Teaching With Gadgets

How Technology Can Help Today's Teacher

Friday, July 14, 2006

Salling Clicker - A Presenter's Best Friend!

Last week I was sitting in a presentation and remarked how the presenter would use his fancy IR clicker in order to advance slides on his notebook computer. I've often thought about picking up one of these cool gadgets but I have to admit that there comes a time when a teacher has to say "enough!". I have spent more of my own money on gizmos but am not eligible to claim it either through the school or through a tax write-off.

It was at that point that someone put me onto Salling Clicker (http://www.salling.com/clicker/mac/). The URL is a Mac one but there is also a version for Windows. The premise is simple - use bluetooth in the devices that you already own to make a remote control! Here is how it works: You turn on the Bluetooth function on your notebook, tablet, or desktop that would be hooked up to a data projector for a presentation. Next, you install the Salling Clicker software on your PDA or phone (over 100 models are supported). Run the software on your mobile device and you will be controlling PowerPoint, Keynote, iTunes music, etc. from a distance in no time. I could hardly believe it! It took me 5 minutes to set up and begin using.

Visit their page today and download the trial version for either Windows or Mac OS X.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Back In The Saddle...

Well, after 4 months of not writing, I'm back again. It's been a wild ride for those 4 months with a change in schools, grades taught, and some new platform specific hardware to deal with in the upcoming school year.

I am personally looking forward to the challenge! My new school has opted to go with a Mac OS platform throughout. Having a Mac, myself, this actually made me excited. The features of iLife simply can't be beat, especially when you are dealing with media creation. That's not to say that there are not great programs on the Windows platform. I have used many different software packages with Windows and have thoroughly enjoyed all of them. However, when the Mac is coming bundled with this entire suite it's hard to look the other way.

I recently downloaded the Windows Vista Beta 2 from Microsoft. I must admit that I like what I see thus far. The interface is really quite beautiful in comparison to Windows XP. I'm fighting with myself right now as to whether I should install it on my HP TC1100 Tablet. I do not own a USB drive to connect to the tablet and, thus, install all of my software off of my network server. I have not, however, EVER installed an operating system from a network boot and am not quite sure how to proceed. Looks like I'll have to comb through jkontherun.com to see if they have the answer. James Kendrick and Kevin Toffel are an amazing resource.

On the PDA side I have switched away from my Treo 600 and HP 6320. I went out about two months ago and picked up the UTStarcom 6700. Simply stated it's an amazing device. The keyboard alone has made it worth the upgrade. I had heard all about the EVDO speeds but was still amazed when I watched IE load up a page in just a couple of seconds.

Now, my whole issue is: How do you integrate a Macbook, Tablet PC, and Windows Mobile PDA into your daily life without relegating one of those machines to the sidelines. Time will tell....

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Using Your Tablet As A Form Generator

One of the best features of the Tablet PC is the ability to mix ink and text in a single document. I use Word to create all of my grading templates in. Rather than print them off and then photocopy them so that I can mark with a regular pen, I tend to mark right on the Tablet PC.

After you open the form in Word, simply select the pen tool. You can then write your own comments on the form and choose whether to convert them to text or to leave them as ink. I prefer to leave them in "ink" so that I add the personal touch to the student's evaluation.

Why would I bother? Simple. I once I've printed out the student evaluation I can save the document in OneNote (using the Print To OneNote driver) and file it under the student's own tab. This allows me to always have a copy in the event the original grade feedback form goes missing. It cuts down paper usage because I do not need to make an extra copy for myself. Finally, if a parent is out of town I can still e-mail this feedback form to him/her.

I'm hoping that the new Microsoft Origami Project (see posting below) will mean that we will have a Tablet PC with a 7 inch screen. I love my HP TC1100 but it still can be a bit awkward. Something that resembles a Steno Pad would be amazing! The best part about this rumoured machine is that it is expected to be about $800 USD. With that price it becomes very affordable for any teacher to own and even to equip schools with more tablets. The big question, of course, will be what kind of OS it will use. We hope to find that out on March 9!

Origami - The New Ultraportable Sweet Spot?

Is the new Microsoft Origami project the "sweet spot" for portable computers in the classroom? Imagine a computer, the size of a Steno Pad, that holds all of your data and runs all of your Windows XP software? All I can say is wow! This would be a better sized device, in my opinion, that the OQO computer. Stay tuned for more news on March 9. In the meantime take a look at their website.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

iPods Are Great!

The Apple iPod is a much hyped piece of equipment. For any mobile professional that gives presentations it really does come in handy. Brain research, for example, shows how the brain remembers rhythms. This is why the use of music in your classroom can benefit the classroom environment.

I often get quite a few questions about the difference between an iPod and other music devices. So here, in a nutshell, is the condensed version:

1. Hard drive vs. flash drive. Hard drive players (like the new iPod video) are more expensive but also hold much more music. I currently have a 30GB hard drive iPod. It holds my entire music library PLUS a backup of the hard drive on my tablet. Flash drive MP3 players (such as the iPod Nano) are quite a bit cheaper but they also hold less music. If you have a relatively small music library then get the Nano. Hard drive players, because they have moving parts, have a greater chance of breakdown but I have yet to experience any problems.

2. Why buy an iPod over another brand? Apple just seems to have the whole package deal. You install iTunes on your PC or Mac, plug in your iPod, and that's it! iTunes is very easy to use and purchase music. My only recommendation would be to save any downloaded files as MP3 files. No, the quality is not quite as good as Apple Lossless (my hearing isn't the best - too many years of heavy metal! - so I can't really hear the difference) but you can use MP3 files on a greater variety of platforms. Please make sure that you understand that purchased music from iTunes cannot be played on other devices (although there are ways around this). If you "rip" your own CD collection (ripping is copying the music from a CD that you own into a digital file that your iPod can read) then you can play those files on a variety of devices.

You can buy a whole range of accessories for the iPod. There is everything from protective skins to speaker systems (an nice sounding to boot!!). Definitely take it into consideration when purchasing.

My beefs with the iPod? (1) More expensive - Apple is like the Sony of music players; (2) Perhaps music quality is not as good? - I've read quite a few different posts where people say that music players made by audio companies are better sounding. You judge; (3) No replaceable battery - if that rechargable poops out on you, you have to send it to Apple for replacement. What a pain! Mind you, it gives me an excuse to buy a new gadget! :)

I love my iPod! I listen to music, podcasts, and store my data. It's a great device for any teacher - have you ever seen what playing Enya can do for your art class? Amazing!

Before buying, make sure to listen to the different units at your local electronics store. DON'T let the salesperson bully you into buying the unit that THEY like. This is your device and you should make the final decision. I'll often take an hour before buying a new gadget - I'm usually happy in the end!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Use A Pocket PC With Easy Grade Pro

I have often mentioned Easy Grade Pro on this site. Lately, I have been searching for a gradebook companion for my Windows Mobile (Pocket PC) device. No such luck in finding something that works with the type of gradebook that I am looking for.

I was messing with Easy Grade Pro a few days ago and noticed it's "import" feature. You can import a grades from a text file into an assignment. While it's not as handy as creating an assignment on the Palm using Easy Grade Pro Clipboard, it does work.

First, I graded the assignment in SpreadCE (a free spreadsheet program for Windows Mobile). SpreadCE is better than Pocket Excel because of it's ability to save your files in CSV or TXT mode. From there it was simple to import the grades into Easy Grade Pro. As a bonus I can create a proper assignment feedback sheet in Word and import the same text data using Word's "merge" feature. Double duty!

Orbis Software, creators of Easy Grade Pro, have indicated that they do have a Windows Mobile version of Clipboard coming but cannot indicate when that will be (in all fairness it's better to get it right). Until then, I will continue with this experiment to see how it works.

Palm In The Classroom Discussion

Here is an excellent discussion over at 1SRC that deals with an elementary school teacher wanting to use his/her Palm in the classroom (the discussion can apply to secondary teachers as well). Although the discussion is from 2004 it is just as relevant today. Check it out!

PV Pro...Oh Wow!

As teachers many of us have begun to use data projectors in our classrooms (many refer to these as a Proxima - actually the brand name of one projector). The PV Pro by Light Blue Optics gives us a laser projector that is pocket sized. Wouldn't this be great if you have to move your equipment from room-to-room. The technology just keeps coming!

1000 Things Make The Tablet PC Special

Mark Payton of the The Vermont Slate has the beginning of a series of articles explaining what makes a Tablet PC special. As he notes it's not one big item but rather a thousand little things that makes it special. A very good read!

Comments Currently Disabled

I disabled comments on the site on the weekend after spam messages started finding their way through. It's unfortunate that it comes to this but, again, a really good lesson can be had from it. If you're thinking of using blogs with your students then definitely start in a secure blogging area (for example within your District's server). Once students have matured and have grown in this area then consider using other online blogging tools.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Two Great Videos!

I certainly like to learn through watching. Two great videos have appeared on the 'net that show the power of the Tablet PC.

The first is by Tracy Hooten of The Student Tablet PC. Tracy's site deals with how students can better use their tablet. She is currently in the middle of a paperless challenge! The video shows you the power of creating planning templates in OneNote and using them instead of a paper based planner.

The second video is by James Kendrick. It is a movie that is placed to background music. In this video James performs a variety of tasks with his tablet to show users the power of it. Remember that he is only using the tablet pen in all of these demonstrations.

Remember that we can learn through watching others. I know that both of these people have given me some excellent ideas in which to implement!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Student Portfolios In OneNote....

Many teachers have argued that student portfolios are a more desireable way of assessing progress than using assignments/tests. Personally, I prefer a mix. I have begun to use OneNote to create a portfolio. Remember that OneNote is like a virtual binder except that you can add pictures, audio, and video into your binder as well. When using OneNote, think of doing the following:
  • Capture a student reading or an interview using the voice recorder function. If you have a Pocket PC (Windows Mobile) you can use your record feature and then insert the sound bit into the student's portfolio.
  • Get the free OneNote print driver. I have installed this on my tablet. When I go to print a page (from a gradebook for example) instead of printing to a printer the item will print to OneNote. You can then drag the virtual page to the student section of choice.
  • Capture video using a camcorder and insert it.
  • Create multiple checklist templates and insert it into the student portfolio.
  • Create printouts of each portfolio or save them to HTML and e-mail to the child or his/her parents. Your notes can be in "ink" or typed. Use a different colour.
  • Scan student work. Insert it in

I'm sure that my journey of discovery will find many other ways of using OneNote as a portfolio. What are you waiting for? Give it a try today!

Free Gradebook 2...

Excelsior Software is now providing free copies of Gradebook 2. All you need to do is go to their site http://www.excelsiorsoftware.com and register in order to download the program. It's a great deal for the price!

When choosing an assessment package I do have criteria. First, there must be a flexible grading system. Being an elementary school teacher, I personally have a problem with assigning percentages to students at these levels (which always begs the question "What's the difference between 85% and 81% other than 4%?). Gradebook 2 allows for a large variety of different systems.

Secondly, I need a place to record anecdotal comments. There has often been the argument that parents only look at the grades. I tend to disagree and believe that an ongoing narrative about the student can enhance understanding. Gradebook 2 allows for this.

Finally, I have been very interested with regard to standards based grading. Now, we do not have to grade standards in my little corner of Canada (thank God!) but I do think that it's a great practice so that you can identify areas of concern and know where to provide extra help with students. Again, it can also enhance understanding for students and parents (remember, assessment FOR learning rather than OF learning). Gradebook 2 provides this as well.

The only thing missing? A PDA application. Yeah, I know, it's available for $500 US for the school but I think it would be nice to buy it on it's own. PDA's can make the collection of assessment data an easy chore.

So, check out Gradebook 2 for the price. Me? I think I'll keep testing Gradebook Wizard and Easygrade Pro and make a decision from there. Without PDA support out of the box, Gradebook 2 cannot find its way into my teacher toolbox.