Recently I have been experimenting with personal finance software on Linux. The most popular program seems to be GnuCash. This would have been a good choice for me since I run Ubuntu with a Gnome desktop. I instead have chosen to use KMyMoney. It is packaged with the KDE desktop environment. Installation was fairly trouble free using the Synaptic package manager. Some features, such as help still give me issues, but I am slowly working them out.
The interface reminds me of Microsoft Money from the late 90’s. It is straightforward and besides the annoyance of double-entry bookkeeping, does a good job. I am sure I will end up liking double-entry the more I use it. KMyMoney does a good job of sugar coating the accounting, especially compared to GnuCash. I have been able to get most of my accounts into the program with little trouble. Online banking is not running smoothly with my institutions as of yet. This is not a big deal to me as I am trying to use the software to better see where my money is going. The reporting features of KMyMoney seem really great. After a few months of use I will share some of the reports it generates.
Compared to Money Manager Ex, another personal finance software application I have used, KMyMoney is superior. Though very similar in features, KMyMoney seems to work better and is more intuitive.
Besides my own wish to better examine how I spend my money I am hoping KMyMoney will fulfill my search for good software to use with students. Learning how to balance a check register is an important skill but with the abundance of debit cards not many students carry checkbooks or cash except for lunch money. Familiarizing students with software that allows them to track their spending, manage stock market research, and loans is a new skill-set that I believe will become vital for people in the new economy. New markets are emerging quickly allowing for people to put pockets of money in many different investment vehicles.
As a class project it would be interesting to provide a micro-loan and then track the repayments using software. The students will still learn the computations so they understand what is happening but it may provide additional engagement for students.
If you are running Linux and looking for personal finance software give KMyMoney a whirl.
I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Alfie Kohn at Whatcom Community College this evening. I was pleased to see fellow MIT students and professors at WWU in attendance. After several digressions Mr. Kohn really got going.
Schools are instruments that sustain democracy and we need to address the public purpose of schools. Mr. Kohn underscored many of his points by asking all citizens to ask the radical questions. My quotes are paraphrased as I was trying my best to actively listen and take notes. “Do not smother a child’s intrinsic desire to learn!” His approach is based on the idea of constructivism and it is appealing. I hear these ideas echoing in the classes I attend and am thrilled to have been exposed to these concepts, ideas, and approaches in the MIT program at Western.
Democratic Classrooms – involve the students with the development of the class; what do you want to learn, how can we be a community of learning and not one of competition?
Transfer of knowledge – the core of backwards design and essential questions
Allow children to develop and discover ideas – the constructivist approach
Frame skills and facts in a context, this will increase the depth of understanding
Learn for a purpose -> connect with horizontal relevance- past questions and current events relate to the learning and understanding
Make the classroom one about thinking; not listening
A great challenge he posed to teachers designing units for the classroom is to ask, “What will the students take away from this ten years from now?”
During his talk he referenced the following chart, it is eye opening when entering a classroom to consider the factors below and their implications. The chart originally appeared in Educational Leadership, September 1996.
POSSIBLE REASONS TO WORRY
Chairs around tables to facilitate interaction
Comfortable areas for learning, including multiple “activity centers”
Open space for gathering
Chairs all facing forward or (even worse) desks in rows
ON THE WALLS
Covered with students’ projects
Evidence of student collaboration
Signs, exhibits, or lists obviously created by students rather than by the teacher
Information about, and personal mementos of, the people who spend time together in this classroom
Students’ assignments displayed, but they are (a) suspiciously flawless, (b) only from “the best” students, or (c) virtually all alike
List of rules created by an adult and/or list of punitive consequences for misbehavior
Sticker (or star) chart — or other evidence that students are rewarded or ranked
Frequent hum of activity and ideas being exchanged
Frequent periods of silence
The teacher’s voice is the loudest or most often heard
LOCATION OF TEACHER
Typically working with students so it takes a few seconds to find her
Typically front and center
Respectful, genuine, warm
Controlling and imperious
Condescending and saccharine-sweet
STUDENTS’ REACTION TO VISITOR
Welcoming; eager to explain or demonstrate what they’re doing or to use visitor as a resource
Either unresponsive or hoping to be distracted from what they’re doing
Students often address one another directly
Emphasis on thoughtful exploration of complicated issues
Students ask questions at least as often as the teacher does
All exchanges involve (or are directed by) the teacher; students wait to be called on
Emphasis on facts and right answers
Students race to be first to answer teacher’s “Who can tell me…?” queries
Room overflowing with good books, art supplies, animals and plants, science apparatus; “sense of purposeful clutter”
Textbooks, worksheets, and other packaged instructional materials predominate; sense of enforced orderliness
Different activities often take place simultaneously
Activities frequently completed by pairs or groups of students
All students usually doing the same thing
When students aren’t listening to the teacher, they’re working alone
AROUND THE SCHOOL
Appealing atmosphere: a place where people would want to spend time
Students’ projects fill the hallways
Library well-stocked and comfortable
Bathrooms in good condition
Faculty lounge warm and inviting
Office staff welcoming toward visitors and students
Students helping in lunchroom, library, and with other school functions
Stark, institutional feel
Awards, trophies, and prizes displayed, suggesting an emphasis on triumph rather than community
Summary: Oblinger and Hawkins assert that students must be trained in information literacy, not just technological competency. Most students already posses the tech competency but need help learning how to filter the massive amount of data that they can access via the computer. They pose 5 strategic questions for us to consider.
What skills do students and faculty need in a digital world?
Do we have an operative definition of IT literacy?
Do we help students acquire the skills they need?
Is IT literacy integrated across all units?
Do we know how well we are doing?
Response: I think the last question should be answered before addressing the prior 4. The importance of developing a measuring system is important because what needs to be taught is dynamic in IT. Focusing on Information Literacy, this fluidity which is IT, can be constantly revisited without having to rework the metric. Since IT is fluid, the evaluation system needs to be fluid as well. Possibly a set of authentic tasks could be presented to the student and using the appropriate technology and literacy skills, an answer could be formulated. Again, due to the rapid change in IT, understanding of the concepts and skills should be sought, not raw answers that may not be constant from one day to the next.
Doing this would allow teachers to integrate technology in ways that are authentic to their discipline and not superficial. In this way we help students achieve the skills they need in the content area we can honestly help them with.
Questions 1 & 2 are both nebulous and could be debated for years, I will leave them to others to shed light upon.
Ms. Boettcher discusses several facets of accessible content design. She contends that this is based on well-structured content. The content structure bears directly on the success of the learner, teacher, and impacts the learning environment. The environmental component hinges on well-structured content, so that it is portable to any environment. She refreshes us on some key points about how experts learn compared to beginning students. Then Ms. Boettcher touches on the possible benefits of multi-modal learning. She continues with this and extrapolates a so called simple paradigm to encapsulate the characteristics of digital learning resources. The three levels are
Core Concepts and principles
Well-structured problems with known solutions
Less-structured, complex problems without known solutions
She ends the article with a summary of why digital resources are different and will be beneficial for both educators and students in the future.
Written at the very end of 2002, I believe Ms. Boettcher’s insights are still relevant. Within the context of a high school I think levels 1 and 2 would be stressed the most. Level 3 is wonderful, and perhaps approached in AP classes. What this article hints at is the possibility of flexible content for each unit, students who wish to conquer levels 1 and 2, would be able to do so and attack level 3 assignments. Most students would be able to complete level 2 content. Asssessment for flexible content would be challenging, but I am sure a solution can be found.
The end of the article discusses XML, which in 2003 was beginning to grow. XML is now at the core of many web based applications. What is exciting about this is the ability to push XML onto many types of devices. This creates the possibility of tools that students can use to access the content that is most useful to them. Imagine ESL students, having the textbook translated into their language, RSS feed or text message reminders of homework assigments, or students giving you feedback on how a chapter in the textbook is organized, it can be changed to benefit them. Tools are cropping up now that are taking microformats and allowing for quick and correct bibliographies to be created. The power and flexibility of digital content, if well-structured, is very powerful. I hope content creators are doing everything they can to structure the content semantically for the benefit of the students.