Apple & Snow Leopard – Podcast Nirvana

I know some people do not care about podcasting or Apple as much as others, but after sitting through over three hours of TCEA’s UStreaming of Apple Snow Leopard Update, I am now a very happy guy (as opposed to previously only being happy).

The first half of the video below will give you an update on Snow Leopard itself, but the second half gave me exactly what I needed for our Apple server. After seeing how much easier the Podcast Producer process has been made, I jumped right in and got it set up. While I am still playing with the set-up to make it custom to White Oak ISD, I have rejoiced in having created a dual source podcast (my video side by side with my desktop video) with intro video, title sequence, the content, and a closing video/title clip. Sounds really hard, but man was it so easy. Give me a week or so, and I will have all kinds of easiness to share with my staff.

You can see the VERY short video only clip I created on my podcast blog here. I purposely did a very short video due to the rendering time involved with video production. In other words, I was impatient and wanted to see the results quickly. 🙂

Thank you TCEA for making the video available for free online and thanks to Apple for providing the update.

Watch the video below and learn, my friends.

I’m Proud of Our Country

Photo Credit: coolgates

Partisanship aside, I’m proud of our country. We have arrived at a point many people thought we would never reach. Forget my generation. Generations before me fought for this moment and did not live to see it. Yet, their hard work has finally paid off.

My son is living in a time where barriers to leadership positions are falling to the side. Regardless of the election turnout, he is going to enjoy history firsthand. He sees and hears people who inspire him, and they come in the shape of many voices without color or gender.

While some sulk today by the loss of their candidate, I prefer to look ahead, excited at what the future holds. Working so hard to win an election, one has to wonder if the victor can embrace this moment, seize this opportunity, and lead our nation like no other has. We move into a time where evolution of ideas creates revolution of technologies.  May our country be prepared.

When we gather once again four years from now to elect a leader of our great country, one can only hope that citizen participation is anywhere near what it was on this day. If one can inspire the people to move away from apathy and nearer involvement, more power to him/her. Let this become a trend of tremendous involvement in our political system by passionate people and it spread among our youth as a lifetime habit instead of a fascination that passes.

Partisanship aside, I’m proud of our country. We have arrived. Mr. President, take the lead. Where shall you have us go?

Ask and Ye Shall Receive!

Photo Credit: Tommy Merritt’s site

Oddly enough, on the day I blogged about TAKS changes the legislature is considering, I got a response from one of my state representatives from a questionnaire I sent out a little while back. Tim Holt blogged about doing the same thing with his state rep candidates, and I think Kyle Stevens might have joined in as well. I took the challenge and did the same.

I live in one House District while working in another. The advantage to this is that I get to work with both state representatives legitimately. I sent the questionnaire to both of them. One, State Rep. Tommy Merritt, Longview, completed his and returned it via email today. Thanks so much for doing that, sir. I have to say, my work with Rep. Merritt over the years has been mostly positive as it pertains to public education. Even when he votes opposite of what I would prefer, he shares his reasons. It is better than I get out of most state reps that cover our region of the state. One has a standard response of “I will vote with the recommendation of the committee.” That is political speak for “I have to see what the leadership wants me to do first before I can take a position.” But I digress.

So, get ready for more education conversation than you found in ALL of the presidential debates combined.  Rep. Merritt is unopposed in this race. Well, let me rephrase that. He had a last minute alternate party candidate join the race ONLY because he did not want to just see one name on the ballot. He is not actively campaigning.  Please find below the questions and answers directly copied and pasted from the email. I have made no changes to either of our parts of this (questions are in bold print):

Q1: Do you favor the current method of funding schools in Texas? Why or why not?  (If you do not favor the current method, what method will you suggest?)
I don’t favor the current “target revenue hold-harmless” method of funding schools because it does not reflect the actual cost of educating our children. Because of target revenue funding, more than 90% of school district funding is determined by a snapshot of what existed in the 2005-06 school year. We already have a formula system in statute that would provide a sound basis for an equitable, cost-based system. We need to fund it at an appropriate level and move away from the target revenue concept.

Q2:  Gathering from your history in the legislature, you suggest additional funding for education programs. How will you propose to pay for such programs while lowering property taxes but not generating more income via a state income tax?
As the Texas economy continues to grow faster than the rest of the nation, the increased revenue at current property tax rates should be funneled back into public education by increasing the funding yields that provide the foundation for an efficient funding system. This will go a long way in enabling districts to meet funding challenges such as those created by inflation and increasing accountability standards—and, it helps districts avoid tax rate increases because it provides more money for the district at the same tax rate.

Q3: Texas schools are behind other states in spending for technology. How will you suggest that the legislature help schools get up to the same level of technology spending that other states have been at for years and be prepared for future technology needs?
First, we need to recognize the reality of the current situation. Until the 2002-03 school year, public schools were eligible for grants from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF). Districts would not necessarily receive a grant each year, but the average annual disbursement was about $30 per student. In addition, the Available School Fund provided a $30 per student technology allotment. Now, five years later, that $60 per student average has dropped below $30—based on a “sum-certain” appropriation.
This funding level is inadequate and should be raised to at least $150 per student, perhaps with a phase-in of a $50 per student technology allotment in 2009-2000, $100 in the second year of the biennium, and $150 per student for each year thereafter, dedicated from the Available School Fund.
The third component must be efficiency. We must make sure that every technology dollar is spent wisely, but true efficiencies will not come from outside the system. They must evolve from collaboration among stake holders, from the sharing of resources, and from the use of innovative teaching.

Q4: In our part of the state, there are many families without access to the internet due to the lack of infrastructure (fiber) running into our rural communities. Yet, much if not all of the state educational information is located on the internet. We are effectively not allowing these parents to be part of the education of their children. How will you address this issue?
Given current technology and the size of Texas, providing fiber-access to every parent, regardless of where they live, would be an impossible task, as you know. An answer may eventually lie in newer technologies like broadband over cell or broadband over power lines, but those are commercial builds for the obvious reasons.

While technology has certainly enhanced communication between parents and public schools and plays a very important roll, the higher question of ensuring parent participation in the education of their children is not limited to internet access. Regular contact with your child’s teacher is the essential component.

Q5: School districts across the state must respond to unfunded mandates from both the state and federal levels. For instance, in a few years, the state will require all student statewide testing such as End of Course and TAKS tests to be administered online. The state is not providing any additional monies to districts to make sure they have the equipment, bandwidth, and facilities to provide for this. Can you address exactly what you will do to help districts with unfunded mandates, both from the state and the federal levels?

If a thing is worth mandating, then it is worth the funding it takes to respond to the mandate. If a thing is not worth funding, then it shouldn’t be a mandate.

Unfunded federal mandates should be addressed with your Congressman. State mandates that are without benefit, whether they are unfunded or not, should be eliminated.

The first step is for those directly involved in public education—educators, parents, and other taxpayers—to identify the mandates that should be eliminated. If the case can be made, then I will work to eliminate them.

Q6: How do you plan to address the continuing teacher and administrator shortages?  Which of these are viable plans in your estimation:
Recruit teachers from other countries.
Rehire retirees with few restrictions.
Help districts reimburse individuals who go to or return to school to become certified teachers.
Help districts reimburse individuals who return to college while still teaching to earn administrator certification.

All of the strategies you mention are good strategies for eliminating teacher and administrator shortages. The best approach, however, must begin with competitive salaries.

Q7: One of the greatest expenses in any school district is the installation of technology followed by the maintenance and eventual replacement of said technology.  What is your plan to give districts relief from the costs associated with these instructional and administrative tools?
Appropriate technology is essential in any school district, as are faculty and staff salaries, healthcare, transportation, and on and on. A school funding plan written with intent to address a specific cost will most likely fail to address other, equally important costs. Adequately funding a cost-based formula system—which includes solid, dependable funding for technology—should be our goal.

Q8: What is your stand on electronic textbooks as opposed to traditional paper texts?
Each has benefits, neither is a remedy. Both should be used in the best way to meet the needs of children.

Q9: Student assessment like the TAKS test has mutated over the years from a simple student diagnostic to a high stakes program where people’s jobs are placed in jeopardy if scores are not met. Do you support high stakes testing such as the TAKS test? Why or why not? How do you see these tests changing in the future?

I voted for SB1031 replacing the TAKS test with end of course exams for high school students. In addition, I support replacing the TAKS test for middle and elementary students with end of course exams. A single test should not determine a student’s or teacher’s success or failure.

Q10: What can you do specifically to help House District 7 schools and parents during your legislative session in Austin?
Listen to the concerns expressed by schools and parents. Communicate their input and feedback to my colleagues and vote for legislation that supports their needs.

Thank you for your time.
I look forward to reading and posting your responses.

Scott S. Floyd, M. Ed.
White Oak ISD Instructional Technologist

Big props to Rep. Merritt for taking the initiative to respond to my inquiry. I appreciate this candor in several of the responses.  As always, I look forward to working with him during the upcoming session.  I will leave the commentary to the comment section. Who is the first to weigh in on this?

Take Away the Hammer…

hammersWe were out camping one weekend when my son was four years old. The weather was rather nice on that trip so we took the tent. As any four year old would do, he found the hammer rather fun. To avoid having the hammer create more damage than I could fix, I traded him the hammer for my digital voice recorder (does not sound like an even swap, huh?). I shared with him the record and stop buttons and turned him loose for the next hour. He was pacing all over that campsite during that hour, but I was able to get the tent and other supplies set-up.

Later that evening, I plugged the recorder into my laptop to delete his recordings of the car radio and other unique noises he discovered. But through this process I came across his first literacy creation: the story.

It seems as though he became very engaged with the ability to record and hear himself. Following the model he has known since birth, he wanted to hear a story. My wife and I have read a book to him every night since birth (my wife started even before that). Since we were busy setting up camp, he created his own story, and I found it on the recorder. To me, it is a priceless piece of his academic and creative growth that I am extremely pleased to have archived. When I shared it with my wife, she was just as proud as I was, but neither of us were as proud as he. With our discussion of what was so great about it and how it sounded “really professional” and like a “real author,” he accepted my offer to add sounds to it so it sounded like the story CD’s he listened to.

I loaded the file into Garageband and sat him next to me. As the story played, he told me when to stop and what sounds to put where. He asked for scary music since it was a pirate story, after all. Then he requested waves and parrots (he got a rooster instead) and more.

As we wrapped it up for the evening, we reviewed the product. I tell you, sitting around the campfire with his story playing audibly reminded my wife and me of the scary stories we sat around telling when we were kids. But we never did it like this, and we were not four years old.

So listen and enjoy my son’s first digital story. And remember that a four year old did this. Don’t say your students or children are not capable of being creative. Sometimes you just need to take away the hammer and give them a more productive tool.

Download The Pirate Story by Christian Floyd