Archive for May, 2009
Wolfram Alpha: A Website That Will Do Student’s Math Homework

Wolfram Alpha is a new online computational engine that can solve virtually any math problem that a student could have. Instead of returning a set of web pages like Google, a search on Wolfram Alpha returns a set of data. For instance a student who is working on the problem integral of sin(x)cos(x)dx, can enter this into Wolfram Alpha and it will spit out a solution, including alternate forms and graphs.

Teachers may fear that students will simply breeze through their homework by typing in the problems into Wolfram Alpha and copying the answers. This is definitely a possibility, but on the positive site Wolfram Alpha can help a student who wants to check their work.

As a research tool, it can provide several useful applications for students. For instance one can enter “earthquake” and the results will show the data for earthquakes for the last 24 hours or last 2 months. Enter in “life expectancy US, Sweden, Japan” and it will compare average life expectancies. Or enter “gdp of france” and it will produce a graph that charts GDP over time.

Wolfram Alpha was created by famous scientist Stephen Wolfram with the goal to “make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone”. They want to make it possible for anyone to be able to compute anything.

Wolfram Alpha is an innovative tool that can change how people research for objective information. It takes some time to get used to because it is not Google, but once you learn how to use it, it can be a very powerful tool for finding information or solving problems. In the future, I think the ability to find information using the internet will be a very valuable skill, so students should be encouraged to experiment with it. To show students a demonstration of how to use Wolfram Alpha go to www.wolframalpha.com/screencast/introducingwolframalpha.html.

School Districts Using Twitter to Communicate Quickly

An article at Tallahassee.com titled “School districts turning to Twitter to speed up communications” discusses how school districts are using the social networking tool to communicate with parents and students.

According to the article:

Some technology experts say Twitter is worth considering in the education world since it can lead to other opportunities to reach parents and students.

Leon and Taylor county school districts are now “tweeting,” which refers to posting short alerts, on happenings that range from board meeting reminders to kudos when schools and students get noted recognition.

Other Florida school districts, such as Broward and Volusia, are also using Twitter to get their message to parents, students and anyone who’s interested.

It is good to see schools embracing the latest internet technology to improve communications. Twitter has become a household name, partly through the press it has gotten in the mainstream media. Oprah recently had a show about Twitter and Ashton Kutcher created some buzz by reaching over 1 million followers.

Twitter is useful to school administrators because it can distribute a message, almost instantaneously, to everyone that is subscribed to receive updates. Unlike email, Twitter updates are public and can be received as a text message. Since nearly everyone has a cell phone, it can reach people where ever they are which can have many useful applications.

For instance, if the principal of a school had a Twitter account, he could quickly communicate to teachers and students at the school during an emergency situation.

Photo by brooklyn

Should Students Blog?

There is some debate on whether younger students should be encouraged to blog in school. Opponents may object to the student’s personal information being published online and have concerns for the safety of students. Proponents might say that the web is an increasingly important communication medium and students should learn how to use these new tools to better prepare for the future.

According to Wesley Fryer thought leader and author of the blog Moving at the Speed of Creativity,

I definitely think middle school students should be blogging, as well as elementary and high school students. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, students need to practice their writing skills regularly, and blogging is an excellent way to do this. We get better at things we practice regularly. It is common for kids to be required to read regularly during and after school, but regular writing assignments are less common. Blogging provides a way to both encourage and empower students students to write regularly.

The second main reason I’d argue students (including middle school students) should be blogging is so they can learn how to properly and responsibly use hyperlinked writing. Hyperlinks are one of the foundational technologies of the Internet. Students use hyperlinks by clicking on them, but far fewer create their own hyperlinks as part of their class assignments. Certainly the prevalence of social networking platforms has increased opportunities for students to use hyperlinks in their writing, but voluntary student use of social networking platforms does not necessarily result in students learning about hyperlinking and responsible use of hyperlinks.

Students should be encouraged to blog responsibly so they can discover their own voice. This is not the case for everyone, but some students are able to really discover their own voice via writing. The encouragement and positive feedback which young writers can receive through writing on blogs and other social websites can play an important role in defining identity for a young person. Students can and do often discover the power of their words, and the importance of sharing thoughts as well as ideas.

I personally think it is great when students blog. A blog is like a individual’s personal newspaper column. Blogs require updated content, which encourages a blogger to think critically and write often, an important skill in the workplace. Student’s can also learn about publishing online and if they are really ambitious they can learn about HTML code to customize their site. The great thing about the web, is that anyone can publish. It doesn’t matter if they are a Pulitzer prize winner or a student. If you write great stuff, people will read it. Who knows, a student who starts a blog today could become the next William Shakespeare tommorow.

What do you think? Should schools encourage students to blog? Is there educational value in blogging?

Photo by torres21

Free School Calendar for Your School Website or Printing

Tandem for Schools provides a free school calendar for schools to display online or print out. It allows you to add as many events you want to a yearly calendar for the 2008-2009 school year or the 2009-2010 school year. Tandem basic also includes several free features-

1. Customize calendar by adding your school logo.

2. School calendar can be synced with parent’s work or home online calendars such as Outlook, iCal, Google Calendars, Yahoo Calendars, or Cozi. When there is a cancellation or a change in the date of an event, everyone who has synced the calendar will receive automatic notifications.

3. You can add or edit the calendar at any time.

Any changes made by the calendar administrator will be immediately reflected on the online calendar that is seen by parents, staff, and students.

4. The calendar is hosted for free.

All you have to do is provide a link to the online calendar to staff, parents, and teachers.

5. Improved communication

Tandem’s free school calendar dramatically improves communication between staff, students, and parents about important school dates and events. No longer will parents have to call the main office to ask what time the football game starts.

You can sign up for the free annual school calendar at http://www.intand.com/basic.htm.

Once you finish the set up, which takes about 20 minutes, you will given a website address for your school’s free calendar, so that you can link to the online calendar from your school’s website or provide the web address to parents and students.

The Kindle as a Learning Tool

The Kindle 2 is a really great tool for learning, although the price ($359 for a Kindle 2) may be restrictive. The Kindle is the best e-book reader currently on the market, mainly because of it’s ability to wirelessly access the Amazon store for free from virtually anywhere. In about a minute you can download a digital book to your Kindle which are usually cheaper than the paperback copy. There are several other useful features that make it one of the best learning tools available, if your school can afford it.

Browse previews of virtually any book

Most books that were recently published are available at the Kindle store. One of the cool features of having a Kindle is that it is like having a book store in your hand. The Amazon store lets you preview the first chapter or the first dozen or so pages of any book that is available.

Holds 3,500 books

Instead of carrying around heavy books, having a digital copy can be pretty convenient. It is nice to be able to access your entire library.

Text books will be available

The new DX version of the Kindle has a 9.7 inch display, which makes it easier to read textbooks. According to The Times Online,

“Three textbook publishers – Pearson, Cengage Learning and John Wiley & Sons, which between them publish 60 per cent of all higher-education textbooks – have agreed to sell books on the device.”

This may or may not save students or schools money depending on the cost of the digital copies compared to the hard back editions.

Free Classics

You can get lots of free classics books on your Kindle. I recently downloaded The Three Musketeers for free. There are some available at the Kindle store but you can also Google “Free Kindle Books”.

Free Internet

One of the best features on the Kindle is the “experimental” internet browser. Although, Amazon could get rid of this feature at anytime since it is advertised as “experimental” it seems unlikely that they would without a significant consumer backlash. This feature is great for browsing text sites and works virtually anywhere where a cellphone would work.

Upload Documents

You can email documents to Amazon, which will convert and upload them to your Kindle for a small fee, or you can do this yourself. If you convert the text to a .txt you can upload it from your computer to your Kindle.

At $359, it may be smarter to invest in a netbook which can cost less than $300. Nevertheless, it is a great educational tool if it can be put in the hands of students.

Photo by treydanger

Collaborative Web Based School Calendar

A web based school calendar that allows collaboration of school administrators can make it much easier to schedule events for a school or district. Often the school administrator gets bombarded with requests by email or other methods and has a huge challenge of organizing everybody’s calendars into the master calendar. Often this can lead to double bookings for an athletic facility or school facility, which can lead to a major inconvenience for everyone involved.

How Tandem for Schools solves this problem is by streamlining and simplifying the process.

  1. School staff log on to the calendar and make requests for facilities.
  2. Tandem automatically checks for any scheduling conflicts and sends a notification by email to the “master queue manager”
  3. The “master queue manager” approves or rejects the request.
  4. If the request is approved the event is posted to the calendar for all students, parents, and staff to see.

By allowing staff to collaborate to schedule the schools events in a simple and efficient way, Tandem can save a significant amount of time for everyone involved. School administrators and coaches don’t have to play phone tag to change an event on the calendar. The calendar also communicates with students and parents, who can receive real time notifications of any changes such as baseball rain outs or reschedulings. Students and parents can sync the school calendar with their other calendars such as Outlook, iCal, Google Calendars, or Cozi so that when a change is made, a notification is automatically sent to their calendar.

The Student-Centered Classroom

The book Brain Rules discusses how what we know from brain science can be applied in the classroom. It describes the University of Bologna, one of the first western style universities which was established in the 11th century. The science lab involved a mixture of astrology, religion, and dead animals, yet the classroom was remarkably familiar to today’s classroom. The standard 11th century Bologna classroom included a lectern surrounded by chairs, which begs the question – could it be time for a change?

A recent post at Open Education suggests a student-centered classroom instead of the traditional teacher-centered classroom.

As we move towards greater use of technology within education, there is a push away from the traditional, teacher-centered classroom to one that is student-centered. While offering some very interesting potential for teachers, one element that appears to be taken for granted as we seek to make a student-centered classroom work is the need for a motivated learner.

One of the most significant criticisms leveled against teacher-centered classrooms is that such an environment actually fosters a level of student passivity over time. The belief is that using more of a “guide on the side” or a discovery-learning approach featuring essential question formats would be far superior to our current practice of a set curricula driving classroom instruction.

That belief is founded in great part on the notion that curiosity is an innate characteristic in children. Therefore, in teacher preparation programs, the focus should be on developing a teaching arsenal that unleashes this fundamental human trait.

Such a belief has lead to a discussion that we should replace traditional pedagogical or “child-leading” teaching strategies with andragogical or “man-leading” approaches. The shift is seen as moving away from “taught” education to learning that is self-directed.

But as we noted earlier, such a shift is dependent upon a certain level of motivation from the learner as well as the notion that curiosity is innate.

If students were given a more active role in the classroom, I think it would make for a much more effective education system. The challenge is how to tap into the innate curiosity and desire to learn, which may be the “holy grail” of education.

Tandem for Schools Partners with Microsoft to Pilot New Identity Authentication Technology

The Microsoft keynote at this year’s RSA security conference in San Francisco featured Tandem for Schools to demo its new identification system called Geneva which provides authenticated information on a user (claims) to a third party application from the school’s existing information database (Active Directory). The third party app can then determine the permission level of the individual as it relates to the application based on this information. For instance Tandem for Schools can authenticate that an individual is a teacher from information received through Geneva from the school’s Active Directory and then grant them permission to add events to the school calendar.

Microsoft’s keynote at the 2009 RSA Conference by Scott Charney, VP of Trustworthy Computing, described Microsoft’s integration of the Geneva identification system with Tandem for Schools (you can view the keynote here which discusses Tandem at the 27:00 mark).

Security is important to everyone, and we here at Intand are dedicated to making sure that we are providing an easy, but safe, way for a school district to connect with their community. With the help of Microsoft’s Geneva Server, it becomes much easier for the IT staff at a district to manage the different identities and levels of permissions across their entire staff and community. This is a HUGE win for those at a school district in the IT department.

Intand is the first third party application to be tested with Microsoft’s new identity technology. Microsoft is currently piloting the system at the Lake Washington School District, which includes 50 schools and nearly 24,000 students.

According to Ariel Gordon from Microsoft’s Identity and Security Division, “What Intand has done is modify their application so that it can consume the claims that are coming from the district’s Active Directory through the Geneva server which conveys the users identities and rights and privileges. They have also made it possible for users to use an information card to sign in so they don’t need to type anything to access the app.”

When Geneva server is released by Microsoft, it will allow schools to manage security permissions for multiple third party applications from a single personnel database which can save the IT team significant time and energy.

Read more about Microsoft’s Identity Technology test with Tandem for Schools:

Microsoft tests identity technology in schools CNET

Microsoft tests online ID system in its hometown school district TechFlash

Microsoft: Internet, PCs Need New Security Model InternetNews

photo via ZDNet

Time Saving School Administration Calendar Software

Tandem for Schools is school administration calendar software designed to make the job of administration easier while improving communication with students and parents. What sets Tandem for Schools apart from other calendar options is the elegant design, ease of use, and time saving features. Not only will it make school calendar management way easier for staff, it will make parents happy because they can easily access the calendar of extracurricular events with real time updates, from any internet connection.

This is the greatest communication tool we have on campus. It saves me hours a week. The program itself is easy to use and the information is instantly available to our community. What more could you ask for?” – Vicki Storey – Library Teacher Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, California

Two full time people were managing our calendars. Now there is only one person. Tandem for Schools has made the process fast, easy and powerful.” – Teri Turner – Database Administrator Fremont County School District, Wyoming

These school administrators have found Tandem for School to be a tool that has made their job easier by cutting hours of time from their workload. Posting events on the Tandem calendar is very quick and it automatically checks for any schedule conflicts. It is also super easy to implement because the calendar is hosted on Tandem’s secure servers. It can take minutes to get up and running and integrating Tandem with your website is as simple as adding a link to yourschool.intand.com.

To learn more sign up for a free one on one demo on your computer via go2meeting, or try Tandem for Schools free for 30 days.