Anyway... At one of the schools they're doing a space inquiry. Brilliant! What do nerds love? And who made Linux? So there are some very cool applications (and some not so brilliant ones).
Celestia, the darling of the Linux space world I found to be kind of pretty but ultimately more trouble than it's worth. It's a bit hit and miss. Rendering issues where planet's aren't actually skinned and zooming issues when seeking celestial bodies make this just a pain in the classroom. Sorry teachers. It's basically a Google Earth for space and has A LOT of content so probably not so bad when looking further than our own solar system.
Stellarium is just plain awesome. Imagine being able to let your kids know what to look out for in terms of stars and planets that night. Brilliant!
One of the first things I found was a video. It's a little lame but, truth be told, I really enjoyed it. Even the silly little lame joke at the end. Starring M51 and Gizmo in "Half Baked Plan".
And finally, I was mucking around, and realised that this was the perfect opportunity to teach some kids to use GIMP. For those not in the know, GIMP is the "General Image Manipulation Program". It's kind of a poor man's Photoshop. And let's be honest, how many features of Photoshop do people really use? So, I've heard the kids say that GIMP is lame and they don't think it can do anything and it's only for touching up pictures.
I've been trying to come up with a way to get them interested. For no other reason than I think they could come up with some really interesting things in it. So the image above is an example of what I came up with. Basically a stylized planet on a starscape, with a flare effect. Absolutely none of it is drawn by the user and, a pretty clued up person could produce in under 5 minutes.
So I've spent much of this week going around classes teaching this stuff. I wrote up some instructions which I've had mixed results from. A lot that has been a result of approaches.
As a reading activity, I found it to be a bit of a fail. I'm not sure if this was a result of me being there, the instructions, or an inability of the kids to follow through instructions. One girl blew me away today with how well she did follow the instructions. The other class who tried this approach set it as homework and the bits that came back had me well impressed.
As a "follow along as a class" activity, this worked really well. The kids stayed attentive for around 1/2 an hour and were pleased with their results and had started to play with the possibilities by the time I left.
In smaller groups where I took a sole teaching approach - i.e. me teaching without a teacher - it was tiring. The first group, I had a little girl who stated she was "more clever" than any of the others and then just wouldn't keep up or listen. So eventually, when I got a poke in the shoulder and asked "What do I do now mister?" I turned around and said to her "Well... Do what you like. You're not listening to me anyway so why ask me now?". The 2nd group wanted to carry on and do more though I was trying to fit another group in and so had to move them on. The 3rd group excitedly declared I had been their best teacher all year! So after 2 groups today plus a class doing it as a reading activity, I'm feeling exhausted.
I already had a hell of a lot of respect for teachers.... but really... given that they've got the same kids day in, day out with the same conflicts and behavioral issues... it's emotionally draining. Life kind of takes a back seat to preparing lesson plans and marking tests etc. I reckon a bunch of flowers to the teachers at your local school, a packet of biscuits for their morning tea - just some sort of token of appreciation is in order.