Saturday, September 30, 2006

Photos the Easy Way on Blogger

Another example of me being under rock while I figured out my life in Singapore -- I hadn't heard that Blogger changed their photo options. Now you can upload photos from your computer; you no longer need to pull them from an online location, such as a Flickr account. Possibly this option was available a long time ago for Windows, but last winter I didn't see it when uploading photos from my Mac.

When you upload them, it lets you set the alignment (left, centered, or right aligned). I had struggled to get the alignment right when I'd upload photos from Flickr.

Here's a photo I took with my camera phone on the way to work. I remember in Minnesota when I'd go into a flower shop to buy flowers to make an arrangement, flowers such as this were too dear for my budget. Here they grow everywhere. Notice the snail making a breakfast of the flower; I hadn't seen one so far out of its shell before.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New Look; Same Blog

Yep. It was time to change my blog's template. The old shade of green was making me wince each time I saw it. Not sure if this one is my final choice either. It will do for tonight.

I wonder if the color even matters anymore... does anyone actually visit blogs these days or is everyone using an RSS reader of some sort? That's a question to ponder another night, as well.

Teaching Hacks for Teachers and Tech Coordinators

I've been researching wiki platforms (again) and in the process, I rediscovered a really great resource for teachers and tech coordinators. It is a wiki titled Teaching Hacks. I think I must have visited it before because I discovered it in my own set of bookmarks -- nice to see that I find such good resources :D

In any case, it has become a most impressive resource. The page with information about wikis in education is well organized and stuffed full of useful information. Here is a partial list of it's contents.
  1. What is a Wiki?
  2. Quick Ideas Around Classroom Uses of Wikis.
  3. Pedagogy
  4. Software (hosted wikis, server-side wikis, desktop wikis)
  5. Practical Advice for Classroom Use (including model collaboration, assigning roles, assigning tasks, looking at contributions, recording accomplishments, using the style guide)
The actual list is much longer than this, so check it out yourself. That last item I listed really has my attention. As I read through it, I got a bunch of practical ideas for how to make wikis work in my curriculum. These aren't project ideas; they are process ideas. That information always feels like a set of power tools when I am lucky enough to find it. It jump starts me into a successful project.

And here is a list of the entire wiki's main contents. (Note: I pasted it here. Clicking on any link will take you to the actual wiki's table of contents where you make find and click any of these individual links for real.) Enjoy!

K-12 Educators Guide To Web 2.0
Weblogs in Education Alpha Stage
Social Bookmarking Tools in Education Ideas Stage
Folksonomy and Tagging Ideas Stage
Wiki: Collaborative Editing in Education Beta Stage
RSS Ideas in Education Beta Stage
Creative Commons Ideas Stage
Instant Messaging Ideas Stage
Geocaching for Educators
Information Literacy Ideas Stage
Photo Sharing in Education Ideas Stage
Video Sharing in Education Ideas Stage
Google Earth 101 for Educators
Cyberbullying 101 for Educators
Ideas for Repurposing Online Tools Ideas Stage

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Blogging Webquest

Anne Davis, one of my original inspirations to start blogging with kids, has created a great blogging webquest for students. She used Bernie Dodge's Quest Garden to create it. She uses a read, pair, share strategy as the process. In her evaluation section, she even has a 6Trait Blogging rubric. It's a great tool and I am eager to use it with children.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Few Tips for Getting Started With New Technologies

I'm enjoying Kim Cofino's blog. She's been reading Will's book and she's diving into using new, collaborative technologies with students.

Today she blogs about being overwhelmed. At the moment, she seems to be faced with insurmountable options; there are so many good things to try, what should she try next?

Her post got me thinking about a few lessons I've learned as a technology specialist. As I typed them as a comment into her blog, I decided to also post them here.

I don't know that it so much matters where you start. Just keep these things in mind...

  1. It takes three years to get most new ventures really solid. The second year is better, but the third year is golden. Multiply this by 3 if you are trying to move an entire school in a new direction instead of just yourself. (And so, be patient with yourself.)
  2. Start small so that you don't have to fix each mistake 32 times (as in, for each of your 32 classes.
  3. Keep it simple until the kids make it complex. I've seen too many tech projects on which the teachers did most of the learning (and most of the work) because the project was too big and too complex for the students. The final product looked great because the teacher did good work. On the flip side, I've seen great things happen when a few students ran with an idea. They showed up before school, after school, during recess because they were caught up in what they were doing. I don't make them keep it simple :)
  4. Start with one really enthusiastic teacher. Again and again, I've found that one excited classroom teacher who had a good success with a new technology has far more power to get other teachers on board than you will ever have as the tech specialist.
  5. If possible, keep on adding things in for your pilot class. What I find is that once they have an understanding of blogging, adding wikis or Moodle or something else doesn't take as much start up time. I found that each new thing I added (within reason) required less start up time than the one before it. It doesn't sound equitable, but remember that this is a pilot and that you'll be using what you learn to involve more classes at a later time.
  6. There isn't time to fully document what you are doing. The two most important things to try to write down are your sequence (e.g. week 1 we showed the kids the blogs, set up the accounts and got everyone logged in), and to keep a notebook that is just a list of what to change for next year. It doesn't need to be pretty or organized. It just needs to be ONE place to track all those Ahas! of how you should do it differently next time. -- And DON'T wait to do it all at the end of the unit. You will have forgotten half of it, and you'll be too busy gearing up for the next unit to write.

There. None of these are earth-shattering. All of them have been said better by someone before. Now they are here. I hope they help someone.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Back to Flock

I was using Flock as my main browser for many months. Then a month or two ago, it developed a bad habit. When I was surfing, it kept popping up a window related to, asking for my login name and password. It was doing this on all sorts of sites, even some sites that don't require a user name and password. Not only would it ask for that information, but it was slow to ask for it and then would complain via other pop up windows when I wouldn't give it the information. It was making the browser unusable.

I wracked my brain...

Am I running an old version of Flock? Nope.
Is this a virus on my iBook? If it was, it was Flock-specific.
Is this some extension gone bad? I kept looking in my list of Flock extensions trying to figure out what could be causing it. Being in a new country and working in a new job, I didn't have time to keep dealing with it, so I switched back to Firefox.

Before switching I submitted a bug report to Flock. To my amazed delight, I received a very informative letter in response to that report. One bit of information was especially helpful. It mentioned that was making some changes on its end. That gave me hope that it wasn't really a Flock problem, but just something related to some extension that was using

Today, while trying to fix my RSS feed problems, I opened Flock again. As usual, the pop up windows began demanding information. I gritted my teeth, opened up the extensions list, and deleted all but my most trusted extensions. I restarted the application and for the first time in months, was NOT greeted with a pop up window. Were I a good scientist, I would have deleted the extensions one at a time to identify the culprit. Instead, I'm a harried tech coordinator who is delighted to have this item checked off my to-do list.

To celebrate, I'm drafting this blog entry using the Flock blogging tools. It feels good to be using this rich tool again.

[P.S. In the end, I couldn't get it to publish via Flock and had to cut it and paste it directly into Blogger. I guess all problems aren't solved. ]

Elusive RSS

When I first started aggregating blog feeds to make it easier to keep up with my favorite blogs, I often had trouble finding the correct subscription address.  This was complicated by Pluck.  I was using an early version of it and when I would click on a link to someone's RSS feed, Pluck would feel obliged to launch and complicate matters, since I didn't want to store the feed in Pluck.

Over time, as Pluck matured and became a stable tool, I came to rely on it to help me find elusive RSS feeds.  I would then copy the address into my NetNewsWire Lite.  This has worked well for the past year. 

Now I am having troubles again.  Numerous times in the past week I've wanted to subscribe to the feeds on new blogs, but haven't been able to get the real feed URL.  The one that Pluck gives me doesn't work in NetNewsWIre.  I tried using the Live Bookmark feature in Firefox instead, but that was no better. I tried finding it using Flock, a web browser designed to play nicely with social web technologies, but that isn't working either. 

I thought it might be a problem with NetNewsWire Lite.  In the forums I see people are having trouble with the latest version- it isn't always updating feeds.  However, I  see no mention of my particular problem, and my feeds seem to be refreshing just fine.

I'm wondering if some of the problem is arising from new bloggers using templates with built in feed links.  It may be that they haven't activated the RSS feed feature.  I'm especially having trouble with Edublogger blog feeds, which would make sense as new teachers, not familiar with RSS, make their first attempts at blogging.

Is anyone else having this problem lately?  Anyone found a solution? I'd love to hear about it.

technorati tags:,

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Geography Alert: Minnesota Suddenly Moves Closer to Singapore!

One of the most difficult aspects of living in Singapore is being so far from my family and friends back home.

One solution has been using instant messaging and VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocal) programs such as iChat or the free Skype program. I also put money into a Skype Out account so that I could use my computer to call people's telephones. To get a Skype Out account, I just followed the link within Skype. I used a credit card to purchase ten euros worth of talk time. I'm paying USD $0.02 cents per minute when I call the USA. [NOTE: Skype Out is free until the end of 2006 for making calls from computers in the USA to telephones within the USA.]

Sound quality with Skype Out is better than it was with many of the calling cards I used to purchase in Malaysia. It helps that Kent purchased an Altec Lansing headphone/ microphone combination. It plugs into a USB port and greatly improves the sound. Without a headphone, the microphone would pick up the other person's end of the conversation that was playing through the speakers. This caused annoying echoes.

When I first arrived in Singapore, I discovered that my iBook G4 didn't play nicely with Skype when running on battery. It would work fine for a few minutes, but then the person I was talking to would suddenly not be able to hear me at all. I could hear them, but nothing, including hanging up and calling them again, would restore the sound for them. Kent didn't experience this problem on his Powerbook.

Recently, Skype became even better. There is a beta version out that allows people using Macs to video chat. Although it is a beta, we have found it to be stable and easy to use. The video capabilities have been available in the Windows version of Skype for a while, so it's good to see it finally available for the Mac.

In the past week, my life took a good turn. Since moving to Singapore, I had not had much contact with my parents. I did not yet have a telephone in my home, and my parents had virus-plagued, old Windows computers so they were not able to get onto the internet at home. Tired of this situation, I bit the bullet and purchased a refurbished iMac for my parents. A great friend back home configured it and spent a few hours helping them make it play nicely with their Comcast account. This is their first foray into broadband. This is also their first Mac.

The day she brought them the computer, I received a photo they snapped of themselves using the built-in iSight camera. I am now receiving regular emails from them, and they are having fun exploring the iapps such as iTunes.

The best part came two days ago. I had the pleasure of opening Skype and seeing that my parents were online. I called their computer and within moments, I could see them and they could see me. I was able to turn my camera around so they could see my apartment and watch the cats scampering past. I could see them sitting at the desk in my childhood home. All of sudden, Minnesota feels much closer to Singapore.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

USB Printer + Airport Express + Rendezvous = Wireless Printing

Did you know that if you plug a regular old USB printer into the USB port on an Airport Express base station, it will show up on your home network? You need to turn on Rendezvous, which is built into the Mac OS. As soon as you do that, voilá! The printer shows up in your printer control panel and everyone on your wireless network can access it.

We hadn't know this would work, but I noticed the USB port on the base station and had a chat with a friendly technician at the Apple Store on Orchard Road. He confirmed my suspicions and we were able to buy a Canon Pixma IP4200 instead of purchasing the more expensive wireless model or passing the printer cable back and forth when we need to print. Gotta like that!

Steep Learning Curve

Today I was amazed to realize that almost a month had passed since my previous post. I could have sworn I posted just last week. However, that is typical here. Each day rushes by and before I know it, another week has passed

As you would expect, my to-do list continues to grow each day despite my own increases in productivity. My new job is a fascinating mix of roles. Within my division, I am the web master, the first stop for all tech problems, head of technology-related professional development (especially in the form of just-in-time, one-on-one instruction). I am expected to provide vision, balancing he wishes of teachers, students, and administrators, with the need to keep the network stable and feasible to maintain. I am in charge of the tech budget and the tech inventory. I am the liaison between my division and the school's tech department and other technology divisions. The list goes on and on. In addition to my coordinator duties, I teacher 15 student classes per week.

I am loving it, but dearly wishing that I were not new. I think that in the past, this position has most often been recruited from within. Since I am new, I have had to get up to speed while also getting settled in a new country and learning the structures and procedures in a new school.

On top of that, this is my first tech job in a Windows environment. It has been humbling to go back to step one. Now I am the person watching in awe as my tech colleagues zip through short cuts while I plodding search menus for needed commands. It has been good-- helps me relate better to the teachers who are not comfortable with technology.

I love all the learning I am doing. With the help of an excellent team of assistants, teachers, technicians, web masters and engineers I am now proficient at using the Active Directory to manage user accounts. I've started receiving email copies of all the work requests, so I'm getting a handle on the range of tech problems in my division and how they were resolved. Our web site permissions problems are resolved and I am easily helping teachers with their sites and getting better at updating our division's site. I am starting to get up to speed with our SmartBoards-- we have six as a pilot program. Finally, I'm learning the quirks of students using Windows so I recognize what they probably did to cause a problem, giving me a clue how to resolve it.

All this learning, along with my own teaching, planning, meetings and such leaves me feeling chronically behind. The need to get settled in our home keeps me from working as late into each night as I would wish. I vascillate between relishing the progress I have made, and quailing at how far I have yet to go before I'm good at this job.

However, all things considered, we are pleased we made this move. This is an excellent school and we are both growing personally and professionally. We are loving Singapore. Who could ask for anything more?

Lessons Learned about Clickers

Clickers, wireless presentation remotes - call them what you will, we unexpectedly gathered the following data when we borrowed 20 of them so that all our teachers could use their new data projectors on Back to School Night. You probably won't ever use the exact same ones we had, but I suspect there are universal clicker truths to be gleaned...

  1. If the clicker isn't working try the following...
    1. Check the batteries (many of ours didn't have batteries installed)
    2. Check for an on/off switch
    3. Check the receiver. The clicker is wireless so it needs a receiver- this is usually a small USB device or a larger USB device. You need to plug it in before the clicker will work.

  2. If the clicker is working erratically...
    1. Unplug and then replug the receiver
    2. Click the "connect" buttons on the clicker and the receiver
    3. Put in fresh batteries
    4. Check for hidden force fields between you and the computer, such as things with motors or high voltage in the ceiling or floor or wall

  3. If the clicker's forward and back buttons aren't working correctly...
    1. Try other buttons. I think the clickers we borrowed were programmable but hadn't been programmed, so on some of ours the buttons worked fine, on others, you had to push the pause or some other button to advance the slide show

  4. If your clicker also has a little trackball that enables you to use it like a mouse...
    1. STAY away from the trackball during your presentation -- it might just open up other applications or do other things you aren't expecting.

  5. And of course, anyone using a clicker needs to be prepared for Plan B: ask a parent to sit at your computer and push the forward key.
Our teachers, being consummate professionals, all tested their clickers before hand so we were able to learn and pass on this information prior to their parent meetings. I hope this information saves others some frustration-- or at least gives them a laugh as they envision 30+ teachers discovering these "truths".