February 2009

A regular visitor to the MOSSSIG blog, Len Euart, asked what was available for doing simple animations with students on a WindowsXP PC. I have been looking around since he asked, and may have finally found a great tool. It is called Pivot Stickfigure Animator. It is a tool that makes GIF animations. GIF files are one of the basic graphic files on the Internet along with JPEG files. Animated GIFs are very common, too. If you have seen the little smiley faces that wink at you, you are probably looking at a GIF animation.

There are a bunch of programs (not all free) that let you do GIF animations, but Pivot is notably special because it lets you build the individual frames of the animation interactively. Most of the other GIF animation tools expect that you have a bunch of frames you want to put together into the animation.

Even better, you don’t need to be much of an artist. The program begins with a screen that has a classic stick figure centered on the work space. A stick figure isn’t much, but, the big deal is that the joints of the stick figure are pivot points (hence the program name). Make the arm move around the elbow, go on to the next frame, move the arm back, etc. and you get a waving stick figure! Save in the pivot format first. Then export the animated GIF. Open the GIF file with any browser, and there’s the animated character waving at you.

Hi, Everybody!

I am certainly no animator, but you get the idea.

The next great thing about the program is that the animations your students create can be easily put together into a “portfolio” as part of a web page. Animated GIFs are, you remember, standard features of the Web. You can put the exemplary work of your students on your classroom Web page so the parents can see the work.

Before, or just after, you do your download, make sure you look at the example animation that the program author has posted.

Challenge your students to be creative. When you have some examples posted on the Web, leave us a comment with the link to your page.


Update: Pivot runs well using Wine on my Kubuntu 8.04 laptop. I even get a nice desktop launch icon.

Technology Terminology in Education

In the UK, teaching about computers and using computer technologies in the curriculum is called the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) curriculum. One definition for ICT said it is a, “diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, and to create, disseminate, store, and manage information.”

Massachusetts has an educational specialty called the “Instructional Technology Specialist” and the term Instructional Technology seems to be similar to the ICT in Education idea. Did you know that both MassCUE and the METAA organization of technology directors are mentioned in the Wikipedia article for the Instructional Technology definition? I was impressed.

Educational Technology seems to be a bigger scope term which includes Instructional Technology, again according to another Wikpedia article.

What terminology does your school or district use to describe the use of technology tools to enhance or improve classroom activities. Ask your technology director for a copy of the current technology plan. The tech plan is also supposed to be published annually by your district, and many of them have made the plan available on the district’s Web site. I was able to find several links to the plans by entering “Massachusetts technology plan” into Google with my browser. (I use Firefox, how about you?)

For that matter, do you care what the terminology is? Would you just prefer to get on with using your computer to do electronic slide shows that replace the older overhead projector?

How often do you take your students to the school’s computer lab to enhance their understanding of your subject?

Do you have student computers in your classroom, and are they busy every period; every day; every week; once in a while; NEVER?

There’s a new list of FOSS and freeware from a school in the UK.

Actually I heard about it because I am on the Open Source Schools mailing list, and the group there is very active. Open Source Schools is based in the UK where many schools have begun to make a real commitment to using FOSS as a regular part of their teaching.


I have begun to think that we need to focus attention on one group of key players in the attempt to get FOSS in Schools. That group is the integration vendors who support schools. Frequently, they are significantly involved in the early stages of a roll-out for new purchases of labs of computers or large upgrades. That involvement includes working with the school tech staff to install software on a single computer. The resulting hard drive is then made into an image from which the rest of the computers in the roll-out get made. The cloning saves a bunch of time and ensures that all the computers of a purchase are ready to go.

Somewhere during this process, the school/district makes the decision about what software to install. Usually the integrator/vendor helps get the software licenses (including the operating system), ensuring the school is compliant with licensing and the sometimes complicated pricing that applies. School tech staff typically is less burdened during the roll-out because of the vendor’s support.

I am wondering if there are integration vendors out there who have gathered expertise about free open source software (FOSS) so they can suggest or even recommend its inclusion in the images provided to the schools.

  • In your school/district, who is the vendor you most often use?
  • Is it the same one for hardware and software?
  • Do teachers get polled for their recommendations/needs?
  • Is open source software mentioned during the planning before a new roll-out?