Waraku Education

Ideas, experiments and observations as they occur [and I have time] relating to teaching and learning in a secondary school - special focus on ICT.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

How can Children Stay Safe Using Blogs?

This is useful to go through with students prior to using blogs - nicely organised, easy to read. Thanks for this useful information.
Site also contains information about what blogs are, examples and dangers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Learn with the free stuff first

This year we gave all staff and students a copy of the Open CD. All new students for 2005 will get a copy of the latest version of this CD with their induction package. The software on this CD is excellent quality and free. Of particular note is the Open Office (basic office functions – wordprocessor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing) and Gimp (advanced graphic manipulation) packages.

Some facts that influence the way that we do business

  • We have a significant proportion of our population that are school card holders

  • We are a public school that strives for a free and open education for all

  • First impressions are lasting impressions – the software that people use to learn with first leaves a lasting impression (are we being paid to make this lasting impression commercial/propriety software)

  • Process skills are more important – the process of, for example, document development, graphic manipulation and design is more important than skills in using a particular software tool.

We are advertising to our clients that we create learning situations that use the free software first because we are

  • keen to allow them to continue with their learning outside of school

  • wanting to promote free and open education for all

  • not wanting to advantage a particular commercial enterprise because students have learnt first with a particular commercial package

  • community minded and wish to assist our community with cheaper methods to achieve their goals

  • concerned more with process skills (these are life long skills)

  • wanting to put the students in a position where they do not feel the need to breach copyright and steal to get their work done at home

We believe that it is most ethical to, where possible, use the free stuff first.

There are implications here for things as small as the language that we use – eg.


Good way (for now)– adds weighting to counteract existing bias

Bad way

please prepare this using a wordprocessor

Please prepare this using Open Office write

Present this in a word document

Produce a presentation

Produce an Open Office Impress presentation

Produce a powerpoint

Use a graphics package to

Use Gimp

Develop it using Adobe Photoshop

Use a web browser

Use Mozilla

Use internet explorer

Use a spreadsheet

Use Open Office Calc

Use Microsoft Excel

Use a child's graphics package

Use Tux Paint

Use kidpix

I recognise that this position might seem a bit different but in the international community it is not. This position, in global standards, is a compromise. This statement is about using the free stuff first. Others believe that schools should be using free software exclusively. For example “Why schools should use exclusively free software”. We just want our students to use the free software and be exposed to the commercial alternatives.

Nick Oliver of the ACT states

Because teaching is a fundamentally social activity it stands to reason that teachers should have an interest in the social impact of using non free software in schools. As there are very good alternatives to using non-free software that encourages users to engage in the four freedoms we are duty bound as public servants to teach this knowledge and model its practice.”

The ACT passed its Open Source bill last december that makes law the consideration of Open Source software in purchases across government sectors

Support free and open education.

Another 'Get Gimped' workshop confirms results

Had another 'Get Gimped' lunchtime workshop today. A repeat performance of last wednesday. There is no doubt in my mind that talk about too hard to teach by comparison with other graphics packages is absolute rubbish.

Some students are now emailing me there 'Get Gimped' work - the collection is growing.


Mindmaps are now complete and impressive. Students continued to be very positive about this activity and the usefulness of this technology for their learning.

The idea of having URLs on the outer most nodes will now become standard practice for us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Introduced Freemind into the project

A double lesson today where research continued but ideas are running out. It was time to use search engines to get some more ideas.

We installed a free concept/mind mapping program called “Freemind”. (http://freemind.sourceforge.net/) It is not as 'glitzy' as inspiration but it makes up for this with its price. It does the job well, can be installed on all computers in the school and students can take it home to use – nearly all of the prerequisites for a free and open education. The only draw back is that it does not run on other platforms (eg Linux).

A four minute demo using the multimedia projector and students were up and running. I then interrupted them semi formally from time to time to throw another technique into the pot (eg. how to hyperlink, adding icons, etc.) I was very impressed with how quickly the maps started to form. Some became very involved very quickly. Student feedback about the program was very positive.

I have insisted that examples are used for each idea/use so that the outer perimeter of the map ends up containing lots of url's. This is where the work on aggregating the class blogs pays off for them. These URL's are all hyperlinks so that the reader of the map can click on the link to see an example of the idea/use. Students often fail to backup their ideas with examples. This forces their hand and becomes a bibliography.

They also saw that this topic is a key to the seen exam essay question. A printed copy of their personal mind map will be the only notes allowed into the exam. They will be able to use this essay for their writing based literacy assessment.

Get Gimped - so much for too hard to teach

We had a bunch of 8 students turn up for the lunch time 'Get Gimped' workshop today. The students did not have much idea about graphic manipulation. I said that I would show them in less than 10 minutes. We did it in 3 and had lots of laughs. By the end of lunch students had gone and borrowed the digital camera, taken some photos and distorted at least one of them. Now that they have successfully negotiated this program once I am absolutely sure that they will be able to learn and especially be open to learn lots of new graphic manipulation skills using Gimp.

So much for too hard to teach.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Show them the free stuff first

I have been meaning to get accustomed to using the 'Gimp' for graphic manipulation. I have been meaning to get skilled in graphic manipulation. For example, I have heard about layers but had never managed to work out how to use them. Last weekend I did this. There are lots of things that I still don't know but I know enough to start having fun and be creative.

The need to come to terms with this has become more urgent as resistance to use the Gimp for graphic manipulation in visual arts and photography in my school has persisted and seemed to be becoming more entrenched. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Elements are seen as the tools of choice and they seem to be happy to spend the money in the face of shrinking budget allocations.. Of all things Kidpix is used in junior secondary – again a propriety product. Why would they pay money for this when there is Tuxpaint – (free and open source, can be put on all computers (well actually is already) in the school and at home)?

It has been said to me that the Gimp is unsuitable because it loads into several windows and so appears slightly different to most other windows programs. 'Too hard to teach'. 'We gave it a try and it did not work'. Well this has got me worked up and now I am out to prove them wrong. The reports I have read heap a lot of praise on the Gimp as a suitable alternative to Adobe Photoshop. Even if it is a bit different or even a bit buggy, the price and the ability to use across platforms (Windows and Linux) more than balances this.

It erks me because I think we should show the kids how to use the free stuff first. It is common sense that the tool that people learn with first becomes the preferred tool. It takes a lot of motivation for people to decide to spend the energy to learn something new. Show them the propriety tool first and you are setting the kids up. This is inconsistent with the spirit of free and open education. Show them the free tool first.

I have grabbed 18 staff photos – the ones that are put near the front entrance of the school so that visitors can put a name to a face. I used the iwarp distort filter in Gimp to distort their faces and have put these on display in the computer lab. I want students to see how funny these are and peak their curiosity. I want them to ask me how to do it. I want the students to ask for copies of the Gimp to take home. I want the students to be bragging to their arts and photography teachers about the fun things that they can do on ANY COMPUTER IN THE SCHOOL, not the select few with the paid for propriety software installed.

I reckon that I might even run a few lunch time workshops. I will put a couple of larger distorted photos in prominent places around the school with a sign saying – “Would you like to know how to do this. I will show you in less than 10 minutes at lunchtime.”

Updating blogger.com via email unreliable

A student was commenting about the un-reliability of updating his blogger.com blog via email. I have noticed the same thing and have decided not to use email because of this. He and I have noted that an update via email can occur very quickly and at other times can take more than a day.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Feedreader being replaced

We are undertaking some significant system changes and part of that involves the use of Mozilla Thunderbird as the email client for students and staff. The network admin bloke has shown me that Thunderbird has an aggregator. No more reinstalling. Will work on windows and linux. This is good.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Break through

Very productive lesson. I think we have all got the idea.

A student who has been away for ages turned up today. It was good to see a peer assisting him set up his blogger account and Feedreader.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

OPML is a winner

There was a student who came today that was not here yesterday when we had to reinstall Feedreader and learnt about OPML import/export. One of the other students emailed his OPML file to this student. He managed to import the OPML file with the help of another student who also had no previous experience. His feeds were restored in a matter of minutes.

We briefly discussed what our goals for the lesson were. It seemed to take some time for students to settle to task. There was lots of talk about cricket. Not much work happening. I was able to use one of the postings to talk about the structure of postings again. This seems to be well received perhaps because it gave clarity that they needed. Maybe next lesson will be more productive because of this.

Postings need to have a

  • URL or a particular resource being referred to
  • a summary of the resource
  • a statement about how the student sees/relates this resource to the topic (give it meaning)

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

A step backwards, another two forward

The computers in the computer lab were re-imaged yesterday arvo. This meant that the installation of Feedreader, and of course all of the configuration and feed details, were no longer there. In lesson today, students calmly set about re-installing Feedreader, configuring the proxy and setting up the feeds again. This took somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes. Well that was a step backward BUT we also made a step ro two forward because it provided the opportunity to talk about the Feedreader option to export an OPML file. Students will now keep an OPML file in their network folder to facilitate recovery in future.

We also thought that an OPML file could be created by one student (or the teacher) and then shared with the rest in order to get all of the required feeds. Now that's a good idea.


No class yesterday BUT I did notice a student showing another student, not from this class, what we were doing as I moved through one of our computer labs. He showed this student the blog site and how we were aggregating using Feedreader. This is a good sign