Monday, May 23, 2011

Spreadsheets and Blankets

Blankets really don't have anything to do with this week's work or post but it made a good title. Excel was one of the first programs I began exploring when I started to really get into computers and was more or less responsible for me getting really, really into computers and programming. (See a post a few back where the whole story was told.)

Since that time I've used spreadsheets here and there for various tasks. Currently I use one for student transcripts with calculated GPAs and credits required for graduation. I keep some employee hours tallied on one. Nothing too fancy. I like to make things look nice and always enjoy a design challenge such as the transcript spreadsheet, fitting everything nicely on one page. If you look at my recipe spreadsheet you'll see what I mean about design and formatting.

Some of what I read about how my classmates use spreadsheets I would do in a database instead. I can just as easily create a database in MS Access for keeping track of, sorting and filtering information. I haven't found the time to learn to code in OpenOffice Base or Zoho Reports/Creator yet but learning Zoho coding is on my list of things to do some day. In my opinion, spreadsheets are best used for number crunching, graphing or testing out different scenarios. Long lists of information for analysis belong in a database. Short lists of read only information can be put in a document table where you will have more formatting options for presenting the information.

As for student use, If I were teaching I could think of lots of ways to use a spreadsheet, even ones that don't fit in my opinion of how to best use a spreadsheet. Online spreadsheets have enough features for students to learn how to use them. As with other online productivity software, the full feature set is still not there for power users.

For those of you wondering about spreadsheets for the younger grades, I suggest you check out OpenOffice for Kids. The whole OpenOffice suite has been reformatted into 3 levels: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced, with the latter having all the normal toolbars and options and features available and visible. Choosing the Beginner user interface, kids are presented with a stripped down version of features and tools. The different interfaces apply to all of the office programs so that young beginners can focus on learning the basics without getting confused with the clutter of features and options.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Finding and Using Words

I've picked up a few tricks about  Internet searching, mostly that I'll probably be using the advanced Search capabilities more often. I compared my usual, Google, with Bing. Both give good but different results and each has it's own set of unique features making it a preference thing. I still haven't figured out how Bing is going to change my life and make decisions any easier like it does in the commercials. Maybe I'm not "connected" enough or maybe I'm not interested enough to really figure out how Bing can chose the right summer camp for my kids.

I tried looking at a bunch of "visual" search engines. Not including the ones that were for searching graphic images, I was not impressed with the eye candy they offered. Some give you a bunch of thumbnails in varying and dazzling presentation formats of the web pages that you must enlarge to see what's on it. Not very useful when reading the the two sentence summary included in standard search pages is much easier. Others offer a big shot of the web pages, again in super cool whiz bang style. Again, not very useful because you only see one result at a time. All of them are bandwidth hogs that need to load the result web pages first before any of the wow presentation methods will actually work and entertain you.

I was disappointed to see that Kartoo has changed it's format since I last visited it a couple of years ago. Search results were presented in a mind-map style layout with similar pages and thoughts categorized in different branches. Clicking on any of the subtopics would take you to a search for that. It was similar to Visual Thesaurus. Upon further reading I just found out that they closed in 2010. Looks like they are back up again but in the format they now have.Wikipedia says that the mind-map presentation they had was ahead of its time.

So, now that I've found my words I guess I have to process them. Without being redundant with my forum posts I'll try to say something new. Zoho Docs has more features than Google Docs but in order to collaborate and share, invitees must have an email address associated with a Zoho account. In Google, you can share and collaborate with anyone, privately or publicly as an open invitation to anyone on the net who knows or can find the document url.

Interestingly, I'm in my personal Google Docs site now and I'm trying to figure out why I have several of my classmates' shared work from previous classes listed. I don't remember giving out my personal Google name and I don't remember trying to connect any Docs between personal Google and Wolfmail. I do have my Wolfmail email pushed to my personal one?? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Graphics and Text

I really love working with graphics and if I was going to do things over again I might go into graphic design. I have used and still use high end graphics programs, both vector (drawing with shapes and objects) and raster (painting, image/photo editing). For image editing there are a lot of good online applications available, some that are full featured and many that have a few unique tools for interesting effects. For my assignment, I looked for an online vector graphics editor and found that most are not yet ready for prime time. For now, I'll stick to locally installed applications for both types of graphic editing. Either the tools and features are not there or don't yet work well or the latency (lag time) makes it difficult to work with over the Internet, either because of a slower connection (or a  bottle-necking pipeline with 20 students all going crazy on the Internet at the same time) or older computers. Because Inkscape and Gimp among others are free, there is no reason schools cannot install these editing programs on student production computers.

The other side of online graphics are the cool, cute make a picture, story or video websites. I've played around with quite a few of these and know they can have a definite place in schools for the right purpose at the right time. Go for it and use them.One gripe I have with a lot of these websites is that they don't always give you a demo mode to try it out before you sign up. Another gripe is that some really cool create it sites have a lot of inappropriate content for school use/endorsement.

For my graphics assignment, I contrasted an old school text only classroom poster of classroom procedures with a graphic version.

Here is my presentation: Graphics Taiwan

Onto the text of our class. It's been a while since "I done book learning." Up till now, it's been easy for me to play with computer hardware and software and get the work done. Now I have to turn on my brain.

Oh..... the standards, and the documentation and the justification and the  .......

My experience in education has mostly been like this. I worked in a large private English language school in Taiwan for about 10 years. Great methodology, great resources, great freedom to do what works for you and your students. No standards to comply with. No governmental red tape. No hassles. The bottom line was this, we (meaning the company, the teachers and the students) were successful. Students learned to speak (and listen to, read and write) English. They kept coming back for more. The company was the largest adult English language school in Taiwan because we were good at what we did. My present experience is in a small private choice school where let's say, (at my particular school - not to say all choice schools are this way) things are a little looser than in a typical public school.

I do understand why we need to learn about and put into practice the ideas and concepts in the book but sometimes it just seems a little bit too much. I'd like a show of hands from those of you that teach and have the time to make the kinds of lesson plans we all see examples of. In writing and formatted: goals, objectives, justification, plan of attack, follow up,extensions, inclusions, standards addressed, assessment, evaluation - and then look back at it and think, what have I missed, how can I make it better?

I know we need to think this way. I just don't know what it's like in the real world  in public schools. I've never taught in one. Does anybody really do this?