Sunday, 28 November 2010

Why work doesn't happen at work

A brilliant talk by Jason Fried, well worth sparing 15 mins of your busy time at work to watch!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

There are 9 million bicycles in Bejing

I was never particularly brilliant at Geography, which probably explains why I often ask "Where am I?" but that's another topic, but I did spend many hours with a small paperback Atlas, especially those little maps of the world where the sizes of the countries were changed to reflect their population, fridges per person or whatever.

I'm still fascinated by statistics and maps, though, and The CIA World Factbook is one of those sites I can wander around for ages. You learn that there are more girls than boys in Ukraine, for example, which may explain why there always seem to be a lot on stage in most of their Eurovision entries. And there's not a lot going on in the phosphate mines on Christmas Island these days but no doubt many of its 1,402 population will be enjoying a vaguely palindromic Christmas Island Christmas soon, knowing that no other country can do that.

Back in the 1990s the data was available in a huge workbook with hundreds of sheets and that was a great tool to use in Excel classes. Now it's all web page stuff and not so easy to play with. However, it's still got a massive amount of well-displayed, and reliable, data which is updated every two weeks or so. The whole shooting match can be downloaded too, free, which is nice when the internet breaks down in class and you need to give students some research to do. With so much data available, thinking up some questions to keep them interested shouldn't take long - and there are maps galore too.

You might also have a giggle at the Kids' page which includes the classic line "CIA employees gather intelligence (or information) in a variety of ways, not just by “spying” like you see in the movies or on TV (though we do some of that, too).

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Good ideés

The talented people at Ideé Labs have added some new tools to their set. You may know about Multicolour Search Lab, which will find images matching whatever colours you choose, and TinEye, which will locate where duplicates of an image (maybe that photo of you when you were 2?!!) have been used (with or probably without your approval) on a web page somewhere.

The new ones (to me, at any rate) are the Visual Search Lab, where you enter tags and get pictures displaying that particular combination, and BYO Image Search Lab which finds images similar to the one you provide.

Whatever you may be teaching or training people to do, I am sure you'll be able to find a way to sneak one of these into a lesson. Or stick a collage on the wall, for no other reason than it's about time those old posters were binned. (But that's the subject of another article to follow!)

Friday, 12 November 2010

Naughty but nice and a lot quicker

Yes, I know I should have done them in August. But I didn't and I've just spent most of the day knocking out 10 schemes of work and a slightly ridiculous-sounding 300 lesson plans. It was blowing a gale outside and raining so that helped keep me indoors.

If you do the sums that's nearly 700 pages. Now, I can type pretty quickly but that's beyond even my old PA's capabilities in a single day. Luckily, there's the new version of my Scheme of Work and Lesson Plan tool which made the whole job a lot easier. Still clunky, but it does the job. (I'm hoping a nice young chap called Steve will help with a web version soon!)

You fill in all the bits and pieces related to the programme and lessons on one spreadsheet. Then some nice formulae copy the text into the right places on either a Scheme of Work sheet or to the appropriate one of 30 Lesson Plan sheets. Those sheets are set up to look reasonably good when printed on A4 and I can now run off whichever items I need as and when required.

In reality I usually find the notes I scrawl on the back of an envelope in the car a few minutes before the lesson starts are what I actually do but on occasions like next week, when someone is likely to come and watch the proceedings I'd better look a bit more organised.

Of course, if you happen to work for one of those institutions that say "You'll be downgraded if you don't use the standard institutional form" or it's on the wrong colour paper, even, in one place I've heard about  ". . . using anything other than Arial size 11" then you, like me will be very naughty. But it is nice and a lot quicker.

I've added a sample you can use to the More page of the webtools site if you're also running a bit late with this task.