Monday, March 23, 2015

Finding your Core Applications

Schools are adopting technology.  And lots of it.  Most schools are now getting a grasp on their one to one initiatives.  There is sufficient planning for the infrastructure, bandwidth and IT systems.  Teachers are more prepared and accepting of utilizing technology in their lesson plans.  There is a breakdown however that relates to consistency for the student population as a whole.  While it is important that we teach students to be flexible in an ever changing technology landscape, not having a core set of applications for a school building can lead to an increased frustration level, and a lack of productivity.  There are core applications that we utilize each day for the purpose of productivity.  It is this core group of products that needs to be consistent in your school to help both students and staff get the most out of your technology program. 

Core Applications

There are at least five ways to do anything with an computer.  If you want to write a document as an example, you can use Microsoft Word, Pages, Google Docs, Evernote, and Notepad.  I could make this list go for pages if I really attempted.  With so many great and capable options out there it isn’t important that you pick the right one, it is just important that you pick the one.  I am surprised when I visit schools and from classroom to classroom, and even from student to student I see multiple word processors being used.  

While I can see a benefit to students choosing their own path to productivity, it ultimately ends up creating confusion and the classroom workflow suffers.  When it suffers too much, the technology is pushed to the side and frustration sets in.  There are some applications that just need to be the core of your technology program.  As a bonus, if this core set of applications is adopted by your entire school, there will be an instant increase in productivity through the common usage of these products.  It also lets you create training that is focused like a laser beam on the key competencies of applications that are being used. 

Using the example above, the word processor, we can examine the breakdowns that occur when we all use a different one.  First of all, the storage of the files is different in each case.  Google stores documents in the cloud, pages stores them on the iPad or Macbook, Microsoft Office might be any combination of those.  This one aspect can create confusion for students and staff.  If I say, “write a paper and turn it in using the LMS”, each person will have a different experience with that task.  The Google user might need to convert the file, save it to their drive, and submit a link.  The Pages user might need to upload the file to the LMS directly after converting it using an export process to a file type that is recognized by the teacher.  The process is completely different for each user.  So when one user has a break down and is not able to complete the task, the teacher then becomes tech support.  And there is nothing worse than having to stop your learning to become the Genius Bar. 

The solution is simple.  There is a core set of applications that we utilize in our everyday work activities that should be made policy by the school.  And even those couple teachers that are tied to a different system should be flexible enough to encourage the consistency for well being of the entire school team.  While this sounds like a simple objective, it really isn’t as easy as it might appear on the surface. -Jason Cross- Copyright 2015

Again, going back to our word processor example, there are several other considerations to think through before you make a firm decision.  You need to think through the workflow of your school and even district procedures.  Some districts have close ties with Microsoft Products and are already implementing them at some level.  Schools might have adopted Google Mail for their teachers already, and use Google Drive to store files.  Some situations have private servers in the building that allow for secure access to documents, with nothing being stored in the cloud.  Each of these elements will help determine which word processor will be the best solution.  As an example, if you are using One Drive to store all of your documents in school, Microsoft Word might be an excellent choice because it offers great interactivity with that solution.  Your district LMS system might have specific integration with Google, or Pages which would make that a great choice.  Below I have listed some of the things to think about when planning out your program.

Where are the files going to be stored?  LMS, Cloud Storage, Private Server.
Has there been something in place for a while?  If so, how satisfied are you with the workflow it has provided?
What works best with the type of technology you have in the building?  Example: If you have Chromebooks, you might not like the Microsoft Office solution.
How much complexity do you want in your applications?
Which system do you think will most likely be adopted by the entire team?

Now on to the good stuff.  The core applications themselves.  This list is just a sample of which applications I believe should be at the core of an educational technology program.  Your school will probably be able to add to the list.  It is ok to have more Core Applications, as long as they meet the needs of your educational goals. -Jason Cross- Copyright 2015

Word Processor Spreadsheet

Lets start with the “Big Two.  These are at the core of how students will get work done.  With these three carefully chosen applications you can create amazing technology education programs.  You can build, create and design beautiful works of art and articled ideas. 

File Storage

Next, the elephant in the room.  The most fragmented part of most school technology programs I have visited over the last ten years.  Where are students and staff going to store the files they create?  How are they going to get files from this location to a place where they can be turned in and feedback provided?


The most overlooked, but necessary system is the Learning Management System, referred to as the LMS.  In some cases the LMS will determine which file storage and Big Two solution that you choose.  LMS systems come in a large variety.  Some work with your schools grade book, others operate like social media and offer gasification.  It is a big world out there when looking for an LMS.  It is the central nervous system of your school technology program however as it allows for the most efficient digital workflow possible.  Having a single LMS in your school is important to a consistent, productive program.

Web Browser

Almost every device comes with a default web browser, but often this is changed because of a particular need that one of your applications might have.  For instance you might need to use the Chrome browser with the Google Apps suite to get the most out of the product.  Although it is sometimes overlooked, having a single web browser that performs most everything you need is very helpful as it adds consistency to bookmarking and searching activities.  

Note Taking

When you ask your students to use their devices to take notes, let them know which application you want them to take notes in.  Most devices have a very simple note taking solution built in, but the ability for students to work with that information later can vary.  You might want to use something advanced like Evernote or OneNote.  Sometimes using the word processor that you have selected is the best solution.  The key is to minimize the choices and make sure that you are establishing which solution works for your classroom and school.


The overlooked tool in the information age.  We take them for granted, but they are all not the same.  You will want to find that perfect solution for your school.  Having a single calculator will make the workflow in your classroom quicker and more responsive.

Book Reader

If you are having your students checkout and read books on their devices, you will want to have a single place for them to go.  Some apple like iBooks offers note taking capabilities that might help students organize thoughts and information.  Having multiple places to read books will most likely result in your students just wanting to check out the paper version.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  Just keep it consistent to help your classroom workflow stay smooth.

QR Code Scanner

This is one of the tricks of the digital educator that gets students to and from information with ease and speed.  It breaks down when one student has a different QR code reader than another one.  Once again,  teachers are asked to be tech support when multiple readers are being used.   The solution is simple, one common QR code reader.  I recommend that a couple bucks is shelled out for the paid version of these apps as well.  Advertisements can confuse the process. 


There are so many calendar applications out there that most schools just don’t use them at all.  Sometimes there are calendars in the LMS, specific apps, and even the devices that you are using.  Pick the calendar solution that makes the most sense and is available to access in the largest variety of ways.  I like calendars that can also be shared with parents as it allows them to get a hands on view of what is happening in the classroom. -Jason Cross- Copyright 2015


The camera is one of the most important parts of the modern technology classroom. This tool can be the fax machine, the photo copier, and the way that artwork and imagery is turned in electronically.  It can also be a class in itself!   Make sure you have a camera available to your students to assist them with typical classroom workflow activities.

Photo Editing

When working with imagery you need a way to crop, size and change those graphics.  Having a common photo editing tool will assist your classroom consistency and will give you a reliable tool for creative workflow.  When students understand how to brighten an image, or add words and captions, it will open up the door to lots of innovative ways to demonstrate mastery. 

Video Editing

If you are having students work with video, come up with a single solution for the editing of that video product.  Make sure it has lots of ways to export the completed work into compact video files that can be stored on the method of file storage that you have chosen.  Large video files are almost useless in the classroom.  Make use of online technologies that also allow the files to be uploaded and converted into web formats that are easy to work with.  


Presentation software could really make the Big Two, the Big Three.  The only problem is that there are so many great solutions out there.  This will be the one time where maybe you don’t need to have just one.  My opinion is to keep it to a couple that offer very different functionality however.  I would recommend a standard presentation tool like Power Point or Keynote, but also an alternative such as Prezi or Adobe Voice.  This will keep your choices few, and the pre-requisites down to a minimum, but will give you the ability to assign a variety of work types. 


This can be a debated topic.  I believe email is a workforce essential and therefore should be taught in schools.  I also think that once students are writing, they can write emails.  This is really about school district policy however.  You need to work with your school and district to determine if email is right for your school.  If you decide to use it, pick an email platform that will most closely resemble a real world work environment.  Expose students to the ways communication and work is done in the modern workplace. 

Sound Recorder

Sound is a powerful method for your students to demonstrate mastery.  While it is often overlooked, some applications such as Notability make it an integral part of the application.  You will want a default, go-to method of allowing your students to record their voice and submit those recording for feedback.  Just like with the video, you want to choose a method that allows for small file sizes.  Pro Tip:  Make sure your students are given a time limit.  Short recordings are the best recordings!

Video/Sound Player

Your students will need a method of playing back videos and sounds that are part of their learning.  Web browsers offer some of this functionality, but each device is different.  Make sure that you have a default player for your video and sound files. 

Wrap Up

As an educator, your students will benefit from consistency.  As a school each of your teachers and administrators will have a good frame of reference with your tech program when you have a set of core applications.  Districts will find that the costs of your technology program will be significantly less when you have a go to set of apps that you can get volume pricing on.  It will also allow for fewer more consistent updates.  Once you have established this core set of applications, the rest of the program is easy to build.  You can add new and exciting ideas into your classroom on this foundation of rock solid software.

-Jason Cross- Copyright 2015

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Creating a Digital Citizenship Program for the Classroom

As a principal I was always shocked by the surprise people had when students would test the boundaries of technology by searching for innapropriate material, or use communication to be mean to others.  I was surprised because this is to be expected from students that have very little exposure to technology and even less training on how to act while using technology.  Imagine a student driver that was never given the rule book to the road, shown how to operate a motor vehicle, and was then given keys to a car and told to put as many miles on it as possible.  I envision them running through red lights, crashing around corners and bumping into other cars.  They would have no real reason (aside from common sense) to expect that any of these actions would be detrimental.

In schools today we expect common sense to keep our kids safe.  We tend to spend very little time with digital citizenship because our students are expected to automatically understand how the digital world can impact their life.  We assume they will be the same kind of citizens online as they are offline.  And when you think about it we are not even doing a great job teaching them how to be citizens offline.   But that is another topic all together.

Start with an objective.  Essentially, write a mission statement that guides and directs the purpose of your Digital Citizenship program.  Here is an example

Students should be able to utilize technology for the purpose of acquiring knowledge and information, creating and distributing content, and communicating with others, without interference, obstruction or destruction by the inappropriate actions of others.

List your stakeholders.  Determine who the Digital Citizenship program will apply to.  Then list off what responsibilities you think each of these stakeholders will play in the achievement of your mission statement.

1. Administrators
2. Teachers
3 Students
4. Parents

Get familiar with the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship.  These nine elements help to simplify the complex digital citizenship landscape by breaking them up into sections.

1. Digital Access
2. Digital Commerce
3. Digital Communication
4. Digital Literacy
5. Digital Etiquette
6. Digital Law
7. Digital Rights 
8. Digital Health
9. Digital Security

If you spend some time reading through each of the nine elements from the website above, you will realize just how large the scope of this topic is.  It also illustrates that as teachers and administrators we have a responsibility to practice what we preach.  It doesn't carry much weight in our classroom to tell students that they should not copy thoughts from Wiki-Pedia when as a teacher we illegally copy materials and distribute them to students.  As an administrator we cannot tell teachers to act appropriately on social media and then post party pictures on our twitter.  If we want good classroom behaviors, we have a responsibility to lead by example and that can sometimes be achieved through holding ourselves to a higher professional standard.

Understand some key topics:

2.Stealing (Copyright Information)
3. School Responsibilities 
4. Equipment Care
5. Social Networks
6. Sexting
7. Identification
8. Digital Dosier

Of course we don't want our kids to be cyberbullying.  When people think of digital citizenship, this is often the first thing that comes to mind.  There is so much more to it than that however.  We have to teach students about their digital dossier as an example.  How much better off would some of today's hollywood starlets like Jennifer Lawrence be had they really known that anything you put into digital form is possibly out there for the world to see.  The event that happened to Jennifer is happening today to students all over the country, with just as devastating of effects.  When an image goes viral, it doesn't always have to be to the entire world.  A photo that is passed around a school via text message can be just as devastating.  

Social networks can sometimes ruin a students chance at getting a job.  It is hard to believe, and to a student that has not yet entered the work force it seems impossible.  But the actions that students take when using technology even at an early age can have a negative impact on their future.  But there is good news as well.  When used properly, social networks can be utilized in the exact opposite way.  By teaching students how to post portfolio information, any amazing achievements and demonstrating skills on a social network, you set them up for success.  You give the world a first impression of greatness.  This is one reason it is important to consider not blocking social media in schools.  It should be something that is taught as a way to prepare students for life outside of school, instead of a forbidden place where you are expected to act inappropriately.  

Equipment care is also a chance to impart wisdom on your students.  There is lots of research that shows when people are given something for free they don't always take the best care of it.  Any teacher that has spent time collecting textbooks knows this to be true.  Many teachers actually work very hard at making sure textbooks are well handled.  They start with teaching students how to build covers for them.  They correct them in the hallways when they see misuse.  Some teachers even have periodic checks to make sure that books are not being written in.  Yet when we implement technology in schools we sometimes forget all of this.  We simply hand out technology without any expectations of its care.  It is a good idea to establish good care practices, just as with your paper materials.  It demonstrates to the students that the devices are important to the teacher, and this will help minimize damage in the long run.

Web Filtering, it isn't just for school anymore.  Remember that there are several stakeholders involved in your technology programs.  Schools filter internet content.  Some parents would like to have the same controls at home but don't always know the best way to make that happen.  One of the ways you can build a positive report with your parent groups is to find materials that help them help you.  When your parents are feeding your students the same kind of quality information about digital citizenship that you are giving them in class it goes a long ways.  Every once in a while however you run into some tough situations.  Some parents don't know how to get a grip on a students desire to seek out inappropriate information and they need a way to help filter content at home.  (Please keep in mind cell phones as they now have data plans and sometimes this can negate any attempt to block websites at home and in school)  One great method is using OpenDNS.  This service allows a parent to block web content before it even hits the home router.  In effect, any device plugged in, or using wifi in the house would be filtered according to the rules that are set up with the OpenDNS service.  

Create a list of resources for all stakeholders to use.  Not everybody knows what Tinder is, or why it is one of the most quickly adopted social media platforms by our youth.  Many of your parents might not know about Secret or Whisper.  Find information for your parents, students and school cohorts.  Make that information available for everybody.  Use this information to inform students of dangers and risks.  Teach them to be good digital citizens, regardless of which tools they choose to use. 

One last thought. School is a place to learn.  We don't come to school knowing all of the answers and being perfect at everything that we do.  Your students are not always going to be perfect digital or analog citizens.  It is important to impart skills and knowledge about digital citizenship to all your classes so the learning curve isn't always trial and error.  We want all of our students to succeed and grow in a digital world.  Although not all mistakes they make will be equal, we can work to prevent as many of these mistakes as possible.  In the process, you will be creating a generation of students that will act appropriately with their digital tools. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Learning to Code in Lua using Roblox

Lua is a simple programming language that is used to create custom features in the game Roblox.  If you have not heard about Roblox, my money is on the fact that you will soon.  Students these days gravitate towards games that operate in a sandbox environment.  The success of Minecraft has demonstrated the power of games that have no beginning or end, where the joy comes from creating problems and solving them in whatever way you imagine.  It is a great language that will help your students learn to code something real and substantial, and will translate to skills they can use throughout high school and beyond.

A little about Roblox:

Roblox is a game platform, not a game itself.  Users and developers create and use tools within the framework of the system to design game worlds and create rules for play.  These completed games are then distributed via a web interface where the entire world is presented the opportunity to play the game designed by a user.  

The end result of Roblox is amazing.  You get a game that teaches scripting, is more open world that Minecraft, and offers the ability to appeal to both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Every month 3.3 million people play Roblox.  This is pretty substantial when you compare it to World of Warcraft that currently has 6.6 million subscribers.  50,000,000 hours per month is spent by users creating just about anything they can imagine.

A little about Lua:

Lua is a scripting language that works on many platforms.  It was created by members of the Computer Graphics Technology Group in Brazil.  It is an object oriented language that is influenced by C++.  It is an easy to learn language that Roblox offers substantial support in helping users learn the basics to modify their game.  Those students that learn a little Lua are able to create entire playable games in Roblox.  In fact most “games” in Roblox are created by users, not by a development team, making it a creative and remarkable world.

What you need to create a program at your school:

To start, head to the Roblox Education Blog. This website keeps up to date information on Roblox and a variety of happenings.  In addition there is some information for parents that may have questions or concerns.  As with any new impactful technology to come out, it is important for everybody to know exactly what they are getting into.

The next step is to create a Roblox account.  These accounts are free, however there are items like the Builders Club that cost money.  Roblox uses a currency called Robux, which is used to purchase a variety of products from the website.  Robux can be purchased, or earned in game.  It is important to know how all this works, but you will not necessarily need to spend money.  Once you have the account you will be able to download the application.  You will use this application to launch the Roblox Studio which is where you will begin working on your coding project. 

The next step in learning how to build things in Roblox is learning Lua.  You will want to get a book about Lua scripting.  This will give you a good place to work from when teaching and learning Roblox.  Your students at first will maybe resent the fact that you have to use the old paper book, but in the end they will be motivated to use it so they can build what is in their imagination.  In addition there is a complete wiki devoted to Lua for Roblox.  This site is an excellent teaching resource that your students will want to bookmark and use for later reference.   And finally, don’t forget about YouTube.  People love to share how to do things, and there are many excellent video tutorials on how to learn Lua. 

Now that you have all of your software and lesson materials, you will begin using the Roblox Studio.  This is essentially a software development kit that allows you to take 3D objects, place them into a world and add scripts to tell those objects what to do and how to react.  There is a large amount of pre-designed objects to work with, but you can always build your own as well.  It is a wide open world where anything goes.  

I hope this gets you started on your adventure with Roblox and Lua.  I think you will find that it makes an excellent coding opportunity for your students.  Teach it as an after school program or use it as part of your classroom instruction.  I look forward to seeing all the cool stuff you teach.  If you have questions, send them to @principalcross.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

5 Apps for Teaching Early Education Coding

Teaching students to code is a challenge that many classrooms are begging to take on.   The toughest part of this challenge is finding out a good place to begin.  What software is needed?  What skills should they learn?  Which language is most common? 

Having taught coding at the sixth grade and high school levels I tried many different approaches.  I worked students through HTML and then eventually into Java and Visual Basic. Students experienced various levels of interest and success with the programs I was offering.  One simple fact was clear.  They needed pre-requisite skills in coding just like they had with reading and writing.  They didn’t need to know everything, but they needed to understand some basics that would help them grasp the concepts needed for the skills I wanted them to learn.  Students that had these pre-requisites, thanks to parents or after school programs, were light years ahead of my other students that needed the fundamentals.  If there was only a way to integrate some of this learning in the younger grade levels…

Good news!

There are some excellent choices for teachers of K-5 programs out there, with more on the way each day. I have outlined some software apps that help students learn some core coding skills.  While nobody expects students to be building complete software applications in kindergarten, you would be surprised at what they are capable of even before they know how to read.  As they gain some basics, other apps move students up to more difficult work, eventually to hard coding simple applications using real syntax.  The best part of introducing some of these apps to your classroom is that they don’t have to take away valuable core subject time.  These can be worked into projects or simply used as a reward for a job well done.  Most of these apps are engaging and very rewarding.

Here are the apps that help you start learning to code with K-5th Grade Students:

The first application that I am going to outline for the Kindergarten through 2nd grade program is Hopscotch.  I have seen this application used by students that have not mastered reading yet.  While most of what you will accomplish in this application is very simple in nature, the concepts are strong.  Your students will learn the basics by choosing a character and teaching that sprite what to do.  The rules are very much modeled after if, then statements that give the program rules.  Although you can start off with simple activities for the younger students, you can create challenges for your older, more accomplished students.  These challenges will create the effect of massive amounts of critical thinking.  You might see smoke coming from their little minds.  

The second application, Kodable,  that works for younger students, but also provides challenge for slightly older students.  It is much more of game style system that makes it an excellent choice for teaching programing ideas as a reward.  The application works a little like Angry Birds in the sense that you earn stars as you progress through levels.  The more efficient you are at solving the puzzle, the more stars you complete, and the more challenging the content becomes.  This game is really about the building blocks of coding and how pieces of code build upon themselves to achieve the desired result.

The third application that offers up an amazing game experience is Lightbot.  Like Kodable it has more of a game feel, but the challenges become more difficult as you progress.  Lightbot becomes very challenging at the point where you are being asked to not only move your character to the proper location and have them light up a square, but you need to do it using functions that you create in advance.  Just like in creating Hopscotch challenges, at the higher levels of Lightbot your students are learning how blocks of code can be called upon repeatedly to produce the desired effect in the most efficient way.  

The fourth application that I want to highlight is called Tynker and it is one of my favorites.  It has a similar style to Hopscotch in that it offers blocks of code that are put together Lego style to create a program that is executed.  This offering however is brilliant in the way it is able to engage the student with excellent graphics and colorful animations.  The other excellent factor is that this app utilizes the reward system that is similar to Lighbot and Kodable.  Your students will have an easy time staying engaged to this rich content and it will prepare them to move into Scratch as their skills grow.

The fifth application that I would like to mention isn’t even available yet, but I am very excited about it.  It is called Jaxi the Robot.  What Jaxi does is combine many of the same ideas of the application I have already mentioned with the need to type in code.  Instead of using blocks of code that have already been scripted, you use commands just as you would when coding a real application.  These commands based in Java Script tell Jaxi the Robot how to interact with her digital world.  This application promises to be engaging and fun, while also being very useful in teaching students just what it means to be a top notch computer coder.  

I wanted to leave you with a road map that will help guide you on your quest to teach coding in the earlier grades.  Below is a diagram that visually shows how these applications lead to bigger and brighter things. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Stylus Options for You and Your Classroom

When it comes to writing on a tablet, many prefer to use a stylus over a finger.  This isn’t a big surprise as most of us have years of training on how to utilize a pen, but only a couple finger paintings to our credit.  We can do more precise work with a stylus, and ultimately we want this to translate to our tablet experience.  While there are some tablets that utilize a stylus as part of their core philosophy, multi-touch tablets like the iPad are very popular and do not come with a stylus out of the box.  Finding the right stylus for your needs can be complicated, but here is some information to demystify your decision. 

Here are a couple important terms to know before I share a few stylus options:

Palm Rejection:
Applications and some Active Stylus options allow the prevention of the palm of the hand acting as an additional “touch” to the device.  When palm rejection is active the user is able to more mimic the pen and paper experience.

Some stylus tips are smooth and made to glide along the service of the tablet with minimal resistance.  Other stylus types attempt to mimic the level of resistance offered by tractional writing tools.  For example a rougher, more sticky stylus will offer feedback to the user similar to a pencil or crayon.  Giving younger students a stylus with resistance can sometimes be a help in learning handwriting. 

Passive or Capacitive Stylus:
This is a type of stylus that works to act just like a finger.  With this type of product the device will treat the stylus just as if it were a finger which means any device features, such as multi-touch, will operate the same using a stylus as they would using a finger. 

Active Stylus:
This type of stylus will have greater functionality, but will vary based on device and application type.  Some of these active stylus options will provide pressure sensitive input, buttons and features that attempt to mimic real life mediums.  As an example, some active stylus products when combined with supported apps, can turn off the multi-touch properties of a tablet.  This allows for palm-rejection which helps people have a more natural writing style when using a pen.  Many people experience improved writing accuracy in this mode.

Active Stylus Options:

Multi-touch doesn’t lend itself very well to the use of a stylus.  When you place the stylus and the palm of your hand on a tablet screen at the same time, it reads that multiple inputs are connecting at once.  This usually triggers one of the multi-touch tools or options. 

These stylus options work to fix some of the problems created by writing on current tablet solutions.  Most of these choices offer palm rejection via bluetooth operability.  While this doesn’t work for all apps on the IOS, some of the best productivity apps have built in this functionality.

Paper by Fifty Three is a neat little app that allows for some creative work to take place.  The minimalistic feature set actually is a benefit because it provides an easy learning curve and keeps you focused on creating content.  As an added feature the team that created the app also has created a pencil.  This pencil has everything you would expect from a traditional pencil, an eraser tip, streamlined body and a tapered tip.  What it adds is bluetooth functionality that helps this pencil communicate with the tablet for pressure sensitivity and palm rejection.

Wacom’s business is tablets for art work and creativity.  It only stands to reason that they would make a stylus that is designed to help people be productive on their tablet.  The Intous is labeled as a professional grade stylus that offers pressure sensitive operation and palm rejection.  It works with many great apps including Autodesk, Procreate and Goodnotes.

This is a fine point stylus that offers up some features to make your writing experience as smooth as possible.  It has pressure sensitivity for control over your line thicknesses, shortcut buttons for app operation, and palm rejection.  It works with several artistic  apps including Adobe Sketch, Adobe Line, and Procreate.  It also was made to take excellent notes with Goodnotes, Noteshelf and PenUlitimate.

The Cregle iPen is a complete stylus solution that turns your iPad into a “Precision Weapon of Mass Creativity”.  It features palm recognition and boasts a faster drawing speed than traditional stylus products.  The result is more control over your note or artistic space.  When designing this product effort was placed on creating a more realistic writing experience. 

Passive or Capacitive Stylus Options:

This stylus features a comfortable and familiar grip.  It’s triangular shape is made to help starting to establish a proper grip.  Combine this stylus with the right app, and you have a great tool for building a foundation of writing skills.  It has been my experience that many younger students when given the choice prefer the feel of this type of stylus over some of the other more pen/pencil options.  It is important to note that palm rejection will need to be an application specific solution for this type of stylus.  Since not all applications offer this as part of the application, you will always have mixed results with this stylus. 

While you will need to be careful that this option doesn’t actually end up in the sharpener, it offers a look and fee of a traditional writing utensil.  It will allow students to learn the correct grip, while offering a slightly smaller tip for greater accuracy.  The biggest concern is that traditional teaching is to rest the palm on the paper.  Once you do this, you will send you app into a tailspin.  Some apps have tried to combat this by offering a feature that creates a place on the page where the palm can connect with the screen, but it will not treat it as a multi-touch.  Look for this feature in your application, and if it offers it, this pencil might be a great solution to your stylus need.

This stylus is not like a traditional writing utensil.  It is sort of like a giant crayon or marker, but with a more pointed tip.  The idea behind this product is to create a device that writes fluidly on a multi-touch display without the need for the active stylus complexity.  It attempts to allow the user stronger control through its shape so that palm can hover more effectively without the jittery writing that can sometimes occur with traditional stylus types.

I hope that you find the right stylus for your classroom.  If you have questions about this article please contact me via twitter @principalcross.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Using iTunes U Version 2: Add Discussions to Existing Courses

Now that Apple has released and update for iTunes U, it is time to cover some of the new changes.  First up in a new video series on iTunes U version 2 is the ability to add discussions to posts.  It is really simple to do.

First thing to note is that iTunes U Courses can now be edited on the iPad as well as the traditional website interface at  A feature has been added however to the iTunes U, iPad App, that enables the same edits directly from your iPad.  So from here on out you can be in charge of your classes on the go.  I cannot tell you how excited this makes the teacher in me.  This is a very important feature and I will now tell you why.

One of the big improvements is that ability to add discussions to posts.  Most LMS systems already do this, and it has become common place in the digital classroom.  iTunes U never really had much more functionality other than as part of the course content distribution method. With this additional feature however students will be able to interact with the content, not just receive it.  The ability to utilize your portable iPad device to view these interactions is amazing.  Without that feature you would have been tied to a laptop each time a student has decided to engage in course content.  Now however, you are able to view these discussions on the fly, respond back and view each students responses as they happen.

The video above describes how to change your existing iTunes U courses to take advantage of this new discussion feature.  If you would rather not watch the video, the instructions are also below.

  1. Open Up iTunes U on your iPad (Be sure that it is the latest version.  You can check by visiting the App store)
  2. Sign into your iTunes account.
  3. Click on My Courses
  4. Select the course you would like to make changes to.
  5. At the bottom of the screen you will see info, posts, notes, materials and the new button, admin.  Click Admin.
  6. The admin tab looks just like iTunes U in the website form.  In the left hand column there is a Course Settings tab.  Click It.
  7. Scroll to the bottom of the Course Settings Tab until you see a button slider called Discussions.  Press that button so that it is green.  
  8. Now when you go back to your courses, you will notice that there is a place to hold discussions on each post that you make in your online course.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bringing the Real World into your Digital Classroom Tools Part 3

In a long list of items that should find their way into your classroom, you just might want to add robots.  Now I know what you are thinking.  Robots are just complicated toys that create a distraction from those real educational goals you have.  There is much more to robotics that meets the eye, and while it will be an engaging activity there is lots of good learning that can take place with a small robotics program in your classroom.

3D Spaces:

First of all robotics are real objects.  And real objects operate in our 3D environment.  This is very different than most of the teaching that occurs in the modern 2D classroom.  When you use an computer, everything is flat.  Your students utilize the electronic tools such as iPads to flatten the world around them and then email it for a grade.  One thing that robots excel at teaching is how objects move in 3D.  Being able to think in 3D is a crucial skill for our next generation of engineers, designers, and artists.  The future is not flat, robots teach that at an early age.

Skill Sets:

Robots can be simple and complicated, but for the most part they require problem solving.  You have to teach robots, and teaching is not easy.  You need to learn about systems, subsystems, decision making and reasoning.  Students that engage in robotics programs learn how different disciplines of math work together.  Younger students can learn about measurement, while older students can combine Algebra and Geometry to accomplish a task.  


Robots are coming.  Smarter, faster and stronger ones each day.  What will this mean for humanity?  Why are robots being built, and what function do they provide?  When they are no longer indistinguishable from people, do we treat them as creations?  Sky is the limit for these conversations.  These are all questions that have no real answer, but allow your students to engage in creative problem solving.  They get to explore content without the fear of being wrong.  They can work through their ideas and write about an exciting future.


With so much new technology coming, students in elementary will be performing jobs that have not been invented yet.  Their only hope to navigate this maze is to work with technology as often as possible.  And not just a computer, they need to work with all types of technology so they can realize that they are adaptable to anything that is thrown their way.  If a company offers them a job utilizing a piece of technology that they are not experienced with yet, they should have the confidence to know that with a little bit of perseverance they will be able to learn what they need.  Students should feel confident that large problems can be broken down into steps that technology can help them solve.

Here are some resources for cool robotics programs for your classroom:

Lego Mindstorms:

Vex Robots:

Do it Yourself:

Robotics Standards and Outcomes:

Resources and Classroom Information: