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Special Needs Assistive Technology

0615cw02 Today’s Royal Treatment—Special Needs Assistive Technology, is the first in a series of Scholastic On Air shows with special education professionals. Find out what assistive technology is, a bit about assistive tools that work, as well as a few common sense tips from special needs experts. Joining us are  Laura Nazzarine, Director of Special Education, West Clermont School District; Ohio, Mary Beth Sonnier, Technology Facilitator, Calcasieu Parish School Board, Westlake, LA; and Anissa Fontenot who is with Region V’s Louisiana Assistive Technology Initiative, Lake Charles, LA.
Listen to the Conversation:

A Bit of Good Product Sharing

Ken4 I'd like to thank my friends at the Blohm Agency for this Marketplace News.

Capstone Digital will soon introduce a new personalized literacy program. Created to connect reading levels with student interests, the new offering provides access to the largest integrated library of digital books with multimedia reading supports. The online platform enables anytime, anywhere access to books that students can read, rate, review, and share with classmates through safe social networking.  Through embedded assessments, end of book quizzes and benchmark quizzes, the personalized literacy program allows educators to monitor, track and measure student reading growth. For more information, visit www.capstonedigital.com.

Shmoop offers online test prep for SAT and PSAT, and will soon launch ACT test prep. Each online test prep course includes deep content reviews, hundreds of drill questions and two-three full-length interactive practice exams.  Shmoop uses classic video games such as Oregon Trail, Tetris, and Mario Brothers as metaphors for the challenges students will face in the exams. In addition to preparing students for the SAT and ACT Exams, Shmoop offers online courses for four of the five most popular AP Exams. Shmoop offers affordable group rates for schools, districts and public libraries on its subscription products.  For more information, visit www.shmoop.com.    

Funds For Learning, an E-rate compliance services firm, just released the education industry's first E-rate application for the iPhone and iPod Touch.  E-rate Manager for iPhone is a free mobile version of the E-rate Manager service provided by Funds For Learning. E-rate Manager for iPhone provides current users instant access to information regarding funding requests and commitment amounts, service providers and remaining funding balances. The free application follows in the tradition of the E-rate Manager tools, offering easy navigation and instant access to the most up-to-date funding year information. For more information, visit www.fundsforlearning.com.

Get ready for the SIIA educationversion of Don't Copy That 2, which educates students on digital fair use and copyright laws. Along with the video release, SIIA has developed classroom materials, including lesson plans and other informational resources, targeted to middle and high school teachers and librarians that help to promote the ethical and legal use of digital information. In addition, the classroom resources are aligned to digital citizenship teaching objectives in NETS standards and AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner. For more information, visit www.dontcopythat2.com.

With more than 1 million users, Edmodo provides free, secure social networking tools for teachers, students and administrators.  The online environment offers a safe and easy way to exchange ideas, share content, and access homework, grades and school notices. Edmodo recently launched Parent Accounts, allowing teachers to exchange messages and maintain open-communication with parents, provide direct access to grades and assignments, send notifications to parents about upcoming due dates and missed assignments, and alert families to school events and activities. For more information, visit www.edmodo.com.

Microsoft’s Innovative Schools

Innovation Congratulations to the U.S. schools and districts that have been chosen by Microsoft to join their world class of innovative global education sites for 2010–2011.

The U.S. “Pathfinder” schools/districts join 80 schools in 46 countries. The program connects educators from around the world to share ideas and best practices for creating new learning models that inspire students to engage as well as direct their own learning. Here are the U. S. 2010-2011 members:

Lake Washington School District, Redmond, Wash.

Lake Washington School District is a high-achieving public school district in Redmond, Kirkland and Sammamish, Washington. It is the sixth-largest district in the state of Washington, with more than 24,000 students and 50 schools. Their mission is “Every Student Future Ready”.

Jane Long Middle School, Houston, Texas

Jane Long Middle School is in partnership with Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit that runs programs in Houston and Austin, Texas. The partnership lengthens each school day by three hours for all sixth graders, which addis extra academic time, support and hands-on, project-based learning, including 10-week apprenticeships with local professionals.

School of the Future, Philadelphia, Penn.

The School of the Future Integrates technology into every area of the learning at the school. The innovative work at the School of the Future encouraged Microsoft to launch its Worldwide Innovative Schools program, which helps governments and communities around the world build schools that meet the challenges of learning today.

Denver Public Schools, Denver, Colo.

The Denver Public School District’s new High Tech Early College (HTEC) is a testing ground for innovative teaching practices. The school provides opportunities to earn dual credit through concurrent enrollment and offer opportunities to stay in the program for a fifth year of high school leading to an associate of applied science, or associate of applied business degree.

Sign up for the Innovative Schools Program 2011 beginning mid February:

There are three levels of participation:

1. Worldwide Innovative Schools Global Community

2. Innovative Schools Pathfinder Program

3. Innovative Schools Mentor Schools

Any school in the world can join the Participant Program by signing up for the Partners in Learning Network at http://www.microsoft.com/education/pil/partnersInLearning.aspx.

Planning School and District Tech

 Today’s Royal Treatment is a tech tale of two districts. Joining us are Assistant Superintendent M.E. TP Steele-Pierce, PhD, and Principal Tonya Schmidt of the West Clermont District in Cincinnati, OH, and from Massachusetts, Principal Patrick Larkin of Burlington High School and Library Media Specialist Dennis Villano. These educators will share how they learned more about the tech that’s out there, and how they determined what was the best fit for their districts. Listen to the conversation:

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Small District Big Innovations

Lead Superintendent John Carver, Principal Deron Durflinger, and Library Media Specialist Shannon Miller of the Van Meter Public Schools, Iowa, get the Royal Treatment. Find out the Van Meter philosophy—how they meet tech-era needs of students and staff, as well as how to create a building climate for change, and how technology plays into that. Listen to the conversation:

 


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Kineos for Kids!: First Look

Kineo with Hands

The Royal Treatment has been given the first, exclusive look at the Kineo and its specs. It might be for kids, what the iPad is for teachers. I have to admit that with a price of $299, and it’s brilliantly colored sleeves—covering its white face—with hot pink to red—is eye-catching, and attract a lot of attention from educators and students.

The Kineo is specifically designed for kids, schools, and classroom. It is an Android device that plays well with Flash—go figure! With the Kineo, there’s no marketing hype or messaging, and the sites students access need to be pre-approved by teachers or administrators.

Educators will get to touch and order Kineos, for the first time, at the upcoming FETC 2011 in Orlando, Florida, and shipments will begin in March 2011.

The Kineos parent company is Brainchild, which has been an innovative force in tech education. I’ve heard that Achiever!, Brainchild’s formative assessment system for state-specific test preparation and instruction on state standards works well with the device.

Follow the Kineo at Brainchild's site: http://www.brainchild.com/

Best Classroom Web 2.0

Steven Anderson Steven Anderson, District Instructional Technologist for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, Winston-Salem, NC gets the Royal Treatment from Scholastic Professional Media Senior Technology Editor Ken Royal. Anderson, also known as @web20classroom on Twitter, shares the Best Classroom Web 2.0 Resources, and offers tips that will put even the least tech-savvy educators at ease. Learn from Steven Anderson, a trusted online resource, education technologist, and presenter. Listen to the conversation:


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Computer Science Cool?: Alfred Thompson MSDN

AlfredtAlfred Thompson, Academic Developer Evangelist for Microsoft gets the Royal Treatment from Scholastic Professional Media Senior Technology Editor Ken Royal. Thompson discusses why computer science is cool, technology for kids and teachers in classrooms, as well as what the future holds for education technology.
Before his career at Microsoft, Alfred was the Technology Director and a computer/technology teacher at Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua NH.  He is a graduate of Taylor University in Upland IN where he got his start in computers, and received his MS in Computer Science at Rivier College in Nashua NH. I must add that his well-rounded computer science career began at Brooklyn Technical High School. Listen to the conversation:

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CES: What’s New? Does it Compute?

Compute This time of year is pretty exciting for tech geeks, and as the pocket protector crowd descends on Las Vegas and the Consumer Electronics Show, education vendors are getting ready for London’s BETT, Orlando’s FETC, and Austin’s TCEA. And I’m just trying to figure out what’s new—again.
Here are a few comments from all over the field:

Mouse Mail

While nothing is more important than a parent in monitoring appropriate kid-Internet and tech-device use, I’m all for any ideas that can help. Mouse Mail http://mousemail.com/ has feature to help parent’s stay aware of what their kids are doing on and with the devices they’re using. Monitoring features include e-mail, text messaging, games, photos, social media, and more. Take a look.

BigBlueButton

Looking for a cool way to collaborate on those new Android device or netbook, BigBlueButton http://bigbluebutton.org/ might be the open source option to try. It says it’s for higher ed, but it’s certainly perfect for middle schoolers on up. I know it works well on Android, should be cool on iPads when that Flash problem gets worked out.

Samsung's Building a New Galaxy

Someone check Samsung http://www.samsung.com/us/mobile/galaxy-tab for steroids! They are certainly starring at CES with their Android Galaxy Tab and new Galaxy Player options. Their Galaxy Phones have sold way over 3-million in the US. I believe Apple sold about that many within about 3 months.

Toshiba 3D Display without glasses

 Toshiba http://us.toshiba.com/tv/3d has a TV they claim to be 3D, and those funny glasses aren’t required. While it doesn’t require glasses, it does still require you to sit in specific locations for best viewing. Most of us would really like 3D to be perfected, and Toshiba seems to be close, but right now waiting seems to be the name of the game.

The prices on 3D devices have come down, but the restrictions for viewing just don’t make it right on larger displays—yet. I still think the breakthrough will happen first on smaller devices, like phones, where glassesless and in-front-of-your-face viewing can happen better.

Lenovo Laptops, Netbooks, and Tablets

Lenovo http://lenovo.com/us/en/#ss has their new Y-Series IdeaPads at CES. A year ago, I covered the U-Series. But marketing for that was delayed. I’m thinking the Y-Series, generation 2 and might make it. They are a combination tablet and notebook, but most are waiting for Lenovo’s tablet release—to battle competitors Apple and Samsung.

Asus

Asus http://usa.asus.com/index.aspx is a prolific tech company. They’re releasing a few tablet/slates at CES. The Eee Pad Slider is pretty intriguing. Again, it’s on the Android 3.0 OS, has about 6-hour battery life, front and rear cameras, and a slide out keyboard—reminds me of a big cell phone. That’s not bad. Not sure of the pricing, but Asus usually has great prices on good quality tech. Wish this crew would get more involved in education.

Notes:

I really think that we’re in a waiting period when it comes to tablets and slates, and the competition remains Apple’s iPad http://www.apple.com/. Pricing is a key factor, and most don’t mind paying for good options that work, rather than paying less for something that may not be quite right for the task. I hear so much about the iPad being perfect for education, and while that’s true, the pricing has to drop for it to be perfect for the education budget.

Android is a great option, and it’s wonderful to see companies jumping in to take advantage of it. And with names like Froyo, Gingerbread, and Honeycomb what's not to like.

I may be wrong, but I’m still waiting to hear something from Microsoft http://www.microsoft.com/. Time to do for education, what they've done for gaming. Just seems to me that with all their resources, there has to be more they can do. I remember hearing about a crazy table being developed by MSFT, 5 years before it was unveiled—so maybe Microsoft is way ahead—and Bill and Steve haven’t called me yet.

Graphic Suggestions: Free or Buy?

Oldcam Recently, a teacher asked me to recommend a digital photo editing software. She needed it to work on a Mac, so that narrowed the choices a bit. She liked Publisher (no Mac version), so wanted something that would play nice along those lines, too. Sometimes it pays to buy what you really need, rather than looking for free. Many times software shareware solutions are light versions, and rarely offer you the possibilities of the full application. I also think that most free software requires so many work-arounds that the time spent meandering isn’t worth the time.

But knowing how much educators like free, I offered some possibilities, before saying what I thought would work the best if it were purchased. You can only bend software so far, so I’ve found that removing the fish hooks from your pocket to buy what you need makes sense. I'm sure there are some other choices out there, but these were my suggestions.

My free suggestion was Gimp http://the-gimp.en.softonic.com/mac, and my free trial suggestions were Swift Publisher http://www.belightsoft.com/products/swiftpublisher/overview.php, and iStudio Publisher http://www.istudiopublisher.com/index.php/home/home/. Paintbrush is another nice and free option as well http://paintbrush.en.softonic.com/mac; it resembles MS Paint, but was too light for my educator. It is worth a try though.

Looking for a challenge:
Scribus is open source, and a bit like Publisher http://sourceforge.net/projects/scribus/files/scribus/; it can be a challenge to intall and figure out—but works (Ghostscript install necessary—read instructions).

Pse9In all of this searching, I kept in mind what the teacher needed to do with the software, and while I tried to offer free, I really knew that purchasing an old veteran software would work best. I had two in mind, and my teacher picked the one that was compatible with her school set-up.

She chose Adobe Photoshop Elements 9. Some software makes you smile, because it covers so much ground, and does it so easily. Photoshop makes you look like a pro when you’ve used it for the simplest things, and if you know layering—it’s a dream. It’s a huge program, but well worth the loading time. By the way, you can teach kids to do some incredible things with it, including Web animations. As for software longevity, I actually have an old Mac running a Photoshop Elements 2, because it still works well.

There’s Photoshop online at http://www.photoshop.com/, but my teacher strolled into her local, packed Apple Store, and walked out with a copy of Photoshop Elements 9 in under 5 minutes. It was $99 ($107 out the door). I’m old fashioned that way, too, I always like to have a disk in hand—beyond a download. I suggested that, too.

The online trial requires registration and some info, including setting up a password, as well as selecting a birth date (didn’t like that) for using all the online tools.

My Other Purchase Suggestions:

Corel

Corel Other options, for both Mac and PC—with a free trial—are Corel’s http://www.corel.com/ PaintShop, Draw, and Painter11, which works on. I suggested this one as well, but it wasn’t used in my teacher’s school. CorelPainter11 is amazing software. It will make a Rembrandt out of a stick-figure artist.

Serif

SerifDrawPlusX2 Don’t forget Serif’s http://www.serif.com/ free PhotoPlus http://www.serif.com/free-photo-editing-software/ as well as other offerings, but it plays in the PC world and not the Mac side of town—yet. Its origin is UK. Beyond graphics Serif has some great, easy to use software for making Web pages with kids.

 

Sleeping Tech Giants Wake Up!

Sg Sometimes, Google, Apple, Twitter, and FaceBook remind me of that old Steve McQueen SciFi flick, The Blob. Are we becoming food for giant tech amoebas? There are almost fanatical allegiances to some tech, and a “can’t live without” attitude for apps. There seems to be apps for everything—well almost. Haven’t seen one that will tie a kid’s shoe, or feed a baby—yet. And while I'm on a rant, sometimes, I get really upset with Microsoft (MSFT), too. Set the alarm, and wake up some of the sleeping tech giants!

What’s the deal? We'll see a new iPad version, with all the bells and whistles, before we see a legitimate Win tablet contender that isn't recycled tech. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Of all the companies around, if a team, there, set to doing it, we’d have a real Win Tablet choice—quickly. Yikes, they have the same partner reach, connections, and expertise as Google, or anyone else.

Turning that ship around should be easy. I’d volunteer to form an Airplane: The Movie slap line for MSFT, if it would help. Sorry, if this sounds a bit like a Bogey speech—but of all the companies in the world that could turn this around on a dime, I’d bet on MSFT. I just feel, that right now, they’re losing a lot of fans. In my opinion, it’s time to snap to attention, and get back into the game with all the PC company teams. As I always told my students, if you can think it with tech, you can do it. Maybe it's not Win, maybe it's something else—Linux, Android, Snapdragon, whatever, but let's get creative—and make something that works well, pleases us as users of tech, and makes us proud, too.

I know there will be a lot of iPad rivals on the tablet shelves, but looking at the newest offerings hasn’t shown me one that stands out. With the way things have been going, I’m doubting that I’ll see one within the next year—and possibly longer.

All this makes the Google Chrome Netbook approach more appealing. If you need your computing operation inexpensive, simple and safe, as well as require a real keyboard—it’s a perfect choice to make. That’s not just good for corporations, but for education as well. That said, I’d love to see some real competition for Apple and Google. Let’s hope the sleeping PC giants wake up soon, and MSFT leads the pack. Now, that would make an exciting game—again.

Google Chrome Netbooks: Education Test!

Google-chrome-netbook The Google Chrome OS (Operating System) has been available for testing for about a year. It is Linux-based, so developers have had a chance to play around with it. On December 7tth Google held a news and media gathering to launch its Google Chrome netbooks, along with some cloud computing ideas from Citrix. Other partners include Acer, Samsung, Intel, and other corporations for beta testing. Google’s Sundar Pachai (VP Product Management) and Eric Schmidt (Chairman/CEO) were on stage, while I wasn’t there in person, I did attend online. It seems they’ve aimed at the business market for these, but I just couldn’t understand missing the education value. Maybe Google has that in the pipeline somewhere, and we’ll hear about it whenever the netbooks have a solid release date. But, something needs to be said—just in case.

I was also in a chat room during the Google Chrome netbook announcement. Most everyone had a problem with offering this light machine on the consumer side. The complaint was that it just went to the Internet—and cloud environment—and that most consumers wanted a more robust machine. All the gamers in the chat agreed. For me, what would make the Google Chrome netbook unattractive to consumers, makes it perfect for schools. Heck, a netbook with Internet access with cloud environment/Google Docs is a no brainer to most educators. Sadly, there was not one mention about education use in that breaking news presentation. In my opinion, Eric Schmidt history lesson, while a nice tech story, needed a mention of education in it. What a great close that would have been.

The topper for me came with the beta testers and free netbooks. The entire audience was going to get a Chrome Google netbook, quite a few corporate partners, and anyone who applied online would get one as well. While the audience ahhhed and oooohed like an Oprah show, there was nothing about—we’re going to send some to needy schools. To me, that was an opportunity missed to make a larger splash. If the price of these is that tiny, and giving them away is great publicity, get them into some schools, too. Besides being learning valuable—imagine the excitement in having teachers and kids test something like this. It would be appreciated by little hands far more, too.

Features and Netbook Pilot

Because Chrome OS can sync, Google can store info, bookmarks, and extensions in a cloud environment—available anywhere. If you’d like to test the Cr-48 (name for now) netbook go here: http://www.google.com/chromeos/pilot-program.html, and using Chrome.

The 3.8 lb prototype for testing has a 12.1-inch screen, a full-sized keyboard, and no disc drive. Google says that Acer and Samsung will launch Chrome OS netbooks and notebooks in mid-2011, but a definite date has not been set.

Teaching Max

Max Recently, I visited the John’s Creek Elementary School in Georgia, where whiteboards, laptop carts, as well as bring your own technology (BYOT) is the norm. Visiting schools and observing kids can teach you a lot. A group of 3rd graders walked into the Library Media Center (LMC), headed for the teacher standing at a multi-touch Promethean ActivBoard. When the lesson began, the small group of students was allowed the controlled freedom to interact with the board. Interact is such an overused word—these kids played learning.

There's probably a study or two in this, but the girls, as a group collaborated naturally, while the boys were a little more boldly wild. One boy, Max, walked back and forth, always keeping the whiteboard and other students in view. At first glance, he didn’t seem to be engaged, but as I watched, he seemed to be taking in everything. I noted, he missed nothing, but it wasn’t obvious at first.

When things settled, I asked the group if anyone knew how to activate the whiteboard keyboard function. The young, hovering boy, Max, walked quickly over to the side of the whiteboard, grabbed the pen, reached and tapped the left tool bar—bringing up the keyboard. He beamed.

“How did you know that?” I asked. “Watched the teacher do it,” said Max.

Right afterwards, some fifth graders came in to return laptops to mobile carts. They had to find the right placement, and plug them in. I asked one young lady how she knew where to place them/return them correctly. She said, “They’re in numerical order.” Yikes, like I should have known, right. I was impressed. They weren’t just numbered—they were in numerical order.

I discovered that the school was experimenting with a BYOT, bring your own technology classroom, too. I admit, I have a lot of questions about that, but it’s an incredibly innovative idea that can increase the classroom technology quickly, as well as save a district some cash, too.

I’d want to know how different technologies would play together in the BYOT classroom, and also if a teacher could handle the heavier tech burden of knowing/working with many devices and not just one or two.

BYOT is a refreshing idea, and worth more coverage. I’m all for putting tech in kids’ hands. When it comes right down to it, using technology can be the goal, but it’s still really all about understanding—how to teach Max—and others like him.

Marzano: Whiteboards, Responders, 1:1, and PD

Marzano I had an interesting conversation with education researcher and author, Dr. Robert Marzano. He’s written about education strategies, and decision-making based on research for years. His Marzano Research Laboratory is interested in researching and discovering ways to make teaching and education leadership better. We talked about his 3rd party interactive whiteboard research, which was funded by Promethean, as well as his thoughts for the short term—3–5 year future of technology in the classroom. I enjoyed his fair and honest assessment of his own research, as well as what we should take away from it.

“After playing around with different study designs we used a meta-analysis approach—over different subject areas. In our 2-year, 4, 913-student, 123-teacher, and 36-district study, we found, that in general, the average effect was that we had a 16-percentile improvement in student achievement in the interactive whiteboard classrooms,” says Marzano.”

Marzano finds one part of his findings doesn’t get as much attention as it should, and that has to do with the importance of good teaching. “But let’s qualify this, an average effect that people don’t focus on enough is that 24% of the time teachers did better without the technology. So the 2nd part of the study is what explains the differences, and because we used video, we can say here’s why,” says Marzano.

More research needs to be done—so what’s next? “We need to rewrite the book on teaching strategies… the ones that many of us have written about for years, just won’t work anymore. For instance, classroom brainstorming used to be done on paper… but you couldn’t do anything with it. It was difficult to move those thoughts around, and debate efficacies—like you can with interactive technologies,” says Marzano.

Administrators struggling with budgets don’t necessarily have the funds it takes to make technology happen in their districts. “Sometimes I get asked whether interactive whiteboards are worth it from a financial standpoint—I don’t come from that perspective, but my heart goes out to administrators having to make those decisions. I know that they are not small ticket items. If money weren’t the issue it’s pretty much of a no brainer—three technologies—interactive whiteboards, responders, and 1:1 computing get good results for teachers,” says Marzano.

Professional development is an important finding. “Don’t forget, these technologies have to be used in the right way. What to do and what not to do with them. In my research, a huge piece for an administrator to understand is that their needs to be training to get the best out of classroom technology. Envision it as a another leg on the stool,” Marzano concludes.

Find out more at Marzano Reasearch, or more at the Promethean site.

Tech Pricing Mirage

Mrg1 As consumers, many times we buy because we want it—or need to have it. But tech directors, administrators, and school leaders can’t impulse buy, and certainly need to look beyond the hype to the bottom line. In a time when districts are either joining purchasing consortiums, or forming their own, the education marketplace needs to be as creative in selling as it is with ingenious technology production. I don't think the consumer game plan will work. Avoid the tech pricing mirage.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m using two Macs with different operating systems, a Toshiba running Win7, a Dell display, and 2 Blackberries (on my desk) simultaneously. Yep, the image of a cartoon octopus is quite perfect. I’ve lost count of the websites opened on all devices, because I tend not to close them, while I open more. Hold on, just discovered flavors.me, “make a homepage in minutes” —looks interesting. Ok, where was I… oh, right… Tech Mirage Pricing.

I headed for the Internet Oasis called Apple to check out their new Macbook Airs. Yeah, I know, you’d think I’d be more interested in the Beatles and iTunes reunion. Anyway, when I arrived at the site I noticed that the pricing was a bit illusory. For instance, the least expensive 11-inch 64GB, 2GB SDRAM Air for $999 wasn’t perfect, until I began adding more. When I did add more, the least expensive became a lot more expensive, which made the other Air options, at higher prices more tempting. I only added an Air Super Drive, USB Ethernet Adapter, Mini Display Port to VGA Adapter, and MS Office 2011 Home and Business Edition. I was careful, figured I’d need something to carry it in, too, but didn’t add that cost. Well, that bumped the price for the 11-inch Macbook Air to $1335.95, and I still wasn’t out the online store door. That price is higher than the 11-inch 128GB (starting $1,199) and more than the 13-inch 128GB (starting $1,299).

These additional costs are not exclusive to Apple. I’d be adding virus controlling software, and more options to similar non-Apple products. I know that while there are some free downloads and software online, I’d need more than what’s bundled, so going the PC direction would be similar. It’s difficult to walk away with that starter price—anywhere.

Just for the heck of it, I checked the iPads again. Maybe I’d do better there. I really don’t want one yet—sort of waiting on a few things, including onboard cameras. Hmmm… there’s a 16GB for $499. Wait, again, don’t I have a 2nd generation iPod in the drawer with 80GB? And, I’ll certainly need a carrying case for this. Yep, couldn’t stop there. I added an iPad case (shouldn’t that be in the box for this), AppleCare Protection (chances of dropping and going wrong), Connector to VGA, USB Power Connector, and iPad Camera Connection Kit (it would be nice to actually share my images on it). That brought the price up to $724 for the 16GB Wi-Fi starter, which is about the same price ($5 less) as the 32GB Wi-Fi +3G model, and more than the 64GB ($699) starter.

Luckily, I was window shopping, and for me, it’s easier to walk away when shopping online. I’ll stop back when I have more space on my desk, a larger lap, deeper pockets— or better yet—a real need. School leaders need to prepare kids today, and don't have that luxury, so we can't afford to have them walk away—planning to purchase later—for later is too late—and everyone knows it.

If your education company is doing something valiant to help alleviate the pricing mirage for kids and schools, I'd like to hear about it. That news needs to be shared.

Eric Sheninger: Global Leadership Lessons

Sheninger Principal Eric Sheninger of New Milford High School, New Jersey, is a 21st Century Leader. Here's his Digital Age Professional Development Plan for today's leaders and educators. Sheninger begins with an overview, and then breaks it into specific tools with examples. I'm grateful to him for letting me share it here.

Welcome to Eric Sheninger's digital education and leadership toolkit, as well as all the tools to go with it:

Administrator's Global Toolkit for 21st Century Leadership
by Eric Sheninger

  • Shift Happens —View for trends and impacts associated with technology and social media.
  • Sustainable change relies on understanding people, culture, and processes—best accomplished through collaboration, consensus, and understanding.
  • 21st Century Educators must be able to adapt, communicate, take risks, model, continually learn, collaborate, exhibit vision, and lead.
  • Leaders in the "Digital Age" share their vision, learn with other educators, start conversations, lead by example, encourage innovative practices, integrate technology, are transparent, and leverage the power of Web 2.0.
  • Principals can use social media for communication, public relations, branding, professional development—and opportunity.
  • Keys for Principals: Support your staff, be flexible, and exhibit passion, Make time to learn, take/encourage risk takers— and model.

Web 2.0 Tools for Learning

  • Twitter: Improve instruction through global collaboration—share resources, best practices, lesson ideas, acquire knowledge, network, track conferences, etc.). Grow professionally by establishing a Personal Learning Network (PLN), following specific hashtags (#). Learn move about Twitter in this video.
  • Ning: Customizable social network similar to Facebook, and a great place to connect with other educators, pivotal to a PLN. Two great Nings to sign up for are The Educator's PLN and Classroom 2.0. Check out this Ning tutorial.

Google Apps

  • Google Docs: An online word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation editor that allows for easy organization and communication. Easily create forms to conduct surveys and collect data.
    Features include: upload/convert to any format (i.e. MS Office), simultaneously collaborate on, and edit various document formats, access your documents from anywhere in the world, and embed links to your docs in e-mails, websites, blogs, etc.  Learn more about Google Docs here.
  • Google Calendar: Create multiple calendars in order to easily share events with staff, and sync to your mobile phones.  Learn more here.
  • Google Reader: Check educational news sites and blogs for new content (updates daily). Subscribe to websites via RSS feeds, customize to your learning needs/goals, create you own unique educational current events library, and share websites quickly with your staff. Learn more about Google Reader here.
  • Google Sites: Free and easy way to create websites. Single click page creation, no HTML required, customize to the look and feel that suits you. It has many templates to get you started. Upload files and attachments, embed rich content (videos, images, spreadsheets, presentations), and collaborate with others.  Learn more here.

Web 2.0 Tools for Teaching

  • Wordle: create beautiful word clouds quickly and easily. Use as an anticipatory set, review prior learning, or closure. Have students create a Wordle as a means of independent assessment. Print, or save to the gallery to share. You can also take a screen shot and save it as a jpeg. The more you type the same word the larger it will appear. Click here for a tutorial, or check out these resources.
  • Voicethread: Collaborative, multimedia slideshow that holds images, documents, and videos while allowing people to navigate through slides and comment in multiple ways (text , audio, video). Click here for a tutorial or check out these resources.
  • Wallwisher: An online message board ideal for making announcements, taking notes, and collecting ideas, responses, or feedback. Add images, music, and or links to each virtual note. Works like a real notice board (drag, drop, rearrange posts). Click on the following for more information: reasons to use, tutorial, and here for resources.
  • Prezi: Create stunning presentations on the Web, and allow students to be creative as well. Great way to review prior learning, or use as an anticipatory set. Principals can even create a Prezi for their faculty meetings. Check out this tutorial and resources.
  • Glogster: Allow students to create interactive posters easily. Mix images, music, text, and video. Engage students in fun and creative activities while allowing them to express their knowledge, ideas, and skills. Check out this tutorial and associated resources.
  • Animoto:  Automatically produces beautifully orchestrated, unique video presentations from photos, video clips, and music.  Educators can apply for free student accounts at Animoto for Education. Check out this tutorial and associated resources.
  • Skype: Add free videoconferencing with only a webcam, computer, and internet connection. Make free Skype to Skype calls. Bring in quest speakers, go on virtual field trips, collaborate with other schools on lessons in real time, bring in additional professional development opportunities, and add a global context to instruction. The Chat feature allows for the sharing of links, asking questions, etc. Check out this tutorial and associated resources.

EdTech Tools for Administrators

  • Facebook:  Create an information hub for your building that can quickly and easily get important information in the hands of your stakeholders. Sign up for a personal account, create a page, and add material (news, pictures, videos, events).  Use the sidebar on the left to add useful links (school website, alumni groups, athletic schedules, Twitter feed). Check out this tutorial and example at New Milford High School.
  • Social Bookmarking: Store, organize, manage, and search for your resource bookmarks online from any computer in the world. Two common tools are Delicious and Diigo. Organize and categorize your bookmarks with tags. Add descriptions for each resource. Create content area and resource specific tags. Encourage teachers to create their own free account to organize their bookmarks. Check out this video for more information.  Check my example here.
  • Dropbox: Store, sync, and share files online for free. Create an account then download Dropbox on your computers, smartphone, and any other mobile device, including an iPad. Copy/paste, or save any file in Dropbox. You can even copy entire folders from your hard drive and paste them into Dropbox. Access your files from anywhere in the world by logging into your account at www.dropbox.com.  For more information see this video.
  • Evernote: Remember everything by capturing notes, ideas, and things you hear/see. Download it on your computers, smartphone, and any other mobile devices including an iPad. Easily and quickly sync your notes. Use a smartphone to upload picture and audio notes. Access your notes from anywhere in the world by logging into your account at www.evernote.com.  Organize and categorize your notes with tags.  For more information see this tutorial.
  • Twitter:  Use this microblogging resource to send out information in 140 characters, or less to your stakeholders. Tweet out links, pictures, and video. Parents and community members can access from the web or on their mobile phones through text message (SMS). Send emergency announcements, event reminders, special schedules, athletic scores, student achievements, and staff innovations. View the Twitter page for New Milford High School as an example.
  • Blog:  This type of website provides a place for regular commentary, reflections, and opinions. It's easy to add text, pictures, video, and gadgets. It can be one of the best public relations tools available to administrators. It is Interactive, because readers can leave comments. Check out this video for more information about blogs.

Higher Ed Wants What K12 Has

David David Martin, co-founder of SMART Technologies, as well as the father of the interactive whiteboard, believes that the changing needs of today’s corporate workforce has been influenced by tech-savvy higher ed students, and it may be due in great part to K12 use of interactive devices. The band seems to be playing a different tune—could the whiteboard world be turned upside down, and higher education wants what K12 has?

It seems teaching and learning interactively at the K12 levels is beginning to create a demand for the same creatively interactive higher education tools. Until recently, the need has been simply to present in a lecture-like fashion—without all the bell and whistle tools K12 educators love for keeping their students actively engaged. According to Martin, that is changing, and the need for interactivity beyond K12 is causing the whiteboard, and other interactive marketplace suppliers to offer more than the stripped down versions at universities, and in corporate board and meeting rooms. The software and functionality desired is trending more to what K12 has demanded from the start.

For those of us following education technology, and technology in general, a trend that trickles up is a good sign. That’s progress. I know that the struggle continues to get educators more of the right tools for today’s kids, but knowing that there’s more of a K12 connection with the Higher Ed and corporate tech worlds is important. When the threads that tie P20 are tightened, and strengthened, education wins. Look for more of these upside down technology trends.

Wireless Education Conference D.C.

Wireless1 The direction of cell phones as devices for more than calling, texting, and gaming, was very evident at the Wireless Education Conference 2010 in Washington, D.C. Qualcomm and it’s partners AT&T, Blackboard, Lenovo, and Verizon presented expert panel discussions, how to presentations and idea starters, as well as interviews with leaders in the wireless movement.

I was very impressed with the BYOT, or Bring Your Own Technology options presented by CTIO Bailey Mitchell of Forsyth County Schools, Georgia. That, as part of a blended approach to increasing the amount of technology in schools, really puts supporting the infrastructure in the driver’s seat, and the CTO’s role changes from “Dr. No” to Can Do. This is certainly a philosophy to be replicated. Students can work in their system with whatever device they bring in—iPads, iTouches, whatever—doesn’t matter. As Mitchell says so wonderfully, “Our user base tolerates no downtime.”

Two important factors are Forsyth’s open access configuration is simple, with no intrusion or virus considerations, and their hardware purchasing is for only those students who don’t have, and can’t afford computing devices.

An important consideration has to be that the Internet in education is like an opera singer—it needs great pipes. And when you don’t have to worry so much about getting the hardware for all, more emphasis can be placed on the broadband—those pipes. When that happens, the cloud becomes a reasonable option, and a lot of budgetary expenditures can be freed up.

Dr. Paul Jacobs, Chairman and CEO of Qualcomm puts it well, “Processing power in your pocket is growing. Mobile devices and cloud are moving forward.”

I’d like to see more work being done vision-based AR, augmented reality. It seems to me the smaller screens would play well with 3D applications—without the hassle of glasses or distortion found in larger screens. Right now, the simulation activities kids use in classes are more checks, plusses, and circles. It’s pretty primitive, and not too far removed from that original coordinate, move the turtle, applications in the 70s.

Most of the applications for mobile devices shared at the conference were STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering , and Math based, but the language arts and reading application for these small computers will open a lot of teaching possibilities—from flashcards to polling on the fly (Poll Everywhere)—we are at the education wireless edge and ready to jump off flying.

Note: My interview with Kristin Atkins, Director of Wireless Outreach, Qualcomm, will be posted soon at Scholastic Administrator's Online Video Page.

Understanding Botnets: The Zombie Army

Botnets Botnets are robot networks, or better yet, Internet computers associated with malicious behavior and cyber crime. This zombie army can penetrate and evade firewall and anti-virus protections. They can keep K-12 district technology directors up at night—worrying. They are also the reason IT managers, and educators pushing the technology envelope, lock horns. Understanding Bots can be beneficial for both sides. While combating botnets needs to be a controlled and unified effort, working within a safe system can happen for creative Web 2.0 teachers.

Bots are scary because they are designed to leave networks and computers running seamlessly, by all outward appearances, while they tap data—sending it out to their "bot masters". The IT professional's goal in combating botnets and securing information is to minimize the chance of network penetration and, if an attack occurs, to isolate the threat and eliminate it. While districts may think they have protection in place, some may not have coordinated or organized that defense. Defense is really an individual solution for each school or district—and not cookie cutter.

A note from CDW-G this week had me thinking about some things to consider. So, here are a few bot plans for districts that aren’t all geek.

Install a Windows Firewall. A Windows firewall can block many network-based misuse, especially in K-12 environments, which tend to have huge populations of workstations in labs.

Disable AutoRun. The AutoRun feature, which automatically installs software, can be a problem if a foreign source wants to launch and cause havoc.

Password Trusts. Disabling computers from automatically connecting to each other closes the path that botnets take to spread through the internal network. That means district tech admins control local passwords tightly. While this is good for protecting the network, it can frustrate educators who want more freedom to teach in a 2.0 way.

Network Compartmentalization. If workstations do not need to communicate with each other across departments, IT managers can establish private virtual local area networks (VLANs), or access control lists (ACLs) between subnetworks to limit exposure. Schools already do this if they separate the administrator from the student network. Today, while this works great for data, educators who want to use video and voice options may have difficulty. IT managers will hear about it.

Provide Least Privilege. This is one that made me crazy as an educator trying to push the tech envelope. It always slowed me down getting district tech personnel to do things I could do easily, but from a district technology guarding position, when users are not administrators of their own workstations, it is much harder for malware to affect a system.

Filter Data Leaving the Network. Botnets establish communication with one or more remote servers that hackers use to retrieve private information. For K-12 implementation of outbound access control lists (ACLs) on the firewall should work.

Use a Proxy Server. While it is impractical to block all potentially hostile outbound traffic, forcing outbound traffic through a proxy server will give organizations a secondary point for monitoring and controlling Web access.

By spotting infections early, system administrators can act before the infection spreads too far.

Monitor DNS Queries. The way that a workstation responds to domain name system (DNS) queries is often an early warning sign that the workstation may be infected.

Cell Phone Security: School Attacks Imminent

Phone1 Get ready! The next line of security attacks will be cell phones/smart phones, and with their increased popularity in schools, that could spell trouble with an upper case T. Security companies need to prepare, and districts need to be aware.

Most of us know how vulnerable other computing devices are to security attacks, malware, data loss, and personality theft, but not many ever think of the possibility of threats to daily cell phone use. That will change, and with more Windows-based smart phones entering the consumer market, at very reasonable prices, these devices and the security problems associated with them will quickly enter the classroom environment, too.

It looks like the majority of school districts haven’t a clue as to how to manage, or will manage, either cell phones they’ve purchased for classroom use, or the many and varied student-owned smart phones that could be leveraged by a district as handheld computing devices. While the traditional network security of most school districts is a priority—and you’ll find appliances, software, and multi-level firewalls gateways in place, not many are thinking mobile security and protection. The jump for these problems—from consumer to classroom—will be a short leap.

There needs to be a call to action, here, for the management of these short-life battery devices, as well as cells manufactured by different companies. Not to allow them in a school environment can’t be the answer, but thinking of them as computing devices means making them safe by securing them as well as we secure all district Internet and networked tools. We want everything headed toward the clouds, but looking at the new tools to get teachers and students there also requires thinking beyond. Education technology discussions regarding cell phones, and keeping them secure learning devices, should begin now.

Cyber Citizens: More Than Teachable Moments

Internetsafety While kids still know the bullies sitting in back of them, yanking at their hair, today’s cyber thugs can remain completely hidden, which makes the terror worse. Turning everything off and pulling the plugs isn’t the answer, but simply teaching students to be cyber citizens can. These lessons need to be as planned as any lessons taught today, and structured in such away as to be part of every lesson taught with digital devices. No excuses here, this is a job educators can do, and it is beyond just a random teachable moment.

Use student mission statements and reminders often.

How and where to teach cyber citizenship is just a modern extension of the old-fashioned citizenship once taught. Having students write mission statements is a good start. Students who write what they stand for, what makes them the person they are, what they expect from others as well as themselves, and how they’d like others to see them and treat them is one of the most useful parts of being a good citizen. That written statement can be revisited and modified often. It is a reminder. Anyone who has taught students knows that reminders need to happen often. Assuming that something is covered, just because you’ve spent a few days, or an earlier semester covering it, doesn’t work with kids. Students need constant reminders, and cyber citizen reminders are no different than walking in the hall reminders, or how to behave at lunch reminders. I’m certain the latter are repeated daily.

Most educators will need help with this.

It shouldn’t be the domain of the health teacher, or guidance person. It may be in the realm of the instructional technology educator. That person often teaches student and teachers, as well as parents how to and about technology. That said, a multi-staffed approach would be ideal, too, similar to the teaming for humanities classes or multi-departmental lesson collaboration. Teaching cyber citizenship is the responsibility of everyone—all staff—and parents need to be in on it, too.

Change course if instructional technology educators are using student computer time for keyboarding.

Keyboarding is something that requires individual practice, and not group instruction. Instructional technology educators would be better utilized if they shared and modeled different digital tools and technologies, and with each lesson, taught the responsibilities of using those tools and technologies. Those technology lessons and good cyber citizen values should then be amplified in regular classrooms. Forgetting them until the next computer lab, or for a week, is like returning an unread book from a locker to the library. Good intensions, but missed value and impact. Cyber citizenship and citizenship in general needs to be continuous priority schoolwide.

Administrators are a powerful resource for change here.

Simply a comment in the morning announcements or end of day makes a difference. Something like, “We’d like you to have a wonderful day today. Remember to be kind and courteous to everyone you know, and those you meet in person or in a cyber way today. Live your mission statements.” And sharing a line from one of those mission statements can’t hurt either. These shouldn’t be private. Maybe the administrator shares one, but possibly before the start of a class the teacher shares one. It doesn’t take long, and it can be done throughout the day. Students model missions for each other. Make sure that revisiting mission statements is in the plans as well. They should be as under construction as students’ knowledge and growth throughout the year, and throughout the grades. Furthermore, the lessons learned can continue for life.

Unified and continuous campaign

There are companies with product solutions that can be looked at for helping students understand cyberbullying, but making it a continuous schoolwide citizenship campaign is a must. Looking at it simply, if an lone teacher campaigns against students running in the halls—students will slow down near that teacher and run everywhere else. Schools and districts must be cyber citizen unified. Citizenship and now cyber citizenship needs to be woven into every class and every lesson, and extended to the home as well.

Make a dent in a positive way

I’m not sure whether there is anything that will work 100% against bullies of any kind, but lessons in citizenship and proper behavior for using digital tools by educators and parents can make a dent. It is not done in a day, a week or semester, and it is much more than a teaching moment.

Toshiba 3D: Front Row Seating Only


Toshiba-3d-regza-gl1Toshiba’s 3D glassesless 20GL1, 20-inch screen, and 12GL1, 12-inch screen displays may be a year ahead of the competition, but still haven't solved the front row, in your face seating requirements for standalone 3D technology.

There’s an IBM, Sony, and Sony Playstation technology in play here, so gamers, rather than students in classes will see value. The screens are purposely small, because the displays send the images at the right angles to the eyes without the help of glasses. Therefore, the angles have to be just right to get the best 3D effect, or even see the 3D effect at all. This won’t work in a classroom—at least not now. Students would have to be right in front of the screen. The 3D images diminish in quality outside that—smack in the center—optimal zone. Small screens that limit, or restrict seating aren’t best suited for kids in classrooms.

I really want to see this technology happen. There are so many possibilities for classroom 3D curriculum, but for now, it looks like the funny glasses are still the best way to pull it off. And even with the glasses there’s been talk of eye fatigue, and some headaches due to overuse—and overuse fatigue has been reported in under an hour—in some cases.

While it's not classroom-perfect yet, the technology is getting closer. I just don't think glassesless is there yet for classrooms. I doubt the price will be either.

Scholastic eReader Poll: Tech Survey?

Carrying Books 3 While it’s nice to have a few statistics, Scholastic’s recent results for an eReader poll of students shouldn’t be earth shattering, although it does bring up more questions than answers. Scholastic surveyed more than 2,000 kids, ages 6-17 last spring. 25% of the students said they had read a book on a digital device, and 57% said they’d like to in the future. Only 6% of the parents surveyed had used an eReader. Just my opinion, but I’d check the parents again in light of the recent iPad craze. This poll is about more than just one gadget.

We should be talking about all digital devices that can be used for reading, right? Beyond books students should be reading digitally in school today, and not just on eReaders. If they are not, then the real news here should be the lack of digital devices for that purpose, and so much more, in the hands of students. I’d include, eReaders, tablets, netbooks, notebooks, desktop computers, thin client solutions, and even smartphones. Furthermore, any interactive device that can do that, such as whiteboards, slates, and other displays should be added to the list. This poll can be seen as another call to action for more technology for students. And, kids today are supposed to be further along technologically than their parents.

That should be part of the teaching and learning. That said, kids should continue curling up with real books—no batteries or backlight required, where the only heat generated is human. Whatever it takes to transport a child to a place where imagination sparks is OK in my book—paperback, hardcover, or digital.

Ed Tech Ranting

Ranting Adults aren’t going to walk into my classroom the next day, so it is common for me to blast away with a bunch of ideas—hoping that one might strike interest—or even stick before someone walks away. I call these my rants.
Here are a few of my Ed Tech Rants:

Cloudy!

Cloud Technology’s theme is like the old Simon and Garfunkel song lines from Cloudy: “My thoughts are scattered and they're cloudy, they have no borders, no boundaries….”

Many have the wrong impression of what Cloud is. It is not just having an online product or solution, but it can be having a place and providing those online solutions. The worst thing that can happen is to have Cloud Education turn into an agenda-motivated and -driven movement. Creating a club-like membership isn’t going to work. Views on all sides of this solution need to join discussions, and crossing company lines should be the pre-requisite.

No one should be left out. No prima donnas either. Bring in the large and small tech firms, the infrastructure, and the bandwidth providers, the security providers, and make sure you clue in the administrators and educators. The discussions, like most things in education will take time, but once the groundwork and direction are set education leaders at all levels will find taking their districts to cloud solutions, a lot easier to understand and easier for teachers and students to use. Simply put, clouds can follow users wherever they go—through grades, districts, states, and beyond.

Yes, we have No tech!

One of the biggest problems with technology is that most educators don’t have it. Sure, there are some amazing schools and districts out there that have been lucky enough to be near ed tech providers, crossed the path of an ed tech benefactor, won a grant, or in most cases are blessed to have administrator entrepreneurs and leadership go-getters. But the fact remains that most educators don’t have the technology, don’t go to tech shows or workshops about it, and probably stand in line to use whatever equipment is available in school or district. This has not changed since teachers were scrounging typewriters to more elaborately publish student writing in class. I keep bringing it up, because I haven’t gotten an answer. Something has to happen, beyond winning a contest to outfit a classroom with tech.

Resource this!

Companies, large and small, that sell to education need an educator online resource center. It should include resources, short how to video, teacher-focused social networking, and guest blogging not necessarily specific to the product, but helpful to teachers. There should be lesson templates, lessons to download, a place to upload new ones, and apps for mobile. Having something like this is so much better than an online company space filled with product commercials. Some of the largest companies do the latter. Believe me, giving educators a reason to come back to a tech company solution online, or product site is the way to go. I love it when everyone can go to these sites, but having part of it free, and another section with some sort of registration, or fee, is understandable. Teachers love using free, as well as spreading the word and talk about it.

Top 25 Ed Tech Trends

Ken&Cam Here are my Top 25 Education Technology Trends for 2010-2011, presented in random order. I’ve kept it company generic, but I’m certain education companies will find themselves in the list, and quite possibly in more than one trend category. Knowing today’s trends, and that ed tech companies have addressed them, is important to districts making the right purchasing choices—now and with a view toward the future.

1. Touch Screens
Taking touch screens out of fast food establishments, and making that software affordable for every classroom and new device is long overdue. Touch Screens are here, and if it takes a few more dollars to add the feature—do it. Whether on notebooks, whiteboard, slates, or displays—touch is intuitive.

2. 3D Technology
There are different ways of doing 3D, with glasses, on display screen, one or two projectors. This technology is improving, so that it is now a viable classroom tool. The curriculum for 3D lags, but should catch up as more developers get education serious about this teaching tool.

3. Cloud Environments
Making teacher and student desktops 24/7 Web-available is only part of what a cloud environment can offer. This is not just having a tech product online; it is looking at delivering useful and seamless tech solutions, and at an incredibly low price. Naysayers present the data safety issue, but there are solutions there, too. Looking to the clouds is happening. Discussions are needed to define it better, but it certainly is something district leaders can understand.

4. Cell Phones/Smartphones
You can’t even call them phones anymore. They are handheld computers, with more capability than most computing devices in schools today. Preventing their use at schools isn’t an option. Some schools will provide them, and other schools will figure out how to manage student-owned.

5. Apps
How many apps do you have? Good question to ask students, teachers, and administrators today. Life is getting easier for developers of apps, which until recently used to be too tightly controlled by a few very large companies. The race is on to create more, and on the education side—educators and students will benefit. Apps can easily supply everything from a measurement converter to a student magazine subscription.

6. WiFi and Broadband
There are still many places where a connection to the Internet is better with a string attached to two cans, but it’s getting better. Figuring out how to get the Internet, which is now pretty much part of an education right, has the attention of the big broadband firms, but needs a nudge to get the discussion revved up. Yes, it may require a bit of Washington help for that, too.

7. GUI/UI
GUI (pronounced gooey), or graphical user interface is not new. Many non-geeks use the term today, because that’s what separates software and hardware from those that are great to use, and those that are impossible to use. For kids and teachers it may be under the hood tech, but companies that get the GUI right and make it easy—sell products. Running something out of the box has gotten realistic—and expected.

8. Slates/Tablets/Convertibles
The modern day slate, whether used with a stylus or finger touch has become another way to teach a class from anywhere in the class, and to get students away from desks, too. Convertible devices offering a tablet attached to a laptop present a more traditional way to go. There will soon be more slate devices to choose, and when the pricing gets appropriately low—that will make a difference for districts.

9. Netbooks
These light-running Web machines can’t be considered new anymore, but they continue to be great student computing devices. They’re inexpensive, and their battery life is almost scary-long.

10. Response Systems
Many companies have jumped into the response system market. These little gadgets once were just voting or polling devices, but now there are texting solutions, too. With a little practice, most teachers can gather data—on the fly—during a lesson—and report the findings immediately, redirect teaching, and finally upload it all to grading or an SIS location.

11. Interactive Presentation Solutions
We’re moving away from linking the word interactive with just one piece of hardware. The key today is having a total interactive solution in a classroom. That could be a whiteboard solution, along with teacher stations, a tablet, a projector, a document camera, and teamed up with devices in student hands. Don’t forget audio and media controls, as well as dynamic software for lessons and tying everything together.

12. Paperless Solutions
Most think printing less when thinking paperless. Now, if you’re a printer company, that doesn’t necessarily, keep you off a top trend list. Multifunction is the name of the game. While it’s true that printers still print, multifunction machines can do much more. They are becoming district, school, and teacher management devices. Beyond scanning documents, the “new printers” can create assessments, score them, and input data into student information systems, as well as e-mail the information to parents. Many districts are setting them up to manage district forms.

13. Education Communities
Whether it’s a few teachers creating a personal learning network (PLN), or many teachers joining larger organizations—teaching communities are a must. Education companies know that, and are offering, or thinking of offering these communities as part of purchasing packages. Beyond teacher chats and videos on how to use a particular product, the resources, and lessons/templates make them worthwhile. The best of these are all educator, and the worst can be merely commercials. Avoiding the latter brings educators and districts back for more.

14. Resource Portals Educators
love links (URLs) to resources they can use. While hunting for URLS in a traditional search can benefit the few, who are good detectives, having sites that are dedicated to posting great and useful resources for educators are bookmarked and shared. Go to resource portals pay off.

15. Professional Development
Professional development delivery methods have changed, and more companies are offering it. Whether specific or general, educators expect professional development, and administrators plan how to deliver it. More and more, professional development has moved out from the four walls and to the 24/7 delivery method. Video plays an important part. Schools no longer need to be closed, nor substitute coverage provided, so workshops can happen.

16. Alert/Notification Solutions
Contacting everyone, whether it’s just a simple message about an open house, a need to close school due to weather, or emergencies, such as a lock down situation is a necessity. There is no way a school secretary can do that today. Tying SIS, parent contact information, school/district communication, and doing it in many ways, and in many languages has to happen—immediately. These solutions have become quicker and more robust. If your district is talking security cameras on buildings, they’re also talking alert and notification systems.

17. Online Courses/Virtual Schools
Going online for courses used to be just for credit recovery and distance learning. It still works for getting more kids across the graduation stage, and filling in for lost classes due to budget cuts, but virtual learning is now considered mainstream. There are many reasons, including more individualized attention, great video demonstrations, and interactive lessons, but the bottom line is that for many students, offering learning 24/7, away from the 4 traditional walls—works. The virtual student population is growing.

18. Video Conferencing Solutions
Gone are the days of expensive tools to do video conferencing with other classes, schools, and countries. Almost every computing device is set up to do it today—and to do it easily. Some companies are providing better hardware to do it, too. The difference today, over the “can you hear me now” software and hardware experiences of the past—is it works—and you don’t have to be a computer guru to do it.

19. Social Media
You may not agree that social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter have a place in schools, but they are becoming a simple connection for educators nationally and internationally. Sharing a lesson, a link, a suggestion, a how to, or just a hang in there on Twitter or Facebook has become part of an educator’s daily routine. As for use in the classroom, that’s still up for debate.

20. Battery Life
We need to thank some incredible tech experimentation for a lot, but more than anything for the boost in battery life. First probably noticeable in netbooks, it is almost unreal to think we’ve gone from batteries that would maybe go an hour to those that are pushing past 10. This is great news for the 6-hour school day, and back-to-back class schedules.

21. Video
Everyone can do video today. Just as everyone learned digital photography and simple editing, video options are becoming necessities. Many educators think of video as an expected component to daily lessons—certainly their students do. There are companies that fill video needs for those lessons, and it has become increasingly easy for teachers and students to add their own.

22. Security, Network Guarding and Management
Making networks secure and keeping students cyber safe can keep district tech leaders up at night. Options for gate keeping a district’s tech investment at a central location, using fewer tech support specialists can do it, and without breaking the bank. Classroom management tools can do the same for labs and classroom environments, where the number of computers to control has increased, and down time is not an option. It has also made it possible to create thin client computing environments that have no lag in computing power. Stringing together many monitors off of one sufficiently set up computer can be budget smart.

23. Assessment and RTI
Assessment and what to do with them continues to be the big education question,. Today, there are many methods and ways competing to most effectively test and prescribe to student needs. There is always the overhanging warning to poorly performing districts and schools as well, which keeps RTI providers on their toes. Some companies have added assessment and response to intervention to their solutions, while other companies provide it as their sole solution. While it’s a district preference and choice, all are Web-based today, because keeping data in a file drawer doesn’t get it shared—and acted upon.

24. District Websites, Blogs, Branding and Media
How a community perceives a district is important. Creating a public presence demands that a district and school have online place. It can’t be stagnant; it must be active. Media and branding are good for businesses, and also for education. Some districts have people who can do these things internally, but there are a number of companies that can help create a very professional look for districts to share with the community. The key is that these sites need to share, but also look professional today. Gone are the days of slap something up—just to get there. Today, the Website represents the district more than ever.

25. eReaders
Some would argue that a netbook would be better than an eReader in class, because it can do more. Well, if you just want something to fill a reading need in class, or in a resource room, an eReading device makes sense. Downloading books is simple and inexpensive, and eReaders are easy to use. Look for more of them in class. It’s always about using the right education tool for the right situation.

Note: Thank you Nano Tech
Small is definitely better. Devices, screen sizes, and gadgets are smaller—taking up less classroom real estate. Teachers, students and administrators are pretty much wearing technology today.

Twitter: an Intelligent Haunting for Educators

Bird Sitting at a WiFi breakfast in Atlanta, I introduced my publisher to Twitter. I said, "Watch this," and tweeted into TweetDeck something like—

“Trying to convince my publisherthe power of Twitter, so please say hello.”

Responses were immediate from people I follow, those who follow me, and even people who weren’t on my radar yet. And then, before I could add the next step to my lesson—it was handed to me in this Tweet:

@kenroyal Have her ask a question to Twitter; great way to demonstrate its potential.

Twitter is more than the Magic 8-Ball of the 21st Century, and if this were a Ghost Hunters TV episode, Twitter would classify as an intelligent haunting. (Note: I’ve removed most specific contact info, unless embedded in the tweet.) To me, for educators, it is Facebook’s smarter relative.

Here’s an assortment of Tweets that led up to my publishers 1st question:

@kenroyal hello from the Charlotte NC airport!

@kenroyal Hello Ken! Hope all is well in the Atlanta airport this morning. :) #vanmeter

@kenroyal - at work in sunny Savannah. Welcome to the great state of Georgia.

@kenroyal Hello from Atlanta! Wish I'd known you were at the airport; I would have come up to help you "convince".

@kenroyal Good morning! Come on, Tweeple. Show the power! RT @kenroyal: Hello out there! My publisher is not convinced yet! Say hello!

@kenroyal Hello from Waverly, Iowa!

@kenroyal Hey Ken. I am in Dallas, TX and love the wisdom and knowledge of the collective. Have a wonderful day.

@kenroyal Good morning, Ken. I'm and educator in Lakeland, TN.

@kenroyal Hello! Twitter is a great way to share resources and ideas!

@kenroyal Good morning from southern NH.

@kenroyal Hi, Ken! Please say "Hello" to your publisher from StarrMatica!

@kenroyal Saying hello to convince the non-believers...

@kenroyal Hello from an education grad student in Philadelphia!

@kenroyal Hello from Fredericksburg Virginia!

@kenroyal Hello from Northern Utah where Twitter helps me acquire educational insights and tools. Oh and I follow @scholastic too!

@kenroyal Hello Ken - checking in from SouthWestern Ontario

@kenroyal Saying Hello from Knoxville, TN! Using Twitter to learn from other educators and follow their links & suggestions!

@kenroyal hello from North Carolina! I'm an educator in Teacher Evaluation training

@kenroyal Hello to the guy w/his finger on the pulse of the ed-tech community.

@kenroyal jackson tn- ahnna w knoxville chamber

@kenroyal I'm there with you in spirit! Can't wait to hear about this trip ;).

@kenroyal hello from Memphis TN I use twitter to connect with educators all over the world and have develop a great PLN in just 3 months

@kenroyal hello from THE netherlands :-) our 12 points go to Twitter !

@kenroyal Hello from Colorado

@kenroyal a little late.... But Barbie B.. High school science teacher from Cleveland, TN

@kenroyal I am late, but hello to you.

@kenroyal Have her ask a question to Twitter; great way to demonstrate its potential.

Here's my publisher's 1st question to Twitterland:

"Do you have anything to share on best practices involving cloud computing?"

Here are a couple of responses:

@kenroyal I think what @russgoerend is doing w/ student conferencing using Evernote is an example: http://www.russgoerend.com/2010/09/one-of-essentials-in-reading-this-year.html (This was originally a shortened URL.)

@kenroyal Here is some info. Hope it helps. SAS Solutions OnDemand mark 10-year anniversary in 'cloud' http://www.itweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=35434:sas-solutions-ondemand-mark-10year-anniversary-in-cloud&catid=367 (Origially a shortened URL.)

Twitter1Now, there’s more to Twitter than reporting what you’re doing now, or saying hello, so if you are skeptical of what 140 characters can share, follow me @kenroyal, and quite a few others (including my publisher) for a few laughs, great resources, interesting conversation, suggestions, a bit of cheerleading, and a lot of digital common sense—geared to education, administration, and technology.

Hands Down: Student Response Systems

ConveyAClick_CaseFull I’m not certain whether raising hands in class is completely out, and student clickers completely in, but the number of companies providing a student polling option is overwhelming. Let's take a look at clickers.

In a time when there’s software from companies like Turning Technologes, and online polling solutions like Poll Everywhere that can make any device from cell phones to laptops a student polling device, what is the magic in these little gadgets that makes most teachers want them for their students?

There are a few key factors, in my opinion, for the responder craze. First of all, they make a nice addition to traditional hand raising. Even clickers that are only voting-style devices, give all kids an opportunity to participate, without embarrassment, or need to be "on stage". If the clickers offer text responses, rather than just true/false, Yes/No, or letter options, quiet students gain a class voice. Right now, fingers and thumbs make the choices, which seems to be a natural for digital kids. (Voice and sound software should be considered for some students with visual or tactile difficulties.) So, responders are another puzzle piece in building an interactive classroom.

With teacher options that create immediate charts/graphs of successes, or clues to missed learning, the responders can do—on the fly, and while teaching—what had to be done during a prep, or over a day or more on teacher time. And best of all, if these babies are hooked into a grading, and then student information system (SIS), results can be reported immediately there, too.

It’s true, that at the very least, classes using responders would need a projector attached to a teacher’s computer, and at best, some sort of whiteboard solution for classroom interactivity, but the fact is that these response devices are teacher and kid friendly. Easy software recognition makes pushing buttons the only requirement beyond questions and answers.

Recently, I interviewed Jim Locascio, president of Dukane, long known as a technology system integrator company. “We went from carrying overheads into schools, to bringing in data projectors, and now our Convey response solution. It’s the first time we’ve built our own system.”

Take a look at these companies for Student Response Options (random order), and raise your hand if you have further questions!

Administrators: More Apps Fewer Books

Reading1 I was about to send an educator some books for her building administrator the other day. She laughed, and said, “He doesn’t read.” Now, most would be shocked with that, and probably run off to write a negative post that would certainly make the Internet rounds, but I immediately followed up with, “If he doesn’t read books, what does he read?” The answer was what I expected. “Oh, a lot of online, and he’s forever forwarding us article links. He uses all these phone apps, too.” It looks like more apps and fewer books, with a lot of online reading may be a common trend for busy admin.

It made me think back to a conversation I had with a superintendent friend of mine. He told me that there was very little time to do the reading he used to do—or would like to do. I’m sure that’s true for many administrators, today. I expect that most young administrators are more likely to catch quick reads online, and also find phone apps more accessible and available than books, from their office shelves, these days. And, I only see that trend growing.

Here are some online and app admin-reading suggestions:

Edjurist A blog that focuses on issues of school law http://www.edjurist.com/

Top Ten Qualities of Prime Leadership 
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/200910/business-top-ten-qualities-prime-leaders

Leading Blog http://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/

Connected Principals http://www.connectedprincipals.com/

Educator’s PLN http://edupln.ning.com/

Scholastic Administrator http://www.scholastic.com/administrator/

Follow me on Twitter @kenroyal for many more links from educators and administrators.

Note: Special thanks to Eric Castro for sharing his twitter thoughts with me.

Shmoop Resources: Literature to Math

Shmoop1 Shmoop is an educator’s free resource dream. Oh yes, librarians love them, too. Shmoop has been around since 2008, and have racked up quite a few Internet awards. The name still makes me smile.

Its Learning Guides are digital, and you can search literature titles by number, alphabetical order, and author, too. Shakespeare has his own link, so he’d be happy about that—I’m sure. Other category breakdowns include Poetry, Best Sellers, Biography, U.S. History, Civics, Economics, and Music. It even has overviews in Spanish. All are accessible from an easy-to-use link menu.

Educators, who are PhD students from Stamford, Harvard and UC Berkeley, write Shmoop learning guides. They’re very well done, and fun, too. The resources are available as iPhone Apps, for Android devices, and eBook readers.

Note: Getting graduate students to do this type of work has been common practice elsewhere, especially in start-ups developed at universities. In Connecticut, UCONN has been quite successful launching businesses in this way.

What’s New Shmoop?

Shmoop Does the Math is a free online pre-algebra curriculum—just launched. Yep, the literature and humanities barrier has been breeched, and according to Ellen Siminoff, CEO of Shmoop, “We’ll do whatever it takes to make math understandable and fun for students.” My suspicion is that Shmoop will continue to expand its middle school curriculum. In my book, that’s good for educators and great for kids. Wonder if a line of Shmoop characters will be next!

Check out Shmoop at http://www.shmoop.com.

Internet Makes Music: Sound Innovations

SI Book Covers I recently tried out a great idea from Alfred Music Publishing. It’s Sound Innovations a way Music educators and Music department heads can create and modify beginning concert band or string orchestra lessons/”method”. It’s as simple as going online and clicking through the choices that best suit your students’ needs. I was able to create a book specific to trombone in a matter of moments. My music knowledge is limited to what I remember from guitar lessons as a kid, so someone with a bit more knowledge will have an even easier go of it.

According to Alfred Music, the “method” will be available in two formats: the Standard Edition and Director's Choice edition, which allows teachers to customize the method's pedagogy, music, and enrichment materials based on their experiences and preferences.

They are written to state and national standards and based on comprehensive research of music educators' needs and preferences, Sound Innovations provides fundamental teaching tools in a clear and organized format that allows directors to incorporate their own style of teaching.

Sound Innovations is written by music educators Robert Sheldon, Bob Phillips, Peter Boonshaft, and Dave Black, "We surveyed a vast number of music teachers from all parts of the country to find out about their teaching, what they want in a method, and what would be the most helpful in meeting the challenges they face based on their unique teaching situation," said Phillips. "We looked at everything available for teachers, got in depth information about their preferences, and pieced together the best of all worlds, with many exciting new additions."

Sound Innovations: Director’s Choice allows a director to easily customize the method to fit his/her unique teaching styles and classroom situations. "We're empowering teachers to select what they want to teach and the way they want to teach it, by allowing them to choose the things they do and don't want in their method book, while still providing the solid foundation they need," said Boonshaft.

And there’s more, including an MP3 CD with instrument-specific recordings of every single line of music in each student book, and their SmartMusic program provides free access to the first 100 lines of music for students using Sound Innovations.

I recommend that district music staff and department heads check out Sound Innovations at www.alfred.com/soundinnovations to use the internet-based step-by-step program to build and preview their own method, or to view sample books.

Web 2.0 for All

WEB 2010 Getting a majority of teachers to use technology and Web 2.0 tools in their classrooms and with their students—beyond the few that have figured it out on their own—remains a puzzle. I constantly hear from those who know and preach Web 2.0 that they continue to say the same thing over and over—and that the ranks of classroom users just doesn’t increase as fast as they’d like, or think it should. My answer to them is that it’s an on-going effort, and that saying the same thing, again and again, in different ways—helps.

In a short time, Web 2.0 possibilities have exploded in numbers available, but the problem of getting staff to buy in, and become tech users has remained the same. I remember that my problem—years ago—was simply a need to get useful video-lesson supplements in my classrooms—easily presented as part of daily lessons. While a few others and I could create, upload, and share our own, it was unrealistic to ask an entire staff to learn how. Teachers didn’t have the time, and neither did I. And, while I was proud of my original short videos, there was so much more needed. It was not easy to do, and I couldn’t be an expert in all subject areas either.

I solved the problem for the district and me by enlisting help from United Streaming, which became Discovery Education. I was able to create logins for all my staff, Discovery offered searchable video choices, and I could keep track of usage—and help those who specifically needed the help. My staff became experts, and began using their teacher stations computers and presentation equipments daily. One school led to use in all schools. I thought it was completely reasonable to ask all staff to use it.

Today, I revisited Discovery Education online to see what an instructional technology specialist might find if searching for ways to safely, impact Web 2.0 tool usage with staff—in a big way. Well, it looks like Discovery Education Network (DEN) has come a long way since my streaming-video solution needs.

I know that it’s a kick for tech-savvy educators to figure out free Web 2.0 tools and material, but every educator is not cast from the same mold. Most don’t have the time, and certainly most don’t have the skills to play for hours to hunt, modify, and refine a digital teaching technique. Discovery Education’s Web 20.10 (http://web2010.discoveryeducation.com/) has gathered ideas and the most useable Web 2.0 teaching applications in one place. So, if you get five minutes to share anything tech at the opening of school, or future faculty meeting—make it Discovery Education’s Web 20.10. I’m not sure if it will get all your staff Web 2.0 revved up, but it certainly will capture more singers for your Web 2.0 choir.

And for all those creative Web 2.0 masters out there, don't give up on sharing, continue to build the base, and share what you know in your own personal learning networks. Staff and kids need to learn from you!

Check Discovery Education Web 20.10 for yourself, school, and district: http://web2010.discoveryeducation.com/

Controlling Classrooms: Beyond Pulling Wires

Wiring Today, it takes more than pulling wires to create a media-integrated classroom. If you remember, or you’re still pulling wires to make technology happen—pushing up ceiling tiles, tying string around the wires, and pulling them pretty successfully throughout an entire building—let’s talk. Only the very lucky could partially hide the wiring mess, and fingers crossed, get things to—sort of—work.

When I visit schools, I still see that rat’s nest of wiring, most often in olderWires schools, but many times in newer ones, too. When I was pulling wires, we really had no other way, and really no clue either. We did it on weekends, or after school, with the help of the custodian and a few volunteer-geek parents. And yes, we invited the fire marshal, who in my case, just happened to have a kid in my class.

I know that some are still getting a kick and bragging about do-it-yourself classroom technology  integration, but while that is fist-pumping cool, there are better ways—involving experts—at a cost of course. Besides money-saving in the long run, having experts work with you is headache-saving everywhere.

It takes more than volunteers and stringing wires. While there are many choices for the well-connected Internet, audio-visual and media classroom, here are a few, presented in random order, to help do it right:

Crestron
http://www.crestron.com/

Check out how to add RoomView Express and RoomView Connected devices to your interactive plans. Their software is brand and model agnostic, so different device models may be replaced without any system reconfiguration or programming. Just connect the new projector and Crestron RoomView automatically recognizes the device for immediate, seamless communication and control.Features include built-in instant help desk messaging and emergency broadcasting.

Extron
http://www.extron.com/

Most have heard of Extron’s PoleVault, but VoiceLift and WallVault are additional offerings that neatly bring technology together in a classroom.  If you’re not sure what you need, try out Extron’s WallVault System Configurator online. The drag-and-drop configuration utility allows users to design WallVault systems that meet their specific requirements.

The Extron Classroom A/V System Grant Program provides a chance to pilot a classroom free, and includes installation of an Extron Classroom A/V system and complete training.

Calypso
http://www.calypsosystems.com/

Calypso’s ezRooms are designed specifically for the K-12 classroom, It’s affordable and an easy-to-use, complete classroom AV solution. Their focus is on making it easy to build, manage and use media-rich, integrated classrooms to improve teaching and learning. The ezRoom 5300 offers a fully integrated classroom AV solution that includes networked device control, hardware and software user interfaces, remote monitoring, audio amplification, CAT-5 wall-plates, flexible mounting options and every wire, cable and connector needed to build out integrated classrooms.

Troxell
http://www.trox.com/

Troxell is a leading marketer and supplier of audio-visual and video equipment to the education and government marketplace. You’ll find that they have an amazing array of products and companies represented and to choose from, and they specialize in getting the right local people to match technology with needs. Educational and government end-users, pre-school to higher education, make up the majority their customers.

CDW-G
http://www.cdwg.com/

Check out the CDW-G 21st Century Interactive Classroom. CDW-G has technology specialists to offer expertise in designing customized solutions, and technology engineers, who can assist customers with the implementation and long-term management of those solutions. Areas of focus include notebooks, desktops, printers, servers and storage, unified communications, security, wireless, power and cooling, networking, software licensing and mobility solutions.

Califone
http://www.califone.com/

Califone has everything from headsets to PA systems to media and presentation systems. Check out the Califone Website Tour. You can even contact top representatives on Twitter https://twitter.com/califone, as well as other social media outlets.

Ning Ends Free: Pearson Steps Up

Recently, Ning dropped a 2.0 bombshell when it announced they were no longer offer free collaborative space online for educators. This was big, because most educators and many school districts had a Ning. It really made it easy to have an online presence as an individual or a group. Ning’s decision to move to a pricing model has educators, and especially online education groups scrambling.

Ning Larger Nings Scramble to Continue Collaboration

Two examples groups doing that, ones that I personally belong to, are the Educator’s PLN at http://edupln.ning.com/, a personal learning network created by Tom Whitby, a professor of pre-service teachers in Long Island, which now has 5,000 members, and the Missouri Educator   Steve
Community created by Steve Moore, a humanities instructor. Moore’s group is hovering close to 150 members. There’s good and bad in those numbers. Pearson has offered to continue the free Nings for classrooms, and for groups with membership up to 150, which leaves larger, existing groups rushing to meet their needs without disrupting the collaborative environments they’ve built. In the case of Whitby and the Educator’s PLN, he has sent a request to Ning and Pearson to possibly continue there, and is also looking at sponsorship support, while Moore has been looking to alternatives, such as Grouply at http://www.grouply.com/.

Pearson Stepping Up

Ning.com currently hosts 6,500 K-12 social networks. Under the Pearson sponsorship of Ning’s education networks, existing participants will have the opportunity to opt-in to the program and maintain seamless uninterrupted access for everyone to their networks; new education networks can join and create Ning’s free of charge as well. According to Pearson Senior Vice President for Business Development Gary June “Underwriting the costs of Ning Networks is one way that Pearson can provide support for their commitment and dedication to improve teaching and learning.” He added, “As we are increasingly embracing social media across virtually all aspects of life, we want to help in that critical area of keeping the dialogue among teachers, students and parents wide open.”

For more information, or to opt-in visit http://about.ning.com/pearsonsponsorship/

I and others in the education community know that free usually doesn't last forever, but here's hoping that all the existing Nings, even those with more than 150 members, including Tom Whitby's Educator's PLN, continue to have free use under Pearson's sponsorship.

District IT Gets the Business

Alvaradoisd_tech_121106s_08 Kyle Berger, Executive Director of Technology for Alvarado ISD, in the North Texas runs IT for a district with about 3,400 students. Companies like HP, Verizon, Microsoft, and Intel have been interested in his ideas. His story is about entrepreneurial education leadership, and developing a business model. He has translated thinking differently into action that pays off for his district and students.

District Overview

Alvarado is a pretty technology-forward school district. All of the classrooms have mounted projectors, Mini interactive whiteboards, and document cameras, as well as interactive slates for teachers. Furthermore, for the past two years, their 1:1 initiative has been in high gear. Every 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-grade student has an HP Netbook or Mini-Note-style laptop. And for the 2010/2011 school year, traditional-style laptops will be given to each 7th- and 8th-grader. “That gives me a little over 1,500 units in the hands of students. Next year we want to begin rolling out slate or tablet devices to our high school students,” says Berger. All 6 Alvarado campuses are WiFi.

On the surface, Alvarado may appear to be another one of those success stories, where a district has been fortunate in acquiring technology. But that’s not the case, and discovering why a company like Microsoft would want to launch their new Multi-Point Server there may have a lot to do with the leadership. Technology didn’t just drop out of the sky. There’s an out-of-the-box IT director in charge, who would be just as at home in a corporate marketing role than sharing at a board of education meeting. Creative ideas wouldn’t be enough, so what differentiates Berger and Alvarado? Well, it’s using a business model to strategically accomplish education goals, which include technology.

Philosophy Shift

Kyle berger “One of the things I try to do is to run my education IT as a business model,” says Berger. An example is  starting his 1:1 program at the middle school level. Intel researchers recently interviewed Berger regarding his middle school-start philosophy. Most 1:1 programs start at the high school level. His business mind had him thinking ROI.

Berger thought beginning at the middle school level gave him a better place to see the impact of technology over a longer time span than starting at the high school. Politically speaking, if he wedged the 1:1 in the middle of his district, and sat back—watched what happened—Berger figured the parent community would back 1:1 more, to guarantee their kids would be at a 1:1 school at every level.

Political Strategy

His strategy of placing the 1:1 initiative in the middle grabbed the attention of elementary and high school parents—as well as middle school parents. Very quickly, school board meetings began hearing requests by parents for the necessity of 1:1 at every building and grade level. “In this economy, starting at the high school level might make it too easy to say, kids will get 1:1 when they get to the high school,” says Berger, pleased that his middle-start has paid off. 

Results Helps ROI

For a long time 1:1 programs have raised questions due to the unfavorable research out there, including reports of lack of laptop use by students, and lack of data supporting student gains in achievement. Berger can show positive results, and closing out his 2nd year, his program is showing 8% gains on state testing—across the board—in his 1:1 cohort groups. Berger says, “It’s working; it’s not a distraction. We’ve have the data now; we’re going with it, and it’s really exciting.”

It’s a Pretty Big Business

“Our district doesn’t have a whole lot of money, so we’re thinking about how we can approach all this to get the best bang for our buck and for the district,” says Berger. It’s a pretty big business, with 3400 students and 400 employees. The organization and management—day to day—needs to be looked at from more of a corporate stance. “I need to drive value to my students,” says Berger.

Bringing the Internet to the Community

Kyle6 About 75% of Berger’s students are economically disadvantaged, and could never afford an Internet connection. “We were sending students home with devices that they couldn’t connect with. We tried the reverse classroom model, where we’d podcast or vodcast a teacher’s lecture, then load it onto the a student laptop. Students would take the content of the lesson at home. We then had students do what would traditionally be homework—in the classroom.

But the problem remained—my students didn’t have Internet, and weren’t getting the full use out of the tools we’d given them. I had to figure a way to do that effectively. That’s where I came up with my Internet kiosk program,” says Berger.

Kiosk Program

Aisd_kiosk_ckn_xpress There are kiosks everywhere in society today—airports, and at the mall, you see these self-servicing kiosk units. I figured that I might be able to leverage that idea for what I needed to do,” says Berger. With help from HP, a walk-up kiosk unit was developed that not only would allow parents, who didn’t have computers at home to walk up to these terminals, check their children’s grades, get district information and news, but could also be a place where students could access the Internet. The kiosks had a WiFi antenna built in that would create free WiFi hotspots.

Funding the Free WiFi Idea

“The question remained—how could we fund this thing and make it work?” It didn’t take long to figure that out. The kiosks had two screens. So on the top screen Berger rotates advertisements. It’s a simple format, like a PowerPoint, and it rotates Ads every 10 seconds. Berger sells them. “I started out with 5 companies that I was selling Ads to, and I had a slide that would come up offering Ad space at the kiosk, so the amount of Ads increased—building itself, says Berger.

The kiosks are placed in fast food chains, grocery stores, or Laundromats. They provide the business, or Kiosk location, free Internet for their customers. “Businesses love that, because it’s an added bonus for their customers, and I get to advertise and offer free WiFi for my students and parents to come to. It’s a win-win situation,” says Berger. “Now I just sit back and let the phone ring. Whoever wants to advertise calls me up, and I can sell them an Ad on one kiosk, or multiple kiosks. My monthly cost for a kiosk is really just a Verizon data card for about $40 a month to get that signal there—and I’m making more than that on my Ads.” Berger also appreciates the help his gotten from Verizon to make this happen.

Found Money

With the revenue from the Ads, Berger can build more kiosk units, or build-out WiFi hotspots that are non-kiosks, like a rugged one at a park pavilion, which has no advertising at all. “We’ve actually approached some churches in our more rural areas that don’t have connections. A hotspot is perfect in a little community center out there. Anywhere with an area for my students to gather is a good place,” says Berger.

He now has businesses lining up asking for a kiosk. “We’re watching the money come in, which allows us to continue to think strategic WiFi placement. I have about 96 square miles to cover, so we’re building strategic plans on how to do that. We know there will be more mandates and less money, so I have to find new ways to figure this out.”

Community Outreach

School_bus This year Berger will put free WiFi on school buses, making them mobile hotspots. “We have some long school bus routes. A child may be on a bus for an hour, and that could still be educational time—now that they have a device in their hands. For that, we’re thinking of a sponsorship sign on the side of the school bus,” says Berger. He says that a company would be a great partner/sponsor.

Additionally, Berger is looking at a mobile hotspot classroom in an old bus. He plans to gut the interior, put counter tops along the sides, load it up with computers, and make it all WiFi. The bus would be a rolling computer lab, which could go out into the community to teach parents, ESL, and do outreach programs. “If we can’t get the parents into us, we’re going to bring the programs to them—and start impacted our community a little more. I can fund that by wrapping the whole bus in Ads, just like you see on the commercial buses all over town,” says Berger.

District Advertising Policies

“This is not like advertising—in your face—in the classroom or campuses. We are very picky about who can advertise. We do sell some space on our Website. As our revenues decrease, we would be foolish not to look at alternatives to get the money for tools our students need. We’re certainly not going to plaster our kids with logos,” says Berger.

Because Berger is not doing this with e-rate, there are a lot fewer control restrictions. No school district dollars are being used to fund it, so Berger can do it with his advertising model. “I don’t have to follow all the management or filtering requirements on the WiFi spots,” says Berger.

Initial BOE Doubts Vanish

At first, when Berger presented his advertising-outreach ideas to his school board, they didn’t quite get it—and didn’t think it would work. He convinced them to try a couple of units. It worked, and just started blossoming. The kiosks in the community are a source of pride now. “When you walk in a store and see a kiosk in school district colors, as a community outreach—and signs saying Free WiFi provided by Alvarado School District, it’s a good feeling.

More Business Thinking

"One day I thought, I have all this storage space on my network, and I’m sure the district down the street does, too. I wondered how I could tie mine together with them, and offload my data there, and for them to offload to me. It really just amounts to sharing data space. It would be a simple way to back up data off site.

Disaster Consortium

Kyle_standing As school districts, we pay all this money for Internet connections that at 4 o’clock every day aren’t used. The idea is to leverage that downtime. I have free off-site data space in three locations around the United States right now. We developed a system where at 4:00 pm each day our systems tie together, and push data back and forth to each other. It’s free disaster recovery with school districts across the country. They have data with us, and I have data with them—all protected for free.

Kyle Berger has more ideas, which he may just turn into a book. It seems that some of them make what’s good for business also good for Alvarado ISD, education, and kids, too. Technology doesn’t fall from the sky at Alvarado, Berger earns it.

EduGeek Invades US Education IT

EduG1 It was my great fortune to meet a few gatecrashers from EduGeek at the Scholastic Best in Tech awards ISTE10 in Denver. Two of them would be quite at home sipping a pint and tossing darts, while the third was, as we say over here, a rose between two thorns. We all hit it off instantly—thank goodness we talked the same education IT EduG2 language. Why were the here, and what was their US plan?

EduGeek is an online peers support group focused on IT support in UK schools, colleges and universities. They are 25,000 strong, and membership grows at a rate of about 1000 a month. Most UK secondary schools have onsite IT support, so EduGeek members provide tailored methods for supporting IT in their schools.

EduGeek also has marketplace support from companies such as Microsoft, Capita, Promethean, SMART, Research Machines and others. It figures, because info gleaned from that many IT specialist is valuable feedback. Companies could save a bundle listening to that kind of advice—redesigning products and solutions from recommendations.

The EduGeek site is free, but the information priceless. EduGeek traffic has them looking to the US now. Out of 949,046 visits to the site in the past 30 days, 233,425 came from the US. While EduGeek was never set up to be a business, it seems they are doing a lot right. They don't want the country back, and I'm certain they don't sing like the Beatles, so this invasion hopes to add the US to their "IT Lifeline" for education.

Check out this cheeky crew at http://www.edugeek.net/.

Administrator Greatness: Bill Bircher

Mrbircher What makes an administrator great?

I’ll never forget my first meeting with Principal Bill Bircher. I was sitting at a long table in his building. Bircher walked over. He was short, wore suspenders and resembled the actor who played the wizard in the original OZ movie. I think he said something about a 4th grade job, but I know for certain he asked if I had enough energy. I said, “You…Me…race around the building…now!” He smiled. That was a decade ago, but remember it like yesterday.


Bircher’s Leadership:

1. Bircher started every day with an announcement that was a variation on a theme of kindness. “…and remember to be especially kind to one another today….”

2. At a time when most teachers didn’t have computers, each of his teachers had a laptop and knew how to use it.

3. All of his teachers used a networked computer lab with their students, and that included kindergartners.

4. All staff used FileMaker, and logged into a FileMaker server, each day, for daily attendance, notices, and data collection. Bircher collected, stored, and displayed everything. He was so far ahead of his time with this. It made me look at data for the first time, in a real time way, and changed my teaching for the better. I became interested in brain research.

5. He completely changed the report card system, so we weren’t using “As”, “Bs”, or “Cs”. When parents came in for conferencing, we could actually tell them, precisely where their child placed, and what we were working on.

6. Good teachers got better, partly because we all helped make decisions for running the building. We knew students were achieving, and felt we were helping to make that happen.

7. Recess was important. I remember being out with students on the coldest New England days, and Bircher would make the rounds, often without a jacket—checking to see that we were out there.

8. Bircher backed his teachers to the hilt. He did this with parents as well as higher district administrators. We were HIS TEACHERS and HIS PEOPLE. He was fearless when it came to backing staff—if you were right—he was with you.

9. Students excelled in reading, math, and technology. The latter, was at a time when most students didn’t have a computer at home.

10. I discovered that I could teach reading, or math, or anything using science as a base.

11. I smiled each day under his administration, and found that my ideas had value beyond district boundaries—and never to be confined to their limits. My students were doing distance learning from my classroom with Chicago museum staff. It wasn’t happening anywhere else, and he encouraged it. 

12. When he walked into a classroom, he expected to know what you were teaching. Essential questions were posted and clear.

13. Bircher challenged students, staff and teachers. He made teachers think, loved debate, and enjoyed getting a reaction. Thinking outside the box, requires work, and he expected it.

14. Bill Bircher’s school, Head O’ Meadow, was an academic hug for kids, teachers, and parents, and I still refer to this Administrator Behind the Curtain as my most influential mentor. It was a privilege working for him then, and if I were younger, and had a bit more energy, I’d work for him now.

District Disaster Plan Checklist

Dilbertplan Ten years ago I wrote about preparing for IT disasters. I think the biggest points I made were backing up data, and  keeping at least one data back up off site. Admittedly, it was a pretty naive look. Recently, CDW-G sent me a reminder about what districts should do to prepare. It had a little more than my original thoughts. I've modified the new points a bit to possibly present a useful and understandable district disaster plan checklist for today. Add to the list, modify, or incorporate it into your own.


1. Check your current plan.

Determine which services, like essential student services, need to resume within 24 hours to prevent negative impact.

2. Protect data. 

Back up data frequently to ensure that the integrity of data and applications are not jeopardized. Store multiple copies of data off site, at a remote location, outside of the primary data center.

3. Review power options.

Add uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) to keep the most essential applications running. Use back up generators to run cooling systems. Heat can cause even more problems when things get critical.

4. Assign a cross-functional preparedness team.  The team should design and test the disaster recovery plan.
 
5. Document, test and update.
 
The plan should include logistical details, including travel to backup sites, and even who has spending authority for emergency needs. Practice emergency drills with all members of the team should be scheduled, evaluated, and modified.

6. Consider telecommunications alternatives. 

In many disaster situations, like hurricanes, telecommunications is unreliable, or can be lost for days. Have a communications plan in place.

7. Relationships with vendors can help. 

Hardware, software, network and service vendors can help expedite recovery, equipment replacement, including computers, servers, and network hardware. Asking what the marketplace can do for you in times of disasters is an important question when purchasing.

Social Media's Education Value

Ken&Cam Scholastic will give a year's subscription to Instructor Magazine, FREE, to educators and administrators, who stop by Scholastic Administrator booth #1428 between 12 and 1pm on Monday, June 29th, to talk with me about social media at ISTE10 in Denver.

The Big Red Dog's Scholastic Administrator, will be hunting more than clay and crayons at ISTE 2010. I'll be there in search of answers from teachers and administrators about the use of social media in education. This includes questions about Twitter, Facebook, as well as PLNs (Personal Learning Networks). Help teach the old dog new tricks by showing up at the Scholastic Administrator booth 1428 at ISTE10, from 12-1pm on Monday, June 29th.

I'll be asking the questions, and video recording your short interview answers. Help me find out... What do you think of social media in education? Do you prefer Twitter, or Facebook? And also share your take on PLNs.

Follow me @kenroyal on Twitter to find out more, and get involved in additional education and technology conversations from classrooms to the clouds.

3D Education Reality

Glasses12 3D technology is by no means perfected, but I haven't a doubt that it makes education sense. I feel more positive about it this week, after my InFoComm 2010 coverage.

It's at a point where the 3D applications and programs have just begun to be created and designed for education use. That will take this technology from the gimmicky to the classroom useful, and most likely necessary. And a great deal of the work will go into gaming first. I always comment that it took about 19 years for overhead projectors to get into classrooms from bowling alleys, so let's hope that 3D technology gets better faster, and finds its way into classrooms more quickly. It would be a shame to see it get bogged down on gamer's laps rather than education development.

Right now, you can view 3D from a display monitor without glasses, using stereoscopic syncing, but the resolution is not good--yet, and that technology is still experimental from what I've seen. You have to stand in designated spots to see the images best, and viewing for a classroom period would have the nurse's office filled with headache complaints. So, the best way to experience 3D is still with those less than fashion-elegant glasses. 

Glasses5 More About 3D Glasses:

  • Anaglyphic 3D uses glasses with blue and red tinted lenses and they filter color. Most of us have used them.
  • Passive polarized lenses do the same thing as anaglyphic lenses, but they filter light. Remember those light science labs with the two polarized plastic squares?
  • Active shutter, or just Active is the latest. It's about speed. With this technology the lenses "shutter" back and forth between different light filters. Active glasses are more expensive.

Bottom line: When figuring 3D cost today, know what everything costs, you'll pay for the quality you get, and remember that it's not quite perfected yet.

The Technologies Behind 3D:

Glasses11 Beyond the funny glasses, three companies, 3LCD, DLP, and Canon are supplying the technology for 3D projectors, which give them more interesting points to compare. With 3LCD and Canon technology, it seems that two projectors are required, while with DLP technology only one. Interestingly, the 3LCD projectors could be viewed well with the cheapest cardboard-framed glasses, while the DLP projectors seemed to need at least Passive glasses. Note: I didn't have a chance to test glasses with the Canon LCOS. Add these to their continued comparisons of color quality, brightness, and cost.

UK's BECTA and QCDA Vanishing Act

Titanic1 BECTA, the British Educational and Communications Technology Association, and QCDA, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency have both taken a UK powder. It was really a now you see 'em, now you don't of the highest order, with the new British government doing the prestidigitation. Even while it was happening BECTA seemed to go on as normal, sort of like the ship going down with the band playing. 

The government change-over in the UK from Labour Party leadership to a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats has a lot to do with pulling the plug on government organizations such as BECTA and QCDA. There are many sides, here. One is that BECTA did a good job helping to get a lot of technology in schools. The other is that BECTA became a bloated organization with special interest groups (within the marketplace) putting schools in technology buying positions they couldn't afford.

As for QCDA, it raised the same concerns, we hear in the states, over testing students and teaching to the test . Dropping QCDA may be seen as a budget saver, as well as a way of diminishing government involvement, but some see it as something that may leave testing and curriculum scattered and disconnected.

With government bowing out, you can bet the private sector will move in to try filling the void, but can anything really fill the BECTA void?

I tried to think about US comparisons. We are certainly looking at many governmental and local education carpets being pulled from under school districts in the name of slimming budgets. I know that organizations such as ISTE, and CoSN help promote new-age learning with technology, but they're not government heavy-weight authorities. There's Race to the Top, and Partnership for 21st Century Skills, as well as foundations and grants, but nothing central like BECTA. NCLB is the closest thing to QCDA, I guess.

I've always looked to the UK to get a glimpse of what may be headed here. I'm left a little confused now, and maybe that's true for most educators in the UK, and the US, too.

When I'm lucky enough to talk with teachers and administrators during a school visit, or at an education conference, the question I get most is "How do I get that technology for my students?"  I actually think answering that question needs to be addressed beyond a local, or district finance answer. The question deserves a better answer for a teacher, who wants to use technology, sees it used in professional development or demonstrations, but realizes that back in his/her class, it's all pantomime and wishes. There are administrators and educators, as well as marketplace experts, who are figuring it out. We may need a coalition of our own. Anyway, sign me up for the committee.

Looks like our educator-friends across the pond will be doing some figuring, too.

Pano Logic: Zero Client Thinner

Pano2 Thin client solutions have been around for a long time. They require a slave machine and additional low end computers connected with devices--in sort of a chain. I wondered whether Pano Logic's "Zero" solution, which requires no computer at the seat, and everything on a server, would transition easily from business  to a school. It  concept sort of reminds me of the old fashioned terminals in the early days of computing, but a lot quicker and more powerful.

Mike Stewart, Blue Ridge School District Assistant to the Director of Information Systems in New Milford Pennsylvania talked computing with "no moving parts" during our interview. Stewart replaced his traditional desktop machines with Pano Logic zero clients. His Pano Logic makeover included a Server, VM (Virtual Machine) licensing, Pano Logic software and licensing, 60 Pano devices, and templates for virtual desktops.

Zero means that there is no slave computer required as in traditional thin client solutions. Instead, all you Pano1 need is a monitor, keyboard,  mouse, and connectors. What makes this happen is a small box called the Pano device. Everything gets connected to it,  from audio to monitors.

Best of all, Stewart can run the whole show remotely from any Web browser. Zero may also stand for no hardware issues. He tucks the Pano devices into slide out trays at each computing seat, where nothing can go wrong except maybe an unplugged wire once in awhile.

Does Pano Logic's Zero Client make more sense?

Stewart uses his his Zero Client machines for Web browsing and desktop needs, such as word processing and other Microsoft applications. He figures that about 60% of the district's computing needs can be Pano Logic. The other 40% would require higher end computing capacity, with programs such as CAD, photo imaging, and video work. He says that it's quieter with no fans needed... resulting in cooler rooms. Many of the server nightmares he'd had in the past have also vanished--not much can go wrong.

Learn more about Pano Logic at http://www.panologic.com/

Backing Up Easy to Do

It's not quite the lyrics of a Neil Sedaka song, but They say that backing up is easy to do... if you go then I'll be blue... don't say this is the end... is what districts should be singing when it comes to saving and preserving data, and my vRescue interview repeats the refrain.

Personally, you should back up your individual data in three different ways, with one of those off site. Companies like Carbonite handle that pretty well. While individuals may just be trying to prevent the loss of personal documents and images, districts without proper back up of data and sensitive information may be heading towards disaster.

I interviewed Wayne Masoner of Weidenhammer Systems about the vRescue solution. We talked about how to avoid disaster recovery by preventing data disaster from happening in the first place, and what vRescue can do if it does happen.

It really isn't difficult to understand, first of all, vRescue helps districts learn what they need, and provides an appliance that can be managed by the smallest of IT teams, or even an individual. vRescue tests daily, taking daily snapshots, and guarantees that if there is a system problem resulting in data loss, it will be restored in minutes. Now, that's the kind of promise I'd like to have. Furthermore, vRescue provides districts with space on their servers until things are completely normalized at the district level. If you've ever been in a district situation, this is big, because an unstable environment can sometimes have you right back where you've started. Having a stable harbor in times of data trouble makes a lot of sense.

Take the vRescue free 30-day trial to see if it's a solution for your district.

Rethinking Cell Phones in Classrooms

PhonesStudents3 I originally thought that cell phones in classrooms made very little sense, other than in very specific situations, but recently I’ve needed to rethink that. Whether by thumb-, touch-keying, or by voice recognition their education reality, and even augmented reality, can't be overlooked.

During a recent hospital stay, I discovered a few things—that I still loved Corn Flakes, I wasn’t so tough, and if I had my cell phones, I didn’t need my computer. I’m truly a lightweight using a cell phone, but have two—one for my own Educators’ Royal Treatment, and the other for Scholastic business—but I was able to e-mail, text, write a bit, take some notes, check on my blog, tweet, and even make a phone calls or two. I didn’t use the camera—not much to see—nor did I use the recorder or voice recognition software—probably need a private room for that.

Now, before I jump in, let me say that I know all the reasons not to use cell phones—from radiation to thumb injuries, but taking computer lab EM Field (Electromagnetic Field) readings, or checking for carpal tunnel in more traditional computing hasn’t stopped those options. I also know that more traditional options, such as notebooks and netbooks, as well as smartbooks have their proponents. I’ve heard from some. This is not meant to be a one-dimensional solution—those who know me, understand that—but instead it’s a change in my attitude towards a device that could possibly be a computer in a kid’s pocket. And by that, I don’t mean sticking a phone in the hands of a 5-year old. I have my own ideas of the when, but leaving it to local school decision makers is OK by me.

There are other factors in my change of mind, too. I have followed smartphones in the classroom for years, and wrote one of the earliest articles on Project K–Nect and use of cell phones with math curriculum. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to interview education-minded executives at AT&T, Verizon, Qualcomm, as well as leaders like Professor Billie McConnell at Abilene Christian University, where cell phones are part of pre-service teacher education, and teacher professional development. I’ll have an ACU follow-up post with specifics on that program, but it is another of the puzzle parts helping to change my idea of what classroom computing should look like.

While I know some may think a mobile broadband device opens students up to all kinds of social networking issues, the same can be said for notebooks, or anything else capable of connecting outside the district walls. There are ways to contain the school use and have students work in a more secure, and protected environments. Closing off the outside world to create a self-contained work area or portal isn’t rocket science anymore. And, if students are bringing in their own notebooks for class, there’s no reason why they can’t bring in their own smartphones. Districts need to regulate school use and applications, but using student-purchased phones makes sense, helping to keep those distributed or leased by the district within budgets.

Some obvious cell phone uses are note taking, recording, GPS/mapping, and collaborating in and out of school, but add to that the ability to make them classroom responders—perfect for student polling and texting possibilities for immediate public and private feedback.

There is a smartphones revolution today. You almost can’t call them phones anymore, with fewer calls are being made, and more texting, voice and imaging, including video being done. Really everything you could want for publishing is on a smartphone today. It’s not all about the iPhone either; it doesn’t hurt to have Google and Microsoft as players. Sure, Apple is still pushing the envelope with applications and innovations, like two cameras on the new iPhone for taking images, and also for video communication, but Google’s Android-based smartphones are making for a closer race. And now we’re looking a 4G solutions like the HTC EVO from Sprint. What can be done on these is Incredible, which also is the name of a new Verizon offering. With the text screens getting bigger, and even viewing full-length movies becoming possible, we’re watching the technology change daily.

It is necessary to look at these smartphones as a classroom options for a lot of reasons, far beyond their ability to access Google desktops, which schools have finally figured out makes sense, with these devices students can walk into any campus environment from library to science lab and be connected. While it’s not quite wearing connectivity, reaching into a pocket it’s pretty close.

7-Step Spring Cleaning IT Tips

Wires2 While educators are thinking about summer and continuing ed workshops, tech and IT professionals are thinking Spring maintenance, Summer work, and the first day of the new school year.

I remember the days when tech Spring cleaning meant unplugging, doing a quick swipe with a damp and then a dry soft paper towel, powering up a portable vacuum cleaner, aiming a blast of compressed air from a can, hoisting up a machine or  two looking for dust mice and lost pencils, and finally wrapping it all in a large plastic bag. And the biggest concerns after that seemed to be prioritizing district summer tech work and projects. We used to call those our wish list, and for the most part they remained wishes and went undone.

7-Step IT Checklist

Well, if that's as far as district-tech Spring cleaning takes you, this checklist from the infrastructure experts at CDW-G will help plan a more complete, systematic approach to energy, financial, and data savings:

1. Update, replace, or  remove software and hardware that are no longer supported or outdated: It is one thing to be frugal about replacements and upgrades, but organizations can take on high operational and financial risk by running systems so far past their prime that little or no support is available when they break down.

2. Review desktop computing to improve energy efficiency and save money:  “Standing load” from unused computers or printers still plugged in; desktop computers and peripherals running around the clock; and failure to make the most of the power management functions built into desktop operating systems can cost a district. You may consider thin client architecture, which saves energy and can also reduce application support costs and boost security.

3. Review data center for energy efficiency and savings: Power and cooling technologies have improved significantly, and blade server deployments tend to increase power as well as cooling requirements. If a district has deployed new server and storage systems, but still has old power, cooling and management strategies, there are still more energy efficiency opportunities in the data center.

4. Consolidate data center server and storage systems: Eliminating excess servers and storage equipment, or even entire data centers can reduce energy and management costs. Blade servers can pack more computing power into less space, while server and storage virtualization can help allocate consolidated computing resources effectively, reducing excess capacity – and therefore costs.

5. A tiered storage plan makes smart use of old systems: 3 Rs–Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Match the investment in storage systems with the value and currency of the data residing on them, and reduce duplication of archived data. For long-term storage of inactive data, or just for an economical, periodic backup of current data, even old tape systems can still work well in many situations.

6. Cloud and hosted/managed services:  Cloud computing and hosted or managed services can offer economies of scale, quality of support and convenience that many districts couldn't match with internal resources. Outsourcing applications or facilities helps organizations declutter data centers.

7. Streamline operations by updating security group policy and user group designs: Network updates can be slow when one administrator is responsible for updating multiple groups. Streamline operations and free up time by updating the group policy design to grant access and rights to trusted users within major groups. Just be conscious that granting too many people access and rights to groups increases risk of data loss, so aim for an organized policy that balances productivity and security concerns.

Thinkfinity's New Look and Community

Screenshot-homepage Thinkfinity has been online for a couple of years now, and many educators have already taken advantage of its resources, but the new Thinkfinity look and design has some changes that will make it a one stop resource for lessons, professional development, and community collaboration. A big difference is that instead of pushing users out to partner sites, the new Thinkfinity site is a resource unto itselffor the most part educators don't have to go anywhere else.  I was taken on a tour of the site expansion, and tried to find something missing, but it seems Thinkfinity has covered all its basis.I did recommend that for those resources that still take you off site, having a new page open is the best plan, so educators, administrators, and technology resource teachers remain on site there, too. That will happen according to Thinkfinity's Kristen Townsend, educational development officer, who shared the resources part of the site with me. The new site even provides resource for home school and after school purposes. It also has ramped up its professional development offerings, which have always been free, and will remain free.

The new site with have news feeds, blogs, as well as the new Thinkfinity Community. The Community Screenshot-get_connected reminds me of an education Personal Learning Network (PLN), something educators have been doing on their own for years. And along with that community Thinkfinity has certainly done its homework regarding the use of social networking by educators today. There will be private and public options as well as tie-ins to social media and Web 2.0 tools. I'd like to thank the Verizon Foundation for helping to set up the interviews and giving me a sneak peak. Check it out today, BUT FIRST...

Please listen to Thinkfinity's Christine McGuinness as she explained Thinkfinity Community to me:

Failure Is Not An Option!

Blankstein I had a great conversation with Alan Blankstein, author of Failure Is Not An Option: Six Principles That Guide Student Achievement in High-Performing Schools, which has been recently updated and released. Alan is also Founder and President of the Hope Foundation.

"The second edition of Failure Is Not An Option shares what people who read the first book did with it," says Blankstein. "It's really about transforming schools and taking them from "D" to "A". Some have done this on their own by using the book, and others with Hope Foundation help. It's about working with schools to help them form high performing leadership teams--in order to turn things around in the short term, but to make that happen long term as well."

Listen to my conversation with Alan Blankstein, a bit of how to, leadership building, culture changing, trust and hope.

Karl Engkvist Talks Blackboard Connect

KarlE2 I had a great conversation with Karl Engkvist, executive vice president of Blackboard Connect. While I've known Blackboard for quite some time, I wanted to hear about Blackboard's mass communication solution. Talking with someone at the company executive level is the best way to not only get the scoop on the "Now", but also a look at the "Future". During our talk, I learned about Blackboard Connect, the acquisition of STN Alert Now (a former competitor), a  mobile Blackboard platform, as well as Blackboard's international ventures. With higher level interviews, I've found that there's usually an unmasked pride of purpose, and a spark of excitement when company officials share a product or solution.

Listen to my conversation with Karl Engkvist of Blackboard:

Twitter, Twitter ICT Stars

ICT Stars International

This is the first in a series of technology spotlights on educators who are making a difference. Today, I’m sharing 5 people I’ve watched work as I lurked on Twitter (Twit-lurking is acceptable behavior). They are International Information and Communication Technology (ICT) stars—with language expertise working toward Modern Foreign Language (MFL) classrooms, but for me, they exemplify educators using technology in their classroom, and sharing how it's done with educators and staff locally and globally.

Jose José Picardo is Head of Modern Foreign Languages at Nottingham High School, England, where he teaches Spanish and German. His blog about technology and education is an amazing work—just click an image and learn. It can be found at http://www.boxoftricks.net “I believe that the effective use of technology in our schools ensures that education remains relevant to our students in their increasingly digital lives,” says Picardo. He is also a consultant and speaks regularly about integrating new technologies into the curriculum in order to enhance both teaching and learning. José believes in taking advantage of available technology, and that it is—“an essential skill for teachers to acquire in an age where pupils’ learning expectations are changing radically.” 

IJ Isabelle Jones is a Head of Languages with a personality. She not only uses technology with her classes, but also presents and writes about it. Jones is a qualified translator and interpreter with 16 years of experience teaching French and Spanish. She has been a Head of Modern Foreign Languages, presently working at The Radclyffe School, Oldham, UK, and she has also taught French and Spanish in primary schools. Her experience and interests lie in how to use ICT to motivate students, social media and Continuing Professional Development (CPD). She promotes accelerated learning, English as a second language (EAL), as well as thinking skills with international dimensions. Jones has recently taken on the role of Regional Secondary Adviser for the new MFL secondary National Curriculum and has been leading her local Strategic Learning Network for Languages. Check her blog posts at http://isabellejones.blogspot.com (Note: Cancel the login to view Isabelle’s pages.) Conferences Show and Tell and Networking are specifically interesting posts to check.

Joe1 Joe Dale is a technology-sharing sage, and I’m not sure there’s anything that he can’t figure out. I’ve gone to his blog www.joedale.typepad.com many times to get my own technology lessons. I doubt there is a day that goes by that Joe doesn’t try to help an educator, stuck with tech, find a solution. Joe Dale is a Center for Innovative Learning Technologies (CILT) language Teaching Adviser, BBC languages consultant, Links into Languages trainer, eTwinning Ambassador, host of the TES MFL forum, former SSAT Languages Lead Practitioner, and regular conference speaker. Joe has appeared in the Education Guardian, helped to update the ICT elements of the QCA SoW for KS2 Primary French, written for the Times Educational Supplement (TES) ICT blog and CILT 14-19 website, and designed games for Heinemann's new course 'Expo'. Joe also starred on a Teachers TV program, and recently spoke about the Rose Review proposals on BBC Radio 4. His blog has been nominated for three Edublog Awards in the last three years. 

Asalt2 Amanda Salt is Head of Spanish in Grosvenor Grammar School, an 11-18 secondary school in Belfast.  “Pupils are embracing the opportunity to use their language in a more creative way and are keen to show their end product off to a wider audience,” says Salt. Amanda has discovered like so many educators that sharing ideas, writing about them and experimenting with classroom technology takes a bit of work, but is well worth the effort. Her reflections can be read at her blog http://amandasalt.blogspot.com.
All of Salt's students study French, German and Spanish from Form 1 (age 11-12) for two years, then they can choose to drop one if they want, and at the end of Form 3 (age 13-14) they can choose to do 1, 2 or 3 languages for General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). “The whole department is very active in their use of ICT although I think it's fair to say that I am the most pro-active,” says Salt. Amanda believes the use of ICT—“greatly encourages enthusiasm for subjects and this in turn leads to a desire to improve.”

MaryCoochPackt2 Mary Cooch, nicknamed Moodle Fairy, is a Moodle expert. She has taught languages for over 20 years in Preston, UK, and currently specializes in training and inspiring teachers in high schools and primary schools to use the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) alongside another program called Hot Potatoes. An Moodle Certified Course Creator and Accredited Hot Potatoes trainer, Mary is the author of Moodle for Teaching 7-14 Year Olds, runs a Moodle blog http://www.moodleblog.org, and is also administrator of several geography teaching websites including Geography At the Movies. You can check out Mary’s recent interview by Open Source Schools at BETT 2010.

Sitting on the Education-Tech 50-yard line

Most of us don’t usually get to sit on the 50-yard line at a sporting event, but you can place yourself on the education-technology equivalent. One of the easiest ways today is by using Twitter, or other social media, as well as other ways that allow you to meet and interact with educators beyond your local environment. Finding the right people is a wonderful challenge, as well as a personal achievement—and it isn’t that difficult. Begin with a small group, or Professional Learning Network (PLN). The real message here is that you’ll meet, and participate in education learning and change beyond your school or district. If you’re teaching students to think globally—there's nothing better than a bit of modeling.

Startpage Search Safe

Startpage_ss1 Startpage is a search tool to try other than Google. Starpage or IxQuick—are really the same thing—but the name Startpage says “search” better—I think. I’m certain many computer and library media pages are named Startpage. “Ok, kids go to our Startpage!” The other thing I’m certain of is that most of them likely have Google as the default search. I thought Startpage worth a search-engine look, though because it claims to be the safest.

Startpage allows searching the entire Web using a an assortment of help including bing, Wikipedia, and Startpage_ss4Yahoo, as well as lets you select specific search help, too. The other major categories for search are video, pictures and phone—the latter isn’t education appropriate, but I tried it and it works.

Now, while your Startpage is private, and doesn’t record your IP address, as soon as you click on a returned search link, you leave Startpage and are unprotected again—same as all other search engines.

There are two additional links under each returned search item; one is Proxy and the other Highlight. Proxy was interesting—when clicked, it anonymously searches the Internet. It’s slow, strips out Java script, and returns a bare bones search. It’s not pretty, but very safe—no IP address recorded, and no cookies installed or read.

The feature I really liked was Highlight, which presents a highlighted page of your specific search. That page can be different depending upon the search results you choose. In my search of “frogs”, I got a Wikipedia highlighted page and a very cool frog Web site mash-up for another. For more check the Startpage’s Proxy video.

Touch Screens: Digital Oak Tag

Can touch screen computers be the new group oak tag and crayons?

TouchSmart Anyone who has taught at the primary and elementary grades has probably grouped Eee students for collaborative learning, and plunked down a large piece of oak tag and a box of crayons or markers. Nothing wrong with that, and it still works, but let’s take that idea to a digital level. What if touch screen computers took the place of that oak tag and crayons in some classrooms?

For this to happen, it might take a little modified thinking about 1:1. Most everyone knows 1:1 as a label for one student to one laptop, but if you’re a primary or elementary teacher, that concept can easily be changed to one computing device to one student group. It would be nice if every school, or district, had funds enough for everything tech, but cash for whiteboards or digital tables might not be available. Why not get a few touch screen computers with larger displays, and use them for classroom group work?

Acer If there’s only enough in an education budget for one computer for a primary classroom, looking at a touch screen computer for a teaching table, or learning center makes sense. It can work not only as a teacher computer, but also as a mini whiteboard of sorts. Small hands on a shared touch screen can work for a teacher-gathered group.

Staying creative about classroom technology tools is a good idea, and all reasonable options are worth a look, because you might just find a solution that works, and at a reasonable price.There's no one-fit solution.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in The Royal Treatment are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.