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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Open Source Desktop Screen Recorder

CamStudioOak Hill High School (IN) science teacher Tom Rademaker wrote over the weekend to tell me about an interesting, open source desktop screen recorder he'd tried, CamStudio. He commented, "I have to say it is the easiest desktop screen recorder utility available. Recording and narrating a desktop screen activity only takes a few seconds longer than the actual activity." From just a quick test, I have to agree with him.

"CamStudio is able to record all screen and audio activity on your [Windows] computer and create industry-standard AVI video files and using its built-in SWF Producer can turn those AVIs into lean, mean, bandwidth-friendly Streaming Flash videos (SWFs)." The current 2.0 version has a bug that prevents SWF's for working right in the Firefox browser, but a version 2.5.1 beta (2.1 MB) is available for download that addresses that bug. You'll also want to download and install the CamStudioCodec-1.4 (37K).

Make Education a Priority

Paul Krugman put out a column last week that is causing a bit of a stir amongst conservatives. In The Uneducated American Krugman suggests the need for "another big round of aid to state governments" to reverse the funding cuts to schools across the nation caused by falling state tax revenues. He cautions, "We need to wake up and realize that one of the keys to our nation’s historic success is now a wasting asset. Education made America great; neglect of education can reverse the process."

Alternate link with opposing viewpoints at the end: Education should help lead us out of recession, not fall victim to it

Odds 'n' Ends

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill into law that removes the state's ban on using the results of student achievement tests to evaluate teachers. Schwarzenegger OKs school bill required by US law relates that the change removes "a barrier that prevented California from applying for $4.5 billion under the federal Race to the Top program."

Eric Hanushek takes a common sense look at the results of some recent studies on charter schools in Why are Some Environments Better than Others for Charter Schools?

With Windows 7 coming out next week, many school systems that chose to stay with Windows XP are probably going to be taking a good look at Microsoft's latest operating system. I generally try to stay away from "platform wars," but eWeek's Linux & Open Source: Open-Source and Mac Alternatives to Windows 7 is a quick look at what else is out there.

I'd passed last week on linking to Mike Smith's AP article, Indiana governor alarmed about state revenue. Smith told that Indiana's governor had "said employee layoffs would be a last resort, and cutting money for schools could not be ruled out" to preserve the state's cash surplus. I was concerned that the governor would consider trying to withhold appropriated funds for schools again, but discounted it as just political rhetoric. Then one of our daughter's called. Her husband works for an agency funded in part by the state, and he didn't get paid last Friday. His boss told him it was because the state was withholding around $30,000 from the agency!

You may accurately infer that Governor Daniels has never been a favorite here. But teachers around the country should beware, as this guy will almost certainly mount an effort to run for President in 2012. He's no friend of education.


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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

NAEP, ESEA, NCLB or Happy Acronym Day

Math scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often known as the nation's report card, were released today. Sam Dillon's Sluggish Results Seen in U.S. Math Scores in the New York times pretty well sums up the results.

While a leveling off in fourth grade math progress isn't a good thing, it has brought the discussion of reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now more commonly known as the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), to the fore. Richard Rothstein's The Prospects for No Child Left Behind discusses the need for changes in the law. Rothstein concludes, "The Obama administration's ESEA re-authorization proposal should reject the continued punishment of schools based on flawed standardized tests, and instead focus on the careful and cautious design of new forms of qualitative evaluation."

Odds 'n' Ends

Sara Mead's Secretary Duncan wants a Revolution discusses the "president’s proposal to invest more in improving the quality of federally-subsidized school lunches." June Kronholz's D.C.’s Braveheart takes a friendly look at Michelle Rhee's first two years as Chancellor of the D.C. Schools.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009


Michael Santerre gives some good tips for choosing passwords and maintaining their confidentiality in Choosing a smart password on the Google Blog.

A related posting, U.S. Dept. of Education ties desktop encryption to employee ID cards, relates that the U.S. Department of Education is rolling out desktop encryption software that links to employees’ government-issued Personal Identity Verification (PIV) smart cards to meet government rules for safeguarding sensitive financial and personal information.

Missed Philanthropic Money for D.C.

Robert McCartney's Schools Pay When Rhee Snubs Donors tells of the money D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has driven off with her unique personality and management style. McCartney blasts Rhee in his opening paragraph:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee says a $12 million budget cut just forced her to lay off nearly 400 teachers and other staff. But local philanthropy groups say they would have given her that much money and more, albeit for different purposes, if she'd cooperate better with them.

The Rhee apologists are already up in arms over the column. Rhee probably picked up some major points with reform advocates with the Big Gains For District On National Math Test announced this week. Jay Mathews takes a more reasoned approach in his Class Struggle column, Don't Get Too Excited About Jump in D.C. Scores.

NASA Image of the Day

Andromeda in Ultraviolet

Andromeda in Ultraviolet is "the highest-resolution view of a neighboring spiral galaxy ever attained in the ultraviolet. The galaxy, known as M31 in the constellation Andromeda, is the largest and closest spiral galaxy to our own. This mosaic of M31...taken by Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope...shows a region 200,000 light-years wide and 100,000 light-years high."

Abes of Maine

Friday, October 16, 2009

Software for Mac

Office for Mac 2004A posting yesterday on Macworld, Microsoft extends support period for Office for Mac 2004, let me know the good news that Microsoft will support its Office 2004 for Macintosh through January 10, 2012. "The scope of support will include both security updates and non-security bug-fixes." Like lots of other Mac users, I passed on the 2008 version of Office for Mac and have considered just going to the open source OpenOffice when my 2004 version breaks with some system upgrade.

Speaking of open source software, two pertinent postings about Mac open source software popped up this week. Dana Blankenhorn writes about Why Mac open source gets no respect on ZDNet. Peter Wayner's The best free open source software for Mac OS X on InfoWorld led me to a new find for light graphics editing.

SeashoreSeashore is a basic, free, open source image editor for Mac OS X based on GIMP technology. It features gradients, textures, and anti-aliasing for both text and brush strokes, multiple layers and alpha channel editing. It also uses the GIMP file format. "Seashore only aims to serve the basic image editing needs of most computer users, not to provide a replacement for professional image editing products."

If you've used other graphics programs such as Photoshop or Elements, you'll find Seashore very easy to use. I pulled together the screenshot at right, reduced the giant Andromeda in Ultraviolet shown yesterday to a more manageable size for this posting, and easily optimized and saved the shot in just a few minutes.

I liked Seashsore well enough that I have added it to my Freebies page of software I think might prove useful for classroom teachers.

Spelling Software

I didn't write much about it on Educators' News, but I really hated to see Roger Clary's old classic Mac OS SpellTutor application fall by the wayside when he updated his other offerings for Mac OS X and Windows. It had produced amazing results with my special ed kids. I wrote about it and our spelling program in Teacher Tools 4: A Roll-Your-Own Spelling Program. I also had some understanding of what a nightmare it would be to create and Mac/Win version with compatible sound files for spelling tests.

While updating links on a couple of old, but still popular columns one night this week, I discovered that Class One Software, what Roger's old MacMuse Software morphed into, now offers a new spelling title for both Macintosh and Windows, Spelling Depot.

Spelling DepotSpelling Depot allows teachers (students, parents) to either write or import word lists, with or without definitions. Students may then take repeated practice tests of the lists using the computer's text-to-speech function. It also has an interesting word completion game, Word Burst, that requires some dexterity with a mouse, along with a word unscramble activity (terrible for LD kids), and a word find. Each of the three games may be used with any word list.

I couldn't help compare Spelling Depot with the old SpellTutor. The interface is cleaner and easy to use, but I really liked being able to record the spelling lists for tests myself. The voices on my Mac just aren't all that good. I also like to give a context sentence for each word instead of the optional definition Spelling Depot uses. I got cute and just used the definition box for my context sentences...until I realized that the practice test shows the definition containing the correctly spelled word to the student as well as reading it to them.

Spelling Depot 2008 is listed on the Class One Software site as "pre-release" software, meaning that it may still need some work. My test on a Mac showed it to be useable now, but I'd really like the ability to add context sentences to the tests. Spelling Depot is shareware and sells for $14.95 (25% off offer) for a personal license.

Do note that Jay Lichtenauer's Master Spell (Mac only) is now a freeware. It became available several years after my old school had purchased a site license for SpellTutor, or we might have gone with it. Master Spell uses text-to-speech technology, but also provides an option that allows teachers to record the word list themselves. I prefer the recorded word lists, but they really take a lot of time if you teach in a situation where you have multiple levels of students requiring different word lists.

Sign Language for Hearing/Speaking Classrooms

Emma Brown's More Teachers Turning to Sign Language to Manage Classrooms has some good tips for using sign language to cut classroom disruptions. We used to use American Sign Language in my special ed room for restroom requests during "no interruptions" instruction time. I really wished my kids could learn to read as easily as they learned the ten or so signs we employed!

On Science@NASA

Science@NASADr. Tony Phillips has added two postings this week on his excellent Science@NASA site:

Postings on Science@NASA are written in vocabulary appropriate for middle through high school students. They also have audio files and other language versions available as well as being available as podcasts on iTunesicon.

Odds 'n' Ends

Nicholas Kristof's column, Democrats and Schools, and his related blog posting, Best Antidote to Poverty? Good Teachers, are good reads. Kristof wrote in the latter, "I’d particularly welcome comments from teachers or administrators or those with experience in school systems." From a quick look at the comments (now closed to new comments), it would appear not many teachers posted comments.

Other than the Kristof blurb above, it was nice to get away today from the school reform battle. Most of this posting has been a pleasant throwback to the early years of Educators' News when much of its content centered on educational shareware and freeware for Macintosh. Since I'm only in the classroom these days as an occasional substitute (mostly in special education classrooms), my view of what software works in the classroom is pretty limited.

One thing that I probably won't be doing very often is mini-reviews of commercial software. I wrote today about Spelling Depot because I've mentioned its predecessor, SpellTutor, in many of my columns. I generally try to limit software (and web site) reviews on this site to freeware and free open source software. It's actually pretty rare for teachers to have enough discretionary funds to consider commercial software purchases.

Have a great weekend!

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