My First PET – Commodore PET Computer

My computing odyssey began around 1979 when our school district Math Department purchased a Commodore PET computer.  Not that I was allowed to touch it, I was not in the Math Department.  The Commodore PET was locked in a closet.  This thing cost over $2000 (I was only earning $6200 a year) and only certain Math teachers and students were allowed to use it.  But I was interested, who wouldn’t be interested in a tool that was so precious that it had its own closet!  I had read about the PET, there was an article in the October 1977 issue of Popular Science.  (You did not go to a blog in those days to find out what was happening in technology, you went to Popular Science Magazine.)  And now our school had one, unbelievable. 

This thing was loaded:

  • Integrated keyboard with number pad
  • 9 “ black and while monitor
  • 40 column screen with upper and lowercase letters
  • A real storage device, cassette tape
  • 4K of memory
  • And, and an operating system burned into ROM that was immediately available at boot up, WOW (Could it get any better, no more loading in the operating system!)
  • Best of all, the PET had a plastic case, no wooden case or metal case like other supposed computers, plastic

Needless to say I became very good friends with the Math Department.  I wanted to see what this PET could do, not sure why, just curious.  Of course I had no idea how to make it work, that would come next!

The Commodore Basic operating system for the Commodore PET was written by Bill Gates and Paul Allen.  Their new company was called, Micro-Soft Corporation and many of the Basic commands that I had to learn back then still work on the latest Windows 7 operating system.

I moved on fairly quickly from the Commodore Pet to the Commodore VIC 20.  Why did all of our schools purchase a Commodore Vic 20, because one of the school principals owned one?  There were no technology committees back then and no one knew a thing about computers so if a principal gave a recommendation and the district felt they should learn about these new things called computers, this recommendation was good enough. 

The VIC 20 was produced for the “home market,” cost less than $300 and was the first color computer.  Well it was color if you had a color TV.  No monitors back then, you had a switch on the back of your TV.  Move the switch one way and the computer signal showed up on your TV, move the switch the other way and you were connected to the “rabbit ears” of the TV for TV programs.  The VIC 20 was also the first one integrated circuit board computer.  Everything was in the keyboard case.  Externally, you had a Commodore Cassette Drive to store you programs.  I always loved the cassette counter, if you did not have the counter in the right place when you began loading your program, then you would miss part of your program instructions and have to start all over again.

The VIC 20 came with a massive 5.5K of RAM, but 2K was used to load the BASIC operating system.  This left you with 3.5K in which to write your programs.  No boated code on this computer.  You learned very quickly how to write efficient code.  I remember we used to have contests to see who could write the most complicated one character line program!  That was fun!  I don’t think the word “Nerd” was born yet.


Jamestown – An Interactive Game

The interactive game Jamestown online adventure will help your students understand the decisions that the early settlers had to make when they first settled and interacted with Native Americans in the New World.  Their choices will determine whether their settlement survives or perishes.  Tailored after the very familiar game “Oregon Trail” students will play the game over and over making life and death decisions for their settlers.  Make your Jamestown unit much more interesting by logging into the interactive game adventure Jamestown.

Science and Math Simulations – K – 12 – Incredible

PhET provides incredible Science and Math Simulations for anyone teaching General Science, Physics, Earth Science, Chemstry, Biology, Math, etc. regardless of the grade level.  PhET, University of Colorado Boulder, has the most extensive library of research based simulations that I have seen anywhere on the web.   Use the simulations online or you can download the Flash or Java files.

They are all FREE!  Once you are on the PhET home page click on the “Play with sims…” button to begin.

Each simulation has Teaching Goals and links to other Teaching Idea Simulations.

Example: Faraday’s Law Simulation

Example: Equation Grapher

Short URL’S, Are They Safe? Not all of them!

 Long web addresses are difficult for students to type, tweet, link, etc.  This is why URL shorteners are so popular. 

Why use a long URL when you can shorten the URL and make the URL simple to use!

Unfortunately, shortened URL’s from many URL services such as,, and others are often blocked on school networks because they make it possible for network users to access proxy servers, circumvent filters and go around district policies.  In addition, they are a favorite of spammers who hide true link destinations in the shortened URL’s!

So what to do?  Check with your filter provider for shortening URL approved sites.

If you are using the Lightspeed filter, here are two URL shortener sites that are not blocked.  and  

Both of the above sites are checked by the LightSpeed filter database to make sure the sites requested to be shortened are CIPA compliant.

See the example of a shortened URL below:

Original URL –

Shortened URL using –


ePals Global Community – Connect Your Classrooms – Free

ePals is not new; they have been providing a safe online space for students and teachers to collaborate on projects worldwide for many years.  I can remember something with a very similar name being available on the Apple IIe, using a modem.  Now you really have to have been doing this awhile to remember that!

I am not sure if this is the same site but ePals is presently the largest provider of FREE safe e-mail based communication for K-12 schools having classrooms registered from over 200 countries.  Why do I say safe, because all ePals communications are monitored and all e-mail stays within the ePals domain.   Students cannot use their e-Pals e-mail address anywhere else, just within e-Pals.

  Allow your classroom to connect with other classrooms, practice those writing skills and learn about the cultures of other parts of the world.  ePals will allow your students to practice all of those tech skills for FREE and have fun doing it!

Online Collaborative Spreadsheets – EditGrid

Students are collecting data and each student or group of students are inputting the data into their own individual spreadsheet.   You, the teacher, are going to have to combine all of this data later and create a graph.

Wouldn’t you love to have all of the data being entered into one spreadsheet, online?  EditGrid allows you to do this, for FREE!  If you know Excel, you know EditGrid.  EditGrid allows you to create the spreadsheet, create your formulas, lock cells and create a graph that will be live when students enter the data.  This is all pretty exciting stuff for students and teachers to watch the graph change as students enter the results of their work.

I know that Google Docs allows you to enter data online also, but I believe that EditGrid is easier to use.    Here is the old M & M spreadsheet that many teachers use to introduce students to Excel and graphs.  Try mine online at:

How can I use this Free online teaching tool:

EditGrid allows you to collect data in any subject area from your students or from students located anywhere in the world.  Collaborate with classes worldwide on a project.  Since the spreadsheet is now online and only a click away, time zones are no longer a concern.