Friday, October 30, 2009

I <3 Apple Remote Desktop

This morning I was reminded of how much I love Apple's Remote Desktop because of the way it simplifies managing a large group of Macs.

I run a Self-Cleaning Oven Model on the student Macs at work. Basically, when the user logs out the contents of her or his /Users directory is copied to /tmp and a new copy of the template is copied into place. If a student leaves folders all over the desktop or otherwise modifies the configuration everything is put back into place. This ensures consistency for each user of the computer.

I ran into an issue where TextEdit, which I use with the third grade, was configured for plain text rather than Rich Text Format and I needed to change this preference. Since the self-cleaning oven is launched with a logout hook it is a pain to turn off the hook, make the changes, copy the new template to /var/root and repeat this many times. Enter Remote Desktop: in twenty minutes I copied the TextEdit preference into five User directories as well as the "golden master" templates in /var/root and had TextEdit configured.

Next I needed to deal with an issue with the LaunchServices and quarantine feature in OS X 10.5.x. When an application is downloaded from the Internet the system flags it. When the user opens the application for the first time she or he is warned it came from the Internet and is she or he certain she or he wants to open it. Again, the self-cleaning oven resets the user's directory after every use, so it is a pain to affect this change. It is also a pain for Kindergarteners to click through two separate dialog boxes to get a webpage open. I found a one-line UNIX command that would remove the quarantine from all the applications. I put it in a three line shell script, copied it to the clients, and ran it. In the end I had no more dialog boxes to click through before the web page opened.

I finished up my Remote Desktop adventure this morning by updating Flash. Between the shell script and the Flash update I put in half an hour of work. If I had to touch each computer it certainly would have taken much longer to do this manually. Here's to saving time!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Construct a Laptop Project

Last school year I had Kindergarten and first grade students still asking me what the password was for their computer accounts, despite it being the end of the school year and their passwords being "k" or "1," respectively. Inspired by Amy Tiemann's Laptop Club for elementary students, I conceived a lesson that I worked on with the Kindergarten and first grade students the first two computer lessons of the school year. I hoped this lesson would encourage more independence during computer time.

I started with photos of a MacBook keyboard from Apple's web site and took screenshots of the class and individual folders where the students save their work and inserted them into a photo of the MacBook's screen bezel.

For the first lesson I used the SmartBoard and a NoteBook file that also had a picture of the keyboard. Students took turns dragging the appropriate label (power button, Return key, volume buttons, K) to the proper place on the keyboard. Then I had the students return to their desks. I gave them each a copy of the MacBook keyboard photo. I then asked them to use a different color crayon for each key, and as I colored them in on the SmartBoard the students also colored in the important keys that they needed to know to operate the computer.

The next lesson concentrated on the important folders these students needed to know. The grade level folder is automounted for the students when they login. We colored in the folder, which lives in the Dock next to the Trash can. Then the students found their class folder and colored it, too. Finally, they found the folder with their name on it and colored it in.

With a colored keyboard and screen, I provided each student with a manila folder. They used their glue sticks to paste the two pieces of paper into the folder, like the example from a Kindergarten student pictured above.

As a group we decided we would call these laptops our "maps." They will help the students remember the location of the important keys. I bring these laptops along to the Kindergarten and first grade classes, along with a cart of real MacBooks. Before every lesson I hand out the laptop maps and we review the important keys we will be using: the "K" or "1" key for their password, the Return key, the volume keys. I have them put their finger on the appropriate key or item in the Dock. As we encounter new important keys we can highlight them on our paper laptop keyboards. For example, when quitting Childsplay, which I use with the Kindergarten students, one must press the "Y" key to confirm that one wants to quit the program. In this week's lesson we drew an outline around the "Y" key on their keyboards to remind them of the location of that key and the importance of the key.

Already this map laptop had proven very valuable in my efforts to increase the independence of the students during computer lessons. When students shout out, "What's my password?" I can direct them to their map laptops to find the answer to their question. The flexibility of being able to "update" the images as we encounter new important keys makes this a powerful teaching tool.