Friday, November 28, 2008

Fun on Friday #11: It's the most wonderful time of the year (allegedly)

I make it a rule (well, more of a guideline really) not to play any Christmas music until the 1st of December at the earliest. However, the other night Mark Pendleton boasted on Twitter that, "I actually have 2.5 days' worth of Christmas music! [on my iPod]". This sounded impressive but I knew I had a few Christmas CDs and was quietly confident I could match or beat him. But, as they say, pride comes before a fall. With only a few more tracks to add, it looks like I'll barely make 24 hours. :-( ...And this includes some tracks that appear on multiple albums but I ask you, is it possible to have too many copies of Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody - I think not!

However, a desire to get over the 24 hour mark led me to the topic for today's Fun on Friday. I wondered if there was any legal, free source of Christmas music on the Internet. The answer is, of course, yes!

The first free music I found was O Holiday Hits from (of all people) Oprah Winfrey. However these tracks are only available for 48 hours - so you'll have to be quick.

Next, I found a blog dedicated to free Christmas music called (surprisingly enough) Free Christmas Music. So far, there is only one entry for this year (the Oprah downloads) but most/all of last year's downloads are still available. For example, I liked the look of Beautiful and Unique Snowflakes and Tidings from Allison Crowe sounded interesting. (If you like Allison Crowe's music she has loads of free downlods on her website.)

The Free Christmas Music blog directed me to the Free Christmas Music customised Google search where, if you really want to, you can search for free cover versions of Last Christmas or anything else for that matter.

The Feels Like Christmas site also has some interesting Christmas songs. For example, from the current post, I have already downloaded:
  • Jars of Clay: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Sixpence None The Richer: Angels We Have Heard On High
  • Straight No Chaser: Hark The Herald Angels/Angels We Have Heard On High
Finally, I discovered that some tracks are available as free downloads from So far, the only Christmas song I've downloaded is Christmastime by Noah and the Whale.

I think I've made a good start. If the chap behind the Free Christmas Music blog comes up with as many good links as he did last year, I should make it over the 24 hour mark in time for Christmas. :-)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Support a Mo :-)

Movember - Sponsor Me
Stuart Meldrum has been been growing a moustache during the month of November. Not that unusual perhaps... except that he has been growing his mo during the month of Movember to raise money for Prostate Cancer Charity.

November is almost over and the tache is soon to be shaved off, so go and have a look at his efforts while you still can... and more importantly, send a donation.

Another podcast... and an explanation

There are some courses that I enjoy teaching, and the BEd 4 Computers, Creativity and Education class is one that I really enjoy. We talk about a whole bucket load of interesting stuff, for example: Telling Tales with Flickr.

Podcast Bear
Originally uploaded by blogefl
The classes tend to follow the same basic pattern. First we'll introduce the technology/tool and talk about it's value to education. In the podcasting class we talked about:
  • telling stories
  • giving children a voice
  • using the technology pupils use
  • giving children a (worldwide) audience
  • encouraging co-operation
  • supporting diverse learning styles
  • allowing pupils to receive feedback from a variety of sources
  • children staying on task and setting themselves high expectations
Then we let them hear some of the Radio Sandaig podcasts. {I think it's important to let theme hear pupil voices and pupil produced podcasts. In Higher Education, it seems people are pleased with themselves when they podcast an hour long lecture! I want students to see the pupils as creators, not just consumers of podcasts.} We also share my podcast related delicious links. {I think I need to categorise or prune that list. Too much stuff all mixed up together!}

This was followed by a brief demonstration of Garageband (about ten minutes) which left just over half an hour for them to produce their own podcast. They were divided into groups of two or three and assigned a topic at random from things we had already studied. {I used the Random Name Picker tool to assign topics - thanks to Ewan and TeachMeet for introducing me to this brilliant tool.}

I've already posted Cheryl and Gill's podcast in Podcast from BEd class. Here's another one, this time by Amy Linzi and Ailie. It is about delicious and the usefulness of online bookmarks:

Online Bookmarks

I especially like the sung version of the delicious URL at the end! What do you think? What advice should I give the students to help them improve their podcasts? What other podcasts should they listen to? Can you suggest ways they can use podcasts in their classes?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Podcast from BEd class

The BEd 4 Computers, Creativity and Education class created podcasts today. Here's one by Gill and Cheryl about Digital Video in the classroom.

Pretty good for only ten minutes tuition on GarageBand and 30 minutes to record.

Digital Video Podcast

Monday, November 24, 2008

Keep plugging - comment on article in the TES

An interesting TES article - Keep Plugging. (Thanks to cloudberrynine for drawing it to my attention.) Lots of interesting stuff in it and many useful quotes but, given some of my recent posts on mobile phone use in schools, this bit towards the end caught my eye:

95 per cent of 15-year-olds use a mobile phone.
Source: Ofcom, 2008

1 per cent of primary schools and 11 per cent of secondaries allow mobile phones in lessons.
Source: Becta, 2008

EduTwitter: What can I learn from Tweets?

I have mentioned before my ambivalence to Twitter as an educational tool (see for example Ask Twitter: Mobile phones in education). I tell people (assuming they bother to ask) that I am not convinced that Twitter is that useful a tool in schools. I really surprised myself therefore when I responded to a question by David Noble through his edonis project. Before I explain why I surprised myself, I think a brief digression to talk about the edonis project would be useful.

David Noble is currently working on an EdD with the University of Edinburgh. The focus of his thesis is: How are educators using the social web to develop their practice? One of the ways he is researching this is through the edonis project where edonis stands for "EDucator Online Impact Study". This three year project hopes to gather about 100 educators together in an onlinbe community to discuss issues, complete questionnairs and respond to questions on their use of the social web. I think this is an inspired idea. Rather than simply report on the social web in education, David has created an online community - to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Excellent idea. He has not yet hit the 100 mark, so if you haven't already signed up, it's not to late.

(*Update: David contacted me on Twitter (appropriately enough) to say that as well as the people signed up on Ning, he has over twenty people participating by email. I'd still contact him though if you are interested - he may need some "spares". :-) *)

I responded last week to his latest request for participation. He asked:
I'd like you to recall and give brief details about a recent example of online communication between you and at least one other person, which you feel led to some kind of learning for you (professional or otherwise). You may wish to indicate: the way you communicated; whether it was in 'real time' or not; and how you found the experience.
I was surprised to find myself responding as follows:
Most recent was the Twitter exchange on digital natives. Which hopefully write up soon. Before that, it was probably another set of Twitter exchanges connected to questions my students had asked.

The nature of Twitter means it is geared to giving fasts responses and brief messages. This means I got a decent amount of feedback in a very short space of time.

I found the experience interesting. I would still claim to be sceptical of the educational value of Twitter, yet some of the best sites I've visited recently have come from links sent on Twitter and a number of blog posts have been triggered by Twitter exchanges, e.g. Can you guess what it is yet?

I am puzzled therefore as to why I am not convinced about Twitter in schools. I'm still reluctant to recommend it to students... but I recommended it anyway, most recently in a recent lecture to PGDE(S) students. I guess that's just another indicator of how deeply confused I am. :-)
So, I'm not convinced of it's value in education but it has contributed to my own learning. I'm not convinced of it's value to students but I recommend it to my students anyway.

I think I need to think it out again!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fun on Friday #10: Subtitles required

A short and sweet Fun on Friday this week. Add your own subtitles to Bollywood films.

Not only great fun but also a test of your creative writing.

Remember to share your efforts here if you have a go.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Telling Tales with Flickr

Took a class today on using Flickr in school. Thought the handout I used would (with minor alterations) give me a good reason to play with Scribd:

Telling Tales with Flickr

What do you think? Comments and suggestions welcome. ...And remember to let me know in a comment if you have a go at writing some Fliction.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fun on Friday #9: Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

After all the maths in the last couple of posts, I thought a language based Fun on Friday was in order. However, I should warn you that it may only be my status as a grumpy old man that makes me think the following is "fun"!

Just a couple current advertisements that amuse me. The first is a radio advertisement warning benefit thieves that the Department for Work and Pensions is "closing in" on them. The radio advert begins with:
"We're closing in on benefit thieves with hidden cameras."
Now there should be a comma in there I suspect but that's the way it sounds on the radio. I always wonder if benefit thieves who don't have hidden cameras are safe? It reminds me of the old Victor Borge routine about the need for phonetic punctuation:

The other advert that amuses me, is for a shampoo. (The name of the shampoo involves the words "shoulders" and "head" but I'm not going to give you any other hints as to its identity.) It is a classic example of marketing-speak. The commercial claims that their product will:
"Leave your scalp up to 100% flake free."
I've emphasised the bit I like. Thinks: "Wow! I'll need to buy that. I could be up to 100% flake free!" I could be 0% flake free and this advert would be true and I'm not sure I want to be 110% flake free! Is this more or less impressive than the adverts that claim: "No other product is [better|faster|more effective] than ours at doing [whatever]"? In other words, their product is about the same as everyone else's. And just to tip from amused old man into grumpy old man... Why do shampoos list their main ingredient as "Aqua"? How dumb do they think people are? I imagine they think shoppers will stand in supermarkets saying"Hey, I'm not paying all that money for this shampoo. The main ingredient is water! I'll get this one with aqua instead."

Do you have a favourite advert of the moment that amuses you in a way the creators didn't intend? Or do you have any other examples of fun misunderstandings?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More maths stuff

Perhaps this should have been an addition to the previous post...

I've continued to play with ASCIIMathML and I realise I should have given a warning but I've also discovered some cool stuff that you can do.

I should have warned you that ASCIIMathML should work no problem with Firefox (and possibly other browsers) but you need to download a program called mathplayer if you want to see the formulae in Internet Explorer (and possibly other browsers). Also, the ASCIIMathML page says:
The STIX fonts (beta) have finally been released (download and select STIXGeneral as default font in Firefox).
I've not found this to be necessary... but then I've not really pushed ASCIIMathML to try any particularly unusual symbols.

Now for some of the other stuff I discovered while I continued to play with this tool. I was pleasantly surprised to see that ASCIIMathML handles some of the graph drawing elements of LaTeX. For example:

`\begin{graph} width=300; height=200; xmin=-1; xmax=1; xscl=1; plot(x*sin(1/x)); \end{graph}`

I think that's pretty clever. :-)

Also, in the previous post, I mentioned a couple of programs that can export LaTex, but dgilmour sent me a Tweet that directed me to the Sitmo Equation Editor - a free, online tool that creates LaTeX code which you can copy and paste into your blog for ASCIIMathML to render. Excellent! Other useful pages I came across include the ASCIIMathML.js (ver 2.0): Syntax and List of Constants page (comprehensive but not particularly attractive) and the ASCIIMath Tutorial page (an stunningly useful tutorial that includes areas where you can type code and check straight away how it is rendered).

That's all for now. I don't know about you but I'm feeling a bit Mathed out now. I promise I'll try to stay away from maths for at least the next few weeks. :-)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Testing, testing, testing

{Note: I completely re-wrote this post once I got the ASCIIMathML version working. If you were here earlier, you may have found the not quite working version!}

I'm sure I did this last year when I was working with the Egyptian teachers... but if I did, I didn't write up how I did it on the blog and I had to work it out again. :-(

A maths student was wanting to show formulae in his blog but it has to be said that it is not easy to get the layout right - even for something as simple as a fraction:

$\frac{1}{2} + \frac{2}{3}$

If you want something more complicated, it is even more difficult:


Last year I found jsTeXrender which is a javascript program that does the business and explains how to use it. It uses a script to turn LaTeX gobbledygook into properly formatted formulae. It is fairly painful to use as you have to switch into the script view of your blog editor and type in some fairly obscure LaTeX commands. There is just about enough information in the above websites to make it possible to add formulae to your blog but it is a bit of a struggle.

However, I have now found an easier way - use ASCIIMathML. This script understands LaTeX, so you can create very complex mathematical formulae if that is what you need to do. Just surround the LaTeX with dollar signs and ASCIIMathML should do the rest.

For example, type
\$\forall x \in X, \quad \exists y \leq \epsilon\$ to get
$\forall x \in X, \quad \exists y \leq \epsilon$
(Note that mathematical packages such as Mathematica and MathType can export in LaTeX format.)

However, ASCIIMathML's real strength is you can type a more or less readable text description of what you want and it will be rendered properly for you. Best of all, you do not have to switch to the script view to enter the formulae - just bracket the formulae with the grave accent, \` (not the apostrophe). For example:

For example, t
ype \`int_0^1f(x)dx\` to get:

Type \`sin^-1(x)\` to get:

Type \`d/dxf(x)=lim_(h->0)(f(x+h)-f(x))/h\` to get:

It was a bit tricky getting this working but the two sets of instructions I found most helpful were How to Post Math Equations in Blogger using ASCIIMathMIL and Equations in Blogger (and other HTML) Made Easy.

While looking for the jsTeXrender, I found a page on MathML which looked promising. I suspect that MathML is likely to be the most future proof solution, but I couldn't get it to work in Blogger at all! Help from scientific/mathematical bloggers who have already sussed this out would be greatly appreciated.

Critical Skills Workshop

{I attended a Critical Skills workshop last week which was led by one of my colleagues. These are my notes from the workshop with only minor edits of the live capture}

The Critical Skills programme started in New Hampshire in 1981. Teachers and business leaders go together and drew up a list of life skills and characteristics that they thought pupils would need. The ideas in the programme are not necessarily new but it provides a structured approach that uses variety of techniques and may help teachers to examine their practice and work in more pupil centred ways.

Skills identified by the programme include:
  • Problem Solving
  • Decision Making
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creative Thinking
  • Communication
  • Organisation
  • Management
  • Leadership
There is strong emphasis on problem solving and pupils centred activities ("...less teacher voice"). Community building is a key feature. The Critical Skills programme clearly fits in with other current developments such as Curriculum for Excellence, Assessment is for Learning, enterprise, creativity and citizenship, etc. (e.g. collaboration, listening to others...).

Putting it into practice: In the PGDE(S), Ashley Reid {the presenter of the workshop - DM} has worked much harder at community building and challenges than she would have otherwise. She has also used challenges to explore the areas students identify as more problematic. The challenges are worked on as small groups and then the results are shared. The hope is that students will take some of the ideas into their own teaching. For example, one challenge was to produce a Dummies guide to an aspect of the curriculum. {The Dummies Book Cover generator could be useful here - DM.}

We were then set a challenge to come up with a board game that will raise money for the university. :-) The board game was to focus on Curriculum for Excellence. The game has to highlight good practice already happening in Curriculum and Pedagogy classes. The purpose of the exercise was to encourage collaboration and we were expected to describe what our collaboration would look like and sound like. {These were written on post-its and collected in. The idea was to check at the end if we'd met our own criteria. However, we did not take this part entirely seriously and after playing with the jargon generator for a while we said we'd look like "...we were herding cats" and that we'd sound like "...academic guffaws!" - DM.} Different roles were defined for the group, e.g. facilitator, resource manager, quality checker and time-keeper.

{Our game started off as a cross between chess and Risk but got modified as we went along. The game board is divided into four quadrants, one for each of the CfE capacities. We wanted people to be able to repulse other players from their quadrant somehow but never worked out the mechanism for this. Where we ended up was that you would roll dice to land on challenge squares. Successful completion of a challenge gets you a Capacity Card (or a wedge for your playing piece). Crucially, to complete a Responsible Citizen challenge and an Effective Contributer challenge you have to work with one of the other players. There is competition because there is a winner but you cannot win without co-operating with fellow players. Example challenges were: Confident Individual - Talk for one minute on animal testing; Effective Contributer - Direct a blindfolded partner through a maze. Once you have all four types of Capacity Cards, you can storm Jargon Hall Towers at the centre of the board and win the game. - DM.}

The two groups produced two very similar board games {although ours was much better :-) - DM} and in the debrief we looked at what we said the groups would sound like and look like. Did we learn what colleagues were doing? Did we collaborate? Did we feel creative? How would we improve it? In our case perhaps there should have been more focus on the curricular content and less on creativity. {However, in the time available it was perhaps inevitable that we would concentrate on the game idea at the expense of the curriculum. For the workshop we spent about 20 minutes on an activity that would normally last 2-3 hours. - DM}

A screen full of references was displayed but the only one I got was Hillis, P. (2008). Authentic learning and multimedia in history education. Learning, Media and Technology, 33(2):87-99.

So, what do you think? Does anyone have experience of using the Critical Skills approach in the classroom?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fun on Friday #8: Retro graphics

I'm a bit late again with my Fun on Friday but not because I was stuck for ideas. (I had two to choose from this week!) Lots of busyness at work and then a fireworks party at night.

So what's the fun this Friday? Well, a hint can be found in this Dilbert cartoon:

Fun though Dilbert is, he is just the introduction to the real fun:

Great fun, slightly easier to use than real etch-a-sketch (in my humble opinion) and doesn't suffer from the ghosting effect that you can see on an old Etch-a-Sketch. Surely,this is what the Internet was designed for!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

New students... old problems!

Just spent about an hour and a half chatting to students online. They are almost a week into their first full teaching placement and I think the chat can be summarised as follows:

    Amol asleep reading
    Originally uploaded by quinn.anya
  • Everyone is exhausted.
  • All are finding lesson preparation time consuming although different students have experienced different amounts of teaching on their own (from no periods on their own to six periods).
  • Views on differentiation range from "It's tricky" to "It's impossible".
  • There was concern about getting the information for their portfolio tasks.
  • Challenging.
  • Variable.
I think that's about it although there was nonsense and cheeky comments too. (Can't say who was responsible for most of the cheeky bits!)

Does the experience of this group of students match up to your own memories of starting as a teacher? Any sage words of advice... or failing that, cheeky comments?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Games 'to outsell' music, video in 2008

Thought this news report from the BBC was interesting:

Not just for the news that so many games (and games machines) are being sold (which should interest Derek at the Consolarium) but for the observation about music sales:
It is online sales of CDs and DVDs that have grown rapidly, rather than digital downloads, which still only account for around 4% of music and video sales.
This seems to imply they've combined music and video sales to get this statistic and I suspect that the market share of music may be higher than 4%.

I find it slightly comforting that people still want to buy a physical product. Certainly, I like the artwork, the lyrics, the details about who played what on which track etc. that you get with a CD but quite apart from that, I like having a physical copy of something I've paid for. In fact, I usually make a copy to CD of any music I have downloaded... when legally allowed to do so obviously. :-)

It may be that even homo zappiens would rather have a physical disc than an intangible mp3 file. For example, I was slightly surprised to discover this when I chatted to a teenager recently. He is a keen music fan, he plays in at least three bands, and has a fairly healthy music collection. I mentioned to him a site where you could legally download, for free, a load of music mp3s from a band I knew he liked. But he said, "Nah! I'd prefer to get the CDs." I suspect I am more mercenary than him. I prefer to have it on CD but if I can get it free or very cheap, then... :-)

I hope to say more on mp3 downloads in a future post. In the meantime, what do you think? Mp3 or CD? Leave a comment or answer the new poll I've just posted.

Now playing: Deep Purple - Strange Kind Of Woman
via FoxyTunes

P.S. I've just lost the game. :-(

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Cheaters never win and winners never cheat!

This article from the Guardian suggests that the old adage from the tile of this post may not be true:
...almost one in two Cambridge University students in a poll of 1,000 admitted to cheating in their studies.
One in two! Grief! Given that this is from a report by a consultancy firm called Plagiarism Advice, they may be asking a very broad definition of cheating and bigging up the problem... but one in two is worrying what ever definition of cheating you use. Perhaps most worrying of all though is the revelation that: "Law students were the most likely to plagiarise, with 62% saying they had broken university rules."

To me, this underlines the importance of exploring issues to do with internet literacy and responsible online citizenship at school level. I suspect we also need to look at how we assess students if the best essays come from jiggling around a bit with the order of stuff found in a Google search on the essay title.

So that's the aim; but how do we teach this sort of internet literacy? What should assessment look like in the Internet age?

P.S. Not sure why Facebook is named and shamed in the article's headline. Any suggestions?