5 Tips for Better Managing iPad Memory – from TeachThought

iPad_storage

Like many others, you may be experiencing the squeeze of the 16GB storage capacity of your iPad. Here’s an article from TeachThought.com with some good tips about how to manage the limited resource that is your iPad’s memory.

5 Tips for Better Managing iPad Memory” – from TeachThought.com

If Robots Will Run the World, What Should Students Learn? – from Edudemic

As automation and artificial intelligence become more and more of a reality in daily life, what are the things that our students must learn? Katrina Schwartz addresses this question on the Edudemic blog…

If Robots Will Run the World, What Should Students Learn? – Edudemic

155282685-620x440

Let’s Talk About Bandwidth…

By this time I’m sure that we’ve all experienced the reality of bandwidth limitations at BLS. If you don’t know, “bandwidth” is the measure of the flow of internet data to our campus. It is the size of the “pipe” through which the stream of the internet flows.

BandwidthThere is a very real limit on the size of the pipe that connects BLS to the internet. IT uses some sophisticated hardware and software to help mitigate the effects of that limit and to ensure that our critical systems (like the phones) stay functional, but in the end there is only so much that can be done. When we use up all the available bandwidth, our experience of using the internet will suffer.

Several individuals have asked why we don’t have more bandwidth available. It would seem that increasing the size of our pipe (aka the amount of bandwidth) would be a simple fix for this problem. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. The reality of the way that the internet works is that we use all the available bandwidth almost the entire school day. If we were to increase the available bandwidth, we would very quickly use up all of that as well. We use what is available. There was a very clear picture of this truth on Monday. That day, the juniors and seniors were off-campus, and the freshmen and sophomores were participating in service activities. No one in the high school was using the internet in any significant way. All of the bandwidth of BLS was at the disposal of the middle and elementary schools, which have significantly fewer internet-connected devices. And yet, tests showed that we still used the maximum bandwidth the entire day!

The other limiting factor in this is simple economics. Our geographic location makes increasing bandwidth very expensive. There just isn’t a lot of internet infrastructure coming this far up Monticello Road, and there aren’t any businesses past us that would make expansion worthwhile for the telecommunications providers. That means the cost of any improvements must be financed by us.

So what does this mean for us? Well, for starters, it means that IT is doing a great job of managing the limited bandwidth resources that we have so that the effects go largely unnoticed. Even though we use all available bandwidth almost all the time, most users do not notice this very often unless they are trying some particularly bandwidth-heavy task like streaming video.

The second, important implication for us is that we need to think creatively about how we use the internet. General web surfing uses very little bandwidth. Even streaming audio has a small bandwidth footprint. It is streaming video that is the main culprit for issues we may encounter. Think about the design of your class and how you can best face this reality to minimize problems. I am not saying that you should never have anyone streaming video. I am saying that if you can download a video ahead of time you should. If you can’t, be prepared for the possibility that it doesn’t work. Also, think about efficiency. If you want everyone to see the same video, show it on the TV or screen instead of having everyone stream it to his or her iPad. And, of course, always be mindful of whether your students are on task. Non-instructional videos aren’t just distracting in your classroom… they may also be causing a problem in the class next door!

Finally, please don’t see this as an attempt to shut you up if you are one of those who has reported a problem. If you experience a drop in connectivity, it is still important that you report those incidents to the helpdesk. It is important that we have a record of these events when they occur. If the problem you are experiencing is not caused by bandwidth limitations, helpdesk staff will work to correct whatever they can. Just be prepared that if it is, there may not be anything that they can do about it.

If you have other questions about this, or if you would like help with how to accomplish your curricular goals in light of these things, please let me know. I want to make sure that you are equipped with all of the knowledge and tools that you need to be successful in your job!

Is Your Mac Slow?

One of the most common tech support questions I get from teachers is asking “Why is my Mac so slow?” (Or some variation of that theme). There are (literally) hundreds of reasons why this could be the case. Some of them are simply due to the physical hardware of your computer showing its age. But many more have to do with the way that you’re using the computer. The good news is, these are easy to fix! Below are a few of the most common problem areas and how to address them.

1. Too Many Items On The Desktop

clutter

Too many icons!

Does your desktop look like this? If so, you’ve got too many files on the desktop. Mac OS (the operating system on your Mac) is very graphical and has lots of slick features. One of those is how it shows a preview of the file as the icon on your desktop (or in a Finder window). The downside of this is that when you have lots of files on the desktop, you are devoting a lot of your system’s resources to generating and maintaining those little preview icons. If you have a super-cluttered desktop, simply moving most of those files into a folder could give you a very noticeable improvement in performance! Check out this Lifehacker article for more info – and a cool utility that will help you automate this process.

2. Not Enough Free Disk Space

Look for this if you're using a white MacBook

Look for this if you’re using a white MacBook

Do you have every photo you’ve ever taken saved on your hard drive? Have you never once emptied your trash or downloads folder? Do you have local copies of every cat video ever posted to YouTube? Then chances are your hard drive is close to being full. The method for determining this depends on your computer. If you have a white MacBook, just open a new finder window. It will tell you the amount of free space at the bottom. If you have a silver MacBook, click the Apple logo in the top left corner of your screen and select “About This Mac.” Then click the button that says “More Information.” This will open a window that tells you all about the computer. Click the tab at the top that says “Storage” and you will see a nice visual of you hard drive usage – similar to the one you see on an iPad or iPhone.

Look for this if you have a silver MacBook

Look for this if you have a silver MacBook

The general rule of thumb is that you need to have at least 10% of your hard drive free at all times. Less than that and you will notice your computer slowing down. If you are in the danger zone, try cleaning out the downloads folder or the trash. If that’s not enough, think about archiving some of those pictures and videos to an external drive or cloud storage.

3. Too Many Applications Running

This is a common problem for folks who are used to working on a Windows computer. Unlike Windows, when you click that little red ball in the corner of a Mac window it does not shut down the application – it just closes that window.

There are 8 applications running here. Can you tell what they are?

There are 8 applications running here. Can you tell what they are?

To actually close the program, you can either click the name of the program in the menu and select “Quit xxxx” from the list, or press command+Q. You can tell what programs are running by looking for  a little white dot below the program’s icon in your dock. (Side note – you cannot quit Finder. It will always be running)

4. Reboot Once In A While

One of the great things about using a Mac is that you don’t have to shut down the computer all the time. Most of the time I leave my Mac running and just close the lid when I’m done. When I open it later its ready to go right where I left off! The disadvantage of this convenience is that we may often go very long periods of time without rebooting the system. Often, something as simple as a reboot will help “clear the cobwebs” and get things running more smoothly. I generally try to reboot my computer about once a week, just to reset everything.

Like I said before, there are lots of reasons why your Mac may be running slow, so I may not have addressed your issue here. But, these are simple things that every user should be able to do – and you don’t even have to call the helpdesk! If, however, these fixes don’t work for you, don’t hesitate to give them a call so that they can try to follow up with more advanced solutions.

Student Collaboration on an iPad

Collaboration is a buzzword in our school these days. With the introduction of iPads to our classes, the challenge is to find ways for students to collaborate using the iPads. Greg Kulowiec from EdTechTeacher has posted an excellent video that highlights six different ways you can have students work together on the iPad. He highlights several apps, including some paid apps that we do not have on our iPads, but take a few minutes to check out what he does with the ones we do use – particularly Notability, Google Drive, and iMovie!

You can also read the full blog post at the EdTechTeacher site.

Using the Report Manager in Renweb

I’ve been asked by several folks recently to either generate lists or reports of students or to show others how to do so. This brief tutorial video will walk you through the steps of using the Report Manager in Renweb so that you can get whatever information you may need.

If you’re looking for a particular report, these links will take you straight to that portion of the video:

Class Roster

Class Roster Data Entry

Student List by Grade Level

The PLN, part 2: Twitter for Teachers

This post is the second in a series about Personal Learning Networks. To read part one, click here.

What is it?

twitter-logoAccording to their “About” page, Twitter is, “a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting.” Twitter is a social networking site that can provide different types of experiences depending on what you’re looking for. After you create an account, you select people to follow. As you add people to the list of who you follow, their posts (aka “tweets”) appear in your timeline.

The utility of this all depends on who you follow. Unlike Facebook, you can add people who you do not know. This could include celebrities, news organizations, or just people who post interesting things. It really is up to you to decide what Twitter looks like.

For more info on getting started with Twitter, click here.

Why should I be on Twitter?

The great thing about using Twitter as an educator is that it can be a sort of Reader’s Digest for educational news. We all know every teacher’s #1 excuse to not try something is “I don’t have time.” Once you’ve set it up, it takes very little time. Check here or there, whenever is convenient, and follow up on links or posts that interest you.

Another benefit of Twitter is that you can start a conversation with someone who you may not have the opportunity to meet in real life. I was recently at a conference and tweeted about something a presenter said. He replied, and we had a back and forth dialogue – all while I was waiting for my flight at the airport a few hours later! If you use common courtesy, most people who tweet are happy to engage you.

Who should I follow?

The good news is that there are many great accounts that you can follow that will give you great ideas and resources for teaching. These range from individual educators to organizations. There are tons of lists out on the internet, but here are a few that I follow:

  • Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) – Assistant Superintendant of Burlington (MA) schools. 
  • Justin Reich (@bjfr) – Blogger at EdTechTeacher and EdTechResearcher
  • Gregory Kulowiec (@gregkulowiec) – Blogger at EdTechTeacher and former History teacher
  • Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer) – Math educator & blogger
  • TCEA (@tcea) – Texas Computer Education Association
  • Bill Gates (@billgates) – Yes, its that Bill Gates, and education is one of the focal points for his foundation
  • Evernote Schools (@evernoteschools) – All about using Evernote in the classroom
  • Michael Fisher (@fisher1000) – Blogger at digigogy.com
  • Barrett Mosbacker – (@bmosbacker) – Superintendant at Briarwood Christian School
  • NASA (@NASA) – you know, the space people
  • David McVicker (@DavidMcVicker) – This guy I know

Should I tweet?

This is really up to you. You may think that you don’t have anything to say, or that no one will care what you do say. But once you start you may be surprised with how many people want to interact with you, or just who finds what you have to say interesting. With that said, it is perfectly acceptable to follow people and read their tweets without ever posting anything yourself.

As a teacher, you should also always consider your audience before you post anything to Twitter. Remember, anyone can read what you post, so make sure its never something you might later regret!

So, do you tweet? Who do you follow? Let us know in the comments!

Another Great Update for the Google Drive App

There was a big update for the Google Drive app for iOS today. The last update gave us the ability to create and edit word processing documents in the app, manage sharing, and upload pictures and video. This time we got:

  • Create and edit spreadsheets within the app (including realtime collaboration on shared spreadsheets)
  • Upload any filetype from other apps using “Open in…”
  • Manage file uploads

These are all great improvements, but the biggest change in my opinion is the “Open in…” feature. I tried it out and found that I could create a document in Pages and then upload that document in .pages format to my Google Drive. Once there, I can share that document with another user, who can then download and view the work in Pages on his iPad or Mac! I was also able to upload a large Keynote file in the .key format.

The upshot of all this is that now we have a way to share all sorts of filetypes without resorting to email (and the limitations that brings). For example, I can have a student create a great Keynote presentation and then turn it in via Google Drive without worrying that the file is too big to attach to an email.

Google has really improved their Drive app in the last few months to make it an excellent option for use on the iOS platform. What features would you like to see them add next? Let us know in the comments!

100 Learning?

100 Cute?

For my son, 100 is the biggest number in existence. If you ever want to express the idea that something is truly superlative, just label it with 100. For example, if you had a really great time at the park today, you had “100 fun.” If I am eagerly awaiting a weekend birthday party, I’m “100 excited.” You get the idea.

Of course the idea of using a quantitative measurement for an abstract concept is ludicrous. But he’s four years old, so we give him a pass. After all, he’s cute!

As I think about the way we treat assessment in our classrooms, it occurs to me that we might do the same thing. I teach a unit. I give a test. A student takes that test and gets a 92. He now has 92 learning.

We have attached this type of quantitative measurement to teaching and learning for so long now that it doesn’t even strike us as being odd. We never ask the question, “what do these numbers mean?” Are we measuring what we think we’re measuring? Are we even using the right unit of measure?

The fact that we’ve been using this method for so long should suggest that a) something about it works, b) its too hard to do anything else, or c) we’re afraid of what a better assessment might reveal. I suppose there is also a third option – a combination of the first three.

I am willing to admit that there is a correlation between a student’s grade in a class and his ability to show mastery of the concepts. But when we use those grades to rank and sort and determine important life decisions like college entrance is correlation enough? And when we also use factors like “neatness” and “class participation” in the equation, does that not lessen the correlation?

All this to say, I find myself more and more on the student portfolio bandwagon. Not just because it is the latest fad in assessment and not because it gives me another opportunity to use technology to solve a problem. I am in favor of the idea because in a world where the number we assign to a student can make or break him we owe it to that student to be as comprehensive and transparent with the grading process as possible. A cumulative portfolio of student work gives us a tool to attempt just that.

Of course no single classroom teacher can change the entire structure of academic assessments. But just because you still have to give a grade doesn’t mean you can’t also provide a portfolio. If what people like Tony Wagner (of Harvard University) and others say is true, colleges and universities are slowly starting to see the value of a portfolio in their admissions process, while simultaneously devaluing standardized assessments.

How can you do this in your classroom? Here’s a simple two-step solution:

  1. Assign meaningful work
  2. Archive the products of that work

Step one is really the hard part. Keeping an archive is easy. There are a variety of ways to do this, including just taking pictures or making recordings of the student’s work. You can then save it to a hard drive or post it to a blog so that there is a lasting record of what that student has done. Use standardized file formats so that they are easily accessible across platforms, and you’ve got an invaluable tool for that student to give an authentic account of what he or she can do.

We can argue all day about whether the educational system will ever change to fully adopt methods like this for assessment. The answer to that question, however, is irrelevant. If we can see the value in the endeavor and know that it is technically possible, why not start now?

We 100 owe it to our students.