Category Archives: Technology

#PUWT15 Thoughts: Make Discussions Matter!

PUWT_logo_08Session 1: Make Discussions Matter! by Jason Flanagan

  • Presentation is online.
  • Better yet, so is his assessment template.
  • Started out weak. I come to sessions to be wowed. This started with “Here, read this.”
  • Underlying concept is great. He uses a custom Google Sheet to objectively assess student led conversation and show the results in chart and pressure gauge form.
  • I could do something similar with Class Dojo, but the data would not be presented in the same way. Which you pick would depend on how you want to use the data. Given the choice between the two, I’d probably pick this form.
  • “Greatest motivator for students is grades.” A teacher walked out after the presenter said this. The presenter has not seen my classroom.
  • Apparently he teaches an Honors class. I suppose in his environment grades are a powerful motivator, but I still assert that it is a hollow motivation, at best.


Android vs. Chrome in Schools? Android.

androidSo apparently, Chromebook manufacturers will soon have the option of making Androidbooks (not a word they used, but I guess it makes sense?). The news & commentary site re/code goes over the details, which you can read in full here.

Personally, I like the idea of notebook computers running Android. Android works very well with Google Drive (like Chromebooks), which should be a surprise to no one at this point. Android already supports having multiple accounts on one device (like Chromebooks), tying app installs to accounts (like Chromebooks), and unlike Chromebooks, many of our students are already carrying that OS around with them on their phones.

Chromebooks have a lot of apps … sort of. While there are some very nice ChromeOS apps that can be installed on Chromebooks (or in the Chrome browser on a Mac or PC) and used offline, the “Store” is full of “apps” that are little more than fancy bookmarks for websites. Any of those, provided they don’t use Flash, will run just fine on an Android device already.

Add to that the plethora of apps already available for Android, and you have a very robust ecosystem.

The author of the re/code article brings up a point worth discussing, though, which I’ve included below.

However, a key advantage Chrome has is one of Android’s weaknesses. The mobile OS has suffered a nagging security issues, driven largely by its reliance on carriers and a gamut of device makers to push out updates. As an OS, Chrome is sturdier on security. That’s one reason Google may not ditch Chrome. Its security credentials help it with sales to enterprise, particularly to schools, where Chromebook has seen considerable traction; Gartner said the devices will account for 72 percent of the education market this year.

Source: Why Google Tapped Android Over Chrome as Its Marquee OS

Ah yes, the horrible security problems found on Android phones. They’re actually pretty scary, particularly if you are a regular listener of Security Now. The solution to the problem is in the same paragraph that asserts it, though.

You see, most phone updates are managed by carriers, and most carriers, for reasons that make sense to corporate types more than programmers, drag their feet when it comes to pushing out updates – even security updates that are not dependent on phones being new enough to handle the most modern OS version.


I love my phone. It’s relatively new, has a nice, large screen, a good enough camera (I have a DSLR if I need to be more serious), and … it’s running Android 4.4.4.  There is no hardware issue preventing it from running Android 5. I have another device with lower end hardware that’s running 5 flawlessly. My carrier just won’t push the update out.


Now for years Google has been phasing in a strategy to get around this. Many of Android’s features have been spun into apps with free updates downloadable from the Google Play store, which isn’t managed by the carriers. Legacy hardware is still a serious problem, but over time this will become less of an issue.

And none of that matters, because Androidbooks (as I will continue to call them until told otherwise) will most likely be managed like Chromebooks, with carriers out of the picture all together. There’s an update? Pow! It’s installed! Let’s move on.

Oh, and as I already mentioned, Flash isn’t available on Android. Adobe stopped developing for that platform quite some time ago, so all those Flash security issues that plague all the major browsers shouldn’t be a thing.

So yeah, I’m excited to see Android powered notebook computers possibly becoming a thing in my classroom. It still won’t be fun to edit videos on them, but they can do everything else and they’ll still be cheaper that the typical desktop computer as well.

Recyclables become useable art in these six-second Vines

Click through to see the whole Mashable article and several more Vine projects.

Submissions included cardboard cacti, a wire desk tree, reshaped paper clips and more.

Source: Recyclables become useable art in these six-second Vines

This has me thinking about having students make short stop-motion animations that are “Vine-ready.” We could focus on recycling, as these do, or pick a different challenge for students to complete.

Of course we’d have to make sure the music they’re using (if they use any) is legal for them to include, but that’s the joy of teaching responsible copyright usage.

Kissing the Office Goodbye

(Note: This is not about me leaving my current school. I love this place too much to leave.)

When I first traded my paintbrushes for a computer lab 7 years ago, I was shown a written description (on paper, even!) of the Middle School course I would be teaching. The only content it covered involved Microsoft Office products.

“Naturally,” the Principal said, “We would expect you to do more than this.”

Naturally, I agreed.

Since then, what I do in my school has only expanded. I took over Morning Announcements. I wrote (and rewrote, and rewrote again and again) a gamified curriculum that combines art and technology. I was put in charge of our school’s Media Arts major.

And Microsoft Office is still there.

ExcelsampleEven now, I still have a lesson or two that involves an Office Product. Granted, they aren’t always used for their intended purpose. My favorite Excel lesson teaches students how to goof off in a higher level math class more than it teaches them how to make pivot tables.

But why am I doing that?

At this point, there is nothing that I have ever done outside of a college level prob/stat class that required me to use Microsoft Office.


And if I retook that prob/stat course I could probably have gotten through with LibreOffice. I’ve been using that and its predecessor OpenOffice longer than the majority of my students have been alive, and the software’s only gotten better with time.

That said, I really only need LibreOffice for a few specific tasks. For everything else, Google Drive/Docs/Sheets/etc. does everything I need and then some. Better yet, we’re a GAFE (That’s Google Apps For Education) school system, so all of our students from 3rd through 12th grade get a Google account with “unlimited” storage. As someone who regularly has students creating video content, I am thrilled that my students have unlimited cloud storage.

So why am I doing anything with Microsoft Office at all?

One word: Inertia.

I write plenty of lessons every year, but I still fall back on some old standby projects – particularly when they are well received by the students. As much as I’ve been phasing Office out of my own curriculum, there’s still a few shreds of it remaining. By the end of the year, next year at the latest, it will probably be gone entirely, its last vestiges replaced with similar assignments that make use of Google apps.

All things considered, I’m doing better than many of my peers. I am still more likely to be sent an Office document that needs to be modified and returned than I am to be shared a Google Doc that I can modify and forget. Quite often, I am told I need to print the Office document before returning it. My mind is boggled at the backwards nature of such a request.

(Once already this year I was required to print AND FAX a Word document to another office in my district. Because why waste one set of paper when you can force the office on the other end to waste their paper, too? Does this make sense?)

We can overcome this. We have the technology.

There are plenty of educators who have embraced the new and far more useful alternatives to Office applications. Alice Keeler (blog) (Twitter) is one of the more prominent GAFE evangelists I’ve seen in my Twitter feed, and she’s far from the only one out there.

In my own district, I need to be more like Alice. I need to be constantly showing the benefits of GAFE over Office. Every time I’m sent an Office Doc to modify, I need to send back a link to a Google Doc. Every time I see a student in my lab writing a report in Word (or worse, come to me and ask if they can print their report in my room), I need to show them how they can set it up in Docs and then share it with their teacher electronically. If they tell me their teacher requires it to be printed, I need to ask the teacher why.

And, oh yeah, I’ll be presenting on this topic at this year’s Powering Up With Technology conference, so you can expect to hear more about this over the next few months.

So what are you doing? Are you teaching Microsoft Office skills to your students, or focusing on a newer, less expensive, more disruptive alternative? Why or why not? Leave a comment, let me know.

Twitter reportedly suspends Deadspin and SB Nation accounts over NFL GIFs

Both accounts were reportedly suspended for copyright violations stemming from their use of GIFs of NFL game.

Source: Twitter reportedly suspends Deadspin and SB Nation accounts over NFL GIFs

Long story short, copyright is serious business. I’ve no love for the NFL for many reasons that I won’t rehash in this post, but it looks like they’re claiming that footage from their broadcasts turned into GIF form for twitter doesn’t equate to “fair use,” even if done by a news outlet, and there’s a good chance they’ll win this one unless (and maybe even if) the owners of these news outlets are willing to give a lot of money to their lawyers.

One could argue either way with this, but in the end, as with many copyright disputes, whomever is willing to spend the most cash is likely going to be the winner. If you make a court battle last long enough, the best you can hope for is a Pyrrhic victory.

Are we teaching this?

CMOS Inventor Working on Gigapixel Sensor That Can Detect Single Photons

Hold onto your seats: there may soon be game-changing breakthroughs in image sensors that could take low-light photography to whole new levels.

Source: CMOS Inventor Working on Gigapixel Sensor That Can Detect Single Photons

This sounds really cool for a lot of reasons, but remember that the sensor might as well be out of a budget smart phone if you can’t hold it steady or focus on your subject.

What are the chances that the first person to use the new sensor has their thumb in front of the lens when they test it?

Academic Aesthetic Brain Dump 1

Normally I have videos of me playing games OR audio recordings of me talking about education. This time I combined them to see how it would go. This is the result.

Today’s topics:

  • Next year’s supply list.
  • Why Beats are a waste of money.
  • Google Drive & Google Apps For Education (GAFE) Are awesome.
  • Snakes.
  • Student tech can be better than school tech.
  • Requiring students to have their own tech runs into the “Digital Divide.” “Loaner” tech is needed in a BYOT (Bring Your Own Tech) environment.
  • Photoshop? Illustrator? Heck no, GIMP & Inkscape!
  • I edit video with Magix Movie Edit Pro. (Windows only)
  • My students are starting to use Camtasia to edit video. (Mac & Windows)
  • YouTube has a video editor. It isn’t very good.
  • There’s a video editor for Android called WeVideo. It’s slightly better than YouTube’s editor.
  • I got my number of 8th graders wrong. This is what I get for not looking at a class list during a recording.
  • If interest in my program stays steady, I am going to run out of computers in my classroom.
  • My school system is doing a computer refresh program where the older computers are signed over to students. I want in on that.

Moving Target Technology

The inspiration for today’s braindump brought to you by the following tweet from the one and only Will Richardson:

Full disclosure, I have a Wordle project in my repertoire and I use it often. It is ideal for teaching students how to save documents, how to copy/paste, how to create screen captures, and how to crop images in GIMP. It is a one day lesson, if that.

I’d say all of those are basic skills. Most of them are fundamental for doing much more advanced technology lessons. Because of this, I will not say that lessons that make use of Wordle, PowerPoint, or even Microsoft Word are inherently bad things that should be avoided.

I will say, however, that if that’s all you’re doing in regards to tech integration, you are doing your students a disservice.

Look, claiming a PowerPoint lesson is tech integration is very much like claiming your class was in the pool because you had them dip their toes in the shallow end. Both statements are technically true, but involve little in regards to teaching students skills they can use outside of an academic environment.

I understand the hesitation to teach more meaningful tech integration, I really do. Problems with making sure the technology is available aside, most teachers I’ve met (and remember, I was a traveling art teacher so I’ve met quite a few) hesitate to teach lessons outside of their comfort zone. With so many pressures on us from all sides, we’d rather go for the sure thing of “it’s always worked before” over the gamble of trying something new.

Except “it’s always worked before” doesn’t cut it.

It never did, either. We just assumed that if a technique allowed 75% of our class to score well on a test then it was successful. For 25% of that hypothetical class, it wasn’t successful. They learned, because kids are always learning, but what they learned was probably that they didn’t enjoy the subject the way it was taught. If they’re lucky, they’ll have a teacher after you that instills in them a love for the subject that you ruined for them.

I didn’t, which is why I had several years of teaching experience before I learned to enjoy Math. *AHEM,* back on topic…


How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Enjoy

Sticking to comfort zones feels safe and reasonable. If I have 30 screaming 5 year olds (or 12 year olds) in my room, I may want to do a lesson that I know won’t backfire on me.  It’s why I avoided the annual Hour of Code event for so long.  I know HTML, and I know enough PHP and SQL to be dangerous, but I am far from what I would call a skilled programmer.

It took encouragement from my principal for me to get into it, and I’m so glad I did. The students genuinely loved the lessons, even the ones that seemed difficult.  In truth, the harder ones were much more satisfying to complete.

None of my students learned actual programming language from the lessons, that wasn’t the point.  Instead, we used websites like Blockly to practice thinking like a computer: Being specific with directions, learning when lines of code should be repeated (and when repeating code did horrible, horrible things), and so on. The more advanced even got to play with the fantastic “if/then” statement. Not bad for an hour’s worth of effort, if I do say so myself.

Actual coding still is outside my comfort zone. I won’t be sitting down and creating the world’s next FlappyBird clone any time soon, but giving precise instructions? Automating repetitive tasks? I can teach that.

There isn’t a hard line between “comfort zone” and breaking new ground. It’s more of a watercolor smudge, and those teachers who are actual life long learners don’t have to dive in the deep end. We can start with our toes, and swim out towards the deep end as our comfort zone increases.

Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s a good place to stop.

Technology Integration is a moving target.

1994, 20 years ago, a PowerPoint lesson was the epitome of tech integration. That was also the first year Apple switched to using PowerPC processors, the year Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, and the last year Nixon and Kurt Cobain were alive. (source) There was no iPhone, no X-Box, dial-up internet was the most common way to get online (though most people, including me, didn’t use the internet at all), and most importantly, NONE OF OUR STUDENTS WERE EVEN BORN.*

(*Unless you teach college, then maybe.)

We tend to stop thinking that something is technology if it’s been around longer than we have. Watches, calculators, and even pencils are technically examples of technology, but you won’t find lesson plans written about them under the heading of “tech integration.”  Does the activity you’ve labeled “tech integration” use tools that came about since the time your students were born? Remember, the internet is older than they are.

It’s not old, it’s “vintage.”

This is not to say that everything old must be cast aside. I am wearing a watch as I type this. Sure, my computer, phone and tablet can tell me the time, but I find my watch is more convenient on most occasions. Our school’s interactive whiteboards are older than our 1st grade students, but my school has a 1st grade teacher who can’t live without hers. If PowerPoint is the best tool for you to use, use it. Just don’t stop at PowerPoint.

I won’t say we need to abandon all the old stuff, but as we design our lessons and curriculum (assuming someone at a testing company isn’t designing our curriculum with poorly worded standardized test questions), we need to look at the world outside of academics for inspiration. That’s where are kids are looking, I assure you, and they’re not looking at 20 year old technology and saying “Wow, this is so cool!” They’re looking at it with the same enthusiasm I had for my Algebra II textbook.

Well, except for the Atari 2600. That console was awesome and all my students agreed when I brought it in to show them.