Sunday, May 24, 2009

SAGE: We got the Green Light!!

It was touch and go there for a while.  In these tough economic times, we thought the school budget vote would not go well this year.  So I was down to one section of AP Calculus BC instead of two and one section of AP Computer Science instead of two – and forget the new course I proposed: Calculus Research Lab (CRL).

But wait, our future at CISTHETA is not so bleak after all!  The school budget passed with flying colors, so we’re on!  I have my 2 sections of each AP again and we finally got the approval for CRL!  Many thanx go to my ChairPerson and Principal for their intervention behind the scenes as well!

Now, I have to do some more research on how my students will do Calculus on ShadowFax, our linux cluster!  I would like to spend most of the year having them do projects using Sage and end the year with Octave and R.

SAGE: Software for Algebra and Geometry Exploration (similar to Mathematica) is available at and  Octave (similar to MATLAB) is available at  R (similar to S-plus) is available at  I found several free texts in pdf format that should be helpful: (Numerical Computations with MATLAB)

Good Luck,
A. Jorge Garcia

In the Beginning?

In the beginning it was dark – I was surrounded in my math classroom, black slate chalkboards were everywhere!  Then there were a few computer rooms and marker boards, just a glimmer of the light….
Then there were SmartBoards!  Of course, I did not have a SmartBoard in my classroom, but I could use the SmartTech software that was licensed to my school.  So, I began the year recording my lessons with Smart Recorder as videos in windows media format.  The problem was I could not write notes freehand as you could on a Marker Board as Smart Notebook is very hard to use with just a mouse.  So, I wrote my notes with equation editor in MS Word.  I emulated a TI-89 graphing calculator with VTI.  Sometimes, I showed a calculus demo using free materials online using Mathematica Player.  I even found some funny math related youtube videos to show from time to time!  However, I only had a standard PC Mic, so needless to say, I was stuck in the back of the room at the teacher PC (that was hooked up to the PC Projector) to give my lectures.

In the middle of the year, I finally got a Smart Airliner Slate which is like a small portable SmartBoard.  Its really a tablet you can draw on with a magnetic pen that is designed to work with Smart Notebook software and connects to the PC via a BlueTooth USB transmitter.  I combined this with a Radio Shack 170 Mhz Lapel Mic so I was finally not a prisoner to the back of the room!

I’ve been recording my AP Calculus BC class in this manner all year.  I have a video record of every single class.  If a student was absent or wanted to review an old topic, he or she could still see the class at home after school!  I also save all my Smart notebook files as pdfs or ppts so the students can download any notes they missed.  Aside from the usual classroom handouts, I save all this information on an ftp site I set up that my students can access on or off campus.

You may view a sample class: 

A. Jorge Garcia, 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Poor Man's Cluster - Step 0

Poor Man's Cluster - Step 0
Topic: LinuxClusters

Yes, Virginia, you too can setup and use a cluster of your very own!
I call this Step 0, rather than Step 1, as I don't have as much say over what hardware is installed in my classroom as I once did.  I deal mainly with firmware and software nowadays!  In the olden days (mid 1980s to late 1990s) this was not the case - I was the tech dept!  In any event, I've been involved in recommending what goes into this classroom since 1985! 
Case in point, I left last June with a cluster of 25 Dell GX280s which had Pentium IVs running at 2.4 GHz.  When I came back to school this past Sept, I was greated with 25 HPs which have AMD dualcore 64bit Athlons running at 2 GHz per core - a welcome surprise to be sure!  So, this step is really up to the tech dept....
Right now, the room is organized into 6 islands.  Each island is a table with enough room for 4 students.  Each student has a PC and some deskspace next to the PC to take notes, tests, etc.  This setup is ideal for me as some days I will teach as in a regular classroom, so my students need the deskspace to do hand-written work.  Then, my students can switch to "lab mode" in the next class meeting to complete programming assignments!  Sometimes, we do a bit of both in the same period too....

I've had IBM PCs, IBM PC/XTs and IBM PS2 Model 30s to 55s.  I've also had Gateways and Dells with Pentium Is, IIs, IIIs and IVs.  Now I have HPs with AMD 64bit dualcore Athlons running at 2GHz per core with 750MB RAM and 80GB hard drives per PC.
Wow, I remember when we had our first IBM PC upgrade - 640KB of RAM!  I think it was Steve Jobs who said at the time about this amount of RAM, "who could ever need so much!"  Mind you, these PCs had intel 8088 processors running at an amazing 4.7MHz, monochrome text screens (no graphics) and dual 5.25" floppy drives (no hard drives).  One floppy was used to boot the PC and run a certain app - the other drive was used to store files (each disk could only hold 360KB)!  Our second upgrade was to CGA 4-color 320x240 pixel graphics....
I've also had every kind of network there is: daisy chain, token ring with BNC cables, star LANs and all manner of ethernet (10Mbps, 100Mbps, etc) with all manner of cabling (serial, parallel, CAT3, CAT4, CAT5, etc).  We now have switched gigabit ethernet with CAT6e.
Whatever you do, make sure to space your PCs well apart in a large room for good ventilation and make sure to have a big air conditioner as these nodes will get very hot!  Also, make sure the room is wired correctly to handle all the electrical power necessary to run all of the above!
Hope that gets you started on your way to planning your cluster!
Good Luck,

Sunday, May 10, 2009

ShadowFax Cluster Rant is finally online!

Welcome to my new blog space!

This blog will focus on issues related to teaching Math and Computer Science with technology (SmartBoards), learning Math and Computer Science with technology (ScientificComputing) and our Super Computer: ShadowFax (LinuxClusters)!


This year I did a lot of work related to "Modernizing the Mathematics & Computer Science Classroom." I've been researching different ways to use technology in the delivery of my calculus lessons. Most of this work involved SmartBoard software and hardware. Please see for related teaching materials! You may also be interested in some videos I use in class:


Next year, I'm proposing a lab to be added for my calculus students. The Calculus Research Lab (CRL) aka Scientific Computing Lab (SCL) or Computing Science Lab (CSL) will meet every other day, like a science lab. We haven't decided on the name yet! In this lab, students will use computers to help them learn, understand and retain mathematics concepts better. We will introduce scientific computing software such as Sage, Octave and R to help meet this goal!


My Computer Science IndependentStudy (CSI) students have been setting up clusters and working on cluster programming for several years now. Its about time we start to document what's been going on. Please see this year's results: Please see last year's results too:


A. Jorge Garcia,