Crossing Over

The past couple of weeks I took my first steps in reaching out to other teachers for the purpose of doing a Cross-Curricular project. The group I identified was the sixth grade Math teachers. My plan was simple, teams of students would create instructional videos demonstrating how to solve a type of math problem chosen by their Math teacher. The videos would be the Paper Slide because they are simple and quick to create. Next, I met with each teacher to explain the project and see what problem they wanted see their students to explain. Once I had the problems, it was time to organize the students into teams and give them their assignment. I grouped my students in class according to the team they are on to make this organization easier. All I had to do was use Team Shaker on my iPad to pick the teams at random. Once I informed the students of their teams and task to perform they were off. 

Imagine my surprise when our school's Math Coach, Kim, stopped me in the hallway telling me she heard about my project and offered her help which I readily accepted. Was I glad for her help because I have trouble adding 2+2 (three right?) and even more grateful when she answered my students' questions I would have had trouble with. 

The teams were given storyboard templates for them to design the slides they would use for their video. Kim and I moved around the students offering bits of advice about both the math and design of the slides. The students were also encouraged to show their storyboards to their math teachers to make sure they were correct. The students were very enthusiastic about the project and I had very little trouble keeping them on task. The biggest problem I saw, like their presentations, is they wanted to write every instruction down on the slides. I had to keep reminding them to just pick a problem and write the individual steps in solving the problem on each slide. I further explained one of the team members would explain what is going on while another team member was videotaping and another was working the slides. 

My students are almost finished with this project. Once a team tells me they have finished a video to my specifications (it has to be sharable), I come look at it. If there are any problems then I explain that the team needs to try again with the corrections I suggested. When I am satisfied, the videos are to be sent to their Math teachers via Edmodo for their evaluation and I enter my grade in the books. Once we are finished, I plan on going back to the Math teachers to see how things went and how this project could be done better next time. 

Was this project effective? One student came up to Kim and I to tell us this project was harder than she thought it would be. We asked why and she replied that that she had to know more to explain how to do a problem than just solving the problem like she normally would. Kim and I looked at each other and smiled. Mission accomplished!

Here is a video on how to create a Paper Slide Video.


UTC 2012

Last week I was privileged to participate in the Upstate Technology Conference (UTC). Once again the technology staff of the Greenville, SC County School District did an outstanding job putting on one of best small educational technology conferences anywhere. It is also remarkable that in this era of shrinking budgets the folks in Greenville are able to offer this conference to all comers for free. Thanks should also be given to Discover Education for being the main sponsor of this event along with the other sponsors as well. UTC is always one of the highlights of the year for me and I would attend even if I did not do a presentation for them.

This year I presented the Flipped Classroom from the point of view of having tried it in my Computer Technology classrooms. Before I did my two sessions I was scared that nobody would come. The reason was Dr. Lodge McCammon, Director of the FIZZ Project at North Carolina State's Friday Institute, was the Keynote Speaker and his specialty is the Flipped Classroom. In other words, I was going head to head with a legend in the Flipped Classroom field. After watching him at both his keynote address and his two Flipped Classroom sessions I wondered if anyone would want to waste their precious development time with me when there were many other wonderful sessions going on at the same time? Lodge's arguments for doing the Flipped Classroom are essentially the same as mine: less time lecturing, more time with students, differentiation in the classroom, less discipline problems, research to backup his methods, etc.... The technique to create the lecture videos was fairly simple and probably within most teachers' comfort zone. Finally, Lodge is far more entertaining than I am. I did have one trick left up my sleeve, there is more than one way to skin a cat or flip a classroom. Lodge was kind enough to allow me to add his methods to my presentation for which I am grateful. My worries were groundless too because both of my sessions were full and all of the participants seemed satisfied with the variety of methods I shared with them. This week I will be working with a group of middle and high school teachers in Beaufort County in helping them create real lessons to flip their classrooms with the variety of techniques I have to share.

The other session was done by my good friend Shirley Smith on how Richland, SC School District Two is phasing in a 1:1 technology initiative in their schools. My own school district wants to provide iPad carts to core academic classes and I wanted to see how Richland Two did it. Except for a few exceptions that went iPad, most schools opted for Google's ChromeBooks. I got to play around with a ChromeBook while I was in Greenville and I can say it is a serviceable but limited device. Anything one does on the device must involve the Internet and Google Apps in particular. The biggest question is how a user could create and edit media on the device and I am sure there is an answer to that question (please feel free to answer in the comments if you know how). The other main question I had was how were teachers trained on how to use the devices effectively in the classroom. Richland Two is phasing in the devices over a three-year period and staff development is ongoing. Each school is assigned their own technology coach whose main job is to help teachers learn how to use the devices in the classroom. An independent group is studying how teachers are using the devices through classroom observations and providing feedback to the district on how to use the devices and what further training needs to be done. What about any teachers who do not get with the 1:1 program after the three years are up? Let's just say they will need to make sure their resumes are updated. Ouch!

Finally, the Discovery Education Star Educator dinner at the Wild Wing Cafe was a great event. If you use Streamline or any other Discovery media products in your classroom and find yourself sharing what you know about them then you should sign-up. There are a lot of great benefits to being a Star Educator (you must be a subscriber of Discovery to view this page) besides a free meal. Many of my best friends in the Educational Technology community are Stars.

As always, I had a great time at UTC this year. It is always great to see old friends and make new ones as I usually do in Greenville. I also look forward to coming back next year but one participant requested that I do a session on Edmodo. Fran, Tim, Jeff, and the rest of the UTC Staff considered yourselves warned. Thanks to you for a great conference!

My Video on the Flipped Classroom

Dr. Lodge McCammon's videoi on the Flipped Classroom


Greetings Pizza Maker

One of my favorite science fiction movies is The Last Starfighter. The story is about Alex, a teenaged video game wizard, who beats all the levels of the game "Starfighter" which pits the player in a simulated war against an evil empire. Little does Alex know that the game is actually a recruiting tool for an alien society needing warriors to repel a real invasion by an evil intergalactic empire. Our Earthling hero must use all of the skills he learned playing the video game to save the galaxy from tyranny. Game-based learning is one of the hottest topics in envisioning the future of education. Many of the skills needed to be successful in video games such as learning new skills, figuring out solutions to situations, and teamwork are considered vital skills in the 21st Century. It would only be a matter of time when a game would come out that would serve as a recruiting tool and it finally happened. Surprisingly, it is not from the military.

The game is the iPad app "Pizza Hero" and is published by Domino's Pizza. The player needs to create pizza with speed and accuracy to achieve the maximum amount of points. There is also a link to order your creation online when the game makes you hungry for that pizza you are slaving away to create. However, the aspect of the game I found most compelling is that if you demonstrate a high enough level in the game you may be invited to apply as a pizza maker at your local Domino's. At least that is what the game description in iTunes claims. I may never get to know if I have what it takes to become one of the elite Domino's pizza makers. So far it takes me too long to create a sad looking pie and the manager yells at me so much that I may quit if I don't get fired first.

Making virtual pizzas aside, this game is an interesting marketing ploy by Domino's. I am sure they hope people will get hungry for a pizza as they are tapping on those pepperoni and they will also tap on the order now button as well. Those people who are still out of work might also be playing this game as a desperate means to find employment. I am not sure how serious Domino's is about hiring pizza makers through their game but it would be cruel if they don't hire a few at least. This is not the first gimmick to use creative ways for companies to find employment. Once upon a time, Google secretly used a billboard with a complex mathematical formula to find potential engineers. If "Pizza Hero" proves to be a success in both selling pizzas and recruiting quality employees then I am sure other companies will also start using games to help screen potential employees. Our society is rapidly getting to the point where potential workers will need to demonstrate a skill to be hired and one skill I don't see a need for is filling in bubble sheets.

It's not always this easy

Many of the people I work with at my school must think that either my knowledge of technology was preprogramed in me at birth or that I was the result of some super secret government experiment (probably gone wrong) in which I was bombarded with radiation that gave me mystical superpowers of education technology. Actually, neither is the case. My knowledge of technology came to me by way of lots of research and even more time with trial and error. In other words, old-fashioned hard work. I have had more things go wrong, blowup in my face, and lost mega amounts of data, and said lots of words that would make my mother constantly wash my mouth out with soap. 

'Nook Simple Touch--Daily Image 2011--June 23' photo (c) 2011, rochelle hartman - license: example happened last weekend when I was attempting to download a book from Overdrive to my Nook. The process was so frustrating that it almost made me turn Kindle. First, I sent the file over to my Nook and of course nothing happened even though it was supposed to be an epub file. Oh wait, I needed Adobe Digital Editions which I downloaded. Tried the file again and met with failure again. The file would not open. That's right, I have to convert the file you silly person! Somehow I got the file converted then sent it to my Nook. I opened the file to only to see a message that my device was not authorized. Colorful metaphors were coming from my mouth at a steady stream now. After a couple of more unsuccessful attempts, the dog was seeking a place of shelter as far away from me as he could get. After about an hour or so I was finally able to authorize my Nook and open the book I downloaded. After that ordeal the only thing I could think was I wonder if it is as much trouble for Kindle owners as for epub reader owners. If not then Amazon stands to make a lot of money off Overdrive.

When I shared my Overdrive adventures and key lessons from the ordeal with our media specialist, instead of laughing along with my story she gave me the strangest look. The look was similar to what Glen Walter recounted in his book So Where's My Apple when a student saw him eating in the faculty dining room and exclaimed, "You eat!" Yes folks, I am human after all.

Yum! Projects!

Delicious cell project created by a 7th grade science student.

My son's The Scarlet Letter Project. It was all I could do to keep him from making an F on this one because it looked and smelled so good. 

As yummy as both projects look do they really teach others about cells or Nathaniel Hawthorne's literary masterpiece?

It is getting close to the end of the term and that usually means project time. This morning the 7th grade students from one team were bringing in all kinds of ways to show parts of cells for their science class. There were models, poster boards, and even some delicious looking cells (see the photo above).

This brought me back to something I have been thinking of over the past few week, should students create computer programs for projects? One group of students are creating an interactive cell using Scratch for their final project in my class. The thought first occurred to me when I observed students doing their Scratch during the semester. Last week I mentioned to a science teacher that one group of students was creating an interactive cell program and her eyes grew big. It seems to me that teachers would like to see something new. Not only that but something that would actually be useful in teaching something to other students.

Lately I have been requiring my students show value in what their projects can offer. Part of this would mean creating projects that may do more than demonstrate what the creator knows about the topic. What can that project offer to other people to increase their knowledge of that topic. Is that not what the creation and distribution of information is all about? When my 6th grade students started creating video commercials for library books I told them they would be used by our media specialist during the morning school news show. The students thought I was joking until they started seeing what their classmates had turned in on the Promethean boards of their first period classes. This realization motivated those who had not finished their videos to start taking their work more seriously. 

If students realize that what they do will actually be used by teachers or other school personnel for a purpose they will work harder to make sure their work is correct. For now on I can tell students that any project they complete may show up in places they have never dreamed of before.

Here is an example of a Scratch program that teaches about cells that was created by a team from my Computer Technology 7 class. Not bad for four days of work.

Tonight's Homework: Get These Apps

The other day in my Computer Tech 7 class, I was walking around monitoring students as they were working on their final assignments and making up missed work. I spied one students doing the tell tale signs of hiding something. When I asked what he was hiding he said nothing, usual first response. When I pressed him further, he said it was a lollipop which he knew was a big no-no in my class. When he went to throw away the offending item I noticed nothing went into the trash can which is another student trick. When I pressed him about not noticing anything resembling the item he was trying to hide go into the trash can he finally and sheepishly gave up the offending item. It was an iPod Touch. He took a moment to look at his device as if he was saying goodbye to good friend which I am sure is what he thought was going on. In most cases saying goodbye would be the appropriate sentiment. However, I wanted him to started thinking of his iPod as a tool as well as a toy.

When he surrendered the iPod Touch, I took a look at the apps he had on the device. Not surprisingly it was full of games. To this student, and I am sure he is not the only one, this was a toy. I went back to my desk and pulled out my iPhone and started jotting down the name of some apps that would be beneficial in any class and made sure they were free ones. When I finished the list I called the student over. I told him that I had a homework assignment for him. He was to download all the apps that I had on my list, which I gave him. I further told him that I would check his iPod Touch the next time he came to class and better have the apps on the list on his device. I explained what the apps would do and even showed him a demo of a couple of them. The class had fun with Action Movie by Bad Robot Interactive. This is one where you can create a movie clip with a special effect added in. Then you can insert the action clip into a larger video project. The students loved being blown up by incoming missiles or blown to Oz by a tornado. I am sure this app got downloaded many times because I saw students writing down the name of the app. Years ago, I read in the book "So Where's My Apple" that sometimes you have just watch the dump trucks. So I guess you have to take time out to launch virtual air strikes on students so they can have fun. I must admit it can be therapeutic for the teacher too.

Here is a copy of the list I gave to the student with the iPod Touch. They are all iOS and can be found on the iTunes App Store. I will note down apps that I know are also on Android but search if I don't.

Edmodo: new updates allow students to do homework on mobile devices. There is an Android version too.
EasyBib: This site and app makes creating bibliographies a snap. Just scan a barcode or type in the title of a book for a citation. They just created an Android version too.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary (Free Version) or Who does not need a handy dictionary? Also on Android. Tell those kids to look that word up themselves.
Blogger, Tumblr, and Posterous: All are blogging apps and all have Android apps too.
Genius Scan: Okay, I know that it is not cool to create copies of tests but classroom management will have to take care of that one. However, being able to scan documents can be helpful to students too as well as saving paper costs. There are similar apps for Android.
Splice (free version): A decent video editor that some say is better than iMovie for iOS.
PS Express: A nice photo editor. There are many other good ones for both iOS and Android too.
Red Laser: If you or your school does anything with QR Codes then this is a must have app. There are similar apps for Android.

If you know of any other good apps to share with students please share them in the comments.

Goodbye 2011 and Hello 2012


'Happy New Year 2012(Free Animated gif->Download the Original size of this photo)' photo (c) 2011, Lenabem-Anna - license: calendar year has come and gone. Of course teachers generally go by the school year calendar which usually ends in May or June but everyone else looks at the past year and what to expect in the upcoming one. Here are some of the highlights of 2011:

I survived my first year as a middle school teacher. This was something I thought I could never do because I know myself enough or thought I knew myself to believe me teaching in a middle school would be a bad idea. Of course I could not have achieved this without the support of the administrators, faculty, and staff of Bluffton Middle School. This is surprising because those who taught at the previous school where I served as a technology coach sometimes thought of me as a dangerous mutant alien influence that needed to be destroyed. I guess now that I proved I knew my way around a classroom I was not so dangerous after all. Of course there could be a sign somewhere near my lab that says "Dangerous Contaminate, Do Not Open."

Computer Technology 6 and 7 are off and running! I was able to make some adjustments to the Computer Technology 6 Program with the other Computer Tech teacher that made the experience much better for students and teachers. Computer Technology 7 was created with some radical new ideas such as a modified version of the Flipped Classroom. Despite a rocky start, the class took off and i believe most students are actually enjoying the experience. The class proved to be a disruption that students needed and with some tweaks it will be a great success.

Winning a Second TIPS Award. I have met many people who have only won one of these awards given by the South Carolina Association of Education Technology but I don't recall meeting many mulitple winners of this prestigious award. I was excited and humbled to hear that Computer Technology 6 won the 2011 award.

Learning to work with Tablets in my classroom. I purchased an Android tablet this past July and finally got to work with it along with the iPad our school received in my classroom. The experience has been great because it lightened my workload and allowed me to share things with students one-on-one or small groups. Also, it has been a liberating experience to break free from the front of my classroom and move around the students. If you have a tablet then invest in Splashtop and other apps and start using it in your classroom.

Now it is time to look ahead at what to expect in 2012.

Integrating what I learned in my years in technology as I plan my return to Social Studies. While I love technology and have learned how to use it in the classroom, my true passion is teaching History, Government, and Economics. This is why I got into education to begin with. While I enjoy working with the students, faculty, staff, and administration of my present school, outside circumstances have made it necessary to explore making a change to another teaching position.

Finish the coursework needed to become Gifted and Talented qualified.

Start working on a doctorate. I have put this off long enough plus I believe there will be major changes in education in the near future. These changes will require professionals who are knowledgeable in technology, learning research, and 21st Century skills to help lead schools in this change. This will be an exciting time and I want to be in at the ground floor.

If you want more about innovations in 2011 you can read this article from Good and this collection of articles from the The Next Web.

Happy New Year to all of you and I hope 2012 brings you good health and prosperity. 

A Mobile Life For Me

'iPad' photo (c) 2010, FHKE - license: year I have been using tablets in and out of my classroom for a variety of tasks and I have loved the experience. I have been switching between my Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet and the Apple iPad 2 received for winning the TIP's award. Saving time when it comes to grade reporting has to be the biggest reason for using a tablet alone. I loaded Splashtop on both tablets I use along with my laptop. A few taps on the screen I have my laptop's screen on my tablet screen. This allows me to enter grades in both Edmodo and our Power School gradebook as I check student work during class, a huge timesaver. Also, I can pull up the e-book we use for learning Scratch programming and can go over questions students have which is also nice. Needless to say, I plan on making more use of using tablets in my classes and other teaching duties. It is the mobile life for me!

Here are a few applications I use with either my Acer tablet, iPad, or even my iPhone 4S and how I use them:


  • Read school email but not reply (it is forwarded to a Gmail account I created when I was a tech coach).
  • Take attendance through Splashtop.
  • Show a presentation using either Quick Office, Keynote, or Splashtop and either an HDMI cable, VGA adapter, or WiFi connection.
  • Communicate with students and other teachers via Edmodo. While the Android and iPhone apps are nice the iPad app is the full Internet version. I wish the Tablet app would do this too.
  • Write reports, memos, or other documents with Quick Office. Just don't expect forms to come out the same way.
  • Shoot and edit videos with iMovie or Slice.
  • Blog and share pictures with my students, parents, or teachers using Blogger or the Squarespace apps for iOS and Android (glad this one is available).
  • Take notes in meetings with Evernote.
  • Run a quiz or do exit tickets with Socrative.
  • Surf the Internet for lesson ideas although it is limited due to access restrictions.
  • Read and share ebooks.
  • Share videos downloaded from YouTube or Streamline.
  • Grade student work with Edmodo and/or Splashtop.
  • Confer with other Education Professionals with Twitter, Google+, and/Edmodo.
  • Quickly divide the class into teams with Team Picker (iOS) or Random Student (Android).

There are probably many more things but I just can't think of them right now but feel free to leave a comment to share how you use your phone or tablet in your classroom.


SC EdTech 2011

'no pictures please' photo (c) 2011, Kai Schreiber - license: little over three weeks ago I received a phone call from Don Cantrell of the South Carolina Department of Education. He called to tell me the South Carolina Association of Education Technology (SCAET) had been trying to contact me since September to inform me that Bluffton Middle School's Computer Technology 6 course (which I had mainly written) had won the Technology Innovative Program Award. To make a long story short, our school's core technology team along with our principal were going to Myrtle Beach to attend the SC EdTech conference and accept the award. 

The theme for this year's conference was Unwired and Unplugged and most of the sessions were about the use of mobile devices in the classroom. Once the conference was pretty much over, many of the veteran EdTech people felt this was a down year for the conference and some complained it was a waste of time. As I have had time to sit down and reflect on what transpired over the three days at Myrtle Beach I don't think it was a total waste and here are my reasons why:


  • The use of mobile devices such as iOS and Android devices have basically taken education by surprise with the speed of adoption by the general public. It shouldn't have but it did. Now school districts are going to be in disarray in trying to justify the continuation of money spent on laptop carts, computer labs, and interactive whiteboards. Mobile devices are the wave of the future so teachers are going to have to learn to deal with it.
  • Most of the sessions were about what apps teachers can use in the classroom. Apps are proliferating at an exponetial rate to even attempt to recommend certain apps to use. While a few apps seemed cute, teachers really need to know how to find and evaluate apps for themselves to determine what is best in the classroom. Also, teachers need to do a better job in keeping up with the latest technology developments. This leads to my next point.
  • Unlike laptop carts, mobile devices such as iPads and other tablets, iPod Touches, iPhones and Android phones do not work well in a unified controlled system like computer do. Mobile devices are designed to be, well, mobile. This means each device needs to be tailored to the unique needs of the individual. This means more differentiation of instruction for teachers. However, learning how to use these individual apps will have to fall to the student because different mobile operating systems act in different ways. Even the apps in different OS's behave differently. For example, the experience in using Evernote is way different on an Android device verses a iOS device.
  • Again, most of the technology demonstrated at EdTech this year is still fairly new. I have to give credit to all who bravely stood in front of groups to do the sessions. At least they tried. I do have to say the group presenting the creation of videos from the College of Charleston did the best job. The one thing I was looking for was how were devices integrated into the classroom. This group did that by explaining what the assignment was, how it was evaluated, and how they let students use the tools they thought would be the best to use. Why force someone to use Windows Movie Maker if the student has a Mac with iMovie. Better yet, if a student has an iOS device such as an iPhone should they not use iMovie for iOS or Splice? It is the finished product that counts. That is what I wanted to see. 
  • Even if you go to a bad session (and I went to a few) you can always get something from it. Even if it is not how to do certain practices. The college professor that led the Online and Hybrid course session did have some good insights on course management techniques that she learned the hard way. While I felt a few problems were self-inflicted, others are good to keep in mind. 
  • Wireless carriers are going to have to pitch in and help. I have seen AT&T and Sprint come up with management tools for wireless devices but they will have to come together and adopt a single standard if schools will have safe use of student-owned devices (BYOD). Both companies have told me they have solutions but they cannot be balkanized like the carriers themselves. 
  • SC EdTech is not usually a conference that showcases the latest technologies but there were a few nuggets that impressed me the most. Augmented Reality reading, vocabulary and writing aids. It was cool watching an alligator shake his head no when you asked him if he ate grass. The latest in robotics programming that could tell a good story and dance up a storm. However, at $16,000 per unit for something I might could get at Target for $200 I will stick with Lego Mindstorm. Multi touch HD displays. I have been waiting on these for awhile and I hope my wait is almost over. This also spells the beginning of the end of Interactive Whiteboards as we know it. One technology that was not at EdTech but has been talked about, The ability to wirelessly mirror an iOS device to an Apple TV device. If the Apple TV was not HDMI only I would already have one in my room but there are alternatives.


The bottom line is that South Carolina educators, like other educators across the country are trying to deal with game-changing advancement in technology. I feel the time has come for students to start ditching traditional textbooks and bring their own mobile devices to school Teachers are going to have to start planning on how they are going to incorporate these devices in their classrooms and telling students to put them away will not cut it. If those who attended SC EdTech this year were not happy with their experience they need to realize the conference was asking presenters and attendees to venture into a totally unfamiliar area. 

Check your sources!

'who thinks i have a book problem? (274/365)' photo (c) 2008, Eunice - license: other night I was settling in for a too short of a late summer nap when my son turns the light on and jumps onto my bed. Now he wanted my help with his upcoming U.S. History vocabulary quiz the next day. He told me about the quiz earlier in the evening and I asked him what era of U.S. History he was studying. He told me he thought it was the colonial era and the Constitution, a rather vague but normal answer from a 16-year old. I offered then to help him with his vocabulary since I was a history teacher once upon a time. He declined my offer because he wanted to do it himself. Another normal answer from my son but this trait comes from my side of his DNA pool. Getting back to the story, he asks me about various terms such as Shay's Rebellion, compromise (I am glad he did not ask Members of Congress about this one), Virginia and New Jersey Plans, and other terms about the time the United States Constitution was written and ratified (another one of the terms). I helped him as best I could then he threw his notebook at me and asked me to go over the terms with him. 

As I looked over his work I noticed what he had written was not quite right but not really wrong either. The problem was his definitions did not fit the context of U.S. History. I asked him where he got his definitions from. My son replied, "" Huh?! No wonder things looked disjointed. I told my son that while could define words, he needs to find a history site that would give him the definitions he needed for class. In the past I had students turn-in such work and I gave partial credit because the work did not encompass the historical topic we were studying. However, in those days, students who had Internet access was not very common.

This past Friday night I saw my son's U.S. History teacher, an old friend from when we taught together, and relayed the story about the study session with him. His hope was that the students were using their textbooks. News flash for all of you who think students really use textbooks at home or involved in the argument about virtual textbooks! Students stopped using textbooks at home years ago. The things are too heavy, get destroyed by rain at sports practices (who uses lockers), and too big a pain to use for students to use. Guess where they go? That's right, the Internet. You probably could tap into the browser histories of some of your better students and you would have your online textbook ready to go. However, there are students like my son who will make an honest effort but often go to the wrong website for information. I told my friend he might want to find a history website that would have the information he wanted and share that with his classes. This is something we all should probably do. It occured to me that students are now driving the innovations with our input or without it. Which way would you want it?

Thoughts Going Into the 2011-2012 School Year

As I get ready for the 2011-2012 school year here are some thoughts I have bouncing around my head.

Computer Technology 7: This is the course I really worked hard on since, in all honesty, last January. I have notes scribbled across three or four Livescribe notebooks, four notebooks in Evernote, one Livebinder site, and one blog post on this website. It was written across three states over the summer. I consulted PhD holders, Media Specialists, administrators, and people working in the technology field. Probably put my job in jeopardy by begging, pleading, arguing, debating, and discussing the course's needs with district Instructional Technology gurus. The only thing I have not done yet is threaten anyone’s life but the year is still young.

There are still some last-minute compromises left to do with the other Computer Technology teacher and it should be ready to go. I can tell you how it will look. The course is building off what students learned in Computer Technology 6 which was how to create basic digital text, audio, and video media. Now the seventh grade students will need to take these lessons and apply them to a variety of tasks designed to share their knowledge of cybersafety. For example, a student may research the topic of cyberbullying to create a presentation in Prezi. Once the presentation is create, he or she will do a screencast giving the presentation which will be uploaded to the student's Livebinder page.

After all the media options are done then the students will be introduced to computer programming using Scratch. I already have the ebook, Shall We Learn Scratch, by Jessica Chiang loaded on Edmodo for the students to read. This is the first time I have worked with an ebook with students and I am looking forward to the experience. The things I will closely watch is how well students like using an ebook and if any of them download the book onto an iPad, Nook, Kindle, or other device. Students will work through the problems in the book to get comfortable with writing programs. Then the students will create their own original program. If there is time, they may even write apps for Andriod and iOS devices.

While I have tried to foresee every possible problem, there are still about a million things that can go wrong with this course. Also, would someone please let me know where I can get a job that allows me to be a whinny, spoiled, overpaid teacher who only does this to get the summers off. I worked my tail off to create this course and did not receive one penny for the effort. Still, it had to be done if I wanted to make sure my students have a great experience.

Apps and gadgets I can't wait to use: This year I really want to test how mobile devices can work in a classroom setting (one of the things that can blowup in my face). I am going to set Edmodo to send me a text message whenever a student has a question. This would allow me to help students in turn, force the students to send proper messages, and inspire the students to use a social network as a collaborative tool. Students will be told to ask questions on Edmodo while they are working. I will encourage the class to post an answer to the question if anyone knows the answer. If a question is answered correctly before I get to the student who asked the question, the better off students will be. I plan on making use of my new tablet as well. One thing is to determine if a tablet will be good enough for a student to complete most of his or her assignments. I wrote about Socrative earlier but I am really can't wait to try this out with my students. This app is a web-based Student Response System and is much cheaper than makers of the so-called "clickers" that Promethean, Smart, CPS, and other vendors make. Apps can be downloaded to iOS or Android devices and works pretty good. Once an assessment is completed, the teacher will receive a spreadsheet report by email. I plan on giving Edublogs another chance this year. When I received emails saying no emails would be needed and there was no more advertising it made me one happy camper. While Kidblog is a great blogging app, the way it requires teachers to administer the blogs got to be a chore. Also, it was easy to accidentally delete an entire class's blogs. I still think Kidblog is a good blogging tool but probably more for elementary or some middle school teachers who may take care of only one blog per class or really does not care about creating tools students can use as they move from grade to grade. Finally, I hope I can get all of my team on Google+. The ability to communicate with each other using this platform has lots of potential. Also, if Hangout works, if a teacher is missing a meeting  or needs to talk face-to-face it can be done relatively easy.

Renewed focus on reading and writing in United States History and Social Studies in general: Last year I heard, to my dismay, that some high schools were telling history teachers to stop writing and only focus on preparing for the End of Course exam. This troubled me because I knew that this approach would not prepare students for college and the worship of test scores had gone out of control. This year reading and writing are put back into the curriculum. Teachers will be expected to have their students read primary sources, answer document-based questions, and write essays. Theodore Roosevelt and I say "Bully!"

Working with the adults: I am really excited to hear about the number of teachers who are willing to give Edmodo a chance when they realize Computer Technology would continue to use it. There are more teachers in my school willing to use technology and they would like something to help make the task easier. Attempting to use the school's network and website for communications, collaboration, and exchanging assignments is not getting the job done. Plus they like the fact that most of the students already have accounts and are trained on how to use it. Another thing I would like to do is gather a group of teachers who are willing and attempt to take charge of our own professional development. Two things I would love to work with a group on is creating and delivering better presentations. Another learning opportunity I would love to do is start looking more at brain research and how we as teachers can use it to help our students. One of the things I learned over the summer is that countries that outperform the United States had true professional teachers who were expected to research or get training the latest techniques then share them with the rest of the faculty. I wonder how many teachers will want to give this a try too.

Alright, here are my main thoughts as we start the 2011-2012 school year. It will be interesting to see how things progress over the course of the year. To all of you who will soon have young faces staring up at you as school starts I hope you have a great school year.

Blogs v. Social Networks

'WordPress' photo (c) 2006, Adriano Gasparri - license: versus
There have have been some interesting conversations on Google+ about the future of blogging. The basic question is will social networks such as Google+ replace traditional blogging as we know it? It seems some in the mainstream tech world claim Google+ and any other similar social networks can replace blogging. Their logic is this, most bloggers used social networks to share links to their blogs to their followers and possibly an extended audience as followers shared those links with their friends. This would hopefully drive traffic to the blogger's website. The reason social networks such as Facebook or Twitter did not function as blogs was because of limits on the number of characters used to write a message or tweet. Go over the limits and things get tricky. URL shorteners such as helped in promoting blog posts on social networks. Now we have Google+, which is still in private beta and new users need an invitation to get in, and the character limitation is now gone. Google also makes it easy to insert links and embed media. Add the fact that a Google+ post can go to select groups or the public, then it can serve all the functions of a blog. Or can it?

One of the curriculum changes I have been wrestling with this summer is should sixth graders setup and write using a traditional blog such as Blogger or Word Press. I have used Blogger, Edublogs, and Kidblog in the past with some but not overwhelming success to suit me. Also, with between 210-240 per semester, it becomes an issue of do I want to have some kind of life outside of school? My wife and son would like to see me once in a while if only for me to give them money or pickup something at the store. Our school network really drags sometimes when attempting to access the sites, causing frustration for me and the students when we go to the site. Finally, whenever I hear about how all students take to technology like ducks to water I roll my eyes. Most students may be tech-savvy but definitely not all. This was a lesson I learned the hard way last year. To make writing online a much easier and more enjoyable experience, I am thinking of using the learning social network for blogging or online writing.

In the past, most teachers would post a question or writing topic in a blog post then let the students write their responses. This is usually done on schools' websites but I found our district's current system is rather had and buggy. I tried it last year and students' replies went all over the place. For example, I would find a response written during second period over in third period. The site also uses a code name system for the purpose of protecting identities. Unless I had the roster of student names and code names, students would be protected from getting a grade because I could not tell who was who. I could change the settings to show the names but why should I do that when I am logged in as the teacher? Fortunately learning social networks, such as Edmodo and Schoology, can allow responses to a teacher's post or let the student post independently. Both have the capability to allow the teacher to have selected students' writings made public that gives students the feeling of sharing with the outside world. Finally, students can insert links and/or embed media easier than on traditional blogs.

An argument can be made about using sites such as Blogger, Edublogs, and Kidblog for online writing and I am not proposing traditional blogging is going away. If I did, you would be reading this in Google+ instead of my website. Actually, my seventh grade students will probably be creating Edublog pages this year. This will give them them some experience with managing blog on the most popular blog engine in the world today. Blogger is out because our district blocks it because of the Next Blog button on each site. However, I have come to believe it is easier for students to write on the learning social network site then move them along as they get more experience. Finally, it will be social networks such as Facebook or possibly Google+ where students will do most of their online writing in their future. Would it not be a good idea to teach them how to share on these sites properly? Then again, laws like the one recently passed in Missouri might put an end to student writing online. Please give me your thoughts about using blogs or social networks for students to write online.


What is a 12 Year Old to Do?

Is Anybody Home? Free Girl Looking in Window Creative Commonsphoto © 2006 D. Sharon Pruitt | more info (via: Wylio)
Earlier this week Miguel Guhlin shared on his blog this question: Is it ethical for a teacher to have a student lie about his or her age when signing up for a website? My first thought is why not? The 13 year old age restriction before being allowed to sign up for a site is almost the Internet version of removing a mattress tag or maybe following the 55 mile per hour speed limits on Interstate Highways. Yes, its the law but is it really strictly enforced? The age restriction was placed by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 otherwise known as COPA. This federal law says that websites cannot collect information on children under the age of 13 without parental consent. This law also says that children under the age of 13 cannot be marketed to via electronic means such as email. Instead of taking measures to protect children and obtain parental permission, most sites just forbid children under the age of 13 from signing up for a service as part of the terms of service. If a child is found to have violated the terms of service by signing up then the company will terminate the account. The purpose of the law was not to prevent children from signing up for websites or email, it was to prevent information to be collected and used to market to children. However, most people interpret the law that signing up a child without parent permission or violating the terms of service is illegal. Not true.

Now back to the original question, is it unethical for a teacher to get a child to lie about their age to sign up for a website? Yes. However, do we as teachers do unethical things to get our jobs done? All the time. One of my grad school professors said that "teachers need to be great thieves." We usually have to do unethical things all the time to get our job done. Is it ethical to ask parents to bring in tissues, hand sanitizer, and other items on a supply list because the school does not have the budget to provide those items? We would be upset if we went to have surgery and the surgeon told us that we needed to bring the surgical instruments? Still could we be held accountable and risk our professional career if we had a student sign up for a site against a parent's wishes? Yes again. This is why I always recommend that teachers inform parents about what they plan to do using the Internet. My students have to have an acceptable user policy (AUP) signed by themselves and their parents. If a parent does not wish for their child to participate in an activity then I have to find an alternative assignment. Does that cover me ethically? I think so because I made a reasonable effort to inform parents of my intentions but others may disagree. In may way of thinking, in order to teach students how to use the Internet safely, students need to use the Internet.

However, Miguel's post and discussions gave me pause and food for thought. Where are websites that are appropriate for children under 13 years old that can be used in schools for educational purposes. Sadly, I could not think of one so I created one but I need your help. I created a wiki called Sites for Younger Students where we can enter links to websites that are appropriate for younger children. Anyone can edit the page but I do ask that you enter the link and give a brief description of what the site does. Please make sure the sites are educational or can be used for an educational purposes. Also, please share the link to this wiki because I am sure there are many elementary and middle school teachers looking for sites that can be used in their classes. Thank you for helping out with this project because working together we can help all children.

Update: Miguel updated his discussion with some useful information. You can read it here.

Woody Rant: Phone Mounts

Okay, I can't take it anymore. One of the things pundits, "experts", and even my own friends said when Cisco decided to kill my beloved Flip camera line was "people are starting to use their phones to create video." I can understand that logic up to a point. Even I reach for my phone more often than not to take pictures or videos. Television shows show people grabbing their phones to record some fight or other altercation. The video camera on my Motorola Atrix is better than my Flip camcorder because the Atrix can shoot in HD. Big woop! I sometimes shooting HD at the consumer/amateur level is overblown anyway. Do you all want all of your flaws shown in glorious color? Didn't think so. A television news reporter I know almost broke into tears when I announced I could now see her show in 42 inches of High Definition glory and she preps for looking good on television everyday.

Alright, if phones are the new recorders of our lives then where are the accessories that help do the job? Mainly tripod mounts. The pickings are pretty slim. Amazon has a few that supposedly fit the iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4. That's it. David Warlick once observed that in the future, people will think we only have one arm because the other one is working the phone/camera. I say another question future historians pouring over Facebook pages will have is did these people never have any fun? They are never in the pictures uploaded on the ancient social network site. On second thought this might be a good thing depending on what is going on.

If phones are supposed to function as cameras then they need the accessories to help with the task. I tried to interview someone with my phone once and it was not a pleasant experience. My arms ached because I had to hold them still for so long. Naturally, the video was jerky because I could not hold the camera still. A tripod is designed to cure that. So all I am asking for is a decent tripod mount so I can shoot some decent 720p HD video with my phone. Hey people is that so hard!?

Google+ School Equals?

Image from GoogleGoogle+ has captured the attention and curiosity of many people around the world. This is Google's latest attempt at creating a social network to compete with both Facebook and Twitter. Google+ is currently in a beta test right now and it is a real beta test because invitations are needed to create Google+ accounts at this time (we all know Google never releases a product out of beta). I was fortunate enough to receive an invite from an EdTech friend who likes to use me as her personal guinea pig which I usually don't mind. The concept is basically like both Facebook and Twitter, just enter whatever you want to share with your network. This can be links to articles to ever popular what you had for lunch on a given day. Right away the big difference is you can direct your message whatever group or circle you wish to see it. Circles are groups of friends, followers, or whatever you call the people you share your life with online. I like the circle concept Google uses because circles can be created for whatever purpose you need. For example, everyone has a everyone and public circle. Along with those circles I also have Acquaintances, Friends, Ed Tech, Family, and Work circles. Whenever you wish to add someone in Google+ you can just drop them into whatever circles you wish him or her to be in.. Then when you post a message just choose the circle who gets the message. Sounds like a social networking teacher's dream right?

Not so fast. While I do have segregated circles involving a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and teachers I work with, I don't think you will be seeing a student circle anytime soon in my group of circles. While the privacy settings on Google+ look a lot better and simpler than on Facebook, I am still not trusting Google totally yet. Also, While your messages might be delivered to select groups which would not include students, what about their messages? Until they learn about what information should be shared and to whom you will might get blasted with student messages including some inappropriate ones. Of course, you might let a message slip through as well. I still like that high wall that separates me from my students online and I don't think the circles are a high enough wall. Finally, what about turning-in assignments? Yes, you can chat on Google+. Yes, you can exchange links to website too. Yes, you can even post assignments on Google+. However, you really should not post a grade on it or discuss the work on the site and I would think having to search for each student to send a message would become tiresome. While schools and their media centers can use this effectively, I think teachers should stick to learning social networks such as Edmodo or Schoology for the time being.

Personally, I am excited about Google+ and the promise it has as a social network. It will be great for PLN's. Will it be the Facebook "killer"? Not anytime soon. However, Twitter is the social network that should worry. Google+ does not have the same restrictions Twitter has on space. You can insert a link and know where it is going which beats just looking at those URL shorteners which are handy but potentially dangerous since you don't really know where the link will take you or what it can do to your computer. Big pluses in my book. I also, hope some of the collaboration tools from the defunct Google Wave will make it to Google+ to turn a potentially great communication application into a great collaboration application as well. If you wish to join one of my circles just look me or up.

New Course Questions

I have spent just about everyday of my so-called summer vacation working or at least thinking about how our school's new Computer Tech 7, the seventh grade course, is going to look (at least for the first semester). Last year we decided to put Computer Tech 7 on the back burner and just teach Computer Tech 6, the course for sixth graders. The reasons for this move were:

    •    It allowed us to develop one course at a time.
    •    All students had a course of basics from which to start with and grow from there.
    •    Gave us a chance to see what technology would and would not work in relation to computers and the district network.
    •    I really wanted to procrastinate on the Computer Tech 7 subject.

The principal was reluctant at first but I was able to win him over and bought myself some time which I wisely used tweaking the Computer Tech 6 course. When summer came I knew I had to stop procrasinating and get to work on Computer Tech 7 and I have. So far the course is going to be split into four main areas of concentration: Cybersafety, Online Media and Presentations, Web Presence, and Computer and Application Programing. Another piece of the puzzle is animation and I will get to that shortly. As i have been jotting notes down and evaluating various applications I wish to use, there are many questions that still need answering. Here are my main ones:

    •    What should I do about email addresses? Most of the applications I wish students to use in Computer Tech 7 require email addresses to sign-up for accounts. While most of my students already have an email address there are those few who have not signed up for one. Should I make having an email address a prerequiesite for the course? Should students have to go outside of school to obtain either a Gmail or Yahoo account. Should students sign-up for application accounts outside of school because sometimes checking email is required and something students cannot do. Is there a service that could help me circumvent this dilema and not get me fired?
    •    Should Computer Tech 7 (and even Computer Tech 6) become flipped classes? Last year I taught a couple of sections blogging via some videos I created out of necessity. Little did I know I had flipped my classroom. As I was watching what was happening at ISTE 2011 on Twitter, I kept seeing mentions of Flipped Classes. This new way of education has the teacher automating or videoing mundane tasks such as lectures. Students are expected to watch these videos at home and take notes on what they saw. Application practice and homework would actually be done in the classroom where the teacher can give more individualized attention to those students who need it since time is not taken doing a lecture. it is an interesting concept but i wonder how well this can work in reality. When I did the blogging lesson it worked surprisingly well. I am willing to give it a try this year but I have another teacher to think about who might not be so willing to try flipping his class. Will he be able to pull it off?
    •    What should students use to blog? My students will be continuing to research and write. That will never change as long as I have a say in the matter. It is the method of delivery that I am thinking about. Should I continue using Kidblog which is more like a traditional blog or should I just have students write in Edmodo. The reason this is becoming an issue is I found out Kidblog is not the independent blogging platform I thought it would be. Students blogs have to be organized into classes and while the blogs can be transffered it is not an easy task. Especially when talking about 240 students and some of the students were not in my class last year. Students should remember their Edmodo logins (yeah right, good luck with that one). All is needed is the new student code. Also, do students really need to learn to use a Word Press engine blog?
    •    What web presence should students create for themselves? Right now most of the students have a Edmodo account but is a learning social network enough? I believe students should have a central location they can have links to their work so they have an online digital portfolio that can be shared when needed. I have tried Wikispaces in the past but there were problems because students accidentally did edits on other pages. This was quickly taken care of but it took away instructional time. Google Sites looks interesting but again I am running into the email problem. Other options is PBWorks but email requirements will be a problem too. I am still looking for other solutions.

I am sure other questions an problems will come up during the first semester Computer Tech 7 is taught but like Computer Tech 6, they will be addressed in the second semester. If any of you readers have any suggestions, especially about the email problem, I am all ears.

Confession of a Nookaholic

Hi, I'm John! Hi John! I am a Nookaholic and have been since February of 2010. My story starts with my desire to try out an eReader with my choices being the Amazon Kindle and the new Barnes and Noble Nook. I selected the Nook because of the touch screen and value-added features such as Free books on Fridays, Read-in-Store, and in-store deals. My new Nook became what I thought was a friend when I had to spend long hours in the hospital with father-in-law before he passed away and later with my wife's surgeries. Many genres such as technology, business, economics, mysteries, politics, science fiction, fantasy, classics, and history flashed on that eInk screen. My Nook was a constant companion in my various adventures. The WiFi and 3G connections helped satisfy my cravings for new reading material no matter if I was at home, a relative's, or a hotel.

Little did I know when Barnes and Noble announced the Nook Color last fall I would be plucking down my credit card on not one but two of those eReaders. One was for my wife and the other for my son. Both wanted to be able to read books but also do some light Internet surfing and the Nook Color filled the bill. My wife got to read her favorite author, Patricia Cornwell, and catch up with family and friends via Facebook. Unfortunately for me, she also learned how to show for goods other than books on the device. My son got to read some of the books he needed for school and surf the net with his Nook Color. I just downloaded his summer reading titles he better start reading. Hopefully, he will use the highlighting and note taking functions so he can be ready when school starts back in August.  I thought it was rather funny, maybe even cute that every member of my family had their own Nook eReader. Little did I know I had a problem.

I hit my bottom and was forced to admit to a problem this past May. As I was reading some books on education, I wanted to do some highlighting and note taking when I noticed I was not happy with the experience. I had to use directional arrows to highlight passages on my Nook. This quickly became an unpleasant chore and I gave up on the endeavor. Then I started looking at my wife's Nook Color with jealous envy. The ability to just touch the screen to highlight a passage and the better touch keyboard mocked me and made me feel inadequate. I began to wonder if I should go ahead and get my own Nook Color. It was like a siren song beckoning me to financial ruin but I could not resist its call. Then Barnes and Noble added to my torment by announcing the new Nook Touch or Nook 2nd Edition. A simple, eInk reader with a touch screen interface much like the Nook Color. However, this new Nook did not have the ability to surf the Internet or download apps like its colorized sibling. Actually, I did not need these features. I just wanted a simple eReader that was smaller, lighter, and was easier to highlight text. How did Barnes and Noble crawl into my mind and design such a device?! Before I knew it I was on the Barnes and Noble site with credit card in hand. My hands shook and sweat poured from my body as I quickly selected express shipping. Sleepless nights came and went as I eagerly awaited the arrival. As my son and I returned home from school one day I noticed a package by the front door of my house. My son noticed it too and we both sprinted for it. Shamelessly, I body checked my son into the bushes in front of the house and quickly grabbed up my prize. I locked myself into my room and hungrily tore open the packaging. There it was in all its glory, my new Nook eReader. My fix at last.

My new Nook has been a constant companion like my old friend. I think about how Theodore Roosevelt always had a book with him wherever he went and I am sure he would have worn out many more Nooks than I have. The features I wanted are all there. It is very light. It is so small I can put it into my pocket sometimes. The interface is simple and works fast. Finally, I can easily hightlight text on the device. The only complaint I have is that the time is not displayed on the screen as you are reading like the other Nook devices. This should be taken care of with a simple software fix. It would also be nice if it had a sudoku game too but I am satisfied for now. Satisfied until a new Nook is announced and the hunger grows again. Then again, is an addiction to reading such a terrible thing?

Research Assistant on the Go

Doing researchphoto © 2006 View D'World | more info (via: Wylio)

Recently I wrote a post about Easy Bib and how it can help with research projects. One of the things I said Easy Bib needed was mobile apps. Well I guess they listened because today Easy Bib announced a iOS app that can be downloaded for free on the iTunes App Store. All the user has to do to create a MLA, APA, or Chicago style citation entry is scan the barcode or typing the title of a book then presto, you have a properly formatted citation. Once you have your citation you can email it or export it to the Easy Bib site. This should be a welcome addition for researchers who don't want to lug around a laptop everywhere. Now if they could get that Android app out.

Kirk schools Khan

Something I always wanted to do is teach a lesson on a new concept to students via video while I had to be away from school. I wanted to see how well this could work in delivering instruction and avoid giving make-work to students to keep them occupied. While creating how-to videos are nothing new to me, I had usually given instruction and used the videos as a supplement for teachers and students to use for review if I was not available for questions. However, I have never created a video that would replace me as an instructor. There were some questions about this always running through my mind. Would students totally understand it? Would they be totally lost? Would I do such a good job that I might actually produce my way out of a job?

The perfect opportunity to test my theory came last week when I had to miss two classes. I needed to teach a lesson on blogging I could no longer put off. Again, I did not want to create another make-work assignment of having students read a cybersafety or technology article online then answer some questions in Edmodo or the technological worksheet. I started putting together my video plan two days before I was to be absent. First, I wanted to outline what needed to be taught which turned into six individual lessons. Next, I used Jing to get the screen shots and screen captures of the blogging tool we were going to use. To create the edited video I used Microsoft Live Movie Maker (educator's guide)because I was doing this at school and I needed the practice since I was teaching it later. Finally, I created the blogging assignment the students would do while working with the videos and uploaded it all to Edmodo. I was amazed Edmodo was able to digest a blogging assignment, six video lessons, and a link to Later these videos were uploaded to YouTube so students could access them from home easily. When the day came, fortune smiled on me because the substitute who took my classes was a retired teacher I had worked with in the pass and greatly respected for her professionalism. I could have no better person to try this stunt with because she would keep the students on task.

Today was the first day back with the students I used with my little video experiment. I posted a poll in Edmodo to see what they thought of the video experience. The question was "How well did the video lessons on blogging work for you when I was out?" Forty-two students responded to my poll. 30.95% of the respondents said they "Understood everything about blogging now. 40.48% said they understood some of what the videos showed but still needed me to answer some questions. 14.29% said they still wanted me to teach them in class but the videos could be helpful later if they got stuck on something. Another 14.29% said the videos were not helpful at all and they needed the teacher to teach them. What I gathered from this small, unscientific sampling is while video instruction can be helpful but a teacher is still needed to guide and help the students totally understand a lesson.

Teachers can easily create their own lessons using screen shots, screen capture, Livescribe pencasts, and other recording methods. The biggest investment is the time it takes to create these lessons. Also, as one teacher friend who I helped in a similar project said, "It is disconcerting to be teaching to an empty classroom." He could never do a recording when students were around because he had to edit out so much. The Khan Academy and it's wealth of videos on a variety of math, science, economic, and other subject areas is another great resource. While there are some misguided people who think videotaping "great" teachers teaching and showing them to all students will help solve education's problems, it will be the best teachers who will use videos as one more tool in their toolbox of learning to reach all students.


Free Computers to Every Child

Androidphoto © 2008 secretlondon123 | more info (via: Wylio)
I recently switched from the iPhone 3GS to a Motorola Atrix. The decision did not come easily because I liked my iPhone. Yes, I said that about my Blackberry too when I went to the iPhone. I even told people that I was going to hold out for the iPhone 5 when it becomes available this coming summer but I allowed my son to talk me into trying an Android phone. When the Atrix was announced, I thought that would be the Android for me with the speed and the flexibility of the phone. So far I have not been disappointed and even surprised at how well I have liked the Android 2.2 platform. As for my iPhone? I now have a great iPod Touch with a camera and GPS that does a few things my Atrix does not. At least I have an old phone that still has some usefulness compared to others collecting dust in some drawer. This got me thinking, what do people do with their old smartphones? I know there are organizations that donate old phones to battered women, a very good cause. However, I have another idea. As users replace their Android and iPhones devices they should donate the old device to schools so children can have technology in their hands.

I started running some numbers. First off, I see there is an estimated 50 million children age 12 to 17 inMotorola Atrixphoto © 2011 ETC@USC | more info (via: Wylio)
 the United States. This would be a good target demographic since it would cover middle and high school students. I am not going to try and see how many of these students, like my son, who already have an iPhone or Android phone. Next, I estimated the population of the United States which is an estimated 311 million people according to the Census Bureau. The percentage of Americans who have smartphones is 25% or 77.75 million people. Of this number, 24.26 million are Andriod users and 19.2 million are iPhone users for a total of 43.46 milliion users of the two brands and the numbers are raising daily. This means we could possibly give an estimated 87% of children age 12 to 17 a free computer that can access the Internet with a two year total refresh rate. Of course it is nice to play with theoretical statistics but what will people do with those old phones? Throw them away and pollute our environment?

The reason I chose Android and iPhones is because of the number of applications available to each platform, many of which are free. Blackberry apps are too few and can be expensive relative to Android and Apple. While there are fans out there, we might as well say WebOS and Symbian are almost nonexistent. Also, support for charging and synching is easy too. Apple has used the same USB power cord format for all of it’s phones and Andriods use the mini-USB or now micro-USB connection. While school districts might want to employ technicians with smartphone skills, it might be easier to recycle and replace phones that are no longer serviceable.

iphonephoto © 2009 anthony kelly | more info (via: Wylio)

Given the current and future state of education budgets in this country it is safe to say the idea of schools funding one to one computer initiatives is practically a dead idea. With donated smartphones students will be given a device that can fulfill a wide variety of academic tasks such as writing, research, media creation, data collection, and other tasks. Tax write-offs would be a great incentive for smartphone users to donate old devices as they upgrade every one to two years. Finally, it would be environmentally sound since these phones would not end up in some landfill polluting the environment. Most importantly, it keeps the dream alive of providing technology into the hands of all schoolchildren.iPhone 4 32GB Blackphoto © 2010 Yutaka Tsutano | more info (via: Wylio)

I would like to hear your thoughts of this plan so please comment below.