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Ministry discovers Blender February 22, 2008

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I have just spent the last few days at the Learning @ Schools conference in Rotorua.  This was the first conference that our cluster has attended, it was also the first at which I presented.  It is now official I have been bitten by the presenting bug and wish now that I had submitted several proposals to present, still there is Ulearn later this year.  The conference itself was the usual mix of trade displays, keynotes and breakout sessions.

My presentation was not without its angst ridden moments, not the least because the wireless internet connection to the centre on Wednesday was flakey in the extreme!  It transpires that Rotorua was experiencing connectivity issues and so the wireless within the conference venue was not at fault.  My entire presentation was based around a practical session for the attendees using the Internet, so in the two hours prior to my presentation I desperately cached all my web pages.  I did this to ensure that in the worst case scenario they would at least have something to look at.  As it turned out the Internet connections settled just after we got under way and all was fine  until the dying moments when my machine froze, but we had covered what I wanted to and my audience left very happy.   Now as I have already said, I want more!

On the Tuesday of the conference I had a really good conversation with Douglas Harre from the Ministry.  We talked about our satellite connection at school and how that is working out.  We also talked about my plans for implementing open source software on the supertanker, he seemed to be really interested in our plans.  He explained to me how the agreement with Linux, that the Ministry has brokered, works for schools and as I understand it, the cost to schools will be nil in licencing terms.

Open sources seems to me to be a perfect solution for schools, there is now a perfect opportunity to break away from the stranglehold and rhetoric of the big two,(well very big one and 5% other with a rabid fan base), especially as all operating systems now work on the Intel chip set.  Genuine choice for schools is now here and all this fuss over the look and feel of  expensive plastic casings that come with “free software” or the cheaper plastic bricks with a less than perfect operating system will be relegated to the irrelevant.  I will be experimenting with implementing SUSE Linux on some of our legacy machines in the coming months to see how the older machines cope with Linux or to be more exact see how Linux copes with them.

We already use open source software in school,  Open Office, Inkscape and The Gimp for example.  As part of this exchange Douglas asked me if I had heard of a Blender before.  I was delighted to be able to tell him that I have been using Blender for four years, Blender is a really cool program and one that I have used with children as young as year 5, although it has to be said that they found it difficult!  The software for learning site is trumpeting this new discovery.  If any educator out there needs some tutorials on how to use this really cool open source 3-D animation program, just ask, I am willing to help.  Maybe the Ministry would like me to do this for them?  Any offers?  Any requests?


Well Done Helen! February 14, 2008

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I was leafing through the latest edition of New Zealand Interface magazine today (February ’08 edition) and as usual I found it a mix of really interesting interviews, articles, tips and links. As it happens there is an interview with Chris Carter our Minister for Education who has noticed my efforts on the supertanker, all very gratifying stuff, I certainly got a lot of positive feed back at school for it today, thanks to a global e-mail sent to all staff by Marnie. But this is not the point of this post, as I was leafing through the magazine I saw the ‘Best Blog’ award for this edition has been awarded to Helen Hardie my friend and my co-collaborator in the initiative, as well as many others in 2007 and plenty more in 2008, that Mr Carter was alluding to in his interview.

Helen’s views make interesting reading, I suggest you all go and have a look. Well done again Helen. Your efforts have certainly caught the eye of the editors of Interface and as a result all of New Zealand will no doubt be beating a path to your blog, watch those stats climb!


Every Class Should Have At Least One February 8, 2008

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I have long advocated that every class should have a Lego robotics kit in it, be it the RCX blocks or the new NXT. I have used these robotics tools in my classes in England to great success and again last year in my G+T classes here in New Zealand. Some of the problems my students have solved have included designing a program to enable a robotic vehicle to negotiate a supermarket car park, get pairs of robots to dance in time with each other and the music they are grooving to, solve environmental issues such as collecting rubbish and sorting and opening and closing doors on command.

The ‘programmable bricks’ seem to me to be the perfect inquiry learning tool; students can postulate a question, research some potential outcomes, develop a theory, test the theory, evaluate the results, refine the initial theory, re-feed their evaluation into the cycle until a satisfactory answer falls out. And all this without an exercise book not only that the students are highly motivated to solve the problem of their own design.

Gary S. Stager has done some wonderful stuff with disaffected students, students at risk and youth offenders with this educational tool. His students have produced some truly amazing machines; the ones that come to mind are the fax machine and the log sorter. His site provides some excellent starter points, however, your students will find this tool so motivational you will not find it difficult to come up with ideas. On the contrary, often it is necessary to reign in the enthusiasm!

I think that not only is this tool a perfect inquiry tool that is an essential tool for every classroom, it also has the potential to create community links. Later this year I will be working with my students and the robotics kits again and this time they will be making a simple robot, no skills there, they can even follow the manual to do this. The variation will be that this time I will want them to create a program that will draw a sketch using three colours using board markers, what they draw and how they solve this is entirely up to them. I am intending to make this a collaborative project with other schools. Helen in Plymouth wants in and has just purchased her first NXT kit. Anyone else interested? We can mail our programmes to each other for evaluation and enhancement, we could even split the colour elements of the programmes up, now that really would be collaboration to ensure success! Of course we will be filming the robots creating the final art work and posting it to You Tube… Watch this space.

As you watch this video try to imagine if this had happened in your class, you can almost hear the questioning the probing of ideas, the set backs, the triumphs and most importantly the immense satisfaction of ownership on behalf of the students. Check out the video…

New Year, New Momentum February 7, 2008

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The summer is far from over, but the shore leave has ended, the crew are back on board and the supertanker is sailing again.  Conditions on board are hot and the incessant throb we hear is not  emanating from the engines, rather it is our brains  getting back into gear once again!

I have resisted posting throughout the summer, the lure of inducing melanoma was stronger than the desire to irradiate myself in front of my monitor!  Either way the doctors win!  Refreshed, revitalised and raring to go 2008 starts.

So what does 2008 hold in store for the crew on the supertanker?   As ever my brain fizzes with ideas, plans and experimentation.  2008 marks the start of our cluster and as one of the facilitators it promises to be a learning and workload roller coaster that I am really looking forward to.  Pam Hook is one of our facilitators too and has just posted this post that wrestles with some of the sustainability issues that we in our cluster will have to grapple with in the coming years.  I am still cogitating over what Pam says to make any comment either here or on her blog, suffice it to say that you should all read it too.

Some of the projects, ideas and experimentation that I wish to dive headlong into this year are:

  • Developing a TV studio on the cheap
  • Facilitate the ICT skills integration/learning for our cluster SustainED Maungarei Kaitiakitanga
  • Enhance ICTtv as a resource for teachers and students – let me know if you have any requests
  • Stream  live footage of the flora and fauna of our gully
  • Presenting at conferences – this will be a new departure for me, one that I have wanted to do for a long time, but have never found the ‘in.’  I will be breaking my duck at the learning@school conference in Rotorua later this month.  I am presenting at breakout 3.  So come along if you are interested in setting up a blog for your class.  Trouble is if you are a blogger, you are already doing this… I could be preaching to the converted, or an empty room!
  • Further enhancing my collaboration with Helen Hardie at Woodford Junior Schools in Plymouth.  Our blog and our collaborative community of learners has been well received by OfStEd in the UK.
  • Helen and I have put a proposal together present our work at a conference, but have yet to hear if we have been successful, I will know March 9th
  • Continue to route out all those really cool web2.0 utilities that are out there and integrate them into blogs and classroom pedagogy
  • Continue to champion the cause of open source software – Did you know that for $9.95 Dick Smith Electronics are now selling DVDs of all the variants of the Linux operating system for all the variants of legacy and new machines that you have.  Imagine that, licensing your school for a tenner?  I have my pet theories about learning, ICT and the Internet (to be discussed later)

I had better stop there, this is starting to look like a list of targets…  Needless to say there will be more ideas that occur to me throughout the year and indeed I have pointed out to me.

2oo8?  Bring it on!

Where will the supertanker be heading by December?  Predictions anyone?