It’s ‘Game On’ for mobile. Is your school ready?

August 20th, 2012

 Milwaukee Public Schools Mobile Website

Milwaukee Public Schools Mobile Website

This summer we saw live coverage of the Olympics delivered to mobile devices like never before. While the process wasn’t perfect for everyone, we can expect things to be even better for mobile viewers when the winter games start up in Russia.

It’s safe to say that the world of sports has become mobile friendly. ESPN now considers the phone their ‘first screen’ when they design web content. All the professional sports have gone mobile too.

It’s not just sports. People are beginning to expect everything that is online to be available when they’re browsing on a mobile device. President Obama agrees. In a statement back in May, the president ordered U.S. government agencies to create a mobile plan for the delivery of their services that will be implemented in one year.

In his memo, President Obama states:

Americans deserve a government that works for them anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

This is a challenge for our schools too. Recently I was talking to one of the other dads at our neighborhood elementary school. While our kids played in the distance, he said, “I’m always on the road for work. If I can’t read something on this (pointing to his phone) I’m probably never going to see it.” My friend isn’t alone. As more and more parents, teachers, and students are accessing the web via mobile devices, they will expect to find our school services available in a format that is mobile friendly.

Take a look at your classroom web pages, online progress reports, and other web based services. Do they work on a mobile phone? If not, it’s time to look for a replacement tool that does.

Every student’s device coming to a screen near you

March 20th, 2012

One of my favorite scenes from Iron Man 2 is when Tony Stark takes over the screens while he was forced to appear before Congress.

Stark takes over screens with his smart phone

However, it won’t take a superhero-genius-inventor to connect to the classroom screen. Inspired by some of the work over at Exploding Sink, I’ve been experimenting with the possibilities myself. With a little DIY, I’ve setup my iPad to work as a portable camera for the classroom via the Apple TV.

There are many signs that show that this is just the tip of the iceberg. This summer, Apple is releasing a new OS for the Mac computer that will also allow wireless mirroring. Affordable wireless HDMI systems are now starting to appear. CNN has been showing off their new technology that allows you to ‘flick’ content from screen to screen. This is a feature that many manufacturers have started to roll-out in their new flatscreen TVs this year.

What is the take away? Be ready to share your screen because more and more devices, and not just yours, are going to be connecting to it soon.

Give your quiet students a voice too

March 6th, 2012

In her new book, titled Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain explains how we overlook the value of introverts. She elaborates on NPR:

Introverts are much less often groomed for leadership positions, even though there’s really fascinating research out recently from Adam Grant at [The Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania] finding that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes when their employees are more proactive. They’re more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extroverted leader might, almost unwittingly, be more dominant and be putting their own stamp on things, and so those good ideas never come to the fore.

Here is another reason to get your students writing online.

Are we saying goodbye to the comeback kid?

February 13th, 2012

I was watching my kids play Angry Birds the other day when I noticed how quickly they went for the restart button.

Restart Level

Restart Level

When they didn’t get the first bird to land just the right way they bailed out of the level and started over.

I wonder. Are today’s kids less likely to make a comeback?

I’m all for trial and error and learning from your mistakes. Yet, I wonder if a penalty-free restart sends the right message. This has got me thinking about my students who ask if they can retake a quiz. Should I let them restart their assessments? Right now, assessment retakes become a logistical nightmare if you let everyone have do-overs but this will change as more and more assessments go digital?

Let’s assume that we have an unlimited supply of assessments. These are the questions I have:

  • When, if ever, should we allow students to restart an assessment?
  • If they restart, should the restart be penalty-free?
  • Should there be a limit to the number of restarts a student can take?

No child left without coding skills

February 10th, 2012

In this article, Andy Young writes:

Programming is the act of giving computers instructions to perform. This is true whether the output is your word processor, central heating or aircraft control system. If you can’t code, you are forced to rely on those that can to ensure that you can benefit from the greatest tool at your disposal.

I can’t agree more. Every kids should learn to code. Even if it’s just a little bit. Programming skills are empowering and they teach kids the importance of building models.

The easiest way to get started is to teach your students how to build a simple web  page using HTML. It’s not really programming but it will get kids thinking about code.

Learn HTML


To dive into programming, check out these tools to get kids started. My personal favorite is Scratch. It is free, easy to use, and designed so even  young kids can understand programming without actually having to write out complex code. Below is an overview.

Resembling Scratch, App Inventor is another easy to use programming tool for building apps on Android devices.

App Inventor

App Inventor was announced by Google but has recently been handed to MIT to manage. Watch for the “MIT App Inventor” this spring.

Finally, maybe for the more experience coders, give VPython a look. It allows students to create 3D interactive models. Compared to Scratch, it looks a little intimidating. However, there are many sample programs and tutorials available to help you get started.

Will the cloud prevent late homework?

January 30th, 2012

NPR takes a look at the rise of ‘the cloud’ in 2011.

This year, the cloud brought us something we didn’t even know we were craving: a digital storage locker.

Think back to high school, when you stuffed that metal locker with books, homework projects, photos of friends, and maybe records or CDs.

But that music and everything else existed in only one physical place — you couldn’t really drag that locker around. If you forgot to get something and went home for the day — well, you were out of luck.

But now, the old “I left it in my locker” excuse just won’t work anymore.

“If I store my information online in one of these clouds,” says Forrester Research senior analyst Frank Gillett, “it’s as if I have a magic courier that will run and retrieve stuff from my locker and retrieve it for me, instantly.”

This makes me wonder if students who grow up with the cloud will forget more and more of their physical work at home or in their locker. Will they expect seamless access to their content from our classrooms? One things for sure, it’s still going to be a while before students will be able to upload their coat and boots to the cloud.

Teens sharing password. This can’t end well.

January 24th, 2012

In more password related news, the New York Times reports:

In a 2011 telephone survey, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 30 percent of teenagers who were regularly online had shared a password with a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Sure it’s a symbol of trust, but we don’t need much of an imagination to see how this can go horribly wrong.

The password sharing results were revealed as part of a larger survey title Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites.

This is what happens when we have a generation growing up without Seinfeld. George taught us to never share our passwords.

Kramer also demonstrated that we should never make passwords about ourselves since they can be guessed easily.

Your password has been stolen. Are you prepared?

January 20th, 2012

From USA Today:

Zappos, the Amazon-owned shoe and apparel retailer, said late Sunday that more than 24 million of its customer accounts had been compromised.

This week I received an email from Zappos, my favorite online shoe store:

We are writing to let you know that there may have been illegal and unauthorized access to some of your customer account information on, including one or more of the following: your name, e-mail address, billing and shipping addresses, phone number, the last four digits of your credit card number (the standard information you find on receipts), and/or your cryptographically scrambled password (but not your actual password).

Scary stuff. Now hackers can use a network of computers to crack these passwords and try to login to my other accounts (like Gmail, Facebook, or worse) using the same password.

However, there are ways we can protect ourselves.

First, do not use the same password for every account you use. If one password is compromised, then every account using that password will be compromised. To prevent this, create unique passwords for your accounts. Don’t worry. You don’t have to remember hundreds of passwords. Just invent a pattern for creating passwords that is based on the account you are entering.

Here is an example.

Example Pattern: 56$$-FooD-$$65
(Food = the first four letters of a food that relates to the account I’m entering)

Example password: 56$$-OraN-$$65
(This might be my password for Yahoo. Since Yahoo ends in “o” I chose the first four letters of a food that starts with “o” to take the place of FooD)

Another example password: 56$$-EggP-$$65
(This might be my password for Google. Google ends in “e” and “e” is for eggplant.)

The trick is to make a pattern that is personal to only you.

The second thing you can do is use a strong password. I suggest using a password that is easy to remember but hard for a computer (even a supercomputer) to crack. Consider creating passwords using a password haystack. Please take a few minutes to watch this video to see how (and why) to use password haystacks. Then visit this site to create your first haystack.

People create programs to hack our accounts for a reason. There is money to made from stolen information. This has happen before and it will happen again. Be safe now. Fix your passwords today.

Three apps to help your iPad dress up like a PC

January 16th, 2012

Don’t get me wrong, the iPad is great. However, some of us have lots of our work living in the Windows environment. To help us out, many apps have been created for the Apple tablet to help us out.

I'm a PC

I'm a PC

Below are three free apps that try to bring a few more windows to the iPad.

  • PocketCloud – Pocket Cloud lets you access your work or home Windows PC via Remote Desktop. There are several other apps in the Apps Store that offer this functionality but for a fee. When you need to get to your computer using only an iPad, PocketCloud does the job nicely in a touch environment
  • CloudOn – CloudOn is an interesting new app that allows you access to the files in your DropBox account so you can edit them in a virtual version of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. The service was simple to set up but I did find editing documents to have a bit of lag.
  • OnLive Desktop – The OnLive Desktop app takes virtual computing a step farther for iPad users by giving you an entire Windows desktop (Start menu and all) to play with. OnLive Desktop gave me the smoothest transition back to the Windows world. Creating an account (and waiting for it to activate) took longer than I expected but it came with 2GB of free storage for all my Windows files. Editing documents in MS Office was much smoother than CloudOn and I found this app to be a great way to show off PowerPoint presentations.

I should be clear about one thing. None of the apps above will replace your Windows PC. You won’t have an iPad that runs Windows too. The apps above are close but some things are are just not the same in a touch environment. If you’re an iPad user who also runs Windows, all three apps above are worth taking a look at but don’t throw out your PC just yet.

When using QR codes, make sure your punch line is worth it

January 9th, 2012

What is this?QR codes have been turning up everywhere from the billboard at the bus stop to the back of the ketchup bottle at your favorite restaurant. These blocky little squares are beefed up barcodes that anyone with a smartphone can scan.

We’re starting to see them pop up in classrooms too. We now have QR code scavenger hunts, periodic tables, and worksheets.

QR codes are great for passing long URLs to your students’ devices. I think they work best when you want to conceal information for a period of time while the students try to solve a problem you have given them. For example, let students scan the QR code for a hint on a difficult problem or create a guess and check bulletin board to review a recent lesson.

Scan and find your science teacher

Scan and find your science teacher

However, are they always worth the time? QR codes are not as quick as they’re name (quick response) makes them sound. They are not worth the time for short messages that your students could probably type in faster than scanning. They are especially slow if your students do not already have the app required to read the codes installed on their device. You risk losing your lesson tinkering with technology for technology sake.

McKee Floyd, director of brand development for Sweetgreen, said it best when he spoke with NPR:

The issue I have with QR codes is that marketing is a little bit like telling a joke, and the longer the joke, the better the punch line has to be — and [using] QR code is a really long joke

I think the same is true in the classroom. If you’re going to use QR codes with students, make sure your punch line is worth it.

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