Lesson Plans

Student project suggestion:

Create public domain clipart for #OER for ANY topic in any class. Share on openclipart.org

Handouts, whether they are traditional paper or online creations, benefit from topical images. Why only search for suitable ones made by others? Make some yourself (model good process for your students), or alternatively, have your students make them and provide them a grade bump for their effort.

Physic diagram: positively charged pith balls repel

Make images for your subject, to illustrate a concept.

Calendar Icon

Make icons to help focus the mind while reading a worksheet/student guide.

Encourage students to contribute the images to make them easy to access for you, other classes in your school system and for the benefit of all. openclipart.org is a site which accepts original artwork created with the vector graphic tool, Inkscape.

Inkscape is a Free Software (AKA “open source”) tool you can download and install on your computers at school and at home. There are hundreds of good tutorials to help you and your students get started.

When you or a student publish a graphic to openclipart.org, give your school credit, too. Simply add a tag with a version of your school’s name that will let other teachers search the site for work done by the creatives in your district. There is no cost to set up an account, and the work submitted can also be used as part of a student’s portfolio and resumé, a great component for a college application. All the submitted graphics are, by rule, in the public domain. That makes them totally accessible.

It is easy to export graphics from openclipart to add them to a document in png format, perfect for word processing documents. It is just as easy to get the link codes to include the image on a Web page the way I did above with the physics illustration and calendar icon. You can even download a graphic in original Inkscape (svg) format to remix, modify, simplify, enhance to your specific needs.

If you decide to try this suggestion, please send links to graphics you or your students have created. Your success will encourage others.

Copyright and plagiarism and the effective use of Internet resources are vital elements of creative assignments in schools. Access to digital versions of books, magazines, audio and video resources have changed the nature of what a student can do when constructing a school assignment.

It has been common practice to ask students to write about a famous person, for example. The writing part may actually be the focus of the assignment. The person being used isn’t the real focus. Typically students get to choose from a batch of people and then gather resources to learn what they need in order to begin writing the essay.

A teacher’s common practice has been the recommendation of resources, sending children to the school or town library to access encyclopedias, books, newspapers, etc. A rough draft frequently follows so the teacher can comment on style, grammar, spelling and such along with proper use of quotations with adequate citations. The final draft gets a grade.

The Internet has given teachers the task of adding online resources to the mix. That means each teacher must add some online/digital expectations to the assignment and rough draft evaluation. Teachers need to incorporate an honest discussion of fair use, copyright, remixing. The vetting of resources which was once passed off to librarians now must become part of a teacher’s routine. Teachers need to make very few assumptions. Some students will have their own computer/tablet/smartphone and good support at home. Some students will be better than others at search strategies. The assignment needs to become more broad so it can include a student sharing of those skills. Each school year, as student move ahead, the discussion needs to become more rich and nuanced like any other phase of helping studnts learn.

With that in mind, a discussion about and use of Open Educational Resources is important. Teachers need to have a good personal understanding of the digital issues involved. Plagiarism has long been part of the discussion. Now, when we talk about copyright compliance, it is not only valuable, but vital to highlight the distinction between restricted and open usage of all the easily accessible materials a student may want to incorporate in an assignment.

I would recommend you read and refer others to the article, “Teach kids about copyright: a list of resources from Creative Commons” by Jane Park. Develop your own skills to become as strong in resource selection as possible. Understand the alternatives yourself. That way you can be the best guide you can be for this year’s students and keep exploring to prepare for the next year and the next. In fact, you will be modelling the process for your students. Revealing your process may actually help them understand how you see that fabled goal, “life long learning.”

Here’s a new idea for Inkscape, the Free Software vector graphics program.

Get your high school or middle school students involved in making dot-to-dot creations for the kids back in grades 1-3.

This example, by Frankes, comes from openclipart.org where Frankes uploaded it. All the work at openclipart.org is in the public domain, so it is ready for you and your students to put to use.


In fact, it looks like Frankes remixed another person’s witch image into this larger product. Remixing is encouraged at openclipart.org because sharing is GOOD.


Halloween is just a little bit ahead of us, but there is certainly still time for you to organize this project. Even if you are slow about it, there is a whole year ahead with lots of graphic-rich holidays to use as your focus. Inkscape is open source software which can be installed at school and at home by you, by your students, by anybody. You don’t need permission to get started. It won’t cost you anything but your own effort.

Please leave a comment here if you do this project and can give links to your students’ work.

Even better, submit the work to openclipart.org where a collection can be organized.

Do you have a binary clock?

Do you use it in your classroom?

Here’s an activity you might try with your students.

Intead of focusing on the time initially, see if students notice when interesting shapes show up in the pattern of LED lights.


This next image looks like football goalposts to me. Would you agree?


How about this pattern as a house?


This next one looks like a small dog…maybe if you squint.


There’s an Inkscape clock blank to do your own shapes.

There’s a worksheet you can give your kids to try figuring out their own interesting shapes.

Get some more details at http://runeman.org/articles/binary-clock/index.html

Release early and often.

There’s always something new going on in my brain. I enjoy experimenting…lifelong learning, I guess. Hence “betty ‘n’ bob.”

I recently came across a simple cartooning idea. Basic characters in a simple comic format. Just add the dialog and…there it is, a cartoon. Thanks to Leo Loikkanen at All Filler, no Killer for the idea and inspiration. He created and released a cartoon template called “American Efficiency” using the CC0 “Creative Commons Zero” license. That makes the template essentially public domain. Anybody can use the template. Just download it to your computer. Print a copy and add your own dialog to make your own cartoon.

cartoon by Leo Loikkanen
Click on the image to see the full-size original.

I’ve been exploring graphic ideas using Inkscape, a free open-source program for drawing vector graphics. I am NOT very artistic, and find that my limited talents are harnessed better by using a vector graphics tool than a freehand sketch/paint program like Krita (both on a GNU/Linux computer). I decided to try out the idea from Leo Loikkanen in Inkscape. Along with a basic template, I created a series of mood-showing characters, one male “Bob” and the other female “Betty.” Here’s my first effort.

cartoon of betty 'n' bob

To make the process of creating a variety of cartoons a bit easier, I put together a page with a few mood images for each character. I’m releasing it as CC-Zero as Leo did his. Perhaps you could use it with students in your school or with your own children. Inkscape is a great tool for all sorts of things.

Inkscape Template 2x of betty ‘n’ bob. Use a right-click and “Save link as…” for all templates. Otherwise the template, an SVG file, may just display on your browser.

In spite of the lack of popular demand, I’ve reworked the design template to be a three-panel design in two formats. One is just like the two panel, just on a rotated page. [Inkscape 3x Template] The other is an expanded template with a first-cut set of cartoon development instructions built into the template. [Inkscape 3x Instructions] Feedback is requested.


betty'n'bob May 16, 2011

Keeping Busy

CCAttribution License http://www.wordle.net

CCAttribution License http://www.wordle.net

This image was created using the Web site

Thought the software behind this image, and the site itself, are not open source, the results you create are licensed using the Creative Commons Attribution License. You are free to use the image in any way you want.

The images are created on-the-fly and randomly based on text you paste into an on-screen form. Once the image is created, you can choose to modify it in several useful ways, you can get it redrawn with new color choices, fewer words, change case, orientation (vertical, horizontal, mix, anywhichway).

Make sure you capture the image(s) you like because it won’t necessarily be much like the next redraw. You can save the image to the Wordle site, and if you do, anybody else can make use of the image you saved. You can post the link which is automatically generated on site.

The text used to generate this image is the U.S. Declaration of Independence, but you can use any text you want, making it suitable for discussion starters in your classes. Paste in an article and get students to begin analysis of the importance of terms that appear. The bigger the word, the more times it occurs in the text.

Thanks to this site for making me aware of Wordle.net:

High school teachers, if you teach programming, or even just computer “literacy”, here is something for you to do for your students. Promote the opportunity for your students to get involved in a free software project.

The Free Software Foundation has instituted an annual contest that will award a GNU powered netbook computer to a student at the end of each year and a tee shirt monthly based on feedback from the projects that students work on.


This is a “real world” opportunity that can take your students’ work out of the ordinary limits of classroom assignments, and can engage your most eager students to use their talents to advance the FOSS community. You know some of your students will benefit. Give them the chance. Tell them about the opportunity, encourage them to get involved. Offer to give them support, too.

Puzzles challenge students. My experience has been that the children enjoy the challenge and try their best.

I encountered this puzzle in a book by Piers Anthony many years ago, and decided to try it with my classes of middle school students. Other grades might also be able to do the job, but it seemed a good challenge for grade 7.

The idea is to  make all the possible patterns that there are when using five squares and the following rules.

  • All patterns must have five squares.
  • All patterns must have squares that touch only at their sides with no diagonals (corners only) or gaps.
  • There can be no duplicates. Mirrored or rotated figures are duplicates.

You can challenge the kids using a simple sheet of graph paper, or you can get more information from my online guide which includes a printable PDF of the directions and enough layout grids to complete the job. I chose to NOT tell them how many shapes were possible. Judge that based on your students’ level. I sometimes used this as part of a lesson plan for substitutes to use if I was out of school.


Naturally, it would be great if your students enjoyed the puzzle, and I would love to hear back from you about their experience. If you have suggestions for improving the guide, let me know that, too.

In keeping with a history theme and the NERC history/social studies conference I am attending, mentioned in the prior post, I am recommending a program for you Linux users. I don’t think it is available for Windows or Macintosh. Everybody should be able to identify the states of their own country.

Kgeography is a map game quzzing program that lets you identify countries and states from capitals, capitals from states, practice with simple outline identifications on maps like Africa, Europe, the USA, etc.

If you are interested, check my more complete article:
(It is full of screen shots which take too much room in this blog.)

You can also find more at the KDE Education project page:

And, if you are industrious, you can add your own maps following the directions on the program’s home site:

And another blogger’s map directions using an example of mapping India:

Resources for lesson plans don’t include just the lesson plans themselves, of course. The plan is the outline, the skeleton. The actual lesson involves getting students to interact with the information in the plan’s focus. Teachers don’t make  up the informaton for the students, and teachers definitely don’t want the students to make up the stuff they write (well, there is always creative writing…)

The Internet is increasingly providing access to solid information. Not all of it is free to copy, but much of it is. Wikipedia’s current article count is 2,779,000+ for the English version. The content is licensed with the GNU Free Documentation License. That is the equivalent of the free software license and encourages document reuse with the same freedoms as the GPL offers for software. That means you, the teacher, can incorporate an article from Wikipedia in your lesson plan, copying it verbatim, printing and distributing it to your classes. What’s more, you can modify the document, adding specifics for your lesson. You do NOT need to worry about breaking any laws. The license is education friendly, unlike standard copyright license which limits your use of material to immediate, short-term, excerpt from the source. With standard copyrighted works, you are stealing from the publisher and author if you duplicate from a book or workbook for more than one class and certainly if you use it more than one year.

Another issue is primary source. Wikipedia isn’t designed to present original research. The submission rules speak against that sort of writing. The idea is to write an article with references that back up the statements in the article. It is reference material in the same way that traditional encyclopedias are.

Getting primary source material is also easier than ever because of the Internet. There are several initiatives designed to present accessible primary source material.

The Library of Congress has an ever-growing Web accessible digital conversion of its massive paper collection. Most social studies/history teachers are aware of and recommend students use the Library of Congress American Memories site.


Scientific research is commonly published in peer reviewed journals. The peer review is designed to ensure quality of research reports, keeping wild claims from being made, demanding high levels of proof be presented before a research article gets published. Unfortunately, the traditional scientific journals are also expensive to produce. They don’t have advertising support, for example. Most high schools don’t have copies, either.

The Internet gives a new publishing opportunity, and recently “open access” journals have begun to appear. These are the same peer reviewed journals, but not limited to paper and the back room stacks of university libraries.

Check out the Directory of Open Access Journals. It isn’t just for science classes, either. History, the arts, psychology, language study, they are all represented.


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