Sunday, August 18, 2013

e-Portfolios Using Evernote and iX500 Scanners

In a surprising turn-of-events just before school started (2013-2014), our 5-8 grade staff began working with e-Portfolios for our students using Evernote and iX500 scanners. Since I ended up being the school's "admin" for the Business Evernote account (schools receive a nice discount for opening up a business account with at least 5 users: normally $120/year; now only $30/year per teacher), I put together a proposed e-Portfolio Cycle to be used in our 5-8 grade classes. My middle school colleagues will probably modify this workflow to suit their needs; I offer it here for anyone who would like to check out the ideas I'm using.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Teaching With Netbooks

Today while preparing for a presentation with my staff I remembered a resource I used back when I was starting my journey as a netbook teacher. I would be remiss if I didn't give credit to Brad Flickinger, an educator who lives and teaches in Colorado, for the resources he's shared over the past 4 years. I was able to participate in an online version of FETC where Brad spoke about Netbook Teaching in a very practical way. He later posted those 3 videos on YouTube:

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

In January 2010 he led a session at FETC in Orlando. I recorded the audio and took some notes. This was one year before our school began its netbook program. His presentation is posted here if you'd like to give a listen.

Brad also wrote a book on Netbook Teaching, which is available on Amazon. His Teaching With Netbooks website was one of the first resources I found on the topic back in 2010.

Thanks, Brad, for all the resources and for sharing what you've learned along the way!

Using DropItToMe To Collect Student Work

In our netbook classroom everyone has their own netbook. We use them daily for multiple projects and assignments. When it comes time to turn in work done on netbooks I have my students do it electronically rather than printing them out and turning in paper. This has several advantages:

  • saves paper and trees
  • reduces paper clutter
  • student still has his copy as backup
  • teacher has a duplicate and can edit as needed
  • teacher can do grading and feedback work on preferred device 
  • the option always exists to print out the papers
  • teacher and student can collaborate using email or another system

Dropbox for File Management

In the past, since all our students have Dropbox installed on their netbooks, I would share a folder with them and have each student place a copy of their assignment file in the appropriate shared folder. For example:
  • book report turn in folder Q1
  • beginning of year story turn in folder
  • space camp podcast turn in folder
You get the idea. Each student had access to each of these "turn in" folders and simply copied-and-pasted their file into the appropriate folder. In turn, I would see all the files come in as students did their thing. Unfortunately, each student could see all the other students' files, too! Occasionally, someone messed up and we lost a few files due to student error or prank.

DropItTo.Me As In-between Step

Now, we use DropItToMe. My DropItToMe account is tied to my Dropbox account. Students log into DropItToMe, upload their assignment or project file(s), and log out. That's it from their perspective. They don't need to accept my shared folder invitations for each and every project or assignment "turn in" folder. They simply remember one thing: DropItToMe. In fact, I have a link to my DropItToMe account on my website. Take a look. You can't hurt it without my password!

On my end I receive students' work, nicely organized by student number as follows:
  • 01george math17
  • 02sam math17
  • 03sally spelling22
  • 04mary science43
  • 04mary spelling22
I can control-click on all the spelling, for example, and highlight the whole batch at once. Then, I drag those files into my spelling folder. Next, I control-click (command-click on a Mac) on the math, and so on, until all my files are organized in an appropriate folder, leaving my DropItToMe folder empty until a new student file comes in. Sometimes I also move certain folders out of my Dropbox to save space. That happens with audio or video files that may be quite large and use up my limited Dropbox space.

The process above is similar to what we do with paper, except I do all the sorting with electronic files. With paper I have a bin for each assignment due that morning and students self-sort their work into the appropriate bin. With electronic work I found it safer and easier to do the batch selection and sorting myself. Plus, if a student files his work with the correct filename, it's easy to do a quick SEARCH for anything that comes up missing. This system hasn't eliminated missing student files, but it's made my job easier when I need to track down a file. Once again, if a student has followed directions and has the original file still in his dropbox folder, he can simply re-send it via my DropItToMe account. We do that all the time, since students do forget. The biggest problem is mis-named files. My policy is to not even open files named "untitled" or "book report" since I don't know at a glance whose file it is. Often, even opening the file will yield no information about student identity. So, I've simply told my students to re-submit the files and check your filename first. As a last resort in a few cases I've opened up "untitled" and discovered it was Johnny's missing assignment. Of course, he also neglected to keep the original, so this was the only way to retrieve his work. Fortunately, this happens only occasionally. As I often say to parents of students in my computer classes: learning to use a computer is as much about listening and following directions as it is about learning to use Windows or Open Office. If you teach children (or adults) you know what I mean.

Give DropItToMe a try. It's a great addition to your Dropbox workflow as a teacher. It works great for any project—even projects unrelated to teaching, learning, teachers and students — where you must collaborate with others and collect their digital project files into one central place for further work to be done. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Netbook Teacher Sets Up A New Netbook

As a netbook-using teacher working with a class full of netbook-using students I try to keep up with the technology times. That goes for the latest netbook technology.
The other day I was surprised and delighted when my principal gave me a new netbook for the 2013-2014 school year. This 11.6" laptop is much snappier than my 10" model with half the memory and a slower processor. When I asked him "why" he gave me a new netbook to use he told me he wanted "our fourth and fifth grade teachers to have the same netbook that we recommend to our student families". I thought that made sense, so I brought the netbook home and began the unpacking process.

It occurred to me that I should document the process and share it with my students. We ask them to set up their own netbook at home before coming to school in the Fall, but every year someone needs help with one or several of the steps. So, I spent today creating little videos with Screencast-o-matic and posted them on my website. The actual video files are stored in Dropbox, which works perfectly for this purpose. Take a look at the post on my website where all the videos are linked, and share a comment if you think I forgot anything.

Why Use "The Cloud"?

At my school we use several "cloud" services — apps that reside on the Internet and allow us to share or collaborate with one another. Two of them are Dropbox and Google Drive. Watch and listen to why and how this all works.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

If You Want To Really Learn, Teach!

   Our annual educator's conference is months away, coming in September, 2013. It's only March, but I just learned that my proposal to make a presentation at the upcoming conference was accepted. Our principal encouraged us to put in a proposal, since most of us have been learners at this conference for years. I've been going annually since 1984! I guess that makes me a veteran. So, it's about time I put something together to share with my colleagues.

1:1 is a Hit!
   I decided on the topic A One-to-One Laptop Model Using BYOD. I think this Spring makes 3 years since I piloted the use of student-purchased netbooks in my fifth grade classroom. Now, our 5-8 graders all use them as part of their regular school day, plus at-home for assignments and projects requiring homework. During the 2012-2013 school year I piloted a "flipped model" of instruction in my two science classes which relied heavily on these netbooks for at-home instruction via prepared video presentations. I hope my preparations for this workshop will serve as a reflection of the best practices I've learned over these past 3+ years. As with so many things one may call a success—and that's what I call our 1:1 BYOD program—our road to this point has not been a bed of roses. Instead, we've learned many things the hard way.

   By the time I'm finished I hope to have a series of articles, all indexed below, that I can use as a post-workshop resource for my workshop attendees and colleagues at my school. The theme of our conference encourages this kind of post-workshop learning and collaboration. Connection Power 2.0 is a continuation of our 2012 conference with a similar theme. Both conferences were designed to give participants hands-on professional growth experiences we can continue to enjoy while we're all apart from one another in-between conferences. 

   Here's hoping that by the time you are reading this there are several additional articles linked below which you can follow at your leisure!

1:1, BYOD Index of Articles:

Why Did We Pick the Netbook As Our Hardware Platform?

Occasionally I am asked why we chose netbooks as our hardware platform. As I think back, the original proposals I gave to my principal involved a 1:1 laptop program. When the first netbooks came out we were intrigued by them for two main reasons. 


The price point was very appealing. Most laptops were priced from $500 or more, median price somewhere around $1,300. The first netbooks were introduced from $300-400. This price point probably helped us begin our 1:1 program when we did, using netbooks and BYOD—bring your own device— as our approach. 

Parents often spent $300 and more for Christmas presents on devices like iPod Touch, Nintendo, and Wii; personal computing devices for entertainment and gaming. We took a chance and began our 1:1 BYOD program with netbooks just before Christmas. We suggested the idea of buying a netbook as a Christmas present and bringing it to school in January when we would begin using netbooks as learning tools. Of course, they could still be used during free time for gaming, audio-visual applications like iTunes music or YouTube videos, and other entertainment applications. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and our 1:1 netbook program began.

Standardized Software

We wanted to use a set of standardized software in our 1:1 program. To use software effectively and efficiently, students need to learn the computer's file management system. This was something we wanted for our students. I had been teaching Windows File Management as part of our lab-based computer classes in grades four and five for several years before we started our 1:1 program. Kids learned how to save files, to back them up, and to find their files saved earlier. Our students learned things their parents often did not know how to do. Parents often expressed their delight at seeing their children learning these skills.

Our standardized software list is completely cross-platform and FREE. This means a student can easily migrate from the Windows operating system to the Mac operating system if they like. Why do this? Many families own a Mac at home. The children learn to use Windows at school and may already know how to use the Mac. They can do their work at home on a Mac and at school on their netbook. The files can be opened and edited on either operating system. In my classroom I use a Mac and the kids are exposed to the Mac OS. They also learn the Windows OS. They leave my class with the skills they need to work with several software programs on both major computing platforms in use today.

* * *

Since we started our 1:1 netbook program I've done a lot of research on some of the other hardware platforms used by 1:1 schools. One that's gaining a lot of traction is the iPad. Let's face it, and iPad is a very handy computing device, easy to use, small and lightweight. Why not base a 1:1 program on iPads or something like the Galaxy tablet based on the Android mobile operating system? Again, there are several reasons why we don't move in this direction.


I own an iPad. It's maxed-out at 64 Gb, has a cellular radio, and I have a Verizon plan that enables me to get online anywhere, often with 4G LTE speeds that exceed what might be available via WiFi. However, this package cost me $830! The least expensive full-sized iPad costs a minimum of $500 unless you purchase an iPad Mini at about $320. Now you have only a 7.9 inch screen compared to a 10 inch netbook. In other words, the low-end iPad Mini compares in cost to a 10 inch netbook, both coming in at around the $300 price point. So, now you must look at what each device can do.


We do a lot of word processing in our 1:1 program. Our students learn to touch type in fourth grade. They are very productive on the keyboard and can write for every one of their core curricular areas. Our objective is to increase the amount of writing they do for subjects like science, social studies, and of course, language arts. We want them to produce content on their computing device, and much of this involves writing. An iPad or other tablet is not designed to be an efficient keyboarding device. Sure, there's a virtual keyboard. I use it on my iPad. I use the keyboard on my iPhone, too. But, I wouldn't want to type a 3 page research paper on a virtual keyboard. Sure, you can add a Bluetooth keyboard (I have one). Now your minimum-priced ($320) iPad Mini costs an additional $30-60. We wanted to keep our device costs as low as possible since we were asking our school families to buy them.


The iPad file system is very appealing. It's simple. My four-year-old grandson can navigate around my iPad by pointing to icons of his favorite apps. In essence, you don't really see the behind-the-scenes file structure very often. When you do, as when you're looking for something you typed in your favorite word processor, you just point to the one you want. Apple has made the operating system easy to use for everyone, and that's appealing for an elementary or middle school classroom. With minimal file management requirements we could focus on the core curricular work we want the children to do on their computing device. Why wouldn't we want to use something like this? The simple answer is that we want our kids to learn a major file management system. By design they wouldn't be able to do so on an iPad.


We have our kids install Adobe Flash on their netbooks. Although I do not have it installed on my Mac, I use Google Chrome which has Flash included. I rarely have a problem on my Mac, never on my netbook, but I still have occasional websites that don't work on my iPad because they use Flash content. Apparently, even a modern Android tablet now comes without Flash installed. I think one day we'll see websites developed in HTML5 or maybe something new, and Flash will no longer be an issue for mobile operating systems. However, today it still is an issue for tablets like the iPad.

Overall Productivity

I recently gave some thought to the question, "Which single computing device would I want if I could only have one?" I surprised myself by deciding that I'd keep my iPhone! The pocket-sized iPhone is the most versatile device I own. Now that my Bluetooth keyboard can be used with it, I can type just as fast on my iPhone as on my Mac. It's hard the beat the portability, the camera, all the apps (there's an app for almost everything), the GPS, and the list goes on. However, for productivity as a school-based computing device, many of these functions are unnecessary and distracting. For what we do in school, what we assign as homework, and the projects we do collaboratively, it's very hard to beat a low-cost netbook. One day, when all of our textbook material is available as a web app, that will be even more true. You've heard it said that you should buy the computing device that will do what you want to do. That's how we decided on the netbook for our hardware platform. It does everything we want to do with it.

* * *

Why Windows-Based?

If I had had my way we would've gone with Macbook laptops. I've used Macs since 1986 and find the Mac OS superior to Windows. Why didn't I get my way, and why do I support our netbook choice? Again, the answer is simple: price. We ask our parents to spend around $300 for a device that their child will use for 4 1/2 years in grades 4-8. That averages less than $35 per semester. An 11-inch MacBook Air starts at $999 which more than triples the cost for our families. The small amount of pushback we receive from our netbook purchase requirement would most likely increase more than three-fold if we had gone this route. It's likely we would not have a 1:1 BYOD program if the hardware requirement was most costly. 

True, the Mac OS has everything we need: keyboard, a file system for the kids to learn, easy production of written content, plenty of creativity apps like iMovie and iPhoto, the same standard set of software we use on our netbooks, Flash. Plus, it's an easier OS to learn, there's less security issues or virus worries. 

However, it costs three times as much for some of the additional benefits. When you're spending, in a sense, other people's money you must aim for the best bang for the buck you're spending. The netbook wins, hands-down.

* * *

Why Not Open Up the Hardware Choice To Allow Any Device?

This question is being debated online as I write. There seems to be a movement to allow kids to bring their own devicesany devices—to school to receive their benefits for learning productively.  

I think this will happen eventually. We are already receiving requests from students and parents to allow them to bring Macs, iPod Touches, iPhones, and iPads to school to use with our WiFi infrastructure. At present we have a one device per student policy because of limits in our WiFi bandwidth. When everyone uses WiFi simultaneously to get online and to do their work our Internet "pipe" is stretched to the limit and everyone's computing experience seems to slow down. We have about 200+ students and 25-30 staff members using our WiFi infrastructure, and sometimes it gets bogged down. However, we continue to evaluate and improve our systems. Our WiFi is under regular scrutiny, too.

Another issue is support. While an iPad requires little support, there are several workarounds that must be used to get some of our assignments completed on an iPad. We have some kids who bring their Macs to school. We allow them to do this, although we encourage them to go with a netbook because that's the hardware/software system on which we've trained our staff members to give assistance. As you might imagine, some teachers are more able and willing to do this than others. When we standardized on the Windows 7 operating system on a netbook we enabled our staff, all of whom have their own netbook, to at least be moderately proficient in problem-solving on behalf of their own students. If the hardware/software platform was opened up we would potentially have a support shortfall.

As mentioned earlier, anything other than a Mac or Windows-based laptop suffers from certain shortcomings when used in our learning environment: lack of a keyboard, simplified file system, no Flash support, and the like. This is not to say that real schoolwork cannot be done on an iPhone. However, there will come a time when an assignment is given that an iPhone or iPad cannot handle. This would require flexibility on the part of our teachers and our curriculum, and a willingness to consider alternative ways of completing the requirements of the assignment and/or curriculum. This is possible, but not on our current list of goals and objectives for our 1:1 program. I do predict that we'll eventually modify our approach, however, to accommodate the many different devices children will want to bring to school with them. It's hard to say to the parent of a child who already owns an iPad, "No, you MUST bring a netbook to school and spend an additional $300 so you can do this particular project".

We've had parents of graduates from our school donate their child's netbook back to the school. Our principal seems to have an unending supply of these re-worked netbooks to loan to children when the need arises. I've sent several children whose netbooks were being repaired, and they always come back with a loaner from the principal. One student in particular, who came to school with an iPad, was offered a loaner to use for the projects that required one. She used her iPad for almost everything, but eventually came to school with her own netbook so she could participate fully in our current 1:1 curriculum. Another student I know used a loaner all year because his parents refused to buy him a netbook. Purchases in the $300 price range were not on this family's Christmas list, and the parents refused on that basis. We supported them in their parenting decision. Their child was allowed to use his family's computer at home, and used the loaner at school. It worked, and he was very productive with this arrangement.

Finally, we spend class time teaching and learning a particular file system. Those few students who don't own a netbook are somewhat at a disadvantage when we spend time practicing what we're learning. This creates a minor burden for both the student and the teacher, but we've managed to work with this in the few cases where we had no other choice. Usually, a loaner netbook solved the problem, and parents usually see the benefits of investing in a netbook for their child(ren). When they don't, or can't we work with what we have. 

All in all, our current approach with netbooks is working. We have our occasional situations where we've had to be creative, and that has worked so far. Eventually, I predict we'll open up the hardware/software platform options and emphasize what can be done on any device we may find on our campus. That's probably several years away, and we'll see it when hardware and software is improved to the point where every device available can help us realize our curriculum goals.

Keeping Parents In the Loop in 4 Easy Steps

I use an app called Remind101 as a way of keeping my parents and/or students informed of our classroom events and activities. You may enjoy this workflow I've created. I use it with only an iPhone to send my parents quick reminders, updates, or messages on their cell phones or computers as email. It's also possible to send them a picture of your class at work on a special project. This helps keep your parents in the classroom loop with very little work on your part, and it requires only a few seconds for your parents, too. Imagine sending a note like this: 
"Our class is hard at work on Back in the Day research. Remember to help your child find 3 sources tonight!"  (add link to picture here)
This is my 4-step workflow for sending notifications, news, reminders, and even pictures to parents via my iPhone and/or laptop. This works on any Mac or Windows computer:

Step 1: I had a single-sided paper-based document I wanted to share with my parents. It was already typed up and printed out. So, I snapped a picture on my iPhone. Using Apple's iPhoto app, I chose the photo, then "Share", then "Open In..." and Dropbox. This assumes you've already installed the iPhoto, Dropbox and Remind101 apps on your iPhone.

Please note that you cannot get your photo directly into Dropbox from Apple's Photos app because it doesn't offer an "Open In..." button. 

Step 2: In Dropbox I created a Remind101 folder for the picture files I wanted to share. I save the picture file in that folder. 

Step 3: When I use my computer I navigate to the folder inside my Dropbox folder, right-click the file, and choose "get link". On the iPhone's Dropbox app I also navigate to the Remind101 folder, find and tap on the picture file, choose the "Share" button; then, choose "Copy Link to Clipboard".

Step 4: Moving to the Remind 101 app I compose a new message to parents, either on my laptop or iPhone. I've already created an account and given parents an opportunity to opt in to email or text notifications from me. Then, I paste the Dropbox link, copied earlier, into the message. Finally, I send the message to my subscribed parents. It shows up as a text on their phone or as an email, or both. It's their choice. They can click on the link and the photo/document pops up for them to view and/or download to their device.

The total time required to do this on an iPhone or computer is about 2 minutes. It's quick and easy, using 3 tools I use often throughout my week: the iPhone (or laptop), Dropbox and Remind101. Check out these apps and see what you think!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Carrot vs Stick For Classroom Management

wikimedia commons
When it comes to classroom management, I try to use a combination of "the carrot" (positive reinforcement) and "the stick" (consequences for negative behavior). One of the carrots I use to motivate and enthuse children is Class Dojo. My stick of choice in fifth grade, believe it or not, is a "timeout" using the method described in 1-2-3 Magic and managed with an iPhone app by the same name <available on iTunes>. Here, I'm specifically talking about the iPhone apps I use to help manage my fifth grade class. It should be said, however, that Dojo isn't inherently positive while 123 is negative. They both take a very positive approach to classroom management. Class Dojo, by its very nature, keeps me positive and focused on the positive things children say and do all day long. The way I use 123 Magic, I'm tracking any misbehaviors and responding with a simple "take 5". That means the child spends 5 minutes in timeout. Surprisingly, 10 year olds don't want to be in timeout and most avoid this experience by responding to the first or second warning. The third warning (hence, 1-2-3) results in the consequence.

Class Dojo
This app, available on an iPhone, iPad or any computer via a web interface, offers teachers an opportunity to "catch them doing something right". When I do, I give the student a "point" which is recorded on whatever device is closest to me -- iPhone, iPad or laptop. Usually, it's the iPhone in my pocket. The nice thing about this is that you can choose a list of things to watch for ahead of time. Then, when you give those points, an open browser on any classroom computer emits (if you choose) an audible sound to indicate that someone just got caught in the act of a positive behavior. When I award a point on my iPhone it's automatically synced to the laptop connected to my projector and speakers, so everyone knows that someone just earned a point. Plus, the running points are tallied throughout the day. We brainstormed and created a class list of rewards that can be earned after a certain number of points are accumulated. We did this for individual and class points. What a motivator!

In my pilot year using this system and software, my most recalcitrant student responded the most to this positive approach. Needless to say, he's used to having much more negative attention. My emphasis on the positive side of his behavior fostered more positive behavior almost immediately.

1-2-3 Magic
When students choose negative behaviors and need to be brought back to the positive side, they get a "count". I only have to say, "Johnny, that's a ONE." Everyone knows that means Johnny has received his first warning about misbehavior. Usually, Johnny says, "Sorry, Mr. Schwan", I respond with "thank you", and we leave it at that. 

What I added this past year is a record-keeping system so I wouldn't need to remember who had what "count" in my system. I open the 1-2-3 app on my iPhone and click a "1" next to Johnny's name. Again, an audible beep is emitted (if I choose) and Johnny knows I've recorded this infraction. Class Dojo has room for undesirable behaviors, too, and it would be just as easy to keep track of them within the Class Dojo app. A "count" (negative behavior) subtracts from the "points" (positive behavior) already accumulated. If your philosophy includes this sort of thinking (adding and subtracting points for positive and negative behavior), then just use the one (Class Dojo) app. I've done it both ways. 

When a student gets to a "count" of THREE, I say, "That's THREE, take five" -- which means a five minute timeout in a chair designated for the purpose. The student must take with him whatever work materials he needs to continue participating in class, and the timeout chair has a table next to it for that purpose. The difference is that I don't call on a student who is in that chair, he isn't allowed to make any noises or distracting movements, and we basically ignore him for 5 minutes. The 1-2-3 app has a 5 minute timer to help me remember to say, "Your 5 minutes is up, Johnny. You may return to your seat." Surprisingly, fifth graders (and certainly younger kids) don't like to be in timeout. For most, it's a BIG DEAL, even though I rarely contact parents about the timeout unless it becomes a chronic situation and happens often. The 5 minutes are served, and we move on with our day. We emphasize repentance and forgiveness in our classroom.

I mention this here in the context of writing about our 1:1 netbook program because Class Dojo offers the option of sharing the class points with either students, parents, or both. Students can keep track of their own points on their personal netbooks if I share the link with them. Parents, too, can follow along and a daily or weekly report can be sent home either electronically or via paper. This report was met with very positive comments the first time I sent one home. Even students with negative behaviors during the week received praise from their parents for how they received a majority of positive praise reports at school (Johnny had 95% positive behavior this week!). Mom and Dad tend to emphasize the positive, too, when Johnny brings home his report.

In conclusion, it turns out that carrots work better than sticks to shape positive behavior and to encourage more of it in the classroom! I use a combination of both, and use Class Dojo primarily because it keeps ME honest, looking for the many positive behaviors exhibited by students throughout the day. We now do a lot of celebrating because we have a lot to celebrate in our class!

When the Natives Get Restless: Monitoring Student Internet Usage

We have good kids at our school. We don't have too many big discipline problems. However, kids do get in trouble. Now that we've joined the 21st Century and have our students using netbooks all day every day, we're noticing our digital natives sometimes get restless. They sometimes stray from the acceptable use of technology and use their netbooks more as toys than tools. Now what?

We've tended to avoid an approach that overemphasizes blocking parts of the Internet. We have the software to do it, and we have limited certain things, especially for certain kids. But, for the most part, we've manages our netbooks by walking around and monitoring what kids are doing. Our parents, too, have gotten involved. The more tech-savvy parents, or the ones with kids who are tech-savvy, have installed software on their kids' netbooks that allow them (the parents) to be notified when the kids are straying from acceptable usage while on the Internet. 

We tend to deal with the abuse and the abuser while avoiding a blanket approach that assumes kids cannot be trusted with the technology tools we want them to use. So far, it's been working out. Have we had any glitches? Yes. We've dealt with these situations on a case by case basis, and that seems to be working fairly well so far.

What we've learned from a few years with this system is that we need to do a better job of parent orientation and education, and enlist our parents in monitoring their own child's usage. I encourage my students and parents to create a pact. I encourage them to have all computer time in a public area within the home. Rather than spending the evening in their bedrooms unsupervised, my students are encouraged to do their computer-based work in full view of their parents. I then tell the parents that I've given their children this advice, and I ask them to do their part by being available while their child is working on the netbook at home. This fosters trust, communication, and good practices for a child whose primary purpose in having his own netbook at school and at home is to use it as a learning tool. At school and at home I encourage game-playing and other toy oriented usage of the netbook as a reward for diligently using the netbook as a learning tool throughout the day and week. I use Class Dojo (see my article on Carrots and Sticks) to keep track of the positive use of netbooks and the rewards are clearly earned by the student.

When Digital Natives Act Like Foreigners

I really don't like the terms digital native or digital immigrant. However, if a native is a person born in a specified place or associated with a place by birth (in Google, type "define: native"), then my students were born in a certain time in history when digital tools were commonplace, if not ubiquitous. Every year I poll my students to find out how many of them have a computer at home that they are allowed to use. I ask how many have their own computer, cell phone, iPod, or other digital device. Almost all of my students have something with which they can access digital content online. Even those in the worst of economic conditions seem to have a smart phone!

When it comes to knowing how to use digital tools for learning, it's often another matter. What does a netbook teacher do when his students can't seem to remember to charge their netbooks? What happens when a student's only access to their current AR (Accelerated Reader) book is on a Kindle or Nook, and they routinely forget to charge the device, much less bring the charger to school. This happens even though we've provided a whole wall of electrical outlets for this purpose alone! Just because you're from a certain place doesn't necessarily mean you embrace the things that make that place unique and inviting. Just because a student lives in the 21st Century where digital learning tools are commonplace, it doesn't necessarily follow that they will come to school prepared to use these tools as part of a digital learning management system. I can find a piece of paper and a pencil to loan a forgetful student. It's a little more challenging to do this with a netbook. Although, I've tried!

If a foreigner is a person not belonging to a particular place or group; a stranger or outsider (in Google, type "define: foreigner"), then I have a sub-set of students in my classroom who are aliens! 

Personally, I've walked out the door with my iPhone still on the charger at home. This device serves as my watch, my timer, access to my email and text messages, my calculator, my camera, my magazine rack, and much more, including my telephone! I'm pretty lost without it. I use most of these things every day at school. How can a person leave home without it? I've done it. So, I sympathize with those students who've rushed out the door on a "bad morning" and neglected to put their netbook into their backpack. But, to do this day in and day out, or (worse yet) to come with no charger and a dead battery? What a waste of added weight in the backpack! No battery, no netbook. What's a netbook teacher to do?

I get mad. I think about getting even. But, I'm an adult. So, I get prepared. Our school does much of this for me, fortunately. Our principal, who doesn't have to deal directly with the students each day, maintains a more healthy perspective on the problem and has seen to it that our classrooms are retrofitted with the following:
  • several desktop computers for students whose netbooks are not available
  • about a dozen electrical outlets along a wall in the classroom, easily accessible for plugging in netbook chargers; in every classroom
  • I've added a table in that location so the netbooks don't have to sit on the floor
  • I've also instituted a rule: you cannot use the netbook, only charge it 
  • When it's charged for about a half-hour, then you use it for the rest of the class period; meanwhile, use digital tools or the class computers, which are often a hassle for the student because of file management issues
  • At lunch or recess, plug in your netbook again so you can go all afternoon without another charge
Most students, like me, forget only occasionally. Our netbooks can go all day on a charge (if the student purchased one of the recommended models), so if they follow a routine of charging overnight they are good to go from 8-3. Repeat that routine daily and all is well.

For those who forget, we have the systems mentioned above. It's working for most students. Those who appear to be foreigners or aliens, well, they're just different. They usually don't have their analog learning management tools, either. No pencil. No binder. No paper. No AR book. They forget to come to class on time. So, it's not about digital, it's about them being foreign to this whole system of learning called school and The ClassroomAs any teacher knows, every classroom has at least one of these learners. That's a whole new topic for another article. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning! 

Tools I Use As A Netbook Teacher

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I use a long list of software and hardware digital tools. Some are used for direct instruction or to engage my students in class sessions. Others keep me organized or remind me of what I need to do, when. Still others are used to share information or announcements with my students or their parents. The list below comprises my main tools, with a short description of each one.
  • Mimio Studio with a Bamboo Pen - this combination of hardware and software is in use all day long in my classroom. The Mimio software is designed to be used with their hardware, but works without it. The Bamboo is a writing surface with a pen that enables on-screen hand-written notes, drawings, and lessons. It plugs into a computer via USB. I use mine instead of a mouse. The Mimio software comes with clip art and templates, or you can import pictures, .pdf files, and more into the screens you're working on. I use Mimio "on the fly" to create notes for my students, and I also put lessons together before class begins. In that sense the software works like Powerpoint, but with more flexibility. Students can also participate by "writing on the board" during class using my laptop and Bamboo system, with a Mimio pen that writes right on the whiteboard, or a Mimio pad that works wirelessly throughout the classroom. All of the Mimio hardware is more expensive than my Bamboo pen which is available for about $60 on The Mimio software automatically gets registered if you have any one of their hardware tools plugged into your computer when you download the software.
  • WiFi projection system - with my Apple TV I can use this system, described in a separate post, to move around the classroom. My laptop, iPad or iPhone can be projected on my front-of-room screen from anywhere in the room. Because this works via WiFi I could actually be anywhere on campus and show what's on my screen. Using the Bamboo pen (see above) I can invite students to participate by writing or drawing "on the board" from their desk.
  • Dropbox and DropItToMe - I use a specific file naming system (explained below) and students save their work into their own Dropbox folder on their netbook. When it's time, they "turn in" a copy of the file that's due to my Dropbox folder via a linked DropItToMe account. They see my DropItToMe screen, type our class' password, click on "logon", then "choose file" and navigate to their file in Dropbox. Once chosen, they click SAVE and the file is uploaded to my Dropbox folder (on my laptop) via DropItToMe's link to it. It's easy to set this up, and my students can get to the link for my DropItToMe account via my website.
    • file naming format: 00paul-assignmentname, where 00 is student number, paul is student's first name, and assignmentname is a brief description of the assignment so I can distinguish between numerous in-progress projects and assignments coming into my Dropbox. When I use this naming format I can sort alphabetically and all the assignments are grouped together, sorted 01-30 by student. I can't stress how important this is. When students use the correct file name I can tell at a glance whose file is there and whose is missing.
    • I rarely use Windows anymore except to demonstrate the Windows file system or an app that only runs on Windows; otherwise, my students are exposed daily to the Mac OS as I use this computer as my main presentation tool. Meanwhile, they learn to use the Windows OS on their netbooks. By the time they leave my classroom they can navigate both operating systems fairly well, especially Windows 7/8.
  • Remind 101 - this software does one thing very well. It allows parents and/or students to "subscribe" to notices sent by the teacher via text and/or email messages. It's set up with an "opt-in" option for my school families. All I need to do is create a free account and print out a flyer that explains to parents what it is and how to sign up. If they choose to do so, then anytime I send a quick reminder ("Remember to bring your $$ for the field trip tomorrow!"), they get notification on their cell phone or email Inbox — or both.
  • SlideRocket  - I used this software to present my videos in a flipped science class; it allowed me to password protect my content. I used videos from Discovery Streaming, meant for classroom use, but embedded into the SlideRocket presentations for at-home use as part of my flipped class. The password protection prevented this subscriber content from being viewed outside of my class of students. While updating this article I discovered SlideRocket had been purchased by ClearSlide, with an unclear path ahead in terms of all the SlideRocket content I've created and posted online. This is one of the downsides to using FREE software and online platforms. You never know how long it will be available to you. By the time you read this SlideRocket for educational institutions may very well be history.
  • Google Voice - I use this for voice mail and text messaging with my class families, plus to make podcast recordings remotely. It's easy to set up a free account, and Google gives you a regular phone number that people can call to reach you. I have mine set up to go straight to voice mail, as I use it exclusively as a voice mailbox and remote recorder for podcasts. You can also make it ring through to your cell phone, home phone, work phone, or any combination simultaneously. In addition to voice calls and/or messages, you can set it up for text messaging. I like Google Voice because I can publish my Google Voice number on my website and offer additional ways for my parents and students to reach me without having to give out my cell phone number. When they leave a message it goes straight to my email and I can listen at my convenience. The text messages show up in my regular text box, and also on a separate app on my iPhone (and available in an app on my computer), too.
  • Google Sites - I use a free Google site for my class website. I also purchased a custom domain <> through which "points to" the Google site. For $15 a year (Hover) I have a professional-looking web presence that's easy to use and update as the need arises. As my families know, just about anything they want to know about our classroom, assignments, projects, my philosophy, or whatever can be found "on my website". There are plenty of helpful resources online to help walk you through the set-up and maintenance of a Google site.
  • Hover - within 5 minutes I was able to choose a domain name, or custom URL for my class website <>, and link it to my class website created with a Google Site. The people at Hover are quick to reply, very knowledgeable, and they've helped me move all of my domains to their company for a much easier and more pleasant experience. Give them a try!
  • Google Calendar - I use Google Calendar for my personal calendar. I also have a classroom calendar which is shared with my students' Google Calendars and embedded in my website for students and parents. All of my daily assignments and periodic projects are listed on this calendar.
  • Testmoz - I use Testmoz to create online tests and quizzes for my students. I purchased a "Pro" account for (I think) $20 a year so I could save all of my tests and use them over and over again. A FREE version is also available. Tests are easy to create and modify and self-graded as long as you use an "objective" type question (multiple-choice, T-F, etc.). I usually type up and hand out a paper version of essay-type questions, as they must be scored manually anyway. I've used Testmoz to have a parent monitor the test-taking of a child who could not come to school, but was able to take the test from home. I keep a silly sample on my website (the password is password) and then "turn on" the appropriate test when it's time to administer one. They can be turned ON or OFF as needed, yet are always available once you create the tests you need.
  • Socrative - as shown on my website, you can log in to my account and see the current lesson in progress when we're actively doing a Socrative lesson. Students log in with their netbooks and see the questions that I've posted. They answer the question then view how their answer compares to that of their classmates as projected in the front of my classroom from my laptop or iPad. Questions can be created beforehand, then "turned on" one at a time for class review, discussion, or as a quiz. Or, students can go through the questions at their own pace, depending on which way you design the set of questions. It's like a student response system using laptops, and it also works with iPads, iPhones or iPod Touches. The screen shown to the students at the front of my room shows how many, or what percent, of the students answered which way, so they can see how their performance compares to that of their peers. This enables me to see whether or not I need to modify my lesson and re-teach a concept. We tend to use Socrative when we're first learning a concept or skill.
  • Google Forms - Google Forms are one portion of the Google Drive set of web-based apps offered by Google. I use a Form for Visitor Feedback on my class website. Students have used Google Forms to poll their students on a wide range of topics. They then take the data which goes straight to a Google spreadsheet and graph their results. These graphs can be embedded into a Google doc, a word processed document, to report their findings. All of these web-based apps are integrated and designed to work together with each other for projects like this. When we do collaborative projects I may have one student create the Form, another analyzes the data and creates the graph, and still another writes the report, complete with embedded graphs to illustrate their findings. This is no different than the kinds of projects they may find themselves working on collaboratively someday in the world of work.
  • iShowU - (Mac-only) or Screencast-o-matic (web-based) - both of these apps capture what's on your computer screen, including any audio from your operating system or microphone if you have one, and create a video of it all. I use these apps all the time to make "screencasts" to show students how to do certain things. Recently, I started making a screencast as a way to give verbal and visual feedback to students on their writing projects handed in digitally. I simply highlight or mark up their paper right on my screen and talk them through the suggestions and comments I have. I then send them the video, usually through Dropbox, to watch at their leisure. You could also close the feedback loop by requiring them to answer three questions about the feedback you've given them, to verify that they've learned from and will make changes because of the feedback you've offered.
  • Evernote - this app is designed to help you "remember everything". Just about anything can be put into a note inside Evernote. A paid account allows up to 1 Gb of uploaded material per month, which I've never exceeded. Or, you can try it out for free with a limit on how much material you can put in. The material can be audio, video, .pdf files, or just typed notes you put into an Evernote note. I tend to either scan or take a picture of anything I want to keep or remember, and send these things straight to Evernote. I can even send something to Evernote by emailing a special address created inside my Evernote account when I signed up. A web clipper (available for all major web browsers) also allows me to send complete web pages to Evernote with one click. Notes can be tagged for easy retrieval by search, but you can also search on any word you choose because Evernote performs OCR (optical character recognition) on all the documents you put into it and will search the full text of your notes for that one word or phrase you typed in the search box. The best thing about Evernote (and also one of the main concerns some people have about it) is that your notes are stored in the Cloud—on the Internet—under your password-protected login. If you have an Android phone, iPhone, iPad, laptop, desktop, or even access to a borrowed computer, you can access your Evernote notes from any or all of these devices. They make a web-based portal, or you can download an app for any or all of these devices. That means your work shows up wherever you are. I keep notebooks for IN, NEXT ACTIONS, and REFERENCE. In addition, I keep a few project-specific notebooks like one for my upcoming vacation, the materials I'll need for a conference workshop I'm leading, and one called Retirement Planning. There are countless suggestions online for how to use Evernote as part of your everyday workflow. The one I found most helpful involves using it as part of a GTD (Getting Things Done) workflow system. I'm currently researching ways to use Evernote in an educational setting with my students. Find additional insights at The Secret Weapon or read the book by Daniel Gold called Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Getting Things Done. He also co-hosts a podcast with Andy Traub that I enjoy called The Productive Life Show. As a teacher I'm always looking for ways to improve productivity, either mine or that of my students. This app and some of the practices I've adopted with it have helped me move closer to this goal.
  • Scansnap scanners - I use two scanners, the S1100 and the iX500 for travel (kept in my backpack) or school, and at home, respectively. Both of them are used primarily to get things into Evernote, as mentioned above. Occasionally I'll email a document I've scanned, or even put a scanned picture into iPhoto on my Mac. One of my pending projects is to scan a bunch of old photos from back in the day of my family of origin. Most of them are black and white! The other project is to scan two 3-foot file drawers of paper so I can shred it all and get rid of the file cabinet.
  • - I recall when I first tried to keep my calendar on the computer. The biggest drawback then was that the software didn't allow me to see a full month or week at a glance. That's changed over the years, and so has software designed for lesson planning. The traditional lesson plan book shows a week-at-a-glance, as does planbookedu. Better yet, if I have a substitute coming, I can print out a day or a week for her and leave it on my desk. Or, I can send the plans electronically if I know who's coming and have their email address. I've lost track of how many times I've done a quick check of my plans for the after-recess class period while sitting outside with my kids. Even on an iPhone the screen is easy enough to see a day's worth of lesson plans with relative ease.
  • iPhone audio recorder to capture class lectures: iTalk, Recordium (iPhone) - there are others that probably work as well on an Android phone. These are the apps I've used on my phone to record lectures and presentations, my grandkids' voices, and plenty more. I have the most experience with iTalk, which will record a couple of hours at a time if you like, as long as you have storage room on your phone. Later, using WiFi I transfer the audio files to my Mac for editing in Audacity (see below) or, sometimes, just leave the files as-is without editing. I have a whole website which includes several audio recordings I've made of sessions I've attended while at FETC. FETC is educational-techology conference I attend each year in Orlando. I also use iTalk to record portions of my class lectures. I send them home as podcasts for my students to review before a test, or when students are absent and miss the class session.
  • Audacity - this is a free audio editor program for PC or Mac. We use it a lot to edit our podcast recordings. With it you can cut out unwanted audio sections from your recordings, or add things you forgot. You can also make multi-track recordings with your audio in one track and music in another. It's always nice to include music in your finished podcasts even if you only have a small clip in the beginning and at the end. My students love to find music on CCmixer that's been licensed for use in our podcasts.
  • Class Dojo and 1-2-3 Magic software - as I've written elsewhere (carrot vs stick), I use these two apps to keep track of student behavior. Class Dojo encourages an emphasis on positive behaviors, while I use 1-2-3 Magic to keep track of misbehaviors in the classroom. Don't get me wrong, though; both programs take a positive approach to classroom management.
  • Podcasts - I've listened to a lot of teacher-oriented audio podcasts; each one gives me ideas for teaching, educational philosophy, or reviews of software I might want to use in my classroom. I've subscribed and un-subscribed to more over the years than I remember. Here's my short list today:
    • Edreach >> Flipped Learning - this podcast focuses on issues related to a flipped classroom. A flipped classroom can take on many different forms. In my science classes I have my students view short videos on the week's topic at home so we can work on hands-on activities in the classroom. Students also work in the classroom on activities to help them learn the important vocabulary for each lesson. What I would usually lecture about in the classroom goes into shortened videos that kids watch at home. On the other hand, assignments I would usually give as homework are now done in the classroom. That's where the notion of the flip comes from. Homework and classwork are flipped, or switched.
    • Moving At the Speed of Creativity - Wesley Fryer blogs, podcasts and does presentations on a variety of educational technology topics. His emphasis lately seems to be on media used in an educational setting. 
    • Out of School - this podcast is the work of two school leaders living in separate countries (the US and Scotland) who gather on a regular basis to discuss the issues they face as 1:1 computing schools using iPads. While we do not use iPads in our 1:1 program, I find the discussions helpful in general as I think about our program with netbooks.
That's my list! I've added to it over the years. As you can imagine, I use some of these tools more often than others. I tend to listen to podcasts, for example, only on weekends while I'm cutting the grass or painting the house. Others get used every day in my classroom. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of some tools you can use.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tools We Use and Why We Use Them

In our 1:1 computing program we recommend our students buy netbooks. We give them several recommendations from models we've tried, then a list of minimum specs. After that, we leave it to the family to decide what to buy. They bring their own devices to school and we provide the WiFi throughout our campus.

During the summer we send out our netbook requirements and a list of software students should download and install before school begins in August. Our netbook recommendations and list of software to download is fairly short, and all the software we use is free and open source.

Why We Use the Cloud

We use cloud services extensively in our workflow including Google Drive and Dropbox. Which one depends on the software and the type of project or assignment we're working on. If the project requires collaboration between students, or between student(s) and teacher(s), we almost always use Open Office and Dropbox.

When we need to collaborate we use Google Drive. Anything other than Google Drive docs goes into Dropbox and is synced to "the Cloud".

Google Drive does the syncing automatically. We have had students lose their netbook hard drive and we're able to get them back up and running within a half hour with all of their files available. We install Dropbox on their loaner computer, sync it with their Dropbox account, and all of their files automatically download to the loaner computer. They can get back to work with minimal interruption and repeat the process when their computer comes back from the repair shop. Whatever work they did on the loaner is instantly available when they re-download Dropbox on their own computer. We then simply delete Dropbox and the student's files from the loaner and it's ready to go for the next unfortunate student whose computer is not functioning.

With Google Drive this process is automatic and works by simply logging into the student's account with a web browser. We use the Google Chrome browser because it's designed to work with Google Drive. Other browsers work, too, but not as well as Chrome. Chrome was designed by Google with cloud computing in mind. In addition, our school participates in Google Apps for Education which Google offers to educational institutions for free. The advantage here is that the school's administrator can make the school's domain completely private. This provides a "walled garden" that many have suggested is important for children when they collaborate on the Internet. They can learn in a safe environment, free from many of the distractions and dangers that the greater Internet brings.

(CC 2.0 license)
We use the free audio editor Audacity to capture, edit and publish student voices. Much has been written about the benefits of having students show and tell what they know using podcasts. In my class we use them a lot. One example is when we go on our annual overnight trip to Kennedy Space Center. At Space Camp our students call a Google Voice number I've set up for the purpose of capturing children's voices. The recording files go straight to my email as .mp3 files. The students work with their peer group to create simple scripts. Everyone carries a 3x5 inch spiral notebook and a ball point pen to keep track of the things they've seen and want to recall when they do this script-making. Once the scripts are organized the chaperones call the special Google Voice number and help the students record their audio program. In these 1-2 minute recordings the students share what they've seen and learned so far at Space Camp.

When we return to school we spend some time editing and publishing our best recordings. Our podcasts are published on our class website for others to enjoy. We always ask our listeners to provide feedback to our students, which motivates them to learn and share even more. We spend quite a bit of time before this field trip learning and practicing how to make a podcast using Audacity.

Office Suites: Open Office and Google Drive

Both Open Office (OO) and Google Drive (Drive) offer modules for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. In addition Drive offers Forms, which we use to gather data that we later manage and analyze with a spreadsheet. Here's a sample of an online form created using Google Drive's Forms module. Go ahead and try it; choose YES or NO and Submit.

Most Kids Like Computer Writing
We do a lot of writing on our netbooks. If our project or assignment requires no collaboration with others we use OO. The advantage is that OO can be worked on whether or not there is an Internet connection. Files are saved in the Dropbox folder on a student's netbook. When back in range of a WiFi hotspot, Dropbox syncs the file back up to "the cloud".

When we need to collaborate we use Drive. We've done this with pair-share stories for example. One begins, then shares the doc with the other. Anything written by one is accessible by the other, even if both students are working at home. We've seen some amazing collaborative stories come out of this simple exercise. Drive docs save automatically, and both students can be working on the same doc simultaneously. The disadvantage is that the student(s) must be online while using Drive documents. The advantage is the collaboration made possible by shared docs. These docs can even be shared with everyone by making them public. A public link is available for anyone to view in their web browser. This document is an example of that.

In our science unit on weather we've used spreadsheets in both OO and Drive to track changes in temperature or precipitation over time. We graph our results, then put the graphs into a word processing document with a report of our findings. Finally, we put these graphs into presentations to be shared with our classmates or the world. The examples shown here were created in Google Drive and shared with "the world" so you could see what they look like. They could just as easily have been shared only with classmates to be viewed as part of a class project.

Avast, Adobe Flash and Adobe Reader

These behind-the-scenes programs keep our netbooks out of trouble on the Internet (Avast) and enable us to view content that requires a little extra help (.pdf files or Flash videos and other content). Avast checks regularly for viruses and other types of files that would harm our netbooks. All three programs run in the background; we mostly forget about them after they're initially downloaded and installed.

Why We Use These Tools

We use these tools along with a handful of others to supplement an enhance our curriculum. Just like I try to integrate several core subject areas when planning lessons, I also try to use technology tools where appropriate. The tools help us get the job done, and they help us learn. The science project with temperature change involves multiple skill areas: writing, graphing, data-gathering, measuring, weather observing and prediction, and of course computer skills. We could make hand-drawn graphs, of course. Computer-generated ones not only look better, they're more fun to make.

In addition we use online tools such as Socrative to engage learners in responses during classroom sessions, Testmoz for online assessment, and DropItToMe for turning in digital files quickly and easily. There are others, but these are our most-used tools.