Thursday, May 15, 2008

Windows XP to be used on OLPC's XO Laptop

The BBC and TechCrunch have both released news in the last few hours announcing that Windows XP will soon be available for the OLPC XO laptop. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch is speculating that Microsoft may have made a hefty donation to OLPC in order for this to happen. Meanwhile, Jonathan Fildes at the BBC is taking a more market-driven approach to the story. Fildes reports that some developing countries (the target market for OLPC) have insisted for a while now that OLPC make Windows an option. As always the true story probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Putting my personal bias against Windows aside, I think this is a good move for OLPC and for education in general. I've been able to put aside my ani-Window bias because the cost typically associated with Windows licensing seems to be removed for OLPC. The BBC reports that the cost of adding Windows XP will be approximately $10 bringing the total cost to roughly $198. While I would prefer to see more kids learning and adopting Linux, if making Windows an option for the OLPC XO laptop gets more computers in more kids' hands around the world then I'm all for it. Yes, it does create a potentially large group of students predisposed and trained to use Windows, but if that is what it takes to improve education in developing countries then I'm willing to put down my anti-Windows flag.

Stimulate Imagination with Books and Google Maps Combo

A blog post on Langwitches got me thinking about some ways that Google Maps might be used to spark students' imagination about the books they're reading. The author of Langwitches, Silvia Tolisano, has created a map on Google Maps of the books she has read and their corresponding geographic setting (I've embedded that map below). Silvia shared on her blog a link to Book Around the World. Book Around the World, written by Bonnie Jacobs, is a blog about books and their geographic settings. Book Around the World lists book recommendations based on the geographic setting of a book's story.

Applications for Education
Using Google Maps in the manner that Silvia has could be a great way for a literature class to track the books they read throughout the year. With Google Maps' new "explore this area" feature students can quickly find more information about the geographic settings of the stories they read. Students could also add a short summary or review of the books they read right on a Google Map placemark.

Another method of using Google Maps alongside literature is to have students create maps of a character's travels in a story. Students could also create a map of an author's life on a Google Map.

View Larger Map

Mutapic - Rapidly Create Original Art

Mutapic is a really interesting way to create original artwork online. Mutapic is not like any other online artwork creation tool that I've seen. The artwork users create with Mutapic is based on selecting and altering objects randomly generated within a set of user defined parameters. Mutapic randomly generates two images which users can combine to make a third image. Then the users can experiment with filters which alter the newly created third image. There are sixteen different filters that users can apply to their images. Within each of the sixteen filters are more variables that can alter an image. On top of the filter options are overlay options and image mixing options. If this sounds like a lot of variables, it is. I've been experimenting with Mutapic for a few days and I feel like I'm only scratching the surface of what this free web application can do.

Applications for Education
Mutapic may be a great tool for art teachers and art students to experiment with many shading, shape, color, and overlay options. Mutapic's high resolution images show much better detail and the effects of color, shading, and overlay than other free online art creation/ drawing tools.

There may also be an opportunity for tying Mutapic's parameters and variables into a math lesson. (I don't have a good enough math mind to think about how that would actually work).

Backboard - Super Simple Feedback System

Backboard is a simple way to share and gather feedback about your documents, images, or websites. Backboard works like this, upload your document, image, or insert the url to your webpage. Backboard then hosts your project on a page on which visitors can leave you feedback. Your project is given a unique url which you can share with others to direct them to your project and leave you feedback. As the owner of the work you can also leave comments. Click here to see a sample of the project I uploaded to test the service, please leave feedback if you would like to.

Applications for Education
Backboard is a simple web tool that teachers can use with students to start an online conversation about an image or document. Backboard might also be used as a tool for peer-evaluation and editing of documents, images, or website designs. Leaving feedback on Backboard does not require visitors to create an account before commenting which makes it quick and easy for visitors to leave a comment.

Activities for Learning About US Government Decision Making

Sometimes the most obvious solutions are overlooked. Last week a colleague asked me if I knew of any simple online activities for teaching US Government to elementary school students. I told her about the Center on Congress at Indian University which is a great resource, but I forgot to mention Kids in the House from the Office of the Clerk in Washington, D.C.

Kids in the House provides great games and activities for elementary and middle school students to learn about the functions of the House of Representatives. Students can play games or go on short virtual field trips through the Kids in the House website. Kids in the House hosts a nice glossary of terms that students can use to find the definitions of vocabulary terms they discover in their activities on the website.

Applications for Education
Kids in the House could be used for students to do some independent learning because the glossary provides students with the definitions for terms that may be new to them. For teachers looking for activities that they can do with the whole class at once, Kids in the House provides a set of lesson plans with printable worksheets and information recording forms to accompany various activities on the website. Kids in the House also provides a downloadable activity booklet that teachers can give to their students.

In addition to games and interactive activities, Kids in the House provides diagrams and charts that students can explore to learn about the functions of the House of Representatives. The How Laws are Made section of Kids in the House is designed for younger students, but could still be useful for high school students.

Spam Defense Measures

Thank you to everyone who has been reading, subscribing, and spreading the word about Free Tech 4 Teachers. Because of you this blog is now reaching an average of 225 readers each day. As the summer approaches I have some ideas about making this blog a better resource for teachers that I will try slowly implement throughout the summer months. (I realized in April that I simply didn't have enough time to be a good teacher and try to implement new features on the blog. Since teaching is my real job, I had to put implementing new blog features on hold until summer).

One change that I cannot wait any longer to implement deals with spam in the comments. Lately, this blog has seen a marked increase in spam (some that is definitely not safe for work) so I have to enable comment moderation. I hate to do this because I want to hear all feedback positive and negative and I'm proud to say that I've never removed a comment because of negative feedback. Lately though spam comments have increased and I've had to remove them. Thank you to everyone who has left comments. Please continue to leave comments, I will have them posted as soon as I possibly can.