As November Ends ….

……………This is one of those things that has to get done. It’s been more than four weeks now since my last post here, and with each passing day, it gets more difficult to return to writing here. I don’t want to miss all of November without having written something, however, and so I will string together a bunch of false starts, quick hits and random thoughts to share with you.

About Copiers/ Printers/ Scanners

……………I am now the defacto point person to turn to for immediate troubleshooting on the twenty something machines spread throughout the building. I am not terribly excited about this prospect, of course, but I am always happy to help teachers and other staff members get their work done. To that end, I feel that I should share what I know with all those I am trying to help, so that we may be able to make each others’ jobs easier.

  • ALWAYS check what printer is selected on your computer. TEACH this to everyone around you. Every student and adult needs to do this every time they print anything.
  • Remember that it’s just a machine … and a delicate, complex, amazingly wonderful machine. Don’t get angry at it. Walk away before you get toner everywhere.
  • Tell me about any problem as soon as you can; in the most immediate way you can. Call me at extension 1143, drop in to the library and tell me about it, drop me an email via the Spiceworks support link. If I don’t know about it, I can’t put it on my TO DO list.
  • Stop saying things like, “they’re all broken”. They have never ALL been down at the same time. There are more than twenty printer/ copier/ scanners in the building; there’s always at least one that is working.
  • Stop saying things like, “they’re always broken”. I checked the machines recently and discovered that collectively, we’ve printed or copied some 11 million pages in about a year and a half. That’s enough pages to print 28,000 four hundred page books; about the same number of books in our library collection. So obviously, they’re not “always broken”.
  • Think about what you are printing and what you are asking students to print. Instead of asking students to hand in full color powerpoint presentations, have them e-mail you that presentation … there’s no need to print everything.
  • Pick up everything you print and copy. There are few things as depressing to me as seeing the amount of paper that is simply wasted day in and day out in our building. As a child, I always wanted clean paper … lined, unlined, white, color, typing, oaktag, tracing … all kinds of paper were sacred and pretty scarce back then around our house. Today I have journals, diaries, sketchbooks, folders and file cabinets filled with that paper I collected and diligently filled with poetry, letters, essays, college papers, sketches, drawings, watercolors, paintings, collages. Paper is not cheap. Making good paper is neither technically easy nor environmentally friendly. Just because it is abundant, does not mean we should take it for granted.
  • Final word about the copiers is to please tell me immediately about any problems you are having. I will get to it ASAP, and at least be able to confirm whether or not it needs technical service. You are never bothering me with these kinds of calls, it is part of my job like shelving books and supervising students via LAN school.

About OPAC

……………Believe it or not, it’s been about three years now since we’ve had an Online Public Access Catalog or OPAC. This software is what allows anyone to search our library collection to see what titles we have. Amazingly there hasn’t really been any clamoring for one either. I’m not sure what this means exactly, but I offer a few observations.

  • Most research is done online nowadays, and students don’t feel the need to find books for their projects. Unless teachers force students to use printed books as a source, most students will use all online resources.
  • When students are given a choice to pick a book for “outside” reading, most prefer reading either fiction or biographies/ memoirs. These two collections are most accessible in our library, being near the circulation desk, and they are easy to navigate, being in alphabetical order, according to author’s last name and subject’s last name, respectively.
  • When classes do use our collection for research, each section is small enough to allow students to approach the shelves to see what titles we actually have.

……………Even though there hasn’t really been any demand for the OPAC, we have been looking at getting one that would allow anyone to search our collection. The two leading contenders thus far are Atriuum and Destiny. Destiny is owned by Follett, who makes the outdated cataloging software that we are still currently using. They are also affiliated with Aspen who makes the X2 software that we use. I’ve been calling them and trying to get a salesperson to talk to me about their Destiny product because it would probably also integrate information from the X2 database more easily than other software. But I can’t seem to get in touch with anyone. It’s like they don’t want my business, so I will be moving on and recommending that we try out the Atriuum software. Their salesperson visited me about a half dozen times, always unannounced and uninvited. I didn’t like that, but I appreciated his tenacity, and he obviously means to sell me something.

About Google Drive

……………I just recently started using the 5GB Google storage that was set up by our tech department. This is a great place online to drop school related info. If you haven’t explored it yet yourself, I highly recommend that you check it out. Just follow these simple steps to get to your online storage area:

  1.  Go to Google
  2. Find the “Drive” tab at the top of the page
  3. Type in your HHS e-mail, for example, htoromoreno@haverhill-ps.org
  4. DO NOT type in a password, just hit “Sign In”
  5. This will bring you to a new LOG IN page
  6. Type in your HHS username, for example, htoromoreno
  7. Type in the password you use to get into your HHS email

…………...I started using the Google Drive to store pictures that my Lit Mag kids take of the student artwork using the new iPads. I haven’t checked out what the prints will look like yet, but the pictures don’t look too bad. Here is an uncropped, unedited example:

dot dude

Hope you have a wonderful weekend, and thank you for reading.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

Digital Tourism

……………I was watching the SkyDive from the Edge of Space on CNN last Sunday afternoon, and rather than listening to the talking heads explain to me why this was so important, I decided to go to Google Maps to do a little digital tourism. I’ve been wanting to take my wife and children to Puerto Rico to visit my mother’s side of the family before all of my elders disappear.

……………While looking at the map of the Caribbean, I noticed the little island of Montserrat. An island I only know because of a volcano that erupted there back in 1995. I hadn’t thought much about that place since the stories appeared in the newspaper 17 years ago. (Newspapers were still a daily staple back then, and I’ve always been an avid reader). I decided to visit.

……………Using Google Maps, I zoomed in, noticing along the way that the island is a little more than 5 miles wide and perhaps as much as ten miles long. While the whole island could still fit on my computer screen, I could begin to see where the volcano had spewed its gray ash. Zoom in one more click and now I can see the names of the cities and towns that were in the way: Molyneux, Tuitts, Bramble Village, and the former capitol, Plymouth. As I zoom in, I am continually amazed at the amount of detail that I can gather from the satellite photos. The direction of the ash and lava flow; the formation of new beaches, new lands. Along with the map, I also viewed the photos that people attach. An amazing little feature and easy to use.

……………Here’s where I took a break in this search, and left for about six hours of the day to do other things. Shopping for food and cleaning the kitchen, clearing the fridge of unusable leftovers and spoiled produce that never manages to push the bad food off our plates. Cooking Sunday meals and getting everyone ready for the week, I forgot about my earlier search until I returned to my computer. I remembered having a virtual tool, that looked more 3D that Google maps, so I searched and found Google Earth, which I quickly downloaded.

I was not disappointed. Google Earth is Google Maps on a serious training regimen (Notice I didn’t say it was on steroids, because that’s like saying Google Earth cheated). Using Google Earth, I was able to do some serious Digital Touring, visiting my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, checking out the new Barclay Center (home of the lowly Nets), seeing how the rebuilding was going along in downtown Manhattan at the site of the World Trade Center attacks, and even admiring the 3D sonar mapping around New York City … I just finished reading Mark Kurlansky’s The Big Oyster, which recounts the long and prodigious history of clamming in New York waters, and seeing these online maps with so much information allowed me to see my hometown in a completely different light.

……………Needless to say, Google Earth is a wonderful and powerful tool that can easily become a huge time vortex, mindlessly consuming hours of your time as you hop around the world digitally. Could I check out China, I thought? Sure I could. How about Cuba? Or North Korea? Why not, says Google Earth. It’s just information. So off I went. Scanning miles and miles of endless rainforest in Brazil (there’s tons of missing information there … not too clear). I went from thought to thought, checking out places that popped into my mind. Next I checked out Abu Dhabi and their crazy land formations. Unlike other nations in the Middle East, the leaders of Abu Dhabi are hoping to court Western visitors and investors to their country and they are looking forward to a time when their oil and petroleum profits literally dry up. They are building up a resort wonderland that aims to rival anything anyone in the world has ever envisioned. (Those palm trees in the picture below are actually man made islands, and all the way to the right there is a mini earth where wealthy people can purchase an entire island in their favorite part of the “world”).

……………It’s been a week since I started writing this post, and I can’t stop using Google Earth to visit places that pop into my head or that just look interesting from space. I’ve visited my father’s small town in Ecuador; my mother’s birth place in Ponce, Puerto Rico; I gazed at the Bering Sea and saw the underwater profile, and imagined how a few degrees of cold could lock the whole area in ice, allowing the ancestors of my ancestors to cross long ago … to populate North and South America. As a kid, I heard that the Great Wall of China was the only man-made object visible from space. Even though I thought I knew where I should find this “obviously” visible structure on Google Earth, I couldn’t find it. Sadly, whenever I typed Great Wall of China in the search box, what I got was directions to Chinese restaurants by that name. In the end, I was not able to see it from space, and I found out that it was an urban legend.

……………I turned to visit towns on the edge of deserts, wondering how people can resist the relentless onslaught of the sands. I viewed a winding river curving through the Congo (-3.493203,17.532806) creating an amazingly fluid and beautiful shape that made me want to get up and start painting. But I didn’t. I remained and kept zooming in and out, exploring whatever caught my eye; a remote corner of Australia, and the huge and apparently orange sands of the Simpson desert. Using the 3D building feature, I visited Rome and the neighboring Vatican City.

……………Google Earth’s 3D models are created by volunteers, amateurs and professionals, who upload their Sketch Up renditions of real buildings to a warehouse. After that, a team at Google Earth selects those models that will be placed on the maps. Information about the works and creators is available by clicking on the model, and you can even visit the warehouse and check out all the models people have uploaded. Another incredible store of digital information that is completely free and available for anyone to explore and use.

……………Finally, I had to stop exploring all these amazing tools and get to posting this. There are other tools that allow you to record and narrate a digital tour. You can also explore underwater areas that have been mapped and even photographed. There are panoramic photographs at every historical site I could think of, and just when I thought I couldn’t take in more information, I discovered that Google Earth also allows you to explore the moon and mars, including all of the landing sites.

……………Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you find somewhere interesting to visit.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

Web Tool Roundup

               It’s been a while since I last shared information about online tools. I am an avid user of Open Office, Audacity and GIMP, all of which are free software available online and comparable to their commercial counterparts. I also mentioned CeltX, a writing tool that helps you organize larger works like books, plays, and screenplays, but which truthfully, I haven’t used much since downloading.

               My interest in finding out what else is available now was piqued by a clever version of Bloom’s Taxonomy that I happened to find thru Google Images. While I am familiar with a few of the tools pictured, such as YouTube and wikispaces, there are a number of others that I have never heard of, but look promising as classroom tools. What follows, is my quick tour of six of these tools, beginning at the bottom of the pyramid and climbing upwards. Of course, I also provide a link so that you may explore them for yourself. 

REMEMBERING/ Wordnik: As online dictionaries go, wordnik is an interesting version which includes definitions from five other sources, including the American Heritage Dictionary and Wiktionary. It also offers examples of the word defined, used in sentences from various quotes including contemporary uses.

UNDERSTANDING/ Bubbl.us: As a student I always loved graphic organizers. Anything that could make note taking more entertaining was a plus as far as I was concerned. Even today I occasionally rely on a good Pro/ Con list, an outline or a web map. Bubbl.us is easy to learn, easy to use and like the best tools on this list, does not require you to register for anything. I was able to learn how to customize my graphic organizer in about ten minutes, and best of all, you can export the final image as a  JPEG.

APPLYING/ Scribble Maps: As its name suggests, this online tool allows you to add your own “scribbles” to any map. Using Google’s mapping tool as the background, scribble map gives the option of drawing over a geographic, satellite or hybrid map. You can add symbols and notes, and can even upload your own images to personalize any map. There’s nothing to download and you don’t have to register to use the tool, unless you want to save your creation. You can, however, print without saving, which is a plus. 

ANALYZING/ Create a Graph: This online tool, which is hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics, has been around since 2005 and it really is pretty elementary in its presentation and capabilities. With that said, it is still a wonderful introduction to the main types of graphs and charts used to illustrate and analyze data. No registration is required to use the tool, and the information can be printed or saved in a variety of formats, including the familiar PDF and JPEG.

EVALUATING/ GapMinder: Hans Rosling made a fascinating presentation of just this kind of information mining technology in one of the TED Talks recommended on this blog. Now this is available online for teachers and students to be able to look through and make sense for themselves. All kinds of information such as, Adults with HIV, Causes of Death, Foreign Aid Received and more, is available for use in many ways. Students can view the information in Spreadsheet form, download the data or “visualize” the data online.

CREATING/ Make Belief Comix: Illustrations don’t come easy for everyone, and this little program allows those less artistically inclined to be able to create a “comic” strip. Easy to learn and simple to master, this online tool is not a high end creation tool, and will not make anyone the next Seth MacFarlane or South Park creators. I could imagine it being used to create political cartoons for social studies classes or as a way of illustrating foreign language exercises. Entiende?

 Thank you for your time and for stopping by. Have a great Sunday and enjoy the game.

 Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.