Coding and Programming Resources for Students

As part of Computer Science Education Week, several Penn Manor High School Math teachers explored Hour of Code activities with their classes. District Systems Engineer, Chad Billman, and I talked with students about extending what they learned in class and provided tips on getting started in programming. Here are the resources we suggested in the sessions:

Safari Books Online
“Through a partnership with Safari Books Online, O’Reilly Media has committed to over $100 million of e-books and videos that will teach the next generation of students vital technology skills like coding, web design, and more.” Note: This site required a free Edmodo account. – https://schools.safaribooksonline.com/

GitHub Student Developer Pack
“There’s no substitute for hands-on experience, but for most students, real world tools can be cost prohibitive. That’s why we created the GitHub Student Developer Pack with some of our partners and friends: to give students free access to the best developer tools in one place so they can learn by doing. ” – https://education.github.com/pack

Penn Manor  Software Projects on GitHub
This is your chance to play with code developed by district staff and fellow students. How can you help make our projects more awesome? – https://github.com/pennmanor

Google Code-in Contest
“Google Code-in (GCI) is a contest for pre-university students (e.g., high school and secondary school students) with the goal of encouraging young people to participate in open source. We work with open source organizations, each of whom will provide a list of tasks to be completed by student contestants. Tasks can be anything an organization needs help with, from bug fixes, to writing code, to user experience research, to writing documentation. The contest takes place entirely online.” – http://www.google-melange.com/gci/homepage/google/gci2014

MIT OpenCourseWare
“MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity.” – http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/intro-programming/

Penn Manor Mobile App

PM Mobile AppPenn Manor’s updated and expanded mobile app is now available for download on your phone or tablet!  The app includes a number of features not available in our previous district news app. Students and parents can now stay connected to school news, events, calendars, menus and more. Unlike paper calendars and schedules of the past, the app is updated on-the-fly as events are added, rescheduled or postponed. Plus students, parents and staff can receive breaking updates on weather closings and other district news.

The free app is available immediately for both Android and iOS phones and tablets. A number of new features are already in the works. Watch for changes and additions to the app over the next few months.

 

 

Summer Rainbow

Amazing August Tech Updates

The summer months are always a time of intense activity for district staff. Penn Manor’s IT Team has worked ardently to prepare for the 2014-2015 school year. Here are a few project highlights from a summer that felt entirely too short!

Centralized Online Student Registration
After a successful spring trial of online Kindergarten registration, we implemented centralized online registration for all new students enrolling for the 2014-2015 school year. The new system is a major reconfiguration of our registration procedures and represents the first significant process change in over 15 years. Changing PDE data reporting requirements are a driving force behind the change. Nearly 350 new students have been registered via the new system. Welcome to Penn Manor!


Relaunching the PM High School 1:1 Program
We’re excited to start the year with our 1:1 student laptop program fully engaged. Laptops have been refreshed with the latest version of Ubuntu (14.04) and dozens of open source learning software. Approximately 350 students took advantage of a our summer take-home program. All other Penn Manor High School students will receive their school laptop during the first week of classes.


Teacher Laptop Upgrades
Marticville Middle and PM High School teachers are returning to new laptops as part of the district’s 4 year teacher laptop refresh. Teachers were given the choice of devices. The options were a single 13” Macbook Pro or the two-for-one-deal of a 15” touchscreen Acer laptop plus a 10” Android tablet.

Teachers received the new laptops during an August technology workshop. Along with the laptop upgrade we have fully implemented ownCloud, a district-hosted automatic backup and file synchronization service, for all K-12 teachers.


Hambright Elementary and Manor Middle School Building Technology
New construction and building renovation work mean new data cabling, new projectors, and new classroom technology systems. Both buildings received serious network infrastructure upgrades, including high-capacity fiber and CAT6 network cable. We’re also very excited to implement HDMI audio/video in each classroom.

These highlights are only part of the summer story. The overall volume of district IT work during the past three months has been extraordinary. I’m so proud of my capable, creative and tenacious IT team. August could have been awful; my staff worked together to make it awesome!

 

Enabling Students in a Digital Age: TEDxLancaster

It was an incredible honor and privilege to be selected to present our open source 1:1 laptop learning initiative and student apprenticeship program at the inaugural TEDxLancaster event on May 3, 2014. I hope I successfully captured the spirit of our program, and venerated our remarkable student tech team.

Red Phone Booths

Help Desk Phone Support Changes

Penn Manor School District is a big place. With 10 buildings and a 110 square mile footprint, providing immediate tech support for staff and students is an ongoing challenge. I am fortunate to have stellar IT staff, but my small crew is often stretched a little thin. For example, our help desk line consists of one dedicated person, Gina Brubaker. There are times when calls fall into voicemail simply because she is already on the phone, away from the desk, in a meeting or helping another staff member.

Experimental attempts to clone Gina have thus far proven unsuccessful, so we are trying a new plan. We recently restructured the 1776 help desk line to behave more like a classic call center. Various members of the IT Team log into the help desk line throughout the day. When a support call arrives, Gina’s phone rings first. If she is already on a call or otherwise unavailable, the call transfers to the next available tech support person. The new call routing system provides backup for Gina, and increases the likelihood of reaching a live person when help is needed most.

Behind the support curtain, the Penn Manor IT Team now uses an internal IRC server for real-time communication. In addition to our tech support chats, status reports from our Kayako ticket system and Nagios network monitoring tools are piped into the IRC stream. All chat transcripts all logged to an internal webpage, so my team can go back in time to review history and tech support discussions. Personally, I love the IRC server because it establishes a convenient space room for my entire team and provides a central dashboard on district technology support.

While staff replication experiments will continue in earnest, I think the new help line configuration and IRC server will create better customer support experiences for our academic community.

Call us!

Photo credit: scott1723

Student 1to1 Training Groups

The Laptops Have Landed!

After a year of planning, Penn Manor High School has officially launched a 1:1 computing program. Laptops are in the hands of approximately 1700 students! Here are a few fast facts and notes about the unique program:

  • Each student received an Acer TravelMate TMB113 laptop, mouse, flash disk and case. Kits were distributed, by grade level, during the week of last week of January 2014. The bulk of the distribution took 4 days. During distribution, students received an orientation session to help them get started with the new laptop.
  • The laptops are running Linux, specifically Ubuntu 13.10, along with several dozen free and open source programs. Our program is believed to be the largest open source 1:1 implementation in Pennsylvania. By using open source software exclusively, we estimate an initial cost savings of at least $360,000 on licensing fees.
  • Students are given full control of their laptops. They are permitted to install programs and experiment with software. They are expected, and trusted, to abide by copyright laws and district policies. Program expectations, guidelines, best practices and digital citizen tips were reviewed with all students last December.
  • The laptops will be used in the classroom and at home, and students will be responsible for any damages that may occur. As required by the Children’s Online Protection Act, (CIPA) each laptop is equipped with a filter to block material deemed harmful to minors. Filters are enabled both on and off campus.
  • Our student technology apprentices have been instrumental in program implementation and peer technical support. Student apprentices are enrolled in an honors level, independent study course. Shifts on the help desk are scheduled during the school day just like traditional courses. During distribution, student apprentices worked alongside Penn Manor IT staff and assisted with tech support and helped to facilitate laptop orientation sessions.
  • Several student apprentices helped develop critical software tools for the program, including the student help desk/ticket system utilized by their peers. Their code is available on GitHub.

Between logistic planning, teacher professional development, cardboard unboxing and all of the little details threaded into a project of this scale, the last two months have felt like a frantic sprint to the finish line after an intense marathon. The joint efforts of the district IT team, student apprentices, faculty and administration have flipped a profound classroom switch and empowered every student in every classroom. I look forward to the next part of the journey!

Image Party

Welcome to the Laptop Machine

Penn Manor’s 1:1 student laptop program reached another milestone this past weekend. After a two-day setup marathon, 1725 laptops are now ready for distribution and delivery to Penn Manor High School students. Manor Middle School’s cafeteria was transformed into a computer assembly line as the PM IT Team, student help desk apprentices and community volunteers worked to unbox, inventory, configure and prepare the laptops for distribution to students at the start of the second semester.

Manually installing an operating system and applications on such a vast scale is impractical. Central to our setup process was a customized software toolkit developed by Penn Manor senior, Andrew Lobos. The software, titled Fast Linux Deployment Toolkit (FLDT), is derived from several open source projects. True to its name, FLDT makes Linux software setup fast and easy. Andrew’s program rapidly copies our custom Ubuntu image from one master laptop to as many as 50 laptops at a time. The entire FLDT copy process completes in less than two minutes and accelerates the process of cloning software to hundreds of laptops.

The FLDT system was tested and refined by student tech apprentices over the past several months. It performed exceptionally well as our team processed thousands of laptop images. In the spirit of the open source community, FLDT and other district open source projects are available via GitHub, a software development sharing site: https://github.com/pennmanor/. We encourage other schools to freely use and contribute to the code.

While the FLDT quickly replicates our custom software images, physically handling and processing over 1700 individual laptops takes a great deal of human effort. A large part of the setup work involved unboxing, labeling, scanning, inspecting and adding laptops to our inventory system. After nearly 24 hours of work with a 13 to 20-person crew, the laptops were ready to be shipped to Penn Manor High School.

It is difficult to overstate the incredible power of this learning experience. Pictures simply do not capture how our students demonstrated genuine ownership of the setup process, or their incredible passion for building systems that their peers will use daily. Pride and enthusiasm was palpable as traditional classroom roles dissipated and students assumed leadership roles in their individual functional areas. The project was a potent, authentic learning experience, one that I suspect our students will recollect for the rest of their lives.

For more on our approach to open source in education, check out this article on Opensource.com: http://opensource.com/education/14/1/trust-your-students

The Penn Manor Tech Technology Team thanks these students,

Collin Enders
Aaron Jandzio
Nick Joniac
Andrew Lobos
Ben Moore
Bri Reisinger
Tom Sowers
Zack Schucker
Ben Thomas

…and the following volunteers!

Jill Billman
Charlie Goodrich
Dylan Kostelich
Allen Markes-Lyon
Teresa Reisinger

MiniTimeLapse

Winter Mountain

Winter 2014 Tech Update

With another year nearly a wrap and the winter of 2014 upon us, it is time to reflect and recount recent Penn Manor IT projects. Summer 2013 was one of the busiest on record for the district, and the past several months have proven equally as exciting.

The summer teacher technology upgrade was completed when nearly 200 elementary and middle school teachers received Asus MeMO tablets. These Android powered 10” tablets are making regular appearances as part of classroom instruction and with special education services. Teachers are finding creative and inventive new ways of using Google Play apps with students. Huge thanks to district IT Specialists Jason Sauders, Shelby Foster and Tom Swartz for facilitating the tablet rollout, and for making the summer laptop upgrade happen so efficiently.

Much of the IT department’s work occurs behind the scenes. IT System Engineers Shawn Beard and Chad Billman completed a number of vital infrastructure upgrades and improvements including new network switches, server builds, and programming changes. Chad spearheaded the creation of Jenkins, a continuous integration server that will massively assist in the creation of new images for our Linux laptops. As December drew to a close, Shawn deftly migrated the district website to a new highly available cloud-hosted service via DigitalOcean.

Speaking of websites, our online viewership has continued to grow. The Penn Manor website received a record 744,000 visits. Thanks to the consistent efforts of our new Community Relations Coordinator, Brian Wallace, the Penn Manor Twitter account has rapidly reached over 860 followers.

The district also migrated to a new emergency calling system, SchoolMessenger. In addition to typical mass-notification services, the new system call home when a student is absent from school. We expect that the parent attendance calling features will be enabled in early 2014.

Open Campus, our online course partnership with Hempfield and Manheim Township continues to expand with new course offerings and increased student participation. Penn Manor student enrollment in Open Campus courses has grown to over 150 and total course requests for all three districts have approached 450. Thank you to Help Desk Specialist, Gina Brubaker, for helping Penn Manor and partner district students smoothly and successfully access and navigate their online courses.

Exploding PA Department of Education data reporting requirements consumes considerable district time and recourses. Our new Data Specialist, Dianne Bates, has rapidly mastered the intricacies of continually evolving PIMS submissions and expertly developed a PVAAS data plan for our student management system. In other data news, Dianne, Gina and Carol Alexander are working to create a fully online student registration process, which is scheduled to be unveiled in the spring of 2014.

Of course, the biggest story is the impending Penn Manor High School student 1:1 laptop program. After a year of planning, a successful fall pilot, dozens of hours of teacher professional development, multiple parent information sessions, student class meetings and great efforts from the Technology Team, we are on target to begin laptop distribution at the start of the second semester. IT Specialist Alex Lagunas has been doing outstanding work with the Penn Manor High School student technology apprentice team while preparing the final laptop software image, assisting with teacher PD sessions and troubleshooting existing building technical support issues. Thanks also to Shawn Canady, High School Teacher Technology Coach, for his role in planning and facilitating faculty professional development in support of the program.

Finally, a special shout-out to our students and staff–in the face of continuous change, they continuously demonstrate academic excellence. I am proud to collaborate with such outstanding students and staff!

Happy New Year!

Charlie

Photo Credit: torremountain cc