17 December 2013

Time to Teach Your Parents

Who Teaches Parents Tech?

They do, their children do, but now with the help of the guys and gals at Google, Google does too.

For decades society has been dominated by media such as books, comics, cinema, radio, and television — all are technologies, whether or not the users recognise it, all of which now have a digital equivalent, so that even if parents weren’t familiar with the particular content their children engaged with, at least they could access and understand the medium, so that, if they wished to understand what their children were doing or share the activity with them, they could.

However, with the advent of digital media, things have changed. The demands of the computer interface are significant, rendering many parents to believe that they are 'dinosaurs' in an information age inhabited by their children.

Only in rare instances in history have children gained greater expertise than parents in skills highly valued by society. More usually, youthful expertise—in music, games, or imaginative play—is accorded little, serious value by adults, even if it is envied rather nostalgically. Thus, although young people’s newfound online skills are justifiably trumpeted by both generations, this doesn't help their parents much. For everyone of these mouse wielding, track pad savant,  'tech-savvy' students there is quite likely at least two not quite so tech-savvy parents - parents who often find themselves on the less competent end of the conversation - a conversation often sprinkled with a fair amount of eye ball rolling, groaning and huffing and puffing. Thankfully, the people at Google thought there had to be a better way...

The result of their brainstorm is TeachParentsTech.org, a site that allows you to select any number of simple tech support videos to help ameliorate this situation, you might even want to send them to your own mum, dad or uncle Vinnie. The site is not perfect and hardly covers all the tech support questions you may be asked, but hopefully it’s a start. 

Better than a click in the teeth, anyway.

With the considerable influx of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in sch0ools, inevitably parents will find themselves increasingly faced with the challenge of providing adequate access to digital technologies at home, ie, a computer. To complicate matters further some of the resources that our students will be attempting to use can be quite demanding about the extent to which the home Windows PC or Mac is kept in efficient operating condition.

Following these (hopefully) simple pointers will mitigate a great many headaches for parents.
  • Keep your computer up to date, the Internet is constantly evolving, and your computer needs to be constantly updated to keep up with it, so if you get a message prompting you to update your computer - do it! This not only keeps your machine working well, it also makes it less vulnerable to malicious attacks. An out of date computer is a computer that is vulnerable to exploitation, and one that will be frustrating to use as it struggles to 'keep up' with the pace of change of the Internet.
  • Direct your child to use the Google Chrome browser for their homework, this is the recommended browser at UWCSEA as well. Once your child as signed in and synced' all of the bookmarks, passwords, browsing history will magically follow them home as well as at school. The Chrome browser can be downloaded from here.
  • Keep your browser up to date! The above links above include a tutorial on this. This is very important, many of the Web 2.0 technologies your child will be directed to use are very demanding of the latest browser technologies. An out of date browser will struggle to cope with even the most basic tasks. The Google Chrome browser has a useful option of automating these updates, I highly recommend you use it.
  • Make sure your Adobe Flash Player is up to date. if in doubt click here to check to see if you have the latest version. This software is essential to run may of the awesome animations that are commonly used in these websites, such as Mathletics et al.

And always remember the '3 Rs' of troubleshooting"

Refresh (the browser)

Retry (Quit the browser and try again, or try a different browser)

Restart (the computer)

That's it. 

Finally... you might want to consider creating a separate user account for your child/children, guidance on how to do this on a Mac can be found here. This in effect feels to your child like that computer is as good as their very own, until you log them out. Activating Fast user switching makes switching between their account and yours a very simple process.

Finally, maybe the best tip of them all?

16 December 2013

Size Matters

Size Matters 

Do your students know their bytes and pixels from their mega/kilo/giga/tera bytes? Thanks to an outdated emphasis on traditional units of measurements, this is extremely unlikely.

Unfortunately our antiquated education systems have yet to realise that in the 21st century the units of measure that matter most are not kilograms or kilometres, or cm or even mm—sure they are important, but what measurements do we deal with daily? The measurements of computer memory and particular of pixels. Any yet, ask yourself, how often do we set our students situations in mathematics that requires them to learn or use these units of measurements—NEVER—why? The sad truth is that most educators know as little about these units of measurement than most of their students. That, is a travesty.

So, here's the skinny:

The smallest unit of memory is a bit, then a byte, and they go up in thousands from there, so a thousand bytes in a kilobyte, a thousand kilobytes in a megabytes... and so on.

Here's a simpler way to imagine it...

1 bit (short for binary digit) = teeny tiny, the smallest size you can get, and yes, useless to almost everyone.

1 byte (b) = 1 character in the alphabet, eg the letter 'a'. = still useless

1 kilobyte (Kb) = 1000 bytes = 1000 characters, eg, a page of text = now we're getting somewhere...

1 megabyte (Mb) = 1000 Kilobytes = 1000 pages of text = 1 large digital image = 1 minute of music (mp3)

5 megabytes = 5,000 kilobytes = 5,000 pages of text = 1 very large digital image = a 5 minute song (mp3) This is pretty much the upper limit for email attachments.

10 Megabytes = 10,000 KB = 10 large photos = 10 minutes of music = 1 minute of video.

1 gigabyte (Gb) = 1000 megabytes (MBs) = an entire film/movie

1 terabyte (Tb) = 1000 GBs = MASSIVE = Pretty much only relevant for storage, external hard-drives etc.

Yes there are more...

In a nutshell

bytes - pretty much useless, like a grain of rice, or an ant.

kilobytes (KB) like pages of text (text emails and small images would be measured in kilobytes) the most useful size online, not too small not too big. a bowl of rice, or a cat.

megabytes, now we're getting 'heavy' - large photos, music, 10 MBs or more for video. A 1 Kilo bag of rice, a large dog.

gigabytes, woah, that's big - high definition full length films, 1000s of high resolution images. A sack of rice, a small horse!

terabytes, OK, now we're talking massive - entire collections of films. A van loaded with sacks of rice, a large elephant!

Particulars about pixels

To confuse things, images use more memory than text, and are measured in pixels, which do relate to size, but are not the same thing. A laptop Pro screen is at least 1400 pixels wide, so that gives you an idea...

As a rough guide:

10 pixels square =  the size of one lower case letter = 1kb
100 pixels square = size of 4 desktop icons = 10kb
1000 pixels square = small/standard monitor (screen) size = 1 Mb
10,000 pixels square = large/high definition (size of a door), high resolution image/poster = 10 Mb

So when Googling images, a pixel size of about 500px is ideal, 50px is too small (blurry) and images in the 1000s are probably too big (takes ages to load, and display).

So, what is the next step? Take some time to plan some problems solving scenarios in a Maths lesson that use some 21st century units for a change.