Tag Archives: innovation

The Laptop Project

All of last year and most of this summer, I have been working with others (both inside and outside NBHS) to find a solution to the problem of having a laptop cart at the high school that has not been used at all in over 5 years. Their assistance has been invaluable and is truly appreciated. So, here’s the problems we faced:

This is not an image of the exact cart at NBHS, but it basically the same. The cart holds 30 laptops and can be locked. It serves as an access point for wireless internet connections, meaning you wheel it into a classroom and students take the laptops to their desks and connect to the Internet.
  • The cart had an electrical shortage, so that it would no longer charge the batteries of the laptops.
  • The laptops had been re-imaged, along with all school computers, which erased drivers needed to network and connect to the internet.
  • The password to the hub on the mobile internet laptop has been forgotten. Although the hub sends out a wireless signal, no wireless device can connect to it.

Our solutions:

  • Remove all of the laptops (and their power cords) from the cart. When plugged into an outlet, the laptops charge perfectly.
  • Replace Windows ME with Xubuntu (a free open source Linux operating system). Since the laptops are Dell Inspiron 4000’s, their memory and storage capacity is very low. They have 128MB RAM and about 5GB HD space. Using a couple of laptops for parts, we were able to determine that 256MB RAM is good enough to run a free web browser (Firefox or Google Chrome).
  • The IT department at NBPS stated that the hub can be reset to factory settings and then will be able to set up a network for the laptops to connect to the internet.

The Plan (and what’s needed)

  • Right now, there is a plan. As of Sunday, September 4th, we have one working model of Xubuntu with 256MB RAM. This will be the image from which the others will be copied.
  • The headmaster of NBHS has given permission to re-image the laptops with Xubuntu, so that the laptops will once again be operational. This will take manpower and time, but both are very doable.
  • With 30 laptops at 128MB RAM each, we can remove 15 of the 128MB RAM sticks to get 15 working laptops with 256MB RAM. These will be able to connect to the internet and run modern Javascript for Web 2.0 programs. As they are now, Windows ME does not have the capacity to do so (and is blocked from doing so by not having the right drivers).
  • To get all 30 laptops fully functional, the school needs to purchase 15 more sticks of 128MB RAM. There is a supplier in Marlborough MA who has them and is willing to sell them for $10 each. For $300, the school could have a fully functioning laptop cart.

Classroom Use

  • I have discussed using my classroom (4-112) as a laptop lab with the headmaster of NBHS. This would serve a number of functions, both collegial and formal:
    • A pilot literacy program integrating Web 2.0 tools with historical content. Over the summer, I have gathered over 750 different resources (in Evernote) from teachers, principals and superintendents that I have connected with via Twitter. I have attended 3 conferences of this PLN (personalized learning network), moderated online discussions, and received a great deal of help, feedback, and collaborative instruction from this growing educational resource.
      • Google Docs
      • Wordle
      • Evernote
      • Socrative
      • PollEverywhere
      • Schoology
      • Mind Map
      • Wolfram Alpha
      • Twistory
      • Edmodo
      • Tiki Toki
      • Producteev
      • Twitter
      • Livebinders
      • Google Lit Trips
      • Gapminder
      • and more…
    • Free instructional technology training (for teachers) after school on a weekly basis
    • Use of my classroom during my prep period for teachers interested in modeling lessons with a technology integrated focus.
    • Mobile access to surrounding classes on the 1st floor of Blue House (currently no access)
    • Online collaboration with teachers in Baltimore, MD and Birmingham AL on a common history unit (Defining America through Historic Study)
    • Skype access and online communication and support from almost 20 different history scholars, published authors and organizations dedicated to the teaching and learning of history.
  • Right now, I have 5 desktop computers in my classroom. None are fully functional. They are Dell computers new in 1998 and also have Windows ME on them. I currently have a blue line (ethernet cable) to my classroom. Currently, there is little to no online access for students in my classroom. The situation in other classrooms is similar.

Support and Reasons from the NBPS 2009-2012 Technology Plan:

  • Support: “The district will continue to provide access to portable electronic devices to support academic needs and expand portable wireless technology to allow computer access when needed.” Source: 2009-2012 New Bedford Public Schools Technology Plan http://bit.ly/pGRUCi Page 20
  • Support: “Wireless technology will be utilized when necessary.” Source: 2009-2012 New Bedford Public Schools Technology Plan http://bit.ly/pGRUCi Page 22
  • Reason for change: “The district does not currently have a computer replacement cycle of 5 years or less” Source: 2009-2012 New Bedford Public Schools Technology Plan http://bit.ly/pGRUCi Page 21
  • Reason for change: “Presently NBPS does not have procurement policies for instructional and information technologies to ensure usability, equivalent access, and interoperability.” Source: 2009-2012 New Bedford Public Schools Technology Plan http://bit.ly/pGRUCi Page 21

The potential for greater academic achievement with a focus on specific writing and literacy goals is clear. The plan to make these laptops operational and networked is also clear. All that is needed is the will to make this happen. We can demonstrate innovative solutions to old problems right now, and demonstrate that we are finding new ways to meet the individual learning needs of our students. Thanks.

Update (March 2012)

It’s been months since I have last posted here. There has been a significant problem getting the Xubuntu OS to allow the laptops to connect via a WEP/WPA2 network. I’ve had three networking and Linux experts working on the issue, but there’s been no breakthrough so far. I have the Xubuntu laptops, but there’s no internet access – rendering them severely limited in function. To make up for the lack of net access, I’ve brought in an old desktop, printer and laptop from home. That’s been keeping us going for a bit of months. Recently, an local non-profit donated 7 iPad2’s to the high school, and I just used one in the classroom last Friday (March 16th). It went great. I’m going to work on expanding wireless access through mobile devices in the classroom while I am still working on getting the laptops functional.

Scan-4112 (a proposed hand drawn sketch of 4-112)


Edcamp Boston Conference

Going to the Edcamp Boston unconference was one of the most powerful experiences I have had as a teacher to learn, share and grow as an educator.  While many of the techniques and resources focused on different ways to integrate technology in the classroom, the central purpose of the sessions was to improve the teaching and learning experience for children.

Many of the ideas gathered are shared by collective notes taken and posted on the Edcamp Posterous Site.  Overall, my head exploded with ideas for the classroom, and the sincerity and experience that came from the conversations was deeply meaningful to me personally as a  professional educator.

At first, I was not sure what to choose on the Edcamp Boston Session Schedule.  There were five different sessions (with lunch in the middle) and each one was put on by fellow teachers and educators.  The entire conference was free.  Lunch was included.  All I paid for was parking (a mere $10).  It was a beautiful day at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center, overlooking the Charles River and the many joggers periodically making their way around the ‘river route’.

I took some notes on the sessions I went to and then posted them on Google Docs.  Here they are:

Notes on Digital Storytelling

Notes on Assessment 2.0

Notes on Flipping the Class & Screencasting

Notes on Standards Based Grading

Enjoy and provide feedback please.  Because of the energy and innovation, I have many new ideas of my own, but comments, suggestions and questions are always welcome.

I also found out that there’s an edcamp unconference in NH on August 17th and in CT on August 18th!