Giving Feedback with Moodle Calculated Questions

Use case: kid encounters a tough question on Moodle homework. I want to give them some help but only if they need it.


Catalogued here for my future reference.

Oh, you actually want to know more about these pictures? Pictured is a homework/quiz/test question from Moodle, an open source course management system. Specifically, it’s a Calculated Question, meaning all the numbers in the problem could be regenerated for each kid or each attempt. If you look at the fourth gallery photo, you’ll see what it takes to write solutions in this system.

Wasn’t really the reason for these posts, but you may also find it interesting that these Calculated Questions allow partial credit answers. I write formulae to common mistakes and choose the portion of credit I want awarded. On this problem, for instance, the kids might forget to calculate speed of sound at the given temperature and might instead use the speed of sound at room temperature.

The whole Moodle system is pretty amazing, actually. Many thanks to my new colleague Meghan Bjork for introducing me to it.


Image Resizing Technology

A student of mine writes,

Have you seen this yet ? Its a great idea

ignore the fact that its from lol

The video is a presentation from the SIGGRAPH conference and describes new research in automatic image resizing. Know how your web pages reflow if you resize the window? Imagine if the same thing happened to your images, but without distortion. The presenter explains the algorithms they use to do the resizing. Very fascinating stuff!

5 Google Docs Collaboration Tips

My Yearbook class collaborated last week on the ladder diagram for this year’s book. In the course of two class periods, we laid you the entire book and the students take ownership for the sections. And the room was nearly silent the whole time!

The screen capture, below, shows the ladder diagram document and our discussion window. Sometimes, a student would speak to the group and other times he would type a request. Not that we needed the chat feature when we were all in the same room…but there was one thing I loved about it — off topic chatter happened in the chat window, not out loud.

The spreadsheet updated real-time with student edits. I love this feature! All my students could watch the spreadsheet change as one student added a cell.

Enough introduction — on with the tips!

Ingredients for this recipe: A class full of students, individual Google accounts, one Google Spreadsheet started by the teacher. They’ll find the discuss feature on their own.

  1. Discussion (the instant messaging right there in the spreadsheet or document) is a great way to give some time to different interaction styles. Quiet students who type well may become quite assertive when typing!
  2. Every student is assigned a color when he/she enters he collaboration. When a student selects a cell, his/her color is shown around the cell. Avoid stepping on each other’s toes by following the colored boxes.
  3. Instruct students to avoid chaos by discussing a change, then making it. If six kids go to change cell A5 at the same time, you might have some ugliness on your hands. I tell my kids to use the discussion area to propose a change, get consensus, then make the change.
  4. Practice collaboration in the classroom when everyone’s physically present before trying it with remote users. The learning curve will proceed faster.
  5. As the teacher, don’t worry about students really messing up the file — you can always roll back to a previous version with the “Revisions” tab.

My class’s experience with Google Docs & Spreadsheets was incredibly positive. It’s the first time I’ve had an entire class (yeah — I know my classes are smaller than most) contribute to building an electronic document at the same time. In the past, gathering the kids around a monitor meant the typist had the most input and everyone else was barely with us, attention-wise.

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Software I Use: PaperCut

I have about 100 users and 3 network printers in my school. About two years ago, I installed PaperCut to manage print quotas for students and teachers.

PaperCut is set to limit students to printing 50 pages per week and teachers to 100 pages per week. For everyone, I opted to limit any single print job to 15 pages, regardless of the pages remaining in a user’s account. I’ve found that I save somewhere around 100 sheets of paper a day (about 20% reduction).

How do other schools limit printing, especially by students?

Draw Diagrams Like Visio

I just signed up for a free account at Gliffy, which bills itself as a web based diagramming program that feels like desktop software. It works a lot like Visio.

Signup requires an email address, so I probably won’t use Gliffy with my middle school students — which is a shame. I continue to struggle with how to handle signups that require email addresses for my youngest students (approx. age 9). But that’s a separate issue.

On to features I like in Gliffy:

  • share a drawing with collaborators
  • publish drawings to the web easily
  • loads fast (it’s Flash based)

Below is a sample drawing I whipped up in about three minutes (and that includes the “publish to web” bit).
My Sample Gliffy Image

I bet that Google buys Gliffy to add to the Docs and Spreadsheets tools they already have.

Free Software I Use at School

I teach at a small private school where students are anywhere from 9 years old to 18. One of the challenges of such a large age range is that I need to stretch my software budget to cover kids with very divergent developmental needs (not to mention divergent interests).

Enter free software. In school, the benefits of no cost software are huge. Obviously I save money outfitting our computer lab. Less obvious — but way cooler — is that my students can work at home with the same tools they learn at school.

Here are some of my favorites and why I like them so much:Splash screen for GIMP 2.2


Odd name, great product. GIMP is a Photoshop-like program for creating original art and cleaning up photos. I use GIMP in a course that I teach, called Digital Imaging, where students learn digital photography.

It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.


This software lets students create 3D graphics then manipulate them in a world. My middle school students have learned the rudiments of object oriented programming with this software.

Alice was created by a college professor and is now associated with Carnegie Mellon University. It’s written in Java and is available for Windows or Mac. A Linux version is available but is billed as proof-of-concept, so may have stability issues.


Audacity is a free audio editor that’s incredibly useful for recording and mixing sounds. I’ve used it with my students to record an original radio play (sound effects and all), to provide the story in a digital storytelling project.


Not software, but a free resource. This website has provided my students with crickets chirping, traffic, and gunshots. All of it is Creative Commons licensed, so is free to use.

Anasazi Stop Motion Animator

Grab a web cam, a pack of clay, then download this software. Anasazi lets you grab one frame at a time to make stop motion (also called claymation) movies. It has a cool onion skin feature so you can line up elements from one frame to the next — very handy when you’re trying to animate clay. 🙂

Photo Story

This is a Microsoft product that’s free for download if you’re running a legitimate version of their operating system. It’s a slide program for digital photos. You can set music to the pictures and have them transition in several ways. This is great for digital storytelling projects.

Photo Story projects can be output as a Windows Media file.

Windows Movie Maker

Who would have thought Microsoft would have two entries in an article about free software? Much as free software folks love to hate Microsoft, they have some nice tools that are easy to use. Add Movie Maker to that list.

Movie Maker comes with Windows. It’s software for making home movies. You can import video, pictures and audio; mix it all together; and save the output as a Windows Media file.