IMG_7269A couple of weeks ago, the SR EdTech Team was able to attend a relatively new education conference of nine years, SXSW Edu  – link. It was an amazing trip and I got a chance to listen to amazing keynote speeches, attend interesting and new-to-me edtech workshops and discussions, as well as meet an energetic and vibrant community of educators. I won’t forget this trip for a long time and I hope that I’m able to share the resources and great ideas I gathered over this four-day gathering in Austin, TX. I will dedicate another blog post on SXSWedu in the coming weeks, but I wanted to get you a list of great websites that can help pull you out of a funk, find a good lesson, think out of the box, organize yourself, and connect you to a community of folks that are only looking to help you whenever you feel stranded. Jennifer Gonzales and her blog cultofpedagogy can be an inspiring place to go when you need inspiration and her keynote rang a familiar bell in many people’s minds that were in the audience.

As the title of this blog post suggests, I wanted to share some of the blogs, websites, and resources the tech team accrued while we were there.

That said, here are the websites that I hope you can find some use for as you continue your journey as a passionate educator here at Stone Ridge.

I need to give props to Stone Ridge’s own series of Lunch Duty Podcasts. Ken Woodard, Urvi Shah, and several other Stone Ridge educators continue to create a series (16 so far) of podcasts for teachers by teachers. It’s the first link in the list below.

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  • Lunch Duty Podcasts (Soundcloud link) or Lunch Duty Podcasts internal (curated by Stone Ridge faculty) – The mission of this team is to podcast compelling audio interviews that elicit teaching wisdom and commentary from working teachers for the edification and amusement of working teachers.
  • SXSWedu.com – Ignore the header that looks like you’re only there to register for next year’s conference in Austin, TX. Just scroll down some and you’ll see a myriad of resources that are available to anyone, even if you didn’t attend. Watch the keynotes if you have the time. They are informative and inspirational. Jennifer Gonzales’ keynote could be a great place to start
  • Cultofpedagogy – J Gonzalez’ incredible, inspiration-rich blog is worth going to every day for ideas and ways to get unstuck! If you sign up for her newsletter, you’ll immediately get a free e-book on how to cut your grading time in half!!! We had the fortune of attending her keynote – link. She’s one of those special educators that after perusing her blog or listening to her just makes you want to be a better, and harder working, teacher!
  • Innovators Compass – I met these folks the night before the conference started. There are many graphical representations on how to push through things and make them happen, but you might like their metaphor on how to get unstuck. Ela Ben-Ur – profile, is a firebrand of a person. Her two-hour workshop on how to use the Innovators Compass to get unstuck packed in at least three hours of information and strategies. She came to education after years as a successful designer at IDEO and brings years of energy and brilliance to the change education space.
  • readwritethink – An incredible resource supported by NCTE. Just click in and start searching! Although the title suggests it’s just for language arts/English teachers, there’s much more than that – give it a click!
  • ck-12 – Incredible STEAM resources for teachers to peruse and use!
  • kathyschrocksguidetoeverything – Great resource for everything edtech. If you’ve ever wanted to find an activity or project that is STEAM-related, take a look here!
  • Cool Cat Teacher Blog – This educator recently moved from the blog format to a more graphically pleasing website (although still technically a blog), you’ll get great ideas, as well as some inspiration from what so many teachers post about their experiences, failures, successes, and more.
  • freetechforteachers blog – Richard Byrne, the creator and aggregator of this blog has been doing this for a long time. He piloted the 1:1 Maine Laptop program before it went live. Lots of collected knowledge over the years as a social studies teacher and more!

IMG_7234Bookmark this blog post as I will continue to update this as I find more and more resources. Email links that you find useful and I’ll add them!

from amazon website

from amazon website

So, the sales of this 7-inch tablet were on fire (ha) over the holiday season. These devices actually went for $35 through Christmas. The regular price is $50. Is this device worth all of the one-click ordering or will it go the way of Amazon’s failed attempt at creating an iPhone and Samsung S6 killer – the horribly received (and even worse functioning) Amazon Fire Phone?

As a person who has owned more 7-inch tablets than a human has a right to (I’m working on it, I’m working on it!), I have tried or owned everything from a Chinese $30 android tablet to the WAAAAAAAY too large iPad Pro. Although the new Kindle Fire is closer on the scale to the cheap 7-inch tablets, I will say that is is quite serviceable and would recommend it to anyone who is trying to figure what the fuss regarding tablets is all about. I now have had this device to use for over a month. I’ll lay out the six areas where tablets are judged – size, build, screen quality, computing speed, battery life, and value. I’ll use a 1-5 scale with 1 being the best and 5, not so much.

  • Size – 3 – this more about thickness and weight. It doesn’t feel svelte, but it’s comfortable in hand, with its rounded edges.
  • Build – 3 – the glass on the front seems pretty sturdy. I haven’t had it long enough to see if it’s scratch resistant. The back is a somewhat slippery plastic panel that sounds hollow when you thump it. It’ll do.
  • Screen Quality – 4 – I’m surprised how nice the screen is. I was expecting a washed out, dark, and pixelated experience, but matched up against one of my higher quality tablets, it held up pretty well. It is an IPS display with 1024 x 600 dimensions. It’s probably the worst at doing what Kindles were meant to do, being an e-reader.
  • Computing speed – 2 – This is not a speed demon by any stretch of the imagination, but for a sub $50 tablet it manages to do things without wanting to throw it out the window.
  • Battery life – 5 – You could go for three or four days of medium use and only need to charge it at the end of that fourth day. It also maintains a pretty decent charge on stand by. I’ve tried out tablets before that never leave the house because the drain even when not being used and start fading within the first 1/2 hour use.
  • Value – 10 – Yeah, it’s off the scale, but if you are someone that has never tried a tablet out before and wants to experiment, I really think  you can’t go wrong with for your first tablet experience.

I forgot to mention it, but since Amazon is all about you buying stuff from them, this tablet is like an always-on advertisement. When you wake it from sleep, you see an ad for one thing or another. It will also push other ads during different parts of your tablet experience. If you’re used to browsing the web and ignoring the side advertisements, you won’t have a problem with that small nuisance. Finally, if you have Amazon Prime then this really is a no-brainer! Many movies, songs, games, books, and e-magazines are free. If you’re on the fence about this device, give it a go!

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 11.01.44 AMWe are at the homestretch! Past Thanksgiving break and only 3 weeks until Christmas break. But, who’s counting?

I wanted to make sure you knew about the Ed Tech Team’s collection of instructional videos – link

Open it and bookmark it to make it easier to find. It’s taken over two years to finally create a space where we’ve collected videos on how to use some of the best-of-the-web online resources. If you miss one of my grade level tech sessions, you’ll find what you missed right here. We recently added an organizational bar across the top that lets you streamline your search of web tools. Enjoy!

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 9.04.41 AMHappy Halloween all! This blog post is perfect because it deals with all 6th graders in Ms. Fine’s class dressing up and acting like someone else. In the case, the someone else was TV news reporters, famous ancient Egyptians or both.

I’m sure you realize that technology and videography has advanced so far that you don’t actually have to be in space, on a boat, in the kitchen, or in a newsroom in order to look like you are. Green/blue screen or chromakey is the video effect that allows you to place anything behind the scene. Even the most basic video editing package allows novice film makers to use this effect in their productions.

Over the past two weeks, I worked with Sharon Fine to build on the Nile News that she assigned as a class project during her first year at Stone Ridge. I don’t think she knew what she was getting herself into. The evolution of this project was the addition of green screen to place our precocious talking heads in the land of pharos and pyramids – here’s what we did – Nile News.Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 9.05.22 AM

You might think, “big deal, doesn’t really enhance their learning?” and you might be right, but with some great collaborating between content (Sharon’s job) and video production (my job), I think students were able to deepen their understanding about an ancient civilization, while enjoying the process at the same time. Their report was the script of their news report. Their enhanced understanding was the reading of their script/report over and over as they prepared for the bright lights and make up. Their understanding of a vast amount of ancient Egyptian knowledge was each student being an audience

There are other parts of this project that made life easier for teachers and reduced traditional resource use – bulletin board paper, paints, markers, and more. Set up and break down time was minuscule compared to what it would take to make an even basic news set or Egyptian backdrop.

Ms. Fine will have to tell you if students thoroughly grasped the information, but I will tell you the most powerful experience for me was collaborating with Sharon to do this project, which was doubled (four classes instead of two) and made more complicated by the chromakey addition. Our work together last Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 9.03.55 AMyear gave both of us the confidence to know that we would work together to make something great (even pretty good would have been fine). I am finding that these relationships are developing and growing at an incredible pace and I am honored to work with and support the amazing teachers and faculty of Stone Ridge!

 

surfacebookLast week, Microsoft held something similar to Apple’s yearly product launches. Apple seems to do these launches the best and everyone else seems to copy them in one way or another. Anyway, a short time after Apple introduced updated phones and a 12 inch iPad for enterprise, Microsoft launched its first laptop – the Surface Book. Here’s where Microsoft might have an edge  – the Surface Book runs a full version of Windows 10. Windows 10 replaced an unintuitive and much disliked OS – Windows 8 and 8.1. The press on Windows 10 has been pretty good! On the other hand, the iPad Pro uses Apples tablet and phone OS – iOS9. Yes, iOS 9 is built for the form factor of a tablet, where thicker fingers are used in place of a pointer or cursor. The problem with that is that the iPad Pro is only a tablet, while the Surface Book is both a tablet (detachable and fold-backable keyboard) AND a regular full powered laptop device. Many felt that Apple should have finally produced a full desktop OS – OS10 into this tablet form factor. Nope. ipadpro

We will see in the coming months whether consumers really wanted a full OS tablet/laptop. The Surface Book has a unique hinge design and looks pretty sweet! Since a large part of the business world is still steeped in the Windows environment, it has a head start on the iPad Pro. Watch this space.

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For Stone Ridge Families – the announcement has been made. After some long conversations and focus groups and test drives of various devices, the Stone Ridge Middle School, grades 5 and 6 are moving to a 1:1 program using this incredibly flexible and full-powered device: Link Grades 7 and 8 will switch over to ThinkPads in the following year. After two months of using this convertible laptop/tablet I’m happy to say that it will meet, and in some cases surpass, the needs of a middle schooler! If you haven’t had a chance to try out one of these machines I think you’ll find the hinge design, which allows for the flipping of the screen in various positions, is nothing short of a miracle. A sturdy miracle at that. About the only way I could see someone breaking it would be if someone thought it was a twist-screen. We have been fortunate enough to roll out these devices to our 5th and 6th grade teachers so they can begin to get comfortable with all of the Yoga’s capabilities. Our 5th and 6th grade students will get a hands-on introduction to them in variouus sessions over the summer so that they’ll be ready to use them effectively as the actual school year begins. Here’s the blurb we shared with our teachers as we rolled out the Yogas:

Welcome to your new Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga Pro. After much conversation and test drives, we’ve found this convertible and flexible device to be the best solution for your needs and the needs of a middle school student. While the tablet interface has been excellent for consumption of books, web pages, movies, youtube video clips, we’ve found that a larger screen, an actual full-sized traditional keyboard AND a touchscreen interface with accurate pen input gives us and students a greater opportunity to brainstorm, develop, research and create! Windows 8.1 has been updated and enhanced to give the end user a more intuitive and effective workflow and experience – when you log onto this machine, you will be greeted with a familiar desktop interface. You will be able to access applications, files and change your computer settings in a familiar way, plus your ability to locate, save, and organize your files will be something that is tangible as opposed to an iPad’s invisible (and therefore, not understandable) file saving scheme. The added bonus to the Windows 8 experience is that you (and probably students) can easily shift into a tablet-like interface that allows the user to operate their Yoga like a tablet. It only requires the click of the Windows button to switch back and forth.

Don’t get me wrong, the iPad 2s that we have been using over the past three years are still great with media creation and research and organizing. You certainly can’t beat an iPad’s portability! Next year the iPads will be equipped with keyboards so that typing and reports will not be typed on glass. Here’s to the shifting world of technology!