Monday, December 31, 2007

Classroom Computing Hardware & Software

2:1 Classroom Computing with leveraged, network computers demands easy-to-maintain, easy-to-manage systems. Furthermore, since many software programs run only under Windows; systems that run Windows should be sought. Note that this may make the systems harder to maintain and more costly. However, if only Internet access is desired with the addition of a Microsoft Office (tm) type program (eg OpenOffice), then Linux operating systems, such as Ubuntu, should be used. Nonetheless, if Windows is selected, then free StarOffice (tm) or OpenOffice (tm) could and should be installed as a cost savings.

Leveraged network computers include thin clients and multi-user systems. If network congestion is a major issue, then classroom multi-user systems may be the wisest choice: X300 from NComputing leads the market. Hardware for computer labs is another issue.

It is best to have 7 workstations per PC, not 4 which would require more PC's, more money, with more chances for failure. Yes, each PC failure would be less disruptive, but there would be more disruptions overall and the reliability of the classroom would be less. For example, with 7 workstations per PC, a classroom with 21 workstations would require 3 Ethernet ports plus 1 for a network printer and maybe one more for a laptop connected to a SmartBoard. No switches would be needed, which are actually the main cause of network failure (students kick them!).

Future teacher computers should be capable of handling two x300 cards. It may be appropriate to place one x300 and appropriate memory in the teacher computer initially. Let teachers adjust their rooms and add workstations when they are comfortable with them and their locations. It is surmised that seven is the maximum number that supports standard classroom supplemental uses, adding additional workstations means that the class has a computerized instructional focus. In short, the x300 supports pedagogical evolution of each teacher at low cost with high ease.

Getting to this doesn't require tossing older computers. Some classrooms will have seven computers, some seven workstations. Moving computers should be expected.

Finally, the x300 forces issues with network speed to move from the classroom to either network hardware (e.g. "da pipes") or network software (i.e. pipe clogging). IT would have a network focus, not a computer failure focus.

Classroom Computing Approach

Each classroom is different both in layout and wiring senses and also in teacher comfort and purpose when it comes to using computers. One size does not fit all. Policy should allow teachers to incorporate computing as they become not only more comfortable with computer-based instruction but also more understanding of the appropriate trade-offs between facilitated online learning and direct instruction. These are different roles. Some teachers are better at one that the other. Also, students vary in their aptitude and maturity in using computers. As a result, it is best for a district or school to provide computers as requested into a classroom, not install the same number in each or blindly pursue some policy like 1:1 or 5:1.

2:1 Classroom Computing with leveraged, network computers provides a framework for school support of classrooms that flexibly and rapidly adapts to teacher and student needs. This design should be modeled for teachers. It permits both small group instruction and computerized instruction: one day half of a class works on the computers individually and the other half work directly with the teacher. The next day the students switch. There are several ways to model this.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Donors Choose

Donors Choose works. Ten special Casio fx-300ES calculators are arriving soon, and I've started a challenge to fund headphones for iPass software and extensions which will allow good district computers to be used by more students.

This effort and the seeding of computers in the other two CRC classrooms has created a demand from teachers for computers! Our students can deliver work, not just dawdle in our classes now. This is big in an environment of individualized instruction.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ongoing Projects

  • 2:1 Classroom Computing with donated computers
  • 2:1 Classroom Computing with leveraged, network computers
  • CAHSEE for Sophomores - Prep & Enhancement for API
  • Multiple Measures: ALEKS, Planetii, FasttMath, iPass, and MDTP
  • Minimal Angel - Use Web Lockers for Simplified Student Essay Handling
  • Textbook Adoption - one unusual approach vs one conventional approach
  • Smarter Purchasing - Identify a company like Dell to buy computers from
  • Expand the Math Tech Club membership
  • Determine true Network requirements
  • District-wide after school network for all students

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Math Textbook Selections

First, for Algebra Readiness, the Mind Reseach Institute's Blueprint text & software must be thoroughly examined. Also, it should be examined as one of the two Math Intervention texts. If it works well, a seventh grade Algebra Readiness class can be offered instead of Math Intervention. This is semantics only. It should allow state funds to be used for the Blueprint text.

Second, for the normal math sequence, CGP's Algebra text should be one of the two evaluated. It is straightforward, lightweight and relatively inexpensive. If it is evaluated, then its seventh grade and sixth grade editions should also be tested in classes. Bridging k-12 is something we must do. We have plenty of our own tech resources to complement the CGP text.

Third, in my humble opinion, if CGP is selected for Algebra, then the Dolciani-inspired Geometry and Algebra Book 2 (McDougall-Littell) should be evaluated. Sacramento has specifically demanded that these texts remain current and complete. Again, this is merely an opinion, but I think there is a good flow between the two series. Again, we have plenty of our own tech resources to complement the Dolciani-inspired text.

Fourth, the other texts to evaluate should be one of the mainstream publishers for Grade 7 - Algebra 2. For example, the Glencoe texts or Holt or Prentice-Hall. Consistency of approach does matter. Learning curves for students and teachers are easier. Also, it seems strange to say "I like the vocabulary treatment in this series in 7th grade, but it doesn't matter in 8th grade." Picking different publishers is really saying, the publisher doesn't matter, which, if true, lets just flip a coin and save the trouble.

Our decision at the end of November is to select a mainstream publisher to compare CGP and Dolciani against. Comparing mainstreams to each other will yield minor differences.

ALEKS Tip - Making a Useful Report

The two most useful reports on ALEKS to me are

1. Individual detailed progress history - Full progress over last 6 months
2. Report for a single student in this class

The first report I save weekly as a history, and the second report I save when a student completes or leaves a class. I make a folder called ALEKS and keep them all in it.

However, this isn't quite useful for decision-making and seeing weekly progress. I make a spreadsheet that records the number of hours completed by the student and the percentage of the course completed once a week. A chart of hours and a chart of percentages tells more than any other. An example (template) can be found, by going to Register, then search using the FINDER and entering ALEKS. Several spreadsheets and templates will display. Click USE on the obvious one, save it, and then use it. You may want to save it as an EXCEL file on your hard drive.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

2:1 Computing - High Classroom Productivity

Math teachers using computer labs on a scheduled basis, can increase school productivity, by installing computers in their classrooms that can be used by half of the class at one time.

2:1 is useful when using software such as ALEKS, iPass, or Carnegie Tutor on an alternate day basis. If 36 students are in a class, then 18 can be on the computers, while the other 18 receive Direct Instruction.

This can be done very economically. This layout is intentionally messy. No IT involvement was necessary. Just a teacher's willingness to make it happen, and few ethernet switches and power strips.

Please note that no computer lab is needed for the same amount of computer time and small group instruction is facilitated by this approach. It's almost a no-brainer.

ALEKS - Middle School Usage

The three hour free trial over a 48 hour period allows all students to be tested and progress in Math recorded. It is useful to follow these directions:

1. Sign up the students before class. It takes about one to two minutes per student to do this. During sign-up, record the user name, eg Guest465232, and rewrite the password to a standard one (this will save time), such as newport. Write a teacher's email address in the sign-up. The "marketing" box should be K-12, and it is strongly suggested that "Essential Math" be chosen as the evaluation.

2. Usually a student will complete an assessment within an hour, but two class periods should be scheduled.

3. Essential Math is a strong pre-Algebra program (for the good old days of 8th grade pre-Algebra). By starting in seventh grade, real progress can be recorded. The only decision is whether to take the initial score or allow three hours. Both approaches work well, but give different results. Three hour results show dedication and responsiveness under stress. This is a math skill.

4. Obviously, scores and possibly category scores, need to be recorded in a spreadsheet or database. It is important to record the score before the three hour period is completed; otherwise the data isn't available.

5. This isn't a rip-off of ALEKS Corporation. Students frequently ask to stay on ALEK afterwards. Many feel (correctly), they are accomplishing something.

ALEKS - Streaming Mode on Macs & PC's

Aleks streaming mode installs additional java code in the browser's cache, not in the Java directory. The first time is run (the address will read afterwards - don't panic), it takes several minutes for the software to download. After that, when is run, which is a must, then only one or two seconds is used.

Streaming is used when old Macs or PC's that have non-current software or are locked by administrators to prevent installation of software, such as ALEKS, are used.

For example, on an iMac that had no administrator access and two years since the last update, the ALEKS stream worked with the old Java and old Safari browser. This is a big win.

This feature has a secret benefit, if the three hour trial mode of ALEKS is used on non-ALEKS computers, then many students can be tested without IT support. This saves money.

ALEKS - Streaming Mode on Ubuntu (Linux)

For users of PC's running the 7.10 version of Ubuntu with Firefox, a very popular free Debian-based Linux distribution, which runs quickly with easy maintenance on Pentium 3's having 256 MBytes of memory, ALEKS runs easily without difficult Linux commands or installations.
Ubuntu (or Fedora or Freespire) are used, if PC's are available or donated with corrupted or illegal Windows installs.
1. Install Ubuntu and update. (Skip Edubuntu, etc.). This requires one long download and a CD burn of an Install CD. Updating takes longer than an install. Ubuntu has the simplest graphics; therefore it runs quickly on old PC's. Freespire has a more beautiful interface, but that slows computers down.

2. Run Firefox, go to ALEKS, then Downloads, then click Install 3.6.
3. Firefox will say a Plugin is needed to run the ALEKS download. Four choices are offered, select Java 6.3 or higher.
4. After this flavor of Java is installed, run ALEKS works!
5. It would be best to make ALEKS the homepage. Edit Firefox Preferences for startup as, and click CLOSE.
6. It would be wise to place ALEKS on the Firefox Bookmark Toolbar also. Edit the bookmark's properties to
I'm running Ubuntu on five old PC's currently. The only problem is that sometimes the ALEKS page doesn't allow keyboard typing. Clicking refresh fixes this issue - a small price to pay for a free, legal, updated computer and software.