The Education Column
Andrew Harmsworth introduces a new series
This article appeared in the last issue, however a link to it from the main contents page didn't. So although it was on the CD most readers didn't see it, so we are running it again - ED.
Greetings one and all! This is to be the first of many regular education-related columns that I will be writing. Don't click off now, though! What I hope to be able to do is cover projects that will be of interest to most RISC OS users, and definitely to those of us lucky enough to reside in education.
Just for good measure, there's a little more news about the RiscStaton laptop - and a tantalising new photo.
GCSE.com: Millions of hits to a RISC OS Project
A couple of years ago, I came by a site on the web called GCSE Answers at www.gcse.com. It sported some excellent pages on English, as well as some fine tutorials on Maths. I teach Physics, so I emailed the editor to ask why they didn't support other subjects. He got back to me to say that they were looking at expanding, and would I like to produce some Physics content. Payment would be made from banner click earnings, at a percentage.
So, until December last year, I happily wrote the occasional document (in TechWriter) and emailed it in as a Word document. The editor then played with the files for some time, converting them to HTML, and uploading them for me to check. The whole process took a considerable length of time - sometimes months going by between submission and publication.
The Physics Department didn't grow as fast as it could have, and to cut a long story short, by Christmas the site was losing money fast. Being a Limited Company is expensive. The site was closed down, and a single page saying "This service is terminated" was presented to the many thousands of visitors who continued to visit daily.
Between then and now I managed to acquire the domain name from the owner at a fair price. They also returned to me the physics materials I had written. Since then I have spent perhaps a couple of handfuls of hours re-branding the pages (temporarily), and writing new material - including graphics. The new "thumbs up" logo - above - was a Drawfile re-coloured!
This has all been done on my 6 year old StrongARM RISCPC. Just over a week ago I re-launched the site, solely Physics based. This confuses lots of visitors, because most search engines still think it includes English, Maths and French! But they are finding it useful - just read the comments on the visitors' page.
The original pages had been coded by hand on a PC (not by me) and one of the reasons why it was so slow was that adding headers and footers was done manually. Eventually I pointed the editor at !Webchange, although the PC version. This had increased productivity, but sadly not enough to save the site.
I've used !StrongED for many years now, and can't see any reason to change to !Zap, unless anyone wants to show me why I should. In re-coding www.gcse.com I have had to master some of the ways in which global search and replace works, including some very specific criteria.
Firstly, all references to "GCSE Answers" had to be replaced with something else. This is easily done across the many hundreds of HTML pages. All one has to do is:
This is great, but are you not then left with hundreds of files that you need to save? Yes! But fortunately !StrongED's List of Texts button (second from left):
...gives you the ability to save changed files, and close others. It will show a list like this:
Like many other people, I had previously not known of this method. But clicking on hundreds of close file icons, then clicking save as necessary was not something I was willing to put up with. Clicking MENU over the text list gives you all the options you could desire:
If you regularly edit more than one file at once using !StrongED, this little tip could save you hours!
To quote Deep Thought, "Tricky". But can you do it? I can, but it would take HOURS! Can !StrongED do it? And in less than 7½ million years? The Advanced option in search & replace looked promising, but we'd need to RTBM first, I think.
StrongED's manual gave me exactly what I was looking for. There are several ways of tackling this problem of text across lines. By far the easiest turned out to involve the $ (newline character) and Punct to cope with searching for quotes.
One of the problems, or joys, of physics is that it is so conceptual. Diagrams show so much more than even the best written explanation. Images, however, are the most costly aspect of any publication - at least in time. Writing new material for the site was relatively easy. Adding appropriate supporting graphics was crucial.
A recent addition has been some tutorials on radioactivity. The relative penetration of alpha, beta and gamma radiation is often shown in a single diagram. !Draw would be adequate for this task, but I fancied something more professional looking. !ArtWorks was the answer.
The image below was created in under ten minutes, then rendered in !Photodesk, and saved as a GIF. The oblique rectangles are copies of the first one, then coloured appropriately (paper, aluminium and lead):
The perceptive of you might ask how one draws a sine wave in !ArtWorks? It can be done, but not as accurately as if you created it in !MakeSine, by P H Borcherds. This is available on ROSES, and outputs a drawfile from x to y degrees.
Once again, the use of RISC OS software would seem to have many productivity advantages over other systems. You do, of course, have to know what to use and when. If you have a favourite piece of software that you use in education, please tell us about it at the address below.
RISC OS Schools Webring
ROUGOL launched the RISC OS Education Discussion List several years ago. From this grew the RISC OS Educational Resources Site. Late last year, Paul Vigay suggested that it was about time we had our very own RISC OS Schools Webring.
The idea would be that schools who use RISC OS computers could join the ring, thus promoting their own school. As a bonus, the technology itself is more widely recognised as an appropriate solution for use in schools. Yes, it does seem to be the case that lots of people still don't realise this!
Currently six schools have joined the ring. If you work, or know someone who works, in a school that still uses RISC OS-based computers, then perhaps join the Schools Webring.
I had hoped to be writing this first column on a shiny new RiscStation laptop. Sadly, the end-of-April production deadline has had to be put back. Hopefully it will make its first public appearance at the Wakefield Show, the weekend of 18/19 May. However an announcement has just been made by RiscStation Ltd which should mean the next education column will be produced on a RISCStation laptop and I shall include a full report of its features and abilities in the classroom. School teachers throughout the country, myself included, are holding their breath in anticipation...
Photograph of RiscStation Laptop c/o Chris Wakefield, RiscStation Ltd.
If you have any questions or comments on the use of RISC OS computers in education, please either email firstname.lastname@example.org or better still join the RISC OS Education Discussion List, and air them there.