Looking Forward

Never Forget

iPad Gem: Bento

Almost anyone that works in a school these days is required to keep track of a lot of data these days, and I am no exception. Among other things, I have a list every student in the school to keep track of their log-in information and I also keep an inventory of all the technology hardware in the school.

Up to now, this has meant me printing large amounts of paper so I can double-check each teachers inventory, make the necessary changes on the paper I printed and then go back to my computer and update the information there. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could carry some type of device with me with which I could update the information there?

With the iPad and the app Bento, I can do exactly that. Happy days are here at last!

Bento is an easy-to-use database program I’ve been using on my Macs for a few years now and what I’ve been using to keep long lists of information. It was good, but there was that missing piece to the workflow.

I thought the Bento iPhone app was going to be the answer, but I didn’t find it particularly useful. The screen was too small and it didn’t show me the lists of information I needed to see.

The iPad app is a whole different story. It imports all the lists I created on my desktop and makes navigating between them a breeze. If I want to see a list of students in a particular room, I can get to that quickly. I wasn’t able to see that on my iPhone.

I can also add a student or edit any of his information right from the iPad. Even more impressive, I can sync the changes over wifi back to my desktop with just a click of a button.

I have noticed a few glitches in the sync function as I’m trying to sync all my data with my computer at home as well as at work. I’ve noticed if I have a group of information (a library, using Bento’s terminology) only on my iPad, it will delete it when I try to sync it. It needs to exist on the Mac. Similarly, I had some sample libraries I deleted on my iPad, but after I synced, they had reappeared because they still existed on one of my computers. It’s probably much easier to manage if you sync the information on your iPad and one computer instead of two.

But if you need to track a large amounts of data, I recommend you look into Bento. I know it’s going to make things easier for me as well as save a whole bunch of paper!

Blogging 2010

Although we haven’t quite got blogging right at my school, I continue to believe it’s the most important tool a school can use for students starting in about fourth grade.

The reason why is it’s so versatile. If you use a blogging platform like WordPress like we do, you can post images, video and audio as well as text. Students can post their artwork, poems, songs, pictures, stories, videos, screencasts, maps, animations, designs – any or all of the above. It can be interactive as you want it to be and as open or closed as you want it to be. It can be a portfolio of multimedia projects, a literature response journal, an collection of published writings, a research project, a way for students to submit homework assignments and so much more.

There are some hurdles. It takes awhile to get them set up and then someone needs to regularly go through the blogs to approve posts and comments. Students are also slow typists and it takes them a long time to finish even a medium-length blog post at the beginning. (This also raises the question of how much time you should reserve for teaching students proper keyboarding.) Also, somewhat surprisingly, students need to be taught how to participate in the interactive opportunities blogs open up. They need to be taught how to properly respond to other students’ ideas and pushed to comment on other students’ blogs. They love to get comments, but they often don’t want to go to the trouble of commenting on other students’ posts. Well, you can’t get one if no one wants to do the other! Finally there’s the age-old difficulty of getting students to use proper spelling, punctuation and grammar.

To hopefully push us in the right direction, we’re going to have every class come to the computer lab every two weeks for regular non-blogging technology instruction. That will open it up so every two weeks fourth and fifth grade students will come to the computer only to do blogging. A Friday will also open up so students can finish up a blogging assignment they didn’t finish during the first period or work on a special blogging-related project. (The guiding motto for these projects will be: If they can post it or embed it into a blog, they can come to the computer lab and work on it on this day.)

Some other ideas:

* At the beginning, I’m going to try to have shorter assignments that won’t require a lot of typing. That will give us time to have a little keyboarding practice before and will also give students time to comment on other students’ blogs.

* I’m going to give students the opportunity to start multi-author topic blogs. Instead of only writing for their personal blog, they could also contribute to a blog in which they have a special interest, like the Dallas Cowboys or U.S. Presidents or their favorite TV show or comic book series, etc.

* I’m not totally certain this is a good idea or not, but here it is: For students who prove themselves to be trustworthy and demonstrate a reasonable command of the conventions of good writing, they would be given more control over their blog. Specifically they would be able to publish posts without getting teacher approval in advance. (Teachers would still approve comments.) We’d have a special meeting with the parents beforehand to explain the process and get them involved. What do you think?

Up to know, we’ve dipped our toe in the water when it’s come to blogging at our school. Now it’s time to jump in and see if we can start swimming. I think we can!

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image credit: Silvia Tolisano

Lessons: El Paso Missions

I’ve decided that one of the things I’m going to do in this blog is to write about some of the ideas for lessons I have in the computer lab. First, it’ll help me to remember to do them. Maybe it’ll give other people ideas on how they can integrate technology in their classrooms or schools.

Every year, fourth grade students at our school take a field trip to the historical missions in the area. This series of lessons could be done a week or two before they take that field trip. It’s to familiarize with some information before they go, such as when they were built, where they are and who they were built for.

1. Student would work in pairs to read information about the El Paso Missions on selected websites in order to sort the facts to the correct mission on a Wallwisher wall I created. When complete, they could print that information.

2. Students would produce pictures of the three missions in a drawing program such as KidPix and export the drawings.

3. Students would make a presentation of their information and their pictures using Keynote or Powerpoint.

iPad Gem: Flipboard

Flipboard is an innovative new app which gives you a much better way to read your Twitter and, to a lesser extent, your Facebook accountss. What it does it take all the updates, the pictures and the links to articles the people you follow have posted and then puts them into a magazine type format.

For example, here is the “front page” of my Facebook feed this morning in Flipboard :

I can now tap on any of the pictures or text which will let me see the full entry, let me see any replies and let me add my own reply. It’s really well done! I’d about given up on both Twitter and Facebook but this might change that around.

There’s also some other preselected feeds you can add, but I haven’t added any of those. I already have enough things to read and unless someone puts together a great news collection, I’ll probably just stick to my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

There are a couple of things that should be improved. First, the Twitter integration is a lot better than Facebook’s because in Facebook it’ll only show your friends’ updates and not the updates from the pages you’re a fan of. I’m a fan of some news organizations, TV shows, podcasts, and musical acts and it would be great to get those updates in Flipboard and make it much more like a magazine.

Another quirk in the program is you’re never sure when it’s going to update. I launched it this morning and all the Twitter updates were the very same ones that were there six hours before. It wasn’t until 15 minutes later when I relaunched the app that I saw new entries. Maybe a refresh button could be added?

One other improvement I would suggest: Less clicks! If someone links to an article, there’ll be a short excerpt shown in Flipboard along with it’s headline and a picture if it finds one. If you click on that, it’ll show a full screen version which has the headline, the pictures and maybe four paragraphs of the article. To see the full article, you have to click again and it’ll take you to the website where you can finally read the full article. I’d like some kind of way to see the full article after that first click.

But if you have an iPad, definitely download this app and give it a try. After all, it’s free! You can see how developers are figuring out how to use that extra space the iPad gives them and making it more than just a big iPhone. Instead of giving you a long list of items to scroll through, they’re figuring out how to present things in more innovative and attractive ways.

ISTE 2010: How to Avoid a Wasted Session

As the technology coordinator at my school, it’s often up to me to provide professional development for our teachers in this area. Lots of times they work out, sometimes they turn out to be a total waste of time for one reason or another. For this reason, I always try to analyze the sessions I attend at ISTE as to what made them successful or not and use those lessons when I plan my own sessions.

Fortunately this year it was a high percentage of valuable sessions at this year’s conference. I attended several by people who are required to present formal presentations as a regular part of their job – college professors, professional trainers, principals – and all of their sessions were good. Interestingly it was the classroom teachers who lead sessions that weren’t very good.

Like the session on Google Earth. I was really looking forward to this session because, although I think Google Earth is a great program, I’ve never figured out a way to use it with students. About a year ago, I did set up a lesson in which students needed to find something in the program, but when the students launched it, they all didn’t see the same thing – there were several different variations in what was being shown. There was such a difference that I couldn’t give a direction because it was different for so many of the students. I soon gave up and went to something else.

So I really wanted to find out more about this program and ideas on how to use it with students. Unfortunately I didn’t get that with this session. The presenter was certainly knowledgeable and gave out a lot of information about different tools and resources available within the program but I didn’t really get a picture on how to present that to students or why I would want to. (Much of it seemed geared to secondary students, so that was part of the problem.)

During the session, we were encouraged to “play with” and explore Google Earth, but I’ve already done that on my own time. For me, what would have been more helpful is if I were given some task to do and see what connections I could make on my own – then I’d have a better idea on how to utilize the power of the program for my students.

I did get the idea of trying it out next year before the fourth grade students go to Carlsbad. They could follow the route we’re going to travel, locate Guadalupe Peak along the way so they’ll know which mountain that is and see if there’s any virtual tours available.

I also attended a session on creating a student-produced news program. We’re going to start a media class at our school so this session was especially relevant to me. It wasn’t a total waste by any means – it was interesting to see the different roles they gave students and the different segments they had (one of which – a public service announcement – was a good one that I hadn’t thought of). But they took too long on this and then the hands-on portion was a waste. They had these templates for us to download and adapt them a little bit. Again, it was interesting to see, but it would have been a lot more helpful if we’d learned how to make our own templates. I’ll use some of their ideas, but it’s not going to be exactly the same and I doubt any other school would have their’s exactly the same as our’s. So I think that would have been a lot more helpful.

Creating an engaging technology session is extremely hard, especially at a conference at ISTE where the attendees are so knowledgeable. I know the presenters were prepared and had useful knowledge to impart, but something got lost in the translation. At least, for myself, I didn’t get the necessary experience from the sessions that would push me forward in these two areas. You win some, you lose some.


When I was up in Minnesota earlier this month, I spent a day in Duluth, which has to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It’s built on a big hill on the northern tip of Lake Superior. In the main part of the city, you can see Lake Superior just about everywhere you go, like you can see the Franklin Mountains in El Paso. I lived there when I was in college and the city brings back many happy memories.

ISTE 2010: Extreme Makeover

Steve Dembo is one funny guy. He kinda resembles John Belushi and has the same blustery-with-a-wink personality. He had the participants laughing throughout this hour long session.

It was called Extreme Makeover: Education Edition and the idea was that he was going to teach tech newbies how to use some Web 2.0 tools. I was there to see which websites he chose and how he would introduce each one.

Most of the websites he went through were ones I was familiar with – he went over Blabberize (why didn’t we do anything with that last year?), ipadio (which I wrote about in May) and how to start a blog.

He spent the most amount of time on Wallwisher, a very simple website which lets you create a virtual corkboard on which you or your students can add their own notes, and has lots of possible uses. I’m definitely going to have to find ways to use that next year.

The funniest one was Let Me Google That For You, for those colleagues who email you questions they could very easily find for themselves if they’d only take a minute to Google it themselves.

Steve’s approach to these websites was very similar to the one Tammy Worcester uses in many of her sessions: He would show the basics of each website, explain how to get started and give ideas on how to use it in the classroom. It was very fast paced and enjoyable for the inexperienced tech teacher as well as the experienced ones.

iPhone 4 Followup

I watched Steve Jobs’ press conference yesterday and I thought he did well. Although he didn’t apologize for any mistakes he or the company have made in the past several weeks besides a general “we’re not perfect,” he made a decent explanation on what was causing the iPhone 4′s receptions problems and made reasonable steps to make the situation right.

I’m still not entirely convinced having that antenna making up the outside band of that phone is such a good idea, Mr. Jobs made a convincing argument that this was totally overblown – most of the people who have bought the new iPhone are not having this problem. A very small percentage of them are reporting this problem to Apple support or returning their phones.

Still, to alleviate the problems some users are having, Apple is giving everyone who has bought an iPhone a free bumper, which seems to solve the problem, or they can bring it back for a full refund. For me, I think these are totally fine solutions. Hopefully the media frenzy will die down and move on to their next victims.

The iPhone 4 Antenna Issue: A Non-Sensationalized Perspective

What’s maybe most remarkable about the recent coverage of the iPhone’s antenna issues is the inability of our mass media to get the story right. It makes you wonder: If they can’t explain something as simple as a phone, how can we trust them to explain important, really complicated events like wars and the economy?

First, let me point out that I don’t own the iPhone 4 and don’t plan to. I bought a 3GS late last year and I’m not eligible for any reduced pricing on any upgrade at this time. Even if I was, I’m happy with my phone now and I don’t need every new feature the moment they’re released. But from everything I’ve heard is that the new iPhone is a great device that most buyers are very happy with and it also appears that have a strange antenna problem in weak signal areas if held a certain way.

That’s hardly the message you get from watching the TV coverage. Watching that, you’d get the impression that the iPhone 4 is a total lemon that needs to be recalled and that Apple is trying to rip off the public by refusing to do so. Ridiculous. What would be the point of that? True, Apple is a company that wants to make money, but it wants to keep making money by selling customers the iPhone 5 and 6 and 7 and so on. It’s had a very good run lately and it’s not in the company’s interest to stop that momentum with a faulty product. That said, so far it has responded to these antenna reports very poorly with stupid statements like telling customers they have to learn how to hold their phone differently and at one point deleting every reference to a critical Consumer Reports article on their discussions forums. Hopefully at today’s press event, they’ll apologize for those blunders, have a clear explanation for what’s going on with their antenna and detail a fair and reasonable way to fix it.

Actually, I think Consumer Reports had it exactly right. When they tested the new iPhone, it came out as the highest rated smartphone. They also confirmed the antenna issue and, as a result of that, didn’t recommend it. They didn’t tell people not to buy it, they just couldn’t recommend it.

If I were buying a new phone, I would have no problem buying an iPhone 4. I would, however, be sure check the return policy at the store I was buying it from so I could bring it back without any cost or hassle if I did turn out to have significant problems with it.

But let’s see what Apple says today.

ISTE 2010: The Worcester Method

Last spring when I was planning a session for the TNT technology conference in El Paso, my goal was to pick something that would be popular. I wanted a session so huge that it would pack the room and I’d have to turn people away. So I shamelessly applied two insights I had attending NECC in 2008: (1) conference attendees, like casual book readers, like practical sessions with numbers in them, and (2) teachers like sessions like the one Tammy Worcester gave that have a lot of different ideas and presented in such a way that they can get a picture of how they would use it in the classroom.

The result was 50 Great Math Websites for the Elementary Classroom, and yes it worked. The room was packed and I did have to turn people away. Success!

I attended Tammy’s session on Monday titled Tammy’s Favorite Free Web Tools and she was great again. Her session started on 3:30 after a long day. I was tired, my head was sore, I was in the mood for a long nap. Yet within the first five minutes of the workshop, I got a second wind because I was excited about the things I was learning about. She had so many great websites and many of them even I had never heard of. I don’t know how she does it.

I think part of the reason she’s so successful is that in these types of sessions, she has so many resources to share, you know if there’s one that quite doesn’t catch your fancy, there’s going to be another one coming soon. But there’s a danger in this approach in that it just becomes just a big long list that makes your head spin. Tammy though spends some time on each tool – she shows how to get up and running on each one and then she gives some different ideas on how it can be used. It really is a good template on one way to present a session, one I think some (though not all) presenters would benefit from picking up on.

My favorites of the websites she presented were ones that would allow students to much more easily produce and share creative work than in the past.

  • JamStudio – An online music-making site, which can either complement or use in place of GarageBand. (Make sure you scroll down to the bottom and click on the In the Classroom link so you can get free access to the site.)
  • Vocaroo – I’ve written about ipadio, which is the easiest way to make a podcast. But if you want to have a student make a one-off recording of something, Vocaroo is the easiest. Perhaps the best part is that it doesn’t require a login! Yet it will still save the recording, it provides an embed code so it can be put into blogs.
  • Sketchcast – With this website you can record what you sketch onscreen along with your voice. You could have students describing a math concept or explain how to solve a problem. Unlike Vocaroo, it does require a log-in which unfortunately does a hoop you’d have to jump through.
  • Jing – Jing is an alternative to Sketchcast but it’s an application that would have to be installed. (There is both a Windows or Mac version available.) Now when I tried to use Jing in the past, it seemed like I had to upgrade for it to be able to do what I wanted it to do and I already have Screenflow. I need to try it again to see if it would work for students.

I also attended a session on Google Spreadsheets and Forms that Tammy presented. She did a good job, but I didn’t get as much out that one because I’m already familiar with the basics which is what she covered. I did learn there was a way to make a spreadsheet template in Google Docs and there’s an easier way to check if an answer is correct if you make a quiz with Google forms, but she didn’t cover that.

Links are available for the Free Web Tools and the Google Spreadsheets and Forms examples.

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