Using Our Tech Dollars Wisely

Schools never have enough money.  Or so they say.  So walk through the wardrobe with me for just a second and let’s pretend we’re in a land where someone wants to give you money.  Essentially, a blank check.  Now, what do you do with it?

What would you spend your money on?

For me, I’d use it to fund an educational technology initiative.  But what exactly?  Would I just buy hardware like iPads?  More computers? eReaders like the Nook or Kindle?  Digital Cameras?  Money can get spent pretty quickly if you’re buying hardware, not to mention the ancillary equipment also needed.

Sometimes, it’s easy to get swept up in purchasing as many new and flashy gadgets as we can in the hopes that will improve education.  The best way to improve education, to me, is better teaching.  So while a teacher may have access to better classroom technologies, if they don’t know how to use it (or use it effectively) it becomes a waste of time and money.  Lately I’ve been thinking that it might be time to throttle back on consuming hardware, and start thinking about increasing staff support and the proper teaching of even basic skills to students.  So many students lack in basic computing skills and knowledge, does it really benefit them to use an app they might only use once?  Beats me.  I guess this is a content vs. skills question at its core.  In some cases (in a perfect world) you could do both easily.  Although I love iPad’s, I struggle to see a future where one of my student’s ability to get into college or get a job will hinge on whether or not they know how to operate an app.

So….back to the original question:  someone gives you a bunch of money at your school.  What do you use it for?

Discuss.

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Nook eReaders Invade Our School

Recently, our school has waded into the eReader territory by purchasing seventy Nook’s from Barnes & Noble.  Our building principal was able to acquire the Nooks through a generous local grant.

Will this help students read more? Time will tell.

Nooks were selected over iPads because the focus was meant to be strictly reading (there are some other initiatives with iPads taking shape, more to come on that in the future, hopefully).   Also, Nooks were chosen instead of the Kindle because our school already has done fundraising activities with a local Barnes & Noble, so there was already a relationship cultivated.  Plus, from my experience, Nooks and Kindles are so similar in terms of what they actually do and the functions they have, that the differences are negligible.

The Immediate challenges I see are this:
What’s the best way to charge them? Unlike iPods or iPads, there is not a convenient eReader cart that will charge multiple eReaders at once.   Although the batteries do last for quite a while since they’re using e-ink and not an LCD display, the more cumbersome it is to do something simple like charging the device, the less likely it is that teachers will actually use them with students.
Security.   How can these eReaders be locked up and secured but still be portable so that they can be shred from class to class?
Content.  Our Barnes & Noble rep has told us that if we buy one book, it can be put on 6 different Nooks, which is great.  Over the long run, this will hopefully save a little money.  But what type of structured way will we have to get content on the Nooks that kids will actually want to read? (I suspect ournmedia specialist will hav e a lot of say in this along with the students.)
Promotion If teachers never want to integrate them into their classroom, or if it becomes to ineffective for students to check them out and bring them home, they’ll be wasted.  So, how can we effectively promote the use of these devices so that they will spark a desire to read more?

Any thoughts?  Has your school tried eReaders and if so, what are your successes or pitfalls?  Voracious readers want to know!

iPad vs. iTouch: Classroom Throwdown

Steve Jobs would like me to believe the new iPad will change my life.  I’ll never get another ailment in my life, I’ll never need to change the brake pads on my Mercury Sable, and my cup will overfloweth.  The iPad is not just the device I want, it’s the device I need.  Why?  Because Apple says so, apparently, and the great Sage of the technology universe has told me I need it.  Maybe I’ll buy an iPad eventually, but the more immediate question for me is, do I buy iPads for my class?

What kind of devilry am I up to? Read an eBook on the iPad to find out...

See, not that long ago, I applied for and received a grant to purchase a classroom set of iTouches.  I was all set to order the iTouches, but I decided to hold off until the mega Apple event slated (pun intended, of course) for January 27, 2010 A.D.  Like everyone else on planet earth I was expecting Jobs to unveil a tablet device.  But, what I was really hoping for was a refreshed iTouch.  Specifically, I  was hoping Apple would include a camera, which would open the door to a lot of really cool possibilities in a classroom setting.  Seriously Apple, you can fit a video camera in the Nano but not the iTouch?  Really?

Alas, they didn’t.  At least not yet.  But I can’t wait until August, I need to make a decision now.

So now the internal narrative becomes iTouch or iPad? iDon’t know.

To be sure, the iPad is a very intriguing piece of hardware.  It appears to do a lot of things well.  It might be really great for me, but will it be great for my classroom?  Although it’s big and beautiful, I think a strong case can be made for a classroom set of iTouches as well.

iPad

Pros

eBooks

For me, this is probably the single biggest reason to buy the iPad.  The idea that I could download a bunch of books onto one tablet as opposed to having a giant bookshelf full of large cumbersome and heavy books is a very attractive idea.  Cost wise alone, I’m guessing that I could replace all of my textbooks with iPads and find a cheaper yet still effective eBook for my curriculum and still have change left over.  From what I’ve seen on video, the UI of the iPad as an eReader looks really, really smooth and natural.  It may take a while to get a student familiar enough with a Kindle to use it effectively, but nearly every kid ought to be able to figure out how to swipe their finger to turn a page.

Apps

The blessing and curse of the iPad, is that it’s essentially an iTouch on steroids.  The blessing side of that coin is that it can run all the apps an iTouch can.  So, anything I was thinking about doing in my class with an iTouch, I could – in theory at least – also do with the iPad.  The apps become a nonissue, and, I would be shocked if some enterprising soul didn’t take advantage of that screen real estate and develop some killer educational apps for the iPad.

Cons

No Multitasking

I suppose I can accept that the iTouch can’t multitask, but the inability of the iPad to multitask is ludicrous.  Imagine I wanted my students to explore battlefields of the Civil War in Google Earth then write a post about it in a class wiki or blog.  They couldn’t do both at once.  I teach 8th graders.  They’re not perfect, they forget things and they want to explore and create. A lot.  The ability to freely switch back and forth between two applications is necessary.  Heck, I need to switch back and forth between multiple applications at once.

No Flash

The iPad is touted as having “the best web experience ever”.  That is categorically bollocks.  The best web experience, is on a laptop or desktop.  If I can’t play Adobe flash video files, that means I can’t access 70% of video content on the web.  If I wanted my students to watch a video from CNN.com about the tragedy in Haiti, they couldn’t do it.  Now I understand that I couldn’t do this with iTouches either because they also do not support flash video.  But the iPad is much more expensive.  Do I really want to shell out that much more money?  We already have laptops.

Limited Input

I honestly think a student cold type on an iTouch faster than on an iPad.  The iTouch is smaller, and therefore fits in two hands easier.   I don’t see a student typing on an iPad with one hand unless they’re hunting and pecking, it’s too large for that.  It is possible to hook up a keyboard via Bluetooth or buy the keyboard dock, but again, that’s going to cost more, and if that’s what I want, why not just use a laptop?  There aren’t any USB ports either.  So whatever is created by a student has to be created on the iPad and shared over the web.  This isn’t a totally awful idea, but think if you wanted students to make a video.  They can’t do it because there’s no camera.  They also couldn’t upload anything to the iPad because of the USB omission.  Blech.

Mobility

An iPad is larger for obvious reasons.  I can easily envision students sitting at their desks using an iPad.  But, that’s the problem.  What I can’t envision, are student’s carrying these all over school.  I’m already fearful of having kids sitting on the floor with these or knocking it off their desk.  The whole point of an iTouch, is it can fit in your pocket.  It’s small.  It allows the owner of said device to go wherever they want with it.  If my student’s are going to be confined to a classroom, wouldn’t it be smarter for them just to use a laptop?

It’s not a fair comparison to pitt the iPad vs. the iPhone.  I think that’s just a bit apples and oranges.  But, a case can be made for the iTouch vs. the iPad.  Here’s the crux of the contention: the iPad can do everything an iTouch can do, and a bit more (Books, in particular).  But can the iPad do those things so well that because of the cost I’d want to get half a classroom set instead of a full classroom set of iTouches?  Especially when I can check out a laptop cart from our media center that can do all of these things and much, much, more?

iDon’t Know.

eBooks? Nay, eCurriculum

Over the weekend I looked into eBooks. I don’t have a Kindle or a similar e-reading device, but I am intrigued by their possibilities within the classroom. I don’t know that I would ever buy an e-Reader for personal use. See, I like turning pages, and really, I usually only read one book at a time as it is, so the idea of putting hundreds of books onto one device doesn’t really seem to make a ton of sense to me, especially considering how much they cost (now if someone wanted to give me one, well…).

Done properly, I think e-readers could and probably should be the future of curriculum in the classroom.  O.k., maybe not every classroom, but at least my 8th grade U.S. History class.  Why?  Good question.

1.  Cost

By my unofficial calculations, the Creating America textbooks I have for my class and all the accompanying supplemental “resources” cost around $9 trillion.  While I’m sure I might be exaggerating by a few hundred dollars, it’s still really expensive for one class worth of materials.  And how much do I actually get out of a text-book that’s roughly the same size as the asteroid Bruce destroyed in Armageddon?

bruce_willis_armageddon_002
He is sent to destroy your text book.

It depends.  As a resource to gather information, students in my class probably use it once, maybe twice a week in class (we’re on an alternating schedule).  Some weeks, we don’t use it at all.  It is a very inclusive text-book that rarely cuts any corners on what the publisher feels 8th grade student should know when learning about U.S. History.  It’s mammoth, and in turn, overwhelming.

Now, if one of these textbooks costs roughly $60 and a smaller more accessible book costs around $12, that’s a pretty significant savings right there.  This year, I didn’t even assign each student a book to take home.  They’re too big and bulky, and many kids lose or damage the book anyways, requiring more money spent on the replacement textbook.  A classroom set of a smaller and cheaper alternative with some additional books that could be checked out would be more than enough, and more cost-effective to replace.

But wouldn’t it be cool if…..

2.  Accessibility

….these class books could be accessed anywhere?  If I am a student and I’m going on a vacation, do I really want to haul around a 50lb textbook?  Probably not.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could fit it on something you’re already taking with you on that 16 hour car trip to Cincinnati to see your aunt Ethel?  Something like you’re iTouch?  Yes, yes that would be cool.

With the iTouch (and iPhone) having a Kindle app on them, the book you buy for your classroom could also be bought and transported nearly everywhere you’re going, because you’d already be carrying your iTouch anyways. Kids might not always carry around an iTouch, but they’re more likely to carry that around than a textbook.  If a student or their parent (yes, I realize this only applies to a small number of people) had an iPhone and they were in vacation in Wichita, KS and Junior forget his book at home, a couple of flicks of the index finger and he’s doing his required reading while Pa pilots through Suburban past oceans og golden maize.

Zinn
$12 on Amazon in hardcover and digitally.

Kindle (Amazon) has also released desktop versions of its software for the PC (and OS X, coming “soon”) so the library could exist at home too.  And for those student who do not have internet access at home, just let them check out one of the books from the classroom set.  Everyone wins.

3.  Malleable Literacy

I’m a fairly staunch believer that unless you teach a reading or language arts class, having students read for 30 straight minutes in a history class is a waste of time.  College students don’t even do that.  So why spend $70 on a book that “is so great because of all the pictures and graphs and charts!”  I rarely, if ever, tell my students about the picture on page 428, or the chart on page 17.  I show them better pictures and better charts online, that are far more interactive than staring at an old map of the 13 original colonies.  It’s really up to the teacher to teach the material and make it come alive anyway.  It shouldn’t be left up to the book.  With eBooks, copying, pasting, and annotating makes the book more interactive.  You can then take that content and work with it in different formats, posing questions to other students and citing your sources the entire time.

It’s o.k. if a book doesn’t have pictures in it like a traditional textbook.  It’s insulting to think that students wouldn’t be able to read it otherwise, and, it’s insulting to think educators can’t teach the material otherwise.