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Re: Gradebook development

EAMorical@aol.com wrote:

> From
> your point of view, what would be helpful is a list of programs you would like
> to see for administrative use such as gradebook,planner,scheduler,etc. It
> would also be helpful to have a sentence on the purpose or use of each just so
> one understands their role.

Hi everyone,

I appreciate the great ideas that I've seen presented by others on the
list so far. I offer the following for your consideration. Again, I'm
not a developer so some of my suggestions may reveal my naivete.

In general, it seems to me that we must strive for the utmost
flexibility for the various users, while keeping the software usable for
those teachers who aren't willing or interested to customize the

As far as the general program design is concerned, I think it's
important for the software to be as modular as possible, allowing people
to extend the program's functionality. For example, I'd like to try to
learn Python, and I'd want to be able to make a "plug-in" for the main
program that would perform some custom function. Also, we should make
everything as Internet-ready as possible. For example, I want to be able
to email grade and attendance reports to parents as easily as I can
print them.

As requested, here's my list of programs that I'd like to run. This is a
quick list. I'm sure that I could come up with more ideas if I gave some
more thought to it. In the meantime, I'll start coming up with a list of
features that most teachers will expect to have available to them.

1. Gradebook

I've written about this previously, but I want to emphasize the fact
that this software must be user-friendly. The *vast* majority of
teachers will have no interest in extending or customizing the basic

2. Attendance

I would definitely like to have some way of keeping track of attendance
that would allow quick summary reports that could be printed or emailed
to parents. We must remember, however, that most schools (at least in my
experience) already have system-wide attendance software that keeps
track of the "official" attendance records. In addition to attendance,
these software packages often handle scheduling, grade reporting, and
disciplinary records. My district contracts with an organization called
TIES (http://www.ties.k12.mn.us) that provides a software package called
TSIS. What I'm trying to say is that unless a comprehensive software
package like TSIS is available, most teachers' attendance records will
be for their eyes only. It should be possible, however, to create a
program that will interface with these large administrative packages.
The gradebook I currently use (which includes some attendance functions)
does this, although we still use scan sheets to record attendance at my

3. Seating charts

Here's something that doesn't seem like a big deal, but it would be
handy. Some gradebook programs will allow you to reorder your seating
charts randomly, but I'd like to be able to do so according to
parameters that I define. Specifically, I use tables in my classroom, so
I'd like to be able to mix gender and ability automatically in my
seating charts. It would also be nice to be able to specify certain
students that should always or never be seated together (or even near
each other). I should also be able to fix the position of certain
students. For example, I have a student in a wheel chair who must be in
a specific location in my room. Bottom line: if I have to go through and
fix the seating chart by hand after it's created, then I would have no
reason to use the software.

4. Unit planning

This is kind of a biggie. I've seen project planning software, but never
anything that seemed like it would work quite right for unit planning.
The problem is that nearly everyone has their own system of unit
planning. It will be very difficult to bring sufficient flexibility to
this software while keeping it easy to use for novice computer users.

When I plan a unit, I like to consider a set of outcomes/objectives for
my students. I plan activities or labs that address those objectives,
schedule quizzes and tests, reading and homework assignments, etc.
Finally, I like to create a calendar that I can hand out to my students
so they know what's coming up and so I don't have to worry about
remembering to tell them about homework assignments. Now I'm not always
that organized, but I can dream can't I? :-)  It would be great if I
could print a calendar for the students right from this software.

5. Lesson planning

Like unit planning, lesson planning is a very individual activity. Let
me suggest something related to a UI. I think it will illustrate the
relationship between unit and lesson planning.

Let's say I have created a unit plan for Newton's Laws in my physics
course. In addition to general objectives, I've created an outline for
all of my daily lessons for that unit. For example, I've decided that I
will give a quiz over Newton's 2nd law and introduce Newton's 3rd law on
Nov. 25. From a summary view of my entire unit, it seems natural to me
that I should be able to begin lesson planning by selecting (perhaps
double-clicking) a particular day on my unit plan.

This is where some sort of hyperlinked system could really be useful. I
would like to be able to link to my Newton's 2nd law quiz (written in
XML, HTML, or whatever) from within my lesson planning software so that
I could change it or even project it for my students using an LCD panel.
A lot of thought would have to go into this. This sort of system would
be extremely useful if well implemented.

6. Small-group generator

This is rather like the seating chart program. I use small-groups
frequently in my classroom for labs and in-class activities. It would be
great if I could automatically generate the groups instead of doing so
by "numbering off" at the beginning of class. Just like with the seating
charts, I'd want to be able to mix gender and ability and prevent
certain students from being in groups together. Saving the groups with
my daily lesson plan would allow me to go back and see who was working
with whom on a certain day.

Well, that's all I've got for now. I hope most of you have stayed with
me through this tome. We have a great opportunity here! The availability
of tools like these would go a long way to making Linux a viable option
for classroom teachers. And where the teachers go, the students are
likely to follow. World domination anyone? :-)


Timothy Wilson		 |  Powered by Linux  |      Check out:
Henry Sibley High School |                    | http://www.redhat.org
West St. Paul, MN  USA	 |  Proud Linux user  | http://www.linux.org
wilson@chem.umn.edu	 |    since 2.0.32    | http://www.gnu.org