MLE Session 1: Getting the Most Out of Hardware

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Links in support of my presentation can be found HERE.
Last week I had the opportunity to present at NMSA’s Middle Level Essentials Conference in Las Vegas, NV on Thursday and Friday. My sessions focused around the use of technology in the classroom and “Getting the Most Out of…” your students through the appropriate use of hardware tools, web software, and by understanding the changing perspectives of our students today. Over the next couple of days I’m going to be posting the presentations, handouts, and some reflections from the conference here at the Technorate Teacher.

Session 1: Getting the Most Out of your Interactive Whiteboard, Document Camera, and Other Hardware

Recommend downloading for the full impact of Slide #9

MLE Session 1 Handout
My sessions were decidedly more “tool focused” than I would have liked, but afterward I realized that there are widely varying perspectives on hardware and web tools in various districts across the US and Canada. Many of the folks in these sessions really needed this conversation. I think those of us with a technology focus would really like to move beyond the tool discussions, but there are still so many on the edges that see tools as THE most important discussion that we must help them along. The goal of my first session was to discuss some of the better ways to select and use hardware tools in the classroom.

An interesting sponsorship dilemma was the fact that Promethean provided an ActivClassroom setup for the room where I presented. While not being anti-IWB in my session, I actively discussed ways that they were inappropriately used and questioned the cost/benefit of them in the classroom. Additionally, they provided a set of ActivExpression clickers for our use, which contrasted oddly with my use of and the discussion of Google Forms and iResponse for turning netbooks/iPod Touches into classroom response systems. Not sure I made any new friends in those regards…oh, that, and questioning why there wasn’t dual monitor support in the newest version of ActivInspire (so much for the presentation notes I spent all that time adding to my presentation).

The heavy hitters for both days were:

  • Interactive Whiteboards
  • iPod Touches/iPad
  • Netbooks
  • Classroom Response Systems

I had already figured these might be of the greatest interest, so I worked to lobby some for the little guys: digital cameras, Flip Video, and mp3 recorders for podcasting.

Overall, if there are two things I hope folks took away from Session 1, they would be:

  1. There is no hardware silver bullet – We have had a parade of hardware tools over the past 25 years, and none of them have been the single answer for all students. None of today’s tools are going to be that single answer either. We can replace well crafted learning experiences with technology, only enhance them. We’re going to look just as dumb in 20 years as those who though LaserDiscs would revolutionize education.
  2. There are a few major guiding questions when considering hardware for schools/classrooms – I focused on four questions: How do we…balance costs and benefits? Shift the power in the classroom? Ensure creation, not just consumption? Support student learning? Focusing on these questions will hopefully put the proper focus on hardware tools in the classroom, rather than having them serve as a status symbol of a school’s dedication to technology.

New Hardware Questions

For one of my presentations at the Middle Level Essentials conference in April, I’m going to be tackling the idea of getting the most out of hardware in your classroom.  The plan is for us to have a discussion about the best ways to get an increase in learning through the use of hardware tools many schools are purchasing or already have.  Some of the tools I imagine we’ll focus on are:

  • Interactive Whiteboards
  • Document Cameras
  • Flip Video Cameras
  • Digital Cameras
  • eBook readers
  • iPod Touch/iPad
  • Student Response Systems
  • Netbooks

With those in mind, plus others that may come up along the way, I want to have some focus questions to guide our discussion.  Here are the ones I’ve come up with, along with some other suggestions:

  • What are the costs of the tools vs. the benefit to the classroom?
  • To what extent does this tool allow creation of content, not just consumption?
  • What are the durability and upkeep issues for this hardware?
  • To what extent does this tool shift the classroom paradigm from teacher centered to learner centered environment?
  • From @jdeyenberg: How does it support student learning, collaboration, and curriculum outcomes?
  • From @jerridkruse: how will this help students meaningfully mentally engage with desired learning goals?
  • Also from @jerridkruse: who will benefit?
  • From @brophycat: How is it going to be used by kids who are learning?

What other questions do you or your staff focus on when discussing the purchase of a new piece of hardware for your classroom or school?

Technology Reviewers Club

Earlier today I was tossing around an idea on Twitter about having a “club” that would try out new tech tools for feasibility prior to full scale introduction to all of my students.  Part of this comes from the frustration of account creation for 100+ students when not every service is used extensively or by every student.  The other part of it comes from the reality of our school’s new proposed schedule for next year.

The Basic Idea

Kids could be pulled from throughout the building: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.  Tools that would be used throughout the course of the year could be introduced to them.  These students would need to be somewhat tech-savvy already, prepared to reflect on the ease of use of the tool, benefits of use, negatives, and overall usefulness large scale.  Each student would start with a blog through Edublogs service.  On their blog, they would post their thoughts and reflections about using each tool.  Initially, I would be suggesting the tools that students would be using.  Some tools might be web-based, others might be open-source or otherwise available on school hardware.

The students would serve as my guinea pigs, trying out the tools from the student perspective.  They would look for pitfalls, best use scenarios, and general ideas about each tool.  When the tools are rolled out later in the year, they would serve as my “experts” to help out the new folks.  By pulling students from throughout the building, I could share ideas across all grade levels.  The amount of account creation would be minimal initially (just for the club members) so if the value isn’t there, the investment is low.

Next Steps

Some other thoughts for the “club” would be to prepare screencasts or tutorials for the use of the tools in the classroom. We could possibly set up a Google Site or a wiki where this information could be stored. This club would be a good place for quickly trying out up-and-coming web tools for communication, collaboration, and content creation.


This might be difficult to pull off as an after school club, but our school is looking at a new schedule for next year.  Our normal morning advisory time is being shifted to the end of the day. Partly to accommodate the students who leave early for sports, keeping them from missing as much class, partly to start the day with academic material, and partly for the opportunity to begin “Club Days”.  These would be weekly or bi-weekly (hasn’t been decided yet) and would be a 30 to 45 minute block of time for teachers to hold clubs during the school hours.  Many of the clubs would rotate each 9 weeks, some would be yearlong and others would run for a semester.  I think this kind of schedule is great for those students who are unable to participate in after school clubs, and ideal for the Tech Reviewers Club idea.

Is anyone out there currently doing something like this? I’d love to hear thoughts and ideas for this type of group.

Netbook/iPod Touch/Kindle/iPad Update

One of the more popular posts on my blog has been Netbook vs. iPod Touch Debate from back in March.  Well since that time, the landscape of potential portable devices in schools has changed.  Our school’s media coordinator has gotten a Kindle, so I’ve had the chance to play around with one of those.  The most recent entrant is Apple’s iPad, the claimed “middle ground” between smartphones and laptops.  Here are some updated thoughts from myself and my discussions with my students.


Amazon’s Kindle, the top in the current line of eBook readers, has been suggested as a great idea for students.  After all, one of the biggest complaints about textbooks is their cost and weight right? (Nevermind other, more valid complaints regarding errors, sanitized, standardized language, over reliance by teachers, etc)  The Kindle would allow students to have all their books in one place, plus it’s Internet enabled…sort of.  The Kindle does allow you to go online, but online in the most limited sense of the idea.  Sure Wikipedia seems to work fairly well (for those teachers who will actually let their students use it) but the majority of the rest of the web is very limited. Additionally, and here’s my biggest complaint against the Kindle: schools are dealing with a TON of overhead. Buying the Kindle only gives access to a small number of free eBooks.  Owning a library means a school already has hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on print books, all which are unusable with the new eReader.  Along those same lines, buying one copy of a physical book allows many students to read that book.  Buying one copy of a Kindle book, allows that one student to read that book.  Not very cost effective despite the lowered cost of Kindle editions.


My feelings on the iPad are largely summed up here by Russ Goerend.  He beat me to the punch.  I like many others, was very excited about the announcement of the Apple Tablet/iPad.  Steve Jobs keynote left me somewhat uninspired, and continued reflection led me to be downright depressed about the next few months of technology in schools.  Schools have lately (perhaps always) been engaged in the game of technology one-ups-manship, where neighboring schools/districts/states try and show their dedication to technology by having things that are newer or better than those around them.  With the new “it” item being the iPad, it won’t belong before we hear about a district purchasing inordinate numbers of them for students.

The problem is, as it stands now, the iPad is an infinitely poor laptop replacement.  Steve Jobs portrayed netbooks as “Cheap laptops”.  The iPad, by similar logic, could be categorized as an expensive “not quite laptop.”  A few of the issues with the current version of the iPad:

  • Runs iPhone OS – this limits users to running a single app at the same time.  No grabbing pictures from Safari and dragging them into the Keynote slide you’re creating, no listening to Pandora while working on email, no toggling between two apps that you are using for anything.
  • No camera – This to me looks like the “big announcement” for the iPad 2nd Generation. Leaving a camera off of this device seems to have no logical reasoning unless it would have pushed the iPad over the desired price point. Still, no camera means, no photo taking, no video, no video chat.
  • No USB, no storage expansion, nothing that’s not in the App Store…that’s a lot of No’s…
  • Must sync back to another computer…This makes the iPad only an accessory.  It can’t stand on it’s own forever. Just like the iPod Touch, which few people would argue is a total replacement for another computer, the iPad will require users to connect back to another device.  I see this posing problems for schools trying to run implement their use large scale.

A few things the iPad, MAY have going for it

  • Keynote and Pages – great to see these make their way to other mobile devices, but what will we find out they can’t do? We know they won’t run at the same time something else is running. Will they end up running on the Touch/iPhone? At $9.99 I’m not sure many folks would buy them for the smaller devices, but it stands to reason if they’ll work on the iPad, they SHOULD work on the iPhone/iTouch.
  • iBooks/Kindle App – Together, these two apps will likely make the Kindle a very hard sell.  Since the iPad can do everything a Kindle can, plus more, someone looking for an eReader will be hard pressed to go for Amazon’s device. Except on the cost level. If that is the only consideration for someone, then the Kindle may still make sense.  iBooks looks very good, despite the potential eye-strain that we all may be dealing with from looking at a backlit device for our reading.
  • Aesthetic Appeal – The iPad looks cool…every kid would be excited to get one…schools would get a great PR boost…but that’s not what technology in schools is about, or shouldn’t be…

From the addition of these two items to our list, I have to put my current rankings of the 4 in terms of their benefit to schools in this order:

  1. Netbook
  2. iPod Touch
  3. iPad
  4. Kindle

Netbooks just offer so much in terms of creation, collaboration, and communication. The iPod Touch gets us closer to the mobile learning device many of our students will be using after school ends. The iPad has potential, but just isn’t there yet.  And the Kindle, well, at least Amazon doesn’t have to worry with it too much more, just selling the eBooks for it. Hey, that’s really what they wanted to do to begin with right?

Would love to hear your thoughts on my rankings.

Call for Presentation Help

I have recently been asked to present at NMSA’s Middle Level Essentials Conference in Las Vegas this upcoming April. I will be leading a 3 session strand on “Getting the Most Out of the Technology You Already Have”.  The sessions will be run twice, once on Thursday and again on Friday.  The focus will be on Middle School classrooms/students but there will also be a contingent coming for the 9th Grade Academy sessions, discussing how to build a transitional program from middle school to high school.

My question for you is: If you were a teacher coming to this conference, what 3 topics would you be most interested in under the strand of “Getting the Most Out of the Technology You Already Have”?

Here are some preliminary thoughts:

  • Effective Use of Tech Tools – Poll the audience on various hardware tools (IWBs, Doc. Cameras, Digital Cameras, Flip Video, etc) to find out what most have available and discuss the effective use of these tools in the classroom.
  • Harnessing the Power of the Collaborative Web – Take a look at various tools that allow for collaboration in platform independent environments. Discuss the use of tools like Wikis, Blogs, RSS, Social Bookmarking, Google Tools as a means of building collaborative and creative potential of students.
  • Technology and Differentiation – Ways to use classroom technology, both hardware and software/Web to differentiate in the Middle School classroom.  Discuss tools that allow students to display their content knowledge in a variety of formats: podcasts, Glogs, video clips, blog posts, etc.
  • Web Literacy (a la Alan November) – Though I’ll still side with Ben Grey and call it something other than Literacy (perhaps introduce a whole group the the idea of Technoracy?) I could envision a session discussing how we teach students to verify information they find on the Web, from the Tree Octopus, down to using Wikipedia as a starting point for research online, advanced Google searching, etc

Those are my initial thoughts for sessions.  I fully recognize that many of these ideas are highly ambitious within the framework of a 75 mintue session. What other things would you be intrigued in as an educator at various stages of technoracy?  I’m sure I’ll have some who are coming who aren’t yet really comfortable with these online tools, and others that are looking to push their boundaries.  I don’t yet know if my sessions will be lecture style or if participants will have computers available, though I have been told to plan what I want and NMSA will do it’s best to make things happen for the sessions.

Any and all feedback/suggestions are greatly welcome! I need to have some basic session descriptions pulled together next week, so feel free to share this post far and wide until then…

NMSA09 Session 1: The Digital Facelift

My thoughts in ALL CAPS

Presenter: Dr. Matthew Broda

Session Description: In the digital age your online image is becoming just as important as your interview, practical experience, and instructional skills. Join us as we explore how to manage your personal digital content and give your online image a facelift.

Digital Tattoos…inability to take back some things that are put out there online.

Christopher Buckley “Boomsday” spider repellant…fictional book that talks about removing anything bad about you online…THIS ALREADY EXISTS FOR SOME…IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY 😉

S4 Method

  1. Search – find out what exists
  2. Scrub – clean up the content that exists
  3. Secure – limit the access people have to your content
  4. Supply – provide a location for the image you want seen


  • Not everything that is out there about you was presented by you
  • How many times does your name appear in Google, Facebook, etc
  • Try to be first to the fight for your digital name
  • Facebook friends also show up when your name is searched
  • Blog posts and comments…
  • Twitter posts
  • Academic work and associations
  • Digital archives of newspapers and magazines
  • Think about ways someone might misspell your name accidentally
  • Asked who Google’s themselves…at least WEEKLY for me
  • Include Name Associations: hometown, church, school dist…VERY IMPORTANT FOR COMMON NAMES
  • Search “The Other You”…things that don’t mention you specifically or explicitly…If community knows you are on X committee and there is info on the committee, it is info on you
  • Use lots of search engines: Google, Bing, Teoma, Metacrawler, Clutsy, A9, Dogpile, Alexa,, Yahoo!
  • Use Technorati, Google Alerts or Bloglines to help you search new times you are mentioned anywhere online


  • Delete or Disguse?  How do you negotiate the boundary? Creating a “disguise” works but creates lots of questions if realized
  • Delete address or personal contact information that is available…even from Facebook…
  • There are limits to the amount of personal info you want out there for folks
  • Have a professional email
  • Advocates taking down all identifying pictures of yourself online…people don’t get explanation, and might look really dumb to others…NOT SURE ON THIS ONE…
  • Even talking about ordering photos online…SERIOUSLY?
  • Professional “you” is out there for everyone to see…personal you probably shouldn’t be


  • Your information is only as secure as the next person who views it allows
  • “Untagging” yourself doesn’t remove the photo
  • Systematically review the networks you are a part of…refresh yourself on settings for blogs, twitter, wikis, facebook, etc
  • Consider “repurposing” your Facebook or MySpace page


  • Services to scrub your name…
  •  starts at $1000 per person…up to $3999
  • Get out there and supply the information you want people to have…THIS IS THE KEY FOR ME!!
  • Sharing yourself through WordPress, Google Sites, etc
  • Links between pages, include keywords, etc
  • Supply is the biggest part of S4

“Face Time, not Facebook” for parents who want to communicate via Facebook.


Firing Map-Buying Teachers

This morning I saw the above slide created by Dr. Scott McLeod decrying spending money on maps and globes in this technologically enhanced world. Any of you who have spent any time reading this blog know that I am entirely a proponent of using technology in the classroom. Even in my science classroom Google Earth is a staple tool. However, the sentiment in the slide is one I cannot support, and one with which I, in fact, whole-heartedly disagree.

There are situations where a physical map or globe is an inherently better tool than a digital representation of either tool. First of all, there is something to be said for a quick, snapshot overview of the entire world. Being able to quickly point out the locations of events in world history without having to fire up Google Earth or an LCD projector is advantageous.

Similarly, should a teacher who purchases posters for their classroom wall be fired? There are tons of images available online that could be cycled through in a slideshow after all. Sometimes in a classroom, student’s minds wander. *GASP* I know this may come as a surprise to many of you out there, but it happens. If their minds are going to wander to the other places, why not fill that classroom space with educational material for them to browse? If that material includes a map of the world, so be it.

Perhaps the argument is intended to imply that spending $100 on a map was a waste of taxpayer funding when digital tools could be used for free. This is of course assuming all classrooms are equipped with a computer connected to the Internet, a projector to make the best use of Google Earth, and the bandwidth to support the use of the tools. Should those tools be available in every classroom? Absolutely! Are they? No. So we should fire a teacher who is trying to make do with the funding that is available in their situation? In a world where we are already struggling to fill classrooms with qualified teachers?

Perhaps the argument could use some re-framing.  Perhaps any teacher who ignores digital tools like Google Earth, GPS, GIS, etc should be fired.  Though I think we are still dealing with a huge percentage of teachers that are unaware of the power these tools hold for education.  If we were to fire every teacher, administrator, district personnel member, or University faculty member who ever used money to purchase something that was less than the best available, would there be enough people around to have schools?

Dr. McLeod follows up in the comments section with this:

[E]very penny you spend on the old paradigm is one less that gets spent on the hardware and/or software necessary to prepare students for real-world, relevant, authentic digital mapping and geography. I don’t think public schools should be spending their money on old paradigms. So I stand by my slide

While I agree that purchasing old model tools does take away from the funding that could be going to newer tools, I’m brought right back to my post a couple of days ago about textbooks.  They are another “old model” tool that the Legislature in our state has suggested are unnecessary and has begun to push for the return of that funding as a stop-gap budget shortfall measure.  Let’s be realistic, how much money is spent on maps and globes?  If there is a ton being spent, why are the companies asking $100 for a world map?  The maps in my current school were most likely purchased when the school was built 22 years ago.  Spending $100 on a tool that can have a 22 year lifespan (albeit outdated for a large portion of that lifespan) is not a poor investment of public funds by any means.

I encourage all of you to head over to Dangerously Irrelevant and read through the comments to this post.