Sunday, May 28, 2006

change of blog imminent

If you subscribe to this blog through RSS feed you might get to read this. But I don't think you'll receive it by visiting this blog at But then, you won't know that I'm saying that, will you.

My advice to any blogger users reading this is to immediately backup your blog.

I did this successfully recently. The instructions are here and they worked for me.

I wrote to blogger support yesterday but given the nature of blogger (google free service) I'm not really expecting a response in the next 2 years. It's hard to "do no evil" when you have several billion customers who are all in a hurry.

I've enjoyed using blogger because you can tweak the HTML, unlike Wordpress.

Where will I go? Maybe to ourmedia. I like their philosophy a lot. But I'm still deciding. Catch you in cyberspace, somewhere...

Here's the mail:
006 Please contact Blogger

My latest post (May 27) can be viewed from the specific post URL

but it CAN'T be viewed at

The most recent post that can be viewed there is an earlier one (May 17)

When I uploaded the post I received this error message:
getLinkByTarget("_blogview") has no properties

I get the same error message if I try again or even if I upload and then delete a test post

New posts are listed and can be edited on this screen:

and they are fed through this RSS feed
when viewed through bloglines
(but I get an error when I paste the RSS URL directly into my browser)

I am using the latest version of firefox for browsing

any help would be much appreciated

Saturday, May 27, 2006

instructional software design project

I submitted the following article to the Australian Maths Teacher Journal in 1994 but it was rejected for publication. The note I received back said that my students hadn't really achieved much learning in Fractions.

I still think this was a very worthwhile Project and that the reviewer didn't take into account all of the meta-learning that happened. The approach used is still relevant today but it does require a high skill level for the teacher in a variety of areas - programming skills and managing a complex learning environment.

The article also includes a comprehensive explanation of the "instructional software design project" approach which was pioneered by Idit Harel and Seymour Papert and which still draws positive reviews today.

Anyway, the era of paper journals is over. I can publish what I want. You, the reader can ignore, critique or praise.


Education Software: Designed by Kids, for Kids
- link to full article written by Bill Kerr in 1994
Students at the Year 8 level used LogoWriter software to design computer screens to teach Year 3/4 students Fractions. Students were set the task of doing transformations between words, symbols and pictures using LogoWriter. They recorded their experiences in a journal and identified problems they encountered and solutions to those problems. They helped each other solve problems in Fractions, design and computer programming.

Outcomes from this learning sequence included expressive writing about mathematics, improved scores in a Fraction test, improved fluency in Logo programming, improved self management skills, increased cognitive resilience (overcoming frustration and not giving up), improved time management, and increased faith by the students in their own thinking patterns. Students remained motivated and interested in the Fractions topic for a 7 week block using this approach. The culture of mathematics was perceived by the students to be different and more interesting than traditional textbook maths. Some students dropped in at recess and lunch to work on their projects.

The final combined software product is a useful piece of educational software that can be utilised by other teachers for diagnostic purposes as well as being an exemplar of what can be achieved with LogoWriter when it is used in this way.


Teachers face the task everyday of how to make their subjects relevant and interesting to their students and this is seen to be a particular problem with maths. One way to look at this is from the point of view of objects to think with. The teacher and students co-construct a learning environment that is replete with "objects to think with". These "objects" include:
  • The challenge of teaching others and designing screens for this purpose using Logowriter
  • The structure of fractions and their transformations (words, symbols, pictures)
  • Other students, eg. best friends, class experts, the Year 3/4 students
  • Teacher (Is he/ she approachable, friendly and skilled?)
  • Journal reflections
Taken together these objects represent the ISDP (Instructional Software Design Project)

Harel and Papert (1990) argue that some materials are better with regard to the following criteria:
  • appropriability (some things lend themselves better than others to being made one's own)
  • evocativeness (some materials are more apt than others to precipitate personal thought)
  • integration (some materials are better carriers of multiple meaning and multiple concepts)
When used in the way described above LogoWriter is a most effective learning medium to think about Fractions and Design according to these criteria.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

probing naive understandings of computing concepts

Albert Einstein, when asked to describe radio, replied:
"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."
Dr. Paul Chandler has created a wiki about probing naive understandings of computing concepts.

He writes:
Over the last couple of years, I've been turning an idea around in my mind; it's basically seeking to better understand "how students understand computing concepts". For those who might know of "children's science" in the area of science teaching, the idea is to apply the same sorts of ideas to the understanding of computing concepts (and yes, I am deliberately using 'computing' rather than IT or ICT). Another way to put it would be to 'probe the naïve understandings of computing'.
This was of great interest to me because when I was a science teacher I used the New Zealand Unversity of Waikato Learning in Science Materials. They had developed whole units of work (electricity, force etc.) which would start by teasing out existing viewpoints held by children and build on that. I thought they were brilliant.

WRT computing I also think it would be valuable from the perspective that some teachers seem to believe that their students know more than they do.

It's also an issue for me because of the new part of my job: teaching new arrivals, many from Africa, basic computing skills.

I've written a few entries to this wiki and have been following the interesting conversation between Paul and Tony Forster about whether or not immersion is the simple answer to this question.

Amongst other things, I raised the issue of file extensions, that they provide meaningful and important information and yet they are hidden by default in Windows systems. Once again there is interesting discussion about this topic.

I hope to see you at Paul's wiki.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

politically incorrect

This cartoon does cut the mustard.

I stuck it up at school and there was agreement that it was funny, except for one wry comment: "Not funny, it's too close to the bone"

google index size

Google used to publish their index size on their main page but stopped some time ago

However, you can still find out by this search: * *

The google index currently contains 25,270,000,000 pages

Informative article about google here

censorware and fascism connection

Although we are opposed in theory to fascist dictatorships we treat our children AND TEACHERS at school in a similar way to which a fascist dictatorship treats its citizens, eg China

Great article on censorware by seth Finkelstein at

3. Censorware often blacklists language translation sites, as a LOOPHOLE

Too much of the discussion about censorware takes place in terms of the misnomer “filtering”. That conjures up an image of removing evil, yucky, even toxic material, while leaving a purified result. The constant chant of “porn, pornography, harmful to minors, obscenity, child porn, pr0n, porno, PORN ...” often keeps issues framed in these terms. People sometimes gets the idea that censorware is intended to remove evil sites. No. It is designed to control what people are permitted to read. That is a very different problem. It implies that even if there was a perfect blacklist for sex or other prohibited material, censorware would still need to ban anonymity, privacy, language translation sites and more. Because all such sites, no matter how functional and useful they may be, have the capability to allow a reader to view any other site. They are a LOOPHOLE.
7. If censorware works for parents to control children in the US, it’ll work for governments to control citizens in e.g. China. Contrariwise, if censorware can’t work for governments to control citizens in e.g. China, it can’t work for parents to control children in the US.

Many discussions of censorware tend to revolve around statements of values, usually concerning which authorities have legitimate rights of control, in what contexts. Typically the values are that parents have a right to prohibit their children from reading certain materials, employers can control what employees view, but governments should not censor citizen’s ability to obtain information. However, the technical implications here are essentially identical, no matter what the social relationships.

So there’s a deep problem in efforts to bypass Internet censorship. If citizens can escape from government control, then children can escape from parent’s control. But if restricting information works on minors in the US, it’ll work on citizens under dictatorial governments. Either way, the results are problematic.