Friday, February 27, 2009

Fun on Friday #21: Twenty Questions

I was impressed with the 20 Q toy when I first saw one. Sad Computing teacher that I am, I must admit I thought, "I wonder if you could use this as part of an introduction to Artificial intelligence?"

As well as the toy, you can play it online but what prompted this Fun on Friday is my discovery that there is a version on the Pink Panther website. I haven't seen the film, so don't know what it's like but it's got to be worth going to the Think Pink 20 Questions site to see Steve Martin messing about. :-)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

iRiddles at TeachMeet

At TeachMeetBorders I did a presentation on iRiddles that didn't go exactly to plan! Here then are some links and some resources that will show what I was trying to do.

The first iRiddle I saw was on TeacherTube and was posted by Jennifer Gingerich. It is titled Landform Riddle and I thought it was a brilliant idea. They are simple to create but are a really powerful way of engaging learners. Ms. Gingerich even posted three videos showing you how to create your own iRiddles (part 1, part 2 and part 3). I created a handout and started using the idea with my classes but to be honest, the idea is so simple that after a demonstration, students are able to create their own - usually without having to refer to the handout or ask for help.

Despite evidence to the contrary at TeachMeet, I can show students how to create an iRiddle in less than ten minutes and after this brief demonstration, the students usually manage to create their own within half an hour. (See for example my Geography iRiddle and a BEd student's Animal iRiddle.)

I made a screencast of how I created the iRiddle using Jing. I am stunningly impressed with Jing but as a first time user, I have a few issues and would value advice/help from other Jing users. The first issue is that the video ends abruptly because I ran into the 5 minute limit on the free version. Not really Jing's fault. I just have to learn to talk faster or waffle less! The second issue you will have noticed if you watched the screencast - it's massive! Is there any way to make Jing reduce the size of the movie, either while recording or after it is saved? Thirdly, I saved it as an swf file but YouTube couldn't cope with that format. Any suggestions on a free video conversion program that will let me save it in a YouTube friendly format (and ideally change the size at the same time)?

Finally - credit where credit's due. I got the corrie picture from a Creative Commons search on Flickr. I mentioned Freeplay as a fantastic source of legally downloadable music. It is perfect for iRiddles because it offers music, in a variety of styles, that is exactly 30 seconds long. The only problem, as someone mentioned on the FlashMeeting is the Freeplay licence does not allow you to use the music on projects that you post on the Internet. For this reason, the example I've embedded above has fairly duff soundtrack that I created myself in Garageband. However, they have a form where you can detail what you intend to do and can ask how much it woud cost to buy a licence... one day I might get around to asking how much it would cost to post class projects to YouTube and/or put them on CD ROMs to send home with students.

So what do you think? An idea with potential? If you have a go yourself, or with a class, let me know how you get on.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

MPs talking, not hearing online

Heard this on the news and thought it was interesting. The Hansard Society has just published a report on MPs' use of the Internet. The BBC news item offers the following snippet.
"MPs are transmitting and not receiving," said Andy Williamson, director of the Society's eDemocracy programme.
Read the full news item to see what Andy is talking about.

There are encouraging signs in that more MPs are making use of the Internet but they seem to be sticking to the old Web 1.0 transmission model rather than the read/write Web 2.0 model. I suspect MPs are targeted with more comments and more abuse than my blog will ever be so I can understand them wanting to turn off comments but if you don't allow two way communication, you are missing the point of a blog (in my humble opinion).

If MPs don't get it, I suspect local government doesn't get it either. This could partly explain why anything that even smells of social networking is just blocked in most schools. If you don't use it, it's harder to see the value. If you don't see the value, it's easier just to say, "No".

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fun on Friday #20: Music to my ears

This Fun on Friday is so late it is almost Sunday! So, brief and to the point.

I hope you find this fun. I've started a music blog.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, February 20, 2009

TeachMeet Borders: Part II

Stuart Meldrum talked about a pupil who broke a collar bone and couldn't write or do the normal work in the technology classroom. SO he planned on the computer and then presented his results on Animoto.

Theo talked about Flickr Commons. Showed some of the Library of congress photos that was added to Flickr. Showed how people added important information to the library photos. National Gallery of Scotland also have added stuff and showed how you can take teh images into Picnik and overlaid old photo of Edinburgh with new image from same place. Used transparency control to fade between the two images. Gave an impassioned plea for more things to be made available through Creative Commons Licences. Also talked about the collaborative work and gave the TeachMeet Borders Spotify list as an example.

David Gilmour then talked about the East Lothian experiment with NetBooks. His argument was the hardware is now less important than the network. Some information on One Net Book Per Child blog. They wanted somewhere to store things online and so used Google Apps but used an education bit of it. Makes it easy for schools/university to create collaborative areas for people to share documents.

Andy McSwan did an excellent nano presentation on the Cool Wall in his Computing class. This is a stunningly simple idea but a brilliant way to help classes consider aspcts of your subject. Just set up a Cool Wall and the pupils will start scanning the press and the web for examples - enjoying the hunt but learning about the topic in the process.

TeachMeet Borders: Here at last

This may not be fun for you... but attending TeachMeet Borders is fun for me. :-)

Arrived late to TeachMeet Borders to discover that my name was first out the hat... and then as we arrived, it was my name came out again as I walked in the door. I grabbed a sandwich instead and let Ian King show Scratch instead. Some really good stuff from his pupils. He noted that girls, who normally don't react well to programming, seem to take Scratch. He also demoed the Scratch Board - costs about a tenner and allows basic interfacing projects to be programmed. Ian also noted that a sixth year pupil came back from an university open day and said that the two languages used in the Computer Games course were C++ and Scratch.

David Noble was up next and talked about some of the things the pupils in his school were doing with iPhones. Missed most of it while failing to get connected to my blog. Finished by talking about the importance of being trusted with wi-fi access.

Jim Black talked about open source software he uses. Free - so usable by pupils, powerful - so pupils are not disadvantaged, many available as portable apps - so pupils can take what they need to any machine and many multi-platform - so machines at home and school and wherever. He was asked what the IT Services people made of them using Open Source. He replied that he hadn't told them. The point was also made that organisations that restrict themselves to only a few standard applications were losing out.

We then went into a sandwich break where I should have been catching up with some folk... but fiddled to much with technology.

Dougal Hawkshaw talked about his use of Wikis in school. For example, better readers post summaries of the chapters of books the class ws reading. Allowed other children to catch up who were struggling. He has never had any problem with vandalism or bullying. One of the things he added was Voki... but it was blocked by the school!

Lorna and Nicki talked about a project called Girls of Ambition. For example, they set up CC4G - Computet Club For Girls. By focusing on the girs they raised attainment and confidence. One of the highlights is school trips, for example to the Shetlands. The program has had a huge impact on the school and the girls in the programme.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

TwtApps: Daft name? Great idea!

The twtApps site is really interesting. It describes itself as follows:
We develop simple, fun and useful twitter apps. Share them on Twitter, Facebook, email or any other social network. No accounts required.
And I think that sums it up better than anything I could write. I've had a quick play with a few of the tools on offer and I think they all show potential. The first one I tried was Twtvite - not an obvious name perhaps but it is an application that creates invitations to events and then tracks how many people say they intend to attend. Here's one I created earlier:

The next one I tried was twtPoll which lets you create simple, one question surveys. You can embed the question:

And then see the results.

The final application I tried was twtPets. You post a picture of your pet and invite people to vote for it. I posted a picture of Blue but unfortunately, he's not doing too well. :-(

What do you think? Any potential uses in school?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fun on Friday #19: ASCII Art

When I first started learning about computers, ASCII Art (i.e. pictures made up of letters, numbers, punctuation marks, etc.) was the type of computer art you saw in every school computer lab. The technology may have moved on with lifelike CGI appearing everywhere... but I think there is still a certain something about this kind of picture.

323/365: ASCII Colin
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
The illustration here was produced at the Online Poster Maker site which makes it easy to produce giant posters from photographs. All sort of possibilities for schools I would think from wall displays to fund raising. ...Or you could do it just for fun. :-)

A similar site is The Rasterbator which does the same kind of thing but with different sized dots (and different coloured dots too if you want) instead of ASCII charactes.

I hope you have fun playing. If you use either of these sites, post a link to a picture of your creation.

And while we are on ASCII art, what about the world's first music video in a spreadsheet! Yes... a spreadsheet. For reasons best known to themselves, AC/DC's record company have created an ASCII version of their Rock N Roll Train video and released it as a spreadsheet! Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

ICT in Education - A Rant! :-)

I attended a meeting yesterday where a colleague (from a social studies background but with long experience in ICT) described a paper he has submitted to a conference. He admitted himself it was "a bit of a rant". However, I agreed with many of his points and some of his suggestions for a way ahead... and decided to add a bit of my own rant here in my blog.

Sunlit classroom
Originally uploaded by Ben Cooper
The main thrust of his paper was that ICT has been in classrooms since the 1980s. Large sums of money have been invested over a sustained period of time and yet ICT is not really embedded effectively in many (most?) teachers' practice. Clearly, there are examples of good, even excellent, practice - some teachers and pupils are doing exceptionally good stuff. However, the impression is that learning and teaching in many classrooms remains untouched by ICT.

In the discussion that followed, it was acknowledged that Higher Education in general and Teacher Education programmes in particular have to take some responsibility for this. For example, there are academic tutors who never use ICT in their own teaching and the colleague who started the rant noted that he could not remember ever watching a student teach lesson that used any ICT other than a teacher led, Powerpoint introduction.

We raised the problems but were short on solutions. I would suggest here therefore that we need both a top down and bottom up attack to deal with the problems. (And possibly sideways approaches too from pupils, parents and other interested parties!)

Top down: To be fair, a great deal of money has been spent on hardware and software over the years. However, as I've argued before, there should be similarly large sums spent on giving teachers the time, not only to go on training courses, but time to play with the technology too. To explore, investigate and discover. I suspect this is why Interactive Whiteboards are so rarely used interactively - hundreds of thousands of pounds spent putting the hardware in; significantly less giving teachers time to play.

Similarly, the development of the networking infrastructure that allows every school in Scotland (I think) to connect to the Internet, and soon to Glow, is to be commended. The decision to hobble these connections with excessively rigid and over zealous blocking filters is to be condemned. Why put the resource in if you are not going to trust the professional teachers in the schools to use it responsibly? We need to see more boldness from those in authority. It is good therefore to see developments such as those in East Lothian where they unblocked YouTube without causing the downfall of western civilisation and where senior officers lead by example when encouraging the use of tools such as blogs, podcasts and wikis.

Bottom up: Teachers can bring change when they see the benefits and are given the opportunity to use them. Given the ideas and freedom to try, good teachers will make good uses of the technology. For example, this year, at least one student teacher was inspired to try Poll Everywhere with a class after seeing it in action in a tutorial - making his own mobile available to pupils without a phone and to those with no free texts. Another student was inspired after being shown the potential of games and wikis and has now set up a wiki for the classes in her placement school.

Another excellent example of bottom up developments is TeachMeet where teachers get together to share their enthusiasm. They are teacher organised and teacher led. If you can make it to TeachMeet XI on 20 February 2009, I am sure you will be made very welcome and that you will go away inspired.

Rant over. :-) What do you think? Are we overly pessimistic? Do you have other good examples of either top down or bottom up initiatives making a difference?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Fun on Friday #18: Who watches the Watchmen?

I first noticed Alan Moore in the 1980s when he was writing for 2000AD. I remember enjoying Skizz but it was D. R and Quinch that really hooked me in. (Brief aside: I looked up Alan Moore on Wikipedia to make the above hyperlink and discovered that he did comic strips in the Sounds under the name of Curt Vile which I read and enjoyed in the 1970s. It seems I was a fan of Moore even before I knew I was.) I became even more impressed with his work as I read Warrior magazine where he wrote The Bojeffries Saga (a hugely funny and, in my opinion, underrated series), Marvelman (later re-titled Miracleman thanks to a bunch of numpty lawyers from Marvel comics) and V for Vendetta.

What has prompted this trip down comic memory lane is the immanent release of a new film based on his Watchmen story. It has to be said, Moore's work has been badly treated by Hollywood in the past (Exhibit A - The League of extrodinary Gentlemen - brilliant gaphic novel, extraordinarily poor film) but I've heard some positive noises about the Watchmen movie. (Although I've also heard they've changed the ending which is a bit worrying.)

So where's the "fun" in this belated Fun on Friday? (A snigger on Saturday?) It comes from the pre-publicity for the film which I found to be fun. The first I encountered was this YouTube clip:

I like this because there is no direct link to the film - instead it, and associated material, places you in the world of the Watchmen and leaves you to explore from there. They have also created a Flickr account, a New Frontiersman website and a New Frontiersman Twitter account. Of course, they have the usual official movie website too but I thought the presence on social networking sites was fun. What do you think? Interesting use of the read/write web or cynical marketing tat?

Either way, enter the world of the Watchmen and have fun this Friday... er Saturday.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

It's not like the great storm of '63...

I was fascinated by the YouTube video embedded below for a couple of reasons. First, it is just a great bit of documentary film making and it is good to see such brilliant resources being made available, for free, by the British Film Institute on YouTube. (The BFI have their own BFI YouTube Channel.) Second, as I was watching it, I suddenly thought how like a music video it was. The rapid cuts and the way those cuts hit the beat, the juxtaposition of passengers in the buffet car with the workers in the snow, the pace of the film... It would not look out of place on a music video channel. I guess there's nothing new under the sun... or in this case, nothing new under the snow.

Thank you to Theo Kuechel for drawing this to my attention. (He posted the link on Twitter where his Twitter name is theok.)