Ebony Scrooge opens Saturday, December 6th!

Ready to enjoy the festivities and the holidays with your family and friends? Then let the fun begin by joining Eustace High School at their opening of “Ebony Scrooge” on December 6th and 7th at 7:00 p.m.

Ebony Scrooge is a original play loosely based from A Christmas Carol the Christmas Classic written by Charles Dickens. Fun for the entire family, Ebony Scrooge is written by D.M. Larson of Freedrama.net in collaboration with the Eustace High School Theater Company. Mr. Larson calls Ebony Scrooge “a work in progress” and allows students to add to the story in their own unique and creative way. This gives students the opportunity to experience the world of a playwright and of the director by seeing their words come to life in the characters created on the stage. This comedy will leave you laughing and singing all the way home! Join us!

December 6th & 7th
7:00 p.m.
Tickets $5
Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Huggins' 4th Gr. Google Prezo Sampler

In January 2011, I assisted 4th grade teacher Amy Huggins in introducing her students to Google Presentations and using it collaboratively. The first presentation below is an example of their work which was done in groups of three.

The second presentation is from an individual assignment this week (late March 2010).

As this assignment was nearing completion, at least one of the 4th graders learned how to embed YouTube video into a slide and that student also tutored others in the new skill you can see demonstrated in the third presentation.

Mrs. Huggins plans to display more of this material online, so watch for it!

Pearson TestNav Fail & Recover

by Rusty Meyners.  

Original (or at least previous) publish date: Wednesday, 12 May 2010, 11:47 AM

Here's what didn't work and did work for us when testing the entire Freshman class of around 90 students simultaneously on netbooks with wireless connections.

  1. Server install DID NOT work – obviously and decidedly so.

    • It seemed the most natural way to do things and bandwidth considerations seemed to be the only issue flagged in the Pearson documentation. We had tested groups of class size or smaller in the past with barely tolerable results, usually not seeming to be related to bandwidth. Testing 90 simultaneously crapped out after less than 2 dozen connections. In this case we were using netbooks on wireless connections but no change in perfomance was noted on several that were plugged into ethernet. Best guess is that the program files did not play well when in use by so many users – NOT A GUESS is that critical files were easily broken in this scenario and re-install was the so-called "fix". 
  2. Proctor Caching DID work – apparently.

    • We have no observation of how things would have performed without this but none of the problems we had indicated a problem with caching, particularly considering good performance after changes were made only to components other than this.
  3. Local install DID work – WITH A TWIST

    • After it appeared that a local install was the solution (the Pearson documenation DID NOT give any indication to this effect but phone support did) we successfully circumvented the need to perform a full install on each machine by merely copying the folder from the server installation to each local desktop (NOT an idea we got from phone support). It may be possible to to the same thing with a local install folder but be sure the proctor caching settings are correct and if necessary edit the configuration file for that purpose. No critical .ini files were broken on 90 local instances.
    • Some tips on this:

      • Zip the folder and copy it by USB to the local desktop where it is then unzipped in a separate action and ready for use. It could be copied directly from network but might result in an annoying bottleneck. Attempting to unzip directly from the network share will probably aggravate the bottleneck and uzipping from the USB stick will also be slower than performing the separate actions. This makes a difference when prepping more than a class-sized group.
      • If possible, set relevant temp-file paths (different on server vs. local installs) when performing the original install that you are going to copy. Not critical, because we performed an adjustment to each local computer and it wasn't horrendous (compared to running from server the previous day) but could be avoided. The correction is requested after logging in: just click Browse and the default path is normally suitable but if it doesn't work, just click "Skip Upload" (assuming student has no work to save yet).
      • On our netbooks, there were two suitable resolution settings, changed by hot-key, however making this change after the test starts will trip the cheat-detector and require the test to be restarted. So try to confirm a correct resolution before hand.
      • Because our netbooks are on full-time assignment to students, a special domain login was implemented to ensure a clean profile with less chance of junkware interference.



(Will put updates or link to them here

Now that this reminds me NOT to do network install (hard to believe I'd forgotten THAT), here are some things that immediately come to mind.

  1. Will probably script the copying AND unzipping of files involved in "Local Install" as described above in #3 (WITH A TWIST).

    • have recently used scripting for similar delivery from network shares with encouraging results
    • 7z zip utility (free) has proven very efficient and effective for this and works well with scripting
  2. After optimizing scripting and zip procedures, will likely retest these from network shares as well as USB or SD card delivery, to evaluate which is/are preferable.

Google Apps for Education & Moodle Integration Update

by Rusty Meyners.  

Recieved email request today for links to info about new Google Apps for Education account features & changes as well as Moodle-Google SSO integration. This is the reply:


First link is a Moodle course I slapped together for a Moodle Mini-Moot at TCEA2010. A little dated but still relevant.
Second is a link found on page above to a wiki covering Moodle-Google SSO integration specifically.
Third & maybe most important are instructions I assembled for setting up Moodle-Google SSO. Though dated,  recent feedback validates their continuing relevance.
The links above are to guides I've written but following is a Google link to info about impending changes in the Apps for Ed accounts. Mainly it's a matter of adding more of the consumer account features to the Apps for Ed Edition as well as transitioning personal accounts that use an email from an Apps for Education domain – they'll need to associate it with a different email address, whether Gmail or 3rd party. This change includes a new feature that diverts a login attempt to an SSO domain's Moodle login page if pertinent.

Why an "Optimized" version of Khan Academy OFFLINE?

by Rusty Meyners.  

Why an "optimized" version of Khan Academy OFFLINE?

One might well ask this question since it is based on fine work found at http://code.google.com/p/khanacademy/ and I'm glad you asked.
In early December of 2010, I was approached with the question of having iTunes installed on our student netbooks and the complications we might experience with that. I suggested possibilities involving other avenues of content download and the considerable hard drive space available on the netbooks for offline storage. Khan Academy came up briefly during this discussion, so I subsequently spent some time familiarizing myself with that, ever eager to be knowledgeable on alternatives to iTunes.
The next day I was called in again to discuss offline content on netbooks with emphasis on Khan Academy. By this time I was a little more acquainted with Khan and aware that there were projects already in place regarding offline use of that subject matter.
… to be continued smile

Moodle Servers: Windows, Linux, Virtual or "Real"

by Rusty Meyners.  


Regarding Windows or Linux:


Moodle is a Linux native along with the majority of the available support. My duties, skills and salary are too Windows-dependent to devote the time to mastering Linux that I’d like; but having said that, I couldn’t personally recommend Windows for a Moodle.



Regarding the Virtual vs. “Real” question:


Our Moodle has been a Linux virt from day one around 2.5 years ago and I’d do it again exactly the same today. BUT it is on the OpenVZ flavor of virtualization which is quite different from the VMWare solution that most people default to.



VMWare is one of many flavors of FULL virtualization which use processing and memory resources for a software imitation of the hardware components in an imaginary machine on which you install your system. Fully virtual machines for the most part do not even know they are not actual boxes of metal and silicon. A subset is “para-virtual” where the virt has special drivers and awareness that it can get more direct and efficient access to the “real” hardware. Other solutions including (Free/OpenSource) such as KVM (on Linux but able to host Windows) and XEN work in a similar fashion to VMWare.



OpenVZ only virtualizes or “partitions” the operating system and uses hardly any extra resources to do so. This keeps most of the advantages of virtualization and brings more benefits to the mix, especially in the way of performance. OpenVZ only works (last I heard) with Linux systems, though there is an expensive proprietary version for Windows that has gone by various names such as Virtuozzo and (I think) Containers(?). If you are using or even considering Linux implementation, getting familiar with OpenVZ would be an extremely valuable investment of your time, as I believe it almost never makes sense to virtualize Linux any other way. With OpenVZ I have can (and often do) have a production Moodle system running alongside a production KalturaCE, BackupPC, FOG and sandbox space for trying out any flavor of Linux system that catches my attention (Mahara is next on that list). Normally we have these spread out over several host boxes but the beauty of virtualization is the portability, disaster recovery and load balancing potential.



ProxMox is the actual “brand” of virtualization we use and it is Free/OpenSource with pay support options. It combines KVM Full Virtualization and OpenVZ OS Virtualization for multiple Linux AND Windows virts in the same host system and may be one of the fastest ways around to get into the virtualization business. It requires fairly new 64bit hardware with virtualization support which includes almost any decent server hardware you would be considering anyway. I would love to help anyone in education trying to get started with ProxMox.

Netbooks in the Un-Happy Middle

by Rusty Meyners.  

My response to the student who felt the netbooks were useless because of the blocks and filters, and asked why there couldn’t be a "happy middle".

You don’t really want a happy middle – you want everything your way. This is school and it’s always been that way. If you wanted a happy middle, you would be thanking me for scheduling the blocks for the school hours and leaving you more freedom before and after. In return you would be using the laptop for school work and not abuse it when you are supposed to be paying attention.

Where was the happy middle when I originally left Skype on the netbooks and trusted y’all to be responsible with it? The abuse was so bad that we couldn’t even wait until a scheduling block tool was available and we had to do it the quick and dirty way with the same lack of respect y’all showed by refusing to control yourselves and use it at more appropriate times.

Let’s see your happy middle when the Internet is too slow to use Google Docs because those who would rather watch YouTube or download music or game emulators are hogging it all up.

So go ahead and look for a way around it if you want an express ticket to AEP – with a short stop at ISS if you’re lucky. Everyone has been told what the reward is for hacking or bybassing network and computer filters and rules. Just ask those who already found out the hard way.

So the truth is you aren’t really happy in the middle, but if I’m wrong, give me your constructive suggestions for how we can do this better. Just don’t forget what these netbooks are for and why the school board spent all that money to put one in your hands.

Netbooks Evaluated, Deployment Impending – At Last!

by Rusty Meyners.  

Long overdue is not only an update but moreover a final and conclusive chapter to Eustace ISD’s long-running netbook evaluation and this blogging thereof. The last update saw us almost certainly planning to purchase Acer Aspire One netbooks for all of our high school students as well as several classroom sets of 25 for rolling labs at the other campuses; but since then, our focus has seen an quick shift to the Dell Mini 10 and mere weeks later an even more abrupt switch to the Asus eeePC 1005HA.

Dell got our attention with a new low base price that had to be directly aimed at Acer, who of course had to promptly lower their prices as well but too late to prevent a seemingly permanent change in our direction. A firm commitment to Dell eventually got them to get serious about our negotiations but a late unsolicited presentation from Asus that included an eval unit and competitive bid could not conscientiously be ignored. Attempts to have Dell make adjustments to remain competitive with Asus specs went from bad to contemptible, with our sentimentally favored home-state computer giant not just dropping the ball but actually seeming to "intentionally ground" it in "poor sport" pique over the challenge.

When time came for our school board to approve a purchase of 600 units for deployment, the eeePC 1005HA was the clear choice not only from almost every technical measurement but by user acclaim as well. Most netbooks are created equal on the inside with the main differences being in outward design and included or available options and to my thinking it frequently came down to who had the better keyboard, a measurement by which Asus usually lost even when they might win on every other consideration; however, the eeePC now has decisively closed that issue with a keyboard as good or better than any other, regardless of the optically-delusional preference many would initially express for the Dell or HP. Once they fixed the keyboard, the fundamental performance and feature advantages that Asus has consistently maintained in the eeePC line begin to make the choice easier; and when comparing reliability factors indicated by repair trends where both Dell and Asus products are used, such as Irving ISD (an exemplary peer among school netbook deployments), it becomes a no-brainer.

The fast approaching and practically "day-one" deployment to every student at Eustace High School on a "full-time" (including take-home) basis precludes more time here describing the benefits of the 1005HA over the many other netbooks evaluated for our program; but those who have followed this Blog or otherwise kept up with our project will know that every effort has been made to fully consider every relevant factor before coming to this critical decision on a resource and tool propitious to excellence in education at Eustace ISD.

Netbooks Update

by Rusty Meyners.  

Deployed a set of Acer Aspire Ones to a High School English classroom yesterday with desired results and then some. Students were walked through initializing the machines which currently have XP Home on them. Another set is being prepped with XP Pro to be swapped in but we felt it important to quick-start pilot testing an all digital classroom in a non-technology subject. Both student and teacher initial reactions were universally positive and all started seeing potential they had not yet considered for the ways curriculum management might be enhanced by personal laptops and Moodle. The teacher was already promising to keep the laptops busy every period remaining in the semester but now is actually seeing the possibilities of a near "paperless" classroom.

Got wind on Twitter last night of yet another contender for the netbook dollar – a Dell which already has a couple of entries but this one is really serious. The Dell Latitude 2100 reportedly aims for the enterprise market that only HP has so far has made a real run at, including the price structure that goes with that. Currently the HP 2140 might be considered the "Cadillac" of netbooks when money is not an issue but the new Dell which is not to be officially unveiled until around mid-May, might just be the "Lincoln Continental". Besides the upscaled design, quality and feature-set, enterprise-grade support is a critical factor of this approach, with both Dell and HP being a natural fit for it.

Meanwhile, however; price is a factor, so with that in mind we have quite positive expectations for the Acer Aspire One 10" model – the "Chevrolet" of netbooks! Incidentally, Acer is reportedly outselling all netbook brands including Asus, the pioneering "Ford" of netbooks, with their eeePC.

UPDATE 05/07/09:

Acer Aspire Ones working out quite well with nagging exception of 4 machines (out of 50) needing to be returned and one of the pilot teachers experiencing "digital fatigue". Out of the box or shortly after, two of the A1s suffered from dead trackpads and another from a bad display, while just today another trackpad bit the dust. The teacher of one of the netbook pilot test classes has discovered a need to periodically decompress with an occasional resort to pen, paper and grease pencil, at least during a transitional period. The kids on the other hand have found very little to complain about and indeed it can be difficult to convince them that some work should be done other than on the computer.

We are actually pilot testing the netbooks in two classes now (the other being Social Studies) with both using Google Apps in Moodle heavily. The sharing features in GAPPS are invaluable for hand-outs, student collaboration and teacher grading, as well as a nifty ability to embed presentations directly in a Moodle topic section. The GAPPS folder navigation can be a little confusing at first, seeing that it looks like an email client; but when you consider the actual purposes and function, it starts to make more sense.

We are in the process of installing iTalc on the netbooks to provide more manageability with the digital classroom. It is imperative that the teacher be given effective tools for keeping the kids on task, because lacking them, the clamor to block valuable but often distracting Web 2.0 resources will be an overwhelming force.

Full Summary of our Netbook Evaluations Here


Student-Teacher-Class Dialogs & Collaborations in Moodle Google Apps

by Rusty Meyners.  

The question was asked to the Strategic Open Sources SIG of TCEA mailing list:


"How can I set up a discussion between a teacher and her students, but limit the students to only see their own comments? The teacher doesn’t want the students copying responses from each other."


This was my response:



We had not quite addressed this when you first asked it but it happens that I have a Social Studies and an English teacher pilot testing netbooks this week. Both are using Moodle-Google Apps integration with heavy reliance on the GAPPS side. The Social Studies teacher is doing something close to what you are asking in Google Docs.


After some collaborative work in both classrooms using that aspect of Google Docs Sharing, the Social Studies teacher asked how a student could "submit" work they completed independently. This was worked out by the following steps (the first two might be optional):


1. The teacher shared a "View Only" "template" with each student in the class.

2. Each student then opened the template and performed a "Save as Copy" to work with. The students could delete the original if desired.

3. Each student then shared their working copy "View Only" with the teacher who was able to review them in progress and grade them when the time came. If the teacher wants to make annotations (maybe in a different font color) it would need to be shared "For Collaboration" (Google Docs provides a Revision History – kind of like a wiki – to keep track of who contributed what in a collaboration).


With this approach, the student did not need to "submit" the work, because the teacher had continuous access to it from the time the student shared it with him. Though it would not be necessary to share it back until completed, I suggested that be the first thing they did, so as to avoid claims that "the cloud ate it".


The teacher had thought to next use a Moodle Forum for the students to work in pairs on a project that would involve a running dialog but has now decided that the share/collaborate/revision history features in Google Docs will suit him better. They plan to create documents that are shared three ways between the teacher and each pair of students.


Possibly you will see an application to your needs in this info; though it does assume access to Google Docs, with Moodle integration being almost a requisite but not absolutely so. Frankly, Ken’s [Moodle] Blog suggestion may be the most beautifully simple approach if you don’t need a revision history.