Saturday, December 06, 2008

Again Saturday we meet

I got to Roosevelt a little before eight this morning, coffeemaker in one hand, portable drill, battery and bits in the other. Donuts, in the other. Laptop in the other. All hands were full. I had enough time to put things down, a bit of caring for the animals and plants, then Don called that he had arrived. A while later Conner calls that he's arrived. And I know when Fred gets there because he pulls on the string dangling out my window. All are busily engaged, Don's laptop plugged into the network, Conner working busily on a thin client, and Fred and I working on creating to boards along which will run the permanent power strips when all of a sudden over the loud speaker...
"Mr. Groos please call extension 48161."
And we got kicked out! The Engineer just came there for his 4 hours of overtime and it was time for him to go. So we pushed everything back in place, put the 80 lb. server, the switch, thin client, monitors and cords in my car and we cruised over to my house and re-set up shop. Conner said it had been a long time since he had been kicked out of high school!

Conner was working on his script to manage the Tiered Permissions Scheme with creating a way to manage the gconf file and squid proxy and groups. Hey! Better yet, in his own words (and here is his site, also):
"During the GCoS computer lab project, I was working on a system to allow a teacher to lock down the settings on student workstations, and allow them to add and remove permission and menu items as student progressed. I worked on developing a script that copied menu items into each students folder based on group membership. I discovered on Saturday that unfortunately Edubuntu handles menu setting differently then Ubuntu.

So I started doing some research and came across the Edubuntu-menus project.
This project allows you to create multiple groups, and by adding students to these groups it dynamically creates their menus. So you can create a menu group called edubuntu-games and add a student to it, and everything you put in those menus is dynamically inserted into a students menu.

This is a much more elegant solution that I initially had planned. Unfortunately, it's still in initial stages, and though functionaly works, any changes to the menus requires hand editing text files. I'm still going to write a script to copy gconf settings, but as things stand, I'm going to work on figuring out the menu file syntax so I can help David develop appropriate menu groups for his classroom."
  • is working on teaching me to use his script to import and manage students. What a cool script! It works clearly and as I said to him in an e-mail: "I feel confident that not only can I use this student user management system, but that pretty much any teacher could, too!" We I used it to add all of the students and to add some late-comers who weren't in the import file. All right!
  • Came on his way to picking up his wife at the Airport but arranged some way of her taking the light rail to the station near Roosevelt and picking her up there. But in the end it wasn't so smooth since we got kicked out of school. Anyway, we started to implement the new idea discussed in a recent post and it looks good! Things are coming along!
Anyway, we got important ground covered, Meet at my house this next Saturday? The server, switch, thin clients etc are still set up... I think we are almost there!

  1. Printer setup (always print user at bottom, limit pages, easy way to view printer logs?)
  2. Quicktime etc plugins?
  3. CmapTools setup?
  4. Squid config?
  5. Mount/unmount flash drives?
  6. Get VNC server working
  7. Finish setting up iTalc.
  8. Solve the "IDS server" issue w/iTalc
  9. Conner's solution?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

We arrived at some conclusions...

Clyde and Kyle
I was very pleased to meet the Interim Director of Facilities, Clyde, as he came to visit me in my classroom this last Monday morning. I again was impressed with our district leadership--he came with with a positive, problem-solving perspective on the wiring issue highlighted by the fire marshal.

Kyle accompanied Clyde to my classroom during my prep. After showing both around my classroom and sharing our vision of the Growing Communities of Scientists project, Clyde had questions. He asked about evidence showing that this model works, how other teachers in the district felt about this project, what the dream was. Clyde had some insightful things to say. Additionally, we addressed the issues brought up by the fire marshal. Here were some points he made:
  • While the design of the tables were practical, they were rustic. To expand this model into many more classrooms, the tables would need to become more professional. I couldn't disagree with this!
  • If this model proves itself then the district should be expected to support it.
  • He felt that the solutions we have come up with to address the concerns of the fire marshal will work! This is great news because for this model to be practical it can't require expensive modifications of each classroom. I'll post a picture of the solution this Saturday as a few of us volunteers will be working in the room, then.
  • He suggested that the leaders of the different, stakeholder-departments such as Media, Technology Integration, Instruction, and Science need to get together to discuss this project. Involved teachers, Ed, Christen and James need to be part of the meeting, also. We would combine our expertise, improving the ideas of this project. This would help avoid what happened with the electrical wiring where we lost a lot of time, effort and money implementing a solution that in the end was not acceptable. I thought this was an excellent idea and appreciated him bringing it up. He said that he will start to organize this meeting though it will probably take a while to happen.
The snowball continues to grow :-)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Director of Facilities

Kyle from Facilities and I have sent a few e-mails back and forth, the goal--help me understand 'code' in preparation of finding a working solution. As I mentioned towards the end of a rather lengthy previous post, 'code' isn't easy find. Here is some additional info:
  • Can't use plastic gang boxes as a built-in power strip (maybe if it were a metal gang box?) Looks like we'll be needing to purchase and install off-the-shelf power strips.
  • Cables need to be suspended using their own supports. You can't touch anything used to support other components of the structure (like hanging tiles). Thus, our split PVC channels which supported the cables had to go.
He recommended that I don't proceed until further consultation with the Director of Facilities, Clyde. Clyde called Wed. morning while I was waiting for my daughter to exit from surgery (mouth stuff--not too serious)--cell phones are amazing. He also appears to come from a problem solving approach and I'm again thankful for this--it is in his power to do as the FM did and 'just say no'. We will meet Monday morning during my prep period to try to find solutions.

My goal is to find inexpensive solutions even though the district has offered to put special electricity outlets into some of the rooms. I don't want this approach--I'm looking for the low-impact solution, one that can be done inexpensively in many rooms.

On Friday, my wife and I removed all the wiring that Fred, Alberto and I had so carefully installed. Oh well, 3 steps forward and 2 backward...I connected the 3 tables on one edge of the room in preparation with the talk with the Facilities Director on Monday as hopefully a launching pad to an acceptable solution. It's not ideal from a teacher's point of view as I may discuss later if this solution becomes accepted. But, I think it is workable. I'll post more as I learn more.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A mystery: where did they all come from?

Out of curiosity I checked hits after posting the drawings in the previous post (I posted just the drawings first.) The reality of the web hit home then, for some reason there was about a 4000% increase in hits on Saturday. Yea weird. I can only guess that there was a mistake or more likely someone whose blog gets read by a thousand people posted a link to my blog for some reason. Either way it's strange. For those of you who don't do 'google analytics' here are screen shots showing the origins of the hits from Saturday, both a world view above and a more detailed US view below.
Anyone have a clue to what might have happened?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Parallel progression

On Saturday morning five of us gathered in my room at Roosevelt high school. Unfortunately I didn't get around to taking a picture until after two people had left, nonetheless, here's Don and Fred, still able to stand at 1:30 when we left.A challenge of this project is that there are many interweaving threads that must be developed in parallel, with much interdependency between them. Some of these threads include: assembling the computer embedded tables, laying cables from tables to switch, importing student users into the server, getting computer lab management software, implementing student management software, installing the special software for students, setting up classroom printers on the network, getting the virtual machines running on the Web server which is connected to the district's Internet backbone at 807, installing server software from scratch and then transferring the 4 currently running Plone CMS instances as well as the Cmap server software to it, and more! OK, lots to do.

Don was the first to show. He has souped up his 16 line script to 360 some lines script to import users. He aims to create a simple yet clear menu-driven program to help non-technical users import students into their classroom. He worked on it all morning, perfecting it and in the end imported my hundred something students! It's so exciting to finally have a student accounts working!

Brandon worked tirelessly on making iTalc work on a thin client setup -- not something it was specially designed for though it does work on them. This software will allow me to control student computers in the classroom, observing them from afar, chatting, controlling and sharing screens, all actions necessary for a teacher in a computer enabled science classroom. With just a few final tweaks this thread too will be done! Conner is working on the student management software called Sabayon, though he was unable to come today.

Jack came by and worked to get Plone installed (remotely of course) on our new district Web server. Things appeared to be going swimmingly when all of a sudden an error message popped up saying the virtual machine didn't have enough memory! Of course the machine has plenty of memory -- for some reason we just couldn't access it. We tried to contact Brian who is the VM man but to no avail. Jack left to greener fields but with the promise that he would return when possible. I really need to make sure that both Jack and Brian are present at the same time when Plone work is attempted.

Finally, Fred showed up after dropping his wife off at the airport. In the relatively short time he was there he succeeded in assembling another computer enabled table! Not sure how because in the whole time I was there I didn't even complete one table assembly, albeit my table required a somewhat more involved procedure since it didn't use the new HP monitors.

Sweets from "A Baker's wife" and coffee were imbibed by all.

Thanks for your help, gentleman.

Anyone up to coming in at 1:00 this Wed November 26th? No school that day so I'll be there, working to assemble final tables and starting the wiring. Let me know and I'll stop by A Baker's Wife before I get there...

Friday, November 21, 2008

A wiring solution

Here is a birds-eye view of the class layout with the front of the room being at the bottom of the page and lab space w/fixed lab 'islands' (drawn as squares) starting at the top of the drawing and going off the page w/2 more rows of tables--OK so this drawing is pretty unclear. Ignore the drawings crossed out at bottom. The idea is to tie the left column of 3 tables together so as to make a single structure. Then, tie in that triple-table to the square-shaped, built-in lab island behind it. Each table would have a power strip w/a sufficiently long cord to reach back, threaded under each table and along the 2x6's connecting them, to an outlet in the lab island. This solution would be repeated on the right side of the room as well. The solution for the middle tables is explain a ways below.Directly above is a picture of the system to connect 2 adjoining tables. The 2, 2x6's sandwiched in the middle serve as spacers for the 2x6's coming from the tables. There would be a 12 inch gap, then, between the table legs from adjoining tables.

Getting connectivity between tables 4 and 5 in the middle would require a different solution. The side view drawing below shows that the tables would be about 3 feet apart, and a cord protector would span the distance on the floor where both power and data cables would travel. Again, the back table would be tied in to the middle lab station. This is not a heavily trafficked area.
Below is an attempted perspective drawing, standing at the front of the room looking towards the back not showing any of the classroom computer embedded tables, just showing the lab islands in the back. In the upper left-hand corner you can see the classroom switch and the network cables coming from the right hand triple tables. The idea is to use Plenum data cables so that they could be above the hanging ceiling panels.

You can also see the network cables coming from the middle island and the far left island. Cord protectors would be on the floor, spanning the short distance between the lab islands and moving on to the wall. Upon reaching the wall the cables would travel up to the switch (this is not shown in the drawing).
Cody came up with an interesting solution where we wouldn't have to run so many network cables to the switch. As seen in the drawing below there would be an 8 port switch hidden in each one of lab islands. The gigabit port would then be connected to the built-in wiring in the lab island which would connect to the main switch in the building tech closet. The building wiring is Category 5e, unofficially rated up to gigabit speed. I'm not sure how well this would work in a thin client environment however, but I'll find out.
A few points remain to be investigated:
  • Can we have the built-in "power strips" inspected instead of buying and installing after market power strips?
  • If this were so, then we would simply cut down the length of the power cord and still be able to use the nicer built-in solution.
  • Is it true that the length of cord on a power strip can not exceed 25 feet?
In conclusion, the fire marshal, when asked by the district IT people for information on safety code only offered a link to a page with, "suggestions". It was in these suggestions that I found out that you can use power strips as permanent wiring as long as they're not daisy chained. It ambiguously stated that, "power strips are often found in lengths less than 25 feet." What does that mean? I trust that this combination of solutions will relieve the fire marshal's concerns.

I can't help but wonder if instead of using orange power cords for our power strips we had instead used white ones, would the fire marshal have been so upset and instead worked with us to find a solution?

Finally, big thanks to Fred, Cody and of course Christen for their help in taking down all of the previous wiring that Fred had so beautifully installed. Thanks too, to Judy the school secretary and the building engineer Ramon who helped in getting us the 8 foot ladder without which, of course, nothing would've gotten done!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tag Cloud

Thanks to Kevin Keating for this useful tag cloud on the right side of this page. By following his directions on this page I was able to add a tag cloud to this blog, useful now that I'm tagging my entries.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blog growing

I've been feeling the need for quite a while to comment on aspects of GCoS beyond just its physical creation. That need has been growing and has now burst into this blog! So now I'll start to use tagging to categorize the entries.

I was directed to this entry from an entry in Jon Stahl's blog. When I tell some people about the GCoS project, some people get it right away and others don't. I've had the tacit understanding expressed in that entry but didn't really get the need to be explicit about it.

To me, when I think, "Web 2.0 tools in the classroom" I'm thinking, "Wow, think how these tools will allow the students and I to network--to create connections". It's not about computers, about the internet, or the network. It's about increasing the quantity and quality of the network --the networking-- between the people, ideas and things that constitute a community.

I wonder, what are measures of the quantity/quality of a community?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The next big thing: "Formative" vs. "Summative" assessments

I was trying to figure a useful angle for this post :-).

Our district is currently exploring and emphasizing the value of formative assessment. For those outside the ed world, formative assessment is basically when a teacher assesses a student's knowledge during a unit being taught. A summative assessment is a test at the end of a unit.

The purpose of a formative assessment is to further student learning: if you know what a student knows and doesn't know you can fine tune your teaching to help that student learn more.

A summative assessment, on the other hand, is used for evaluation: good job bad job or somewhere in between, in other words: this is your consequence -- good or bad -- of your efforts, this goes in your permanent records. Time to move on.

Both of these kinds of assessments fit with different worldviews, really. Both are important in education and in life. Both are important on an organizational level. But... would you want your child's teacher to put more emphasis on the formative or the summative? Do you feel an entrepreneur, an innovator, would care more about one or the other?

Soooo... the Fire Marshal walked into Christen's room last week, glanced around at the organized distribution of cables hanging from the ceiling and said, turning away, "Every cable has to be removed from this room by tomorrow." This, I would say, is a great example of the negatives of a summative assessment: some things were observed, a judgment was made, a consequence assigned.

He has the power, he has the responsibility. Safety is at stake. Seems like he was just doing his job. Kind of like a teacher: the teacher looks at the student's lab writeup, compares it to the standards, makes a judgment and assigns a grade. There is a winner or loser. Just doing our job. Time to move on.

However, I'm proud to say the people in charge at our district, while respecting the fire marshals proclamation, are looking at this from a formative perspective. Facilities are investigating (expensive) electrical modifications. Yes, money is a problem, however, they are searching. Our IT leader is looking at installing for us special power strips while we're looking at longer-term solutions. These leaders are looking at the same information as did the fire marshal, however they are looking to improve the program, not simply okay it or delete it.

One could easily say that the fire marshal was just doing his job. Having done a good bit of construction on my house over the last few years and thus working with different city code inspectors I know that this is not the only perspective available to an inspector. If they choose, they can take an extra five minutes, answering questions, looking at details, considering alternatives.

This experience is a reminder to me that we all owe our community, be they students in our class or schools within our jurisdiction, the gift of our expertise not just a judgment from our power.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The network develops further

Fred said, "That's when the Install-fest is set to happen". Conner had said yes. Jack said, "Why don't we meet at the install-fest (not Roosevelt) to work on 'the project', everyone will be there." People said, 'yes', so we did.

I got to TIES in St. Paul around 10:00, the generous host of the install-fest, lead and organized by Brian Dolan-Goecke. Even with Fred and Brian's help, it took almost an hour to unload, transport, setup and successfully start my technology. That the server sat in the trunk overnight didn't help, and it took 3 restarts for the server to actually start--hard drive with thermal expansion/contraction issues, I'd guess.

I was relegated (and wisely so) outside of the main room to the entry/break room due to the noise pollution caused by my server. At least, that's what I tell myself ;-). So the first thing that arriving Linux people saw was my multi-computer setup. This lead to some helpers! Conner was working on creating a script that would import users based on a csv text file. Don joins us and then he and Conner talk about parsing, bash, Perl etc. Well, by 4:00 Don's basically finished this import script (it will be on the Ubuntu wiki soon). Conner, besides adding ideas/insight to the script has done repeated battle with the buggy saboyan program on the server, a key component of the classroom software management system. More on that, soon, too, I hope!

Parallel to this is the effort of first Brian and then Jack. However, Brian can't start till I can get a VPN connection to the MPS web server, and for some reason the VPN didn't work inside the TIES firewall. Luckily for us, Dan the Network Man for TIES was to arrive in the afternoon. Upon arriving he dives into system logs, looking for clues as to why we can 'tunnel' into the MPS intranet (not to worry! I've got permission...). He finally finds a solution and Brian does his Virtual Machine thing and then Jack starts configuring our MPS Plone web server and then he has to go, but, many miles of the thousand mile journey has been traversed today! Additionally, Dan troubleshot the Switch issue, something about spanning tree links. yea. That info will end up on the wiki, too.

In the afternoon, Brian's wife and 2 kids showed up and were hanging around, playing around, and watching dad do his thing. This is nice. It reminded me of when Erika would come to my class when she was a kindergartner and clean the overhead and play with the snakes and guinea pigs in my classroom. She's 17 now, getting ready to head off to college... We talked a bit about choosing schools--her youngest is about to head to school, and it reminds me how parenting is sometimes about managing our kids transitions to bigger arenas, and that it takes a community to do this. Ubuntu...

The concept map at the top of this post shows contributors--to see the depth of what they've done you'll have to read my blog :-)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Right. Why didn't I think of this earlier?

Last night I jumped onto the irc channel, #edubunte, using the software Colloque 2. (I think these irc channels might also be know as chat rooms) Anyway, I asked a question--how can you import a bunch of users into an Ubuntu server. Without much hesitation stgraber replied. Here's a screen shot of this part of the conversation:

This is a perfect example that effort in communicating within a community can be more powerful than working hard in semi-isolation (ie I've been searching Google for a good bit trying to answer this question to no avail). Here's a link to his business' site in Quebec:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Assembling the components at the table

Perhaps this entry isn't worthy of posting but then again if it will save me a few moments at another time... Here are the steps to assemble the components of the computer-table:
  1. Install monitor spacer
  2. Place computers in place: 15 cm between them and be conscious of orientation so that power button is easily accessible for corresponding students and power cord difficult to access for students at opposite diagonal!
  3. Install monitor and computer power cords--Route through holes and put as little below level as possible. Extra cordage goes between the computers.
  4. Connect and route mouse and keyboard to corresponding computers, route cords between computers, mouse goes to one side, keyboard to other.
  5. Connect monitors.
  6. Test-boot the computers
  7. If they work, afix computer feet with double-sided tape to keep them in place.
  8. Mount monitors with metal strap (I need to get a pict to show this).
  9. Label computers and monitors with table number and red "A" or black "B" side depending on whether mounted at the inside or outside diagonals.
  10. Label 'home spots' for mice and keyboards.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A rush of activity!

This (Saturday!) morning we got a lot done at Roosevelt. Of course, a work day is always just the tip of the iceberg: there's always stuff that goes into preparing for it it, not just on my part but on the other participants parts as well. For example, my student Alberto, who volunteered to help lay cables had to at least arrange a ride not to mention put aside the other things he would have otherwise done. And Conner drove in from Burnsville, had researched different computer management software, and undoubtedly put aside other things he had to do. I coordinated schedules with different people, arranged snacks, and owe my wife big time for making such a delicious pizza for lunch! Also, I coordinated the various supplies for the cable hanging and installing monitors projects. It even requires attention to remember the camera with which I took this shot of Connor McCall at the server:

I hope to soon upload a few shots of Alberto installing the cables; he manages cables like a pro. Alberto got a huge amount done. Basically, he finished cabling the rest of the room, and it looks great. Now, every table has both power and Ethernet connections. This involved routing the ethernet cables through the table and using U-shaped staple/nails to keep them in place.

Also, my daughter Erika stopped by for about an hour: she was taking the ACT in Roosevelt this morning. She helped with some odds and ends as well. the two of them unpacked and installed four more monitors. I was able to apply a small solution which I had created to hold some of the older LCD monitors in place: now we have another table set up on the network.

Conner got some good work done also:
  • he got the squid server going again,
  • he installed a product called, "Saboyan" or something, this is used to manage a computer lab running Ubuntu in schools. It looks like we can use this application to manage student computer access. This is excellent! This product still requires some more setup.
  • He also got a Firefox add on which can be used to manage student use of Firefox. I'm quite excited about this as it has a feature to limit available websites -- this'll be a handy feature for the students who are at the lowest level of privileges -- and as they prove themselves reliable, their access increases exponentially!
  • And..
I'm at a point I'm going to take the server home and there are things that I can start to customize, for example add users, and learn how to use Saboyan and also do some more work on figuring out why the new switch isn't working for the thin client network.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Jack Ungerleider at the Riverview Cafe

Jack agreed to help out. Well actually, he's been doing that for a few years now. Here's a picture of Jack helping out at the science Museum where I saw him a few weeks ago at the Star Wars exhibit with my son.Anyway, we met at the Riverview Cafe On Sunday afternoon. The goal was/is to get 3 Plone servers running on the (relatively) powerful Web server that is now running over at the district. Thanks to Brian Dolan-Goecke, the server has five virtual machines on it one for each Zope instance, with two extra machines, one for an experimental Zope instance and the other for our Cmap Server.

And the machine itself was put online at MPS with the help of Ben Peck and Doug Roberts.

Long story short -- the stars didn't converge and we weren't able to get too much done. However, we did get further and I expect that I'll be able to permanently shut down the old Pentium desktop in my advisor's office which now runs these Web services. Poco a poco, as they say in Guatemala.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Even Greater Monitor News?

Today 13 monitors came in. New monitors. Upon opening the box and removing the new monitor, enabling the neck-structure between the base and display, Eddie and I saw a possibility...

The monitor can easily be tilted face up and can then be squashed way down, as a matter of fact... it can be squished down so it is 5.5 inches high and you guessed, it fits perfectly between the plywood shelf and glass top! It really looks like it was designed for our tables. I'll have to get a picture and post it, soon. This will save time and look really nice.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

eBay Monitor Bad News

Today arrived the hoped-for fix-up of the e-Bay order of 10 monitors. While the person had sent 10 monitors, only 6 of them had power cords, and there were no VGA cables! Via various e-mailings, they asserted that they could only find power supplies for 2 of the monitors. Thus they agreed to send 2 replacement monitors (with power supplies this time) along with 2 power supplies for the monitors that they located and 4 VGA cables.

Upon opening the box much to our surprise we found the same 2 monitors we had sent! What a waste of time. It appears that they found power supplies for the 2 monitors.

The 2 returned monitors worked with the power supplies they sent. That's the good news. Fred took the other 2 power supplies and will test them at NSJ so we will see.

Without getting into too much detail about the VGA cables, all 4 of them were of a strange design. One end of each of the cables had a 90º configuration. It wouldn't work in the computers nor the monitors, like it was designed for computers or monitors released in Europe or Asia or Africa or something. It's time to get back to the e-Bay guy...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Great Monitor News

I just realized I didn't report on the Great Monitor News. It comes about rather sideways but hey I'll take it.

So last I mentioned the solution to the Great Monitor Problem was that I found a place on eBay that would sell us 25 NEC monitors for a little less than $100 apiece including shipping. I initiated the order process with the finance clerk at school on Friday. On Tuesday I got an e-mail from the District technology coordinator saying basically, our district only does HP monitors now so you need to buy as many HP monitors as you can with your eBay money, and we'll make up the rest of the money to bring you up to 25 monitors. The new monitors are on their way. Thanks Coleen!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Various updates

Here are a few updates:
  • Fred continues to be busy at Nelly Stone Johnson school. He updated me through e-mail with the following:
    "I got the ethernet cables from the last two tables installed yesterday. I
    also got the cable from the switch to the server installed. Getting thru
    the wall from the closet to the hallway and thru the wall from the hallway
    to room 350 was not a problem. Getting the right amount of cable cable
    between and from these was not too difficult. It just required many trips
    up and down ladders and several of the "tools" I'd brought along -- a
    long electrical fish tape, a 5 foot shelf brackett (about 3/4 by 3/8
    cross-section), a smaller cross-section wood strip, masking tape and
    cardboard to attach cable to "tools" temporarily."
  • "There are coils (~ 6" diameter original coils) of the 16 ethernet cables
    near the switch that are currently just stacked on the switch and
    are not plugged in. I have an idea for using some corrugated
    plastic (like used in political yard signs) to contain these on edge in
    numerical order ** above the switch so the can pb plugged in neatly.
    ** I numbered the cables 1-16 on each end with sharpie felt pen."
  • I got a return e-mail from the District person in response to my question about what they were planning to do and what prompted them to offer to install power in the ceiling. The first sentence of the e-mail says:
    "We are considering it, I am going to be coming out to look at the locations and requirements. We are looking only at the most simplistic means of rectifying the fire code issues that you have created.
as I said to James White today I would really be in terrible shape if I didn't work so awfully hard to follow rules! I'm rather frustrated as I had worked out the electrical solution for these tables with the district inspector. Oh well, I'll find out what I did this time.

  • Great news! I went fishing today on Google and I caught a big fish! I wondered if the problem wasn't that our new switch was interfering with our server's DHCP so I went to James' room to borrow last year's switch, the one we had used over the summer. I put that in place of the new switch and what a deal, it worked! The thin clients are working now, so all that has to be done is re-set up the server (private joke). I just found out today that Roosevelt will not be open on any Saturdays until October 3 -- wait, that's a Friday, maybe it's October 11. Anyway, I'm therefore going to be bringing the server home and see what I can do there. Chances are I will be bugging my Linux-capable friends. Be forewarned!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The server's got a second life

So yesterday I reloaded the Ubuntu system onto the server with the thin client server. I followed directions on this page which supposedly get everything up and running, however it didn't. I remember when Brandon first installed the server he said he had to do some stuff that wasn't on the page. I hope that with the info he gets back to me I can keep the server coming along...

Monday, September 22, 2008

This guy walked into my classroom... I went back to say hi and inquire further. He said he was going to be putting in power and data drops to facilitate the project in my classroom and in Eddie's, too! Amazing! Looks like they're going to put outlets in the ceiling above where the tables are so that is great.

Apparently the district wasn't too happy with 50 ft power strips--why? But anyway they thought it would be best to put in the power and facilitate this project so no complaining here! More info as I get it. What about James' room and Christen, too? We'll see...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cabling details

Fred has sent me a couple of pictures. This shows his solution of getting rid of maybe 30 ft. of excess power cord. He made loops and neatly tucked them above and below the outlets under the table. It also shows what was done to get the computer and monitor cords out of the way.
The other picture is an 'open office' drawing he made of some of his solutions for different parts of the cable hanging system. Fred, would you explain their roles in the system in the comments?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The cables they are a hangin'; the server, it ain't a DHCPin'

Fred is our cable hanging expert--he cut his teeth in Christen's room at NSJ. We talked over the channel-hanging job, then Fred drew up a map--now we know we need 60 ft of split PVC. He used the hangers that Eddie had purchased and made a simple wire hanger which hooks/unhooks, and mounted some 40'. They are ready to run some cables, though the rest of the channels still need to be hung.

Fred finished adding carpet cushion/shims to the tables--they are all stable and slide now. The first draft had them going up the sides like this photo:
but now they are on just the bottom like this:
Here's the attachment process, add glue to back side of carpet, put under leg and let sit for 30 minutes, easy!Meanwhile, I worked at the other end: at the power cords at the table. Using the "U" nails one uses to run romex wiring, I created a route for the cable along one leg which can be unhook from a screw to give an extra 3 feet of cable so the tables can easily be moved about--I'll get some pictures and add them.

Conner McCall fixed host name issue and it was able to access the net just fine. Then, he finished setting up the squid proxy server which he had worked on remotely over the summer and... it worked! Then we said, OK, let's make sure the thin clients are booting properly and... no go!

2 hours later...

There's still some weird DHCP issue where computers on the LAN can pick up an IP number after a couple minutes of searching. Also, the thin client looks for 30 seconds or so for a DHCP server but no luck so they still won't boot. Conner's thinking the best idea is a fresh install of Ubuntu but first copy over the /etc folder so later re-install some of the config files by drag-drop method.

Brandon was the one who first got things working I wonder did he updated that wiki he used to make our network work? He said there were a couple of lines missing in the original wiki page... Hmmm it looks like mere mortals can't update that page--needs to be admin users. To add tweak info it goes here but I don't see anything... I'll have to e-mail him and ask for the info help!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Putting it...all together?

Well, we've got parts, we've got people. We've got knowledge and energy. We've got a plan! At least an outline...

  • Set up on network again.
  • import users
  • Set up groups--3 tiers
  • Prepare Firefox
  • Set up print server
  • Set up squid proxy cache
  • Codecs/plugins
  • VNC Server
  • Software to manage classroom computers
  • Place Computers
  • Install Monitors
  • Hook up systems
  • Carpet legs
  • Install hanging channels
  • Run Cables and Cords
We shall see!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The elusive monitor(s)

  • looks like we really are going to get the needed monitors soon! Not only is there a person through eBay who can sell and ship them for a decent price, they take purchase order numbers, and I like that. If it'll summon can move a bit we could get the monitors here in a couple weeks. I can't wait.
  • So that behooves us to make sure we can get all of our server-ducks, so to say, in order. The server is set up next to my room but I can't quite change the host name -- spent four hours on it and learned a little bit but really, no luck.
  • So... time to rally troops and get the networks running...
  • And, it's time for the teachers to prepare for the moment by creating a few basic tutorials on the Minneapolis LeMill site at
  • Yeah, and we've got to get those cables under the ceilings, though Fred has got a really nice start at Nellie Stone. I need some pictures of those. Eddie has found an interesting part at Home Depot that might help out, also.
I know that for us teachers to say that our plates are full is like saying a marlin is a panfish. This is been a great start but we really need to redouble our efforts as teachers or the time will quickly slip by!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

(Mucho) water over the dam...

Lack of blog entries is due to excessive activity, not the reverse. I won't detail the multitudes of things that have been going on, however will try to at least list them.
  • Monitors: we still need 22 of them. It turned out that Computers for Schools had only one third the number we needed, so I've been searching for more. I bought 10 over the Internet, however 4 needed power supplies so we've worked it out w/eBay vendor that he will send me 2 power supplies and two new monitors upon my returning the two unpowered monitors. I've tried other sources so far to no avail. Any ideas?
  • Plone server: my advisor at the U of M patiently permitted an old Pentium 4 in her office to serve as the Plone and Cmap server for the last 3 years. It was woefully underpowered but was sufficient to limp along. Now with much greater demand coming, a powerful server is required. I asked Coleen K. about a new server for this purpose. The short of the story is we've got a very powerful Web server now! Ben P. obtained the machine and helped install Ubuntu server on it and Brian D-G set up five virtual machines on it. (Those 2 operations took from 1:00 until 10:30 PM one day!) Doug R, the MPS Internet guru is getting it set up on our system. Hopefully it will be up soon. I'm hoping Jack U. can help with the transfer of the old Plone sites and Cmap Server install to the new machine. Thanks to all!
  • Jack U. updated the Vee Map content type and now it has edit-in-place capabilities! It is cool! He also updated the whole management system of the Plone installation to match with Plone's new structure. While I know some Plone, all of this work was beyond me -- thanks Jack!
  • I have no idea what we would have done without Fred O., and his wife too! They have been helping out Christen on the north side, helping install cabling in the ceiling, unpack, test, remove the monitor stand, and prepare all of the new eBay LCD monitors, make sure the thin clients are ready, troubleshoot the server power supply, help carry heavy stuff about and generally just help out! Thanks!
  • managing cash flow over the summer was crucial to get this project moving. However, there have been multiple issues. Apparently the reimbursable limit is not $1000 as I had always heard, but instead $999.99. Therefore, the district requires approval from the Board of Education to reimburse the check I wrote for $1000 to Computers for Schools for the printers and monitors. Don't ask about the other thousands of dollors that the district has decided to not re-imburseme due to tax exempt, coding, lack of attention on their part and general... I won't expand. My wife is trying to be patient but I don't blame her... Waiting on the Board of Ed to deal with this :-(
  • Due to a timing issue with the 3 foot square glass panes, I had to make two deliveries of glass, 8 panes to Nellie Stone Johnson, and eight to Roosevelt the day before the start of school. Transporting eight panes of glass that size in a Mazda 3 is a bit dicey. Nonetheless it all worked out great, and the district was able to deliver the last eight panes to Eddie's room the first day of class, on Tuesday, September 2. Eddie had a fascinating solution for the missing glass table tops. He built 8, 4 foot square white board surfaces. Then, he gives students dry erase markers and has them doing bubble maps and making comparisons between each other. I stole his idea and had students do it on the glass tops. He needs to describe what he did--this is awesome.
  • Conner M. has been working to set up the proxy server, remotely, and Chris G on managing Firefox. Lots still to do!
  • Oh. Did I mention kids have come, school has started? :-)
  • I think this coming Sat. at Roosevelt will need to be a work-date...
I could go on and on, but I got to go. Thanks to the many volunteers, this project continues.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tables are electricitized!

Today Fred again biked to Roosevelt and helped with several more things. I can now say the electrical for the tables are done!

Last Friday Eddie came over to Roosevelt after his IFL workshop to splice some more plugs and found that one of the outlets had something wrong with it--it sparked when plugged in. I knew that we had to check the wiring in all of the outlets but I figured we would need to use a multimeter. However, by good chance Fred brought a handy-dandy outlet tester that lets one know if the wiring was done properly.

I wish I could say that Fred only had to correct 1 mistake today but I believe there were...5! Anyway, that's why we have quality control :-)

Fred overhauled some 20 more Pentium III's and spliced on the last 3 plugs. I cleaned out the Ethernet cables from last year and did several other odds and ends. Things are sure coming together!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thanks eBay

eBay is supplying 3 Printer Toners and 3 JetDirect network interface cards. If I had bought these things new I would have spent about $1,600 (I checked them out first on the 'net). Now the HP 8150's should be ready to cook! As long as the eBay stuff works...

Also, just 'won' an auction for 10, 17" LCD monitors--working out to $71 each including shipping--Hope they work! Thank goodness that eBay exists, else this project might not function...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Volunteers continue to make things happen!

Lots 'o help! My wife volunteered to help paint, Fred and his wife stopped by Roosevelt to check things out and she said, "Is there anything we can do to help out today?"

She didn't have to ask twice!
The two of them figured out a procedure to disconnect the CD and floppy drives, remove the hard drive and disconnect the fan--allowing future reconnection if the computer (serving as a thin client) warms up too much--a concern of Freds.

Maria primed then black touch-up painting on the frames where I had sanded the corners to smooth them off. She also stained all of the edges of the sub-table top and they really look sharp! Now we will simply poly these edges of the plywood making them tough and thus much more difficult for fidgeting fingers to flay.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Making sense of the whole shabang...

One thing us teachers have had to do quite a bit is make sense of all these new technologies, these new software opportunities. I've been doing this for a while now, but Ed and Christen are having a crash course. Luckily they have a high tolerance for confusion and ambiguity.

Ed has taken to the (free) concept mapping software, CmapTools. He worked on making concept maps on his car trip to the west coast. He uses them to take notes in district meetings. And, when he copies the maps to our internet Cmap Server then anyone has access to these notes.

At our meetings we always try to take notes and hammer out understandings on concept maps. One cool thing about doing your concept map on the Cmap Server on the internet is that many people can simultaneously interact with the same map at once. This is pretty impressive. It is interesting too because it solidifies a map of the knowledge as one discusses it, and you can build one it, changing the concept map as your groups understanding grows. When this map gets to a coherent whole, I'll post it. Wait, why wait--as long as the concept map is worth looking at, it will be 'under construction'. Here it is.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Building, day 15-- details

It's a double edged sword. On the 'desired' cutting-edge I try things that are pretty big, things that a person who can clearly see details would wisely never attempt. On the 'cursed' cutting-edge I always mega-underestimate the amount of time it takes to do a project because... I only foggily envision a small fraction of the required details.

For example today I went to Home Depot to buy a 36 1/2 inch square piece of Masonite that I used to make sure all of the glass frames were square and of the same size (within an 1/8 inch tolerance). Well, they didn't have 4 foot square pieces of Masonite from which to cut to the right dimensions, and thus I had to buy a 4' x 8' sheet and have them cut it from there. And therefore, I brought home the extra 5' x 4' sheet of eighth-inch Masonite on top of my car. Lashing it there was a challenge because it was so flimsy it wouldn't stay fixed. It probably took 20 minutes wrestling with this Masonite on top of the roof to make it safely home.

Another example from today: when coming up with the solution of making 2 "power strips" per table with 1 sufficiently long cord so as to satisfy fire code, it all seemed so simple in my mind! All I would need would be 2 duplex boxes, 4 outlets, and a long orange extension cord. With just a few snips of wire here and there and a bit of work and they'd be done! Right.

So, since I got an excellent deal on 100 foot orange extension cords I bought those, requiring cutting them roughly in the middle to make either 40, 50 or 60 foot extensions. just the simple act of cutting these extension cords in half became a job! And if this simple thing became a job, you can imagine every other little tiny detail of installing the electricity, so simple to think about, also became a job, requiring about 14 hours to finish all 24 sub-assemblies!!! The following pictures show some of what was required to 'simply' cut the cords in half. Unfurling, cutting, labeling and recoiling them......and then just 10 more to do...

Having those detailed-oriented people as members of ones team is indeed a blessing :-)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Transporting several hundred pounds of printers

This morning Ed and I picked up the remaining items from Computers for Schools. As all four of the printers are large-format HP LaserJet's, this move would not have happened if it hadn't been for Eddie's trailer. These large format printers will allow us to print expansive views of students concept maps and other graphic oriented content. In the picture you can see David K from Computers for Schools signing over the printers to us.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Building, day 14

Thursday was "do-everything-else/try-to-regain-balance-in-the-project day". Well, at least I got a few things done, anyway.

Friday, today, was our last day in the shop. There was nothing bittersweet about that :-)

Ed and I sped through the day trying to finish the last few things that required a wood shop. Again, we were there until the last moment however we weren't quite able to finish everything; we were very close though.

We still had a couple of decisions to make, however. We had decided the best way to attach the electrical boxes sandwiched between the sub tabletop and a foot square supporter of the very bottom. I had been thinking about it for a week and had a design in my mind, Ed had a design in his mind, also. Like so many aspects of this project, our team design decision process reflected what we want in our own science classroom communities.I was convinced my method was better, and Ed, that his method was better. The image on the left illustrates my method that on the right, his method.

Both of our methods had merit, of course, and we both wanted the best design. to analyze the design we dissected, then examined, the variables that made the design "better". This, of course, brought me to think about thinking tools, in particular, the comparison matrix. Below is a screenshot of one I've used my class while teaching about microscopes.Variables In this case included student safety, ease of construction, speed of construction, ease of wiring, strength, beauty, fewer resources, and I don't remember what else. As Ed said, even though we each thought our own methods were better, we had to truthfully open ourselves to understanding the other persons method because, perhaps it might indeed be better. Looking at the photo below you can see which method we decided was the best--It indeed was the easiest.
Instead of drilling holes through the 2 x 6 is in the leg assemblies we opted for the easier solution of simply notching them.

To give the glass frame a more finished look and eliminate the danger of splinters from the edge of the sub tabletop they were sanded using a belt sander.
Here you can see some of the 24 tables lined up ready to go toward our science rooms, upstairs. Yes, that was good exercise...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Building, day 13

Today, Ed and I got to the shop early, 6:15 in the morning. we plugged away until 3:30 and are "close" to being done. I really think so. I really hope so. Again, a template was useful. Below you can see me drilling holes using the template Ed created.
I placed screws in the pre-drilled holes so as to facilitate Ed's work as his was more complex and time-consuming. There are many examples of systems thinking in our work!

This picture shows Ed attaching the corner supports. You can see the shop mascot taking it easy in the chair. We finally got the mascot to help supporting the table from underneath, however he was not much help as he's missing his upper body.

This picture below shows three tables ready to receive the glass frame. The table in the foreground illustrates how how the two-piece, sub-tabletop is screwed on to the table assembly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Building, day 12

Back from canoeing with John and Erika and my dad. It was GREAT and I've got a story or 2 that might trickle into this blog at some point...

Ed, Christian and I worked till 3:30 today, though Christian had to work around a morning and then a noon time meeting. We ARE getting closer (can't quite say "close", yet, however...)Ed's cutting corners...

Christian's pre-drilling the sub-table tops--she created a simple and effective drilling template.

Ed demonstrating 90º nature of corner-reinforcers
After cutting more corners, lots of corners, Ed will be screwing than onto the table to reinforce the legs. That will be done tomorrow.

I've been framed...