Monday, September 30, 2013

Is Chromebook the Right Choice for Your Subject Area?

Is a 1:1 Chromebook project right for your subject?

Our school is rolling out a 1:1 using Chromebooks as the tool.

I'm applauding the effort.  1:1 in school has been a LONG time coming.  I think the roll-out over three years is way too slow.

But I'm still not totally sold that this system was the way to go.

I think the admin team here is still trying to sell our Chromebook roll-out.  On the weekly staff announcements there is an article about how great Chromebooks are.

"It boots in less than 10 seconds!  Battery life is as long as a school day!"

My personal devices pretty much do that too.  I'm not an engineer, but I would say the switch to flash memory from a traditional hard drive in  a computer does all that for you.

"Google Drive... need I say more?"

I make use of Google Drive with all my devices.  Google apps too.  I have been for years. Not a Chromebook exclusive.

"The device is light and small which makes storage, usage and mobility very easy and convenient."

But is it robust enough to stand up to school usage?  Is it ergonomically a good fit?  Does its size make it hard to keep physically secure?

"From a financial standpoint, the Chromebooks can't be beat...."

True.  But with that logic, we would all be driving Yugos, the car of 100 woes.

"The management system is pretty easy and straight forward from the networking and managing side of things."

It seems to me that the tech department that can manage several hundred staff machines can manage several hundred more.  It is a matter of scale and (probably) staffing.  Is the Google management system robust enough to meet the needs of the school environment?  It has been my experience in life that easy, straight forward and secure do not come in the same package.

"Google has shown it is willing to make and continue making substantial commitments to education, which means even more features and options in the years to come."

Google approved features.  You are limited to what can be offered as a web service.

If you want to install software, you are going to need to add an operating system.  For example, I doubt that SmartMusic (a software that I use) will ever work really well as a completely net service.  Large portions of the management of that software are network based, but most of the magic happens on my computer. The milliseconds introduced by even a screaming fast network add up to perceptible amounts of time for musicians.

I'm not sure how you would teach programming on Chromebooks.  Are you limited to HTML and Java?  Maybe we aren't expecting students to do programming.

This reminds me of the old Mac vs. PC wars.  Really, it shouldn't make any difference what machine you run.  The question really should be does this set-up do what I want it to do?  Do it well?

Chromebooks are just what the teachers of writing need.  They will do word processing and document management for their situation very well.  For now, most writing is done on keyboards and that may change soon.  I'm a big fan of GAFE for this as well.  We should have been  using Google Docs years ago.  The ability to share a document in real time with an editor or collaborator is game changing.

I am not sure about what to say to the math and science teachers, the physical education department, visual arts teachers and music teachers.  There may be better choices for them.  More flexibility on the apps that run on the machines make other laptop options attractive.  Cameras that are useful for things other than web chat and a wide variety of apps for the iPad make that an interesting choice as well.  You get the picture.

If you are at the crossroads of what to choose for a 1:1 initiative, think across the curricular day and make your decision carefully.  1:1 needs to be done.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

iPhone and iOS 7

I don't usually do an update right away.  More often, I will wait a week or two before doing a major update like moving to iOS 7.

There are a couple of reasons.  One of which is the old saying that the "Pioneers take all the arrows."  It is not always a good idea to be first.

But I was really curious and I have a fairly new iPhone with only a couple apps on it.  I did check with Twitter and people were reporting 7 hour download times.  Common sense was telling me to not do this update like I normally would....  Watching the download thermometer and getting nervous if the lights flickered.

Nope.  Just started the software update and went to bed.  I am not even sure how long the download took.  I got 7 hours of sleep.  In the morning, my phone did say it needed to verify the download.  That took about 5 minutes.  Then I waited for it to complete the install and I answered a few questions for set-up.

I haven't had any trouble with my apps.  I did update the few I have on my phone... FileMaker Go, Twitter and a couple others.  Those updates didn't take very long and soon I was able to confirm that Angry Birds works fine in iOS 7.

I did run into one person that was having trouble.  Make sure you know how to login to your Apple iCloud account.  This one was tied to a G-Mail address and it wasn't taking the password.  You should be able to login to your Apple account before doing the download.  Wonder what the work- around will be?


There is a very nice iOS 6 and iOS 7 comparison piece over at
I like Dr. Russell's side by side approach to what's new.  It shows the differences and packs a bunch of information into a couple of minute video.  Check it out.

Friday, September 13, 2013

FileMaker and the Band Director Part Deux

Sorry about that rant in my last post.  It was darned hot here.  It is surprising how much difference a break in the weather can make in my attitude.  Let's just say it is time the facilities around here got upgraded to the mid-20th Century.

Back to something more positive.

I did mention that FileMaker is my tool of choice for many things that I need to do.  This week the item on my plate is the student handbook signature page.

I am sure many of you have handbooks for the year.  There is a lot of information that needs to go home.  When the concerts are going to be held... what you are grading... SmartMusic/home computer information... uniform sizes...  You need to be sure you have communicated with parents about all of these things.  We have managed to get our middle school handbook down to 4 pages that spell out all of the expectations for the year.  We have a signature page on the document that needs to be returned.

Really.  We need this signature page back, because it has information we need to move forward.  We have uniform t-shirts.  The size to order is on that page.  We want SmartMusic to go to every house that has an internet connection.  Is that everyone?

We do give them time to turn it in.  Tracking that turn-in with FileMaker does make things easier.  I set-up a field in my data base for that.  I called it "handbook in" and set-up a layout with "name", "band" and "handbook in" fields on it.  Since the form has either been returned or it hasn't, I formatted the "handbook in" field as a radio button for the control style for the field.  I used "yes or no" as the two possible field values.  I started with everyone as a "no" for this field. (Command and = is a great short cut to change a field value for the found set.)  As the papers came in I would open my data base and change the no to a yes.

During the next couple of rehearsals, I am going to show kids my list of band students who haven't turned in their handbook page.  If it is in their locker and filled out, I will make arrangements to get it from them and change their no to a yes.  Others get a reminder.

OK.  Everything I have done so far could be done with a number of programs.  Here's the value of doing this in FileMaker.  At the end of today, I can find all the records of people that haven't turned in their signature page.  I have their e-mail addresses in my data base as well. (Can you see where this is headed?) So this afternoon, I am going to take about two minutes, find those kids with no spage turned in and e-mail their parents.  I am also going to attach another copy of the handbook just in case they need to print one out.

You don't really need to leave FileMaker to do this.  In FileMaker go to File>Send>Mail and this screen with some options shows up:

Basically, you choose if you want this to generate e-mails using your e-mail client or SMTP, one e-mail  or for everyone in the found set, write your subject line, add your attachment and send the message.  For addressing, I use BCC for a mail like this.  Not everyone needs to or should know who got this message.  If you use the "To:" address field, everyone who gets this message can see who got this message.

Yes, there are other programs that can do all of this for you.  Most of the time you are stuck with how they want to do the job.  There is a lot of flexibility with using FileMaker for this type of work.  If you have found other programs to do this, great.  If you haven't started doing this electronically it is time to start.