A Learning Management System (what is often called an LMS) has become foundational to blending technology into education experiences. Without its one-stop curation of class management activities such as attendance, homework, grading, discussions, resources, and more, each with their own separate website, login, and password, technology use in education would be defined by chaos. There are many LMSs to choose from, but none as flexible, scalable, feature-rich, and affordable as the open source ecosystem of Moodle.
Moodle got its start years ago as a method to organize blended learning and online classes. Now, it provides over 90 million educators, administrators, and learners in over 200 countries with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create personalized learning environments. Besides thousands of K-12 schools, users include the State University of New York, Microsoft and the Open University, and the London School of Economics. Because it’s Open Source and platform-agnostic, it has few limitations, but this flexibility and scalability comes with a price. Setup and use are reputed to be more challenging than other LMSs. In fact, I can attest to that from experience.
There is help, though. Following “How to get started” (the next section), I’ll share an easy way to unpack Moodle in your school.
How to get started
With a reminder that Moodle is Open Source, which means the basic framework can be augmented with just about any addition conceivable (as you’ll see in the section, “23 Ways to use Moodle”), here’s how to start:
I first met Office Mix a few years ago, before I had the required Office 2013 or higher. I loved the demo I watched, cried a bit that it wouldn’t work for me, and then forgot about it. Now that I’ve upgraded to Office 365, I’m eager to use all the features that got me so excited back then. Before I get into those, let me back up for those who have never heard of Office Mix. It’s a free PowerPoint add-on that turns your existing PowerPoint program into a fully-featured lesson planner. Using the traditional slide decks you love, you can now collect all the resources required for a lesson plan into one place that students watch either as a slideshow or a video. It can include video, narration, audio, polls, screen captures, screencasts, photo albums, charts, tables, annotated notes, images, interactive quizzes, and more. Just like with PowerPoint, you start with either a blank slide or a professional-looking template. Once the slide deck is completed, you share it via link or embed it as a slideshow or video on any device. Because Mix uses audio and video tools to communicate ideas, students are eager to view the resulting lessons, making it a perfect addition to a blended learning program.
C-STEM Studio is a California A-G approved curriculum and turn-key solution for teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics through computing and robotics. This web-based scalable program is available for elementary through high school students and can last anywhere from four weeks to a year. As Professor Harry Cheng, Director of the UC Davis Center for Computing and STEM Education who offers this program, states simply: “Our goal is to get kids interested in math and robotics through hands-on computing and robotics.” In fact, the C-STEM Studio algebra curriculum is fully aligned with Common Core state standards in mathematics.
- Linkbot–students write a simple program to complete a function that is then uploaded to a robot–in this case, a Linkbot. One feature I found in this program which I rarely saw in others: It’ll point out syntax errors in programming. This is well-suited to younger students.
- RoboSim–students program a virtual robot of their choice (by picking from among Lego Mindstorm and others) in a virtual environment.
- RoboBlockly–a web-based robot simulation using a drag-and-drop interface to program virtual Linkbot and Lego robots. The RoboBlockly curriculum includes a student self-guided Hour of Code activity as well as teacher-led math activities that meet Common Core state standards for fourth to ninth grade.
- ChArduino–students use Ch programming (kind of a simplified, easier-to-learn C+) and an Arduino board.
To assist teachers, UC Davis offers professional development that lasts between two days and a week on how to roll out the lessons and/or curriculum in their classrooms as well as a C-STEM Conference to share ideas and stories with other educators. For students, there are CSTEM camps and competitions to showcase the robot wizardry of programmers from elementary through high school.
To evaluate C-STEM Studio, let’s look at three questions:
- so what
- who cares
- why bother
One of the most pressing and timely issues facing the education community nationally is how we can address teaching math, science, and engineering concepts to the K-12 population. C-STEM Studio does that with a compelling and thorough software program which trains both students and teachers to use robotics as a superior vehicle for learning math.
I recently chatted with a tech coordinator on the East coast who asked about software alternatives to the webtools we were discussing. That surprised me. Usually, teachers want free, easily-accessible-from-anywhere webtools in place of expensive, installed software. When I asked why she had some excellent reasons:
Almost all free online tools and apps include advertising. I understand — someone has to pay the bill — but kids don’t understand how to ignore that glitz. All they see is a new toy. And besides the annoying ads, the developers constantly promote the paid version of the free apps. Again, kids don’t understand marketing.
You get the entire program
When you purchase software, you get the entire program. With online tools, you might get one or two levels of a few of the included games with the expectation that you will purchase more levels and more games. My most recent disappointment is Starfall. The mobile version of this wonderful online reading website is a very limited version of the original. To get the entire program requires multiple apps and significant in-app purchases.
For the first time ever, Windows is upgrading the existing Windows platform for free. If you use a current version of Windows, you’ll notice a little icon in the lower right tooltray that encourages you to upgrade. There’s a time limit to how long you can wait and still get it for free, but it’s long enough for you to research the upgrades and decide if they work for you.
I’m still on the fence. So often early adopters are the guinea pigs for problems that are later fixed. Matthew Young, a tech writer and gadget enthusiast, has put together a nice summary of what’s included in Windows 10 Education Edition as well as some of the known known issues. Read through his review and then add your experiences under comments.
Windows 10 Education Edition is here to make both teaching and learning a walk in a virtual park. This powerful edition for schools has a variety of new tools and features that make learning more student focused, researching more user convenient, classrooms more globalized and teaching a lot more fun.
Microsoft wants to share the incredible teaching experience of Windows 10 Education Edition with as many people as possible so is offering free upgrades to Windows 10 for education customers using Win 7 or 8.1. In this article, I’ll count down the amazing features on the new Windows 10 Education Edition to show you just how much it will impact the noble profession of teaching, making learning both fun and eye-opening.
As a working technology teacher, I get hundreds of questions from parents about their home computers, how to do stuff, how to solve problems. Each Tuesday, I’ll share one of those with you. They’re always brief and always focused. Enjoy!
Q: I’m writing a very (very) important paper and all of a sudden, the screen is frozen. I can’t save it, or anything else. What do I do?
A: Programs do freeze for no reason sometimes, but not often (I’m assuming you take care of your computer–defrag, don’t download with abandon, update it occasionally). Before you declare a dog-ate-my-homework sort of catastrophe, try this:
- Check your desktop for an open dialogue box and close it. You might have to answer its question first.
- Push escape four times. You might have inadvertently got yourself into something you don’t even know you’re in. Escape often lives up to its name.
- Click your program on the taskbar. You might have gotten out of it by accident.
Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.
Here’s a great question I got:
Hi! Question for you…I know the difference between Power Point and Publisher. I focus on teaching Power Point, but maybe I should teach more of Publisher. My question is should I stop teaching Power Point and only focus on Publisher? Any suggestions? Thanks, Alex
Publisher provides options for students who want to publish material in a more visual way. I get 2nd graders on it with greeting cards, 3rd graders with a simple magazine, 4th graders with a trifold, 5th graders with a newsletter. Once created, projects are easily converted to pdf and added to class websites, emails, etc. I love it and haven’t found a free version or a widget that successfully accomplishes what it does.
The downside is that Publisher is an expensive program that most students don’t have access to. If your school is OK with that, I’d say add one Publisher project a year that ties into a classroom theme.