What would you do?


If you haven’t, you really should read through this report.

Chromebook controversy: ‘Every parent should be concerned’ about web-enabled school laptops, parents say

As an educator, it’s probably pretty easy to immediately come to the conclusion that the parent is wrong or out of touch or something …  But it goes a little deeper than that and is another example of being careful of the message we send.

As educators, we think we know what is right and I suspect that we think that it’s intuitive that everyone would agree.  After all, who would argue that a computer with internet access that a student has for her/his educational career is not going to be appreciated by everyone?  Gift horses and all that.

It’s important to note that we’re only really hearing from one side as we work our way through this story.

The districts mentioned may well be ahead of the curve in these initiatives so there’s a great deal of learning to be done for other districts who may follow in the future.

So, what would you do?

Some of the things that come to my mind immediately:

  • explain the rationale and the expectations that should arise as a result of the initiative, including providing convincing research for success from pilot programs or other initiatives from other districts
  • explain, in detail, what the district’s plan is for educating students about how to use these technologies and the plan for developing competent digital citizens
  • have initial and then ongoing parent information nights to discuss the success and challenges of the program
  • have a discussion area where parents can express their concerns and see them addressed by board personnel
  • indicate ways that the technology can be used offline without being connected to the internet
  • compare and contrast the use of this technology to the way that students have traditionally used home computers, school computers after schools, or in other places like youth centres or public libraries.  In particular, what is the benefit of having a computer for their personal use, as it’s needed
  • considering the high visibility of public testing like EQAO, show the best of applications to support student learning in mathematics and literacy
  • explain any limitation that the technology might have compared to computers used in specific courses – computer science, graphic arts, videography
  • address concerns about using computers from one specific technology company
  • show the parents the two ways of using technology that I’ve always mentioned
    • use technology to do things differently
    • use technology to do different things (really work this one)
  • include a way for parents to opt out of the program if they just can’t buy into it

An initiative like this requires support and buy-in by all members in order to be successful.  It definitely requires the district to be on their best communication and partnership mode.

What more could be done?

What would you do?

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Studying Mathematics and more


I had a conversation with a friend recently.  She’s going to have some Chromebooks come into her classroom and she was wondering where to start.  Of course, it would help if her district provided some resources and professional learning opportunities but that’s another topic for another day.  For now, she’s on her own it seems.

I asked her about support and the response was kind of disappointing – “they just assume that we know about stuff.”

I guess it was different in the past.  Applications would have been installed on the classroom devices and you just used them.  Someone else had made the judgment that they were worthy and appropriate.  It is different when you ask people to take a risk that that internet resource they found by themselves is going to do the deed for them.  I used to maintain a “Student Reference Portal” where I put together what I’d found and assessed as appropriate.

So, I passed along some of what I thought would be useful launching pads.  Mathematics was particulalry important to her so that was in my mind.

And then I started poking around.  After all, on the internet, things come and go.  I dropped into the Studyladder.  It’s an interesting collection of, not only Mathematics things, but many activities in other subject areas.

Selection_001

It appears to be rich with resources but, like all things, you need to get in and evaluate them to see if they are appropriate.

There are three levels of access and so you’ll need to see if there’s a fit.

As I sit back and reflect on this, it serves as a reminder that while we get excited about the latest 3D AI Coding Minecraft Makerspace craze, there are other people who are being dropped into their own area of discomfort.

They need support too.

Games with Blockly


Coders of all ages are going to like this!

We all hear about how students get engaged learning to code by programming their own games.  That can sometimes be a challenge for the student learning coder and/or the teacher trying to stay attuned to the best in coding and generating ideas.

So, check this out. – Blockly Games.

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Pick a starting point and you’re off.

At the time of the screen capture, you’ll see that I had worked my way almost all the way through the Maze option on this computer.  (To be honest, I spent lots of time and enjoyed them all.  I hadn’t thought about blogging about it until later.)

The Maze option has 10 different levels and challenges.  As you would expect, they start pretty easy and then get challenging.

Here’s my solution for Level 9.

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And, winner winner, chicken dinner.  Your congrats message lets you see the Javascript behind the code.

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Just a warning before you click through and get started.  This is from experience.  This is really addicting.  And, I do have a solution for level 10 that’s reasonably priced.

Where I’d see immediate use of this…

  • with beginning student coders to learn the principles of a block coding environment
  • as an environment to get a coding club off to a great start
  • as part of an understanding of computational thinking
  • with teachers who are learning or refreshing their coding skills
  • with older students who already know some coding, as a start of year activity to get the coding juices flowing

Got an idea of your own?  Please add it to the comments below.

 

Custom words


If one of the goals in life is to reduce work, then it only makes sense to do things to help the cause.

Every time I get a new word processor or any other piece of software that includes a spell check, I’ll add certain words so that they don’t get flagged as incorrect or, even worse, changed to something else via auto-correct.  Previously, I had shared how to turn on auto-correction on a Chromebook.  I called the post “The best setting ever“.

It’s still a great feature but needs a little tweaking.  This Chromebook setting is really unique in that it applies to everything that you might want to run on the computer.  So, I went about adding my custom words.  There are some technical terms that I immediately add, then it’s on to family members with unusual names, and then there are the locations.  

A typical starting point for this is a geographic wandering around Essex County.  These are the locations that I probably use the most.

To add them to the dictionary, it’s just a matter of choosing the keyboard settings and then the Configure button to get to the settings for that keyboard.  

Editing the dictionary settings takes you to your custom collection.

Just go ahead and add your custom words.  

It may not make you the letter perfect writer you aspire to be, but it’ll help you reduce those squiggly lines.

Nobody likes squiggly lines.

Aw, man …  I forgot one…

The best setting ever …


… at least for me.

and I found it by accident.

I was playing around with the configuration on my Chromebook and happened to stumble into this.

By default, the keyboard was set to US English and I wanted to switch to Canadian English.  That wasn’t a big deal.  It was just a matter of selection.  There are many options like Dvorak, UK Keyboard, and so much more.    

Never forget that we’re operating in a truly global world.  

So, I just figured that I’d grab my Canada English keyboard and be done with it.

It was nice that this feature changed to Canadian English spell checking.

But then I hit gold.  I was a little puzzled at first when I could select the Canadian English keyboard but a further option to Configure it?  What’s in a click?

I had to pause for a second. 

We’ve all heard of auto-correct on phones.  It stops from making some pretty silly mistakes.  (or in some cases, it actually can introduce some so proofreading is crucial).  It came as no surprise that it was available with the on-screen keyboard but the physical keyboard as well?  And, to throw in an little artificial intelligence at the same time by predicting what the next word might be?

I gave it a try and it’s now my latest favourite feature!  I think that we’re all familiar with the squiggly red line under a mis-spelled word you run into while proofreading.  Now, because it’s constantly checking my work, I can see it in action as the feature tries to make me a better writer.  And, because I blog in the browser, it’s a perfect match.

There are three different settings – Off, Modest, and Aggressive.  I’m at a toss up at this point between Modest and Aggressive.  

I’m finding it most helpful with two offensives I make while typing:

  • transposition of letters – ae instead of ea
  • just plain spelling – an activity that I previously used by having another tab open to a dictionary

What a difference it makes to writing at the keyboard.  It definitely will cut back on the spelling and other keyboarding errors that I’m prone to make.  It’s now up to me to make sure that I’m using the correct words.

The feature is available as an experiment for the desktop version of the browser at chrome://flags  Just make sure that you heed the warning.

Becoming that expert


One of the hang overs from using the computer before the mouse is the ability to access functionality of your computer using keys and key combinations so that you can quick access to things your computer can do.

By removing your hand from the keyboard to use the mouse or the trackpad, you introduce extra time to your computer activity.  It only makes sense then that, if you can keep things on the keyboard, you can increase your productivity.  If you took keyboarding as a course, you know about the home row and the little nubs on the F and J key to anchor your fingers.  A;SLDKFJGHFJDKSLA; (Just for the memories)

Quick typists will use the best keyboarding techniques.

But what about the extras?

There are some standards that go from computer to computer and operating system to operating system.

  • CTRL/Command and N will open a new instance of whatever program you have
  • CTRL/Command and T will open a new tab in your browser
  • CTRL/Command and B will make text bold
  • CTRL/Command and the arrow keys will jump your cursor
  • and the list goes on and on…

You probably have your favourites.

The Windows, Linux and Macintosh keyboards are pretty similar and so it comes as no surprise that most of the key combinations will work with either computer.  Ditto for the Chrome keyboard plus a lot more.

I wandered down this path when I wanted to find a way to capture part of the display.  I have utilities for Windows, Linux and Macintosh to do that so that I can capture part of any application, including a web browser.  Moving to Chrome was a bit of a change since the browser is a major part of the operating system.  I was resigning myself to the fact that I would have to install an extension to do screen captures.  But there was one key that looked a little different from the rest so I went digging.

By itself, the  key, allows you to switch to a different open window.

But when you order a combo, it takes on a different role.

Holding down the CTRL key and pressing it takes a picture of your screen.

Holding down the CTRL and SHIFT key and pressing it lets you capture an area of the screen.  That’s exactly what I was looking for.  No extension needed here.

Of course, any computer user will tell you that if you’ve found one thing, you know there’s more.  So, I did some digging and found the ultimate resource to hep you become a Chrome keyboard expert.

Hold down the CTRL, SHIFT and / key at the same time for a keyboard view of all that’s possible.

And that’s just the beginning.  Try pressing the CTRL, ALT, or SHIFT key by themselves or in combinations with others.

All of a sudden, the door opens and everything becomes visible.  There are so many functions literally at your fingertips to make you become that expert.

All that you have to do is memorize them all!

Saving the classroom computing experience


This post is actually an amalgam of a number of conversations that I’ve had with friends over the past weeks.  So, I won’t name names but I’m sure that those who were in the conversation will recognize their part.

The conversations were a result of talking about the successful use of technology in the hands of students and the barriers toward that success.  Their observations may or may not echo your experiences.  It would be great if you could add your thoughts/comments to the bottom of the post.  Much of the conversation dealt with frustrations but there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

Lack of Professional Learning

It’s interesting to see the arguments and they’re so similar to the Digital Immigrants/Native discussion.  Just because more people are comfortable with personal devices doesn’t necessarily translate into success in the classroom.  Schools and school districts shouldn’t assume that they’re enjoying success.  In fact, it’s only with the constant stirring of the pot and the sharing of resources, that success will happen.

Technicians

Most school districts hire computer technicians whose job it is to visit schools and fix things and install software.  Observations were made that we have more technology than ever in schools and yet have the same number or even fewer technicians that actually touch the equipment.  That results in an increasingly larger inventory of technology that needs attention before it can be used.

Priorities

So, even when the technician does get to the school (one person reported that it was once ever two weeks, barring emergencies) there is a priority to the jobs that are addressed.  While there was a debate on the order of priorities, we kind of agreed that this was pretty much it.

  • network problems
  • secretary’s computer/printer
  • principal’s computer
  • vice-principal’s computer
  • teachers’ computers
  • computers/tablets for students with special needs
  • adaptive technology for students with special needs
  • the newest computers/tablets acquired for student use
  • older computers/tablets if there is time

More Priorities

  • printers for the students
  • other peripheral devices

It’s an interesting list of priorities and it’s difficult to argue with the order.  But, frustration does exist if that student in Grade 5 is writing the next great Canadian novel or that student in Grade 11 is one last run away from having their programming project complete and submitted.

Hanging On

  • schools are notorious for hanging on to things and computers are no exception.  Letting go can be hard but sometimes technology has just had its day and you’re further off without it.

These days, school districts rely increasingly on the cloud (a horrible name when you actually get to see a computing centre) for things like an office suite or activities that would normally be handled by software installed on the computer.  Remember how the province used to rely on OSAPAC to provide a number of new pieces of software annually?  This list shows that things are changing.

With the increasing acceptance of students bringing their own devices to schools, there has been indeed a real shift in computer use.  With the exception of specialized topics, the use of web-based resources makes a great deal of sense.  One of the people I chatted with indicated that their IT Department has a three year cycle for installing new software on computers.  You could easily draw the conclusion that it’s obsolete even before the students get a shot at it!

The older computer is an interesting scenario.  Newer software often runs much slower, if at all.  But, for the most part, things that are available on the web would work nicely if there was only a working browser on the computer.

It doesn’t take long to find stories like this:

Technology in Education: How Chromebooks and Google Classroom Change the Learning Process

There generally was great love shown for the use of Chromebooks rather than a continuing reliance on the traditional desktop.

Samsung provided this interesting infographic a few years ago – Why Chromebook? (infographic)  Their concept of four generations makes a great deal of sense. The message remains the same but has also extended with the new features in Chromebooks including even longer battery life, more contemporary extensions and Chrome applications, touch screen, and the ability to run Android applications.  Many are waiting with interest for the release of the newest Samsung Chromebooks.

This infographic from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning makes the case for the ease of use and a possible workflow.

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, Important Chromebook Tips. Digital Image. January 7, 2017 Published http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2017/01/an-excellent-infographic-featuring.html, February 4, 2017 Accessed.

More importantly, you don’t need to image and install a multitude of applications.  With the reliance on cloud-based applications and storage, much of the traditional thinking behind computer use just goes away.  Instead of all the work and tweaking that maintaining an approved image of applications requires, accessing things in the browser really question the traditional way of thinking about classroom computing.

There are so many things that just form part of the experience that make it a good choice.  For the those who like the tablet format, the inclusion of Android applications is a natural – probably even better since they can now be used with a keyboard if necessary.  For those needing help, the adaptive features are handly, including using Chromevox.

For the foreseeable future, there still is a need for a traditional computer with traditional software installed for some purposes.  However, the general use can well be addressed via the web.  It equalizes the process for the bring your own students and teachers.

The Smartlock Feature would be intriguing to see in classroom use.

Your Chromebook will be unlocked when your Android phone is unlocked and nearby.

The general thought was that this are so many interesting features and benefits of a move in this direction.

Will all computer makers follow suit?  Will your district?

But, should you go this route because it’s the newest and shiniest kid on the block?  It’s even more crucial that you step back from the technology and determine just what it is that you intend to accomplish with any technology acquisition.  Instead of asking “how many”, the first questions should be “what would we do with it?” and “how will we leverage professional learning to get the most from any purchase?”

Your thoughts?