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.

Ready for what Santa Hath Wrought?

During the few times I went out into our neighborhood yesterday I noticed a lack of children playing with the new toys Santa surely brought them the previous night. I seriously doubted all of the children in my neighborhood received coal in their stockings for bad behavior. Despite our troubled economy, I also doubted they received a Big Chief writing tablet and an apple like those who grew up during the Great Depression received and were glad for it. No, I feel all of the children in our neighborhood, the United States, and around the world received electronics from jolly man in the red suit whose technology lab rivals that of Silicon Valley. One young man was spotted riding what looked to be a new bicycle but in his ears were the tell tale white earbuds of an iPod. Now the question for teachers who will welcome their charges back in 2012 is are you ready for what Santa has done?

You know students are going to bring their newly given devices to show all of their friends. I am certain my students are going to show me what Santa and various other relatives gave them. The electronic devices will be welcomed and put to work in my classroom. What about yours? Have you really thought about what Santa has done to your classroom and will you welcome them with ways for students to use their devices and make Santa feel good about what he has done or will you be the Grinch who takes away Mary Lou Who's iPod Touch with video editing, and writing apps?

Another trend I saw and believe will only increase is the number of games and toys that require an iOS or Android device. Take a look at the video below to see how one of my Christmas presents can be controlled by my iPhone.

I hope that you and your family had a great holiday season. Rest up.


Tablets Take Two

From Instant Upload

A few weeks ago I wrote about getting an Acer Iconia A500 tablet and the reasons I got with the biggest one being economic (Staples had a $100 off tablets coupon deal). Well, I have been putting the Acer through its paces and so far I have been pleased. My biggest reason for getting a tablet was to have a bridge device between my phone and my laptop. There have been times when taking a laptop to places wound up being impractical. On the other side, trying to do some tasks using my phone have been a bit of a chore too. So I guess the tablet is my Goldilocks device, just right. Am I ready to sell my laptop yet? No way! When I was shopping for a new computer a few months ago I actually asked if a tablet would suffice. I was told no in no uncertain terms and I agree with that answer now. So what do I use my tablet for?

One thing I have heard is that tablets are not creation devices which is not true. I like to hole up at a local coffee shop and write my drafts of blog post (such as this one) or other documents such as course curriculum. Then I retrieve the document and put the finishing touches on it. When I had an iPhone, the typing experience was not too bad but it changed when I switched to my Atrix Android phone. It was just uncomfortable for me so I stopped drafting documents which hurt my productivity, especially my blogging. Even though I can attach a physical keyboard to my tablet I think doing so defeats the purpose of having a tablet. I know the ASUS crowd will disagree with me but if I need a keyboard I should just bring my laptop. I do recommend spending a few dollars and purchasing a good mobile office suite app such as Quickoffice Pro. While Google Docs has an app it is not a great writing experience for me. Probably the best app to have on any device is Evernote but using it on a tablet is a great experience. I also, like checking my social media and responding, especially Google+ in which I tend to share my opinion more than Facebook and Twitter. One thing bit of creativity I have done that surprised me is taking pictures. I always thought a camera on the back of a tablet was a waste but there have been a few times I actually snapped a photo with my tablet because it was handy. The ability to edit photos and video is getting better but it still does not compare with using the power of a laptop.

How do I consume using my tablet? The biggest strength of tablets is as media consumption devices. I do surf the net for sites but I sometimes mark them using Read it Later. When I sat in on some interviews recently, I used my tablet to lookup candidates' websites without being too obtrusive. Reading news and blogs is great on my tablet when I use Pulse and the Google Reader apps. After school, I can go somewhere to get away from my classroom and use the tablet to check student blogs and check-in with Edmodo for grading and answer students’ questions. At home I must check the IMDB app several times while I am watching TV  to learn more about a program or movie. Another nice thing is I have logged in to watch streams of a few conferences because I don't have to drag out the laptop and it really does not drain my battery. Something I would like to try at a conference sometime is hookup my tablet and have it show back channel streams while my presentation or demonstration is going on my laptop. The problem is my tablet uses an HDMI port for video out. It looks nice but many projectors do not have an HDMI port.

While my laptop will never be too far away and I will always have my phone, I actually see my tablet becoming a constant companion. It is light and has a small footprint which is perfect for coffee shops and attending conferences. My tablet allows me to do small writing projects or start larger ones. It fits into a small slingpack I bought at Eddie Bauer's along with my Nook and Livescribe notebook and pen. All I have to do is grab it and head to the library, coffee shop, book store, or other places and I am ready to be productive or playful depending on my mood. This setup also allows me to grab a few things from the store without lugging a lot of weight. Will tablets become the computing device most people will use in the future? Without a doubt and I think Apple is pushing us that way now. Can students be successful using a tablet in the classroom now? Yes, with some logistical help from home and school. Remember, tablets are not yet fully functional computers yet but I believe they make a better device to bring than a phone (but phones will work too). Chances are if you see me then my tablet is probably not too far away.

Take One Tablet

Photo by the author
From Instant Upload

I had been waiting for the right moment to jump into the tablet market but that market would not wait for me. After doing a personal technology refresh by purchasing a Macbook Pro and Motorola Atrix, I felt it was time for me to slow down a bit. Also, I have been waiting for the iPad that I wanted and I thought the iPad 2 was not quite it. Android tablets, while arousing my curiosity, just did not have what I wanted as far as apps were concerned plus I still have a considerable investment in iOS apps from my time with the iPhone. Also, I thought Android tablets were overpriced for what you got. Then why am I writing this post on a Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet? Like the Godfather always says, "Give him an offer he can't refuse!" In this case the Godfather was Staples. Earlier this week I noticed the Acer tablet was on sale at Best Buy for $396 which got my attention and started researching the device. I was surprised at what the Iconia had under the hood and the positive reviews it got from users and critics alike. A couple days later, Staples had a coupon for $100 off any tablet. Staples listed the Iconia for $399. So with the coupon the tablet is now down to $299. I found a way to snatch up this deal.

This is the third Acer product I have owned and I had great experiences with a desktop and netbook that gave me a lot of years of service. After purchasing my tablet I went to Barnes & Noble to set it up. Fortunately, a table next to an outlet was available. So I pluged it in and started the setup process. The 10.1 inch high resolution screen looks good and with a NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core processor and 1 GB of RAM it is pretty fast. This tablet has not one but two USB ports, a micro and 2.0 port to connect to a computer, additional storage, or other peripherals. The Acer tablet also has a micro-HDMI connection and can mirror displays which is nice and something my Atrix can only do if I pay AT&T more money. The Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system is a bit different than the 2.2 found on the Atrix but comparing a phone to a tablet is a bit unrealistic. The 5.0 rear facing and 2.0 front facing cameras do a great job at taking pictures but still wonder why a tablet needs a rear facing camera except for classroom activities. Another feature that impresses me is the ability to add a 32 GB micro SD card to the 16 GB of storage Acer put in the tablet. The iPad does not have these specs!

There are a couple drawbacks with the Iconia. First, the thing is heavy for a tablet. Much heavier and thicker than the iPad all tablets are compared to. Also, with all of the USB ports the Iconia has, you would think you can charge the tablet but no. Guess I will have to pack another charger whenever I take this tablet on the road. Fortunately, the Iconia has up to 8 hours of battery life so I won't have pull that charger out too often.

How would this work in schools? If promised updates to all tablets that will intergrate them to Android phones comes then it could be a good device. It quickly and easily found the wi-fi signal at Barnes & Noble. There are enough apps in the Marketplace for students to do a wide variety of activities. I am actually drafting this post on the Blogger app which is free to download. The typing experience is pretty good in the widescreen mode but is a bit award and hard in portraite mode due to size and weight of this tablet. Also, because of the weight, this tablet won't be replacing my Nook anytime soon as an ereader. If manufactures can produce tablets like this consistantly for under $300 then we have an economical way for students to purchase technology.Given that I was able to get this tablet on a near impulse purchase, the Acer Iconia and other Android tablets will probably finding their way into schools this fall or the next. Are we ready to welcome them?

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.

Odds and Ends December 16, 2009

Evernote for Android

Mashable reports Evernote has released an app for the Android Smartphone platform. I have used Evernote to take notes on my BlackBerry at conferences and it is a great way to take a organize notes on the Internet.

Speaking of Android

An e-reader based on the Android operating system called the Entourage Edge has been released according to Engadget. This device has been billed as a textbook replacement. At $490 and some bugs in the system, this device won’t be lightening backpacks until it stops lightening wallets.

Increasing Community Involvement

All schools are looking for ways to get better community involvement through better communications. Mashable has listed 10 ways for increasing community involvement. Some of the methods recommended include make easy to participate, interact with your community, welcome newcomers, and engage with popular existing communities such as Twitter and Facebook.

Santa 2.0

When I was younger, the only ways to interact with Santa was either a face-to-face meeting at a local store or write a snail mail letter. Mashable describes five ways to connect with Santa on the Internet. There are some tried and true methods such as e-mailing Santa and my favorite Norad Track Santa. However, seeing Santa live on a webcam seems a little weird. I thought he was supposed to be watching us to see if we are naughty or nice.

Excuse me, is that a projector in your pocket?

I have always been interesting in pico projectors since they were first announced. However, current devices still work best projecting an image on a postage stamp in a pitch black room. However, the AAXA M1 micro projector is another step in the right direction. Engadget announce the newest pico projector. A projector that will connect with a computer will cost $359.


As if children’s obesity rates are going up like their weight, McDonalds has a new way to get people sit down and eat more fattening Big Macs and other artery clogging food. Engadget reports McDonalds will offer free WiFi in most of its restaurants starting in January.