Wednesday, August 29, 2012

An iPad, a ThinkPad, and a Nexus 7 Walk Into...

In the picture to the left you can see all of the computers and tablets that I am currently using on a somewhat regular basis (click image for full size). Lately, I've been including this picture in some of my keynote presentations as a way to illustrate the point that it's not so much the operating system that matters as much as it is what we do with the technology that we put into classrooms. That said, I'm often asked for opinions about the various devices found in my geek lair (it's actually more of a geek nook) so here they are in no particular order.

My Tablets.
Apple iPad 2: I bought an iPad because I had to have one in order to make a truly informed opinion of them. I find that I use mine primarily for browsing FlipBoard and Feedly. Occasionally, I will write emails on it or put notes into my Evernote account with it. Other than that it gets used for testing apps that I find. When I have to do any kind of serious writing or other content creation, I use one of my laptops or, if I am home, I use the ThinkCentre. Would I go 1:1 with iPads at the middle school or high school levels, no. Would I use them as 1:1 devices in early grades, yes. More on why later in this article.

Google Nexus 7: I bought this almost as soon as it became available. It's the first time in my life that I was an "early adopter" of a physical product. It lacks a rear camera which severely limits its utility for content creation. Aside from that I find myself grabbing my Nexus 7 more often than I grab for my iPad when I want to read or watch something. This is simply because of the form factor. I can easily hold my Nexus 7 in one hand while I cannot do the same with my iPad.

Samsung Galaxy 10.1: I bought this last December and loved it until I got my Nexus 7. Since I got the Nexus 7, I hardly ever pick up this tablet.

My view on tablets in general.
Can you create content with them? Yes. Can you do it easily? Not so much. On all three of my tablets the process of creating content is not as streamlined as it is on my MacBook or on my ThinkPad Edge. Both the iOS and Android have some great apps for content creation, but even the best of those aren't as user-friendly as their desktop equivalents. For that reason, I am still very hesitant to recommend tablets as the only device in a middle school or high school 1:1 program. However, some of the apps and implementations of iPads that I've seen for early years (pre-K through grade 4) are quite impressive and I can see myself getting on board with iPads or Android tablets in those settings.

My laptops and desktop:
Lenovo ThinkCentre M90z: This was given to me by Lenovo last year as part of an edublogger promotion that they ran (about 40 other edubloggers received them too). Had it not been given to me, I probably wouldn't have bought one because I didn't see a need for a desktop in my life nor did I have physical space for it where I was living at the time. It actually ended up residing on the kitchen table for six months. All that aside, I have found myself using it most of the time when I am home and trying to bang out a lot of tasks at once. The large screen (23") provides more than enough space for me to have multiple, usable windows open at once.

I don't use the touch screen that much, but when I have used it it has been great. I had one of my former neighbor's children use it for some mathematics games last year and he loved it! I did have one problem with this computer, a complete hard drive failure that I did not see coming. It simply stopped working one day, but Lenovo was kind enough to replace it and they even sent a tech to my house to replace it.

If I was looking to outfit a computer lab with or school library with desktop units, I would not hesitate to buy a ThinkCentre PC. In fact, six months ago I went to a school in Massachusetts that had bought ThinkCentres for the school library.

Apple MacBook Pro: I absolutely love my MacBook Pro for three reasons; Keynote, Pages, and iMovie. If not for those three applications I would not have bought a MacBook. I just can't find any Windows applications that I like as much as those three.

Lenovo ThinkPad 14": I bought this computer 18 months ago because I needed an affordable laptop with a decent processor. I bought one with an i5 processor instead of the stock i3 processor. It has never failed me and I used it for all of my presentations last year until I got my MacBook pro. If you're in the market for an affordable laptop, I don't think you can go wrong with the ThinkPad Edge.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fun, Free Math Video Games on Math Moves U

Math Moves U is a fun math video game site. Math Moves U has three levels of difficulty; grade 6 or lower, grade 7, and grade 8 or higher. To play the games students first choose from one of eight customizable characters to be in the game. Then they walk through scenery, along the way they are confronted by math games that appear before them. Points are earned by answering math questions correctly.

Applications for Education
Math Moves U could a fun way to get students hooked on practicing and developing mathematics skills. If you have students register for an optional account, they can track their progress by keeping a running record of point totals.

A Short Explanation of Party Conventions

If you're discussing the Republican National Convention with your students this week, they might be wondering why conventions are held and what happens at the convention. CNN has an "explain it to me" video that addresses those points. As always, you may want to talk with your students about the role of bias in news media when you use current events clips in your classroom.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo and Glen Wiebe for sharing this video early this week.

Three Good, Free iPad Timeline Apps for History Students

As a student I loved looking at timelines in my social studies textbooks. As a history teacher I still love timelines. Timelines in a web browser or as a stand-alone app can offer students more information than a paper-based timeline. Recently, I spent a little time looking for free timeline apps to use on my iPad. While there are a lot of paid apps I didn't find too many free ones that I liked, but I did find three. Here are the three that I like.

American Revolution Interactive Timeline for iPad sports the best visuals of the three apps on this list. The timeline features images of artifacts related to the American Revolution. Students can click on the artifacts in the timeline to read a bit about each artifact's relevance to the American Revolution.

Timeline Eons is a freemium app that displays major events throughout the history of the world. The app's search function allows you to search for a date, an event, or a place. The free version of the app allows access to all the timelines for the first ten days that you use it. After the first ten days you're limited to 1950 to the present.

LineTime Presidents Edition is a timeline of all the U.S. Presidents. As students scroll through the app they can click on a president's image to open pop-up box containing the biography of that president. It should be noted that the biographies are pulled from Wikipedia entries.

Make Videos On Animoto for Android

I'm not sure how I missed the news earlier, but today I discovered that Animoto now has an Android app. The Android app, like the iOS app, allows you to create simple yet beautiful videos on the go. I installed the app this evening and quickly put together a short video using the images from my Instagram account. You don't have to use Instagram images you can also import from your phone's image gallery and a number of image hosting sites. The limitations that you experience with free Animoto accounts online apply to the Android app too.

My sample video (truly just a random selection of images and music for the purpose testing the app) is embedded below.


Make a video of your own at Animoto.

Applications for Education
If you're looking for an Android app that your students can use to quickly create videos, give Animoto for Android a try. You could use Animoto for Android to do what I had some teachers in St. Clair, Minnesota do today. They created short videos to introduce themselves to their new students. Of course, your students could do the same to introduce themselves to their new classmates.