Friday, February 19, 2010

Are we going to far?

Let me ask you this. How would you feel if your son or daughter's Principal called you to the school only to find out they were being disciplined for something they did while at home? Are you confused yet... Why would I ask that question. That is the same question that the parents of a Ardmore, Pa. High School student did and has launched a Class Action Law Suit against the Lower Merion School District.

Students in this school system were issued laptops and were allowed to take them to their homes after school to assist in their daily studies and homework. These laptops were also equipped with a webcam. There is where the usefulness stops and the creepy stuff begins.

Evidently along with the webcam software there was a program installed on these laptops that allows the school district to activate those webcams remotely and without the user knowing it has been activated. Talk about "Big Brother" watching you.

Now before I go off on a rant I will give you some links:
Local Newspaper Ardmore, Pa. - Main Line Times
Copy of the Class Action Litigation - Pdf

OK, now for the rant. I work where you can be scrutinized at any point by the public for the actions that you take in, out of the workplace. We live in an unforgiving world right now that is more interested in learning why would Tiger Woods cheat on his wife or whether Brittany Spears is doing a new photo shoot.

With that being said I have to agree with the fact that this school system along with many others across the country are attempting to provide technology for their students any way they can. And this is a great opportunity for this school district where they have the wherewithal to provide laptops to their high school students. I also agree that there should be some sort of utility in place on the laptop to make sure that it can be located in the event of theft, ie. Lojack like we have on cars.

What I do not agree on is that the system seems to have been aware that there was a program loaded on the machines that could be remote activated at the touch of a button by the school administrators. Where was the disclosure people? I am a pretty open-minded, but cannot agree with the school district on them not notifying parents of their students whom received these laptops that there was a capability for the webcam to be remote activated. I am pretty sure that a lot of parents may have second guessed having the laptops brought home had they known this feature was a part of the computer system. I know I would not have and I don't have children.

This opens the door for so many "Issues" I cannot begin to image how big the fallout from this will be on the grand stage, but I think there will be more than a few people heading out the door after this gets settled.

I want to hear what you think about this.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Programming Without Learning Code.....

How many of you had to learn a Programming language going through school? Whether it was Basic, Pascal, Cobol, C+, C++, Visual Basic, etc., etc. Did you really like reading through lines and lines of code to figure out where a problem was so. How many times did you go cross-eyed looking at the pages and pages of code. I know there were a few times I did and I bet you would have to agree with me.

So what is my point. What if I told you that gone are the days of learning code just to program a stick figure to walk across the screen... like I did on an Apple IIe back in 1986. So now I show my age. The good thing is that students today do not have to worry about learning to program by entering in lines and lines of code. This will surely allow a younger student base to get into programming with a lower barrier to entry.

What would you say if I told you that students as young as 8 are learning how to program. How is this possible you may be asking? They are using a program called Scratch which was developed by faculty and students of MIT's Media Lab.

The great thing is that students are learning how to program without having to learn a programming language. This program offers all the commands in nice neat blocks that the students can just drag, drop and connect them together, "like Lego’s®,"to make the actions take place on the screen. The software is a great tool to get young female students excited about working with computers and programming which has historically been a male dominated profession.

Scratch teaches your students higher order thinking and problem solving skills. It provides your students with the foundations of learning mathematical concepts in a fun and easy way. Whether a student is a right or left brain thinker they will easily be able to create programs in Scratch. One thing that I like and is a great benefit is that students get instant gratification because they can see the evolution of the program as they are creating it.

The Scratch website also allows your students an outlet for others to see their work. The site is set up so that the teacher or student can learn how to use the software through the detailed Support link which includes video and pdf tutorials. There are also a number of other videos demonstrating how to perform certain tasks with Scratch as well as general tutorials for the beginning to advanced user on both TeacherTube an YouTube. A student, or teacher, can Share their program, or project, to the website an others can see it, comment on it, share it, download it, remix it, and re-upload it.

Take a look for yourself and see how easy it is to create a program without ever learning any type of programming language.

video provided by: MIT University Media Lab