Friday, September 30, 2005 

Podcast #6 Blogger Add-Ons

You may have noticed my blog sidebar filling up with all kinds of "stuff". Today I'll talk about some of those tools and let you know how they work. Some might be useful for you!

Show notes:

Blogger Templates
Sun-Burned Theme
Skype Buttons
My Guestmap
My (Dean Shareski's) Guestmap
Furl code
Dan Today (It's actually Dan Weinstein, for some reason I thought it was Taylor or Mayor, sorry Dan)
Big Contact

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 

What blogs do

George Siemens says it about as well as anyone. This post is more of a bookmark for me as anything. But well worth the read for anyone.


Good teachers working to get better

I'm bias but I believe we have the best group of 300 teachers around. I had the privilege of visiting all the schools to talk, but mostly listen to their attitudes and concerns around professional development. Our school district has embarked on the journey into assessment and evaluation and are using learning teams (aka: professional learning communities) as the vehicle for this change.

As with any change, it never comes easy, especially if it's at all meaningful. What I was most impressed with was the degree to which teachers balanced skepticism and concern with a true desire to do what's best for kids. As educators we have been witnesses to many a bandwagon and that may never change. This time it seems different. With teachers taking ownership of their own learning, they are willing to make sacrifices and put themselves on the line by working together with their peers. The days of isolation are over my friend and the "new shape of knowledge" needs to be addressed.

With this group of teachers, I like our chances of success.

Monday, September 26, 2005 

New font for dyslexics

I have a lot of teachers in primary grades looking for fonts that best replicate written work. They often use comic sans as it best reflects student writing, espescially the "a".

Here's a site that claims it will help students with dyslexia.

There has been growing innovation to combat dyslexia, especially
for children, in the form of computer software. However, relatively
little design research has been done in the area of typography
and type design that might support dyslexics. Read Regular is
a typeface designed specifically to help people with dyslexia read
and write more effectively.

The basic premise is to create suddle differences in "b" and "d" for example to create distinction.

It's not available yet but there is contact information for those interested.


One Computer, Two Computer, Three Computer, Four

I've had a go around or two with Todd Oppenheimer. Here we go again. His latest article calls for the advent of the one computer classroom. Not two or more but one.

Schools will get the most out of digital technology with students in junior high school and above. In the younger grades, computers usually mean lots of mechanical hassle and wasted time, often spent teaching students to do things on a screen they can more easily accomplish with paper, pencil, and crayons.
The "mechanical hassle and wasted time" is not as much linked to age as it is to the experience of the teacher and the level of school/district support. Having one computer or five in a classroom will not be the determining factor for good decision making on the part of the teacher. It simplies provides more choice.

Letting young children be captivated by the allure of the screen can distract them from the tactile, imaginative activities.

That's the reality of the world we live in. I'm not sure why it has to be all or none. Having students experience both the "tactile, imaginative activities" and the digital activities go hand in hand.
Side note: My 6 year old daughter spent most of yesterday creating a book with crayons and markers based on a website she visited earlier in the day.

The issue here goes well beyond test scores. Consider Tom Snyder's big fear: In time, he believes, employers will increasingly ask whether applicants have been computer trained or teacher trained. The machine-trained ones, he suspects, will be left out, because "they won't be able to make sense of the world."

I'm not sure if Mr. Oppenheimer is taking Tom Synder's comments out of context but again, the point Oppenheimer seems to be making is an all or none arguement. This certainly goes against many of the initiatives to see one to one computing. I don't think this will be the last time Mr. Oppenheimer and I disagree. I wonder what he'd think of David Warlick's vision of the ideal classroom.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005 

Writing better emails

I've had a few conversations recently about handling email. Many seem to be trying to figure out how to respond and manage the vast numbers of messages that fill their inbox.

Here's an article that touches on some great tips. My favourite include:

Write a great Subject line

You can make it even easier for your recipient to immediately understand why you've sent them an email and to quickly determine what kind of response or action it requires. Compose a great a “Subject: line that hits the high points or summarizes the thrust of the message. Avoid "Hi,"” "“One more thing...,"” or "“FYI," in favor of typing a short summary of the most important points in the message:

This can save a great deal of time when deciding what emails need attention and can be handled quickly.

Make it easy to quote - Power email users will quote and respond to specific sections or sentences of your message. You can facilitate this by keeping your paragraphs short, making them easy to slice and dice.

I don't do this enough. Some of the problems occur when responding to plain text emails in Outlook. I haven't quite figured out the settings for that but most of the time, it works well and avoids confusion. Gmail does this very well.

No thanks - I'm not married to this one, but I know a lot of people who swear by it. In more informal settings and in high-volume mail environments, it's not necessary to respond with a "Thanks"” email whenever someone does what you asked. Save your gratitude for the next time you pass in the hall; a one-word "Thanks"” email can be crufty and unnecessary. On the other hand, don't hesitate to thank someone for their time if they've truly done you a proper.

This one is a bit tough. I talked to someone who said that one particular leader in our division seemed to be quite curt in their emails. This curtness, is a simple attempt to avoid the unnecessary banter. When you receive over 100 emails a day, you don't need 25 of them being thank yous.

Saturday, September 17, 2005 

EdTech Posse Podcast #6

This was our back to school podcast. Each of us cited 2 of our favourite tools for educators/students.

Here are Rob's excellent show notes:

Dean's picks

  • Furl - a social bookmarking tool, also providing RSS feeds and caching of content. Spurl, Jots and Raw Sugar were also mentioned (and I think that Digg is also pretty cool). All of these are free, web based services.
  • Google Earth is a seriously fun program capable of eating up much of your time. Only for Windows at this time, but Google maps is similiar. The basic edition is free, but more bells and whistles are available for cash.

Rick's picks

  • Delicious Library creates a virtual copy of your bookshelf and keeps track when you lend out copies. Sounds cool! This is commercial software, but well worth it according to Rick.
  • Notebook from is a virtual notebook. You can add any sort of content, organize it however you'd like, and search it with the greatest of ease. This is Mac-only paid software; again Rick says it is worth the cost.

Alec's picks

  • Not an actual product, but Alec emphasized the convenience of having a good web hosting service (he uses and recommends Advanced Network Hosts, especially with the convenience of cPanel for administering the hosting service, and the Fantastico installer which easily installs many different kinds of open source software.

At this point the sound dies off unexpectedly - argggghhhh! Sorry Alec!

Rob's picks

  • My first pick is GMail. Whadda great service! If you want to demonstrate to someone what Web 2.0 is all about, you could use this as an example. I'm especially happy about the labelling, filters (including great spam filters), and the ability to search my e-mails using all the power of Google. Its free, although you still need an invite to join outside of the U.S. Contact me if you are interested in getting a free GMail account.
  • I didn't mention it on the podcast, but I must pay tribute to Audacity, a professional quality sound editing package. I use it for the post-production of the podcast, and it works so well that I can do this even though I have no idea what I'm doing! It is free, open source software available for Mac, Windows and Linux. If you are podcasting, or thinking of producing your own podcast, I rate Audacity as a must have tool!

Friday, September 16, 2005 

Still Eating Our Lunch

Thomas Friedman's latest op-ed article brings home a couple of key issues for education.Still Eating Our Lunch - New York Times

First, the shift from content to creation:

Numerical skills are very important," she told me, but "I am now also encouraging my students to be creative - and empowering my teachers. ... We have been loosening up and allowing people to grow their own ideas."
She added, "We have shifted the emphasis from content alone to making use of the content" on the principle that "knowledge can be created in the classroom and doesn't just have to come from the teacher.

The fact that this country has been at the top of math achievement hasn't stopped them from looking to improve.

Second point is that static textbooks cannot even come close to demonstrated complex mathematic or scientific concepts:

Our lessons contain animated visuals that remove the abstraction underlying the concept, provide interactivity for students to understand concepts in a 'hands on' manner and make connections to real-life contexts so that learning becomes relevant.

Connections? Real-life contexts? Wouldn't it be neat of our education systems moved in this direction? While some individuals are, we all know "the system" isn't quite there yet.

Thursday, September 15, 2005 

Blogs as a key career portfolio object

From Yahoo News:

International Business Machines Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. have instituted blogging policies. Both focus on helping employees write entertaining blogs without revealing company secrets or offending suppliers and customers. IBM discourages anonymous blogging or covert marketing. Sun urges employees to expose their personalities but warns that ``a blog is a public place and you should avoid embarrassing your readers or the company.''

We've seen this before, but it points to a growing trend. Included in this article are some interesting observations about "blogging as if your future boss was looking over your shoulder" and also "expect that a company will do an Internet search" as a potential employee.

Tim Bray, Sun's director of Web technologies, said the company realized it needed the new rules as it prepared to encourage employee blogging and discovered an impediment. Sun had a policy ``that no one can say anything publicly without prior legal approval.'' With the new rules in place, more than 1,500 employees now have blogs hosted on the company's computer server.

Talk about communicating....1500 bloggers!

In Newtown Square, Pa., software maker SAP America Inc., which wants employees to blog, is updating its media policy to include blogging. ``We encourage people to communicate, but to stay within their area of expertise,'' said Steve Bauer, vice president of global communications. As for private blogging, ``anything that would really go against our values as a company would be certainly discouraged.''

Encouraging blogging...that's interesting.

Jonathan Segal, a Philadelphia employment lawyer, said that overly restrictive policies or publicity about company attacks on bloggers could hurt a company, particularly if it wanted creative young employees. ``It may have the effect of driving talent away,'' he said.

Looks like he's read the Cluetrain Manifest0

Full article: Blogs can help boost a career or sink it - Yahoo! News:

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 

Highlighting the work of Bloggers

As I try to get teachers in our school divsion to drink the "blog k00l-aid" and the RSS kool-aid, I struggle like many in showing them and exposing them to what it really is and what it can do for their classrooms.

Alan Levine's feed2javascript has been a great tool in demonstrating these tools for local teachers. I can use it to highlight local news as well as feature teachers who have gotten into blogging. I've already had some interest in blogging since including this script on our homepage.

UPDATE: We were having some issues with our page loading slowly due to the script not being housed locally. Thanks to our new network analyst who just started on Monday, he installed the script locally and it works slick. Thanks Ryan!


Things to do in 5 minutes, days, weeks,months, years

I ran across these 4 articles from edutopia. Ideas for changing education in 5 minutes, days, weeks, months, years. I like these quick lists with many ideas you've heard before but the links to the articles provide some more depth. I've already adopted a couple of the 5 minute tips while writing this post!

What works in 5 minutes

What works in 5 days

What works in 5 weeks

What works in 5 months

What works in 5 years

Monday, September 12, 2005 

Podcast #5 Back to School Stuff

My first podcast of the new school year. I deal with some of the new initiatives in our division as well as some updates on some personal projects.

It's about 11 minutes and 2.7MB

Thursday, September 08, 2005 

The Back to School Video

Our home may not be like your average home. For example even though our eldest daughter is off to college 2,800 km away, her friends have no problem coming over to our house to hang out. In this instance they wanted to use my computer to edit a video they created to show at school. This was not a school assignment, just something they wanted to do.

These boys are grade 12 students and don't have a lot of experience in editing video. In fact, I'm thinking other than a few things I've shown them they have none. So from 7:00pm to 1:30 am they invaded my wife's sewing room to work on this video. They were quite pleased with themselves. I did enter the post-production process around 10:00pm and helped them speed up the process. There are a few inside jokes but overall, it's a humorous take on going back to school.

Now that they've kept me up, I'm having trouble going back to sleep so I thought I'd write about it. Once again, they were more interested in telling a good story, the technology was secondary to the communication. That's progress. I also liked the fact that this wasn't an assignment. But including the pre-production, production and post-production time, it probably took them upwards of 20 hours to create. And for what? A nice grade?an award? Other than reaction and feedback from a hundred or so staff and students not much. Although they did say as they left, "we're going to have to burn copies of this because everyone's going to want one."

Back to School video (18 MB and 12 minutes)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005 

Katrina and Google Earth

Google Earth is quickly making itself known as an indispensible tool for examining Katrina. Not only is CNN making extensive use of it to show overviews of the damage, but that fact that we all have access to this data is truly an example of the "new shape of knowledge".

On Monday, I checked Google Earth hacks and found 5 updated satellite overlays of the flooding. As of right now, there are 32. These images have been found throughout the internet and turned into overlays ready to download into Google earth.

The implications for students and teachers to understand the full extent of the disaster can clearly be visualized and explored this way. At some point, this type of information will be used to find solutions to these type of problems.

PS, in conjunction with Saskatchewan's centennial, I present my 100th posting!


Is it the Format or the Content?

I like the observations by this professor. He says:

You have to keep giving the information to them in a new format,she said. “The format is everything because that makes them look at it differently. These new tools I have will only be good for a year and them I'’m going to need some new ones! That'’s going to be the trick for us – trying to keep always one step ahead so that we'’re showing them something new and exciting that makes them want to do more of it.

The new tools being things like blogs, wikis, Rss, flickr, know Web 2.0 or Read/Write Web. Some people would argue that content is the only thing that matters and is some ways it is. Good literature is timeless. Scientific principles are important so is basic math. But they way students best handle this content is to be able to interact and use the tools tfamiliar familar with. So many teachers I work with don't like technology because it changes too quickly. That's the point. No sense in trying to maintain because formats will always be changing.

This isn't a new message but what struck me is that the new technology was used to create greater interaction with students and increase socialization. Dave Weinberger argues that computers can increase social interaction. Today's world is conundrumsnundrums. I don't mind it.