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Half time match report July 31, 2008

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Image source: http://www.hydrolance.net/common/OceanBowPlow.jpg

Here we are in the second week of term 3 on the Supertanker, the year is already well past the halfway point and I have had some time for reflection.  The first two terms were stress on legs for me, there was Prague to prepare for and then there were the technical issues of the network, I have said before that we have had  a run of technical bumps with network performance.  The nett result has been that terms one and two could be described as a PR disaster in terms of ICT.  The upside of that is that we now have a more robust network and normality has been resumed, now I can go on a charm offensive to win back the hearts and minds of the waiverers on the Supertanker.

Yesterday I spent my first day on the Supertanker wearing my facilitator hat.  It was my role to work with teachers on rotation throughout the day helping them with ideas, solutions and giving some helpful suggestions to further integrate their ICT ideas into their planning and therefore their pedagogy.  To my delight, I left the Supertanker last night with a very healthy and positive view of the ICT within. I spent the day with 16 teachers, just over 50% of the staff.  It seems that despite the technical bumps the staff have been quietly getting on with it, this is fantastic news.  True the initiatives I worked on yesterday represent exactly where on the integration continuum the staff are.  There are some staff just making tentative forays into integration and the ICT skills and activites and their ambitions reflect this.  However,  there are staff doing some really ambitious and really challenging activities at the other end of the spectrum and the remaining staff are occupying all the shades between the two extremes.  Some of these activities will really be enhancing the conditions of learning of their students and I am looking forward to seeing the end products.  I think that it is fair to say that the Supertanker has made a further bearing change even in a choppy and disturbed sea.

Some of the programmes and utilities that the staff are currently using in their class programmes are: blogging, wikis, Photostory, digital cameras, Inkscape, The Gimp, Google Earth, Google Sketchup, Mogulus, Movie Maker, video cameras, Voicethread, Podomatic, Bubbleshare, Mindstorms and so on.  There is a good spread and the staff are very positive about their own progress and not a PowerPoint in site! Great news indeed!

We are on a new bearing of 230 degrees and are at full steam ahead!

Oodesk – virtual desktop anytime anyplace July 29, 2008

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I have just found and am experimenting with another really cool online tool.  It is an online virtual desktop that has all the utilities that you would expect on your desktop only it is entirely online and therefore accessible from any Internet connected device.  The screen shot above is my online desktop.  It is a place where I can upload files, programmes, images, video and music.  In addition it has its own mail client, its own document writer, a presentation creator, a spreadsheet program and a plethora of other utilities that you can add to customise your desktop.  It has Google and RSS feeds embedded the list goes on. You can change the theme and background and it has a start button type browsing toolbar.

I mentioned a few posts ago that pretty soon we will only need Internet connectivity to access all of our files, this utility is the start of that trend.  Soon the Internet will be THE application to have and all that will matter is the speed with which you can access the Internet.  I am about to see how the desktop looks on my phone and on my PDA.

I can hear some of you saying so what?  If I have a laptop then I am good to go.  Well this is true, but I have so many different accounts and machines and as a facilitator different venues to work at, that I can often find that I only have access to 90% of the resources that I wish to get to.  This utility is providing the start of my quest to create an entirely online presence, the plastic boxes that we sit are rapidly becoming dumb terminals, what goes around comes around.

I am going to test this more over the coming days and weeks and will post my findings.  I will want to test document compatibility, storage capacity and speed of access once files have been uploaded.  From what I have seen so far, it is looking like it will be really worth while uploading and experimenting with this.

You can check out and sign up for your own virtual desktop by clicking here: http://oodesk.com

Sharing our Eden July 28, 2008

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I had one of the guys from Connector Systems come aboard the Supertanker today to make a site survey for a WiFi project I have had on the back burner ever since I arrived. For those of you who are not quite sure where the Supertanker is, I suggest that you take a look at a little video that I made well over a year ago, called ‘Where in the world is Meadowbank School?‘ To date nearly 9000 people have asked that same question and have used the video to find out.  The most obvious and special part of the school is the stupendous gully that bisects our site and the entire school into two separate sites.  It has been an environmental reclamation scheme over the last 8 years or so and today it is a wonderful resource that the students and teachers use regularly.  A connecting foot bridge spans the gully at canopy level and provides great views into the bush clad gully.  It is a special place indeed.

When I joined the Supertanker I decided then and there that this resource was too special not to share.  I have been slowly inching my way to that goal ever since.  It is my aim to set up wireless access points in the gully so that I can have several cameras set up to stream live content to the web in order that others can benefit from our good fortune.  At the moment I want to set up an ‘eelcam’ in the creek, a ‘fungi cam’ by the rotting logs in addition to that I want to set up feed stations with a camera at each so that students can monitor how and what different native birds eat.  Steve at Connector Systems now knows that we have a large technical issue to solve.  He has gone away scratching his head, to get what we want will not be cheap and will take several iterations to afford and roll out.

Once the infrastructure is in place I will be using a resource called Mogulus to capture and record the streamed video, so that even when we are offline or at night, others in other time zones will be able to see and share our resource. This is all mangaged by the multiple camera facility and the ability to record live streams and build storyboards within Mogulus. Mogulus is a really cool resource that I will be presenting on at Ulearn08, I have just discovered today.

In the meantime we have to rely on static images to share the flora and fauna of our urban Eden.  Currently one of the ornamental cherry trees is in flower and the Tui’s have gone mad over it.  It is not unusual for 10 or  more of these birds to be feasting and squabbling in the same tree.  Take a look at some of the images that I took a couple of weekends ago and imagine what a live feed of the same thing would mean to your class.  All donations to the cause gratefully accepted!

[bubbleshare 429536.d0a80b7c83c]

Robotics – Lego Mindstorms July 25, 2008

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I have been working with my Robotics team for a few weeks now.  I love Lego Mindstorms and am of the opinion that every class should have one box.  They are such a wonderful tool for getting students to think and problem solve. 

The challenge this year that I have set for the students is to get a robot to draw.  The challenges so far have been these.

  1. Build a robot by copying a design from the manual ( I have stressed to them that it is not a building exercise but a programming exercise.)
  2. Design and build an arm to hold a whiteboard marker
  3. Ensure that the arm can be lifted off and be placed back onto the writing surface with the use of a motor
  4. Ensure that the robot and pen holding arm can draw a circle (easy programming)
  5. Ensure that the robot and pen holding arm can draw a square (harder programming)

Most of the groups this week have hit the programming wall of creating a sequence of moves to make square.  One set have created a lovely pentagon another a triangle.  One group has managed to rip up the paper as the robot writes (they have an additional wheel, that serves no real purpose and they have yet to evaluate that element of their design, as they continually chew through paper they will make that conceptual link!)  One group has just got the to the programming stage and one is still in the design and build stage.  Finally one group has discovered the ‘repeat’ function and has made a square.

Now that they can create arcs, lift and place the pen and draw angled turns, they are now free to program their robots to draw something.  One group is going to make a stick figure, I am really looking forward to that.  I had envisioned a choreographed dance of five robots each with their own pen colour all collaboratively working on one element of an overall drawing.  We will see if the students have the same vision.

One thing is for sure, the 90 minutes ends for teacher and students alike, we do not know where the time has gone and lament that we have to wait another week for the next session.  These students are really motivated to work through these problems.  We celebrate being stuck each week and relish the pit of despair as they have to think and problem solve their way out of the quagmire in order to solve the problem and move on.  As I say every class should have a set at the back of the room.

[bubbleshare 428181.02b4b11a195]

Limping along in the Internet’s slow lane. July 22, 2008

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image source: http://www.gobcn.ca/uploads/sH/9Y/sH9YyXtgT0_pDVnysHuJgg/Fiber-optic.jpg

During the term 1 holidays I was asked to be part of a Broadband meeting.  The great and the good, well the educators and business people who were invited, were asked their views of and the needs for the Internet infrastructure of New Zealand.  It was a very interesting meeting.  One of the business representatives there bemoaned the fact that upgrades in infrastructure always means that the user pays for the infrastructure and the increased tariffs of the new service.  He argued that the Telco’s who get a 20-40 year return on their investments should wear the infrastructure costs up front and recoup their costs on a user pays basis, rather like a toll bridge over the intervening years.  I have to say that I agree with that argument.  As the evening progressed I began to reflect upon the need for speed on the Supertanker.

Ours is a ratio of too many machines trying to do more with the Internet with a dreadful connection.  We have an ‘advertised’ service of 512kbps but only get 375kbps in reality, this is painfully slow.  I have gone over this before but feel that it is worth covering again.  When you divide 512kbps by the 183 machines that have the ability to access the Internet at school you soon see that the equal division of the Internet pie equates to 2.79kbps per machine, painfully slow!  In effect dead.  That manifests itself as frustration with the teachers who are trying to integrate this resource into their classroom pedagogy, but don’t trust the service and see no prospect of immediate improvement.  I know that not every machine is on-line all day all the time, but now that we have Mathletics in every classroom you can bet that every class that does numeracy will be using this service every day, so we do have real issues.  We want to use a service that we have paid for, but the infrastructure we use can not deliver the service we wish to use.  It is only getting worse, we purchase more machines each year and our expectations of what we can get out of the Internet increases.  The speed does not.

The proposed ‘cabinetisation’ of our local roadside cabinet is scheduled for late 2009, I will start holding my breath in 2010!  When this  service is implemented, we can look forward to Internet connectivity speeds of 2mbps and  an eight fold increase in speed.  This will be a good thing right?  Well no not really.  I have just come back from Europe and apart from free wifi access in most cafe’s and bars in Prague, a loss leader to get you to come and sit down.  The school Internet connection at Woodford School was 10mbps.  The UK has invested heavily in their network and schools are benefiting.  I have just read the following article about BT’s proposed investment plans to roll out fibre to 10 000 000 UK homes by 2012 giving them potential speeds of 50-60mbps.  I would dearly love a slice of that pie for school.

Is it right that our students should be limping along in the slow lane of the internet?  New Zealand needs to start seeing itself as an integral node of the Internet, not some piece of  furry cheese forgotten at the back of the Internet larder.  The Internet will increasingly offer richer content and a wider range of services to those who have the speed to access them.  Until our national and international infrastructure can deliver an equivalent level of access, we will continue to be pin mould on the cheddar!  We will be languishing in the dial up internet world of the first iteration of the web looking enviously over the fence at the users of the third or even fourth iteration of the web.

I for one am looking forward to the day when I can distribute my data storage to a service on the Internet.  I am looking forward to being able to use in a real and practical sense online programmes like Google Docs so that my TCO for server maintenance will drop.  This remains a distant fantasy whilst my connection to the largest and ever expanding information repostitory on the planet remains stubbornly fixed at 512kbps!

Virtual Music Teacher July 22, 2008

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Sandi has taken the plunge and has set herself up as a virtual piano teacher, she is initially doing this via Skype.  She has set up a blog and is raring to go.  I have been trying to set up a teaching session with her so that I can teach her how to manage her blog, not that she needs it, it is just that I want to test some new software that I have found that does the work of Elluminate, but for free!  More on this later.

Well done Sandi, hope that it goes well.  I know that Sandi is hoping to be able to teach piano lessons in New Zealand from her home in New York.  Anyone interested in giving it a try?  You can find her blog here, I am sure that she would welcome the opportunity to iron out the wrinkles with some New Zealand teachers.  More to the point anyone else willing to add their name to the dial an expert initiative and share their expertise in certain areas beyond the four walls of the box they call class!

http://sfrac.wordpress.com

Sketchup/Google Earth July 14, 2008

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This is a view in Google Earth of my home and Mount Wellington in the background.  I built the model in Sketchup, a really easy process.  I worked off of the plans that I have, however a measuring tape would have done just as well!  Once the model was completed I opened up Google Earth and found my home’s location then imported that location into Sketchup, toggled the terrain to ‘on’ and then oriented the model onto the terrain.  Now whenever I open Google Earth my 3-D model will be there, better still I have now shared this model by uploading it to the Google Earth 3-D warehouse for anyone to download if they so desire.  Even better than that is the fact that after scrutiny, the model, if successful will become part of Google Earth’s 3-D buildings layer and will be visible to all who use Google Earth.  You can locate  the model in the 3-D warehouse by using the search term ‘Glendowie House.”

As I said in an earlier post, this whole process would be a good project for schools to take on.  By breaking down their school into individual buildings, groups of students could be responsible for measuring and building to scale in Sketchup their school buildings.  Once completed they could then be compiled into a collection of buildings on their own Google Earth programme, or indeed share for others to view and fly around in 3-D using Google Earth.

Anyone interested in joining the project?  A great measurement exercise for a long term maths project…  I will be getting students on the Supertanker to embark on this process in the coming weeks and months, I just need a donor class to pick up this particular baton…  If you do build a model of your school and share it in Google Earth, please let me know so that I can share this information with others.

Google Earth 4.3 update July 11, 2008

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I have been playing around with Google Earth again and have created a rough fly through of the type that I mentioned in the previous post. I decided to apply terrain to Milford Sound and then fly through that environment. For most of us a school trip to Milford Sound is not an option, but Google Earth lets us create a virtual fly through. The video I have created moves through the environment at an altitude of 1.5 km, I did do the fly through at an altitude of 300m, but controlling the path is a little tricky, however, you will get the idea. I made two passes, one of them is from the Tasman Sea back into the sound the other is the opposite. As you fly through you get a sense of scale for the region and not only that on one of the videos you can identify glacial features like hanging valleys etc.

These kinds of resources whilst never replacing the benefit of actually going to such places, will allow a teacher to create a greater sense of the environment, features and scale of the location to be studied. Simple to create, powerful imagery and re-usable. Worth the effort I believe. Helen, if you read this, this is an interim solution to that presentation we saw in Prague! Where shall we share?

Google Earth 4.3 July 10, 2008

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I have been giving some thought recently on how to use Google Earth in the classroom. I have come up with an idea that could be applied to many different situations. It kind of follows on from my Amazing Journeys initiative. Why not I reasoned, use Google Earth to record the amazing journey? Now those of you who have yet to strap a camera to your bike, car or head can create your journey to work from the comfort of your computer screen!

The latest version of Google Earth (4.3) has some new cool features, principal amongst these is the fact that the terrain is now bumpy, so that you can create virtual tours of physical features in simulated 3D. What the developers have done is to overlay the 2D satellite image onto a 3D mesh. I made some very convincing fly pasts and fly-arounds of some of the volcanoes in the Auckland caldera yesterday; a potentially very useful tool for the classroom, especially when recorded and saved offline for future use and band width preservation! Imagine doing the same with Ruapehu, or some other such feature that is otherwise difficult to get to or impractical to organise. The fly pasts come into their own when used in conjunction with the angle of view tool. I can see a video tutorial coming up…

In addition, I could also see applications for incorporating Google Sketch Up projects. I did a fly around of our school and it was kind of cool, but flat, however if you fly into the centre of most cities some individuals have gone to the effort of creating and sharing 3D models made in Sketch Up of their building. I think that individual classes could take on the project of creating their own block or class and adding the resultant 3D models to Google and adding to the 3D virtual world that Google Earth is encouraging and enabling its users to create. There are plenty of tutorials out there on how to use Sketch Up and crucially, how to apply photos to the surfaces to paint the buildings with images in the same way that the satellite images of Google Earth have been painted onto the bumpy terrain of Google Earth 4.3.

The video below is a chronology of locations that I have lived in, using Google Earth and Placemarks to create the video. I reasoned that this task could be applied to many different situations and curriculum areas. It could be applied to places of work, to schools attended, even to historical events, especially when combined with Panoramio. Google Earth is rapidly becoming an indespensible tool in my armoury.

The quality of this video is low, but the original full screen version shows all the details, but you will get the idea…

Flying the A380 July 7, 2008

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There is no getting round the fact that the A380 is an ugly spud of a plane. Its full length, two deck height make the plane look dumpy when viewed side on, however, rather like the early 747’s that were transformed into the stretched Mega Top version, the A380 will shed its dumpy looks when it is upgraded to a stretch version. Inside is a different matter.

There is no glamour in international jet travel, that is unless you travel business or first class. For us mere mortals who travel coach, international air travel is simply point to point travel, a bus with wings, an endurance test. I am pleased to say however that the A380, for the plebian traveller has injected a little of that glamour. The key to this is space. Apart from being a massive cabin, everything about the traveling experience on the A380 is just bigger and with more space the individual can relax. It all starts with the cavernous overhead bins. I was on the main deck, which I was disappointed to discover is the ground floor on the A380, I have always wanted to go up the stairs on the 747’s as you enter the plane, a tantalising hint of the glamour and luxury that is first class travel…

No matter, the next revelation for the standard class passenger is the size of the seats and the increased distance between your neighbours, in short there is plenty of elbow room and leg room. Pitch is the measure by which airlines measure how much leg room each passenger has, on the A380 I had a full hand length from my knee to the chair in front, my hand is approximately 20cm from wrist to finger tip, I was certainly not cramped for room even when the chair in front was reclined. There is also space between your seat and that of your neighbour, the gap is about 5cm but in addition your individual seat is wider too, this combination means that I had no elbow battles on the armrest with my neighbour!

Then there are the toys! The screen embedded into the seat in front of you is quite simply huge, I could not accurately measure it, but the diagonal measure was just longer than the span of my hand. In the end of each armrest is an international 110-240v adapter so that you can plug your laptop into a power point, no matter what plug you wish to insert. With the extra room working on your laptop is much easier than on any other plane I have been on. In addition, in the seat back there is a LAN port, USB port and a Video DIN port. Singapore airlines have made their multimedia controller into a full qwerty keypad too, with their own software bundled into the KrisWorld entertainment package. This means that even if you only bring your USB stick onto the plane you can work on your documents, pdf files, spreadsheets or presentations whilst traveling; your work appearing on the huge screen in front of you.

To quote the Mitre 10 guy, ‘Big is good!’ With more space, the battery hen feeling that you get on other planes is diminished, even removed on the A380. More personal space, big screens and an exceptionally quiet cabin make the traveling time just evaporate. The 13 hour flight to Singapore was not an endurance test, it was a pleasure. Who said that there was no glamour in international jet travel?

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