Thursday, April 10, 2014

The New Chromebook For Leyden Is...

Leyden High School District 212 is currently in our second year of being fully 1:1 with all 3,400 students getting issued Chromebooks. Our current device is the original Samsung Series 5. For the past few months we have been evaluating the new models that have hit the market (HP 11, HP 14, Acer C720, Acer C720P, Dell 11, and Toshiba 13) with the hope of selecting a new device for next year. Here is the process we used to evaluate the new models:
  • Purchased two of each new model as soon as it became available.
  • A few administrators and I used the new devices for a couple weeks.
  • Two of our Tech Support Intern students used the new Chromebooks as their primary devices for 7-10 days and wrote up a review that I posted on my blog (HP 11, HP 14, Acer C720, Acer C720P, Dell 11, and Toshiba 13).  FYI... Our Tech Support Intern class acts as the Level 1 support for all tech-related issues in our district, including the repair of Chromebooks.  Here are their websites:  East Leyden TSI and West Leyden TSI.
  • My tech department team then disassembled and reassembled each device and took notes about the support of each device.
  • Our Tech Support Intern classes were then asked to disassemble and reassemble the devices and provide feedback through a Google Form.
  • My team read as many reviews about each model as possible.
  • My team spoke with all the vendors and asked them lots of questions.
  • We analyzed all the information.
Some of the variables we took into consideration when evaluating the devices included the following:  cost, projected durability, ease of repairs, size, user experience, and vendor support systems.  The two models that made it to our final round were the Acer C720 and the Dell 11 (both 4GB versions).  Here's how they measured up with regards to our key factors:

Dell 11 Acer C720
Note: The Dell 11 is no longer that much more than the Acer C720.  Contact your rep. 

Projected Durability
Ease of Repairs
User Experience
Vendor Support
 The Acer support seemed very good.  One of the reasons we gave the edge to Dell is because we have been using their support system for years and have been very pleased with it.

In the end, especially after some very aggressive pricing provided by our Dell rep, we have decided to select the 4GB Dell 11 as our Chromebook for the 2014-2015 school year.  Earlier tonight, I made a final presentation to the Leyden Board of Education and they agreed to move forward with the purchase and refresh our entire fleet of 3,400 Chromebooks for next year!

The tech-infused culture of teaching and learning in Leyden High School Distirct 212 marches on!

If you'd like to learn more about what we are doing here at Leyden, please consider joining us for our 1:1 Summer Symposium from July 31 - August 1, 2014.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Student Reviews of the Toshiba Chromebook

For the sixth and probably last time this school year, I have asked the same two Leyden Tech Support Intern students to use another new Chromebook as their primary device for a little over a week and then write up their reviews.  This time it's the Toshiba Chromebook.  If you haven't already read their previous reviews you can check them out here:

Now, on to the Toshiba reviews...

Student 1 - An East Leyden Senior

Hello.  I am Bryn, a junior at East Leyden high school and a first year Technical Support Intern.  Over the last few months I have tested multiple Chromebooks including the HP 11, HP 14, Acer C720, Acer C720p and Dell 11.  This review will be dedicated to the Toshiba Chromebook and will highlight the Toshiba’s speed, battery life, and aesthetics. 

To start things off I will be discussing the speed of the Toshiba Chromebook.  When it comes to using a Chromebook in an educational setting, this is one of the most important factors.  On the Toshiba website, they state that the Chromebook “start(s) up in seconds” and has a “reliable Intel® Celeron® processor”.  While they do not provide a specific boot up time, I found that the Chromebook booted up very fast, allowing me to get to work quickly.  I was also easily able to multi-task and navigate through multiple tabs at a rapid rate.

Toshiba claims that this Chromebook has a 9 hour battery life.  As a student who uses the Chromebook to complete assignments using Google Drive, listen to music and watch YouTube videos, I found this to be true.  In fact, the Chromebook lasted a full two days without needing to be charged.  When it did need to be charged, it took approximately 90 minutes to reach 100%.  

While many other reviews on the Toshiba Chromebook mention its lack of visual/design appeal, I actually found the Chromebook to be very appealing.  The silver color is enhanced with a slight dot design on the top cover that makes the Chromebook look very sleek and sort of futuristic.  The Chromebook is significantly lighter than other models (3.3lbs) and the screen is large at 13.3 inches.  In other Toshiba Chromebook reviews, it was mentioned that the resolution of the screen (1366 x 768) leaves a little to be desired; however, it was not an issue for me especially since the device is being used for educational purposes.  The overall size of the Chromebook is larger than other models (aside from the HP 14) and makes the device feel like a more traditional laptop computer.  I did not mind that is was larger because it was so light in weight.  The Chromebook has two 3.0 USB ports, HDMI output port, headphone jack, built-in webcam, security lock and SD card slot. 

One interesting thing that I noticed about the Toshiba Chromebook was the warning that was displayed in both English and Spanish on the underside of the device: “Caution: PC base can become hot!  Avoid prolonged contact to prevent heat injury to skin.”  Having never seen a warning on any other Chromebook, I was immediately curious and extra aware of the heat while using the Toshiba device.  While I did not experience any significant “hot” heat from the Chromebook, it did feel warm to the touch at times.  I did not find this to be an issue while using the device and did not notice any negative effects on the performance of the Chromebook.

Overall, I think this Chromebook could be a good choice for a school’s 1:1 environment.  One of the best selling points is it’s long battery life.  Of all the Chromebooks tested, the Dell Chromebook is still my favorite for use in educational settings.

Student 2 - A West Leyden Senior

The Toshiba 13 Chromebook is the latest, and probably last, new Chromebook model I tested in school. It mostly resembled the HP 14 that I tried some months ago, and the HP 14 looked like a MacBook; therefore, the Toshiba looks like a MacBook. I even had some students and teachers ask me if it was MacBook. As always, they asked me if those would be the ones they would get next year.

I was surprised by the weight of the Toshiba Chromebook. The last Chromebook I tried was the Dell 11, and they felt about the same in weight even though the Toshiba is larger.

Compared to the color of the flamboyant, sparkly pink HP 14, this Toshiba was much more neutral. It seems that metallic gray is the only color choice for this Chromebook, but it would be a good choice for an educational setting.

The startup and loading speed was no surprise. It takes no more than seven seconds to boot. Websites like YouTube only take about five seconds to load, and simpler webpages like our district homepage appear in no time. The speed was much like the HP 14.

The battery life is what stood out to me the most. One day I set the brightness to the max and forgot about it. I also forgot to charge the Chromebook. Surprisingly, the Chromebook lasted two days on full brightness and volume without needing a charge.

The webcam was actually quite decent compared to those in other Chromebooks. Movement was not too blurry, and video looked sharp. I do not know if these qualities remain when streaming via Hangouts or other video call services because they are blocked.

Like almost all other Chromebooks, the Toshiba has two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, SD slot, headphone jack, charging port, and a lock port. There is an orange/green light that shows when the Chromebook is charging/done charging.

One problem that occurred while using the Toshiba Chromebook was that it spontaneously restarted. I had not pressed any buttons, and there were no pending updates. I think the more likely culprit would be the Chrome OS software -- or at least the version that was installed when it happened.

Another thing to be aware of is the durability and rigidity of the device. As I inspected the Chromebook while writing this review, I noticed some scratches and dents on the side that usually touches the ground in my backpack. As the tester of new Chromebooks, I have been and am very careful with the devices, so in the hands of other students, the wear and damage may be worse. The size of it would definitely require different cases than the ones we have already.

The Toshiba Chromebook most closely resembles the HP 14. The size of the Toshiba screen is only about an inch smaller, but the speed is about the same. The only thing that really set it apart from the other choices was the battery life, but even so, the HP 14 had a fairly large battery pack. In fact, in my experience all Chromebooks have lasted at least until the end of the school day. This Chromebook did not offer anything special that would make it superior to the HP 14 or the Dell 11 that I had previously elected as the best choice. Nevertheless, it was a better device than the good ol’ Samsung Series 5.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Student Reviews of the Dell 11 Chromebook

For the fifth time now, I have asked the same two Leyden Tech Support Intern students to use a new Chromebook as their primary device for about a week and then write up their reviews.  This time it's the Dell 11 Chromebook.  Here are their previews reviews:

HP 11  |  HP 14  |  Acer C720  |  Acer C720P

It's looking like the possibility of upgrading the Chromebooks for all of our students next year just may happen.  My team and I are currently analyzing all of the available devices and will certainly be using the reviews of our students to help make our decision.

Student 1 - An East Leyden Junior

My name is Bryn and I am a Junior at East Leyden High School.  I am also a first year student in the Technical Support Internship course.  During the year, I was given the opportunity to test new model Chromebooks  So far I have tested five with the Dell Chromebook 11 being the fifth.

All the Chromebooks I have tested have performed better than the Samsung Chromebook (our current Series 5 model) and this Chromebook is no exception.  In this blog post, I will specifically be discussing the Dell Chromebook’s speed, battery life, accessories & aesthetics.

I was unable to find any information from Dell on the Chromebook’s boot up time; however, in my experience it took approximately 8 seconds to boot up after complete shutdown and 4 seconds to boot up from sleep mode.  With a processor speed of 1.4 GHz, I was able to load pages and work in Google Docs at a quicker speed than my fellow classmates.

According to Dell, the Chromebook has a 10 hour battery life.  On my first day of using the device, I made an attempt to drain the battery by using it as much as possible at school and at home in the evening.  The Chromebook lasted for an entire day of use and then some.  The device has a considerably good battery life and a quick recharge time.  While charging, a white LED light on the bottom right of the device was illuminated.  The light turned off to indicate a full charge.  I did notice that the device did get really warm at times. This may be due to the location of the air vents.

The accessories on the Chromebook are nice. They include a charging port similar to a Dell laptop port, a HDMI port, two 3.0 USB ports, and a headphone jack.  Like all other Chromebooks, the device also has a webcam.  The Chromebook itself is a little larger than the Samsung Series 5 but not as large as the HP 14.  Aesthetically, there is nothing exciting about the Dell Chromebook.  In truth, I found it rather plain and bare-looking; however, it is nicer looking than both previously tested Acer models.  It has smoother edges and a more sleek design.

The Dell Chromebook definitely seems like a more reliable device than the Samsung Chromebook.  I don’t like this particular Chromebook as much as the HP14 Chromebook (my favorite thus far), but it is more convenient due to its smaller size.  I think this device would be a nice option should Leyden decide to change devices in future years.

Student 2 - A West Leyden Senior

This week, I tried out the Dell Chromebook 11.  It is a simple, elegant, yet durable-looking device.  It’s black with a glossy Dell insignia on the front cover and has a glossy screen.  The keyboard and area around the keyboard are made of a rubbery material.  The trackpad and keyboard are responsive and clicky. The Dell gave me a good first impression.  Even its charger set itself apart from the others, with a neat light at the tip of the cable.

HDMI, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, SD, and headphone ports seem to be the standard on new Chromebook models, including the Dell.  Since a lot of classroom equipment lacks HDMI input, an HDMI-VGA adapter may be needed to connect the Chromebook to the projector, monitor, etc.

The Chromebook starts up very quickly in around five seconds.  In terms of speed of startup and loading pages, the Dell may be one of the fastest I’ve tried.  It is on par with the speed of the Acer C720/P.  It lets me start searching almost right after booting up.

I had a few problems when using the Dell.  One time, it seemed to have frozen at the login screen.  There was no backlight, and I could barely see the picture and password field.  I tried pressing buttons and clicking, but it did not wake up.  I also tried restarting it, but pressing the power button did not work either.  I brought it to the attention of Mr. Weinert, and he managed to restart it by pressing and holding the power button for a while.

The second problem also involved the Chromebook freezing.  It happened at home while I was doing homework and listening to music.  The Chromebook just stopped responding and I could not click on anything, though I could move the mouse.  Restarting it worked, but because the administrator settings (at Leyden) force the enrolled devices to load certain tabs on startup, the tabs I was working on went away.

The sleeves/jackets that we have now (for the Samsung Series 5) do not fit the Dell Chromebook very well.  It is possible but difficult to put the Chromebook in, and it requires stretching the jacket.  Electing this device to refresh the 1:1 system may also require new cases.

The Dell Chromebook 11 was a great device in my experience. Albeit it had some issues, they were not significant enough to make me completely say no to it as a choice.  In fact, all things considered, I may have to say that the Dell Chromebook seems like the best contender for an educational setting.  It feels more solid than any other Chromebook; it is faster than most other Chromebooks; and it is as responsive and smooth with the same capabilities as the other Chromebooks.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Leyden at ICE 2014

Here is the schedule of ICE 2014 presentations by Leyden teachers and administrators:


  • Thursday, February 27
    • 10:00 am - Salon I
      Empower Your Students Through 1:1 Access
      by Digital Principal of the Year, Jason Markey and a few special guests
    • 11:00 am - Salon I
      Who is Telling Your Story?
      by Digital Principal of the Year, Jason Markey
    • 1:00 pm - Exhibit Hall Spotlight Stage
      Empower Your Students Through 1:1 Access (repeat of 10:00 am session)
      by Digital Principal of the Year, Jason Markey and a few special guests
    • 1:00 pm - Ruby
      A Panel Discussion: Examining Different Approaches to 1:1 Initiatives
      Leyden's Director of Technology, Bryan Weinert, will be a member of the panel
  • Friday, February 28

Friday, February 14, 2014

EDpuzzle Gets Better

Last week I blogged about EDpuzzle (Supercharge and Personalize Videos for Your Students with EDpuzzle).  Since my original post, I have learned about two new fantastic updates:

  1. New feature: "Project Based Learning" - Teachers can assign a project to their students and the students are the ones that use the video editing tools to create a lesson. Then the teacher receives (privately) all the videos and gives feedback and grade each video. Finally and the coolest part of all, the teacher can save the best lessons and assign them to the rest of the class.
  2. Now available as a Chrome App

I really think this could be a tremendous tool to be used with students, especially in a 1:1 teaching and learning environment and to expand learning opportunities beyond the classroom walls.  Anyone using it yet?  What do you think?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Supercharge and Personalize Videos for Your Students with EDpuzzle

By now, most educators have found that video can be a powerful tool to integrate into their lessons.  Some are creating their own.  Some are just finding and sharing clips with their students.  Some are even going as far as flipping their classrooms.  Whatever the use, video adds another engaging layer to good teaching and can expand learning opportunities to outside of the classroom that students can pause, rewind, and replay.  Yesterday, I learned about an incredible new tool from Kelly Tenkely's outstanding iLearn Technology blog called EDpuzzle that allows teachers to first supercharge and personalize the videos they want to use before sharing them with their students.  Some of the key features of  EDpuzzle include the following:
  • Creation of "classes" that students can easily join with an access code
  • Ability to find or upload videos
  • Ability to crop videos to only use what is needed
  • Ability to add your own voice as audio notes or voice-overs into the videos
  • Ability to embed questions at any point into the videos to check for understanding or serve as a quiz
  • Ability to assign videos to be watched
  • Class progress reports to determine which students have viewed each video and the "grade" they received from the questions they answered
  • Student overview reports to view how each student answered the embedded questions
If you use video with your students, this is definitely one tool to look into!  If you're not creating your own videos yet, this tool might just help jump-start your recording and producing career.

I recorded a screencast of the demo from their website.  Check it out:

UPDATED INFO (to original post)

I just learned about another great feature that was just added to EDpuzzle earlier this week.

  • "Project Based Learning" - Teachers can assign a project to their students and the students are the ones that use the video editing tools to create a lesson. Then the teacher receives (privately) all the videos and gives feedback and grade each video. Finally and the coolest part of all, the teacher can save the best lessons and assign them to the rest of the class.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Narrate your presentations with Movenote

Have you ever reviewed the slides from a presentation and wished you could hear "the rest of the story" behind each slide?  Giving a good presentation is truly an art form and any good presenter knows that less is more when it comes to each slide.  This, however, does not translate well when the slides are published online.  Some of the key points get lost without the narration and the charisma of the presenter is not available to add the extra emotion.  One possible solution would be to narrate your presentations first before posting them.  I recently learned about Movenote which could help fill this void.  Movenote is a Web-based tool that allows the user to import a variety of media (slide decks, documents, images, and other files), organize the materials, and then run through the presentation while recording audio and video of the presenter.  Even better, for Google Apps users, it integrates with your Google Drive.  The finished products can be shared to your favorite social media site or blog, sent via a link in an email, embedded into a webpage, and even downloaded as an mp4 video file.

Teachers could certainly make use of this tool to record their presentations and post them for their students to play later as a review, as a substitute for the "live" version if they were absent, or as a first-time viewing in a flipped classroom model.  Another idea for use in education would be to have students substitute live, in-class presentations that take up valuable time (unless the goal is to work on public speaking/presenting) with Movenote presentations and then have each student review the presentations and provide feedback on their own time.  Teachers could easily create a Google spreadsheet and share it with their students to add their URL's so they are all located in one place.  This process is even easier if the teachers have access to a tool like Hapara's Teacher Dashboard to share out the spreadsheet with all of their students.  A gentle reminder to the students that the revision history of the spreadsheet will show who changed the document and when should prevent any accidental or intentional tampering with the info.

This tool appears to work on most platforms, including Chromebooks.  Here's where you can get it:

There are plenty of tutorials on the Movenote website for each platform.  Here is one specifically geared toward use on Chromebooks:

I'd love to hear about other uses for Movenote and other comparable tools.  Please comment below.