Tag Archives: sharing

Open House in the Makerspace/Robotics Lab


It was universal: children and adults alike were impressed with the Open House we held on Saturday for our new Makerspace/Robotics Lab. The whole morning there was a buzz of laughter and enthusiastic calls of “look at this!” People were moving around the room, checking out what other people were doing and showing off their own work. Kids were building robots and other contraptions, parents were helping them out and taking photos, teachers were demonstrating how to make things with various pieces of equipment …and everybody was having a great time. Several parents and children expressed their hope that this would happen every weekend! Here are some of the things that were going on:

It was a terrific day! We’ll definitely be holding more Open House maker sessions!

This is cross-posted from my school blog.

Sharing for the common good: the Creative Commons

from Wikimedia Commons – license public domain

Once upon a time, people thought it was great to share stories, music, painting. They’d listen to others, tell their own, and spread creativity around. Shakespeare used others’ ideas to craft new plays that were highly entertaining and thought-provoking. Mozart took other tunes and weaved them into new works. Sculptors, painters, and other artists learned from each other and crafted artwork that incorporated themes and elements from others.

In this age of commercial entertainment, however, copyright is king and those who would like to incorporate elements of songs, stories, or videos that they enjoy into their own work are threatened with the strong arm of the law. Videos get taken down from YouTube, teens get threatened with lawsuits for piracy, and famous writers get stricken off lists for “stealing” from others’ books.

In an effort to restore the idea of the common good and encourage creativity and sharing, Creative Commons was founded with a system of licensing creative works that preserved the creator’s rights but allowed for others to, share, re-use and re-mix artistic works. Today, millions of creative works (books, articles, photographs, artwork, music, videos, etc) are licensed using Creative Commons licenses that allow anyone (you!) to download them freely and use them yourself in your own work.

Why would an artist want to do that? Doesn’t it promote stealing?

A. David Holloway – Wikimedia Commons – CC-BY

Many artists and creators do want to use free Creative Commons licenses because those licenses preserve their rights to be credited with their work but also allow others to share and remix the work. This not only encourages more creativity, it also promotes their work. Musicians get heard when people watch videos using their work. Photographers get seen when people see their photos in a blog post. And this increased exposure helps them get more widely known and, ultimately, more successful.

All Creative Commons licenses include a requirement to attribute the original source of the work. People who use CC-licensed works respect that and give attribution …and this promotes the original artist. And this isn’t stealing: it’s freely sharing.

Watch this video to get an idea of how Creative Commons licenses work and why artists would want to use them.

So I can use these things as I wish?

by Foter – licensed CC-BY-SA

No. The key phrase for Creative Commons is “some rights reserved.” CC licenses have different elements that put particular requirements on how the work can be used. Different licenses can combine different elements, but there are four basic components:

  • Attribution: all CC licenses (except CC0/public domain) require you to say who created the original work that you used. This preserves the original creator’s ownership of their work.
  • Share-Alike: this element means that any work that incorporates this piece must use the same license. This expands the use of CC licenses.
  • No Derivatives: this element means that the work cannot be modified but must be used as it was originally created. This preserves the integrity of the original piece.
  • Non-Commercial: this element means that any use of this work must not be for sale.

This means that an artist can decide exactly how other people can use his/her work. It gives control and freedom to the creator while also letting others share and use their creations.

If you want a more detailed explanation, watch this video about CC licenses that explains the different elements.

Where can I find CC-licensed work?

flickrlicensesearchThere are many sources of CC-licensed work around the internet. Here are some places to start:

  • Use the Creative Commons search tool (you can even add it to your browser)
  • Some of my favorite sources for images:
    • Pixabay: An edited site of photographs and illustrations, all licensed CC0/public domain. Some beautiful photographs!
    • Flickr: Use the advanced search to find photographs with CC licenses or public domain works.
    • Wikimedia Commons: This is the source of media (photos, music, etc) that Wikipedia uses. They all have various open licenses.
  • Some of my favorite sources for music:

How about my work? How can I protect my own work with a CC license?

Licensing your work with a Creative Commons license is as simple as choosing which license you want to use, and then labeling your work with it. It’s that easy!


Cross-posted from my school blog.

Our Digital Life

“Smartphone” by Jeshoots licensed CC0/public domain

What’s the place of digital media in our lives? What’s the consequences of oversharing online? How can we make responsible choices when we use other people’s creative work? What factors intensify cyberbullying and online cruelty and what can we do to lessen them?

The distinction between online life and offline life is blurring more and more, especially for young people. It’s our responsibility as educators to help our students not only be successful in learning more about the subjects our school offers but also in how to navigate the media and networks of our online life.

Our school teaches explicitly the skills and concepts of “Digital Citizenship” – responsible, ethical and intelligent behavior while online. In our Advisory sessions, as well as in other classes, students will be grappling with issues such as cyberbullying, oversharing, copyright and remixing others’ work, and other important aspects of online life.

To help us do this effectively and efficiently, ICS is using the Digital Citizenship curriculum that was developed by CommonSenseMedia, a non-profit organization devoted to helping families be informed and responsible online users, consumers, sharers and creators. The Digital Citizenship curriculum they’ve developed is highly regarded and widely used in schools, and we are using and adapting it for our students at ICS.

But this education can’t only happen in school. We ask all parents to help your children to learn their place in the online world and act responsibly and safely. I’ll be publishing information on this blog and in the school’s newsletter for parents and other community members to be more informed about how to help our children grow and develop in the online world.

For starters, I encourage all parents to read this PDF Family Tip Sheet on using common sense in digital life. It’s full of good advice for parents, with some excellent suggestions on how to help your children cope with life online.

As for me, the key is one of our ICS Learner Profile traits: balance. It’s OK for kids to be online, chatting and posting on Facebook, sharing on Instagram, watching YouTube videos, etc. It’s also important for them to get outside and play soccer, or go to a dance, or just hang out chatting with their friends over coffee. We’re lucky here in Addis that this is the norm for our children. It’s part of our culture (in school and throughout the community) to value these offline, person-to-person interactions.

As the weeks go by, I’ll be showcasing many of our projects with students and the skills and ideas they’re grappling with. Share your questions, concerns and ideas!

Cross-posted from my school blog.

Gift-giving: Free Software, Free Music

For many of us, it’s gift-giving time. Choosing or making a present, wrapping it up and putting it under a tree or handing it to a friend or loved one.

This Christmas, why not give free gifts? There are great sources of free software AND free music. They are not only free to download and use, they’re free to share (and free to adapt & customize). It’ll save you money and it will come with the fringe benefits of freedom – the people who receive the gifts can share with others. It’s a gift that keeps on giving!

Free Software

These are free and open source software packages that we use at school with students and teachers. They are fully functional, cross-platform (so they’ll work on Windows or Mac OSX), and free to share. Download a copy and install it on your computer. Put a copy on a flash disk and give it to a friend or neighbour. They are all licensed so that you can share them freely.

Here are a few choice software tools that we use at ICS (and I personally use and enjoy!).

Powerful Productivity: LibreOffice

libreofficescreenshotLibreOffice is a free and fully-functional office suite. It has a word processor (Write) that can be used to type up a simple poem or format a multi-sectioned formatted document. The spreadsheet (Calc) supports all the usual functions and graphing features you would expect. The slide presenter (Impress) lets you make boring bullet-list presentations or slick graphics-full slides. Furthermore, there’s a Math formula editor, a powerful database component and (one of my favourite features) a drawing component that lets you create graphics or lay out brochures, posters, etc.

The main commercial competitor to LibreOffice is Microsoft Office. They both have strong features and each have functions that the other lacks. LibreOffice can open just about any MS Office file (.docx, .xlsx, etc. files) and also save files in Microsoft formats. See this LifeHacker article for comparisons.

In a review, PC World calls LibreOffice “extremely capable” and “highly configurable, extensible and cross platform.” It’s 100% free and available for Windows, OSX or Linux. Download it for free from the website.

Creativity Unlimited: The GIMP

gimpThe GIMP has an aweful name, but it’s an awesome program. The GIMP (it’s short for GNU Image Manipulation Program) lets you edit image files (photographs, etc.) in both simple (cropping, adjusting brightness, colors, etc.) ways and also in much more complicated ways. It has a range of artistic and creative filters you can apply to a whole image or part of one, multiple layers and brushes, etc. It’s an incredible creative program.

The GIMP’s main commercial competitor is Photoshop and it’s often compared to it. Expert Photoshop users find the GIMP’s interface and workflow different and might find it hard to work with. They both offer similar features, and both are incredibly powerful. If you’re a professional photo editor you might want to pay for Photoshop. If you just want to get creative with photos, try the GIMP. Here’s a simple and balanced comparison.

A review in ExtremeTech lauds the GIMP’s “extensive and powerful set of features” and states that “in some areas …it actually outshines Adobe Photoshop.” Check out this gallery to see some examples of amazing work with the GIMP.

Download the GIMP for Windows, Mac OSX from the website. (Click “other versions” for links to OSX and Windows downloads.)

Incredible Drawing Tool: Inkscape

Inkscape-1024x777Inkscape is a vector graphic drawing tool. That means it focuses on drawing and construction, rather than “paint-like” tools. With it, you can create graphics projects that are simple diagrams, plain clip art or complex artwork. It’s all SVG files – scalable vector graphics – so you can zoom in as much as you want and the graphics are crisp and detailed. There’s a great plugin (Sozi) which lets you create zoomable presentations. (Check out a workshop I presented about it here.)

The main commercial program that rivals Inkscape is Illustrator. Again, they both have powerful tools and can do many things the same. Check out this comparison on BrightHub.

MacWorld gives Inkscape 4 mice and calls it “powerful” and “highly extensible.” Download Inkscape for Windows, OSX or Linux here.

Want more?

Audacity is great for audio/podcasting, VLC is simply the best for playing any videos, Thunderbird is a terrific email client, KeePass is a secure way to store your many passwords, Celestia is incredible astronomy software, GeoGebra is a fantastic math learning program…

Check out the OpenSource.com website for much more information, or see these sites for free & open source software for Mac OSX or Windows.

Free Music

Sure, you can download “free” music from various sites on the internet, but much of that is pirated. You’re breaking copyright laws and violating licensing agreements. There have been cases where individual downloaders have been taken to court and fined hefty fines. And you’re really stealing the music – taking something without proper permission by the owner.

However, there are a number of musicians – independent, lesser-known artists – who share their work freely and give you permissionto download, listen to and even share their work. They don’t use copyright laws, but license their work with Creative Commons licenses. This is a way artists (even you or me) can protect their work but give permission to others to use, share, remix, etc. The artist can control how the work can be used (commercially? mashed-up or just like the original?) but all require attribution (giving credit to the artist), so you can use but not steal.

I’ve wrttien about this topic, including some of the Christmas music I found to give away, on my own personal blog.

Here are a few sites that I go to for great music.


The Free Music Archive is a great source of all types of music and podcasts. I often find interesting artists and good music to listen to. The music all has different licenses – mostly some version of the Creative Commons licenses. One of my favourite finds here is the Debo Band – an American/Ethiopian band that plays some great funky versions of Ethiopian jazz music.


Jamendo is another place I go to find interesting and free music. There are all kinds of independent bands that release music on the site, with all kinds of styles. I recently found and got hooked on the band I Am Not Lefthanded – featured on the website screenshot.


MusOpen has some beautiful classical music – all in the Public Domain. That means there is no copyright or restrictions on the music at all. Use them as you wish. They also have sheet music and educational resources …it’s a great site.

Happy holidays …give freely!

In the Internet We Trust ????

by geralt (Pixabay) – license CC0 (public domain)

A recent event highlighted the importance of checking the credibility of information published on the internet.  An anonymous blog reported Ebola cases in Kenya and Ethiopia, causing concern among many people in Ethiopia, including ICS community members.

A quick check of the site found it not to be a credible source of information. It was the only site reporting the case in Ethiopia, and it has a strong anti-government bias. The Ethiopian government denied that the report was true. That denial was then backed up by various other organizations including the US Center for Disease Control and the US Embassy. The Kenyan incident was reported in other media outlets, but the case was confirmed to not be Ebola.

This event highlights some of the important critical thinking skills that are needed when getting information on the internet:

Be sceptical about anything that sounds strange

Anybody can publish anything online. For example, did you know that the US Government has kept a Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency to protect US citizens from attacks by the undead? It’s true! You can read all about it online. (Spoiler alert: it’s not true – this is a humorous site.)

Similarly, email messages or Facebook posts that tell you that the moon will be ten times larger than normal, or that Bill Gates will send you $1,000 if you forward a message or that if you open a particular email message your computer will explode or… these simply aren’t true. People send out all kinds of wacky information and there are no Internet Police stopping them. This kind of gossip, rumor-mongering, and spreading of false information has always happened. It’s just with the internet, it’s easy to spread it faster and further.

Chances are, if something sounds wrong …it probably is.

Check the credibility of the source

PD Pics (Pixabay) - license CC0
PD Pics (Pixabay) – license CC0

When you read something online, you need to know who is publishing this information. Are they trying to promote a particular viewpoint? There is a website about the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. which describes all kinds of unpleasant aspects of his personal life. Read through the site, and you’ll wonder why people admire him …until you find out that the website is maintained by a racist white supremacy organization. (I won’t link to the website because I don’t want to increase their traffic, but you can find it easily on the web if you want to read it.)

Check whether a website has a bias. If they are trying to convince you to believe a particular thing, then they won’t give you balanced information. They also may skew the facts or even blatantly misrepresent information in order to further their cause.

Verify the information somewhere else

If one site publishes some information, is it published on another site? If something is only found on one place on the web, then it may not be correct.

Even if you do find the information elsewhere, you need to make sure that it’s not just repeating the first site. A while back, there was a report that the Ethiopian government was banning Skype and other internet calling applications. This report spread out and was reported on several news sites …but they were all simply copying the initial report (which was by an activist group that had an agenda). In the end, the report turned out to be false.

There are a few websites that are devoted to trying to stop the spread of misinformation.  Snopes is probably the best source to use …I always use it to check email messages I receive that make strange claims. Others include Hoax-Slayer and Truth or Fiction. The Straight Dope is also an excellent site that tries to fight ignorance and misinformation.


There is a wealth of information on the web, and it’s great to have access to it all. Use it. Enjoy it. But think critically about the information you find. Just because it’s published on a website, just because Google offers it to you when you search for information, doesn’t mean that is reliable. Use the web. But check your facts.