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Freebee Friday: Need for Speed

Netflix ispAny school worth its desktops, laptops and projectors needs a top-speed Internet connection, and the results are in. Netflix, which streams video to millions, has tracked each ISP’s actual delivered bandwidth. The results are a little surprising and differ from a recent FCC report on bandwidth. The top marks go to Google Fiber (at 3.4Mbps), but it’s only available in limited locations followed by Cablevision’s Optimum Online (at 2.3Mbps), which is popular on the east coast but is also available in the mountain states. Next, SuddenLink, which has a footprint in the south and southwest, came in at 2.2Mbps. 

The Alluring EBook

Scholastic_1327787242_600Getting kids to read more just might be as simple as putting eBook devices in their hands. That’s the conclusion of a survey of more than 2,000 school age students done by Scholastic, the corporate parent of Tech Tools. While one-quarter of the kids said they have used an eBook reader, more than half were interested in using one. More to the point, 16 percent of parents said they intended to buy an eBook device in the coming year.


CES Goes to School

Ces_logo2Every year the Consumer electronics Show takes over Las Vegas with the latest that technology has to offer. In addition to projectors and TVs, the nearly 2 million square feet of CES of show space has no shortage of notebooks, tablets and phones. There’s sure to be something for your classroom.

 Over the next few days, I’ll share my favorites from this year’s show floor.


Little Big PC

NUC cropUntitled-1The next big thing in classroom technology could just be one of the smallest computers around. Intel's NUC, which stands for Next Unit of Computing, is on the verge of becoming available and could change the way we think of desktop PCs. At 4- by 4-inches, these micro computers have all of the power of a full desktop, yet include HDMI, USB and Thunderbolt connections and room for plenty of RAM. The best part is that they will have VESA mounting screws for attaching to the back of a monitor. When they come out later this year, these NUC devices could cost about $400.

Freebee Friday: The Future of Education

Fee-logoOver the weekend, several visions of the future of education will be discussed at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s “Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform.” It all takes place in Washington, D.C. and is hosted by former governor Jeb Bush, the foundation’s chairman. Look for speeches from a variety of pundits, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former NYC School’s Chancellor Joel Klein and David Coleman, President and CEO of the College Board. It’s all streamed live and is much more interesting than the scheduled football games.

Freebee Friday: Classroom creativity

Adobe report coverFostering a creative classroom where every child thinks originally and critically is the highest achievement for any teacher, and Adobe has some info on how best to do it. According to an Adobe survey of 1,000 college-educated people, the majority think that creativity is a vital part of learning and that it should be taught as a class on a par with social studies and math.

Question of the Month: Next Stop, Windows 8

With Windows 8 coming out next week, what is your district’s migration plans and what operating system do you use at the moment?

KeuterJay Keuter

Director – IT Client Services

Portland Public Schools

Portland, Oregon



Right now, Portland Public Schools (PPS) is about 70 percent PC with Windows XP, the dominant operating system. Historically, we have taken a pretty conservative approach to OS updates and are actually making the transition to Windows 7 rather than Windows 8. PPS typically takes a very organic approach focusing initially on new hardware purchases and as requests and repairs bubble up, transition those devices to Windows 7. This approach seems to impact our users the least and does not break the bank attempting to fund technicians to back up data and reimage each individual workstation. 

I don’t want to sell short the importance of having a current operating system, but as we have migrated our core productivity and instructional resources to Web-based solutions, the need for the most current operating system running the most current installed applications continues to wane. I would also add that our typical teacher is not a power user pushing the OS and installed applications to their full potential so we don’t have ton of users screaming for updates. In fact, our power users are more likely leveraging more flexible and accessible Web-based resources that better enable them to create and customize content and promote collaboration anytime-anywhere via a Web-enabled device.

At this time we are pretty content with our approach, but are intrigued by the potential of Windows 8 and the convergence of technologies. It will be interesting to see how this convergence translates to the K-12 education space and if we will see a groundswell of innovation and creativity as a result of this “new” ecosystem.


Mark weedyMark Weedy

Retired Superintendent

Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools

Groveport, Ohio





As a school administrator, I was always hesitant to make a quick decision regarding technology issues. When a new device, operating system, or other innovation hits the technology market, the tech department, administration, and other staff members should review it thoroughly. My experience with Windows operating systems is that lately it seems every other system gets it right.

Windows XP was successful while its successor, Vista, was not very successful, but Windows 7 appears to be a hit. If one uses that track record as a guide, Windows 8 will not be so great. However, it would be wise to investigate the new arrival and make a decision accordingly. One important issue to consider is the timing of Windows 8. The rollout of Windows 8 in October is not a good time for schools to consider changing operating systems since it would occur during the school year.


Tech Savvy: Teachers vs. Students

Dell infographicA recent survey commissioned by Dell shows that there’s a big disconnect between teachers and students when it comes to teaching tech. For example, everyone (students, teachers and parents) agree that using technology can make learning more interesting, accessible and personalized. But, 60 percent say that the tech needs of students aren’t being met in today’s schools. The problem? It often comes down to students actually knowing more than the teachers do about using tech, particularly social media. More than 7 in 10 respondents say they have more advanced tech at home than at school.

The poll surveyed 1,600 people in China, Germany and the U.S. about their views regarding schools and technology.

Question of the Week: Summer Time

The summer vacation is almost over and it's time to clear the cobwebs from your classrooms, computers and lesson plans. What do you dread most about the start of school?


John OrbaughJohn Orbaugh

Director of Technology Services

Tyler Independent School District

Tyler, TX



I’m actually not dreading the start of the coming school year. This past year has been the one with the greatest changes our district has seen in a long time.  I’m thinking that next year will actually be relatively quiet. This past year saw the introduction of a new finance, purchasing and payroll systems. Also we have just completed our first school year using our new virtual desktop infrastructure. Those new systems are great and have put us, as a district, in a position to have more, better and accurate data and given greater access for our students. Those are all things we feel great about now that the conversions are out of the way. This coming year will be more about refining our use of them and expanding the features that are available to our staff and students. 

While those changes we’ve accomplished are great that, of course, doesn’t mean that there aren’t some storm clouds on the horizon. We are still facing budget cuts and uncertainty as to how the upcoming legislative session will affect us. Will the legislature cut the budget further? What affect will the pending lawsuits over school funding have? Our district is also preparing for a bond election that could bring about the construction of new schools. What will be included in our bond package? Will the voters approve the bonds? How much will be allotted for technology in the new schools? Will the E-rate program be available to assist us with the cost of installing the needed technology? Many questions are waiting to be answered.

Enjoying this relatively quiet summer and opening of the coming school year may very well be a short respite and the last one we see for several years to come. 


Mark weedyMark Weedy

Retired Superintendent

Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools

Groveport, Ohio



I believe the start of school is an exciting time for IT personnel. Typically there are at least a few new staff members who need to be trained in district IT policies and procedures, but most of the new staff members who are hired are tech savvy and need little, if any, training in technology. The policies and procedures are unique to each district, but typically other school district employees handle this type of training.

The start of school sometimes brings new equipment if these purchases are in the budget. If so, getting the equipment unpacked, configured, and ready for students and staff is probably the most tedious and time-consuming part of the late summer/early school year period. In addition, putting new students and staff members in the network and deleting those who graduated or withdrew can be laborious depending on the numbers involved.

Another part of the beginning of the school year is to make sure all staff members are aware of any new technology that has been developed for use in the classroom. If the district is lucky enough to be able to afford the latest technology, bringing staff members up to speed on how it can be used can be time consuming but exciting.


Best Practices: An iPad Lesson

Ipad2012-step0-ipad-gallery-01-normalFor most schools the $500 price tag for a basic iPad is seductive enough to get them to stop buying more expensive notebooks. But this approach misses the point and an opportunity for a revolution in classroom instruction, according to Phil Harding, Technology Integration Coordinator at California’s Val Verde Unified School District. “It’s able to do so many things that the iPad is like a Swiss Army knife for schools.”

Based in Perris, California, the district is located in the Moreno Valley and recently put 860 pads into the hands of teachers. Rather than wait for the start of the new school year, the pads were handed out at the end of the school year. That way, over the summer they could try the iPads out, get familiar with them and experiment with their eventual use in the classroom.

Each iPad was set up with nearly two dozen programs that can streamline classroom activities and open new educational vistas. They each had the basics (like Evernote, iMovie and Pages) as well as some that are more specialized (such as Intelligent Papers and Clicker School). There’s even software for the teacher to control the classroom’s audio and video equipment. 

Of all, Splashtop’s Whiteboard app was the keystone for the deployment because with a classroom projector, the app can substitute for a more expensive touch-board. In daily use, Whiteboard connects wirelessly to a host computer and lets teachers write on their iPad screens and have it projected for the whole class to see. It’s good for everything from showing how to do a geometry proof to analyzing a sentence’s structure. For schools, the app costs $10.

Valverde hardingMost of the classrooms already had the projector, so the purchase was an inexpensive upgrade for the district. “For us, it was an alternative to touch-boards. We’re able to replace a $2,000 projector and board with an iPad and software,” adds Harding. 

Good timing helped make the roll-out of iPads even more enticing. Val Verde bought their iPads just as Apple’s third-generation iPad was coming out and the company cut the price of the older iPad 2 systems that they purchased by $100 per slate.

So the staff would be familiar with the pads and ready to hit the ground teaching at the end of the summer, the district ran several iPad boot camps. The training included work on Whiteboard, Google Docs and a variety of other topics, including a quickie clinic on the tablet’s basic operations and its software. On four summer Fridays, Harding hosted seminars on iPads in the classroom over pizza.

Over the summer, the teachers were encouraged to use the iPads and explore the App Store for educational software add-ons that fit their teaching style, curriculum and students. While they were free to load whatever they wanted onto the iPads, the teachers would have to pay for any commercial apps they installed. “They were app hungry,” recalls Harding. “They could load whatever they wanted to and were encouraged to experiment.”

Val verde splashtopWith the district’s teachers taken care of, the next step at Val Verde will be to roll out iPads to a wider audience. Phase 2 began when the community passed a $178 million bond issue in early July to fund several technology and infrastructure projects throughout the district.

 A major target for the bond money is to bring iPads to Val Verde’s 20,000 students. Rather than a one-to-one arrangement, Val Verde will aim to have one iPad for every four students. They plan to purchase roughly 5,000 pads at the end of 2012 as well as carts for the district’s 21 schools so that the pads can be moved from classroom to classroom and used in strategic learning situations.

“From there,” observes Harding, “it’ll be easy to go to a one-to-one arrangement. Our approach gives teachers a variety of teaching tools and offers a lot of latitude,” he adds.

Whiteboard-Teacher-holding-ipad-with-studentThe bond’s proceeds also covers revamping the district’s WiFi network to fill in its numerous dead zones. That’s because the first thing that a school finds out when a room full of kids and teachers start doing their lessons on iPads is that the network infrastructure quickly gets overwhelmed and data slows to a crawl. With the help of eRate funding, the goal is to have a WiFi access point in each classroom to keep the data – and the teaching – flowing smoothly.

Happily, what starts with replacing an old way of teaching quickly moves to educational innovation, and Val Verde’s teachers are starting to see how tablets can change the way kids learn. For instance, rather than keeping a full set of dictionaries and calculators in each class for students to use as needed, teachers now rely on the pads for these tasks.

It’s just the start because there’s often a Eureka moment when a teacher realizes that education can be dramatically changed and made more personal. This includes everything from giving kids the option of reviewing the day’s lessons online at home to apps that put early readers into the story they’re working through. In other words, education at Val Verde will never be the same.


Val verde elementaryVal Verde Unified School District

Location: Perris, CA

Number of Schools: 21

Number of Students: 20,000

Number of Teachers: 850

Task: Roll out 860 iPads to teachers, then revamp its network infrastructure and set up carts with 5,000 tablets for students to use in class.






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