Thursday, June 14, 2012

I am Sandpaper...

I am Sandpaper.  

Learning is a process that encompasses one thing more than anything else... friction.  How we deal with friction is an important step in how successful our students are in school.

According to Wikipedia, sandpaper has the following characteristics:
Sandpaper is part of the "coated abrasives" family of abrasive products. It is used to remove small amounts of material from surfaces, either to make them smoother (painting and wood finishing), to remove a layer of material (e.g. old paint), or sometimes to make the surface rougher (e.g. as a preparation to gluing).
When I started teaching, I felt it was my job to reduce friction as much as possible in my classes.  Scaffolded note sheets, graphic organizers, mnemonic memory devices, study guides, video, etc. Any way I could find to make the content easier for my students to learn and retain, I tried out.  And for the most part, I continued to do this for many years.  

As I became a more seasoned teacher, I found that I also needed to be sandpaper remove some of the things that students came into my class with.  In some instances it was to correct a misconception they had from previous learning.  In other cases it was to help them expose some of their own feelings and thoughts and have them look at them in reference to society as a whole.  I can remember the student in my 12th Grade American Government class in 1996 who was an ardent supporter of David Duke for President. The first time this young man made a proclamation in class in support of Duke and the reaction of his peers was one of the most intriguing times in my teaching career.  By the end of the semester, the student had at least seen the entire "David Duke" package and moved closer to the center politically.  

In other times, it was my job to create some friction that did not exist.  There are always students who are more advanced than others and become bored and disengaged.  I looked for ways to extend their learning, how to provide opportunities to add on to what they have done. I can remember students in my computer repair classes, who I gave old servers to and asked them to build out a bulletin board system for us to use in class.  

Since I have moved into a more Administrative role in my career, first as a Vice Principal at a High School and now as the Director of Technology for a High School District, I am still sandpaper.  

I smooth things to make information, data and tools easier to access for teachers and students.  I provide opportunities for them to learn with someone, or to learn independently, but to make that process as easy or "frictionless" as possible.

I also work to remove some of the misconceptions that students and staff have around the use of Technology in schools.  One of the projects we are working on is a way for teachers and students to only sign in to our network once a day and have access to all of the resources they need to be effective in their role or learning.  (Single-sign-on) When teachers and students need to sign into several different systems everyday to get access to the tools they need, there are going to be times when the barriers of that one extra sign in is going to be enough to keep them from using that tool.  

We are also working to provide a structure and a path for teachers and students to extend their own learning, by providing resources that allow them to have access to resources and other people from around the world.  To be able to communicate, share, collaborate in a space that is not defined by one's physical location or time of day.  

After all these years, I am still sandpaper.. looking for ways to reduce friction, to remove old and outdated practices and to extend and add resources for the people I work with on a daily basis.  

As always, I appreciate your comments.... 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

More Super Coolness in Google Docs

I haven't posted on this blog much in the past few months, due to the huge lack of time with my job, but when this popped up, I had to get something out.

This is super cool, when you are writing in Google Docs, a new "search" box pops up on the right hand side, where the conversations and/or chat would be.  This becomes a "mini-browser" where you can search and insert items from the Internet, without leaving the tab that your Google Doc is on.  The window has a small search box, back and forward navigation buttons and will list information like maps, images and then will give you a list of search results.

Check out the screen shot below.

Thanks Google for providing a new tool that will make my life, and I am sure the lives of many other's much easier.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Have We Hit The Bottom? No, But We Can See It From Here.

In my post on October 26, 2011, I look did a round up of all of the tablets that are or will be available soon and what this will mean for education.  In January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, ASUS announced that they would be releasing  a 7" Ice Cream Sandwich tablet.  The ASUS MeMo 370t was a 7" tablet with a quad core processor and a $250 price tag.  As a Director of Technology for a medium-sized suburban school district, I saw this as a device that could realistically make 1 to 1 computing in our district a reality.  The video below is a review of the MeMo 370 from CNET.  The other major features of this device are that there micro-USB, micro-SD and micro-HDMI.  This will allow you to connect this device with off the shelf cables.  This is a huge departure from the iPad, where any device you want to connect to it, requires a "dongle" that carries an extra cost, typically $30.  As a District Director of Technology, managing proprietary dongles, on top of cables, is not something I want to do.

Since that time there have been several rumors about different devices from the Mobile World Congress held earlier this month.  One of the things that was missing, was more mention of the ASUS MeMo 370t. Yesterday, the absence of the ASUS MeMo 370t were answered.  A variety of different media sources started to report that Google has stepped in to support the 7" tablet project by ASUS and rebranded it the "Nexus Tablet."  The best part of all of the reports that have been published yesterday was that the price, instead of $250, has dropped to between $149 - $199.  This now brings the price of the tablet down to a price where schools can purchase this device, the digital textbooks for students to use with the device and save money in the process.  The best part of this is that this device is not just an "e-reader."  First of all, this device will have a camera that will function as a still and video camera.  There are photo and video editing applications already on the machine. Because it is on the Android platform, it already has tight integration with Google Apps, which will run "natively," instead of in another wrapper, like the way they do on an iPad.  This means that Google Apps will run on this device, like they do on your computer, without any extra integration.  Personally, we proved this the other night when we were able to use the full scripting function in Google Spreadsheets on an Android tablet.

OK, we have made the case that this tablet can and will provide all of the functionality necessary for a true 1 to 1 device.  We need to make the monetary case for purchasing these devices in a way where it is actually going to save school districts money. Most schools have a seven year text book adoption cycle.  This means that they purchase new textbooks for their students every seven years. In a high school, with students taking 6-7 classes, with potentially 5 text books issued to them at an average cost of $100 each.  Most of the "digital text books" that have been brought to market are sold at an average cost of $15 each.  If you used a simple equation of 5 books, at $100 each, equals a $500 cost for that student.  We know that  these books need to last for seven years and more than likely we will go through two tablets in that time frame. Therefore, 5 digital text books at $15 per book, equals $75.  If we purchase two tablets in that time frame, $150 x 2, equals $300.  Adding those two pieces together, $75 for books and $300 for two tablets, gives us a total cost of $375 and a $125 savings.

My only question now is why are we waiting.

If you have comments, questions, issues, etc. PLEASE send them to me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Race To The Bottom: Tablet Wars

One of the Educational Technology issues that I have always felt very strongly about has been equity and access of technology for all students.  I was shocked to hear about the Aakash tablet that was being introduced in India.  The Indian Government is subsidizing the tablet for schools to purchase at $35 per unit.  The reports also have the tablet selling retail for $60.

Aakash Tablet from Venturebeat on Vimeo.

As the associated article states, this is a "leap frog" technology, which introduces a technology into a culture that has never seen a previous iteration of the technology in their lives. Think of the poorest people in the world who have never had a telephone in their lives, suddenly getting access to a cell phone, this is a "Leap Frog" technology.  The article is straight forward stating that the unit is slow in the way it processes some basic tasks, but they were very surprised when they watched a YouTube Video with no delay or buffering... WOW!

This is just the beginning of the Tablet Wars that will be played out in the market place over the next few months.  Yesterday; ViewSonic, a company best known for producing quality computer monitors, introduced the ViewPad 7e, which is a 7" tablet running Android version 2.3 and lots of extra features, including: SD Memory Card slots, HDMI output, front and back cameras and 4 GB of internal storage.  Retail Price.... $200.

About two months ago, Lenovo (the spin off of the IBM desktop and laptop computer line) introduced the  IdeaPad, a 7" Android tablet which boasts some of the same features as the ViewPad, like dual cameras and SD card slots.  The IdeaPad also has onboard GPS.

Not to be out done, Amazon has re-imagined the Kindle reader and introduced a new version called the "Kindle Fire."  It also retails for $199 and has some nifty features as well.  Amazon already has 95,000 pre-orders for the device, and with the Christmas rush, there will be plenty more sales to come.

What does all of this mean?  It means that there is a "race to the bottom" on the price of tablet devices.  Who benefits from this race to the bottom?  Our students do.  As teachers, we do.  Society does.  All of these Android devices have access to multimedia creation applications that are free and access to the Internet. With a variety of free and low cost standards based text books already available, school districts can purchase these devices with text book funds and still come out ahead. This also means that the only limitation on our teaching and our students learning is our own minds.  

So, the only question left is.... What are you and your students going to do with the world at your fingertips and a tool that will let you create anything you and your students can think of?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Text Messaging: The Lost Tool In The Educators Tool Kit

One of the greatest tools that teachers never take advantage of is text messaging services, or Short Message Service, (SMS)  There are several tools available now to take even more advantage of this service that almost every student in your class has access to and if they have a cell phone this is the one thing they probably have unlimited access to, 

The first is one that was popular a few years ago, but most people don't even know it exists or completely forgot that it is still there.  Searching Google using a text message.  If you or your students have some basic knowledge of Google Search Strategies, they can get an answer anywhere, even with their "Dumb Phone." Check out Google's SMS Search Page. 

Google also has ways to interact with some of their more popular applications using SMS on their SMS Applications Page.  I think one of the best is the ability to post to a Blogger Blog from their phone using SMS.  That is something almost any kid can do and gets into the idea of authentic assessment that will definitely be part of the Common Core Standards.  Check out the demo of Blogger SMS below. 

Google Voice is another great ways to leverage SMS technologies in your classroom.  You can message your class by putting in their cell phone numbers in your Google Voice account and text them directly by sending a message through Google Voice.  The nice thing... All the students see is your Google Voice number, not your personal cell number or your personal e-mail address. 

Another cool way to interact with students via their cell phone, via SMS is a new free service called, Remind101.  Remind 101 allows teachers to create a class, the system issues a code to the teacher and then the teacher distributes the code to their class.  The best part of this is that the students never see the teacher's phone number and the teacher never sees the students cell phone number.  This gives us that level of privacy we need in education, while leveraging the tools available to teachers and students.  Check out a demo of Remind 101 below.  

Remind101 from remind101 on Vimeo.

The last tool is in private beta, but could be one that is a game changer and could put the "responder/clicker" producers out of business.  The service is called "Socrative."  What this service does is turn any connection a student has to mobile services, a laptop, smart phone, SMS, etc. and allows them to answer questions to a quiz, a true/false question in class, etc.  The other benefit is that you can see the student results come into the system in real time.  There are also some templates that you can automatically use, like "exit ticket" and more.  This is definitely worth checking out, if you are someone who has used responder systems or clickers in the past.  Check out the video below.

I have also added an infographic below that shows some of the ways that SMS or texting has changed the lives of people around the world in ways that many of us could never imagine.  Is there a way that you can change or improve your instructional practice by adding a text message every so often?