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Friday, August 28, 2009

PowerPoint Level 2

Holy cow! What a night. I spent most of the evening and nightime until about midnight preparing my Level two tasks for my students to do today. I also then got up a little after four this morning to finish up. Oh, the life of a teacher! I know all of you that aren't teachers are jealous that you can't do this. Wait . . .

I had ten tasks done in CourseLab before I left school yesterday, so I only had thirteen more to do. That might nit sound like much, however it can take anywhere between ten and sixty minutes to do each task, depending on the complexity.

However, it was all worth it. There were some glitches that my students pointed out to me and I am in the process of fixing, however I did have them ready to make a Pre-Test and the trainings ready. Now I am working on the Level 2 Post-Test which is a bit trickier.

I have to take a copy of my Level 1 Post-Test and add the Level 2 questions. I've already copied them in. However, I then have to go through each question to make sure the hotspot links are going to the correct slide or frame. It doesn't do relative links, just absolute. So when I import them if I had a link going to slide 35, now it migh need to go o slide 77. So I have to go in and tweak each part of the task. It's a lot of work, but it will be worth it.

Then I will need to go in and start on Level 3. Once that is done I will need to start all over again with Microsoft Word, then Excel, then Vista. It is going to be a really busy semester, but I think it will be worth it and I am learning a lot myself. Luckily I have the weekend to recuperate and work on everything.

I also plan on purchasing Certiport's new Practice Tests. I I remember right I think it will be about $1,500 for the year. That is pretty steep for a one-year license, however if I don't see that it is worth it, or if I think I can create my own later, then I don't have to purchase another license. However, I think it will be a great thing for my students to take right before taking the real tests. That way they can get used to the correct testing environment as well as seeing the way the IC3 asks the questions. As I've said: a lot of learning for me. -- Posted From My iPhone

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Plus Tests

I also just remembered that I have to create what I calk Plus Tests. Although I don't have to do them until I'm done with Level 3. Plus Tests are to help students remember the items taught yo them when they start learning other subjects.

For instance, I usually start teaching PowerPoint because it is one of the easiest items to learn. Once we go through all three levels we move onto Microsoft Word. When we inish a level in Word and students take the Post-Test for that level I also have them take the Plus Test for PowerPoint. It usually is just 15 questions long and includes questions from all 3 level of PowerPoint.

We then move onto Excel and they have to take two Plus Tests at the end of each level (one for PowerPoint and one for Word). This helps out with retention when it comes time to get ready to take the Key Applications exam. Hopefully this will help them not just dump the information from their brains.

I guess I could just add questions from PowerPoint into the Post Tests, however I don't have any control as of yet of how many questions can come from each area. Maybe I can look into the JavaScript code for this as it randomly selects questions. That way students only have to take one test and I can get more results. Interesting idea! I'll have to mull that one over.

OK, so thinking about it some more I've decided that it isn't a hood idea just to incorporate questions from previous subjects into future Post-Tests. I realized that if I am to share these tests with other teachers (which is my intention), then they won't necessarily be teaching the material in the same order I will. So, Plus Tests it will be.

Any other ideas out there?

-- Posted From My iPhone

Saturday, August 22, 2009

PowerPoint Level 1

So I finally finished the Pre-Test for PowerPoint Level 1. I was working in getting it finished setting up by making them random, having students input their names and classperiods, and creating a page for them to print when done when one day I went to open the file and CourseLab would not open the file. Aaaaaaagh!

So, I had to start all over for the third time. Luckily the actual questions were in a separate file and coul still be opened and copied. So it took me most of this last Tuesday to get it all back together, and I think it actually is a better product.

I also created some simple web pages for navigation. The pages that actually have the tests I created with iframes and made a different color border for each test or training. I also made it so that a new window opens at full screen. I used a blue screen for the Pre-Tests, green for the trainings, and red for the Post-Tests. That way when I see screens I can tell which test a student is on an can tell if I can help them or not.

I also created trainings from the Pre-Tests so that I can go through them with my students. Then I created the Post-Tests as well. I only put ten questions on the Pre-Tests and 25 on the Post. The trainings have all of the questions so that students can learn how to complete the questions. There are about 30 questions now, but I plan on adding more as time goes by.

I also started working on the Level 2 questions, but spent most of my time with the web pages and trying to figure out a JavaScript way of preventing students from going from the test to any other program. I did find one way of doing it, however it did cause a few problems. When students went to the print page it would not populate their name and it also prevented them from using shortcut keys. Once I took off the code that I had placed it started working fine. So I am currently trying to find a key capture code so that students can't leave the test. It may be that I just need to really emphasize to them about integrity.

Yesterday I had my first day with my 8th-and 9th-graders. I showed a few of the videos from Certiport to give an introduction and then gave a brief explanation of the IC3. I then showed them how to take the Pre-Test and then let them take it. There were a few snags, though. The ones I mentioned above, plus students not bein able to get past the first screen ehwere they enter their name, the teacher's name, and their class period. The main problem was with any textbox. The code I used took the focus away from the iframe and caused all if the heartache. It took me most of the day to figure that out.

I guess I have to go with my old adage of "If you give up a little control, you usually get more back." I probably will just have to talk to them about being honest and if they can't be honest with themselves, they need to take a long, hard look into their lives. Also, I plan on purshasing the Practice Tests from Certiport and having students take the real tests. On both of those they cannot leave the tests to find answers, so now is the time to actually start learning it.

Next steps: finishing Levels 2 and 3; possibly finding some code to prevent leaving the tests. Does anyone know of a code way of doing this with JavaScript?

-- Posted From My iPhone

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Lab

Alright, so I want to talk about my lab a little bit. I have 36 computers that are HP running Windows XP. I can't remember all of the specs right now since I've hardly been in my lab this summer. Several years ago another computer teacher at my school and I decided to switch rooms. My principal at the time allowed me to then redesign the room I was getting. At the time there were several "pod" shaped tables with the computers on them. For those of you who don't know this shape, basically it is a hexagon shape and the computers are placed around the edge of the hexagon. I absolutely HATE this layout. We still have two labs at our school that are using this layout. The problems I see with the "pod" layouts is that the teacher cannot see all of the computers at the same time. The teacher has to walk around the table to see the students on the other side, and if the students are not on task (which of course NONE of our students do that -- sarcasm), then the students can quickly switch back to the program while the teacher is walking. Then, the other students on the other side of the table can go off task while the teacher is talking to the one student about being on task. It's a mess. Yes, there is software out there that will allow you to watch every students' screen (we use LanSchool at our school), however I believe that a computer teacher (or ANY teacher using a lab) should not be sitting at their computer, but be up and around engaging the students (OK, so the engaging part is something I need to work on as well). So, when I went to redesign my current lab, I chose to have straight tables and space up by the whiteboard (which of course should be the front of the classroom). I first was going to have three long tables, but then my principal at the time suggested having six tables so that there was an isle down the middle (I am very grateful that she suggested that, it is one of my favorite features now). Here is a basic drawing of my lab:

The long line at the top is the whiteboard/display boards at the front of my room. Each table can hold six computers. My computers were upgraded this last year (thanks to our district CTE director), so now I have flat screen monitors. We recently purchased computer stands that allow us to place the CPU on the floor underneath the table on the holder that has wheels that we got from Cyberguys (which I absolutely love looking through their catalog - my wife calls it geek porn).

I have my teacher station at the back near the isle. I actually have my computer sitting on a computer rack (an old one from days gone by) and I stand there to teach my classes. I love this layout because I can see EVERY screen in my lab at just about the same time. I can know if someone is on or off task. If I need to "lecture" about something, I usually have the students turn off their monitors (so they are not distracted by the "sparkleys") and then they have to turn around to see me.

This layout has alos has helped with getting my students to learn computer skills. As I've mentioned before I have used Certiport's Practice Tests and clickers to teach these skills to my students. Each table is a "team" that can help each member of the team to know how to complete the skill before I randomly pick a student (this is a great feature on eInstruction's CPS software) to come to my demo computer to complete the task.

This next year I am hoping to change the way that I use the teams. I am creating simulations tutorials that every student can use at the same time. So, what I plan on doing is having each student bring up the same question at the same time. I will start the timer on the CPS software and allow them to play around with the simulation until they find out how to complete the task (i.e. Start Microsoft PowerPoint 2007). Once they figure out how to do it they will click in to the CPS software. They can then show their team members how to do it. Once the whole team is clicked in they will tell me they are done. The first team that gets done will then be able to click in for more points. Also, once the team is done, they can then go and help other teams.

I'm hoping this works out, and I know that there will be some tweaks that I will have to complete as the year goes on, but I am excited about this.

VirtualBox

OK, so I absolutely LOVE this piece of software. I have a Mac laptop from school and I chose it on purpose. There are some programs that only run on the Mac (i.e. Garage Band, etc.), however I am mostly a Windows user (the IC3 exams test about the Windows environment, so that is what I teach on). I knew there were other programs out there for emulations on a Mac (i.e. Fusion and parallels), however once I got my Mac, it was going to take some time to actually get the software and then install it, and I needed to use it right away. So, after some searching (again) I found VirtualBox. VirtualBox is an opensource program that allows you to run other operating systems on your computer. For instance, right now I am actually on my Mac, but am running Internet Explorer 8 on my Windows VirtualBox. I mostly use the Windows portion of my computer, however, I will switch to my Mac side to run some of the programs there. It is a pretty easy switch. You can also run VirtualBox on your Windows computer to run other operating systems like Linux or another version of Windows. However, without a hack you cannot run the Mac operating system on the Windows computer (I haven't tried it myself, but I've seen something about it online). IC3 Integration So, since I run a Mac, and my lab at school is PC running Windows XP, I knew I had to do something. What I'm talking about is that the IC3 GS3 standard tests on how to use the Vista version of Windows. My district technology people have decided not to run or support Vista on our machines (which, I don't blame them from what I've heard and read about). However, I need to prepare my students on how to run Vista. So, I used VirtualBox to create a Vista partition on my external hard drive. That way I can use it on one of my school computers, and then use it on my home computer, and even connect it to my Mac laptop and run Mac, XP, and Vista at the same time. I then use the Screen Hunter software to capture the screen of the Vista environment, save them to the Mac or XP side (depending on the computer I am working on), and then work on the simulations in CourseLab in XP. This kind of sounds confusing, but it works for me. I keep my Windows Vista pretty clean. The only thing I really have on it is Office 2007, since that is what is tested on the IC3 GS3 standards as well. Other than that, I don't install anything else (well, except for the Screen Hunter software). That was I don't have to worry about showing programs that are on my computer when I create the simulations. It is just a basic computer layout. I know that some teachers don't even want to get into Vista, but it is a good springboard into Windows 7 that is coming out soon. I think the next standard for the IC3 will probably include testing with Windows 7 and Office 2010, but we'll have to wait for them to come out. Until then I will teach Windows Vista and Office 2007 so that students will be successful in testing.

Screen Hunter

OK, so I've tried to write most of my posts on my iPod Touch, however, sometimes it's just easier to type on my laptop, so here it goes. When creating simulations in CourseLab (which I almost have some ready to show off this week), you have to use images. So, I went looking for a screen capture software. There are a ton of them out there. However, I have found that the Screen Hunter software is one of the best. I can take screen shots as I go and not have to worry about pasting them right away into something (like you have to do when you use the ALT+PRT SCR button combination). I can even change the file type, the quality, the button to use for screen capture, where the images are stored, and how to format the image name. The images are REALLY good as well, so I have been using it exclusively to create my simulations.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

CourseLab

Alright, so this entry will be about another piece of software that I just discovered this year. It I called CourseLab. As I have mentioned before I have been using Certiport's Practice Tests. However, I the ones I have been using only cover Windows XP and Office 2003. To continue to prepare my student for the newer IC3 exams I need to get into Windows Vista and Office 2007.

The Search

To start working with these versions I came to the conclusion that I had to create the simulations on my own. This to a LONG time to research. Some programs that I have used in the past have allowed me to capture the screen, however when I create the simulation they only allow one hotspot. (For those who might not know what a hotspot is, basically it is a spot on a picture where you can click on go to the next slide or to another area).

Multiple hotspots are essential in creating a computer application simulation. If there is only one hotspot, it would be too easy fir students to figure out how to complete the simulation. Plus on most programs there are at least 3-4 diferent ways o completing most tasks (for instance, how many ways can you bold, itlicize, or even spell check). Only one hotspot would only allow for one way of completing the simulation. Thu was the complexity of my search.

CourseLab

In the end I found the CourseLab software. It allows me to create a simulation in a very familiar PowerPoint 2003-like environment and allows me to have more than one hotspot on a slide.

When I stumbled upon CourseLab, I knew I had hit the jackpot. This software allows me to create several hotspots on each page. It also allows me to use keyboard shortcuts when available. It took some time to create my first simulation (starting PowerPoint from the start menu), but it was well worth the effort.

As I started creating more questions I learned even more. It started being fun to create some questions and really challenging to create others (and I always love a challenge).

CouresLab allows me to create simple web pages with the simulations that my students could use to learn and practice the skills they need to learn to take and pass the IC3 exams. It also allows me to create AICC or SCORM files that I can upload to my LMS like Moodle so I can have them learn these skills not just in my lab, but anywhere they can access the Internet.

Collaboration

So, I felt pretty good about my discovery and the great way I had created the questions that I put myself on a list to present my findings in our annual CTE summer conference. Usually when I present something at these conferences and need a lab, they put me in the furthest lab away from the main area of the conference. Of course this might be because usually I have submitted my proposal late, and it us probably the only lab open, so it us completely my own fault. So I didn't have any hopes that anyone would show up or even care about what I was presenting. The two people from my district with whom I carpooled that day showed up and I was really greatful. However when about 15-20 people finally shied up I was flabergasted.

Anyways, I had copied the questions I had created to the network and I did my first test run with multiple people running the pages at the same time. Of course they were simple web pages and I didn't worry too much about it since I had run web pages on a network before, however I was greatful.

From the very first it was a hit. I was shocked. I presented the software that I used to create the questions and people had a lot of questions (which I always love because hate being the dreaded "sage on the stage"). In the end about 8-10 people were so excited about the whole concept about collaborating on this that they created their own session the next day with me to show them how to use the software.

I was totally excited and nervous about the whole thing. I didn't expect it to work. Although I will have to say that I have to give a lot of credit to my collegue Diane Lungo because she always helps to take the boring technobabble that is coming out of my mouth and make it fun and interesting.

So, the next morning we had our session and it was a success as well. There again were tons of questions and some great ideas that came out of the session. In the end we exchanged e-mails and started divided up the workload.

In the past week I was able to get help from several people on the CourseLab community page and I learned how to create a randomized test. This means I can have as many question as I like (both simulations and regular questions) and the program will select the amount if questions I want and have them randomized for each student and for each time a student takes the test. I've always liked doing this because the student can't just memorize that the answer to question one is B or and not really learn the material. It also helps me because then I don't have to create a new test for each time the student wants to retake the test. I was totally excited when this finally worked for me.

IC3 Integration

So, my next steps with this program is to develop the different levels of PowerPoint simulations and questions. This usually is the first lessons that I teach because PowerPoint us so easy to learn and if students can learn the basics if PowerPoint, then Word and Excel become easier to learn.

More Collaboration

I am sending out the invitation to any computer teacher that wants to collaborate on these exams and tutorials. My big project right now is to develop tasks for students to complete in the following programs:

  • PowerPoint (although I already have quite a bit, more is always welcomed)
  • Excel
  • Word
  • Outlook
  • Internet Explorer
  • Windows Vista
The reasoning to use these programs is because that is what is tested on the IC3 exams. The lists of tasks are Google Spreadsheets and are easily shared and updated. I also am planning on having som Google Docs that we can share Multiple Choice questions as well that we can incorporate into the tests. Of course the tests and tutorials will be freely distributed so that we can even collaborate on best practices.

If you are interested in collaborating or have questions or suggestions for me, please post here, e-mail me, or find me on Twitter, FaceBook, or LinkedIn (my usual username on all three is pbhanney). I look forward to hearing from all of you. -- Post From My iPhone