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 https://itunesu.itunes.apple.com/coursemanager/.  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:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bringing the Real World into your Digital Classroom Tools Part 2

While tablet computers in the classroom are wonderful tools, they still have not reached the level of intuitive use that we often feel as we interact with our analog world. As an example, there are lots of pictures of the moon that we can look up using our web browser, but seeing it first hand through a telescope offers a different level of engagement. In the classroom, we often need our analog world to interact with our digital devices. In the coming days I will be sharing ideas that allow teachers to use real world objects to interact with their digital iPad classroom.

Digital Microscope: ProScope  http://www.bodelin.com/proscope/proscope-micro-mobile

Proscope is a nifty little device that turns your iPad into a powerful microscope.  The micro mobile version allows up to 80x magnification.  It utilizes LED’s to light up the surface and you can get kits that allow the device to remain stable while using the lens.  It even allows for the viewing of slides just like a traditional microscope.  This is a great add on for digital classrooms.  It allows students hands on interaction with objects, and like the Osmo helps bring the analog world into the digital platform.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bringing the Real World into your Digital Classroom Tools Part 1

While tablet computers in the classroom are wonderful tools, they still have not reached the level of intuitive use that we often feel as we interact with our analog world.  As an example, there are lots of pictures of the moon that we can look up using our web browser, but seeing it first hand through a telescope offers a different level of engagement.  In the classroom, we often need our analog world to interact with our digital devices.  In the coming days I will be sharing ideas that allow teachers to use real world objects to interact with their digital iPad classroom. 

Part 1:

This little device is a reflective attachment to your iPad’s camera.  This allows the camera to see objects that are aligned in front of the iPad.  With that added functionality, it is now simply up to software to allow students to interact with the iPad in a unique way, using real world objects.  In the classroom this could potentially open up the possibility of assessments based on real world application.  I could even see this used as a simple overhead projector in combination with an Apple TV.  While the Osmo is fairly new, allowing the digital tools to interact with the real world is the future and we will see more of this type of idea integrated into classrooms in the coming years.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Competitive Gaming in School Sports Programs?

32 million people watched the Season 3 World Championships for the video game League of Legends this year. 8.5 million of those people watched at the same time. To put that in perspective, 13 million people watch a typical NFL game on Sunday. Last years World Series drew 18 million viewers. 8.5 million viewers is really impressive when you realize this was accomplished without a large TV contract and almost no marketing. The impact of these gaming tournaments has created billion dollar deals in the field of video streaming. It is big business.

Competitive video gaming is nothing new. Game designers however, have figured out a formula that not only makes games that have mass appeal to players, but to those watching as well. Games are no longer just for sale as a leisure product, they are a sport. Games like League of Legends, Starcraft II, Counter Strike and Dota 2 are putting up millions in prize money and salaries to top players.

If you are thinking I am joking, the United States recently recognized League of Legends as an official sport so they could issue visas to players, just as they do for sports like the NBA. And yes, there are even fantasy leagues where you can put together teams of your favorite League of Legends competitors and earn points for your virtual team online. And with millions in prize money and sponsorships for players, more and more people are pursuing competitive gaming careers. You no longer need to be a programmer to get a job in games. You can now select from hundreds of related careers like announcer, PR representative or business development director.

So with all that is going on in the world of competitive eSports, I believe the time has come for more school programs to include competitive gaming. There is a large population of students that are not currently being serviced by competitive sports programs in schools. You might label them as the “chess club” kids, or the students that spend most of their after school time searching for a home in the Student Technology Association. Don’t get me wrong these are excellent organizations, but these students want more.

They are typically gamers. They are often associated with geek culture. Sometimes they are brilliant with excellent futures. But they ned that social outlet to increase self-esteem and alertness. They need a purpose to come to school and get better grades. Competitive gaming represents this opportunity. We just need to get programs started.

So where do we start? I believe that most of the work has already been done. Schools already play other schools competitively in other sports. We need coaches and players to organize schedules. Game companies should offer up servers for practice and competition. Students should meet after school in a social environment like the computer lab and get organized. They should build their teams, they should plan their strategies. Large events could be held in the auditorium that often goes unused. Bake sales could buy computers and game time. And matches could be streamed online for the world to watch.

As technology advances, we need to advance with it. eSports are here to stay. For what it is worth, I officially decree that we need gaming in schools!

-Jason Cross-

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fund your 3D Printing Program by Printing for Others

Money is tight for schools. 3D printing is something that many teachers want to incorporate into their lessons, but don't always have the funding to pull off.  Here is one idea that might help you get that 3D printer into your classroom.


3D Hubs is a website that uses the power of social networking to bring people that need access to 3D printers, but don't want/have a 3D printer themselves.  This creates an excellent opportunity for schools to either get students access to an offsite printer, or in the case of some schools, the ability to generate income from their printer to pay for the program.


This website allows you to register your 3D printer into their database. Once registered, other people will see that you have a printer, and they are able to submit prints to you electronically. The system allows the owner of the 3D printer to establish rules and pricing for each print job.

School teachers are excellent candidates for this type of work because often the printer might not otherwise be in use, and students love to see new items being printed off.  And if you can make a few bucks to pay for the printer, or even just the supplies to keep your students printing it is well worth the educators time to help facilitate the tool.  It also allows teachers to expose the entire community to this upcoming technology.