Thursday, July 21, 2011

Welcome to Summer Session II!

Wow, is it really Summer Session II 2011 at Nassau Community College already? I am privileged to have a section of 25 eager new students in NCC Math 122, Harvard Calculus I. Welcome!

We just finished our first week. We flew by Chapter 2 on differentiation in the 5th edition of Deborah Hughes-Hallett's wonderful reformed text, Calculus Single Variable. The first thing I did (after making seating assignments, discussing the syllabus and collecting bio sheets) was to create an group just for this class and showed my new students how to join and spoke to the benefits of joining. Of course, I had to show them and and I began the class with a filk from Youtube (Mathematicious).

Here's some of the first uploads I made to Edmodo for this group. Lesson 201 was about limits and finding the derivative at a point using convergence tables. This document is the syllabus for this summer. In other words, all the legalize and rules of the road! Also, all the assignments are listed as a pacing guide.

This pdf is a copy of all my SmartNotes for Chapter 2 Lesson 1. As you can see, I started talking about solving problems Graphically, Numercally, Analytically or Wordily!

This YouTube is a ScreenCast of the first class. 

Lesson 202 was about finding derivative functions analytically. In this, the second class, I realized that I had never formally stated the definition of continuity at a point, what I call the "Cuban Theorem." So, after stating this definition, I had to start that class with "Theorem Night!" 

Yesterday's class, Lesson 203, was mostly about Newton's Method and writing a program to do Newton's Method in TI-83/84 BASIC (today was our first test). BTW, I had to start this class with "I Will Derive!" I think Monday we'll view "Calculus Rhapsody."

HTH, I hope you enjoyed our intro to Calculus!

Learning with Technology, 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Taking the show on the road!

I am fortunate enough to have secured a PC Lab/Classroom for this summer at NCC. So, I brought my laptop and tablet to do all my SmartBoarding! What follows are pictures from Room B115 that show my tech setup! As you will see, I pipe everything through my laptop that is, in turn, attached directly to a PC Projector in the front of the room. I had to sit in the front of the room in order to use my bluetooth tablet to control the works! I had to sit in an odd position such that if I turned my head to the left I could see my students and if I turned my head to the right I could see what I was writing on the PC Projector! This was the only configuration that worked. The room is too skinny and deep. I tried not to seat anyone in the back row as they would have a hard time seeing the "SmartBoard." In fact, it's not a SmartBoard. There is some sort of 3Comm infrared pen interactive whiteboard, but they don't let anyone use the pens. As a result, there is a swing arm projector on the board, but its really just a marker board. I don't even get a Projection Screen! Also, the PC Projector is so close to the board, that the output is very small. The setup in this room is far from optimal. However, as you will see, I tried to improve things with my laptop and tablet, aka my portable smartboard!

HTH, I hope you enjoyed seeing how I setup my portable SmartBoard!

Learning with Technology, 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Screencasting 101: "To be or not to be?"

I've been screen-casting and smart-boarding in various mathematics and computer science classes for over 5 years now. So, I thought it would be beneficial to some of you who haven't had that much experience with all this technology if I were to summarize some of what I've learned though out all my trials and tribulations!

(1) To Smarttech or not to Smarttech?
There are alternatives after all! Many teachers swear by their Promethean or Interwrite products. Even 3Comm has an interactive whiteboard based on infrared pens! I did all my so called smart boarding for the longest time without any Smarttech products at all! I use all Smarttech now as my High School finally upgraded all our classrooms. If I had my druthers, I'd use a Tablet PC such as the Lenovo X201T connected remotely to another PC with a PC Projector via RDP. So, "To Smarttech or not to Smarttech?" Not!

(2) To Smartboard or not to Smartboard?
Again, there are other options here. When I started out smart-boarding for my students, I used a Wacom Graphire 6x8 Bluetooth remote mouse. I call it a remote mouse rather than a tablet as its not like today's tablets. The Graphire was a great solution that would take over the function of your mouse from anywhere in the room typically used by graphic artists to make freehand illustrations. The one drawback was that you could not see what was written on the tablet itself. It had a magnetic sensitive 6" x 8" (capacitive not resistive) writing surface and a magnetic pen. So, I had to crane my neck to see what I wrote on the PC Projection Screen way across the room! One good thing about this setup was that all you needed was a PC Projector, no Smart Board need apply! Also, I could hover the pen over the writing surface moving the mouse pointer around on the screen without writing anything so I could use the mouse pointer as if it were a laser pointer! So, "To Smartboard or not to Smartboard?" Not!

(3) To Smart Notebook or not to Smart Notebook?
I've used other pen apps in the past as well. For example, I used to use Xournal all the time. Since my school recently upgraded every classroom to Smarttech, I've been using Smart Notebook a lot. However, I just use Smart Notebook to record what I write in class as a pdf. I even installed Smart Notebook in Linux to record my Computer Science notes! However, I do not use Smart Notebook to prepare lessons ahead of time. I refuse to waste hours of prep time using all the bells and whistles in Smart Notebook to make every class into a PowerPoint presentation! Anyway, most of the Smart Notebook features seem to me to be designed more for Elementary School or Junior High, not High School or College. So, "To Smart Notebook or not to Smart Notebook?" Not!

(4) To Smart Record or not to Smart Record?
Whenever I am teaching a new topic, I also record my desktop as a video, usually in *.mp4 format, for students to review as needed. All I add to the mix is a wireless 75Mhz Lapel Mic (from Radio Shack) to record all I say as I write. I love as it encodes videos very quickly. Also, if you don't have time to encode right away, screencast-o-matic stores a cookie on your PC that points to a temporary file stored on their website that you can encode later. The only drawback to screencast-o-matic is that you need an internet connection the entire time you are recording. Also, you are limited to 1 hour and that's if you subscribe as a "Power User" for $12 per year. If you want to record offline, there's other solutions. In Smart Notebook for Windows, you can use Smart Recorder which records as lomg as you want. This application encodes quickly if you use the *.avi format, but these files tend to be huge! You can set Smart Recorder to encode *.mp4 files which are smaller but take a long time to encode! In Linux many users like RecordMyDesktop as it has a nice GUI. I have had better results with ffmpeg, however. So, "To Smart Record or not to Smart Record?" Not!

(5) To GC or not to GC?
I am convince that using TI-81s, 82s, 83s, 84s, 85s, 86s, 89s and 92s constantly for the last 20 years or so has contributed to my needing reading glasses! So, I never use an actual hand-held Graphing Calculator, I use an emulator such as VTI on my SmartBoard or a Computer Algebra System such as So, "To GC or not to GC?" Not!

(6) To Windows or not to Windows?
As you know, "I don't do Windows, and neither does my Maid!" So, most of the hardware and software solutions I recommend above work well in Windows and Linux! I use a Smart Board or Tablet with Smart Notebook or Xournal and Screencast-o-matic or ffmpeg in Linux: 
ffmpeg -f alsa -ac 2 -i pulse -f x11grab -r 30 -s 800x600 -i :0.0 test.mpg 
I find that the 32bit Ubuntu Desktop 10.04 LTS works quite well and is easily customizable to accommodate all the above! So, "To Windows or not to Windows?" Not!

(7) To Tablet or not to Tablet?
I've used a Smart Airliner Slate for years now. Its really a relabeled Wacom Graphire 6x8 Tablet that's more commonly used by artists to make sketches on a computer. It has a magnetic pen and a capacitive surface but you can't see what you write on it directly. You need to look at the remote desktop connected via Bluetooth or a PC Projection. I've used this setup instead of a SmartBoard for my ScreenCasts. I now have a SmartBoard, so I only use it on the road at conferences or at the local college. The picture above is of a Tablet PC from Lenovo model X220T. It converts to a regular ThinkPad laptop and back to a Tablet PC in a flash. If I had my way, I'd be using this device instead of the Airliner or the SmartBoard! Take a look at this rock-solid update to the X201T,

So, it seems that I've come down on the side of "Not!" for all of the above, but that's really just my personal preference! Perhaps, now you have some food for thought?

I hope you found all these screen-casting tips useful! What do ya think? 
Teaching with Technology, 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Projects Bonanza!

I really have my hands full this summer! Firstly, during July, I'm teaching a Summer class at NCC, M122 Harvard Calculus I, using technology in the form of my "Portable SmartBoard" (please see my last post). I'm not really using my "Portable Youtube Recording Studio," however, as I already made screen-casts for this course last summer. So, I'm posting those to What I have to do this year is save all my SmartNotes as *.pdfs since I seem to have lost last year's files! Next post, I'll have to update you on all the *.pdfs and *.mp4s for this past week! Also, in another blog post, I have to share a ton of photos I took in my classroom at NCC showing how my "Portable SmartBoard" is setup. BTW, the "Recording Studio" just adds a mic and to the mix.

However, that's not all! I think that may have bitten off more than I can chew! You see, I am also writing the solutions to all my tests and quizzes from this year's new 4R-11 (PreCalculus 4 Juniors) curriculum. These materials will soon become a new offering for my fellow teachers and home schoolers on EBay! So, I'll be adding over 300 pages of TBQs and TBSs (Techbook Questions and Solutions) along with all these SmartNotes as *.pdfs and ScreenCasts as *mp4s for some new TBLs (Techbook Lessons)!

In addition to that, we finally have the enrollment to run my new course originally named "Scientific Computing Lab" but renamed by the powers that be as "Calculus Research Lab" aka CRL! So, I have to spend all of August figuring out what I'm really going to teach there. Take a look at the description for CRL on the right-side panel to this blog. My AP Calculus BC students did well last year. I'm hoping that CRL will help them to do even better! Two years ago we had poor results and on the AP so I brainstormed some methods we could use to improve our results. So, two years ago we added Free Response Fridays and last year we added Multiple Choice Mondays (not to mention Youtube Wednesdays). I don't give Take Home Tuesdays anymore as I found them ineffective. Finally, next year, we get to add CRL to the mix!

Last year, my AP Computer Science class did a final project based on AppInventor for the Droid OS. I'm thinking I'd actually like to show my students how to really publish apps for the Droid Market. So, I'm reading "Android Application Development for Dummies" using Java and Eclipse in Linux. BTW, the Dummies series has some really good tech titles that are not really for Dummies! Also, my AP Computer Science A students did not do very well on the AP Exam this year. So, I also have to brainstorm some new methods here. The new cohort had a solid foundation in Computer Math using the Litvins' new Discrete Math course using Python and So, I think that next year we can breeze through the first few chapters in our Java text and spend more time on the difficult topics and the Case Study. Last's year's class had very little time for these units...

My Computing Independent Study class last year finally got openMPI to work over our cluster of 25 AMD 64bit Athon X2s, ie: 25 dualcore PCs or 50 cores. We ran a stress test on this cluster and achieved about 22 GFLOPS. Now I am told that the tech dept decided to order 25 AMD 64bit Phenom X4s! So, were going from 50 cores to 100 cores. Also, each of the 25 new quadcores will be upgraded from 750 MB to 4 GB RAM and from 80 GB to 250 GB HDD! Is that like one Linux box running at 200 GHz with 100 GB RAM and 5.25 TB HDD??? Anyway, I think we should be able to break 50 GFLOPS this year. So, we should be able to do some fractals, ray tracings, blender scenes and maybe even an animation a la PIXAR?

Last, but not least, I am also studying the Baroque Mandolin!

I hope that these Summer Projects inspire you to come up with some of your own! What do ya think? 
Teaching with Technology, 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

O Space Race, Space Race, wherefore art thou, Space Race?

Well, well, Mr. President, you must be very proud of yourself. With one swell foop of your pen you have single handedly obliterated over 10000 jobs and an entire industry. Said industry has been supporting Maned Spaceflight for over 50 years! Said industry has contributed greatly to our economy for over 50 years! Said industry has made multitudinous advances in science and engineering for over 50 years! Just to name a few, these advances include: computers, telecommunications, microwaves, fuel cells, solar energy, optics, etc. Of course, the exploration of the Moon and the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station go without saying (not to mention NASA TV's contributions to education).

I am a child of the Space Race. I grew up with Star Trek and Apollo. Make no mistake, the Star Trek TV series and the Apollo Missions to the Moon are akin. They were both about exploration, adventure and firing up the human imagination! Our esteemed President would have you believe that the Space Race is over - that there is nothing more to explore, there is no adventure. I say he's wrong! Now, more than ever, we need to build up our aerospace industry once again. China recently announced a mission to make a permanent colony on the Moon. Russia is currently the only country that can ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The European Union has also made several positive strides into space exploration. Japan also contributed to the ISS. Are we, the United States, one of the main pioneers of Maned Space Flight, to be left in the dust now?

After the Apollo Mission ended, my generation was all fired up and ready to build space stations and colonies on the Moon and Mars. Well, maybe a one-way maned mission to Mars would be easier. Anyway, whatever happened to that? The Space Race also fueled great successes in educating a generation of scientists and engineers making the USA the super power it is today. I think we could use a dose of that spark of imagination and work ethic in our students today! That was my generation, and those scientists and engineers now have nowhere to go as far as space exploration is concerned. The problem isn't that maned exploration is dead, its that we took a wrong turn somewhere along the way. For several decades now, we made the Space Shuttle our emphasis. We were trying to create a reusable space vehicle that would make space flight economical and routine. We failed miserably at making it economical, but we sure made it boring as hell! Kudos to all the astronauts that kept the dream alive and braved, in the immortal words of Gene Roddenbury, "The Final Frontier!" But, let's face it, not a lot of science or exploration was being done during all those many orbits above the Earth....

Mr. President, you say that you have ushered in a new era in Space Flight. You claim that the mission must change to robotic ships only. You say that funding must come from the private sector. You say that innovation and advances in engineering must also be provided by private corporations. I say, you are wrong again! It's too early to invoke the private sector. The space industry is still not mature enough to just let it fly on its own power in the private sector! Government's role in the space race may well have to diminish, but don't throw the baby out with the bath water! NASA has always played a leading role in the Space Race, so let it help our fledgling space industry in the private sector. Let's give our new space industry a little time to test out their fledgling wings.

I think its time to follow the words of that other great president, President Kennedy as quoted in the video above. Also, please take a look at this related blog from deFlipSide,

Well, that's my 2 cents for the week. I am now stepping off the soap box.

Generally Speaking,