View from the Classroom
Not Really an End of the Year Column
December 31, 2003
As the calendar year winds down, columnists everywhere put up their "best and worst of 2003" columns along with many predictive columns. It's almost an unwritten requirement if you consider yourself any kind of active columnist. I've certainly done my share of them:
End of the year columns can be easy to do, as you can just look back and sagely comment with 20-20 hindsight on the happenings of a year gone by. One of the better ones I've read so far this year is Eric Bangeman's Mac.Ars takes on 2003: the year in review on Ars Technica. Predictive columns with Macworld Expo right around the corner are a dime a dozen. Since I predicted at its introduction that the iPod was "destined to quickly join the ranks of the Newton and the Cube," I think I'll just leave any predictions to all the other online and print columnists of the Mac web.
I took last year off from doing an end of the year piece, as I was swamped with work at school and considered myself anything but an active, regular columnist. I was also busy publishing Educators' News at the time and finishing up a major review of Co:Writer 4000, a cool piece of assistive software that helps kids write.
While my school situation has improved enough that I've pretty well put off early retirement, I'm still busy with a long overdue major revision of MATH DITTOS 2: Fact Controlled MULTIPLICATION for Special Learners and reviews of some great reading programs from Lexia Learning Systems (Early Reading, Phonics Based Reading, and Reading S.O.S.) and Riverdeep (Destination Reading I and II).
At any rate, I'd long ago decided I wouldn't do another end of the year column, but find myself at the keyboard once again. But I promise, this won't be another review, rant, or predictive column. I'm having too much fun doing other stuff. I put up three new pictures yesterday on the Desktop Photos page. They're all of the same sunset. I just couldn't decide which one I liked best (or least). While we enjoy living in the country and next to a nature reserve, the flip side is that we live with the powerplant that established the reserve as a neighbor. Fortunately, it's a pretty clean plant with most of its emissions being water vapor and carbon dioxide (Hmm).
We drove to Bloomington over the weekend to help one of our daughters, Samantha, move a piano into her apartment. She's finishing up her BA and RN at Indiana University. Saturday night we watched her do a gig with a band she's recently joined, Jenn Cristy's Paradox. Sam got to do the lead on the Aretha Franklin version of Respect. It was great!
When Sam was home over Christmas preparing for the performance, I'd helped out by downloading several songs she needed from the iTunes Music Store. I'd not done this before, as I thought downloading on our rather slow dial-up connection would take forever. Some of the longer songs took about 20 minutes to download, but it really was quicker than I'd thought. I was also impressed with how slick the iTunes site was in handling the business end of the download and the prompt receipt via email.
A month or so ago, my boss surprised me by asking if we were making use of our laptop computers in my classroom. The next day we were doing our usual Wednesday drill of everyone taking a computerized practice spelling test to get ready for pencil and paper tests the next day. Since I had my digital camera handy, I grabbed a shot of the kids with their iBooks, ran a copy, and handed it to my principal. I later saw him showing the picture around to other teachers, so I guess he was pleased.
We're definitely using the laptops differently than in the past. Since I've switched to teaching just grades K-3 this year from the previous K-6 assignment, we're not quite the computer gurus we used to be. The little kids take a whole lot more time to get up and running on their computers. Many are just learning their letter-sound associations and still do not have capital and lower case letter correspondence. Since we teach the letter/sound combinations first with lower case letters, the capital letters on the computer keyboards really threw some of my first graders a curve until I put some lower case letter stickers on their keyboards.
Probably the best news from my room on technology instruction is that we hadn't used any of my extensive educational CD collection this year until the last few days before Christmas vacation. While the "edutainment" CDs were great for holding kids in the past until a staff member was free for instruction, we're keeping our kids much more productively involved this year with direct assignments on their laptops using SpellTutor, Paws in Typing Town, Lexia and Destination Reading activities, and writing assignments using the Co:Writer assistive software. The younger set's favorite "free time" program is Robin Landsbert's Mirror Paint.
Maybe the reason I'm not driven to do a standard end of the year column is that things seem to be going pretty good right now. Our iBooks at school are definitely showing some wear and tear, but Apple continues to fix the really serious things that go wrong with them. We solved our wireless problems by the addition of an Airport Base Station in my classroom. Whether our connection problems were with the LinkSys wireless units or Apple's software, I don't know. I just know that we now can connect to our server easily. The recent Battery Update seems to have improved the battery life of the iBooks. We still have several machines with touchy trackpads, but I'm not yet ready to call it a hardware failure and send the units off to AppleCare.
I find that I'm also pretty much at peace currently with Apple's operating system. I'm writing this "column" on an upgraded beige G3 that still runs Jaguar (10.2.8). I've had good luck in the past using Ryan Rempel's XPostFacto, but I can't seem to get it to work running Panther on the G3 with the Sonnet G4 upgrade. However, 10.2.8 works well for me.
I do use Panther on my school Mac. It's a dual 1GHz G4 that I inherited when our school's technology coordinator, previously known as "the Evil NT techie," took a job at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology. I really like Panther. I've tried it on one of our iBooks as well and found that most of the problems we had experienced under all versions of 10.2 have been corrected. Unfortunately, my school simply can't afford to upgrade all our iBooks to Panther.
One change I've made in my school computing this year is abandoning zip disks in favor of compact flash cards. I chose to go with USB compact flash card readers instead of the self-contained USB memory sticks, as I use my cards both in my digital camera and for file storage and transfer. So far, the cards have proved to be reliable and considerably more troublefree than the zip disks I used to use.
While I've not published a conclusion to the A Gaggle of LC III's columns, Annie and I are still distributing free take-home computers to all of my full-time and most of my part-time special education students. With the assistance of the bank where Annie works as a WAN specialist (They're supplying free used 14" monitors -- shown stockpiled at right.), we've been able to move up to using Power Mac 7300's for the program. Just a few years ago, we struggled to afford an LC III for each of the kids to take home. If I keep teaching a few more years, maybe we'll be able to go to desktop beige G3's someday.
A typical take-home unit now is a Power Mac 7300 running a 180 or 200 MHz PPC 604e processor with anywhere from a 2 to 9 gig hard drive. With the 7300's, we began equipping them with 96 MB of RAM, but recently edged that up to 128 megs. We've been fortunate that almost all of the machines I've bought have come with a cache card, so every one that's gone out has had that feature as well. The keyboards are all full sized with a good mouse. Monitors were a very mixed bag until the bank stepped in and began supplying an assortment of IBM, Compaq, and Dell 14" color displays.
The two units shown at left are the last of a group of ten that came out of some government installation out west. There's actually a third unit on the floor, as I'm cannibalizing the three units in hopes of making two good ones. If all goes well, two second graders will begin training on them in January. Since we run OS X on all the Macs in my classroom, the kids are taking a little longer to get used to running the classic Mac OS on their take-home Mac.
Well, there it is -- no retrospective (of the Mac world), no rants, and no predicitons. Pretty dull, huh?
Odd Thoughts While Shaving Between Paragraphs:
It's good to see that Mark Marcantonio and John H. Farr are back online again. Mark writes a lot of good educational columns for MyMac.Com. John is well known for his long editing stint at Applelinks and his various independent sites. He now is listed with a number of other blogs on MyMac. It appears that MyMac Publisher Tim Robertson continues to attract fine writers to his long running site.
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last updated 2/23/2008
©2003 Steven L. Wood