Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Labs, Labs everywhere!

We've been using Linux to teach Computer Math and Computer Science at Baldwin SHS since 1995, about a year after Linus Torvalds even dreamt about a FOSS alternative to UNIX.
Computer Math in the Fall and Advanced Computer Math in the Spring form our introduction to programming and algorithms leading to a full year of AP Computer Science the following year.  In Computer Math we use yabasic and REALbasic.  In Advanced Computer Math we use GNU g++ and in AP Computer Science we use java.

So, finally, after a week of hello.pb and HelloWorld.java and a couple of weeks for Labs 1 and 2, I think the students have the hang of writing, saving, printing, testing and debugging some simple code.  Also, they know their way around the Linux desktop from a programmer's perspective.  We use KWrite, Kate, VIM or joe as text editors and Konsole command lines for chmod 755 or javac and java.  We are proficient at using Konqueror as a file manager.  I think we all have our cd, cd .., ls, ls -l, rm, mkdir, rmdir, ftp, ssh, which, pwd, whoami, last, top, sftp and fish commands down too!

Learning with Technology,

Don't Drink the Kool Aid!!!

I've been playing around with SmartTech hardware and software for a couple of years now in my AP Calculus BC classes at Baldwin SHS and in my Harvard Calculus classes at Nassau CC.  So, I thought I'd give a new talk at LIMACON this year:
Title: "Look Ma, No Calculator!"
Description: How do students learn and teachers teach mathematics with technology in the 21st century?  Most of us use a SmartBoard as  a presentation device, but there's so much more that you can do!  Our discussion will include using a BlueTooth PC Tablet, Wireless Mic and Video Recording Software to store your lessons online as well as using Calculator Emulators such as VTI, TI-Smartview and TIemu and Computer Algebra Systems such as Sage, Mathematica and TI-NspireCAS!
Audience: 9-12 + College
As you may have surmised, I do not use the SmartBoard simply to present a pre-packaged lesson.  The SmartTech trainers always brag about all the great features built into Smart Notebook.  They basically want you to use Smart Notebook to create power point like presentations outside of class and then simply click your way through the lesson in class!  I use the tablet in place of a marker board, pure and simple.  The class evolves as I present new ideas and students ask questions.  I say down with the canned lectures!  This way I record everything I say and write and store it online for student's use.  Also, I get to have a life!  Who has the time to make a ppt before every single class?  Anyway, if I need to go to a website or play a video in class, I can simply type it into a browser in real time - imagine the luxury....

Teaching with Technology, 

Meeting II

Today's Aim: Boot up an MPI cluster using the Pelican HPC 64-bit bootable CD from the University of Barcelona on the Master Node and PXE booting the Worker Nodes
Tonight's Reading: Building Parallel Programs, Chapter 2
This Week's Research: look up info on GIMPS, PovRay and Fractals
Attending: JeremyA, SteveB, DevinB, ArthurD 

We had a problem with conflicting DHCP servers on our LAN when setting up Pelican HPC, even though the Linux LAN is supposed to be isolated.  I was surprised as I had this working last June!  We'll try again next meeting.  We are also looking into downloading and buring the Red Hat Fedora 11 64-bit installation DVD to reinstall the whole room.  Eventually, we'll try to emulate the MPI+MPITB+Octave cluster a la Pelican HPC.  Maybe we can install Sage from the University of Washington and use dSage?  What about the proprietary version of MOSIX, now that openMOSIX is dead, from the University of Israel?

Happy Clustering,

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

SAGE: Calculus Research Lab (CRL)?

I may not have this lab after all!  My new course proposal for CRL, based on Sage and Calculus texts that use Sage as listed on http://www.sagemath.org, was approved and funded.  However, CRL was approved too late last year to fit into the students' schedules. 
So, we were going to meet every day after school for half a period instead of every other day during school (a la science labs).  The problem is that no one told the students and now this isn't going to fly either as my union says teaching after hours is against the contract!
We are now trying for a Spring Semester class instead...

Learning with Technology,

CYGWIN Anyone?

Just wondering if anyone is using the X server from CYGWIN for Windows?  I tried CYGWIN years ago but found that it did not have any GUI features so I abandoned it.  However, I recently stumbled upon http://x.cygwin.com which ports an X server to Windows!  This sounds promising! 
You see, my situation is that I have a linux server setup for ssh and sftp so my students can login there and save their work.  At school they access this server from my dual-boot Windows-Linux lab.  In prior years I'd give my students a bootable linux cd so they could have a linux environment at home and access the ssh server from home as well as at school including X11 forwarded GUI apps (just like at school).

I'm just curious if anyone reading this blog has had experience with x.cygwin using Windows to access a Linux ssh server.  Is it tough for the students to setup?  I tried setting up cygwin at home but mistakenly used only the default setup options which only gives you a linux like shell you can use locally without any GUI apps - strictly text based - just like the old cygwin - and no ssh/scp/sftp related apps! 

By the way, my students and I already have this functionality from Windows using putty (ie text based + ssh), so why install the whole CYGWIN distro?

Teaching with Technology, 

Meeting I: A new day!

Today's Aim: Hanging Art
Tonight's Reading: Building Parallel Programs, Chapter 1
This Week's Research: look up Pelican HPC site
Attending: JeremyA, SteveB, DevinB, ArthurD

We had our first meeting of the Computing Independent Study (CIS) class after school today and it went quite well.  For those of you at other schools looking for after school activities, this is a great idea!  I basically run this as a club that meets once every 2 weeks.  The students can come in on free periods any time they want to work independently however.

The students involved with CIS are primarily students who did well last year in AP Computer Science (APCS) as Juniors and want to continue learning about Computer Science.  This subset of the APCS student body is very small, maybe 2-5 students each year, as APCS is mostly for seniors at my school.  This year I only had 2 such students interested, however 2 other students who had heard about this experience asked to join, so I'm going to get permission from the Powers That Be to let them in too.

Today's meeting was a general discussion of what I had done with this course in the past and ideas for this year.   One idea was to try out Red Hat's Fedora Linux as the base OS for this year's cluster.  We used Slackware for a few years, then KNOPPIX/Debian for the last 10 years.  I think its time for a change as Fedora is based on RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) which is used by other clusters.  Then we framed some Fractal and Ray Traced digital art from last year's project and set up a display in the hallway about Shadowfax (our cluster).  

A long term goal is to emulate Pelican HPC which is a bootable CD cluster solution with our Fedora installation.  So, the homework was a reading from the Building Parallel Programs text based on Parallel Java and to visit the Pelican HPC site: 

Happy Clustering,