Sunday, September 1, 2013

Three Mobile Blogging Activities for Students

One of my favorite uses of iPads, Android tablets, and cell phones is mobile blogging. Blogging apps make it possible for students to record their observations and those of others from almost anywhere (click here for the mobile apps for the most popular blog platforms). Here are three mobile blogging activities that you might have students try on your next field trip.

1. One-take and or quick-cut videos. Have your students interview each other in front of a landmark to talk about what they're learning on a field trip. The YouTube apps for iOS and Android are made for that type of activity.

If your students have been taking a lot pictures on a field trip, have them organize a short audio slideshow video through the Animoto Android or iOS apps. Click here for an example that I made with the Animoto Android app.

2. Podcasts and audio notes. Have your students use Audioboom or Sound Cloud (both are available for iOS and Android) to create simple audio recordings in which they describe what they're seeing on a field trip. They can also use the apps to record informal interviews with folks like museum tour guides or park rangers.

3. Enhance pictures. Your students can use ThingLink (iOS or web browser) or PicCollage (available for iOS and Android) to add some information to pictures that they take on field trips. In the case of ThingLink they can add interactive elements to their pictures. Those elements can include links, notes, video clips, MP3 recordings, and other images. In the case of PicCollage students can put together a simple collage of field trip highlights.

Two Touch Screen Windows 8 Laptop Reviews

I don't often do reviews of devices (I have done a few over the years), but at this time of year a lot of students and their parents are out shopping for new laptops so I thought that this would be a good weekend for a review of two new laptops that I've been using this summer.

Earlier this year I bought a Lenovo Yoga 13" touchscreen laptop. Then in late June Staples sent me an Acer V5 to test out and review. Both of these computers are touchscreen laptops. After eight months with the Yoga and two months with the Acer V5 I can comfortably put touchscreen into the category of "nice to have" but not "must have" for my laptop needs. While I occasionally use the touchscreen on the laptops, I haven't used it for anything that I couldn't do with a mouse. That said, I can definitely see how a touch screen would be appealing for elementary school students to use when playing games or manipulating something like Google Earth. Both computers are running Windows 8.

Acer V5 Review: Currently priced at $599 at Staples it falls into the category of mid-priced laptop. (full disclosure: Staples sent me a sample to use).

What I liked: With a 15" screen you have plenty of screen space for just about anything you would do on a desktop. The screen itself doesn't provide the sharpest contrast, but it is more than adequate for watching Netflix in full screen.

The battery life is listed at four hours. That's a little generous in real-world applications. I found that on average it was closer to 3.25 hours when I was using it for writing and watching videos. The back-lit keyboard probably accounts for some of the battery consumption.

At 5.5lbs this won't be confused with an ultrabook although for its size that weight isn't too bad. The balance of the laptop compensated for the weight.

What I would change: 
The keyboard includes a full number pad. I would take that out to provide more space for full-size keys. The keys are a bit small and a set a bit farther apart than normal which meant that I found myself missing keys on a regular basis. Some people might get used to this, but I didn't. I'd also move the Windows 8 key to the top-left or top-right positions where it will be out of the way when I'm trying to hit the "shift," "control," and "alt" keys.

The screen resolution. As I mentioned above the screen is great for watching movies. However, when you're typing for a long time you'll notice that the screen resolution creates a slightly pixelated view of your text.

Durability factor:
I didn't take this laptop on any trips farther than the local coffee shop because of its size.
The hinges on the laptop are rugged and I don't see those as a concern for failure down the road. The trackpad is the one aspect that I could see being a cause for concern down the road.

If you're in the market for a mid-priced Windows 8 computer with a 15" screen, the Acer V5 is worth trying out. If you can, try it side-by-side with other computers in its class to see how you like the keyboard.

Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 13": Prices vary from $849 to $1149 depending on processor and hard drive choices. The model I bought has 128GB solid state drive and i5 processor.

What I like:
The form factor is amazing. The keyboard fits my style perfectly.
At 3.3 pounds it is still heavier than a MacBook Air but is lighter than my MacBook Pro.
The solid state drive means there aren't any "whirring" noises in the background after working for a while.
In real-life conditions the battery lasted more than six hours. I used for a couple of cross-country flights without running out of battery life.
The screen quality is excellent. I've typed on it for hours without any concerns about looking at pixelated text.

What I don't like:
The balance is a little odd depending upon how you tilt the screen. At times I've felt like if I took my palms off the keyboard the whole thing might flip over.
The keyboard is not back-lit.

Durability factor:
This is not the computer I would buy to put into classrooms for daily use by elementary school and middle school students. Because the screen is so thin you do have to be careful to lift the lid from the center so as not to bend the screen too much.

The verdict:
If you're looking for a Windows 8 ultrabook for yourself or for a responsible older teenager, it's hard to beat the Yoga.

If you are shopping for a new Windows 8 laptop for yourself or your child, if it is at all possible, try it before you buy it and don't base your decision just on Internet reviews of the laptops. There isn't anything that can replace actually touching and trying a laptop. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Week in Review - The Knuckle Hopping Edition

Good morning from the Toronto International Airport where I am waiting for my flight home to Portland, Maine. This week I had the privilege of presenting in Paramus, New Jersey and Grande Prairie, Alberta. I always learn something new when I travel. In Paramus I learned about Blue Laws and in Grande Prairie I learned about knuckle hopping. In Grande Prairie I knuckle hopped for the first time in my life. You can see the video of it below (click here if the video is not visible to you). Thanks to Lorne Toews for the video.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. 5 Free iPad Apps Students Can Use to Take Notes
2. Rewordify Helps Students Read Complex Passages
3. Lingualy Helps You Learn a Language While Browsing the Web
4. How to Create a Website With Weebly
5. Fun DIY Projects for Kids
6. How to Enable Offline Use of Google Documents
7. How Google+ Has Brought Meaning Back To My PLN Experience

Would you like to have me visit your school this year?
Click here to learn more about my professional development services.

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What Is Money? - A Short Economics Lesson

The Atlantic's new series Economics In Plain English is a good resource for social studies teachers to bookmark and share with their students. One of the new additions to the series is What Is Money? What Is Money? uses the fun scenario of trying to deposit a banana into a bank to explain the basic purpose and function of money. The video is embedded below.

Updated - A Search Engine for Videos Not On YouTube

A few weeks ago I created a Google Custom Search Engine for videos that are not hosted on YouTube. You can find the search engine on this page. This evening I updated that search engine to include four more resources. The alternatives to YouTube that I added to the search engine were the National Film Board of Canada, the Economist videos, The Atlantic videos, and National Geographic Kids videos.

You can test the updated search engine below. It is permanently hosted here.