Thursday, July 24, 2014

iPads or Androids in the Classroom?

Yesterday I posted about the great strides Windows 8 has made towards becoming a viable classroom tablet alternative -- so today I thought I'd tackle the incumbents, Apple's iPad and the myriad of Android devices that are out there.  In the phone sector, the battle between iOS and Android continues to rage on... people loving one and hating the other.  So the question is... does the same sentiment exist in the tablet world?  Not as much, but both are a viable option in the classroom as long as you buy good hardware.  You know you are getting good Apple hardware, but beware of cheap Android tablets -- you tend to get what you pay for in Android-land.

So the question looms: What tablet is best for my technology use in the classroom?

iPads to date seem to still be the leaders in the choices of tablets schools are investing in for their students. Apple announced that its share of the education tablet market reached 94% at the end of its third quarter in 2013.

With tablets and many educational curriculum today, it’s all about the apps. We know this; Apple leads the charge in terms of amount of applications available. If you have an Apple device you can pretty much assume that any major app can be available for download and updates will be available as early as anyone else.

With an Android device you are likely to get most major apps but there are exceptions and the main difference lies in the quality of the applications, wait time for updates with wait times at weeks or months after the iOS version is available.  For the most part, Android has basically caught up to Apple when it comes to e-book applications.

So, perhaps, for what your classroom needs, the Android has all available apps. Perhaps not... it is imperative that you check all of that out before committing to one or the other.

In the almost twenty years working with schools, I've yet to work with a school who have stated they have unlimited budgets for technology in their classrooms. Schools have come to recognize the importance of spending money on tech, but budgets have not necessarily grown in that area.  When it comes to price Android devices can be a bit more budget conscious than the iPad. You can get a current generation Android tablet with plenty of processing power for around $250.00 which comes in much cheaper than the iPad mini at $329.00.

It is imperative that schools stay away from the cheaper $99 and $129 Android devices.  They are, generally speaking, built with inferior hardware, have poor battery life and sometimes do not even have apps like Android Market or Amazon Marketplace on them.  It is worth noting that mobile device management may be important in your school, and that carries a significant price tag.

Ease of Use
Usability in a tablet is a very important aspect to consider when making a decision. iPads tend to be a perfect tablet for those a bit intimidated by the technology with its streamlined operating system that is simple to use. The iPad as a whole has fewer bugs and is known to run smoother, thus making it generally a better user experience.

On Android tablets, things are little more difficult to figure out so it will take hitting up the “Settings” feature a few times to really familiarize yourself with the features. Tutorials and general sessions for staff and students can easily solve this issue if Android is the tablet choice you are leaning towards.
The good news is technology is the language of our students today and more likely than not they are capable of grasping and learning any tablet handed to them.

We can’t be done with our comparisons without looking at security. Is it essential for schools to think about the security aspects around the devices they are choosing? Both the iPad and Android devices are super protected from taking on any viruses but both run the risk of applications being run on them with infected malware.

From the Apple store every app is tested by Apple for malware before being released so there is that added protection in that regard. Google removes malware after it has been reported but also includes many settings in the Android operating system that can prevent malicious attacks.

Any device running Android 2.2 or higher (which is nearly all of them) has access to Google’s malware scanner so if that setting is activated you will also have the added “checkup” before the application gets pushed out.

So, regardless of which device you go with make sure to remember to not put the cart above the horse. Your school must first decide what the main goal is with these devices, and then do your research to figure out which is the best fit for that goal.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has been a classroom teacher for various subjects.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tips for Using Windows 8 in the Classroom

Myth: Windows 8 is scary and there's nothing out there for my classroom!
Reality: Windows 8 is intuitive and there is an ever-growing list of apps and web-enabled apps that work wonders!

Windows 8 Offers an Immersive Student Learning Experience 
Windows 8 helps schools improve educational outcomes, bring learning to life, and build 21st century skills.  Students interact with devices that have been specifically designed for both touch and mouse, mirroring their real-life experiences and supporting both personalized and collaborative learning inside and outside of the classroom. 

As schools increasingly move to digital content, apps are playing an important role. The Windows 8 app library for schools now includes popular products such as BrainPOP®, Khan Academy®, and Stack the States™, as well as digital textbooks and innovative new apps such as CK-12© math and science, iTooch, and 21st Century Learning Design. 

Many apps are available at no charge, and many have been developed first for Windows 8, with extensive 

support for Common Core and state standards. 

Utilize Award-winning Content Across the Curriculum 
The award-winning BrainPOP apps provide schools with free as well as subscription-based content on topics across the curriculum. They are aligned to Common Core and state standards and are searchable by topic or standard, with special apps available for K-3, ESL, and Spanish-speaking students. Teachers use BrainPOP to introduce a new lesson or topic, illustrate complex subject matter, or review information before a test, while also getting support through a free online learning community. Students find the BrainPOP movies and interactive activities highly engaging. 

Many Free Interactive Video Tutorials 
Khan Academy, another highly regarded app now available to Windows 8 schools, provides free access to high-quality video tutorials and assessments on math, science, and history. It brings lessons to life even for tough topics like advanced geometry and gives teachers great visibility into student progress. Students practice at their own pace, with problems broken down into detailed steps.  According to Anthony Salcito in a 2012 Microsoft in Education blog post, “Khan Academy is beautifully suited for the features of Windows 8. For example, while watching a video tutorial online or downloaded and used offline, students can take notes on their  computer or multitask on another project. Khan Academy for Windows 8 is designed to meet the learning realities of students head-on.”    

Math and Science Help Galore
An exciting new product line for Windows 8 schools looking to enhance the STEM curriculum comes from CK-12 Foundation.  These free high-quality math and science apps personalize learning and avoid the cost of quickly outdated print textbooks.  Rich content aligned to Common Core standards includes customizable digital textbooks called Flexbooks®.  Over 5,000 STEM concepts are available in different modalities such as video, practice, assessment, and real-world applications; collaborative class and study groups; and interactive practice.  According to Margo Day, Vice President, U.S. Education, Microsoft Corp, "These new CK-12 STEM applications for Windows 8 will make learning STEM subjects more engaging and personalized for the needs of individual students across the nation.”    

Oodles of New Apps just for Windows 8
Many applications designed specifically for schools are now being built first for Windows 8. Called the Teacher Collection, these apps take full advantage of Windows 8 functionality. They include:

  • 21st Century Learning Design, a collaborative project with Microsoft that assesses content against the six dimensions of 21st century learning
  • Markbook, for creating complex assessments and detailed reports
  • Lesson Plan Manager, for creating, delivering, and reporting on lessons
  • Scaffolder, for mapping out assessments, projects, or processes and exporting to other formats 
  • Random Student, for selecting individual students or groups 
Digital Textbooks Come to Windows 8
More and more eTextbooks are now available on Windows 8, from 
leading publishers such as Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 
McGraw-Hill, Chegg®, Kno™, and Adaptive Curriculum™. Students 
can search content, watch videos, interact with simulations, 
access web links, create personal study guides, and more.  
The expanding Windows 8 app library for schools supports a 
21st century learning environment and creates an immersive 
experience for students with a full range of functionality. Educators 
can meet new curriculum standards and requirements for 
online testing, while ensuring secure content management. 

I have worked with a number of different Windows 8 desktops, laptops and tablets.  Here are my recommendations for excellent hardware to run Windows 8 in your classroom!

The ASUS ME400C is a powerful, light and easy to use Windows 8 Tablet that runs the full version of Windows 8.
The Microsoft Surface RT is a great alternative that runs the Windows 8 RT version of the Operating System.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 17 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has been a classroom teacher for various subjects.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Using Padlet to Create A Bookmarking Hub in Your Class

Padlet is a great platform for bookmarking and sharing digital content. Since in its launch a few years ago, Padlet has undergone several great updates that make it an ideal tool to use with students in class.  

Padlet features :
  • Padlet is very easy to use and has a user friendly interface
  • Padlet is web based and does not require any software installation
  • It allows you to easily add notes, text, images, videos, and drawings to your wall
  • You can also add word documents from computer to your Padlet wall
  • Padlet provides a wide variety of layouts to choose from
  • Padlet works across multiple devices including mobile phones
  • Any Padlet wall you create can be embedded into your blog or website.
  • It enhances collaborative work. Multiple people can post to the same wall at the same time.
  • Any Padlet wall can be exported in a variety of formats including, PDF, image,CSV, or Excel.
  • Padlet is completely free
Some suggested ways to use Padlet in class:
  • Use it as a backchannel tool where students can post comments and feedback on what they are learning
  • Use is as a brainstorming tool. Create a Padlet wall for the whole class where they can collect and share ideas about a given topic.
  • Students can use it as portfolio where they display their best work.
  • You can use the classroom Padlet wall to post assignments and homework reminders to students.
  • Engage parents in the learning that is taking place in class by inviting them to visit the classroom Padlet wall
  • Aggregate links and other multimedia resources relevant for students learning and post them on the classroom wall for everybody to check
  • Use it as a book review page where students post reviews of the books they read
  • Create walls for major cultural events and holidays of the year and invite students to search for information relevant to each of these events and share them with the class.
  • Classroom Padlet wall can be used as an open space where students engage in group discussions and interactive exchange of ideas.
  • Students can use Padlet for sharing their reflections on what they have learned and what they need help with.

Here is how to create a Padlet
1- Click on the plus sign and select create new Padlet

2- Click on modify wall and then add a title, description

3 - Click on "Wall Paper" to choose from the background images to use on your Padlet or use your own image.

4 - Choose how posts appear on your wall by clicking on "Layout"
5 - Choose the privacy setting for your wall. You have several options -- you can password protect your Padlet, or hide the link to keep it private.  Then only people who you send the link to can access your Padlet wall.

This is how to post to your Padlet
Head over to your Padlet wall and click twice where you want to add your post. Now provide a name and post title and a short description of what the post is about. You can add images, upload documents from your computer, paste URLs of YouTube videos, and even take pictures with the camera of your computer or phone and add it right to your wall.

Clicking on the share button will provide you with different options to use to share your Padlet. You can either share it using a link, through popular social media, or using an embed code. You can also export your Padlet in different formats : PDF, image, Excel, and CSV.

Padlet Mini is an easy and simple to use browser add-on for Google Chrome. Once you install it on your browser you can then easily bookmark websites with one click.  Padlet Mini allows to either add the bookmarked website to an existing Padlet from your account or you can add it to a new padlet that you can create right from the extension as seen below.

If you have already created a Padlet for your class then students can use Padlet Mini in their browsers to instantly add links and resources they find online to the class wall. Just remind them to select the name of the class padlet when they want to add a resource through Padlet Mini.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 17 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has been a classroom teacher for various subjects.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Tribute to John Spinks of The Outfield

This post is dedicated to John Spinks who passed away on July 9th, 2014 after a hard fought battle with cancer.  His music was nothing less than a driving and inspirational force in my life and this is my tribute to him.

In the summer of 1985, I did not own a lot of music.  I was 11 going on 12 and my interest in popular music was just budding.  I loved Styx, REO Speedwagon, Hall & Oats and I was a huge fan of The Police.  My favorite song was King of Pain, I owned Synchronicity and would have identified them as my favorite band at the time.  The bulk of my musical taste at the time came from riding in the car with my mom and listening to whatever she had on.  Which – as it happens – was mostly Styx and REO Speedwagon.

But I remember the moment like it was yesterday.  We were in my mom’s 1982 Z-28, the sun was shining in the late afternoon and his voice cut through the sound of the wind blowing through the car windows.  Josie’s on a vacation far away… and my life was forever changed.  I don’t remember where we were going, or even when in that summer it was – but I listened to the song and waiting impatiently for the DJ on 94.3 WJLK (now know as The Point) to tell me who was this musical magician that had cast a spell on me was.  And as the song wound down and Tony Lewis didn’t want to lose your love tonight over and over, the masterful DJ mixed right into Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds.  I was not happy.  It was weeks before I’d hear the song again and learn that this band was called The Outfield and the album was Play Deep.  It was the first album (tape) that I simply had to have, and I had to have it now.

From the opening chords of Say It Isn’t So (which I’d never heard before, in spite of it being released in the south before Your Love) until the final drum beat of Nervous Alibi I had found my first true musical
love.  The first band that was mine.  And even with the success of Your Love, most of my friends didn’t know WHO The Outfield was.  Even today you can play the song and everyone (I mean everyone) knows the song… but most people cannot identify the artist.   But I felt like I’d discovered this awesome new band.  And as the year wore on I listened to the tape over and over, and the released All The Love, which was a huge hit, and then Everytime You Cry.  I joined their fan club and waited for those newsletters with a great deal of anticipation to learn a little more about Tony Lewis, John Spinks and Alan Jackman.  I knew (and still do) every beat, every note and every lyric on Play Deep.  While Your Love was simply a great pop/rock song – I found I identified with other songs on the album.  In 1985 I’d changed schools and, for the first time, found myself seriously interested in girls.  And between 1985 and 1987 I found that songs like Talk To Me, Everytime You Cry and Taking My Chances helped me think about and sort out the budding feelings that I had towards different girls and different times.  As John Spinks once said, “It was the right album at the right time.”

If their debut album was a masterful and driving piece of pop/rock music, their second album Bangin’ was its moody half-sister.  It rocked – don’t misunderstand me – but John Spink’s ethereal minor chord driven writing was a different animal all together.   It was another hit in my mind.  The first single, Since You’ve Been Gone, was a straight-up radio friendly rock and roll masterpiece that played right into my life at the time.  "Didn’t think I’d find a girl that I could not forget, anything we started not so long ago, ain’t over yet, since you’ve been gone, staring at your photograph, and I know that I was wrong and I know our coming back."  At that time in my life, not long after the release of the song my first real, serious relationship was coming to an end.  And as I sang along to No Surrender and Bangin’ On My Heart my life sailed on into new friendships and new relationships – some mixed in with old 
relationships.  As with any teenager, relationships were never simple.

And in 1989, I remember sitting in front of my television waiting as MTV’s lead-in for a “World Wide Debut” played at the time the VJ had told me that The Outfield’s new single, Voices of Babylon would be on.  And I watched… and waited for them to tell me the release date of the CD so I could run out and buy it immediately.  Remember, we didn't have the Internet... there was no Facebook page I could check, no Twitter feed to follow.  If we had time, we went to The Wall at the mall and checked their music computer kiosk.  But at the time, there was no news.  And once I had my paws on it, this album was it for me.  Every track resonated with me on some level.  If the first two albums were pop/rock masterpieces, this one was a masterpiece of a different sort.  The songwriting was more complex, lyrics more mature and one song simply flowed into the next and created a pop/rock soundscape that I’d not identified with before.  The album was uniquely The Outfield, but I felt like they were growing up with me as I drove around the following summer with My Paradise and Makin’ Up blaring from my car stereo, and sitting in my room singing along to Shelter Me which is not only one of the best power ballads ever written and performed, but remains my favorite song to this day.   While my mother had always enjoyed The Outfield, she really liked Voices of Babylon and thought of The Night Ain’t Over as one of her favorite songs.  Maybe, like me, John’s lyrics touched her in some way – or maybe the smooth synth and guitar tones just hit her the right way.  I don’t know, but I do know that this album is still my favorite – hands down.

In the summer of 1989, I got to see The Outfield live.  I’ve been to a number of concerts, but most of them were shows that someone gave me tickets to – or the opportunity presented itself to go.  But this was the only show I’d ever wanted to go to and bought tickets.  I was only 16 and could not drive myself to the show, so I had to talk someone into taking me.  After convincing one of my best friends to attend with me (he was not really a fan) I managed to con my grandfather into taking me to the concert at the Garden State Arts Center (now the PNC Bank Center).  They played an hour long set and rolled through Say It Isn’t So, Everytime You Cry, My Paradise, Since You’ve Been Gone and more… and then John struck the first chord to Your Love and the place erupted.  The 15,000 in attendance were so loud that John had no choice by to play the extended intro, and you could see Tony waiting for the crowd to calm down to come in – and then finally singing Josie’s on a vacation far away… and the entire crowd sang along to every word.  It was everything I wanted a concert to be – and they were just the opening act.

The Outfield went on to release Diamond Days in 1990 and the song For You was a huge hit.  It tapped in to everything the world was feeling about the war in Iraq -- just more masterful songwriting.  The album was a bit more pop than rock and was a bit of a departure for them.  They reinvented themselves a bit as duo, and the sound reflected that.  Then in 1992 came Rockeye, which was a return to the pop/rock sound of their early work.  The song Winning It All was featured in the NBA playoffs and was an inspirational rock tune from beginning to end.  They were playing with drummer Simon Dawson, and his rock roots came through on the album.

Then in 1998 – John and Tony returned with Simon on drums to release It Ain’t Over and mount a tour stateside.  The band spent a few years touring and making new music, all the while thrilling their longstanding fans.  We formed a tight bond over the years via the Internet and traded all the information and stories we could.  We became friends because of the band.  When the band released Any Time Now in 2006, fans awaited news of a tour to support the album and follow up the early 2000’s tour. 
Unfortunately, instead of a tour we received news that John Spinks was sick.  He had cancer.  We all took it personally.  We felt as though someone close to us had the disease, and followed his progress as closely as we could.  John had given us so much over so long, we prayed for him and his family constantly.  And then, after a long wait – we got news.  John was in remission – and he had a new album in the works!  And that wasn’t all – Alan Jackman was back in the band! 

When the RePlay dropped in 2011, it was everything we (as fans) had hoped for.  For me, the sound – the writing – the structure was reminiscent of Voices of Babylon but with a newer kick to it.  The signature groove was back – and the boys had done it again.  And again, we as fans, waited for news of a tour.  But as we listened to the sparkling new music, we had no idea that John was not well.  And although there were rumors, no one really knew that even as he recorded RePlay things were not well.  We did not learn until recently that there were days in which he could not even play – but he persevered and finished the record.  

He finished it for us. 

And we are grateful for that.

John Frederick Spinks has left us here, but he’s left us with a lifetime of memories and music.  And that music is intertwined within our lives like no other.  I’ve rocked out, fallen in love, had my heart broken, used it as inspiration on the baseball field and even turned it on just to feel a little better about life.  I have friends with whom The Outfield is a key part of our good times together.  And even some friends that, without The Outfield, we’d have never even met.  I remember how I felt around 1995 when I thought that Rockeye was it…  when there had been no new music from the boys for years, and no news.  I thought that the guys had simply called it quits and there would be no new music from The Outfield.  And I am forever grateful that the music post-1992 came out and I am able to enjoy it.  But as I write this, I am left with a hole in my heart where The Outfield used to be.  I will certainly never stop listening to their music… but I will miss the anticipation of new music from John and the rest of the band.  His writing… his guitar playing… and his rock and roll attitude will be missed.  Thank you for not only touching my life since 1985, John.  But thank you for helping me grow up and make it through those teen age years – I’m glad that it was your music that helped me through those tough times and not some other music that my other friends identified with.   John, may your soul forever rest in peace... you will certainly not be forgotten here.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and 
The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Be sure to check out Bruce's Allentown Education Examiner Page, his Twitter and his Facebook!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Surviving and Thriving in a Multi-Platform Environment

Here is a wonderful info-graphic from our friends at Tech&Learning and CDWG about the nuts and bolts of being in a multi-platform environment (since most of us are!).  

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 17 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has been a classroom teacher for various subjects.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!