The
longer you hold the left button down, the harder it will hit the ball.
Fewer hits to get the ball in the hole gets you higher points.
Clicking on the elephant gives you a screen with the aim, the
suggested age group, and the # of levels. Clicking on the trophy
gives you the high scores and clicking on the stop sign takes you back
to the icon screen

~The fourth icon is a Pacman. This is a game of Pacman only you have
to collect letters in order to spell the given words. My class is
really enjoying this game! You also need to use the arrow keys to
maneuver through this maze. Clicking on the elephant gives you a
screen with the aim, the suggested age group, and the # of levels.
Clicking on the trophy gives you the high scores and clicking on the
stop sign takes you back to the icon screen

~The last icon in the second row is another sound one. Watch for updates.

In order to Quit Childsplay, you need to be on the menu page with the
icons. Click on the stop sign. A translucent message will pop up
asking you if you really want to quit. You need to type Y for yes and
N for no. If you type Y, the game will close and the desktop will

Monday, January 22, 2007

Linus Torvalds

The family spent a cold Maine afternoon browsing at our local Borders. (I know, local and Borders is an oxymoron.) I collected a diversity of books to peruse while having a cup of something warm. My pile included texts on low-fat vegan recipes (a GREAT way to lose weight!), knitting, Barack Obama, and Linux. Of the four books on Linux I chose to peruse, only one was non-techie friendly. I ended up buying it because it is an AMAZING story. Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond is readable, insightful, and fun. The authors even warn you when there is a significantly technical section between pages 39-119. It is technical but if you can read for the story and not for understanding every technical detail you can get a lot out of this section. This memoir of Linus Torvalds' makes the image of a technogeek human. Anyone who uses computers in any fashion should read this story to gain insight into this world.

I was especially struck by one particular section last night and shared it with my class of second-graders this morning. The section is V in Birth of an Operating System. In this section, Linus Torvalds explains how programming can be beautiful. My liberal arts mind was sceptical but I read on and TA DA! I got it! A possible apocryphal story is related about a German math class that had Carl Friedrich Gauss ( a future mathematician) as a student. The teacher was bored and supposedly assigned his students the task of adding up all the numbers from 1 to 100. The teacher assumed this would take a very long time. Gauss reportedly solved the problem in 5 minutes. How did he do this? By recognizing the pattern and using it!
At circle this morning, (I like to gather my students close for big learnings. Learning becomes personal that way and I can engage everyone.) I wrote on the dry erase board.

"Mathematics is recognizing patterns and using them.
There is always a hard way and an easy way to solve a problem.
~Add the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
~What's the answer?
~How did you figure it out?"

Then I told my class about my trip to Borders and how I couldn't find any books on teaching with Linux but I did find
Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond. I told them a teensy bit about Mr. Torvalds and made a connection between him and the K12LTSP workstations in our classroom. We read the dry erase board aloud. One student said, "Oh, so you add 10 + 9 + 8 + 7 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1." Another student blurted, "It's 54!" Before the blurting got out of hand, I wrote out 10 + 9 = 19 + 8 =etc. with the class supplying the answers. Obviously, we calculated 55. Then I asked them if they thought that this was the easy way or the hard way. They all answered "hard". I asked what the easy way would be and a girl who had been relatively quiet up til now said, "There must be a pattern . . .what could it be . . .?" The class already knew that adding can be done in any direction so I asked them to use that idea to look for a pattern. My quiet girl's eyes lit up with excitement. She was babbling so fast, the rest of the class didn't get what she was saying. So I had to write it out for the class~1 + 10 = 11, 2 + 9 = 11, etc and you end up with 5 11's to add up. We tried it with adding up the numbers to 50 and with adding up the numbers to 200. We did use a calculator to do the last bit of math since we haven't quite gotten to multiplication yet but the rest was mental calculations. It was an exciting teaching moment for the class and for me. My quiet student probably got far more out of it than the other students but they got to hear and experience a new idea. We'll go back and look at that idea again and again.

In the meantime, get a copy of Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond from your local library or your local bookstore. It's well worth reading.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

First Things First

Let's assume that you have Linux-based workstations in your classroom. These may be recycled equipment that is big, bulky, but free or relatively free in cost or it may be spiffy, sleek, and comparatively inexpensive when looking at the cost of a new PC or Mac product. In either case, you need to get on the machine and start trying things out. The version our district is using is K12LTSP (Kindergarten through grade 12 Linux Terminal Server Project). More information about this can be found at:
Our network administrator created usernames and passwords for all of us--staff and students. The student passwords are simple 6 character words or phrases like horses, 4worms, 2birds, bigdog, puppies. These are simple enough for the youngest users (Kindergarten) to learn in a relatively short period of time. Our usernames are also easy (and help the K-2 crew learn to spell their last names). They are just first initials and last names.

Initially, I posted a sign over the workstations that read (the italics are not on my sign :) ):
1. Turn the monitor on. (Our old recycled monitors eat up a lot of energy, so I turn the cpu's on in the morning and the kids turn on the monitors when it is time for them to work.)
2. Type your username.
3. Click "OK" or press "Enter".
4. Type your password.
5. Click "OK" or press "Enter".
6. Do the assignment.
(These are usually given orally but I am in the process of getting my students used to looking in a folder that is on their desktop and labeled "To-Do". Our network administrator set one up on my desktop that allows me to put assignments there. She also set up a "Turn-in" folder for them to drag and drop or save to that lets me look at their work.)

The first assignment I gave my class was to talk 3 of them through how to change their desktop background. Then those 3 taught the next group. And the routine continued until everyone was set. The kids love choosing desktop backgrounds. As you might expect some change it daily and others a little less frequently. Why do I encourage this? It's the first step in teaching them that they have some control over the machine. It also helps them get comfortable navigating through the dropdown menus. So, how do you change the desktop backgrounds? It's easy, even a 7 year old can do it. :)

1. Go under System and find the Preferences. Then look for Desktop Background. Click on it.
2. A medium-sized rectangle should appear on your screen.
3. Click on an image and it should appear as a background on your desktop.
4. Click on close and TADA! you are done.

If you want to get fancier, try this:

1. Follow steps #1 and #2 above.
2. Click on Add Wallpaper.
3. This brings you to another screen.
4. Click on a folder in the center box. Click open.
5. There should be a list of images in the center box with a preview of each one on the left hand side.
6. Choose one. Click Open. It will take you back to your first screen and load the image into your choices as well as loading it onto your desktop.
7. If you like the picture but don't like the colors, experiment with the colors at the bottom of the box. My students were much more creative than me with this and had lots of fun while developing their artistic visual skills.

This reads as if its very complicated. Trust me, you can do it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Learning the Jargon

Before the techie-types put Linux-based computers in your classroom, you may be sitting through meetings or reading emails that contain new vocabulary. It's helpful to learn some of the new vocabulary before those workstations appear in your classroom. I found that by familiarizing myself with the terminology and concepts my learning curve was faster and I was better equipped to ask questions that got me answers I "kindofsorta" understood. Check these links out and remember the "Schoolhouse Rock" motto: "Knowledge is Power!"

A Jargon-Busting Glossary

What’s the Fuss About FOSS?Part 1: An Intro to Free and Open Source Software by Andy Carvin An article from PBS Teacher Source:

What’s the Fuss About FOSS? Part 2 A Chat with David Thornburg An article from PBS Teacher Source:

Why Should Open Source Be Used in Classrooms?

T.H.E. Journal: (Technology Horizons in K-12 Education) There is both an online AND a print version of this magazine. Subscriptions are available for free for employees of K-12 institutions and organizations.

Archives & Weekly Skypecast Interviews about using Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in schools

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Purpose of this Blog

Why am I doing this? This blog is for non-technical types who want to use (or are being mandated to use) Linux/Open Source technology in the classroom. I have spent the last year searching the web and joining lists for a non-technical resource to help me understand how I can use this to be a more effective teacher. I couldn't find a resource that was specifically for teachers. I was looking for content that included:
~classroom management
~programs that aligned with standards
~how to use programs with specific lesson plans
~how to set-up student projects
~how to customize programs for my students/curriculum
~info on what I could set up/troubleshoot on the desktop and what I need to refer to the Network Administrator types including exactly what I need to ask them to do
~examples of what other teachers are doing in their classrooms
~grants and other funding mechanisms for classroom teachers
~an easy to access reference tool
~a way to teach teachers once Linux was in their classroom

Since I didn't find anything that even came close to meeting my needs, I thought I would try to create my own site to provide this information. So help me out! If you have a good student project using Open Source or a classroom management system that works for you, post a comment, or email. We can build a great resource!

What is Linux?

What is Linux? Linux (pronouned with a short i) is a computer operating system. One of its advantages over Windows and Macintosh is that it is able to run on a wide variety of hardware. Other advantages include its cost, its freedom from viruses, and its flexibility. It's free!, the source code is available to any and all. This means that literally thousands of programmer-types have worked on this code with the result that there are few bugs to foul up the works. These same programmer types have also created a variety of software that is comparable to commercial software. And like the OS, the software is also free.