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Building International links with the Little Cayman community and Stepping Stones School

The past week has been pretty tiring, but incredibly worthwhile and satisfying. It began with very clear objectives to build a link between the little learning community on Little Cayman and Stepping Stones School in the UK. Both schools, although small, are fantastic places for pupils to learn. The school on Little Cayman has four pupils aged between 4 and 10, and although the age spread is somewhat different, Stepping Stones School has a similar number of pupils - seven!

Small learning communities work really well, but in order to thrive, the pupils need to experience a much greater social network or youngsters - something that both learning communities have in common. The obvious answer is to bring the two together using video technology, provided wholly through iChat AV on the Apple Macintosh. The photograph above shows the quality of the video as we broadcast live across the Atlantic.

Video conferencing is not a new technology, in fact it's been around for several years - so people might ask, what's the big deal? Well, quite a lot, actually - and some of it isn't immediately obvious, though it is common sense.

Video conferencing technology, in the main, tends to be professional, specialised equipment which is positioned in a particular room, connected in one location. It often requires the need for a technician to set it up - line test the call - perhaps even around the routing with prior arrangement from the network's hosting company. In this project, we are using technology which puts this capability into the hands of the learners, empowering them to be in control of their connections to the outside world.

Each child has a state-of-the-art laptop computer, connected to a wireless 3Mbit Internet connection. They use Mac OS X and iChat to build a buddy list of learners in other locations. They use this to initiate video connections on an adhoc basis.

Arrowe on Little Cayman is talking to Dominic about the music he is making using GarageBand. Dominic is a bit of an expert when it comes to writing music, compared to Arrowe where this is his first time. Wouldn't it be ever so special for Dominic to pass on his wisdom and understanding to Arrowe? Well... that's exactly what happened. The age difference between the two communities of learners means that the older pupils can become role models, advocates or mentors for the younger pupils. We naturally create an environment where the younger pupils chase the role models of the older pupils and perhaps develop in thought and maturity much faster. Who knows, but it will be very exciting to watch as this project progresses over the coming months.

I've had a truly wonderful time here on the island. The pupils, both here and in Stepping Stones School have been amazing and my thanks and best wishes go to them all. I was so encouraged on my first day to hear the class teacher, Miss Veronica, suggest this technology as a strategy for joining up the schools on the sister islands, Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac - it shows an insightful understanding for this new medium which hasn't, I don't think, been fully explored beyond simply making connections.

If you are interested in learning more about this project, here are some links to other sites describing what is taking place.

Building Cayman's Future: Technology enhances Teaching and Learning

Stepping Stones School: International project goes live as pupils video conference to a school in Little Cayman

Also, please don't hesitate to contact me or book a place at the Be Very Afraid event in London, at BAFTA on 22nd October 2007. Contact Lys, for more information.


21st Century working without power

I woke this morning to a power cut which, interestingly enough, is not that unusual to form a surprise. Although perhaps slightly frightening when you consider we are in the 21st Century.

Something about the supply of power in my home town is unreliable. Over the last few years I've bought UPS power supply systems to keep vital equipment running in the event of a power cut - essentially the cable modem, wireless router, home server, and network attached storage device. I really hate systems not shutting down gracefully.

Anyway, so here I still am, writing this blog article, no longer waiting for the power to resume as I can continue quite happily without, for a few hours at least.


Sony Ericsson P1i smart phone iSync Plugin for Mac OS X computers

With the iPhone just around the corner, another iPhone announcement September 18th maybe - I got to play with the latest offering from Sony Ericsson, the P1i which replaces the brick-like P900i device.

It was fast, responsive and had a beautifully crisp and sharp display. Sony has kept with it's trademark menu - consistent across all Sony Ericsson's and this made using the device really easy. The web browser was also much the same - the larger screen made it much much more useful, but it isn't a fully featured browser as per the iPhone. This means that some pages don't render particularly well and navigating around them is somewhat tricky.

The phone has a 3 mega-pixel camera - as you might expect and quality of these images were staggeringly good. It has the same resolution as my old Canon IXUS camera, bought 4 years ago which I still used until quite recently. One of the REALLY cool features of the phone was the use of the camera for 'scanning' in business cards. Neat software on the phone is able to read the card information and convert telephone numbers, addresses and names and automatically insert the contact information into the phone and does this with accuracy too.

Gary, the owner of this new toy, wanted to connect the phone to his Mac computer - as with the very latest phones, the Mac doesn't have the plugin that allows iSync to make a connection. However, with a bit of trawling on the Internet, I found that the Sony Ericsson site have published the plugin. This must be a new service since I've always had to find the plugins from 3rd party people.

You can download the latest version (1.07) from here:

Download SonyEricsson P1i iSync Plugin


Professor Stephen Heppell talks briefly about 21st Century learning on BBC Breakfast

During the middle of last week, Stephen Heppell spoke on BBC Breakfast about the future of learning in the 21st Century, lifelong learning and how we should be building a model of education which is personalised to the needs of individual students. It is clear that we aren't in a world where "one size fits all" and it now seems ludicrous to still be placing children in classes simply because they share a birthday between two Septembers.

A few people had missed Stephen's piece on the BBC Breakfast programme, it was on pretty early (!) so I've put it here, courtesy of the BBC. Watch the programme online.


Stephen often speaks publicly on this very important issue, such as his Radio 4 Interview on the Today programme, which was also broadcast last week. Stephen says 4 out of 10 students are backwards in their learning from where they were when they moved from Primary school to Secondary school. Stephen continues by stressing that schools need to be "seductive and engaging places" if students aren't going to be lost from a love of learning. Listen online.


iPod touch - Apple's Special Event at the BBC in London

I was fortunate enough to attend Apple's Special Event at the BBC in London this evening. Steve Jobs was speaking live from San Francisco, at the Moscone Center via a video link to the BBC Television Centre.

Approximately 300 guests were invited by Apple to attend the launch of the new iPod product line. The new iPod touch was the centre of attention of course, which is a shame since lots of development work has also been paid to the current and revised iPod family.

I suppose there could be very little that could distract ones attention from the web enabled iPod touch which is based on the same design as the iPhone. Same physical dimensions, apart from the iPod touch being only 8mm thick compared to the 11.5mm thick iPhone.

In a sense, watching video and music being played on the device wasn't too dissimilar from what we have seen the iPhone capable of doing - though that product has yet to make it to UK waters. I loved the addition of the YouTube application however, again much like the app available on the iPhone.

The key delight for me was learning that the device now has built in WiFi which transforms the possibilities of the device enormously. Steve concentrated largely on the fact it can hook up to the net to download songs from the iTunes WiFI Store via the custom built application. However, it was the inclusion of the Safari web browser that really captured my interest. I love listening to music and following lyrics, or even discovering the background to the artists inspiration for the music.

After having a play with the device during 'play' session after the Special Event had finished, I started to yearn for wanting a camera as an input device, which would immediately become a really sexy tool for creating a portfolio of learning. Maybe that feature might come in time or perhaps a 3rd Party developer might get there first.

Whatever, the iPod touch is a really really cool piece of kit. Some might say it's available now so we can play with the gorgeous touch screen technology whilst we wait for the iPhone's launch later this year - others, like me, can see a whole new application for this technology.

For anyone who was there, they will also have noticed the draw of breath as Steve's customary "one more thing" moment was superseded by an announcement that Apple's iPhone will now only be sold in one flavour - the 8Gb model which is now going to retail not at $599 but at $399. Amazing! That's a $200 saving for new buyers from today! The iPhone now enters the realms of 'bargain' rather than the must have device for the wealthy.

One thing is to watch the Apple Special Events as a web stream at home, it's quite another to be part of the atmosphere as products launch. What a hoot. The biggest laugh went to Steve's quip at NBC, who recently announced they were withdrawing their TV shows from the iTunes Store. Steve was demoing the new Ringtones feature in iTunes and chose the track by John Lennon "Give Peace a Chance" when NBC call...

Anyway, go look at the new iPod family for yourself...


The Earth and the stars in one - the new Google Earth

The latest release of Google Earth now incorporates constellations. Sitting here in the Southern hemisphere, I tried to orientate my view of the Northern Hemisphere sky within the new Google Earth application, as it would be seen in Essex, UK. No doubt my friend, Colin, will set me straight. I should know all this stuff of course, after 20 years in the Scouting movement. It is a well established fact, that any Scout passing through Orion Troop simply couldn't have avoided cold winter evenings gazing up at the sky looking for the constellations of Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, Canis Major, Orion and a few more besides. All this was important because we learnt how to find Polaris, the Pole star, and therefore how to find North at night. Handy stuff to know when on a 15km night hike.

Download the latest version of Google Earth here, and explore the galaxy for yourself.

Here is what I should be seeing from New Zealand this evening.


World Jamboree comes to the UK, Essex

world jamboree essex uk International Scouts

Well, it's been a pretty hectic start to the Summer break, nice really and they say a change is as good as a rest.

Today, International Scouts from the World Jamboree held in Chelmsford, Essex, headed over to Billericay to begin the first of a four day project to support our community.

Here are two Scout leaders from Brazil, Rodrigo and Jhonatan (Jonathan!) who I met and spoke excellent English (phew!)

Some 40 or so Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from the United States, Ireland, Netherlands, Mexico arrived on a coach to take part in the activities today. Scouts from 3rd Billericay, Orion Troop also came along to make new friends and join in with the International Scouting network.


iBook: see through screen

Inspired by John's published image on Flickr, I challenged one of my pupils to have a go...

ibook transparent screen

© Daniel, Stepping Stones School. For more of Daniel's artwork, visit his blog site.


Add live video from a built-in or plugin iSight camera on a Webpage using Quartz Composer

This page only works if you are using an Apple Mac computer that has an iSight camera either built into the computer or has an external iSight camera plugged in.

As you'll see, below is a QuickTime movie embedded into a webpage. The QuickTime movie makes use of the Quartz Composer engine and feeds live data from the iSight camera. Quartz Composer is built into the Mac OS X operating system, hence it is restricted to working only on Macintosh computers.

take a look and see what all the fuss is about!


Want to build this into your own pages?

It's simple, here's how:

  1. Copy and paste the following HTML code into a webpage...

    <object classid="clsid:02BF25D5-8C17-4B23-BC80-D3488ABDDC6B"
    width="320" height="240" codebase="">
    <param name="src" VALUE=""/>
    <param name="autoplay" VALUE="true"/>
    <param name="controller" VALUE="false"/>

    <embed src="" width="320" height="240" autoplay="true" controller="false" pluginspage="" />

  2. You can download the file from this webserver. (CTRL click the link and Save As...)


Thomas visits Stepping Stones School and helps build our Radio Controlled Cars

Last week was very busy but fun and included a surprise visit from my good friend, Ali and her family. Thomas, her son, is keeping a blog detailing his visits since he arrived on holiday. Take a look at Thomas' Blog for more details on what activities 6 year old boys enjoy in the UK.

Without hesitation, Thomas discovers where and how he can help.

Thomas is well known to the pupils here following his visits to the Stepping Stones Advent Calendar that we ran last year.

From all at Stepping Stones, thank you for visiting and we wish you safe passage whilst in the UK and on your journey back to New Zealand.


A quarter of.... playing back those childhood memories

I have been reminded of my childhood several times recently, the first being 'connected up' to my secondary school friends who I pretty much left behind when I moved on to University. Have you ever wondered what happened to the Apple and Custard sweets that as children we used to buy a quarter of from the local newsagent?

Check out A quarter of...


Are mail servers just stroppy teenagers?

This is an automated response from a Yahoo mail server, which my friend received after trying to email me. I was captivated by the seemingly friendly but curt series of messages, which kinda builds images of a stroppy teenager.

Date: 12 June 2007 00:21:13 BDT
Subject: failure notice

Hi. This is the qmail-send program at
I'm afraid I wasn't able to deliver your message to the following addresses.
This is a permanent error; I've given up. Sorry it didn't work out.

Connected to but greeting failed.
Remote host said: 421 Too many concurrent SMTP connections; please try again later
I'm not going to try again; this message has been in the queue too long.

--- Below this line is a copy of the message.

And in case you wondered, yes my mail forwarding hosting service is failing once again.

It's funny, 123-reg often get blamed for failures, but maybe that's because there is no-one else to blame? sigh.

Broken IDE Hard disk needed a deep freeze

After a few months of trying to get a broken hard disk to work, I was pretty much set on taking the drive apart to investigate the problem. The drive failed to spin up yet I could hear all the right noises from the motor. I tried gently tapping the unit and applying burst of power but to no avail.

I had heard that putting things in freezers solves all sorts of problems, like smelly trainers, and restoring computer laptop batteries, and maybe, hard disks, but I couldn't remember.

Anyway, I popped the bare drive into the freezer and gave it an hour or two to chill. It was pretty cold when it came out... and worried a little bit about the moisture on the circuit board and the potential for short circuits. Thinking I had little to lose, and in my usual hurried style, I just plugged it in to a spare IDE --> USB interface and bingo! - the drive sprung to life.

Now that the drive is spinning, I have been able to read all the data from it. However, I am sure it's not repaired and so it is time to retire the drive. R.I.P and thank you.


Two in-tents

Colin recently purchased a new tent for the Orion Scout Troop in Billericay.

My friend and Scout Leader, Colin, my nephew and I helped erect it.

Max and Jonathan sitting inside the Coleman tent.


Steve Jobs, Apple talks about his passion for working and why he does what he does.

You need the latest version of QuickTime to watch this clip.

Social Software: seduced by Facebook

A recent blog post by Tom Smith, The social software confidence trick and Facebook gave me impetus to comment on my recent experiences with the social software tool.

Ever since MySpace, who were one of the first biggest public social networking sites, I had tried my hardest not to subscribe and be subsumed into the culture of building yet another online presence. Then I was invited to Bebo by a few friends, which instantly becomes that little bit more seductive and much harder to ignore. One the of best features is the ability to send messages with a little doodle sketch pad - nice. Already, Bebo was offering something that was new, something that email programs 15 years on, don't do.

Cracker Sailors Unite group in Facebook

Facebook has already achieved much of what has gone before (sadly there isn't a sketch pad built into messaging yet!) and does the joining-up of people incredibly well. It's actually quite addictive. Why is that? Something Facebook does better than anything else I've seen, is allow you to take complete ownership of what you are building, and I don't just mean your "profile" page. You can build your own social networking groups and other people can search for them and join them. There are quite creative groups out there. Even as a member of a group, you can contribute openly with other members - the permissions model is almost hidden, I don't hit areas that I'm barred to enter, simply because they aren't immediately obvious where those places are. I haven't played much with Facebook applications, other than the photo sharing tools, but it's clear, the creators of Facebook have intentions of plugging in a whole host of joined-up tools.

Tom asks "Is Facebook the last mashup?"

I'm pretty confident it isn't and other tools will come and supersede what has already been achieved. However, you might say that Facebook has led the way on creating a user experience much more seductive and delightful than anything else currently available.


Steve Jobs and Bill Gates talk together at the All Things Digital conference

It has been widely regarded that there has been a deep rooted antagonistic falling out between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs for some years, which is mostly related to the competition between them at Microsoft and Apple. Interestingly enough, the interview (which can be downloaded and watched as a podcast in iTunes) presents a more harmonious relationship that has emerged fairly recently.

Steve Jobs refers to his relationship with Bill Gates to a lyric in a Beatles song:

"You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead."

Several excellent points were made in the interview, and both were asked quite soul searching questions about each other and themselves, which spoke volumes about their individual characters. Staggering really to get such open and honest responses, as the interviewers were quite poor at conducting the live interview on stage in front of several hundred people.

What was quite striking in the interview was Steve Jobs' understanding about people and what people want in a product, and Bill Gates' very geeky, technical detailed responses which didn't give much thought to what people actually wanted. For me, it kinda summed up the differences between Apple and Microsoft products.

The single most significant aspect about the whole interview, was Steve Jobs' reflection on what it takes to make a successful business. Steve was able to put into words what I'd been trying to explain to others for most of my working life.

Click on the image below to play the movie.

You need the latest version of QuickTime to watch this clip.


Drupal feed problems with Blogspot sites

I used to publish an RSS feed of content from site on this site. Some users noticed that when you clicked on a particularly title in the feed, it would take you to another article and not the article implied in the title. I spent weeks looking for a solution, and with more comments indicating problems, I chose to remove the feed from this site.

I hate anything that I can't fix, so never really gave up trying to find a solution. I found this solution, though it's a pity there is no explanation as to why the problem occurs in the first place. Maybe that is yet to become clear. The solution is simple, use another feed URL from Blogspot:

seems to work ok. Read this article about Drupal and Blogspot feed issues.

Here are the latest feed items from the site:


Apple iTunes and the case of the missing file(s)

I've recently been playing lots with building a Home Entertainment system using an Apple Mac Mini (Intel) at the heart of the system. It all seems to work and will report more about the complete setup shortly.

I spent a little moment this weekend ripping my DVD collection so that all my films are accessible from my iTunes Library without the need to find the discs. This all seems to work just fine too, in fact, I'm really delighted by what I've achieved. However, I've spent the majority of my time moving my iTunes Library around, which totals 53 Gb at the moment. The time consuming bit isn't so much the moving it around bit, but the sorting-out-the-mess bit which comes later.

It would seem that iTunes finds it difficult to relocate some of files that are catalogued in the iTunes Library causing little exclamation marks to be shown next to some of the tracks, during synchronisation with an iPod. iTunes requires the user to manually locate each file individually - sigh, yet in all cases, the files are actually present and in the folder specified in the preferences. I can see how moving physical files can be confusing for the Library, but there isn't a function built into iTunes to overcome this problem.

What is needed is a tool that can check through the catalogue and find files it can no longer find, perform a little search on the disk, and match them up.

Having searched for AppleScripts which I think could solve this problem and tried one or two, I'm still back in the same position, comforted only by the fact this guy has also been truly thwarted by the same problem. He covers several other problems he has experienced with Apple's iTunes software.

...I'd better get back to the problem.

Cracker in Felixstowe in preparation for Port of Felixstowe Regatta 2007

Having completed some start of season practice races at Brightlingsea, we are now gearing ourselves up for the first proper race of the SailEast 2007 campaign, starting with the Port of Felixstowe Regatta. Felixstowe is a wonderful place to hold a Regatta, and besides the busy race schedule, the social scene is also, erm... pretty social!

Here is Cracker, an IMX 40 yacht, moored at the marina.

Cracker of Brightlingsea in Felixstowe

Visit the Cracker site for race results and photographs throughout this season.

Hopefully, we might just manage to get a cooker on board sometime soon and enjoy dishes from our Cracker Cookbook. hmmmmmm.


Video conferencing technologies to support learners working from home

We often consider using video conferencing technology in schools and colleges for connecting people together, people who aren't usually part of the organisation, such as another school or class of students, an expert or scientist for example.

Here at Stepping Stones we using video conferencing technologies to include students who aren't able to physically attend the school. There might be several reasons for this, an illness or the student has had an appointment to see a consultant or specialist and isn't sensible for the student to return to school.

We are now well accustomed to allowing pupils to participate in lessons and activities, from a distance. This week, Dom has been struck down with Chicken Pox, which although the contagious condition doesn't affect his ability to work, does mean he can't attend the school. We've been working closely with Dom throughout this week and he's adapted very well to learning from home and being separate from the others. Other pupils here, often find attending the school 5 days a week incredibly tiring. It means that on occasions, they can still participate in lessons whilst learning from home.

This isn't a common function of a school, but one which makes lots of sense.

We use a peer to peer Instant Messaging network such as AIM and .Mac, using the application iChat in Mac OS X to enable video, text and audio messaging.


Self-directed learning: Stepping Stones pupils learn French

Two of our pupils have opted to learn French as a language here at Stepping Stones School. Initially, we are exploring the use of online tools, such as Podcasts as a resource for giving some initial support.

This is a small school, 5 pupils on roll. We believe in providing the very best learning opportunities for our pupils and employ several specialist teachers in Maths, Science, English, ICT, History, Childcare besides other subjects. In time, I am sure we will have specialist language teachers too, but initially, I believe pupils can develop their language skills with facilitated help and a strong resource base.

Below are two pupils working with a podcast, available from the Apple iTunes music store, called French for Beginners by The French Ecole.

They can listen to the French transcript and explanation of French vocabulary and dialogue and refer to a supplied PDF sheet which comes as part of the podcast subscription.


More Than Just Us continues

"We should stop meeting up in pubs."
Our successful meetings continue, we are always looking for more members, but already enough for 5 rounds of beer, with each member buying one round!

.... and now that summer is here, we'll be enjoying a cool beer in the pub gardens shortly.

Read what we've been doing recently, below:


This blog entry, with embedded live news feed from the aggregator module, was made using Drupal's Insert Block module which I've hacked a little to work with Drupal version 5.1. If you want this module, download Insert Block for Drupal 5.1. Simply drop the extracted folder into your Modules folder and enable the module from the Administration console.

The classic Donkey Kong arcade game four storeys high


The classic arcade game, Donkey Kong recreated on a four storey high building (left).

Built entirely from 6400 Post-It notes and 10 people in only 5 hours, this took some patience and planning.

This isn't the first time I've seen a classic arcade game recreated on the side of buildings, or even using the fabric of the building to interact with the game. Take this video, for instance, showing Tetris played on a very large scale. The students had re-wired the lighting system for the entire block of apartments and used a computer to control each light independently. Watch the clip.

In fact, having searched a bit deeper, someone in France has created the ultimate game playing experience... just look at the choices of games you can play, and all from your mobile phone handset.



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