A Refreshing Look at a Hot Topic

We have certainly heard a lot about the H1N1 virus and what we should do to help prevent its spread. When I first read the email from BrainPOP that they had resources about H1N1 (swine flu), my first reaction was, “Oh, great, even Tim & Moby are talking about it.”

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised about the swine flu video for 2 reasons – first that it is directed at students, not adults (as all BrainPOP videos are), and secondly, the treatment of the vocabulary in the video is excellent. Any key vocabulary term used in the video is displayed clearly as the conversation ensues. The video displayed while the vocabulary is on the screen gives visual cues to what the term means. This provides reinforcement for the key points, and develops vocabulary skills.

I think the video is a good conversation starter or reinforcement to help kids express their questions and/or opinions about the H1N1 virus. Check it out:

You can also check out the BrainPOP section on Swine Flu or BrainPOP Jr. video on Hand Washing.

Russo's Ramblings

Thanks, Crew

We had a great year with video announcements. Many of the crew are 8th graders, and have been involved for 3 or 4 years. It’s always exciting for our graduates to move on to high school, but its also sad b/c they’ll be gone. Here is a little tribute to Aaron, Brianna, Caroline, Chris, David, Erin, Haley, Jake, and Jenni. We’ll miss you at Heim Middle!


Creative Commons images courtesy of the following users on Flickr: Joriel “Joz” Jiminez, Ken@Okinawa, fd, Jess J, Gam Hoyo, Xiol, chalkdog, s.o.f.t., verymissberry

And the music? Well that would be by one of my favorites: credits-sounder

Russo's Ramblings

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?

Russo's Ramblings

The First Full Week – A Full Week!

The first full week of classes included a very full week of activity in the lab. The district has initiated a keyboarding program in 5th grade. In addition to the many startup activities (classes registering for electronic textbooks, WITS orientations, etc.) all the 5th graders have begun their keyboarding classes. One of the nice side-benefits of this is that all our 5th grade students are oriented to the network and basic operations already.

Our new keyboarding teacher, Mrs. Meyer, brings a wealth of experience to the program. I’m excited for how these skills willredkeyboard help our students now and in the their future. Mrs. Meyer will be with us for the first half of the year, and then goes to Transit for the second semester to teach keyboarding to their 5th graders.

Image citation:
“Red Lit Computer Keyboard.” Online image. 15 September 2007. <>


The answer…TeacherTube

teachertubelogo.jpgPerhaps this is the answer to being able to have kids produce and upload videos to a public site that does not also contain the stuff we don’t want kids to see…TeacherTube. Launched in March, TeacherTube has the look & feel of YouTube, w/o the worry of the bad stuff.

I just created an account, and am looking forward to seeing if this will play out as a safe place to share content.

Russo's Ramblings

In your words…

…what is a podcast? They are everywhere, but I’m curious how you define what one is. Do you usemic them/watch them/listen to them? Post your reply here (by clicking on the comment link above, just under the title of this post) and describe as best you can what a podcast is.

Image citation:
Weave. �Podcast Hotel: Open Mics.� Flickr. 3 Oct. 2006 .


Coming to the Lab in the AM

The computer lab is a busy place in the mornings. So I’m wondering, what makes you come into school early to use the lab, rather than doing your work at home on your own computer? Is it because the work you are doing is in your server folder? Does something not work on your computer at home? Some other reason?

Just curious – any comments most welcome.

Content Area Focus Russo's Ramblings

Middle Ages Project Rocks!

Hi everyone! So my blog is an example of a website where the web address is not the same as the title of the site. It can sometimes be difficult to determine all the details from a website, but with a little detective work you can do it! From a website, you want to try to find:

Author (of the article or site)
Name of Web site (not normally the web address)
Specific page or article title
Date Web page was last revised
Sponsoring organization
Web address (URL)
Date you viewed it (required-if you do not remember the exact date dont worry – approximate is OK)

As always, ask if you have any questions!

Russo's Ramblings

Knee Surgery, Anyone?

Edheads ( is a cool site where you can learn some stuff about weather, simple machines, and yes, knee surgery. Check it out to try your hand at being a surgeon!

Content Area Focus

Music Notation Software

Mr. Marinaccio’s classes just started coming into the lab to notate their rhythmic speech compositions. We are using the free version of the notation program Finale, called Finale NotePad. You can download and use this program at home as well. To get the download, click here

Happy composing!