Magic mouse

magic_mouse

If you own a laptop of any kind you have at least considered buying a mouse. I have a cheap wireless mouse for my Windows laptop. Like most wireless mice, this mouse has a USB receiver that plugs into the laptop. It works fairly well for $15.

Besides that laptop I also have a MacBook Pro purchased mid-August. I hadn’t purchased a mouse for it yet. I have a corded USB Apple mouse provided for me by my school district. I use it with my school issued MacBook.

Thanks to Santa, AKA my wife, I got an Apple Magic Mouse for Christmas. I previously had the opportunity to try one out at the local Best Buy. I had been meaning to get a mouse, but it just didn’t make it to the top of the priority list. I have been considering the Magic Mouse, but at $70 I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money. I can use a cheap one just fine.

After spending a little time using the Magic Mouse I am very happy with how well it works. Here are few of my thoughts on the features.

1.  Bluetooth – The Magic Mouse is bluetooth. No need to keep track of a USB receiver. The Magic Mouse is bluetooth. That means I won’t have to worry about losing it. It paired with my MacBook Pro very easily. The instruction manual claims it can also be paired to another Mac, but I haven’t attempted to pair it with my MacBook.

2. Right Click – If you are accustomed to using an Apple mouse, you know you have to control-click to get the right click menu. The Magic Mouse has a right click option. For a short time I found myself clicking on the right side by mistake. This is because I was used to clicking on the middle of the mouse button since it only had one button to click. You can turn off the right click, but why would you?

3. Gestures – I have turned all of the gestures options on. The mouse gestures works slightly different than the gestures on the track pad, but it is very easily mastered. The best is the scrolling. If you own an Apple mouse with the track ball on top you know the ball breaks easily. I have had many of them break on the Macs in my computer lab at school. There is no track ball to break on the Magic Mouse. I also like using the gesture to move forward and back on a web browser.

4. Zoom – It will also allow you to zoom with the double tap of a finger. I don’t use this very often, but it is an option.

Overall I love the Magic Mouse. $70 for a mouse seems outrageous. If it lasts the life of my MacBook Pro, it will be worth the money. If you don’t use gestures on your computer, the Magic Mouse is not worth the money. Go out and spend $15 for a cheap mouse.

 

GPS in education

gps

One technology I am trying to find more uses for in the classroom is GPS technology. GPSs have been around for some time, but in many schools this technology is rarely used. Many schools need to think about making the GPS technology a larger component in learning. Technology is a key component of both Common Core and state standards.

In my opinion schools do not utilize this technology because of two reasons.

The first reason many school do not use GPS technology due to the absence of GPS devices. Every school that I know of is on a very tight budget that seems to be shrinking everyday. Buying a set of devices hasn’t been in the budget.

I am very fortunate to work in a school district that not only embraces a wide variety of technology, but I am at school that was awarded a large grant and the school purchased 14 very nice GPS devices. But even in my school, the GPS devices are rarely used. This is disappointing.

If your school or district does not currently have GPS technology there are some places to look.

Is there a local grant opportunity to write the purchase of GPS devices into the project? Garmin makes a low cost device that is very good for entry level at a $100 price point. (I just purchased the Garmin eTrex 10 and love it. I will post a review soon.)

If writing a grant is not an option, will your school or district be willing to purchase one or two devices. This isn’t idea for an entire classroom, but you can still teach with the technology. Years ago used just one GPS, which I purchased personally, with a classroom of 24 students. I developed enough activities to allow each student to hold and use the GPS. It obviously takes more time planning, but it can be done.

Many communities have set up an academic foundation to provide classrooms with extra funding options. Can you submit a proposal? Are there community groups or organizations who not only will let you borrow some devices, but will volunteer to help out during the lesson? This may take some time to investigate, but your students are worth the trouble.

If you are teaching with older students, many may have a GPS app on their phone. Could you allow students to use their phone to teach them about and utilize GPS technology? (What, let students use their cell phone in school, OH the horror!)

But using a GPS isn’t really about learning what a GPS does, but utilizing the tool in the social studies and science classroom to enhance the learning outside of the classroom.

That brings me to the second reason many school do not use GPS technology which is due to the requirement to get out of the classroom and go outside. In some cases this may require going off campus. (Take the students off campus, again, OH the horror!)

The world is full of lessons to learn. Do you think learning about weathering is better learned from reading a book or by going out into the community and seeing it first hand? Is watching a video allow students to touch the bricks of an old building that have the corners rounded because of the wind and rain’s effect over time? This takes time and planning. In some cases it takes money to pay for a field trip, but in most cases, the parents are willing to pay extra for these types of learning experiences.

Open your mind to the possibility that the GPS can be used to teach students a great deal about the world around them. And they will have fun doing it!

Look for a follow up post on using the GPS in education soon.

Robotics Club

It’s 6:30 am and a group of teens huddle around a box. Inside the box are small pieces of plastic. The teens are making small talk and laughing with each other. An outside observer might consider making a quick 911 call. What are these junior high students doing this early in the morning? Typically we can get out teens out of bed before 10:00 am!

These students have gotten up early to come to school to meet with the Spring Hill Robotics Club that was started at their school this year. Students are using Lego’s Mindstorms kit to design, build and program a robot to complete simulated Mars rover missions. Currently, students are working in teams to see who can build the most effective rover which can collect “Mars” rock samples by dragging rocks back to the home base.

These students, which are from special education, general education, and accelerated education programs, are using science and math skills to complete the mission.

One might ask how this all got started. Back in late May of 2012 the robotics club advisor, Robert Lane, and his wife were at a mall in Cleveland, OH. They decided to walk into the Lego store. On the shelf was a Lego Mindstorms kit. This sparked the curiosity on how this could be incorporated into the classroom. After some investigation, and with the help of Lego Education Consultant Ivery Toussant, that curiosity became an idea.

The principal, Mrs. Warner and assistant principal, Mrs. Meadows, gave their blessing to start a club before or after school. The curriculum director, Ms. Phillips, agreed to have the school district purchase one Mindstorms kit to get the club started.

Over the summer Mr. Toussant sent an invitation to a NASA Robotics workshop out to his clients including Mr. Lane. Jumping at the chance to learn as much as possible about integrating the Lego Mindstorms kit into the classroom, Mr. Lane jumped at the opportunity.

During this workshop, which was facilitated by Paragon, a series of six missions were introduced to integrate Lego robotics while simulating actual Mars missions. Missions include clearing the landing field of debris, calculating the amount of light shining on the landing field, collecting Mars rock,

The workshop was extremely valuable to the planning of the robotics club. The knowledge gained prepared Mr. Lane with lessons and ideas on organizing the club meetings. The club has done as well as it had largely due to the experience Mr. Lane had at the robotics workshop.

After a month, the average number of students in attendance each week was 8 students, so the school district agreed to purchase one more kit to allow students to work in teams of 4-5 and compete with each other to see who couple build the most effective robot to complete the missions.

Towards the close of the first semester, the club is typically running at 10 students with at least one new member each month.

Three key objectives that were met during this mission were:
• Students successfully worked in teams to design, build and program the robot.
• Students used the scientific method to hypothesize and test the groups ideas.
• Students used geometry skills to decide how much of a revolution to make the arm swing.

Additionally, students learned how to program some additional behaviors to the robot including playing sounds and turning on small lights attached to the robot.

When should I update?

If you own a mobile device of any kind you have probably asked yourself, “Should I update that app?” or “Should I install the new OS?” Maybe I’m the only one, but I don’t think so.

When making the decision to update an app or operating system you need consider some of the following questions.

1. What are the new features of the update?

2. What are the “fixes” in the update?

2. Do I need the new features of the update? (Better yet, Will I use the new features of the update?)

3. What will I lose from the update?

Let me explain the conversation that goes through my head before I update an app or the OS.

“There is a new version of this app. What is new with this version of the app? Oh that sounds cool. Oh they fixed the unexpected crashing I get once in a while. That would be great. That new feature sounds very interesting but I’m not sure I would use it. They took out the feature I used the most.”

This only takes a couple of minutes to read through the changes in the app, but it will make a world of difference if you ultimately decide not to update. Remember, you won’t be going back to the old version of the app after the update.

Most of the time I update my apps. The updates are not usually made because someone was bored and didn’t have anything to do. Usually there are bugs to work out.

Upgrading the OS should be a more serious decision. For example I just updated my iOS on my iPad. There are many new features that I was interested in using. One such feature was Siri. Now, I am sure I will lose interest in Siri rather quickly because she isn’t really any faster than taking some things on the screen. But it is pretty cool to tell her to write an email or send a tweet. Keep in mind that some features are only available on particular devices. I have the third generation iPad. Siri is not available on the first and second generations.

Sometimes despite your research you find there are things taken out of the update that isn’t mentioned. For instance the new iOS 6 for the ipad removed the YouTube app. This isn’t a deal breaker for me because I’ll just use Safari to get to YouTube, but if you used the app everyday, you might be a little unhappy. My suggestion, wait to update your OS. Read some reviews after others have made the change.

Most of the time the update is a much needed replacement or full of fun new features. It is worth the time to check.

Edmodo

In today’s classroom, teachers are sharing a great deal of material with students over the web. Traditionally we have done this by  uploading our content to a class website, a wiki or a blog. This mode of sharing worked, but it left little room for interaction between the students and their teacher. I believe there is a much better way to not only share content, but interact inside and outside the classroom. Best of all, it is FREE!

The technology I am referring to is Edmodo. Edmodo is a learning management tool that is designed to connect the students with the teacher in a much more meaningful way.

In Edmodo’s words, “Edmodo provides teachers and students a secure place to connect and collaborate, share content and educational applications, and access homework, grades, class discussions and notifications. Our goal is to help educators harness the power of social media to customize the classroom for each and every learner.”

As a new user to Edmodo, I am blown away with how easy it is to use. I have used other tools and this is by far the most straight forward and simple. For districts it means you don’t have to install the system on a school server and tie up man power to maintain the hardware. This is all provided by Edmodo.

After three weeks of using Edmodo in my Computer Technology classes, I couldn’t be more pleased with the features and accessibility. Everything I hand out is done so in Edmodo. Everything the students turn in is done in Edmodo. This means I haven’t had to lug stacks of papers home to grade. I sit on the couch with my iPad (yes there is an app for that) and grade away. I am able to make comments on student work and give it a grade. I can send students a quick note if needed. Parents can also sign up to follow what is done in class.

All of this is done in a safe environment. Only the students with the group code can join my class. As the teacher, I can remove a student from the class if needed.

Overall Edmodo has been a great tool for my class. Try it out, it will be a great tool for your class as well.

Livescribe Smart Pens

If you do any classroom demonstrations using an overhead or document camera, the Livescribe Smartpen is a valuable tool in you classroom. I especially found the smartpen useful in my math classroom.

Basically whatever you write with the pen (on a special paper) is recorded. Both your voice and what is recorded so you have video and audio. When you play back it is all there for you to watch and listen. I used the smart pen to record various demonstrations for students to watch at home for either a review or if the student were absent. I also recorded solutions to study guide problems in preparation for a test or quiz.

The videos are quickly uploaded to the Livescribe site. I embedded the videos on my classroom website to make access easier. This usually took me about 5-10 minutes to complete after the video was finished.

Of course there are lots of other uses for the smart pens. You can check them out at http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/.

 

Cloud Computing

When I mention cloud computing to teachers I almost always get the deer-in-the-headlights look. It is the same look I would get when I started teaching adding fractions with unlike denominators to fourth graders.

So what is cloud computing? My very simple explanation is this. Cloud computing is when you are working on a website or mobile app that stores your information on a website. Basically the information you give the app isn’t on your computer, phone or iPad. It is on a web server somewhere.

So when we discuss using Dropbox or Google Apps, the files are not stored on your computer.

Why would you want to store your information or files on someone else’s server? The answer is access. If I save a file to my Dropbox, I have access to the file on almost any device anywhere I have an Internet connection.

In my district, the (local) desktop computers save our files on a school server. These files are only accessible when logged on to a school computer at one of our schools. If I want to take a file home to work on, I have to get it to another computer by emailing it to myself, saving to a USB drive, etc. Using a cloud drive like Dropbox, I save to the cloud folder and when I get home it is available on my home computer or iPad.

Keep in mind that if you are working on a file in a specific application such as Microsoft Word, you need to have an application that can open and edit the file to make changes. Also keep in mind that if you use a font that isn’t on both computers, the fonts will change.

Save to the cloud or not save to the cloud, that is the question! Only you can answer it.

Geoboard App

20120605-212202.jpgIf you teach math, you have probably used geoboards. If your geoboards are like mine, the rubber bands have gotten old and brittle. Students seem to go through three or four in a lesson. Older students tend to shoot the rubber bands at each other.

Geoboards are a great for teaching geometry. I recently taught transformations using the Geoboard app. Students were more engaged than ever. I didn’t have any rubber bands break or fly across the room. Using a projector, I was able to display my board for the students to manipulate to the other students to see.

It is a simple app with great potential.

Forgot your password?

If you have set a password or restriction code on your iPad, what happens if you forget what your password? If you set a password and turned on the erase feature, after 10 wrong attempts, the iPad erases the data. Even if you don’t set up the erase feature, you are still unable to use your device.

To reset your password or restriction code, follow these instructions from Apple. http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4097

Keep in mind you may loose some data and apps. You can reinstall your purchased apps from the app store.

A piece of advice… back up your iPad regularly.