Category Archives: Uncategorized

Differentiated Instruction, Part 2

DIFFERENTIATION, part 2

2017-03-11

by Richard White

I was recently asked by our IT director John Yen how I handle differentiated instruction in the classroom: what strategies do I employ to try to ensure that students of widely varying abilities and skill levels are all appropriately challenged in my courses?

It’s a question that public school teachers face all the time, and independent school teachers arguably somewhat less. Technology teachers at both types of institutions have the biggest challenge here, because:

  1. there isn’t (yet?) a standardized curriculum path that has been developed and accepted around computational thinking and computer science, and
  2. there is a large, and perhaps growing, “digital divide” between those students who have nearly unlimited access to technology and training (even informal training via YouTube videos and the internet) and those who don’t.

My reply to John’s question took a little while to narrow down to a response to his questions, but here are my remarks, lightly edited for clarity.

=====Beginning of Email=====

  • That’s one of the million-dollar questions right now: How do I bring students with widely-varying experience into the curriculum?
  • The 2-million dollar question is: What CS curriculum do we want to offer/require? This varies depending on the school population, the goal of the curriculum (CS for managers? Coding for vocation?), the instructors available, the budgeting, salaries…
  • The 3-million dollar question is: Who is going to teach this curriculum? At this point, that is going to have an overwhelming influence on the other questions. CS people don’t do much with game design, and Game Designers don’t know a lot about Linux, and software engineers may or may not know about networking or control systems…

In Computer Science courses, I’ve found that I often have to provide up to five different kinds of differentiation, given at different times according to the idealized schedule given here.

Steps in Assigning/Conducting a Computer Science activity or project

  1. I prepare the assignment, preferably on paper or online so I can check that the idea and the process are fully articulated. NOTE: When looking through some online references a few years ago I stumbled upon an assignment format used by professors at Michigan State University, and I’ve adopted it for many of my CS courses. An example is attached here.
  2. During the preparation of the assignment, I try to prepare 1-3 Extension activities that are more complex or require application of the project to a new context. This is the first differentiation that I’ll use with some of my more advanced students who would otherwise complete the assignment too quickly. On the assignment I also often include a section called “Questions for you to consider (not hand in)” which ask the students to think about other aspects of the subject that may not be directly related to the assignment. These can be a nice jumping-off point for a conversation with more advanced students.
  3. Also for the assignment, I prepare a few “Notes on Getting Started” that are included with the instructions. These notes include suggested work strategies and/or questions that might help clarify the direction their problem-solving process should take. This is the second differentiation.
  4. Deliver the assignment (paper or online) in class, with whatever introductory remarks are appropriate. Students begin working.
  5. After students have been working on the assignment for some length of time, I’ll usually check in with them to see how things are proceeding so far. If there’s a stumbling block in the assignment that I’m aware of, I may bring it up at that time, and ask them what they think about it. I’ll usually write some amount of code on the board here, developing ideas with those students who have become stuck. This is the third differentiation strategy. ( Example: This video (narrated) of me working with students in class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ3z51n1Ndo )

    If I notice that a number of students are having difficulties with a concept or problem, I may prepare a small video for them going over the issue in more detail. I’ll post the video and send the link to them so they can take another crack at it. This is the fourth differentiation strategy. ( Example: This video, covering the topic of website permissions for some students’ websites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEES_N3ZQHk )

  6. Ultimately some students will need more individualized attention, sometimes down to the point of sitting down with them individually and picking through their code line by line. This is the most challenging and time-intensive differentiation strategy, and not something that I’m able to do with every student every time. Fortunately, if I’m doing my job well, I don’t need to do it very often.

=====End of Email=====

What strategies do you have for providing differentiated instruction for your students? What evidence do you have that those strategies are successful (or not?)

Is the Digital Divide something that needs to be addressed by CS teachers? If so, what steps do you take towards ameliorating that problem?

Networking, and Staying Social

Networking, and Staying Social

by Richard White

2016-03-01

I’m fortunate to work at a school where the faculty are very collegial. Even where there is occasional departmental or teacher-teacher friction, we tend, by and large, to get along. You might chalk it up to our “Welcome Back” and end-of-year dinner parties… or maybe it’s the post-faculty meeting margaritas that they serve us occasionally. Whatever the reason, I see a lot of personal and professional cross-pollination going on.

This kind of networking requires both time and an individual willingness to be open: to people, experiences, and possibilities. I often find myself locked up with lessons to create, labs and projects I want to design, and always, always, a pile of papers to grade. Finding the space for interactions with others necessarily means setting some of my work aside, at least for a little while.

This past August, for example, I should have been deep into prepping for the coming school year, but two of my English department colleagues had put together a weekend workshop on Transformative Teaching and Learning, to be offered at an open workspace in downtown Los Angeles. It was a great weekend with a diverse group of teachers, and if none of what we did was completely germane to my own subject area, I had the opportunity to reflect on other aspects of my teaching.

Oh, and did I mention the fact that I got to network with some of my colleagues in a stress-free environment? :)

One of my favorite things about networking—in addition to the inherent pleasure of socializing—is the fact that unexpected opportunities often arise as a result. A few months into the school year, one of the English teachers with whom I’d connected at the summer workshop approached me. “Hey, I’ve been asked by the school to write an article about language, and I wanted to talk to you about that.”

Insert confused looks here from the Physics/Computer Science teacher.

Language?” he said. “As in computer languages?” You’re a Computer Science guy, and I want to talk about language from a very global perspective!”

Huh. I’d never thought of that.

Next thing you know, I’m minding his infant daughter at a nearby pub while he grabs a couple of beers for us, and before long we’ve launched into a conversation on the role of language in various contexts.

And a month or two later, I found myself mentioned in his feature article in the school’s semi-annual publication:

Lighting up about language: Authoring across the curriculum

by Nathan Stogdill, in the Oak Tree Times, Fall-Winter, 2015

… Richard White sees a similar form of authorship in his AP Computer Science classes, where students create their own programs through syntax and conventions of coding languages. Like seventh-graders writing haiku or ninth grade math students telling the story of their solutions, his students have an outcome in mind and must work within the constraints of a specific language or instruction set to achieve that outcome. But there is creativity within those constraints, and the outcome is not assumed. Sometimes when the program is run, it does the unexpected. These surprises are exciting moments for White and his students: Like authors discovering new meanings through the process of writing, they find that they have created new things that they never intended, and they are able to learn from them.

Nathan makes me sound a lot smarter than I am, but I never turn down free publicity…!

Teachers tend to get pretty busy, and it’s easy to find one’s self spending a lot of time alone, frantically trying to keep up with our obligations. We take our jobs seriously, and we have high expectations, of our students and ourselves.

I believe that taking a little time off, however, benefits us in important and unexpected ways. Take a moment today or tomorrow to put your grading down, get out of your classroom or office, and stop in for a chat with someone. Go visit someone’s classroom for a few minutes. Check in with one of your admins.

You never know what might happen as a result!

140 Characters Is Not Enough

140 Characters Is Not Enough

2016-02-28

by Richard White

I’ll confess right here, I’ve only really ever been a lurker on Twitter. I’ve got a couple of accounts there, and I follow a few people, and appreciate the spontaneous ebb-and-flow of some conversations, memes, tropes, movements, and revolutions.

I’ve also watched in horror as a hashtag “blows up” while the Internet—bored, and starving for something, anything to frenzy-feed on—zeroes in on a statement taken out of context, an offhand comment that unknowingly became co-opted as a sound-bite for someone else’s rant or cause célèbre.

I love the Internet and its nearly perfect ability to act as a vehicle for a truly democratic and representative communication tool… and Twitter has come to embody the very best and worst of that communication.

At least part of the problem has to do with the simple fact that 140 characters, the limit on the length of a Tweet, is just enough to present a statement, and not nearly enough to provide context, support, or any significant development of that idea.

Taking things out of context isn’t a problem unique to Twitter, of course, but the 140-character limit of the medium practically demands it.

A quick, easy example: It’s not uncommon to hear a teacher at my school say of their students, “I love my students.” I have said, in chiding my students for a momentary lack of attention, said something along the lines of, “I love you guys, and I want good things for you. Let’s get back to work, shall we?” Is it a surprise to hear that teachers love their students? Of course not. Is that something that could be taken out of context on Twitter?

Ummmmm, yeah. Of course it can.

Another example of risk, as quoted by Audrey Watters in her op-ed piece Is Twitter the Best Online Source of Professional Development?:

Steven Salaita, for example, had his tenure-track position at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign rescinded after the university disproved of his tweets in support of Palestinians.

As Bonnie Stewart argues, “The threat of being summarily acted upon by the academy as a consequence of tweets – always present, frankly, particularly for untenured and more vulnerable members of the academic community – now hangs visibly over all heads…even while the medium is still scorned as scholarship by many.” While there are efforts to encourage educators and students to participate in the public sphere, via tools like Twitter, it’s clear that there are also risks in doing so, particularly if what’s being said fails to conform to certain “community standards” or certain notions of “civility.”

I have actually used Twitter on occasion, including several sessions acting as a “Twitter correspondent,” and have had a couple of my tweets removed by the person who was responsible for making sure those messages were in keeping with the guidelines of the organization. It was an interesting experience, to see my work edited in such a fashion, and it was a great reminder (if one was needed) that others read tweets and interpret them as they will. (For the record, I didn’t find anything offensive in those tweets, but it wasn’t my account I was tweeting under, so I accept the edits.)

But my takeaway from that experience and the experiences of others (see How One Stupid Tweet Ruined Justine Sacco’s Life, and Too Many People Have Peed in the Pool for two examples), is simply to not use Twitter. I have a number of other communications tools that I am free to use with friends, family, and co-workers, and I have no need to recruit followers, nor to deliver pithy, entertaining, or even useful comments to the universe.

Some educators may find that tweeting is a rewarding experience, and I absolutely do enjoy reading the tweets of some of my colleagues. For myself, however, I find the personal / professional risk of tweeting to be unacceptably high.

One last warning, courtesy of Catherine Garcia, published on August 25, 2015 at TheWeek.com:

Former MLB pitcher and current ESPN baseball analyst Curt Schilling was reprimanded by the network after posting a questionable meme on Twitter.

On Tuesday morning, he tweeted a meme featuring an image of Adolf Hitler with the words: “It’s said only 5-10% of Muslims are extremists. In 1940, only 7% of Germans were Nazis. How’d that go?” Schilling added his own commentary, the Los Angeles Times reports, writing, “The math is staggering when you get to the true #s.” He deleted the tweet 10 minutes later.

Not long after, ESPN announced he would no longer be covering the Little League World Series. “Curt’s tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company’s perspective,” the network said. “We made that point very strongly to Curt and have removed him from his current Little League assignment pending further consideration.” Schilling returned to Twitter to take responsibility, writing, “I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part.” The lesson here is simple: Don’t use Twitter.

Do you use Twitter? Do you use it in your capacity as an educator? In which direction does the Risk/Reward balance tip for you?

Welcome Back (to me!)

Hi, everybody.

You’re forgiven for not hanging around to see how things have been going here. I’ve been gone for far too long, but I’ll plead “Real Life Happens” and let it go at that. I’ve been extraordinarily busy, and happily so, with a long list of things that I’ll be sharing with you over the course of the next couple of months.

This includes:

  • Teaching an overload the first semester of the school year, during which half of my classes were Physics and half were Computer Science;
  • The development of a new Computer Science curriculum for my school, Advanced Topics in Computer Science.
  • The slow-but-steady consideration of what direction Technology and Computer Science programs will take over the course of the coming years (as far as I can tell, anyway).
  • A reconsideration of the primary topics of interest for this website/blog.
  • A consideration of the “Own Your Own Domain” movement.
  • A consideration of Content Management Systems / Static Site Generation
  • A discussion concerning Edward Snowden
  • Rumination on Twitter and email as communication media
  • A report from the field regarding a student field trip to a Linux conference in southern California.
  • And other topics too numerous to mention.

We’ve got lots to do, eh?

Let’s get started! :)

How to Flip Your Classroom

HOW TO FLIP YOUR CLASSROOM

2012-06-30

by Richard White

Flipping a classroom consists of off-loading (usually to the Internet) some of the non-interactive aspects of one’s classroom, in favor of using time in-class for activities that take advantage of the teacher’s immediate presence.

Perhaps the most obvious example might be this:

At school At home
Standard classroom Student listens to teacher introduce new math topic Student goes home and tries to do homework, often unsuccessfully and without the opportunity to get questions answered in a timely manner.
At home At school
Flipped classroom Student watches brief video explanation of new topic online, or reads new material to be discussed in class the next day. Student works on “homework” problems, with teacher answering questions or providing clarifying follow-up as necessary.

Pretty straightforward, right? It’s a good idea, and there’s lots to recommend it. In fact, you may already be implementing some aspects of the flipped model, even if nobody has ever referred to it by that name before. Some teachers give students time in class to read a chapter in novel, and then discuss it in the remaining class time. Others choose to assign the reading as homework, leaving more time in class for re-reading passages, interpreting what the author has written, or general discussion.

If you’ve done something like this, congratulations—you’re officially part of the most recent trend in education, and you should feel free to strut around saying things like, “‘Inverted learning?’ Honey, I’ve been flipping my class for years…

If you haven’t tried this yet, or you’re just looking for a few ideas on how to get started trying this out, let’s take a look at the stops involved in doing such a thing. And then read below for some specific bits of advice regarding the process of converting to a flipped classroom.

Things to think about:

Start with a single day, or a single week, or a single unit.

You don’t need to reorganize your entire semester to begin trying out a flipped model. A day or two will give you a chance to see what the benefits and challenges are, and give you some good ideas on how to go about designing a flipped model on a larger scale.

Be patient with the students.

It may take them a little time to adjust to this at first. Under the traditional model, it’s easy for a teacher to ascertain whether a student has turned in a homework assignment, and easy for students to recognize something tangible like the piece of paper with their writing on it. A flipped instruction model is going to ask them do something rather than make something—watch a video, read this section, interview their parents about something—and this is a little different from what they ordinarily do for homework.

What can you flip in your class?

We all teach different subjects, in different ways, so it’s a uniquely personal challenge, figuring out what you can try flipping in your own class.

Here are some ideas to get you started, following the same format listed above.

The French Revolution

At school At home
Standard classroom Teacher lectures on the the origins of the French Revolution Student goes home and does a worksheet or write answers to problems from a textbook.
At home At school
Flipped classroom Student at home watches a Khan Academy introduction to the French Revolution, and is asked to take notes on that presentation. Student comes in to class with notes prepared for a discussion. Students are asked to take additional notes as the discussion proceeds, and teacher collects notes at the end of class for evaluation.

Adding Fractions

At school At home
Standard classroom Teacher presents the idea of adding fractions with different denominators, and does an example. Student goes home and does homework problems from his or her textbook.
At home At school
Flipped classroom Student at home watches a YouTube video on adding fractions, and is asked to do attempt two different practice problems at home. Student comes in to class with practice problems completed (or not), and instructor gives an additional 15 problems of varying degrees of difficulty to reinforce the skill.

You get the idea.

Think about assessment.

When students walk into class the next morning, how are you going to know whether or not the students have done their flipped-style homework from the night before? A warm-up activity? A quiz? A discussion in which each student is monitored for participation? My own students tend to try to get away with doing less rather than more, so you’ll need to identify a means for checking that they’re doing their new homework.

Allow for varying access to technology.

If students don’t have some sort of comparable access to technology, you’ll need to develop strategies for managing those differences. If a video lesson is being watched online, a teacher might send home a DVD that the student can watch at home. At-school access to the video, in the library perhaps, can be arranged for during other times of the school day. These factors can complicate your efforts to flip the classroom, but it’s important that all students be accommodated in one way or another.

Create your own resources.

Ultimately, there will come a point at which you’ll find that what you need your students to see doesn’t yet exist, or maybe you’ll be inspired to develop something unique and personalized for them. Creating and uploading videos to YouTube is a relatively easy thing to do with the webcam that’s probably already included in your laptop computer. If you want a higher production value, or you want to capture your computer screen while showing a PowerPoint presentation, you’ll almost certainly have to buy some software that will allow you to experiment with that process. TechSmith’s Camtasia for both PC and Mac, and Telestream’s Screenflow for the Mac, are currently popular and powerful screen capture utilities. If you run Linux, you can do a $ sudo apt-get install xvidcap to install XVidCap, a live screen capture utility that’s very good, but lacks some of the high-end editing capabilities built into Camtasia and Screenflow.

Make your materials available on a website.

Google’s YouTube is a powerful means of delivering videos, but it can be a distracting place to send a student for flipped homework assignments. At some point you’ll almost certainly want to create a webpage or website that will give students a one-stop shop for finding materials used in your course. Your school may offer the means of putting up a course webpage, but if not, you can certainly create your own. The quickest, easiest, and certainly cheapest way to do this is to use Google’s Sites feature, available with any Google account. Once you’ve got your page set up, you can use it to easily deliver flipped assignments to your students.

When you look at all of that up there, it seems like it’s a lot of work, but you certainly don’t have to jump into this all at once. Begin at the beginning, and move forward as your time and teaching assignment allow.

For more resources on Flipped Classrooms, see:

Notes On the Flipped Classroom

NOTES ON THE FLIPPED CLASSROOM

by Richard White

2012-06-27

Okay, the singularity has arrived. My friend Sharon, an outstanding English teacher who has remained, to this point, a very traditional and non-technology-based instructor, just texted me from an ed conference she’s at, and she wants to try out this whole “flipped classroom” thing.

She wants to know how to go about doing that.

Let’s take care of some terminology first.

What’s a ‘hybrid classroom?’

A “hybrid classroom” or “blended classroom” (the terms are synonymous) is one in which, in addition to meeting in a physical classroom on a regular basis, some significant amount of the work for a course is conducted, or at least available, online.

This is typically something more than just a single online assignment. A course in which students regularly work online—perhaps via a discussion board, a wiki, or blogging—or a where content is delivered online, or assignments submitted online… these are all aspects of a hybrid course. (It should be noted that historically, non-online activities might be part of a blended course as well, but today, nearly all references to hybrid courses refer to Internet-mediated work.)

Traditional Activity Online Equivalent
Watching/listening to a classroom lecture from the teacher. Watching/listening to the teacher in a pre-recorded podcast or video.
Participating in a classroom discussion Reading an online Discussion Board and contributing one’s own ideas to a topic of conversation
Asking the teacher or other students for clarification, or help on an assignment Emailing, texting, online chatting, or videoconferencing with the teacher or classmates
Taking a quiz in class Taking an online quiz (via Google Forms, for example)
Writing an essay on paper Writing an essay on Google docs
Turning in papers in class. Turning in papers via email, Dropbox, or by sharing the document with the teacher
Collaborative projects in class Online collaborations via shared documents
Classroom presentations to students Online presentations—websites, wikis, videos—to the world

You can read about people’s experiences with, and the ideas behind, hybrid or blended learning here, and here, and here.

What’s a ‘flipped classroom,’ then?

A flipped classroom is simply a type of hybrid classroom in which activities traditionally conducted in class are shifted to an out-of-class time, allowing for valuable face-to-face class time to be used for other work.

Most commonly, this currently consists of teachers recording short videos of material that would have been presented in class, so that students can watch that presentation at home. The idea, then, is that students can do their “homework”—working on problems, asking questions of the teacher—in class, where the teacher is available to assist.

Why Would I Want to Consider Changing What I Do?

There are lots of reasons why you might want (or might not want) to change the way you look at how you teach. There’s no question that students find technology-mediated experiences more interesting, and teachers interested in exploring new possibilities tend to be enthusiastic about these ideas, which has a positive effect on their teaching.

Many teachers, and I count myself among them, also feel that we should not only be teaching content, but process; having students learning to use technology is critical to preparing them for their future.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, teachers who have shifted to a flipped classroom model feel that that model actually allows them to make better use of the time they have with their students. Why have students work on their homework at home where the teacher is unavailable to answer any questions they might have? Why have students sit in class listening to a presentation when they can just as easily do that at home, on the computer?

What are the Challenges Associated with Hybrid Classrooms and Flipped Learning?

  1. Time
    It takes time to make these changes. Teachers will have to spend time reorganizing their courses, recording video for flipped classrooms, developing and maintaining the website, communicating new processes and expectations with students and parents…

    This isn’t meant to dissuade you from taking on the process, but for teachers who already occasionally feel overworked, it’s important to acknowledge this at the start. A good strategy is to make small, incremental changes, rather than trying to re-do your entire course at one time. See the follow-up post on one strategy that you can use.

  2. Student Access to Technology
    It may well be the case that not all of your students have access to a computer connected to the Internet, which is obviously going to have an effect on how a teacher or a school chooses to approach these strategies. Some schools already require technology experiences for students via a 1-to-1 or Bring Your Own Device program, some provide financial or hardware support for students-in-need, some teachers will provide non-technology-based alternatives, and some teachers/schools will restrict new learning strategies unless every student can be provided with the same experience.
  3. Not Enough Research Yet on Learning Improvements
    If you’re an evidence-based guy or gal (as I am), and you’re looking for data that suggests all of this improves learning or test scores, I’m afraid that the jury is still out on that.

    From the U.S. Department of Education’s Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-analysis and review of online learning studies:

    …Analysts noted that these blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions. This finding suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning should not be attributed to the media, per se. An unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).

    This doesn’t mean that a flipped classroom isn’t worthy of exploration. On the contrary, interested and enthusiastic teachers are encouraged to consider new ways of looking at how they teach, and implementing new instructional strategies that they feel might be of benefit to their students.

Okay. So how do I get started?

If it turns out that you’re interested in taking some steps towards making your course more hybrid, and in particular you’d like to play around with the idea of flipping your class a bit, the next post will give you one possible path.

See you then!

Email Etiquette @ Work

Email Etiquette @ Work

2012-03-28

by Richard White

You know, every few months it seems I read another article about “the death of email.” It’s being replaced by chatting (online). It’s being replaced by texting (on phones). It’s being replaced by always-on social networking sites, mostly Facebook, or maybe Twitter.

It’s true that email doesn’t have the same luster that it once had, but it’s still the backbone of Internet-based communication, if only because all those fancy networking sites, still rely on email to validate your membership.

In the workplace, though, email is still king, despite the fact that it gets horribly misused by so many.

All that’s about to change, though.

Here are four simple things you can do to make email better for you and those you love (your coworkers). This won’t fix everything, but it’s a damn good start.

  1. Please don’t give me a paper copy of that letter, or that document, or that report. I don’t need a paper version, or if I do, I’ll print one. What I really need is an an electronic copy of the file. Email it to me. Thanks.
  2. When you attach that file to the email… don’t forget to attach it. If you DO forget to attach it, just send a quick follow-up email with the same Subject as before, and and the body with the document attached. That way I’ll be easily able to find the follow-up email.
  3. For work emails, use clear, succinct subject lines that inform the recipient of the contents. Subject lines like “Great news!” or “We need to talk” are useless. Instead, use “Update in History Curriculum” or “Meet with you on Thursday?”
  4. Reply at the top of an email, not at the bottom. Don’t force readers to scroll all the way to the bottom of an email to find what you wrote. Your message is important, and should be placed at the top of the reply where it can be quickly and easily found. (If you find this preference abhorrent, I’d urge you to consider the fact that Google’s GMail and Apple’s Mail.app implement top-replying by default, and don’t even offer an option for bottom-replies.)

What other possibilities are there for improving email in the workplace? Love it or hate it, managing your email and your emailing habits is a part of modern life.

Embrace the email!

Building Your Own PC, part 2 – Design and Ordering

Building Your Own PC, part 2
Design and Ordering

by Richard White

2011-07-01

There are two reasons you might have for wanting to build your own PC:

  • You have a need for a new computer, or
  • It’s just so frickin’ cool, building a computer.

Ideally, both of these reasons would apply.

In my case, I needed a new machine to replace an old PC that had finally completely failed; the hard drive in the old hand-me-down PC wouldn’t even boot anymore, so I figured it was time to create my own “dream machine.”

If you’ve read the Ars System Guide—highly recommended before embarking on this journey, and to be consulted along the way—you know that their Dream Machine refers to high-end powerhouse computer complete with solid-state disk RAM and a screaming fast graphics card, usually for running processor intensive games under Windows.

My dream machine, however, is a little more utilitarian. For my purposes, I simply needed a machine that I would use for backups of my other machines, and to store and potentially serve media at my house. I don’t need fast booting on this machine, nor even a dedicated graphics card—in my research, I selected a motherboard that had onboard graphics that would be just fine for my purposes.

The money I saved in using a lower-end processor was instead spent on hard drives that would be used for my backups and media. Because these are backups, and even backups need a backup, I eventually ended up with 4 one-terabyte drives: one for the system and media, one for the backups, and the other two mirrors of these first two. (For the more technically inclined, I did not configure these drives as a RAID. I’m simply rsyncing the drives on a periodic basis.)

So that’s my machine. You’ll obviously need to figure out what kind of machine you’re looking to build.

Once you’ve got that sort of figured out, then you can start really looking through the guides to see what kinds of recommendations they might have for you. And for a first-timer, it really does make a whole lot of sense to get some advice from the experts. There are so many different technical considerations that govern whether or not the different components will work together, your chances of designing your own computer—case, power supply, motherboard, processor, memory, hard drives, and graphics card—successfully but without guidance are virtually nil.

Even following someone else’s guidelines, you’re going to face some challenges.

Ordering the various components of your machine consists, then, of poking around on sites that sell these things. Just about everyone I spoke with in the course of building my own machine orders from newegg.com and Amazon.com, who both have a good selection, multiple shipping options, and user reviews that provide yet another data point in your decision on whether to order this hard drive or that hard drive. I ended up ordering my hard drives from newegg.com rather than Amazon for example, because several people complained on the Amazon site about how the drives had been shipped to them. I got my case and power supply and newegg.com as well, because there was a discount for buying them together there.

It took me an evening to finally get my newegg.com order put together, and the next day I finished up with my Amazon.com order. Here’s what I ended up order from each one.

In preparation for next time… can you see the mistake in one of my orders below? Can you determine which part I ended up having to send back??!

Summary of order from newegg.com

Order from Amazon.com

We Do All Of It… Or Sometimes Not.

We Do All Of It… Or Sometimes Not.

by Richard White

2011-06-30

Well, well, well… look who’s posting something on the HybridClassroom.com blog. It’s little old me!

I hope you’ll excuse my absence for these last 3.5 months. It turns out that that whole teaching thing requires a fair amount of time—who knew?!—and spring semester this year was a doozy. I hope to make up for lost time by slamming with you a series of posts that will leave you breathless, entertained, and elucidated.

I like to set my sights high.

We’ll start off with this one, which is actually a two-for-one deal. Here’s the first post-within-a-post:

IT’S WHAT WE DO–ALL OF IT

by Richard White

2011-03-12

On some days–often the more painful professional development days, it seems–I get a little frustrated. Either the subject matter, or the process, or the guest speaker, or sometimes even something my colleagues do will cause me to metaphorically throw up my hands and say, “Why can’t they just le me do my job? I’m here to teach the children!!!

On some other days–often at the end of a few hours banging my head against the wall with my students in the classroom–I’ll say, “You know, I could get SO much more work done if I didn’t have all these darn kids.”

I suppose it’s a “greener grass” question, but the reality is, it’s ALL part of our job. One of the challenging and exciting things about teaching is the wide variety things that are expected of us: lesson planning, teaching children, communicating with parents, participating in ongoing professional development, representing our school in the community, chaperoning dances, attending school sporting events… You can’t do it all, of course, and no one expects you to (although if you want to give it a try, ask your local administrator to swap places for a day)… but you are reasonably expected to do what you can, and not squawk too much about it in the process.

Rockclimbers have to be able to handle a wide range of different vertical terrain: smooth sloping faces, steeper faces with small holds, finger cracks, hand cracks, fist cracks, off-widths, chimneys. The really good climbers–those able to handle the widest variety of terrain–don’t practice what they’re already good at; they address their weakest areas of expertise, in order to improve in those areas in which they are most deficient. Although this ironically has the effect of making training more annoying, it’s toward the greater end of becoming a more capable climber overall.

In the same way, consider working on those areas of your profession at which you feel slightly deficient. Are you a lousy communicator? Resolve to get better at it, make a plan (any plan), start small, and start communicating today–NOW. Do you tend to get stuck in your own classroom? Get out, walk around, and visit a few other teachers, a few other classrooms. It’s a refreshing change of pace, and may have unforeseen benefits down the road.

And above all else, do you work late at night grading, at the expense of your family and friends? Burnt out and bitter is no way to survive teaching (although I’m amazed at how many people do just that). Stay balanced, and try to keep it all in perspective.

You get the irony, right? Those are my notes on an idea for a blog post from March, which was apparently just about the time that I completely dropped the ball on this blog, as well as a more personal blog that I maintain for my friends and family (although “maintain” might be a little optimistic).

Or perhaps (he said, sidling sideways), the bigger truth is that we can’t do it all, even as we struggle to maintain balance in our lives. The rockclimbing I spoke of above is almost non-existent in my life at this moment (although my training for a half-marathon is going quite nicely, thanks for asking), and my classroom teaching is on hiatus for the summer, but I have some online education projects that I’m working on.

I’m perfectly okay with making decisions like that—making mid-course corrections to one’s priorities—particularly when there are some cool things that happen as a result of that realignment.

And it’s those same “cool things” that I’ll be sharing with you over the next few posts.

Come on back and read all about it!

East Bay CUE, Cool Tools VI


Aaron and I had a chance to give a presentation at the East Bay CUE Cool Tools VI workshop today in Hayward, CA: Today’s Technology-Enhanced Classroom: From Prep to Delivery, and Beyond!

Here’s a link to the shared Google Doc that includes references from the talk:
http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AY74d11WH3xkZGcydDg5dDVfMTZnaDY1bnhmYg&hl=en

Any questions or comments from attendees at the workshop? Feel free to email me. We had a great time working with you guys!