Highly Qualified Teachers - Why We Struggle to Get and Keep Them

My wife found this on Facebook, I think it is worth your time:

Are you sick of highly paid teachers? Teachers' hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do -babysit!

We can get that for less than minimum wage. That's right. Let's give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan--that equals 6 1/2 hours).

Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day...maybe 30? So that's $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day. However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations. LET'S SEE.... That's $585 X 180= $105,300 per year.

What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master's degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year. Wait a minute --there's something wrong here! There sure is! The average teacher's salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student--a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!

After I stopped smiling, I gave pause to think of how much educators work and how disproportionately they are paid. For the level of education they are required to have, plus the planning, and the care (not babysitting) that they provide it is unnerving that my son's daycare provider makes more than I do.
The 19th - Early 20th century school teacher was single or the secondary earner and therefore was not considered to need much in salary. But the cost of living has dramatically shifted and the number of teachers who are the sole breadwinners has increased.
I am speaking from the perspective of a citizen of California but I have also taught in Colorado and have colleagues in Oregon who are experiencing a similar situation. There is a huge budget crisis both at the federal and state level and everyone who is employed should certainly be grateful, but if we look at others who serve in government they are making twice or more what teachers are making so the pain is disproportionate.

I should also mention that this is not a pro/anti union situation. Unions have done wonderful things in the past but they need to evolve as do all organizations or risk irrelevancy. Many good teachers have been let go in order to keep more expensive tenured ones. A person should continue to do a job as long as they are good at it. Yes, I know the definition of what a good teacher is right now frankly sucks, but as it has been said, you know it when you see it.
Another concern is that our student population is exploding and as more and more teachers are needed, the cost of raising their pay by even a few dollar is going to add millions to the state budget. More schools and teachers are needed all of the time because in the past students were only required to go to a few years of school, then it became mandatory for high school, and now college is all but required. Will graduate schools be next to face overcrowding?
Yet, at the same time, everyone is demanding higher quality teachers. Can we have it both ways? Faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, will a well trained physics major go work for a corporation starting at $75,000+ or work for a school district making half of that? Many of us consider teaching to be a higher calling that we would do no matter the pay, but how many millions of other potentially great teachers are not in the classroom? Not out of greed, but with student loans, home prices, and perhaps quality of life being a factor it is easy to see why we might have difficulty filling the teaching jobs with the best suited for the job.

Here are a few of my thoughts:
  • Tenure is wrong for education. There should be a reasonable process for letting go of teachers who are doing a disservice to their students.
  • Now that I have ignited the firestorm, let me also say that there should be a well thought out common sense criteria for evaluating teachers. This cannot simply be student test scores for reasons that have filled many books. It should also be peer evaluation, student evaluation, portfolio of work, considering the possibility of political or personal bias, etc.
  • Teacher pay cannot sustainably remain a function of time and how many credit hours one has. Teachers do not necessarily get better with time or additional education (although many do). We should not be measuring the inputs but the outputs.
  • Many teachers are struggling to do well because of a lack of sharing. For some reason, many teachers feel reticent and guarded about what they are doing in their classrooms. As a result, new teachers are having to reinvent the wheel in terms of curriculum. Quality lessons, activities, projects, ideas should be shared out amongst colleagues but also on a global scale. 
    • I see no reason why we cannot pool our resources and have a voting/ranking system to identify which ones are the best. I have litterally terabytes of stuff that I have created or received from colleagues over a wide variety of subjects. 
    • If someone is interested in helping me develop a system where we can just mass upload and crowdsource this, so educators can vote for their favorites, let me know!
  • The responsibility of education should not simply be the burden of citizens but of corporations which have a vested interest in a quality workforce. There is an uneven benefit between shareholders and the public when a school helps a student become successful. While some companies are taking an interest in education, many reap the benefits without returning anything to support the source from which they came. 
    • Imagine what would happen if companies gave a portion of their profits to help improve the quality of education. While the knee-jerk reaction is to shun anything that seems like a tax on business, this is no different than R&D and investing in human resources. The difference is that this requires a vision that reaches far beyond quarterly profits. Yet the most profitable companies know that you must invest in the long term otherwise there will not be a long term. Targeted funding for proven methods would greatly improve the quality of education in our society which has been proven to contribute to overall quality of life.
    • But then again, the problems of education aren't tied to how much funding we have or don't have. If they were, we would have fixed them long ago.
If you are in a position to do something, then do it. I always tell my students, we have to take advantage of our freedom to choose before we lose it. We are quickly losing our ability to choose what our next steps are going to be, very soon it will be chosen for us, and not one of us will like it.

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FRC Ship Day! San Diego Regional Here We Come

Well it was a long weekend for everyone but we are finished and I am happy to present to you Team 3477 Chaos Vortex's Rookie Robot General Disarray!

The name of the robot has a dual meaning. First with the name Chaos Vortex we have decided to make our mascot Professor Chaos from South Park and his sidekick is named General Disarray. The second reason is to honor the man who made our robotics team possible, Ray Trinidad. He is our school's dean of students and found the funding for it to start. He is also a huge perpetrator of puns and so we thought that the play on words would further honor him.

Unlike many other robots we have seen, we decided to go with a robot that picked up the tubes from the inside as opposed to a claw from the outside. We also have a camera that provides a first person view of the field. We hope this will provide a better view of the field since the tubes will obscure the driver's vision.

It being our rookie year we decided to go for the low goals but the medium goals are a possibility. We are going to work on the height and tension of the bands when we actually get onto a field on March 10th.

We wanted to make sure that we built a great robot but however it does at competition, the students learned so much. They can honestly say that they have built a robot from scratch. One of my sophomores learned LabView programming which will benefit him next year but also with potential future employers who use it (e.g. Disney, LAPD Bomb Squad, Qualcomm, and many other prominent engineering firms). Others are learning Autodesk CAD, welding, soldering, and various power tools. I wouldn't trade that for any award in the world.

In other exciting robot news, we learned that our team is now sponsored by General Dynamics! I could not be more grateful to one of our mentors Nate, for helping us secure this support as well as being here throughout the season. We could not have done this without him. The support from our other mentor Mike was also much appreciated for his machine shop and expertise.

If you are in the South County in San Diego you might have caught that our team was featured on the front page of the Union Tribune (another picture). Such a wonderful memento for my students to honor their hard work. Our team is working very hard to make sure that robotics becomes equally popular to sports and it was nice to have that recognized.

While the late nights have stopped, the work continues with preparing the marketing materials, programming, working on the minibot and the other 30lbs of parts we were allowed to withhold. Just a couple of quick weeks until the competition and we can see how General Disarray and Chaos Vortex does!

If you would like to follow our robotics team check out the Chaos Vortex Facebook page and @ChaosVortex on Twitter.

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Greenshot for Windows Makes Screenshots Easy (and its free)!

If you are writing worksheets, technical documents, blogging, etc. You will invariably come across the need for a screenshot. A screenshot is just what it says, a picture taken of whatever you have showing on your screen. When I started this blog, I quickly developed a need for a screenshot tool that would be fast and versatile (and of course preferably free). After looking through the various options, my conclusion was to definitely go with Greenshot.

Greenshot runs in the system tray in the lower right of your screen and has a very simple interface allowing you to customize your settings about where your captured screens are saved to and whether or not to capture your mouse as part of the snapshot (even if you do, you can delete it later).

To capture a full screen simply hit Ctrl + Print button. Since the Print button is vestigial, left over from when this button would send the text on the screen directly to the printer, it breathes new life into the button.  If you would like to capture a portion of the screen hit Print by itself and then click and drag the region you would like to capture (keep in mind some computers have added the "Function/Fn" button to essentially add more keys, for my computer I hit Fn + Ctrl + Print or Fn + Print).

Once you have captured the screen, an editor window will open (unless you have changed the options to directly save or copy to the clipboard). From here you can:

  • Add rectangles, circles, lines, and arrows to add emphasis.
    • The color, thickness, and transparency of these shapes can all be configured.
  • Add text
  • Highlight
  • Obsfucate - This is a wonderful tool allowing you to blur out or hide specific parts of the picture or text. You might find this helpful if you want to blur out portions of a bank statement, hide your address in a picture, or share a student's work without divulging the name.
  • Crop the image down to just the right size.
It's pretty cut-and-dried from there. You can then send the image to the printer, save it as a JPG, PNG, etc, or copy it into the clipboard for inserting into a document or presentation. Once you get the hang of the keyboard commands it is a breeze and a joy to make presentations, documents, etc. Rather than feel like something you have to break away from what you are doing, it is seamless enough to keep your workflow.

I would highly recommend Greenshot for Windows and hope it makes your life a bit easier.

Greenshot can be found in my Free Software for Educators List

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Google Search Now Integrates Your Social Network into the Results

On Monday, Google made a relatively big announcement about a new extension they are offering for the Chrome Browser. The extension allows you to block sites that were irrelevant or misleading to your search inquiry. After talking to some of my colleagues and friends about this extension, their opinions range from the "who cares" to the "this is scary".

The extension is part of a long term experiment which Google has been conducting regarding the integration of searching the web and your social circle. If Web 2.0 was the emergence of media and social networking, then Web 3.0 will be the merger between the information of the World Wide Web and the communities and people we have connected to.

One assumption which led to the original algorithm for the Google search engine were that the number of links into a site made it a more valuable content. This was logical considering that if more people are linking to your page then the more relevant your content must be. For the most part this worked, however many have exploited this principle to various degrees creating massive amounts of pages full of backlinks known as link farms. People purchase space on the site and are more likely to come up as a search result because of the massive amount of ranking they hold on Google.

There was a time when results from search engines was almost completely worthless and good websites spread via word of mouth. This has changed a lot in the last few years but there is still the frustration that comes from clicking on the top search result only to have it be unhelpful or worse, unrelated.

With this extension, Google is saying that they want their search results to be influenced by your world. Using the real world to influence the information you see is not completely new to Google. If you are searching in a certain geographical area for a store or food, Google will provide results near your location. Similarly, when you are searching for an Educational support and ideas, you should have results that reflect your community and situation rather than just what is highest viewed/ranked which might be irrelevant to you.

In the long term I see the link farms diminishing and stronger online communities of learning. Rather than one search result for all, younger students searching for answers about Newton's Second Law would see different results than a undergraduate Physics major. This makes the web more relevant and understandable. In my opinion it will also help us see where the gaps in content are and also how we can better serve different groups. Currently the sharing of resources is limited to P2P, I directly share a link with you via Facebook, Twitter, email, etc, but if the search engines start doing this for us, then I can benefit from those in the educational field without having to directly connect with you.

We are all connected but people want different things when they come to the Web, if our social connections influence what we see, it will become more tightly integrated into how we learn and live.

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FRC Team Chaos Vortex Week 6 Update

This is it! Zero week is here. The designs are set, the robots are driving, hopes are high, and sleep is low. In this final week the FRC gremlins come out and things start going wrong. We had planned to be finished a week and a half ago but parts and designs don't always turn out like you want them to.

Next year we will use Autodesk CAD to make a more detailed drawing. However, with such a new team and no engineering class previously, the learning curve for the students was too steep. I love refinement and the fact that we have an entire year to get better just makes me smile from ear to ear.

We, like all of the other teams are going to work through the weekend. It will be a lot of work but this season has brought these students closer together than ever. Long days are no fun in the moment but make great memories and FRC tends to make lifelong friendships out of teammates.

Our team received a mysterious donation from Otay Land, we did not ask them directly but we are grateful that they have made a commitment to supporting these students.

I feel like I am rambling so I'll stop, and while there is a lot to say and be proud of (working mechanism, minibot, and drivetrain) there is still much to do.

The robot ships on Monday! I look forward to showing you what we can do.

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Setting Up Students for Success

Note: After much encouraging, I have finally convinced my colleague and friend Patrick Yurick to post on BrokenAirplane. It is my hope that he will post often and that you will be able to benefit as I do from his creativity, innovations, and humor. Patrick is the founder of the Graphic Novel Project, creator of Hipster Picnic, and Co-Author of the Hub Proposal.

Setting Up Students for Success
Classroom Rules for Technology Usage with Mister Y
by Patrick Yurick

Within my classroom are rules unlike any other American public high school classroom I have ever been in. Because of these rules I have seen my students move dramatically away from being fearful and anxious about learning computers to courageous learners and practitioners of technology. I believe that while there are many other resources and advantages within my classroom, these rules lay the very pivotal groundwork that goes into creating the successful environment I instruct within.

There are aspects that make my class look different than that of a traditional ed classroom. I do have a 1 to 1 computer ratio. My students are allowed to use GChat during worktime. (Sometimes they are even forced to communicate that way) They are allowed to get up and walk around the room, as they do not have assigned seats. They receive almost all of their assignments via their email, as opposed to me writing it on my white board. No paper is printed for my class unless it is to be drawn on and all of their work is completed on their blogs

If you read closely in the evaluations the students wrote, you will find several that say,

“Mister Yurick could be more helpful cause he won’t really help us during work time,”

They are correct. I will not help them and sometimes I do leave them alone. There are very good reasons for this.

The Reason:
It is year one of my teaching career. All of the sudden I am thrust into a position that was all about me teaching something that didn’t give me peace, computers, while being asked to blend it with something that did give me peace, art. My frustration was not caused by the computers as I am fairly adept in their use. The problem came from trying to teach principles of marketing and graphic design.

That first semester was a gift in that it was a complete education for me on a lot of “what not to do” when teaching. I went against everything that I believed to be amazing about art and tried consistently to create a graphic design course. Having never taught computers before, I made some very silly mistakes. At first, I tried to teach the course like an art class.

In a traditional art class, you have the instructor gather the students around when you are ready to give them the instructions they need for their project. When they are all around you, you start by showing them the finished product and then you proceed to making the product yourself in front of them. You break down the steps of the project in simple terms for the students to remember, then you disperse the students and send them on their way. As they attempt (with their inexperienced hands) to replicate the thing that you (the expert) just did, you walk around the class and give simple, encouraging words and corrections to those who need it.

This method of instruction does not work for computers. Trust me, I have tried.

“Mister Yurick! Mister Yurick!” My name is being yelled from different corners of my classroom. Several hands are up in the air waving impatiently at me, pleading for my help. A student has been waiting for me patiently for 20 minutes. I start listening to her. My name gets screamed. My head turns. Eager to solve the crisis, I walk away from the young girl. She immediately starts sobbing.

Working with computers is not like working with a paint brush. When working with art there is less between you and your intended action. There is you, your hand, and the canvas. When working computers it is something different. Your hand has been replaced with a foreign object. It only understands commands. All of a sudden producing art is like taking your brush and hand away and replacing it with a blind man who can do any number of a million things, but needs the correct marching orders.

I found it easy to understand why teachers are reticent to adopt technology into their classrooms.

Then I started looking to other classrooms that I was a part of. I was desperate for answers on how to teach to a completely tech based classroom. For my mental sanity and need for physical challenge, I had started practicing the martial art of Aikido.

Aikido is so heavily ritualistic (bowing in, member rankings, multi-level help, and the structure of politeness) that it lends itself easily to an instructor, or sensei, who has the ability to observe his students without being constantly torn in a billion directions when the many students need him. Like a highly differentiated classroom, there are anywhere between between 10 and 30 students, of all belt/ability levels, attending class on any given evening; yet it is always peaceful in the dojo. Because Aikido is fundamentally prefaced on the practice of peace and nonviolent resistence there seems to be a greater emphasis on acceptance of practitioners of all ability levels.

I wanted my classroom to be like an Aikido dojo! It was from that sentiment that I started experimenting with my own kinds of rituals for my classroom.

The Classroom Rules When Learning Technology:
DON'T HOVER: Mister Yurick is trying to help everyone, but can only help one student at a time.  Wait your turn.
DON'T YELL ACROSS THE ROOM: This is considered rude and disruptive behavior.
DON'T RAISE YOUR HAND: Because of the high volume of requests for help within the course it is imperative that you utilize different methods of problem solving other than the teacher to get help.
  • ASK A NEIGHBOR FOR HELP: A lot of the time your neighbor has the same answer as the instructor if you are lost. Get the courage to socialize. Ask.*Quite a bit of the time students will not use their very intelligent classmates as resources because students do not take the time to see what is happening in places in the class other than from where they are sitting. Get up. Walk around.
  • USE THE GENIE: Some years ago a magical genie was given to the world of computer users that answers any question you may have.

As stated before these rules are not the only thing in place within my class to help with student success. It is these rules though that set the initial groundwork for my students to interact with the computers.

I am a teacher of ninth grade multimedia. I was placed in the position because it seemed logical in the design of my role within our school that every student receive technology training early on in their project based learning career. This is so that they may use the computers within the school for future projects. As outlined above, I was daunted with this task. Through the implementation of these rules I have seen students start to think critically on how to solve problems that they encounter. I have seen students, on a much larger basis, become avid users of different technological tools much due to the problem solving nature the students have to go through in order to master and complete their tasks.

As a side note: The crying girl mentioned above and I had a talk today. She is my student once again this year as a high school junior in my 11th grade section. She told me that she is excited to be in my class now, three years later, and even cited these rules and the clear expectations they outline as reasons for her looking forward to the class on a weekly basis.

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Google Labs for Enhanced Gmail and Web

It was 2004 when Google first released Gmail and with it came the Beta tag. This sent a message to users that Gmail was safe but still in the testing phase. It was not until 2009 that the Beta went away but that didn't mean that Google was done tweaking and enhancing its product.

Updates and new features are always coming out for Google products but you don't have to wait, you can try many of them out now using Google Labs. I wanted to share with you some of the Gmail enhancements I use from the Google Labs as well as some of the products they are working on that you can play with.

Gmail Labs
To activate the new features which allow you to improve and customize your experience, click on the green beaker (Erlenmeyer Flask, for my fellow science teachers) in the upper right hand corner of Gmail to the left of "Settings".

Now you can scroll down and see the various features you can activate. There is a disclaimer that some of
these are just being tested and they cannot promise how well they will work. However, you can be assured
that they do not affect the security nor functionality of Gmail (however, on a slow connection they could make
it take longer to sign in).

Some of the Gmail Labs I have turned on are (in alphabetical order):

  • Apps Search - This allows you to search not only your email but your docs and sites as well, saving you time having to open them up separately. (Gmail Ninja)
  • Background Send - If you are on a slow connection or uploading attachments, sending an email can take valuable time when you are trying to work through your Inbox. When you click send, it returns to your Inbox so you can keep working.
  • Custom Keyboard Shortcuts - You should already be a fan of keyboard shortcuts for how much time they save you. The Gmail shortcuts are pretty handy but if you want to change what they are to suit your tastes, this lab is for you.
  • Don't Forget Bob/Got the Wrong Bob - If you are sending an email out to a group of people and you typically also send it to "Bob" then Gmail will suggest adding contacts. Very helpful when you are sending something in a rush. The other lab will make sure you didn't mean to send it to Bob A. and not Bob Z.
  • Google Docs Gadget - Allows you to view/open/create Google Docs from your Gmail. Another big time saver.
  • Google Docs Preview in Mail - Check the document via computer or phone without having to open it in Docs.
  • Inserting Images - This should definitely be a part of everyone's Gmail. From the family photos to the work presentations, having a picture directly in the email is much better than as an attachment.
  • Message Translation - If you are working overseas, or your students have difficulty conveying their thoughts in your language then this is a must.
  • Right Side Chat - The right side of Gmail is empty, so why scroll down to see your chats?
  • Send and Archive - For all of my fellow ninjas out there, save even more time by combining the send and archive actions into one convenient button.
  • Smart Mute - If you are not already using the Mute  button then you are missing out. If you subscribe to a group that is talking about something you are no longer interested in, or if your co-workers keep pushing reply all then select the message, click the More Actions button and then Mute. This will prevent you from having that message pop up again. The Smart Mute enhancement just refines the Mute and makes it even less likely that you will receive that "+1" or "me too" over and over.
  • SMS in Chat/SMS in Chat Gadget - I use this when I need to stay connected to parents, students, co-workers, and friends. It is not always opportune or convenient for you to send or receive text messages from your phone, but now you can do it through Gmail. Really helpful for those who can only be reached by text.
  • Title Tweak - I often have my Gmail minimized and with this enabled the number of emails I have yet unread is displayed instead of Gmail - phil@....

  • Undo Send - Hallelujah for this lab. I don't ever say stop reading my blog, but go and enable this now. I'll wait. Whether you forgot a recipient, attachment, or wished you hadn't responded so harshly, this provides you with up to 30 seconds in which to undo that email.

Other Google Labs to Check Out
App Inventor - Now you can design your own Android apps from any computer. Just sign into this web based app designed and watch the tutorials.

Google Alerts - Set it up to notify you whenever something new is published about the search term (e.g. Android Update for my Phone)

Google Body - I showed this to one of our Biology/Anatomy teachers and she was ecstatic. Although there is stil a ways to go before this can replace your copy of Gray's Anatomy, it gives a great visual for students of all ages.

I love how Google uses the 80/20 rule to encourage its employees to pursue their interests. Many of our favorites like Gmail came from people following their passions and with this culture of experimentation, Google is bound to continue innovating amazing products.

Do you have a favorite lab or feature that we should enable/use? Leave a comment to tell us about it!

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FRC Team Chaos Vortex Week 5 Update

Yikes, time flies during FRC. It seems like Kickoff was just yesterday but then again with the long hours it seems like it has been forever. In reference to last week's FRC update, I said I would hopefully have a big proud grin on my face, well consider the below video my proud grin.

Yes it is official, Chaos Vortex's robot is able to move (and really quickly too). It is a bit scary to see something this heavy with the potential to move really fast. Our mechanism works exactly as designed but you will have to come to our regional on March 10-12 at the San Diego Sports Arena to see it in action.

The final week begins and with it comes the building of the giant crate to ship it as well as some long days but our small rookie team is amazing and will rise to the challenge. I am extremely grateful that FRC has the foresight to make ship date after the long President's Day weekend. We will be enjoying that time to get everything all polished up so we can be ready to ship.

To see the robot moving across the floor brings huge smiles to the team and gives them their second wind. Unfortunately it also reveals some of the things that need adjustment but we should be on track. My heart goes out to all of the teams that have asked for an extension to the FRC season because of the weather. WE have had some packages from AndyMark delayed because of it and I can't imagine the difficulty of trying to build. I wish all of the teams luck and energy for the last haul. You are doing amazing, keep it up!

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Living in the Cloud

So having had my Cr-48 Laptop for a week and seeing what it is like to live completely without a hard drive, I must say I had no idea how much I rely upon software. Even though I save almost no data to my hard drive, I still am unable to live fully in the cloud.

That is fine with me, as Chrome OS has not even reached version 1.0 and it has a long way to go, yet it is ironic that living completely in the cloud had the same feeling as roughing it in the mountains. There are so many creature comforts that are just not yet there yet, but it wasn't too long ago that I was educating people about the surge in Open Source technology so I have great expectations for its potential.

In this post I wanted to share the great cloud/web apps that are out there now and also what I would need to see emerge to feel completely free to soar among the eagles.

First in 100 words or less, what is the cloud and why would I want to "live in it"? The cloud is the term given to the applications and network storage that work together so you can sync up your data online. This allows you to work from any computer (Apple/PC/Linux, Home/Work/In-Laws, etc). It also affords you the assurance that even if your computer is lost or broken, your data can be recovered.

As always out of respect to your time and pocket, I will recommend only that which is free or worth the cost and tested by me.

It would be impossible to have a cloud computing post without including the giant that made it popular. Google has provided so many different ways to work online and all of them are free.

Google Apps
Books (Store), Blogs, ChromeGmailCalendarDocuments, Photos, Sites

Bundled into Gapps or you can run them separately is the Aviary suite. In it you will find:

  • Image Editing
  • Screen Capturing
  • Vector Editor (think Illustrator/Inkscape)
  • Visual Effects Editor (very cool, lots of amazing potential)
  • Music Creator (ability to create beats and tracks)
  • Audio Editor (an online Audacity with a built in library of samples from Quantum Tracks)
  • Image Markup
  • Color Editor
The Aviary applications are amazing and some are even better than their desktop counterparts. If you have a creative bone in your body, you should definitely give them a try.

This is the cleanest, simplest, best way to sync your files. Simply install the software on any and every computer you want to synchronize and then simply drag and drop your files into the Dropbox folder and it is automatically backed up. Then you can access your files from any of the computers, online, or even from your phone.

I don't personally use this app but I know many others who I respect that love it. Evernote allows you to capture files, images, text, and more then share it and store it.

The cloud applications are getting better and better but I am still unwilling to leave my software. As more and more developers start moving familiar features into the cloud then the age of the Personal Computer is going to draw to a close and it will become more and more about having a constant Internet Connection.

My wish list for the cloud:
  • To be able to sync settings (display, sound, hotkeys, etc). Google Chrome lets you sync quite a bit right now but everytime I am on another computer I am never as productive as when things are just right on my fine tuned computer.
  • A great screencaster. I currently use CamStudio and as more and more people are creating video tutorials, the need for this is going to increase.
  • A better way to connect the files on my computer to the ones on my phone. I still feel like there are two worlds, the mobile one and the desktop one. Merge those two please.
Far from complaining, I love the technology I have and am old enough to remember how far we have come from code on floppy disks/punch cards. With everyday I feel empowered to do more and more and the opportunities my students are able to explore and achieve are mind boggling. What will the technology world look like in 1 year? 5 years? 20 years? 100 years!?

Do you have any "cloud" tech that keeps your data safe and allows you to be productive everywhere? Share it with us in the comments.

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Why the Google Laptop Will Transform Our Culture

A few months ago, I applied for a Cr-48 Google Notebook both for myself and for my classroom. They asked me how I would use it and why I thought I was a good candidate. Then I waited, and waited, and watched a few in my Twitter PLN get one and write their thoughts on it. After a while, I completely forgot about it since there is no way to follow up on it.
Then this week, my wife told me I had received a package. I knew it couldn't be anything for our FRC Robot because everything is sent to the school. I opened it up and saw the playful packaging I had seen hundreds of times on Slashdot and Twitter. I received a Cr-48! I could offer my thoughts on it, but you can find the specs online as well as many great reviews about what is and isn't amazing about it. So I thought I would talk about it from an Educator's perspective.

My Dad is the quintessential early adopter. He used Betamax and Laserdisk to watch movies, wrote notes on his Apple Newton, and played games on an Intellivision. His house could have served as a museum of technology. Yet, I learned to never be an early adopter for hardware because:
1) The first iteration is never that great and there are a lot of bugs or few features.
2) The initial cost is insane but drops dramatically after a year or so. 

It is these two points that make me excited not for the Cr-48 or its future versions, but for what will happen because of it. Look at the impact that Apple has had on the design of technology. Everything has a touchscreen now and user interfaces are easy and visually appealing to encourage wide adoption. With Google I expect there to be similar changes to our culture with the Cr-48. Keep in mind it is just a prototype, the Chrome OS has not even reached 1.0 so we are at the Alpha Stage. It should not be judged by what it is but what it could be. This is why it was sent out to us for testing.

The Cr-48 has no hard drive because it is expected that you can do much of your work in the cloud. This along with other features dramatically reduces the cost. The race is on to create a laptop in which one can be productive for $100 or less. We have smartphones but they are too small to effectively create, we have laptops but they run through batteries too quickly and their startup time takes too long.

Cr-48 has a 7-10 second boot and approximately an 8+ hour battery charge (with Wifi enabled)! This means that one could be on a transatlantic flight and be productive for almost the entire flight (but I would hope they would take a nap or read a book). Even closer to my heart, a student could carry it around and effectively use it in class, on the bus, and at home. Not that we should be on our laptops all day but the ability to have quick access is certainly appealing.

What I am most interested in is seeing how data providers are able to subsidize the laptops. It used to be that only the CEOs of the world were able to own a smartphones but now anyone can get them and there are many available for free if you are signing up for a new data contract. We have all seen how ubiquitous the iPhone, Blackberries, and Android phones are getting and a huge percentage of our students use one now. Imagine only a few years from now (probably less than 3) everyone having a laptop that can instantly turn on and start working.

Even in my school where we have a 2:1 ratio, the laptops take a few minutes to boot and can be slow so many have all but abandoned their use in the classroom. What would you do if everyone had a laptop in your classroom that was easy and quick to use all day? Would you tell them to put it away like we do with their phones or would you provide meaningful ways for them to use that powerful technology to learn and explore? 

It is a question we will all need to answer soon. What will you say?

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FRC Team Chaos Vortex Week 4 Update

Great week! It is great to be an FRC team mentor when you see satisfaction and productivity abounding.

The STEM Alliance which is currently a group of South Bay FRC/VEX/FLL teams who are committed to spreading robotics to areas in need and supporting each other with our combined resources. We meet each week to share ideas and help one another out. This week at Hilltop High School we were so grateful that they were able to help our programmer out. Our guy has done amazing so far on his own but with their help he was really able to take off and now our compressor is working!

Derrick is the mentor for the Hilltop Team, 2193, and I have to give a huge shout out to him because since the beginning of our team three years ago he has been so supportive and always willing to share time and resources to help out. We would not be the team we are without him and his team and I am extremely grateful. Speaking of mentors, I am equally grateful for the help and extra pair of eyes that our two mechanically inclined mentor have brought. I know what I know but the wisdom and know-how that they have been able to impart to the students has been so wonderful to watch.

We picked up another 2 sponsors this week, Southwestern Community College and Qualcolmm. The amount of resources and support that supports our team is beyond words and we are so grateful. I have a few students who do incredible work with the business and finance but with our team size, I am spending most of the build season making phone calls with suppliers and getting orders straightened out. My hats off to Eileen and all other mentors who have been doing this for a while because it is exhausting to do the behind the scenes just to ensure that the students have what they need.

This week is our "crunch week" we WILL finish our robot so we can have at least a couple of weeks of practice and refinement because I would rather have a fully functional, beautiful robot than an untested one. I had some time to start speaking with our president about what she wanted to do for our booth and WOW it is going to be amazing. I cannot wait to see what everyone else has come up with this season and I am excited to see the robot come together and finish the final assembly. My hope is that by the next update I will have a big proud grin (either that or I might be too tired to post).

The rush towards ship date looms ahead. Good luck everyone!

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Sine, Cosine, and the Unit Circle in Geogebra

I have received some requests for this applet so I decided to post it for anyone who wants it. Seeing the connection between the trigonometric functions and the unit circle unifies a lot of mathematics. It also makes sense of these functions that must typically be memorized or looked up.

If you have not yet used Geogebra, be sure to use my getting started with Geogebra post. It has helped quite a few teachers start using Geogebra. It really does not take that long to learn.

Customize this applet for you:

  • If you would like to see it full screen, double click on the animation. 
  • To turn off the animation, right click the slider and uncheck Animation On
  • See how I made this applet by clicking on View and then Construction Protocol. You can use the forward and backward buttons on the bottom to step through the construction as well.
  • If you would like to see the values of Cosine and Sine change as x changes, go to View and Algebra View.
  • To change any aesthetics or animations you can right click on any of the Dependent Objects in the Algebra View.
  • Finally, if you turn on both Algebra View and Spreadsheet View from the View menu and then right click Cosine or Sine in Algebra View, you can turn on Trace to Spreadsheet to collect the values cycled through from pi to 2*pi.

Enjoy, and if you have any suggestions for other applets you would like to see, let me know. A special thanks to Guillermo of Mathematics and Multimedia for his post on Embedding into a Blogger post.

Be sure to check out all of the BrokenAirplane Geogebra resources.

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