The Best Free Software

The current issue (March 2008) of PC Magazine features an article, The Best Free Software: 157 Apps for Work and Play (p.78). This got my attention not only due to the attractive price, but more since its getting close to the time where we determine what software we want installed on our computers for next year. If we offer some of these tools on our school computers, the transition to their use at home is much more seamless (from a cost and functional standpoint). I’m going to focus on the apps with classroom and educational focus, as opposed to utility/security tools.

A few of the top picks mentioned are things we already use – Adobe Reader, Firefox, and iTunes. Reader and iTunes are proprietary, and there are alternatives (see Songbird, below), but these two have weaved their way into the “fabric” of everyday computing life. Firefox is a delightful, customizable, web browser. A perfect example of an extension of Firefox is how I’m composing this post – using the Scribefire extension, which allows me to blog directly from any web page.

My top picks from the article’s list:

  • Audacity – we already use this to some extent – a great audio editor – just need to roll it out for everyone.
  • GIMP – open source Photoshop-like program – I’ve never used it, but hear great things about it.
  • OpenOffice – perfect for the students who do not have access to a commercial office suite at home.
  • Skype – computer-to-computer (or landline) voice/video calling – not sure how this would be (mis)used in a school setting, but the possibilities are endless. It’s desktop videoconferencing – we have had requests in the past for out-of-town parents to Skype in to their child’s presentation.
  • Songbird – I’m not familiar with this one, but is dubbed an open source answer to iTunes – sounds intriguing. **Update – Songbird is still in the developer stage, not rollout stage. Looking at it a bit more, it definitely sounds intriguing. Worth a read at the site about what they are up to.
  • Googlepedia – A Firefox extension that puts Wikipedia results along side Google search results (if/when Wikipedia is not blocked…)
  • Google Earth – The neat applications being built around Goolge Earth are growing – a fabulous tool.
  • Second Life – There is a lot of buzz about the educational appliations of Second Life. I have an avatar, and have flown around a bit. I’m not sold by any means on this one. If I’m going to spend that much time creating a virutal world, there are already many options of online conferencing, streaming, etc. where kids could interact with experts and communities, and not worry about what their avatar is wearing or how to build an island. That being said, maybe having it and trying it would be useful.

2 apps that come to mind that were not mentioned in the article:

  • Sketchup – Googles 3D modeling program – very versatile, very good – I know an architect who has stopped using commercial CAD programs altogether, and now uses Sketchup.
  • Scratch – The MIT graphics program – I have no personal experience or opinion on it, but I read positive reviews on it, and MIT knows a thing or two about educational computing!

Note that at least half of the apps mentioned in the article are web-based, and so there is nothing to install. That is a dream for any IT department, and the way many software tools are going. The Web 2.0 world is online, and so is the software to do it. I won’t go into those titles right now since there is enough here to chew on.

I wonder if there are any other installation-based software apps that we should be sure are in the hands of students and teachers?

The Top 100 Most Influential *People* in IT

The title of this article published by eWeek should really be, “The Top 100 Most Influential Men, with a couple ofZDTop100.jpg women tossed in, in IT. By my count there were a total of seven women in this list.

Seven??? I guess its no suprise that men dominate the IT industry, given the stereotypical image of men being computer savvy. I was just suprised at how glaring the lack of influential women in IT is, in this age of equality, or attempt at such.

Is this just one more uphill battle girls in school will have to face – another profession which they will have to go out of their way to prove themselves to get anywhere? I think about my daughter, only 2 now – does she face the same glass ceilings that have existed for years, and will the glass be thicker?

I sure hope not. Technology IS the necessity of the future, and there is 50% of the population that has just as much brain power and skill to lead companies, and the world, in the direction we want them to go.

Attention all girls: You are bright, you are talented, and you have every right to lead the way in what happens in techhnology. Don’t let ANYONE, including yourself, let you think any differently!!!

Image citation:

"Top 100 graphic." eWeek. 12 May 2007. Click image above for source URL.

Digital Storytelling

I’m just finishing up with some of my required extra work hours for school. While these hours are a ridiculous paperwork nightmare for everyone, the purpose and focus allows for good study and reflection time.

In a post earlier this year, Video is Hot, I talked about how video captures the minds of students. I have transformed my own thinking about this into what is called digital storytelling. This is by no means a new thing in education – its just that I’ve finally gotten to the point that I understand it enough to work with it more fully. There are lots of great resources available, many of which I have just spent some time with.

What is digital storytelling? There are many definitions, but start by checking out this great video (approx. 2 min.): Momnotmom

The variations for what we can do with digital storytelling in school are as numerous as the number of people in the school. In reviewing the literature, websites, and other resources, 3 websites standout as accessible and useful in the school setting.

Kidsvid (kidsvid.altec.org) – this site lays out the 4 main steps of storytelling in akidsvid.gif clear, concise way. It includes an online storyboarding tool where you can create and save storyboards. This site is a good starting place to plan out a whole project. Interestingly, this site was developed by the same group that created Rubistar, the awesome online rubric maker.

Video Storytelling Guide (http://www.atomiclearning.com/storytellingindex.shtml) – this guide is part of the Atomic Learning site. While access to the full guide requires a paid subscription to Atomic Learning, the above linked free preview gives a good sampling of things to do in the setup of a video project. Inlcuded are 16 sample tutorials, which have great information. Also available at this site is a free downloadable storyboarding software tool called Storyboard Pro.

The last site is produced by the Scott County Schools in Georgetown, Kentucky. Their page, Digital Storytelling Resources, Tips and FAQs, is awesome. It is a launching point to learn all about the tools of the digital storytelling process.

I’m looking forward to implementing some of these new tools in a project that starts next week!

Ride the Digital Wave 2007

I attended the Erie 1 BOCES Ride the Digital Wave Conferene on Staff Development Day, March 30th.

The sessions I attended were as follows, along with some commentary and interesting pieces:

  • Keynote by Dr. Ron Owsten, York Universtiy, Toronto. Dr. Owston spoke about how we need to rethink learning in the context that the students know more and are using technology tools in vastly different ways than the teachers. His thinking is right in line with many of the current leaders in Ed Tech – he referenced Marc Prensky many times in relation to how gaming can be used to capture the minds of students. I did not pick up new information in this session, but definitely reaffirmed where we need to be going in schools. The one quote that resonated with me from Dr. Owens was “We all need to be continuous learners.”
  • Session 1: NOVEL Databases – this presentation was on a state initiative to provide access to a multitude of databases for all New York State Libraries, public or school. I was not familiar with this project in particular, but after digging a bit, our school librarians alreaday have a link to it in WITS. There are a lot of interesting things here, but with the myriad of other sources we have available, I’m not sure how much we would use this one.
  • Session 2: Digital Video – Classroom Applications – this session alone was worth the price of admission. The presenter, Chad Skudlarek from Randolph, is a self-proclaimed tech-nothing 3 years ago. He was introduced to how video could be incorporated in the curriculum and how it totally transformed the engagement level of his students. He only does 2 video projects a year (which is plenty), but they are awesome. They even post the work on YouTube for the world to see/comment. However the final product is shared, I truly feel this is where we need to move learning – video engages students like nothing else, and they want to “do the content” to a high level. You need to keep the goal in mind, but this is a powerful medium. The videos from Randolph are on pig dissection, and as such can be unpleasant to watch, so I won’t link to them here. If you are interestd in seeing them, let me know.
  • Session 3: Free Online Resources for K-12 Teachers – presented by Val Rinow from WNYRIC. For me this was mostly known sites (NYSED VLS, Thinkbright Video, Pics4Learning, Kidsclick!, NetSmartz). One new one, though that jumped out was Internet 4 Classrooms. Here I found some web resources for LOTE, including interactive websites that could be good w/a SMART Board/Airliner.

Overall I found this to be a very good day (oh, and lunch was good as always – BOCES does a nice job in this dept.). The sessions helped reaffirm, reflect and inform my daily practice.

 

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What should our model classroom look like?

This is a question we ponder regularly, and is a question we should ponder regularly. Its been on my mind again recently as we (district technology facilitators and IT staff) think about major upgrades to our computer technology hardware.

So, what should our classrooms have in them as far as computer technology? We have started toclassroom concentration.jpg infuse good things into the classroom, but are they the right things? Are there other things to consider?

I’d love to hear any idea, big or small. What would make you want to leap out of bed in the morning and get to your classroom?

Image citation:

Phitar. "Classroom Concentraion." Flickr. 13 Feb. 2007 http://flickr.com/photos/phitar/
     89287777/. 

flibbertigibbet

How fun is that word??? It was the Dictionary.com Word of the Day for December 22nd. It means a silly, flighty, talkative person, and the word certainly matches the definition. Regardless of its meaning, its just plain fun to say – try it – you’ll see what I mean.

I subscribe to the Dictionary.com Word of the Day through my Bloglines account. Each day brings one word into my inbox – this one is worth a year of subscribing!

Flibbertigibbet, flibbertigibbet, flibbertigibbet…

PS Disclaimer: I’m not implying I know any flibbertigibbets – I just like the word…

A Friend, A Colleague, and A Good Time

Today Heim Middle says farewell to a good person – Mr. Talarico. Since the beginning of the school year he has been with us for his student teaching experience. He is not your typical out-of-college youngster – he is young at heart, but brings a lifetime of experience to his teaching career. I believe more and more that having life experiences prior to teaching really helps – seeing how the “real world” works is incredilby valuable. I don’t mean for a moment that going into teaching right out of high school/college is bad – just that experience in other places is really good.

Mr. Talarico brought his warm, open, pleasant style into Heim, and became an integral part of our family quickly. He grew a lot as a teacher, and it has been a pleasure working with him. I for one will miss our daily interactions.

Hats off to you, Mr. Talarico, and best wishes for the future!

JoeTalarico.jpg

Let the Fun Begin!

ScienceFictionPaintingoftheFuture.jpg

We just received word that it is time to update our 5 year technology plan, formulate the 2007-08 wish list, and also identify any building needs that would have a major financial/structural impact (wiring rooms, etc.). I really enjoy this part of the process – this is where we ask what should we be doing, and how can we get it done. We are in the middle of the 5 year plan we started 2 years ago, and are making excellent progress. This will be a good time to reflect on what we are doing and make sure we still want the same things (or, if we need a change, figure out what those changes are).

This 5 year plan turns into a “wish-list” of items that has a really high price tag (typicallly $200,000) – we never get nearly that much, but if we don’t put down what we need (and how much it costs), we won’t have the necessary direction.

So the questions that come to mind…

What should students and teachers using technology in learning look like at Heim Middle?
Are the right technologies in the right places?
Are we using technologies that are worth the expense (in time and money)?
Are there other ways to focus resources (time/money) to maximize learning with technology?
Are there physical issues/needs in the building related to technology placement?

Image citation:
“Science Fiction Painting of the Future.” Online image. PowerMediaPlus.com. 29 November 2006.

RSS, anyone?

There are lots of great new tools on the Internet today: blogs, wikis, podcasts, XML, RSS, social networks, social bookmarks, and more. Making sense of them can be a daunting task. The one key new technology that can help to put all the rest into perspective is RSS. You don’t have to know anything technical about RSS – just remember that one of the S’s stands for Subscription (to be correct, RSS actually stands for Really Simple Syndication, but Subscription sums it up).

Just like you can subscribe to a magazine that shows up in your mailbox, you can subscribe to all different types of information (newspapers, journals, audio files, video files, etc.) published on the Internet. These digital subscriptions show up in your digital mailbox (there are many different free digital mailboxes available to choose from). Just like you check your postal mailbox for new print information, you check your digital mailbox for new digital information. RSS is a delivery service – the power is in that it is easy to subscribe and no matter what source the information comes from, it awaits you in your mailbox whenever you are ready.

Bloglines (www.bloglines.com) is a digital mailbox. It is one of many choices, but it stands out as a free, popular, and easy to use. With a few clicks, you can be up & running with your mailbox (also called an aggregator) very quickly. Try creating a free account at Bloglines, and happy subscribing!

Thanks to Will Richardson for helping to push me forward in my approach to teaching web 2.0 tools to everyone.

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