Archive for September, 2007

Teachers Love Free Stuff! How About Free Software?

Posted on September 25, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

by K. Merritt 

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate getting something for free.  Some “free” things, however, are more valuable than others.  Most people have no use for hoards of free “Happy Meal” toys.  They might appreciate something more useful, like FREE SOFTWARE!  Enter – Open Source Software.

What exactly is Open Source Software?  Loosely put, it is software developed by one programmer or a community of programmers, sometimes with corporate contributions, and distributed freely to the public.  In addition, other people and programmers are free to modify the code and contribute back to the project for the benefit of the entire community.  It is a really interesting concept.

What kind of software is available under Open Source?  Just about anything you can think of.  Wikipedia has a list (not exhaustive) of various open source projects here.  In reality, Open Source Software offers alternatives to many of the mainstream programs we use daily.  The list below shows the commercial product and the Open Source free alternative.  Clicking on the alternative title will take you to the product’s website for more information and downloading.

Commercial Product                      Open Source or Free Equivalent 

Microsoft Office                               Open Office
Adobe Photoshop                             Gimp
Inspiration                                      CMAP Tools
Starry Night                                    Stellarium and Celestia

This is by no means a complete list, but it does show you that there are quality software products out there that are still FREE!  Check out some of these programs for yourself.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the quality and functionality of them.  In most cases, the free versions will also read and write files from and to the commercial versions.  So, if you have a computer at home and don’t want to “shell out” the money for a commercial product, try some Open Source Software.  I think you’ll be pleased!

Kevin S. Merritt
Instructional Technology

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Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Posted on September 21, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

by Tim Cushman 

Digital storytelling sounds like the type of project that only the most skilled of technology practitioners dare attempt. The truth is there are several modern ways to tell a “story” in the age-old tradition of sharing oral histories.

The ability to incorporate multimedia tools into the storytelling model greatly enriches the power of the story while creating the opportunity for students to reach a much wider audience beyond the four walls of the classroom. Digital storytelling typically consists of a series of photos or video enhanced by music and narration.

The modern “story” has been defined by what many have referred to as the “Ken Burns Effect.” Ken Burns, the creator of such documentaries as The Civil War, Baseball, and The War, used still images with a “pan and zoom” technique layered with a soundtrack and narration to bring historical pictures to life. The “pan and zoom” involves moving the camera back and forth across an image or zooming in and out to highlight a particular region of the picture. The style is simple, but it is an innovative means for telling a story.

There are several software tools for organizing a simple slideshow for digital photos. However, a digital story is far more than a parade of random snapshots. A good digital story should be more like a well written book or a memorable movie in the effect it has on the audience. This requires the creator to take a focused viewpoint while limiting the content to the essentials in order to communicate a specific message. A few examples can be found at A more thorough examination of digital storytelling can be found at

I believe in the value of digital storytelling in the classroom. A digital story project challenges students and can be incorporated into almost any subject area. A well-designed digital story project requires a student to research, plan (best when done using a storyboard), and synthesize what they have learned. Research skills, effective communication, and opportunities for higher order thinking fit naturally with the storytelling process. A few implementation ideas are as follows:

  • a historical biography (especially those individuals that have been overlooked by history, such as the role of minorities in World War II)
  • retelling a piece of literature from the perspective of a specific character
  • illustrating parts of speech
  • highlighting a scientific process· conveying a technical process
  • demonstrating cause and effect
  • sharing poetry
  • creating a summary of text or ideas

There are multiple programs for creating digital stories. Below is a list of the more popular programs:

1. Microsoft PhotoStory 3

  • Cost: Free with a valid copy of Windows XP
  • Platform: Windows Only· Automatically adds the “Ken Burns Effect”
  • An excellent tool for working with digital pictures, and my personal favorite
  • Very easy to use, perfect for students of all ages and abilities.

2. Windows Movie Maker 2.1

  • Cost: Free with a valid copy of Windows XP
  • Platform: Windows Only
  • Images and videos can be added to create a story
  • A basic movie editor that can be learned quickly

3. Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0

  • Cost: $100
  • Platform: Windows or Mac
  • A powerful tool from Adobe with the user in mind. Some previous experience editing video or with Adobe products is
  • recommended.

4. Cyberlink Power Director 6

  • Cost: $80
  • Platform: Windows or Mac
  • Several built in aids for editing pictures and videos in the creation of professional looking product.

5. Apple iMovie

  • Cost: Free with Mac operating system
  • Platform: Mac
  • An easy to use application for creating digital stories from pictures or videos.
  • Includes the option for adding the “Ken Burns Effect.”

6. Memory Miner

  • Cost: $45
  • Platform: Mac
  • Dynamic software for creating digital stories and sharing them online
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Basic Troubleshooting for Teachers

Posted on September 9, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

HELP… My computer doesn’t work!!!
by Tim Van Heule – Instructional Technology Facilitator – Greenville County Schools

Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of educators more than when technology stops working. After all, with rigorous standards and accountability to No Child Left Behind – teachers don’t have time to teach and be a technician too.

We are evolving past the chalkboards, dry-erase whiteboards, and overheads into the world of ubiquitous computing with 1:1 initiatives and interactive whiteboards. With all of this wonderful technology comes a need to know basic troubleshooting. The hardware and network technicians of world are out there and working frantically to fix all of the issues that pop up daily in the district, but I think there is nothing more empowering than being able to do a little of troubleshooting on your own to see if you can fix it yourself.

“Is it plugged in and/or turned on?” I’m not trying to be funny. Everyone has a story, either personal or one passed on from a friend, about someone spending hours on the phone with technical support trying to work through an issue only to have technical support finally ask, “Is it plugged in and/or turned on?” Yes, it’s embarrassing when something isn’t plugged in or turned on like it is supposed to be, but checking for these two things should probably be done first.

“Shut down and restart.” Seriously, if you call Dell, or HP, or anyone and ask what to do, shutting down the software, computer, or both and restarting is usually the first thing anyone will say. I know that shutting down and restarting can be time consuming but it generally resolves the issue. I also know that this is never part of the daily lesson plan, but it’s all part of being able to monitor and adjust and a whole lot better than waiting for someone to come out and fix it. 🙂

“Is the sound muted?” Thanks in part to streaming educational videos, sound has begun to play a much larger role in the classroom than it did with vinyl records, tapes, and filmstrips. If sound cannot be heard, check to make sure it is not muted. Double-click on the sound icon in the system tray next to the clock in the lower right-hand corner of the desktop to access the Volume Settings. Make sure that none of the settings are muted and that they are turned up. If you have external speakers and/or an amplifier, be sure that the speakers and/or amplifier are turned on and up.

Basically, I think these are the three easiest tips to keep instruction from being disrupted in the classroom. Of course, if these don’t solve the issue, you will need to call in the experts.

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    The School District of Greenville County – Instructional Technology Department


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