Thursday, April 28, 2011

Giving away computers to my students

The district is big.  It's always updating computers somewhere and thus getting rid of others as well.  Currently they are pulling out Pentium 4, 2.4--2.8 GHz machines, refurbishing them and distribute them to students who are most in need.  I have jumped in and participate in this by offering the computers to MY students, but instead of offering these refurbished computers with Windows XP, with the help of Logan, an 11th grade student, we install Edubuntu on them.  Here Logan explains a bit of the process with clonezilla:
Together we've given away Edubuntu-bearing computers to 35 or so student, with maybe 20 more to give before the end of the year.  I thought I would wait till after Natty came out to give them the brand new system!

I've been using bit torrent to download the 2.3 GB iso since it was released this morning, and it should be done in less than an hour!  Can't wait to load it on a computer, set it up, create the image, blast it onto the waiting student computers and get them to the kids.  They really love it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

FLE4-- how do you create the "Big Questions" that initiate the knowledge building?

This post is not about setting up the FLE4 server software. This addresses the much more difficult task of creating the initial questions, AKA "Big Questions".  These big questions need to inspire students to engage in a progressive inquiry, building knowledge objects and motivating them to learn important science knowledge and skills. There are several criteria these Big Questions must meet:
  1. Ideally, the Big Question must require the standards-mandated concepts and skills to solve them.
  2. These Big Questions must engage students.  Bereiter says that we need to give problems that are of authentic interest to our students. Knowledge objects need then be marshaled and created as needed to solve these problems/answer these questions.   Students learn to value knowledge objects as tools, and gains skill in the use of these tools in solving problems in their lives.
  3. The Big Question can't be to general or too specific.  As I have found from experience, if the question/problem is too overarching, to general, I as a teacher have a hard time managing the long and complex spiraling inquiry that is required to build a series of knowledge objects needed to adequately answer the Big Question.  Likewise, if the Big Question is too specific, little inquiry is inspired/required.
State mandated concepts and skills
The current unit of study is Evolution. The over arching, "sub standards" provided by the state for evolution are:
  1. Genetic information found in the cell provides information for assembling proteins, which dictate the expression of traits in an individual.
  2. Variation within a species is the natural result of new inheritable characteristics occurring from new combinations of existing genes or from mutations of genes in reproductive cells.
  3. Evolution by natural selection is a scientific explanation for the history and diversity of life on Earth.
(You can see in the third big idea above where it says, "... is a scientific explanation..." is a nod by our ex-governor, Pawlenty to part of his constituency the anti-evolution lobby, here in Minnesota.)  At the bottom of the post I've listed the, "benchmark standards" that tells what students must be able "to know and do".

Big Question must engage students
I've used various strategies to create student buy-in to the KB process as well as find questions which students truly want to answer. I'm still searching for an ideal method though there might be none. Several years back I created 5 Big Questions that addressed the range of knowledge required by my students. For example, "What causes earthquakes?",  "How do humans decrease the destruction caused by earthquakes?" and more. This was easier and turned out to be fairly effective and was a good way for me to start to use KB in my classroom.  However, it's often good to have students do this hard, ambiguous collaborative work.  Therefore...

I've also presented students engaging material, such as eyewitness accounts and videos, of the phenomenon and had them record questions that came to their mind as they viewed this engaging material.  Students then wrote these questions on sticky notes and then organized them into groups. From there I've gone in 2 different directions:
  1. I've looked at these groups of student-created questions and created that initiating question for each group.
  2. I've had students create the overarching question for each group of questions.
And in either case I've used the student-generated questions in 2 ways.  First, I just told students to start engaging in the KB and they could add their specific question under the appropriate Big Question if they wanted.  They ususally didn't and their initial questions were usually lost.  The other way I've advanced is, upon engaging in FLE4 KB, I've directed students to type in their own, initial questions under the corresponding Big Question.  This was not good, however, that while it was logical, it was too circuitous and disconnected and did not lead to a good discussion. 
    This time, I'm not creating an overarching question (which often is not a student's question but is instead a synthesis of their question), but instead choosing one student question to represent each group.  I then type all the rest of the questions in that group in the description for the post.  I'm careful to attribute the questions to specific students by including their first names next to their questions.

    Big Question can't be too general or too specific
    While I've created many appropriately-leveled Big Questions, I erred on the side of 'too general' last year with the question, "Where do Humans and the other about 1.8 million described species on Earth come from?"  One class had over 200 posts to this question--it became too ungainly for most students to really get a grip on it.  We'll see how students deal with the questions I've selected in the current round of knowledge building to serve as the Big Questions.  For my period 6 class they include:
    1. Ben -- how are new organisms created?
    2. Thalia -- how do they know when a skull comes from a female or male?
    3. Marilu -- how do we know that evolution has happened?
    4. Xavier -- when they say, "2 million species" do they mean like a regular cockroach and a Madagascar hissing cockroach being 2?
    5. Somsanith -- why did Darwin choose to study nature?
    Normally I would have carefully crafted the wording, but what I loose in precision by quoting student questions I more than make up on student buy-in, I believe.

    Saturday, April 09, 2011

    starting and stopping plone instance and enable color

    If I have it installed as a root install I would have to use sudo, otherwise don't!

    To start it...
    • cd /home/dgroos/plone-3.2.3/
    • ./bin/plonectl start
    • to stop or restart or check status use bolded word instead of "start".
    To enable color as per the bottom of this page:
    • To the Style Whitelist box, add color & background-color.
    • Click Save.

      Monday, April 04, 2011

      Starting to Concept Map

      Eddie and Christen are coming today for an hour to prepare to launch into using CmapTools.  While neither of them have used it yet with their classes, in addition, Christen's students are also just learning how to use the computers today. 
      1. Go to the http://concept-maps.blogspot, log in and make a new post.
      2. Thoughts worth noting include...teacher first-use in class, glitches, uncertainties, questions...
      3. Open CmapTools and do setup with sheet.
      4. Setup online structure of folders.
      5. Instructional suggestions:
      6. First use of CmapTools: students open CmapTools (Applications-->Graphics-->CmapTools) and the splash screen will open and the registration screen opens behind it!  You then grab the top bar of that window and move it out from under the splash screen.  Students fill in the registration info as shown here log in just do user account setup (use school username and their new district password).  The second video down shows the process on this page:  Once everyone has that done, then log off and do a non-related activity.  That will be enough!  NOTE: CMAPTOOLS HAS A "WINDOW MANAGEMENT BUG" as can be seen that that the registration window appears under the splash screen.  Another manifestation of the bug is that students might not be able to click into any fields in the registration window!  Simply hit the space bar and this will allow you to click into the fields in the registration window.  Silly, I know.
      7. Second time Students use cmaptools have them do some fun, 'follow the path' assignment.  This is a core skill they need.  For example, "What is the name of the 3rd folder (not file!) located at: Teachers/Mr. Groos/aaRHS/bbRHS09/P2/Individual student folders/?"  After they have been introduced to this, give them to directions to the specific folder in which they make their own Personal folders.  Then give them a copy of this flowmap for detailed directions. See below for copy.
      8. Third time students use CmapTools, make first cmap file: Possible task: "Make a bubble map on science in one of the partner's student folder".  Their learning objectives would be to learn/get better at: a) navigating views window; b) connecting bubbles with lines; c) make un-broken connecting lines; d) make broken connecting lines; e) make arrow heads always appear; f) create a bubble map.  May want to skip objectives d and e as these can be a bit too much for the first time.
      9. Fourth time use of CmapTools, students in partners make a double-bubble map comparing themselves and partner.  This requires additional skill/knowledge: on how to make a double bubble map.  If students are fairly familiar with the double bubble thinking map then you may want them to work directly in their cmap file.  Otherwise, you may want students to plan out their map first in the notes, then copy it into their cmap file.
      10. A further activity (for another day) might be to change the look of this file to show additional knowledge, like each person has a different color of bubbles but the bubbles showing what they have in common could be a blended color.  Show student bubbles on the overhead when people are done!
      Notes about using Edubuntu first times...
      1. Add the blue logout button to the panel--easier for students to logout and makes Classroom Admin close more gracefully.
      2. About Classroom Admin--may have to quit it and restart at the end of each class.

        Sunday, April 03, 2011

        Example lts.conf file for Ubuntu 10.04 LTSP system

        I just set up a new server that is running localapps.  The following is the start of the /var/lib/tftpboot/ltsp/i386/lts.conf file I used.
        LOCALDEV = True
        LOCAL_APPS_MENU_ITEMS = firefox,CmapTools,/usr/lib/IHMC_CmapTools/bin/CmapTools,totem,vlc,gstreamer

        By declaring the hostname of each client I was told they boot or login more quickly AND it identifies them relative to the seating of the classroom when I use the Great Greek sch-scripts.