Friday, March 27th, 2009...1:41 pm

Student Achievement on Display at Watauga Workshop

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Robin Fred
The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning

(March 27, 2009) - The final QTL IT Spring Workshop is going on right now at Watauga High School in Boone. We have about a dozen people on hand and had a busy morning with discussions, a virtualization lab and a tour of the Appalachian State IT Services offices.  Now we’re spending the afternoon going through some impressive quick labs that were actually designed by Errol Shook’s students at WHS.

As I write this, we’re talking about creating bootable Ubuntu flash drives - and teaching file systems, BIOS, boot order, etc. in the process of doing that.  A student designed this activity for Errol to share with other high school teachers.  Talk about high-level thinking skills!  Next up: another student-designed lab where we’ll build bootable hard drives using Ubuntu Linux and old junked 10G hard drives.

That level of thought from students here isn’t surprising, after seeing some of the hands-on activities Errol uses to teach the content of his Computer Engineering and Networking courses.  At first blush, one might think an activity like setting up PXE boots to run a virtualized Linux computer within a Vista-based PC would be beyond the scope of the Computer Engineering course objectives.  But Errol uses advanced labs like these to actually teach the content in a real-world context.  He always connect the activity and the steps of the process back to the basic technology - teaching everything from hardware technology to software file systems to user rights along the way.  And it works - his students complete the courses with almost universal proficiency.

Watauga High has a great IT lab setup, with some pretty high-powered new computers that Errol’s students built with kits from Computer Warehouse of North Carolina. He talked a bit about how he has it configured and the security measures he’s taken.  He tries to live on trust and give students the ability to do what they need to do, but like everyone has had to think through how to protect the school network first, and his own segregated classroom network second.

Here, that’s accomplished by way of a classroom that’s sectioned off from the rest of the school network via K12LTSP.  Students built the computers, which run Windows Vista but are set up to run a virtualization of Linux from a classroom server (maybe I can get him to write up how he made that happen).  Those virtualizations allow Errol to teach Level 3 students programming languages and technologies including Java, Linux, Ruby, Python, Perl and more.  The limitations of each individual PC are no longer a barrier to having what’s needed to teach those technologies.

It was gratifying to hear that Errol got a key idea for how to do all of this at a QTL workshop that Greg Thoyre of Orange High led a few years ago.  It’s great to see teachers turn an idea they got at a workshop into an innovation that transforms their classroom.

It’s also been great to have a guest named Cory Efland, who’s one of Greg Thoyre’s former students at Orange High and is now wrapping up his teaching degree.  After getting his A+, Net+ and Linux+ certifications while he was still in high school, Cory came to Boone to attend Appalachian State and get his teaching degree.  He’s been student teaching with Hank Hardin at Avery High School - a program that builds more than 200 computers for the school district every year.  So he’s learned from some of the best and is getting ready to start his own program somewhere.   His head must be swimming with new ideas after talking to the experienced teachers here.

We’ve talked a lot today about helping students get certified, and setting them on a solid career path.  CompTIA’s E2C program helps schools offer certification exams for students at a discount.  North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction has set up a statewide agreement to help bring schools into E2C just by filing the paperwork to join. Frances Nichols of Mt. Airy High talked about going through the process for getting vouchers and getting students to exam sites.  She says it’s worth the trouble.

One thing Errol always does after working with a student 2-3 years is to write a letter of recommendation for seniors who he feels have mastered the technology content and have done their work and who he feels would make good students.  Many of those kids get jobs with IT services at Appalachian State or other colleges and universities, or with local businesses.  This helps Errol’s program because he now even gets surplus equipment from those ITS programs that found out about the program from the students who got jobs.

Earlier today, we talked about Moodle, and the QTL system for managing online classrooms.  Those who haven’t yet dived in to the system because of bandwidth limitations or local restrictions or lack of time or whatever are getting a sales pitch from those who ARE using the system.  Will Stewart from Haywood County logged in to his account to show how he has students taking exams and doing work while he’s here today. We also talked about the WRAL TV story on Wakefield High School’s program, where Phil Vice did an excellent job explaining what Moodle’s a good thing.

We also looked at the games module in Moodle, a feature that will be much more functional in QTL’s IT Moodle setup next school year.  Teachers will be able to create hangman, cryptex, millionaire, crossword or other games tied to vocabulary lists and glossaries.  It’ll make Moodle even more interactive and engaging for students.  There’s a good video overview of Moodle games on Teacher Tube (you may need to set up an account to see it).

Some other links discussed today:

IMGBurn - Software for creating bootable CDs from ISOs.

CWNC - Computer Warehouse of North Carolina, which donated numerous door prizes for participants here today (congrats to Troy Jones of Lincoln County who won the big prize, a 22-inch flat panel monitor).

K12LTSP - Linux and Terminal Services package designed especially for schools.

K12Linux - The Fedora 10 iteration of K12LTSP.

Avira AntiVir - The anti-virus software Errol now says he finds superior to AVG Free.  Good enough for me…

CONFLICKER - A potentially dangerous worm that’s set to go off April 1 (read about it on

1 Comment

  • This workshop and last year’s as well were most beneficial. Many useful labs and ideas are presented and teachers with a variety of course loads are able to share the different nuances of teaching CET from varying perspectives.

    My main suggestion, other than to continue these great workshops, is to somehow entice the school system technocrats to attend as well so that they can witness the great opportunities that exist. Fears which yield restriction and blocking practices might be alleviated.

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