Inquiry-Teaching.com

Inquiry-Teaching.comOur work is changing, as is really the entire nature of what many of us call work.  Thanks to the World Wide Web, our ability to create and share resources has never been greater.  The Design Mission is going to be getting back to its roots and has started a new project for inquiry based curriculum; Inquiry-Teaching.com

Look for new and returning lesson plans with an inquiry and active learning focus to be live in August of 2017.  We’ll continue to update the site with new lesson plans and resources.  In two years, we hope to be doing nothing but curriculum writing as our work focus.

 

 

 

WordPress Child Themes – When to Use Them

Building a WordPress “child theme” is not all that difficult.  WordPress has a very good write up on how (and why) one should create a child theme.  But if all you are doing is adding or modifying the stylesheet, you may not need a child theme at all.

Check to see if the them you are using includes the ability to add custom CSS.  Something like this:

 

If it does, you can do perhaps all that you want without building a child theme.   Child themes aren’t hard to build, but they do add overhead to your WordPress site’s load.

So much can be done with CSS alone, especially with a well made template that used CSS as it was intended to begin with. The whole idea of Cascading Style Sheets is to separate the presentation layer from the content and programming layers.  For an idea of how much you can do with CSS, check out the CSS Zen Garden project where people are challenged to take a single HTML and CSS page and only modifying the CSS, make entirely different designs.

If you are a theme creator, please consider using HTML5 and CSS properly and adding into your theme the ability to add custom CSS.  It will make your template used by a wider audience.

OmniGraffle

omni-graffleWhile we like to focus on Open Source software, sometimes, there’s not much offered in a specific category.  So far, we’ve not found a very good diagraming tool in the Open Source world.  Open Office and its children have a fairly good tool, but these don’t have all of the features we really need to work in the business world.  One key piece lacking in the OS world of diagraming tools is the ability to export to Visio format for cross platform compatibility.

OmniGraffle from the Omni Group is what we use extensively here.  It’s made for Macintosh only, but covers more than we could ask for in terms of ease of use and it does export to Visio format for PC users to import and use, too.  With OmniGraffle, one can build complex diagrams for infographics, network diagrams and process flows.  The available objects are easily extended and one can add more “stencils” quite easily.

Simply put, we love OmniGraffle.

Free Meet/Race/Regatta Management Software

events-1The United States is not known for its sprint canoe and kayak racing teams — far from it.  While we have had a handful of Olympic medals, these have been very few and far between.  The sport has only a small following here, despite there being SUP, marathon and outrigger paddling communities with incredible depth.  Despite that, we perhaps have some of the best race software around.  JRaceman written by Jim McBeath is an open source Java based tool that can be used with many different sporting events to provide reports, heats, race results and more.

Check out some of its features:

  • Standalone (single user) or client/server (multi user).
  • Checks data for errors and restrictions (such as max entries per person and age levels).
  • Choice of methods for initial lane draw, including random, seeded, and by category.
  • Automatic, Manual, and Custom Progressions (lane assignment).
  • Supports group events (such as relay races or team boats).
  • Calculates Individual and Team scores.
  • Supports multiple customized per-place point scoring systems.
  • Supports non-scoring competitors (such as Internationals in a National competition), including optional preferential progression for scoring competitors over non-scoring competitors.
  • Produces HTML reports: Schedule Reports, Entries Reports, Lane Reports, Results Reports, Progress Reports, Score Reports, Award Reports, Personal Results.
  • Supports alternate and custom style sheets for HTML reports.
  • Fast web reports to maintain a web site during a meet.
  • Prints labels for awards.
  • Export/Import capability to support distributed data entry.
  • Interfaces to FinishLynx and Omega automated finish-line systems.
  • Integrated on-line web registration.
  • On-line help with built-in browser.
  • Tutorial Wizard simplifies learning how to use JRaceman.

If you’re hosting an event or attending an event that needs help with management, JRaceman is something you should consider using.   It’s an excellent example of open source software and great for anyone putting on a regatta, track meet or other racing event!

Managing Disruptions to Your Work

Not-Available-for-Work-iconI suppose it sounds funny — thinking about how to managing disruptive work. If it is disruptive, how can one manage it, right?  Most people have plans for their day, goals or tasks that they hope to accomplish, and many (perhaps most) people also have the kind of work that one simply cannot plan — things that halt, or turn sideways, all of those big plans you had for your day.

My place of employment has what is known as an “open environment” – no cubicles, an open floor plan, with lots of people in a common area.  The theory behind open environments is that with no barriers, there will be more communication, sharing and collaboration.  In theory, that’s how it’s suppose to work, and it may well do so for some.  For me, however, it means wearing headphones and listening to music or something to provide white noise as a sound blocker is now an imperative.  (This blog post, “Why Open Floor Plan Offices Suck, Hurt Employee Productivity & Satisfaction” nails it for me.)  I’ve consequently become a Ninja at managing disruptions.

Here are the things I find work for making a disruptive work environment less so: Read more

Wikis – The Best Tools for Documentation and Specifications

Writing documentation and specifications for developers is a big part of my day job.  Writing clear, concise documents is very challenging.  It’s one thing to write notes for yourself, quite another to explain complex systems and the desired outcome to others.  Not only is determining a format or standard way of writing things important for clarity, but so too, are the tools one uses to communicate.  This post will focus on the tools for sharing  documentation and specifications.

The standard documentation and specification writing tool of most businesses is Microsoft Word, Visio for diagrams, and Excel for spreadsheets — or other similar tools such as Open Office, Apple’s Pages, Numbers and the Omni Group’s Omnigraffle.  I have used all of these, but found each lacking in one fundamental way; they make ongoing “knowledge transfer” difficult, if not down right impossible.

DokuWikiWhen I say “knowledge transfer”, I mean the ongoing care and feeding of systems, troubleshooting a problem or implementing an enhancement to an existing system, or set of systems.  Unless the developer, project manager or end user knows where to find the original documentation, be it a specification or write up of a process, it is much more likely that these individuals will seek out any human specialist thought to know about this program or system first and ask for a verbal “download” and knowledge transfer meeting.  Not really something that is efficient in the long run as it relies on the ongoing staffing of these so-called specialists.  I for one don’t want to be the first stop for questions about systems and programs I have documented in the past — I want my documentation to be the first thing end users turn to for help and guidance.  Document management tools such as SharePoint, LiveLink and others help by providing a search function, but I have yet to see anything beat a simple wiki for knowledge transfer.  (My favorite wiki being DokuWiki.)  Hands down, they win out.

Let’s compare using SharePoint and Word/Visio/Excel to using a wiki to better clarify this comparison.  When using SharePoint, an end user can search the contents of the SharePoint site and get a really excellent search results set showing screen previews of Office documents, filters for last updates and more.  (Truly, the search results in SharePoint are great.) However, if all of the information is stored in a file, the file must be downloaded, or at best viewed online and edited with browser plugins.   A large dataset of Office files also becomes something that must be indexed regularly and is processor intensive.  What’s more, there’s ample opportunity for the document to be shared with others outside of the document management tool which may be seen as beneficial to some people, but for me is tantamount to storing the same data in several places with things quickly getting out of sync.

If all of the documentation is done directly in an easy to read, highly searchable wiki page, then even the questions the end user may have can be added directly in the document with updates and improvements to the documentation being done by the community of users.  Every wiki I’ve ever seen tracks changes well and is extremely searchable – this is exactly what wikis were created to do.  There is no additional application needed, you just use a web browser.

So why not use a wiki for both your documentation, specifications and runbooks all in one fell swoop?  If even somewhat organized into separate namespaces, a single wiki can provide an organization with a very powerful knowledge transfer tool that doesn’t require any desktop application or special licenses.  Diagrams are really the only tool one needs an application for to create outside of the wiki.  (I would also argue for using a diagraming tool such as Open Office’s drawing tool, Visio or Omnigraffle – a future post on diagraming seems like a good idea.) A single reference point for all documentation helps prevent fragmentation of the process documents and helps facilitate a culture where knowledge transfer is done routinely, and information hoarding is no longer the norm.

[I’ll be updating this post shortly with some tips for how better to construct a wiki page, too.]