Friday, December 6, 2013

Student Reviews of the HP 14 Chromebook

For the third week in a row, the same two Leyden students have been using one of the new Chromebooks that recently hit the market.  During the first week, it was the HP 11.  In the second week, it was the Acer C720.  This past week, they were using the HP 14 as their primary device.  One of the goals is to use their feedback to help the district make informed decisions as we discuss when, why, and how to refresh our fleet of 3,500 Chromebooks in our 1:1 teaching and learning environment.  We are currently in year two of using the Samsung Series 5 devices.  Here are the students' comments about the HP 14.

Student 1 - An East Leyden Junior

My name is Bryn and I am a junior at East Leyden High School and a student in the Technical Support Internship.  For the past few weeks, I was given the opportunity to test a variety of different model Chromebooks.  This week was no different as I was asked to use the HP 14 Chromebook in place of the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook for an entire week.  My mind was blown!

The aesthetics were definitely the first thing that I took notice of with the HP 14.  The HP 14 is significantly larger than my Samsung Chromebook (HP14 specs: 13.56 x 9.44 x 0.81 in.), as well as every other Chromebook I tested (HP 11 and Acer C720).  This can be both negative and positive.  Negative because the device is not as easily portable as other smaller Chromebooks.  Positive because the larger size makes the Chromebook feel more substantial and durable.  The larger size also makes the user feel like they are using a MacBook or Ultrabook.  Now to the color.  It is hard not to notice the bright “salmon” color of the exterior.  While the salmon color may not be everyone’s preferred choice of color, it looks a lot cooler than my Samsung’s dull black exterior or the Acer’s standard grey.

With each Chromebook I tested the number of ports increased and the technology used for the ports advanced.  The HP 14 is no exception.  There are eight ports: SD Card port, anti-theft port, charging port, audio port and three 3.0 USB ports. The HP14 Chromebook lasted me 2 full school days without having to charge it. Of all the Chromebooks tested, the HP has the longest battery life.

The speed of the HP Chromebook was quicker than the Samsung and the Acer C720 Chromebook. This particular Chromebook was faster with regards to boot-up time and loading internet pages.

As expected with a larger device, the keyboard was larger in width than the other Chromebooks; however, it did provide the smoothest typing experience of all.  The keys are flat and sleek but have enough depth (vertical height) to make typing easy.  This keyboard was a nice blend of the the HP 11 and the Acer C720.

I have one complaint about the HP 14: the trackpad.  While I do believe the trackpad on the HP 14 is superior to the trackpad on the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, I did experience one issue while using it.  On multiple occasions the trackpad did not register my right and left clicks; however, the problem resolved itself after a few seconds. In any event, this is clearly very inconvenient to a user.

As a final conclusion, I am indeed impressed with the HP 14 Chromebook.  So impressed that I was extremely disappointed to give it up after a week’s time.  Of my Samsung Series 5 Chromebook and the three Chromebooks I tested (Acer C720, HP 11 and HP 14), this Chromebook is by far the nicest.  I appreciated the aesthetics, screen, keyboard and battery life.  And while I did experience a slight glitch with the trackpad, I still feel that the positives outweigh this one negative.

Student 2 - A West Leyden Senior

My name in Antonio and I am a senior at West Leyden High School in the Tech Support Internship class.  The HP Chromebook 14 is the third new Chromebook model I tested.  The one I received was colored Peach Coral, essentially a hot, bright, semi-sparkly pink.  The color caught the attention of many people, especially girls.  They said they liked it and would have liked to have gotten this computer instead of their black Samsung Series 5.  What caught my attention was the size of the device as well as its weight and appearance.

Its 14” glossy HD screen looked very nice.  It was similar to the HP 11, but the HP 14 did not quite display the colors as dark or as sharp as the HP 11.  The bezel around the screen was not glossy.  The area around the keyboard and trackpad was gray aluminium that may be resistant to common damage like cracking.  Also, the HP 14 was noticeably heavier and did not fit the case that I was able to use for all the other Chromebooks.

The feel of the individual keys was smoother on the HP 11, but because the HP 14 has more space around the keyboard, the general feel of typing was better and sturdier; the extra space serves as a wrist pad.  The bigger trackpad is also convenient for people with bigger hands.

The processing speed of the HP 14 is the same as the Acer C720, which runs very quickly and starts up in five seconds.  Sometimes, though, the HP 14 would run slowly at home while I would do homework, and it would disconnect from the network, but it is possible that my Internet connection was the culprit because it did not happen at school.

The sound was comparable to the Acer C720.  When I tested the audio on the HP 11, Acer C720, and HP 14 together, the HP 11 was the loudest and clearest, while the Acer and HP 14 gave the same slightly muffled sound that the Samsung does.  All except the HP 11 have the speakers on the bottom; the HP 11 projects the sound upward, and that gives it the advantage in sound.

One important thing I noticed was that the HP 14 updated before anyone’s Samsung.  Mine was the only one that had the Apps Icon all the way to the left on the bottom toolbar, and that was part of the update.  It seems the HP 14 has priority in updates, but I cannot conclude that from just one sample.

What I can conclude is that all three Chromebooks were better than the Samsung that every student at Leyden has.  All of them ran Chrome OS, started in under 10 seconds, and had excellent battery life of approximately 8 hours.  The differences were apparent in size, weight, screen type, speed, and ports available.

The HP 11 gave me the best first impression.  It looked very elegant in white and blue, and it was much lighter than any of the other Chromebooks.  The display and sound were both superb.  The main downside was the number of ports.  It had no Video In/Out or SD Card reader.  I experienced a connectivity issue where no access points were listed in the settings, but a simple restart fixed the problem.  One thing to be aware of is that there was a suspension of sales for the HP 11.  Supposedly, the chargers were overheating, so up to now, they are not available for purchase.

The Acer C720 did not look great like the HP 11.  It was gray and black with an aluminium top cover and black plastic bottom cover.  It had an overall rugged appearance that signified durability and resistance.  The vents were very visible and showed the large copper heatsink inside.  Although this may be great for preventing overheating, it did not look good nor did it add to the “durable” look.  The screen was not hi-resolution like that of the HP 11, and the whites looked a little greenish.  On the upside, the speed of the Acer was amazing, booting up in under 6 seconds.  It also performed online tasks more quickly than the HP 11.  HDMI, SD, and USB 2.0/3.0 ports were available on this device.

Last, but not least, the flamboyant HP 14 was really a mix of features from both of the previous Chromebooks.  Interestingly, it resembled an Apple MacBook Air.  The heatsink led to the screen hinge through a hidden vent, and the body seemed to get thinner toward the front.  The placing of the screws on the bottom was also similar to that of a MacBook.  I liked the feel of  typing on the keyboard and navigating with the trackpad.  They felt smooth and sturdy.  The screen was just like the HP 11.  The ports were just like Acer C720 except with two SS USB ports.  What separates this device the most from the others is the larger size and brighter color.  If it is decided to go with this model, I would recommend a neutral color like black and/or white.

From my experience on all these different Chromebook models, I suggest going with the HP Chromebook 11 for Leyden’s 1:1 program.  If the HP 11’s issue with the charger is not fixed, then I recommend the HP 14.  The Acer C720 would be the third option.  The reason why I pick the HP 11 is because it seems like the most practical for students to use.  It is light and compact, and produces very rich and crisp images and sound.   I am sure that outside guests would be impressed if they saw that every Leyden student had one of these.  Of course, it would be necessary to analyze the actual needs of students and teachers before making an educated choice.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Stop-motion Video With Lapse It

If you're looking for a mobile app to help you create stop-motion video, check out Lapse It.  It's available for both Android and iOS.  It's really easy to use and I've been very pleased with the features available in the free version.  Some ideas for use in schools could include the recording of a science experiment, the creation of a masterpiece in an art class,  the construction of a project in a woods class, the solving of an equation or proof in a math class, the cleaning up of a park for a service project, or even the transformation of a gymnasium into a magical homecoming dance venue.  Please comment with some other ideas.

Here is an example that I put together of my family setting up and decorating our Christmas tree.  I grabbed the finished product and dropped it into my video editing software to add the title and photos.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Student Reviews of the Acer C720 Chromebook

Last week I posted a couple Leyden student reviews of the HP 11 Chromebook.  This week I'm happy to post those same two students' reviews of the Acer C720 Chromebook.  After using the HP 11 for one week as their primary device, they each then used the Acer C720 for one week.  As a reminder, Leyden Community High School District is in its second year of being fully 1:1 with Chromebooks.  All 3,500 students currently have the original Samsung Series 5 device and we are currently discussing when it makes sense to refresh our fleet and which new model makes the most sense for our students.  The Acer reviews are below and coming next week will be the student reviews of the HP 14.

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.  Over the past couple weeks, I have had the opportunity to test out different model Chromebooks.  This week I tested the Acer C720 Chromebook by using it in all classes in place of my usual Samsung Chromebook Series 5.

In this post, I am going to focus on comparing the Acer’s speed, keyboard/trackpad performance, screen, and ports to that of the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook.

Compared to the Samsung Chromebook, the Acer C720 Chromebook is faster.  When testing both Chromebooks side by side, the load time was about two seconds faster on the Acer C720 model.  I also compared the Acer C720 Chromebook to a desktop computer.  The Acer proved faster than the desktop.

Compared to the Samsung Chromebook, the keyboard on the Acer is more rugged.  I felt that the Acer keyboard was more comparable to a desktop keyboard: the keys were larger and the depth (or vertical movement) was greater for each key.  With regards to the trackpad, I did not experience any freezing while using the Acer Chromebook like I sometimes do with my Samsung Chromebook.  The trackpad was very responsive.

The screen of the Acer Chromebook is smaller than that of the Samsung (11.6 inches vs. 12.1 inches); however the resolution is greater (1366x768 vs. 1280x800).  One interesting aspect of the Acer is that the image on the screen appears to be tinted a silver color.  This gives the illusion that the colors are darker and that the backlight is not as bright as the Samsung Chromebook.  This did not cause any undue hardship while using the device or affect the functionality of it.  

Like the Samsung Chromebook, the Acer Chromebook has two USB ports; however, unlike the Samsung model, one is a USB 3.0 port.  USB 3.0 offers faster transfer speeds than USB 2.0.  Also absent from the Samsung model but included in the Acer is a HDMI port.  Both models have a SD card port.

The charging port on the Acer Chromebook seems to be very secure and well made, especially compared to the charging port on the Samsung Chromebook with can easily be broken.  The Acer also claims to have 8.5 hours of battery life (depending on use) which I found to be accurate.  The audio port also seems extremely secure.  In fact, I sometimes struggled to remove my earbuds.

The Acer C720 Chromebook comes with a Kensington locking feature.  This feature allows the owner to secure the Chromebook to a desk or cart to prevent stealing.  While this is a cool feature, I don’t think it would be practical for students in a high school setting whom carry their Chromebooks with them from class to class.  I don’t see many students “locking” their Chromebook to their desk each period.

As my final conclusion, I prefer the Acer C720 over the Samsung Chromebook Series 5.  I felt that I was using a more durable Chromebook that more closely resembled a laptop or desktop computer.

Student 2 - A West Leyden Senior

My name is Antonio and I am a West Leyden Senior. Right after I tried the HP 11 Chromebook, I was given an Acer C720 Chromebook.  I noticed right away the resemblance to a netbook.  The top cover was made of a seemingly durable material like aluminium.  The bottom was black plastic with obvious vents, observable speakers, and a visible copper heatsink leading to the back of the Acer.  At first glance, I did not like it.

Quite impressively, the boot-up and log-in took about 10 seconds--total.  Since I had multiple devices available at the moment (HP and Samsung Chromebook), I performed some simple, improvised tests.  I tried restarting all devices to see which one started up the quickest.  The winner was the Acer, then the HP.  Next, I tested the time it took to load up webpages.  Again, the Acer performed the best out of all three.

I also tried to find which one sounded the loudest.  Both the Acer and HP sounded loud at full volume, but the Acer did not sound as clear as the HP.  The speakers on the Acer are placed in the same location as the Samsung, giving the same muffled sound.

Another important thing is the screen.  The Acer has the same type of glare-free screen that the Samsung has.  It is not HD or glossy like the HP screen.  The bezel is glossy and thick.  

The keyboard and touchpad felt more mechanical and clicky than the HP.  I thought they were too loud, and would sound really bad as cacophony in a classroom full of typing/clicking students.  On the other hand, it makes the whole device feel more durable and resistant--more solid.

Ports are not a problem.  The Acer has USB 2.0, USB 3.0, HDMI, SD Card reader, headphone jack, and charging port.  The only downside is that the charger and charging port are about as flimsy and breakable as the Samsung.  The full-sized HDMI port can connect to a better screen or projector, but of course they must have an HDMI input.

It is similar to the HP in size and weight, and it has more than the HP in terms of ports.  In my opinion, the Acer C720 is a fast, durable device with enough for a 1:1 program at a school.  Fast boot up, excellent battery life, durability, and appearance put the Acer between the HP and Samsung.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Info about 1:1 at Leyden

Thanks to the recent post on the Education Week blog that includes Leyden Community High School District 212 as one of the 35 High Schools Worth Visiting (see #22) and suggests you visit my blog for more info, I decided to add a page that keeps track of all the resources related to what we are doing and how we are doing it.  You can find the 1:1 at Leyden page permanently linked above.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Restrict YouTube Videos To Your Domain and G+ Circles

I just learned from the Google Apps blog that if you use your Google+ identity in YouTube, you can restrict your videos to only those people in your domain or circles.  Nice!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Student Reviews of the HP 11 Chromebook

Leyden Community High School District 212 is currently in its second year of being a fully 1:1 district where all 3,500 students get issued a Chromebook.  Being one of the first three districts in the country to adopt Chromebooks for a 1:1 teaching and learning environment has come with both numerous rewards and challenges.  I suppose being an early adopter of anything puts you in that boat.  At the time we made our decision, the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook was the only option.  Since then, a number of new devices have hit the scene.  The Leyden leadership teams have just recently started discussions about when and how to refresh our devices.  In order to make well informed decisions, I have begun obtaining some of the new Chromebook models to test out.  I then turn them over to a couple of our students from our Tech Support Internship (TSI) classes to use as their primary device for a week.  I plan on posting their reviews on this blog. We'll start with the HP 11.

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.  Last week, I was approached by Mr. Jason Markey, East Leyden’s Principal, and Mr. Bryan Weinert, the Director of Technology, about testing the new HP Chromebook 11. To do this, I used the HP Chromebook 11 for one full week in all my classes in place of my usual Samsung Chromebook Series 5.  The results could not be finer.

The first thing I noticed is that the HP Chromebook is extremely fast.  I tested the HP and the Samsung Chromebook side by side and visited a variety of websites.  The load time was much faster on the HP Chromebook than it was on the Samsung Chromebook.   I also did a side by side comparison of the HP Chromebook and a desktop computer in the TSI classroom.  Again, the load time on the HP Chromebook was much faster.

The second thing I evaluated was the keyboard and trackpad.  Compared to the Samsung Chromebook, the keyboard on the HP Chromebook is more slick and provides a smoother typing experience.  The trackpad is more responsive and does not freeze like the Samsung trackpad does.

When compared to the Samsung Chromebook, the screen on the HP Chromebook is more hi-res and is better in image and quality.  The sound quality is very crisp and as the volume increases, the sound does not get distorted or muffled.  The device is lighter, smaller, and seems more durable, particularly with regards to the charging port.

There are two features on the HP Chromebook 11 that stand out: the fan and the LCD lights. There is no fan because the processor does not require one.  The LED lights on the front face of the Chromebook lights up when powered on.  This adds a cool feature to an already sleek looking device.

I was disappointed with one aspect of the device: the battery life.  On an average day, with the Samsung Chromebook, I use approximately 50% of the battery.  With the HP Chromebook, I used at least 75% of the battery during my normal school day & activities.  This is concerning since batteries lose their charge life as time goes on.  The one positive with regards to charging is that the HP Chromebook uses a micro-usb port.  This means that you can use a traditional phone charger to charge the device if needed.

As my final conclusion, I prefer the HP Chromebook 11 over the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 due to it’s fast speed, keyboard/touchpad performance and sleek look.

Update: On Wednesday, November 13th, Best Buy & Amazon pulled all their HP Chromebook 11’s from their shelves.  Rumor has it that the charging ports were overheating.

Student 2 - A West Leyden Senior

My name is Antonio and I am a Senior at West Leyden High School.  I got the opportunity to test out an HP Chromebook 11 for a week.  The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook served as a paradigm for comparison.  My job was to use the HP as my primary device in every one of my classes as I would with the Samsung.

When it was first handed to me, I quickly noticed the difference in weight and size.  The HP was noticeably lighter than the Samsung and slightly smaller.  Although probably not as important, I liked the white and blue colors and so did my classmates.  I got reactions like, “Wow! That’s a Chromebook?” and, “I wish we had those.”  I thought white could be a good color that is stylish and not depressing.  Of course, that is just my opinion.

After about one minute (as some of my classmates stared behind me), the HP booted and logged in.  Things looked the same except for one important thing: the screen.  It was a glossy, high-definition screen without a glossy bezel like the Samsung’s bezel which can peel off.  It showed darker hues and bolder blacks.

I tested the webcam to see how it looked.  It seemed to display darker colors but blurry motion.  Compared to the Samsung, I preferred the Samsung webcam.

Along with good graphics, good audio was produced by the HP.  The speakers seemed to be placed differently so that the sound was projected upward through the keyboard instead of downward to the desk like the Samsung which produced muffled sounds.  The HP also sounded louder and clearer: almost twice as loud as the Samsung.

The responsiveness of the keyboard and trackpad were very similar to the Samsung, but the trackpad felt more “clicky.”  The size and spacing of these parts were excellent.

As I looked at the exterior of the HP, I found no Video In/Out port or SD card port.  We rarely have the need to use these ports, much less the latter, so I doubt this would cause problems.  If the need arises, though, students can share the assignment with the teacher to run it through the teacher’s device and through the projector; a USB flash drive can be used in lieu of an SD card.

Throughout the trial, I accessed websites and webpages that I normally did.  The HP seemed to access web pages more slowly than the Samsung, but the HP loaded individual elements more quickly.  For example, when I tried accessing YouTube videos, the Samsung would get to faster, but the HP would load the videos, thumbnails and comments faster.

It is sturdier and will withstand damage that the Samsung is more vulnerable to.  Among these is the curse of the broken charging port.  Because the type of charger is shorter and firmer, it is not likely to break or damage the charging port.  The charger also fits Android smartphones, so that could be a sort of reminder for students to charge their Chromebook after they charge their beloved phones.  The HP had basically the same battery life as the Samsung.

Overall from what I have experienced, I think the HP is better than the Samsung.  It is smaller, but it does not feel cluttered or tight.  It has less ports, but they are not imperative.  It runs Chrome OS, and it does it better than the Samsung.  I recommend this device for 1:1 at Leyden.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Bring Back the Google Menu Bar

By now, most Google Apps users have had their black menu bars removed and replaced with the new Google App Launcher (here's a great video overview by the Google Gooru).


I, personally, have already become accustomed to the new App Launcher and don't mind it at all.  I may even start to like it soon.  If you, however, absolutely cannot function without the black menu bar, check out the Proper Menubar extension for Chrome.  It provides you with a similar version of the original Google menu bar with quick links to most of your Google tools.  It does not include links to your domain/marketplace apps.

You can even go into the extension's options and configure which links are included in your menu bar, which websites it appears on, and the background color.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Google Chrome Presentation from TechCon 2013

Here is the slide deck I used during my presentation about Google Chrome during TechCon 2013 on Friday, October 18, 2013.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

VoiceThread For All at Leyden

A few Leyden teachers have been effectively using VoiceThread with their students for a couple years and, with our evolution into a 1:1 district last year, word has been spreading fast and many other teachers have expressed interest in utilizing this tool.  After consulting our department chairs, we learned there was enough interest to warrant a district license.  As of today, all Leyden teachers and students have access to VoiceThread.  Since we already use Google Apps for Education, VoiceThread seamlessly integrates as a domain app that shows up in the Google More menu along with the other tools we have installed.

Since all of our students have Chromebooks, once they log into their device they are already logged into their Google Apps account and clicking on VoiceThread from the MORE menu does not require any additional authentication.  Single sign on is a beautiful thing!

So, what is VoiceThread anyway?  Basically, it's an online tool that allows you to upload many different types of media, such as images, videos, documents, and presentations into an online format that allows for group conversations.  Those you share your VoiceThreads with can leave comments via text, audio recording, webcam, and even text messages.  In addition, the doodle feature allows those making comments to draw directly on the media.  For more into, play the embedded VoiceThread below.

I'd love to hear more about how VoiceThread is being used both here at Leyden and at other schools.  Please comment on this post to share your VoiceThread enhanced activities.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Manage non-Google Assignments in Teacher Dashboard

Yesterday, while cruising up I-57 back from the University of Illinois in Champaign after presenting at the AdvancEd conference, Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey) started up a conversation that began with his now famous "I have an idea..."  In this case, it was more like "I really wish..."  Basically, we were talking about how well Teacher Dashboard has been working for us at Leyden and Jason was suggesting how great it would be if our teachers could also manage assignments involving non-Google Apps tools in TD.  I reminded him about my digital dropbox idea which uses a single Google Form to collect the URL's of each non-Google project.  While he agreed that method was working for some teachers, it still required them to leave Teacher Dashboard and did not provide an easy method for providing the students with feedback without utilizing some scripts.  After a little brainstorming, here's an idea I came up with.

  • Teachers could create a Google Doc template (text or spreadsheet) for an activity/project/assignment that involves a tool other than Google Docs or Blogger, which are currently managed in Teacher Dashboard (i.e. Glogster, VoiceThread, Themeefy, YouTube, WeVideo, etc.).  By the way, I'm a huge proponent for assigning an objective to students and letting them pick their own way of demonstrating their learning (see Student Choice Leads to Creativity).
  • The template should include at least a spot for the students to paste in the URL of their products, but could also include things like a rubric, project check list, reference list, etc.
  • Teachers would then use the Smart Copy tool in Teacher Dashboard to push out the template to each student.  This automatically creates an individual copy of the template in each students' appropriate subject folder in their Google Drive with edit rights for the teacher.  And, of course, the teacher gets to control the name of these documents.
  • Teachers can then use the filter option when viewing their class in Teacher Dashboard to view just the links to each specific activity/project/assignment document.  By opening each document, the teacher would be able to see the link to the student's product, add notes or comments, possibly add grades, check off items in a check list, and other options for interacting with the student throughout the process of the activity/project/assignment.

I'd be very interested to hear from anyone that tries out this idea to learn how it works for you and/or how it can be improved.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Get Animated Images Created For You By Google+

In case you missed the news about the Auto Awesome feature roll-out in Google+ a while back, if you upload a series of photos taken in succession (at least 5) into Google+, Auto Awesome will automatically stitch the photos into a repeating animation.  You can turn Auto Awesome on/off in your Google+ settings:

Here's the first one I created of my 2-year old dancing in our kitchen.

In addition to creating motion images, there are four other Auto Awesome features:  HDR, Smile, Pano, and Mix.  You can read more about them here.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Searching - One of the most important skills you need to learn today

Today, just about anything you want to learn is available at your fingertips.  The key is knowing how to effectively and efficiently find what you're looking for and validate that it's accurate information.  The search tools and apps are becoming more sophisticated by the day, but there are still searching strategies and tips that everyone should know to help improve your results and get to the answers you seek.  We all occasionally complain that we don't have enough time, so better searching should help you acquire a few more precious moments in your day.

Better searching could also save you from making a big mistake....

Or save the day in a tight pinch...

Or make you a hero with your kids...

Or even land you that dream job...

While these examples are fun, often times the problem you are trying to solve or the research you are trying to gather requires you to dig deeper than the first hits you get from a simple search.  I believe that searching should be taught or reviewed in every class, regardless of grade level, at the beginning of each year.  Heck, I'd even go so far as to say that we should consider making it part of high school graduation requirements in some way.  Maybe one day.  Until then, there are lots of opportunities to improve your searching skills on your own.  For many, including me, the search engine of choice is Google and there are two phenomenal self-paced courses that you can take at any time to help you learn the power searching skills you need.  Even if you don't want to go through the courses, the brief videos would still be worth your time to watch.  I strongly recommend that you check them out at

Friday, August 16, 2013

Add Voice Overs to Your Photos with Fotobabble

Scrolling through my Google+ feed, I came across a post that introduced me to Fotobabble.  This easy to use tool allows you to upload a photo, add your own voice over, and then grab the embed code to include your finished product in a blog post, web page, or other site.  Here's my first creation.  Just click the play button in the middle to hear the recording.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Put Your PLN In Your Pocket

There are plenty of other posts and articles out there that speak to the power and value of growing your Personal Learning Network (PLN), especially through the use of Twitter.  Let me just say ditto to all of them.  I have probably learned more through Twitter than most graduate courses I have participated in and easily with much less effort.  I mean, once you follow the right people, especially those Twitter first-responders that seem to find all the right resources to share before anyone else, they lead you right to the water and all you have to do is drink.

Photo by John Connell -

One concern I have heard, however, is becoming overwhelmed by all the great resources that come flooding in at all times of the day and night from multiple different sources.  Sometimes it's just impossible to stay on top of everything and the fear of missing something valuable can distract your focus from the task you are supposed to be working on.  I am truly in awe and quite jealous of those that have the time, dedication, and drive to be connected what seems like 24/7, especially those with families that they continue to always have time for.

Time to come clean.  I can honestly say that I have neglected to follow more people on Twitter and Google+ (my two primary PLN tools) because of this very infowhelm.  The thought of missing something, for me, was greater than not even having the opportunity to know about it at all.  I have finally decided that I can no longer use that excuse.  Instead, I have made it my goal to start following more people and to find a way to make it more efficient for myself.  My first step to becoming more efficient is to find a tool that allows me to quickly scroll through all of my social networking tools, blogs, web sites, and other resources and easily store the ones I think I might want to look into so that I can dive into them whenever I can carve out the time to do so.  Enter stage right... Pocket.  

There are a few good tools out there like Pocket, such as Instapaper and Readability, but I'm choosing Pocket because of its integration with over 300+ apps (most importantly the ones I use), the ability to access it from any one of the 7 different devices I use between home and work both on and offline, and the recent announcement that "Pocket" Is Now Chrome Native App That Works Offline on Your Chromebook!  Besides, sometimes you just have to choose one and run with it.

The next important step is to schedule time each day, even if it's just 15 minutes, to review a few of the resources I put in my Pocket and then clear them out once I'm done with them.

So, I'm giving it a go.  I think I can do this.  I think Pocket is going to help.  I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!  Actually, I'm going to start liking and following more people from now on.  I'm just going to put my PLN in my Pocket.

I'd love to hear from others about what they do and what tools they use to stay connected and manage all the "good stuff."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reflection on ISTE 2013 - I'm Proud

The ISTE conference is one of my favorite events of the year and this year's conference did not disappoint.  As each day progressed I learned, I presented, I connected, I was inspired, I questioned, I challenged, and, above everything else, I was proud.  Be forewarned, I'm about to roll out a bulleted list of some of the things I was proud about:

  • I was proud because our district was able to send at least five teachers to the conference for the fifth straight year.
  • I was proud because our district was able to send our two instructional technology coaches to the conference for the second straight year and just that we now have instructional tech coaches in our district.
  • I was proud because one of our principals, Jason Markey, attended the conference for the third straight year.
  • Heck, I was proud just to know Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey) during the conference and learn first-hand how connected and respected he has become in just a few short years as Assistant Principal and now Principal of East Leyden High School.  He hates when I say this, but I do really want to be him when I grow up.
  • I was proud because the more I experienced the more I became convinced that we are doing things right in our district.  We eliminated the obstacle of access by issuing a Chromebook to all 3,500 of our students last year and have truly started moving teaching and learning to the Web.
  • I was proud because so many people from across the country now know about Leyden Community High School District 212 and are interested in what we are doing and how we are doing it.
  • I was proud because I know that the big topics of promoting creativity and collaboration that emerged out of every session I attended IS happening in our district.
  • I was proud because many of the tools that were shared are being used by lots of our teachers.
  • I was proud because a few people I met actually jotted down or even tweeted out some of the things I said... like "Don't print.  Publish, post, and share."
  • I was proud to be among so many passionate educators that really understand what a modern education should really consist of.
  • I was proud that much of what I learned will actually help me be a better father in addition to a better Director of Technology.
  • I was proud just to be a member of ISTE.
  • Oh yeah, one more, I was proud because my hometown Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup and I was able to be with so many friends, both old and new, when those glorious 17 seconds transpired and victory was ours!  By the way, I'm still looking for someone that has a good picture of those of us that stormed the Alamo and took a group photo there.
I still have some considerable work to do to organize what I learned this year from all my notes so that I can best answer the question "now what?" and share everything with the teachers and administrators at Leyden  (I'm sure I'll be proud of that, too, if it ever gets done).  However, so much of the "goodness" from ISTE is available online that even those that couldn't attend can still benefit greatly from many of the sessions and keynotes that took place.  A perfect place to start is with the ISTE 2013 Conference Playlist on YouTube.

Attending the ISTE conference is an experience I wish for every educator.  If you haven't yet had the chance to go, you need to find a way to get there.  Start planning now for ISTE 2014 in Atlanta from June 28-July 1, 2014!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chromebook Check In at Leyden

Two hundred and eighty four days ago I was writing a post about how 1:1 With Chromebooks Becomes a Reality at Leyden.  Tomorrow, May 24, is the last day of the year for our students.  I still cannot believe this year is over.  Next to my first year of teaching back in 1995-1996, this was by far the most highly anticipated year in my career.  Having been the Director of Technology for Leyden High School District 212 for the past 12 years, I have orchestrated and been a part of many changes, but nothing even comes close to what we accomplished this year.  But we did it!  And we didn't just survive our first year with every one of our students having a Chromebook, we flourished!.  Everyone is responsible for our success:  the teachers, the students, the parents, the administrators, the Board of Education, the tech staff, the maintenance staff, and the entire Leyden community.  For links to numerous resources about our journey during the past year, check out this page.  We certainly attracted a lot of attention from other educators around the country and were happy to participate in numerous conversations, email exchanges, Google Hangouts, webinars, and we even hosted four official site visit days for over 240 educators from five different states.  We were the beneficiaries of lots of advice and guidance during our planning and research phases and enjoy paying it forward.  We have even organized a three day 1:1 Summer Symposium from July 31-August 2 , 2013 to share an in depth look at what we've done and how we've done it.  Shameless plug - we still have about 90 spots available.

Now, with one day left, of course it's time for one more "first" of the year.  Chromebook collection!  In our model, the district owns the Chromebooks and we issue them to each student much like we issue them text books or a locker to use for the year.  The students will turn in their devices, chargers, and cases and then get the exact same ones re-issued to them at the beginning of next year or during summer school.  The devices from the senior class will be assigned to our incoming Freshmen. Having started the transformation of how we approach teaching and learning by moving much of it to the Web, we knew that our students would need their devices all the way through their last final exam.  Many of them have actually needed their Chromebooks to take certain parts of their exams online.  Others have simply needed continued access to the digital resources and review materials that have accumulated in OpenClass, our learning management system, and their Google Drives throughout the year.  And so that leaves us with one day with one final exam and then the collection of almost 2,700 Chromebooks.  The good news is that our seniors turned in their devices last week, so we only need to collect about 3/4 of our entire 3,500 device fleet in one day.  Here is a quick outline of our Chromebook collection plan:

The Database
My outstanding team developed a comprehensive database system that ties in with our student management system to keep track of all Chromebooks, charges, and cases checked out and assigned to students.  It was also used to keep track of loaners that were checked out to students when they forgot their devices, didn't have them fully charged, or had their devices in for service.  Eventually, the database was also set up to check in the Chromebooks, record charges for certain damages, and email the students a receipt of their turned in equipment.

The Check In Form
check in form was designed that includes student information, their assigned Chromebook and charger identification numbers, and an inspection check sheet.  

Senior Collection
During the last week of attendance for seniors, they were allowed to turn in their Chromebooks to our
student-run tech support class at any time.  On their last day of attendance we set up a mass collection location in each of our buildings (the library at East Leyden and the field house at West Leyden).  Those students that didn't turn in their equipment early waited in line after their last exam, had their equipment inspected, and then scanned into the system.

Underclass Collection
All students are expected to bring their equipment to their last final exam.  After the exam, their teachers will complete the physical inspection, fill out the check in form, and rubber band together the Chromebook in its case with the charger and check in form.  Later in the day, teams of support staff will visit every classroom and transport the boxes of equipment to a holding area in each building.  In the following days, other teams of support staff will scan in all of the equipment into the database system.

Our talented maintenance department built a series of "cubbies" to store the equipment.  Each cubbie has
been labeled with asset tag numbers to match those of the Chromebooks.  All of the Chromebooks, chargers, and cases will be stored in these cubbies for the summer.

Our remarkable assistant principals hammered out the majority of the logistics of our Chromebook check in plan and the senior collection went extremely well.  We are now hoping for similar results with the underclass tomorrow.  I'm confident we're ready.  We've met every other challenge that going 1:1 this year threw at us and found great successes time after time.

Stay tuned to my blog for more reflections and statistics about the digital evolution of Leyden Community High School District 212 this past year.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Leyden's 1:1 Summer Symposium

If you've read some of my other posts (Blog Series about 1:1 with Chromebooks at Leyden, 1:1 with Chromebooks Becomes a Reality at LeydenTeacher Dashboard - Another piece to our 1:1 puzzle, or any others) you have already read about how incredible and historic this school year has been for us in Leyden Community High School District 212 with all 3,500 students getting issued Chromebooks.  What I have yet to post is how happy we have been to share what we're doing with other educators.  We greatly appreciated all the help, advice, and guidance we received while we were researching and planning out our digital evolution into a 1:1 teaching and learning environment and have been more than willing to pay it forward.  By the end of the year, we will have hosted four official site visit days for 226 educators from 46 different schools/districts in 5 different states.  In addition, we have participated in dozens (could be pushing close to a hundred by now) of phone conversations, email exchanges, Google hangouts, webinars, face-to-face Q&A sessions, and other forms of communication.  We are now happy to announce that we have added yet another opportunity to share what we are doing with others in the form of a 3-day summer symposium from July 31 - August 2, 2013.  Some of the highlights include the following:

  • An agenda divided into four tracks for different types of school/district stakeholders: Leading Track, Instruction Track, Technology Track, and Teacher Demonstrations.
  • A special keynote address each day of the symposium.
    • July 31 - Jaime Casap
    • August 1 - Chris Lehmann
    • August 2 - George Couros
  • An opportunity to hear directly from Leyden teachers, students, and parents.
  • A real bargain at only $200 per person.
  • Social/networking events are currently being organized.
  • Lots more!
Registration for those that pre-registered is currently taking place and will open up to the public on Monday, March 25.  If you're interested, please check out the Leyden 2013 1:1 Summer Symposium website to learn more and get registered.

Leyden High School District 212's

 2013 1:1 Summer Symposium

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Creating a Working Rubric in a Google Spreadsheet

Last week one of our English teachers contacted me with an idea, actually a challenge.  He wanted to create a working rubric that he could use to evaluate his acting students and then email them with their results/feedback.  The more we talked through the challenge, them more we realized how this could be beneficial for lots of other uses, as well.  We discussed the possibility of using Google Forms, but that didn't quite meet his needs.  So, the solution I came up with involves creating a Google Spreadsheet and installing a free apps script.  Some of the skills/tools involved in this process include the following:
  • Creating a Google Spreadsheet with multiple sheets
  • Using data validation to create drop-down menus
  • Using the VLOOKUP formula
  • Installing and using a free mail merge apps script
  • Hiding columns
While this may already sound like a daunting task, the investment of time to create the first spreadsheet will certainly pay off as it can easily be copied and tweaked for additional rubrics.  In addition, the added bonus of being able to collaborate on Google Spreadsheets allows multiple teachers to work together to build their working rubrics.

Below are the tutorials I put together to demonstrate this process.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Teacher Dashboard - Another piece to our 1:1 puzzle

We have had just an amazing and historic school year so far.  This is our first year being fully 1:1 with almost all of our 3,500 students having been issued Google Chromebooks.  Personally, I think we have far surpassed where I thought we'd be after a little over one semester in our new technology supercharged learning environment.  I have both witnessed and heard about some remarkable transformations of curriculum, lesson plans, the way we communicate, the way we collaborate, and more all because we've eliminated the "access" obstacle for our students.  Now, I know this has been a monumental undertaking for our teachers and most of them have compared this year to being a first year teacher again, but they have certainly risen to the challenge.

So far, there have been two primary tools (in addition to the Chromebooks) that have had the biggest impact on our year.  At the top of the list is Google Apps for Education (GAFE).  In my 18 years in the district, I have not seen any technology have more positive returns than the Google Apps suite.  In fact, 20 years from now, we may look back and say that adopting GAFE was one of the most important decisions ever made in this district.  Yep, even slightly ahead of choosing to go 1:1.  The second tool that has really changed the way we play the game of school at Leyden is OpenClass.  This is the free content/learning management system we're using for all classes.  We have chosen to set up one OpenClass course per prep (teaching assignment) for each teacher and their students are automatically loaded into the appropriate courses.  This system has provided a consistent framework for teachers to take their classes "to the Web" and design and develop digital curriculum and resources.  Our classes are no longer contained to the 48-minute periods in our school days.  Students have access to content, notes, resources, support, and anything and everything our teachers wish to include in their courses.  As an added bonus, we don't hear our students ask "What I'd miss yesterday?" anymore.  Beyond these two primary tools, most of our teachers have found numerous other Web tools and resources that they've been integrating into their classes.

With all this said, there were two reoccurring concerns throughout our first semester that were shared by both teachers and students.  First, there seemed to be a lot of different ways to manage documents at play.  From an administrative perspective, we allowed our teachers to try out a number of different options without scripting or mandating any one method.  Some teachers like this and others don't, but it's the path we chose to follow and we've learned a great deal about what we should and should not be doing.  Second, very few of our teachers were versed in the methods of managing a "lab" class.  With every student having a device in front of them, most of our teachers are continually working to learn how to manage such an environment.  For example, just knowing how and when to ask their students to have lids up or lids down is a simple but new classroom management technique that our teachers have needed to add to their toolkit.

Starting with the first day of second semester on January 8, 2013, we rolled out a new application in hopes of helping our teachers both manage their students' documents better and manage their classroom environment better.  That tool is Teacher Dashboard by Hapara.  In a recent survey of our teachers, we've learned that the majority of them are using these new tools and find them extremely beneficial.
  • 80% of our teachers reported that they use Teacher Dashboard.
  • 56% of our teachers reported that they use the Smart Copy tool to push out and share documents with their students.
  • 65% of our teachers reported that they use Teacher Dashboard to manage and view their students' documents.
  • 12% of our teachers reported that they use Teacher Dashboard to manage and view their student's blog posts and comments.
  • 73% of our teachers reported that they use the Chromebook remote control/management tools.
  • Comments included:
    • "Love the Teacher Dashboard!"
    • "Please keep Teacher Dashboard around.  It is the best thing since sliced bread.  I don't ever want to live without it."
    • "Teacher Dashboard has been a great addition this semester!"
    • "The dashboard has saved so much time and made using docs so much more manageable."
Overall, Teacher Dashboard has been well received by our teachers and I'd expect the usage to increase as the semester rolls on.  This has certainly been a key piece to our new 1:1 puzzle.

Below is a slide deck that was used to help introduce our teachers to Teacher Dashboard and may help you get a better understanding of what it has to offer.

SORRY - SlideRocket was bought by another company and no longer has educational accounts.  The presentation below is no longer available.  I'll try to convert it to another format.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

InfuseLearning - A nice student response system

With every student having a Google Chromebook in our district, I have heard that many of our teachers have become fans of using Socrative to get instant feedback during their classes.  I just learned about another similar product that also incorporates the use of images and drawings, text and audio translations, and the ability to push out links to all connected students.  Check out InfuseLearning.