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 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.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Oops, I cracked my pad!

If you run a school that utilizes one-to-one technology tablets, you have no doubt had to deal with a few bumps and bruises.  Especially if those tablets end up going home with students.  Here are some tips for reducing tablet loss in your program.


1. Case. Obviously a case is a good idea.  I have been a part of a couple one-to-one tablet roll outs where because of money concerns cases were not a part of the initial deployment.  You can expect some damage to devices without cases.  Even the most innocent drop usually leads to a damaged corner, and possible cracked glass.  Good cases focus on reinforcing the corners, protecting the volume and other switches while allowing a deep enough bezel to keep the glass relatively safe from hitting the ground.  For the youngsters look for cases that have a handle.  For the older students, select cases that protect the screen when placed into a book bag or locker.

2. Education. Again, I apologize for being captain obvious.  Students that know how to care for their devices tend to do better than those that are cut loose with them.  When educating students on tablet use, focus on why they use them in the classroom.  When you give students a reason for having tools such as these, they will take better care of them.  If you treat them as something "extra" in your classroom, they will end up broken or stolen because the students will only value them as much as the teacher does.  Whenever I visit a school that tells me they have a high number of tablets broken each year, I can almost always guarantee that teachers in that building do not believe in the technology mission of that school.

3. Rules.  Come up with a set of rules about how to handle devices in specific situations.  This list will be fluid, especially in the first couple years of your technology program.  I can give you an example from my experience as an administrator.  When my students first got their iPads, I did not think that they would take them to gym class.  The PE teacher was really excited to have them, and was making excellent use of them.  The problem came however when they were not using them.  We had no set place to put our tablets when students brought them but were engaged in activities that did not use them.  Tablets were placed on high bleachers, on the floors, and in direct aim of flying dodge balls.  By creating places for tablets to be, instructing students when to put them away,  we reduced the amount of accidents that were caused in the gym.  The same can be said for science and in the hallways.

4. Forgiveness.  Have a budget for repairs when you set up your one-to-one program.  Use that budget to have forgiveness of accidents.  I am not saying that the student that breaks them over and over again should not face consequences, but those small accidents will happen.  Students that are not fearful of the technology breaking tend to use it more, and are also less likely to break it subsequently.  You don't tend to have your sunglasses get broken when they are on your face.  Same for the tablets.  If you use them, they tend to remain in better shape.


1. Accountability.  You have to have policies in place to prevent theft.  Seems pretty simple, make sure that students check out each item at the beginning of the year, and check them back in at the end.  I apologize for the repetitive tone, but if your tablets are not being used everyday, you will have them go missing. A once per year check in, check out, although essential, will not prevent theft of your devices.  Using them will.  By simply taking attendance in the morning and having students raise their tablet in the air when they say they are here can go a long way to preventing theft.  If the student doesn't have the device, they should be sent somewhere to resolve its location immediately.  The trouble lies in when it takes days and weeks to notice a tablet is missing.  This says a few things to the students and parents.  One, the device is not being used and is not essential, and two, the school has no idea where they are.  Ensure that teachers are accounting for them every chance they get, and work with teachers through professional development to use them to advance their classroom objectives.

If your device gets damaged:

These are a few web based companies that can offer help to fix those broken devices.  Be sure to call around and get the best value.  Let them know that you are a school and shop a few options.  Always find out if they have worked with schools before, and do your best to determine the quality of the work.  After you place your first order determine if the tablet was fixed correctly and working properly.  In some situations the tablet can be damaged beyond repair.  Once you find a quality repair shop, establish a good relationship with them and you will be able to keep your fleet running for years to come.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Resource for Teaching Students About Browsers and the Web

Teaching students about the internet can be bit confusing.  Teachers often shy away from teaching core technology concepts because of this perceived complexity.  Without a game plan and the proper visuals it can be very tricky to explain an abstract system like a computer network. The word "internet" should paint a picture in your head of a complex system of networks and computer hardware, but most often it is equated to those 4 little lines on your WiFi device telling you that you have signal.  So how do you explain to students where emails come from, how Facebook stores information, or why you can simply Google anything you want to know more about?

I always think about the british TV Show the IT Crowd where characters Roy and Moss trick their boss Jen into thinking they were able to borrow the Internet for her to show off at a convention.  When she unveils the Internet (a black box with a red light on top) it is met with gasps of amazement from an uneducated crowd.  Instead of the laughter and embarrassment that Roy and Moss had been hoping to put their boss through, the visualization of the internet was met with great appreciation.  I think it illustrates a point that most people don't really know what the internet is, but we would like to.  And just because we are a teacher in school doesn't mean we are exempt.  It is a complex subject summed up into a single word.   In the year 2014,  students should have a good understanding of basic computer networking concepts.

I stumbled upon this HTML 5 book called 20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Internet.  This book is a throwback to the glory days of children's books and probably is poking fun at those that don't have a full working knowledge of the internet.  What is does however, is explain how browsers and the internet work in brilliant simplicity.  Each chapter of this book could be taught to the appropriate age group as an individual lesson.  By the conclusion of the book you will have a working knowledge of: Internet, Cloud Computing, Web Apps, HTML, JAVAScript, CSS, HTML 5, 3D in the Browser, Browser Madrigal, Plug-ins, Browser Extensions, Browser Synchronization, Cookies, Privacy, Malware, IP Addresses and DNS, Open Source, Validating Identities, and Evolving to a Faster Web.

While these topics are discussed in sometimes one or two simple pages, they give a fundamental overview of these technology topics that every student should understand.  It would also be very easy to transition from the book to a research project where older students are asked to learn more.  Within the text of each chapter are bold typed keywords that lend themselves to web searches.  As an example chapter one covers the internet, and on page five we are introduced to the term "packets".  To take this subject further, we would simply need to search the term packets to uncover that a typical packet contains perhaps 1,000 or 1,500 bytes, and can go by several other names such as: frame, block cell or fragment.

Knowing how things work at their fundamental level is important.  Giving students a core understanding of how networks allow them to communicate over distances will benefit them in the future.  This book is a great way for any teacher, regardless of technology proficiency, to teach a complex subject like computer information systems.


Jason Cross

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Adobe Voice - An Excellent Classroom Tool


Years ago, Microsoft had a product called Photo Story. It was a great application for the PC that would allow you to use your voice to tell stories in an easy and impactful way. The issue for schools was always getting lab time, and creating content that could be included. Adobe Voice creates this experience only using a device that allows for more creativity. Rather than taking images from digital cameras, moving them to USB drives and trying to edit them on the computer, you can use this one app to make amazing presentations instantly.


The interface is clean and easy. Simply create a new story, give your story a title and an idea, choose a photo and narrate each image as you go.  The result is a very quick and easy movie that explains your idea without any clutter or confusion.  The simplicity of this product makes it a real asset to classrooms everywhere.

I cannot wait to see all of the wonderful creations that students build in the coming months.  Be sure to email examples to me as I am always excited by creativity.

App Smashing:  If you are looking to app smash with Adobe Voice, be sure to utilize a platform like iTunes U to articulate your project goals, then something like Google Drive to collect the finished movies.  Google Drive offers sufficient enough storage to hold many movies for grading and presentation purposes.  They can even be shared easily once they have been uploaded.

Jason Cross

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How Spritz Reader Might Change Learning

If you have not already seen the Spritz reader, you should check it out here:https://www.oysterbooks.com/spritz  and here: http://www.spritzinc.com.

Although this technology is still in it's infancy, it works to change significantly how we read.  If you have read any of my blog posts, you know that I am all about using technology to do things that were just not possible before.  This is definitely something that does just that.

Reading is something that we spend a good amount of time learning in school.  We learn all the proper skills needed to do it correctly.  What we didn't know was how much time we waste moving our eyes.  What this application does is focus your eye on one spot while feeding you the information.  Through this process you are able to read much faster than you ever could before.  I believe personally that it comes with greater accuracy as well.

Tracking issues have always been a problem with school students.  There are many methods out there to help students with this issue.  We utilize rulers and fingers, templates that isolate words and software applications that track our eyes and attempt to help us follow along with the page.  Many students still struggle with reading, because following lines on a page is not an easily mastered skill and sometimes it goes against how we are wired.

What impact this new idea in reading will have on education?  Too early for me to tell, but I believe that it will be impactful to a large number of students out there that struggle with reading and focusing.  I believe potentially that students with ADD will be able to read more content in a shorter time, helping them keep pace, while not forcing them into hours or sitting still.  Students that can't track a page well, will be able to read content without being frustrated, or having to re-read sections for understanding.  It might even level the playing field between book worms that naturally feel comfortable reading, and those students that don't seem to have the skill natively.  Books simply might become more accessible for everybody.  This could really be a tool that bridges the gap in reading skills and makes it more accessible for everybody.


The big question is this:  Testing will require students to read the old fashioned way.  Will testing ever be able to keep up with the technology that is allowing students to be so successful in school, while not meeting the standards on tests?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

App Smashing and Using iPads in the Classroom (Quick Guide)

Many schools that have adopted one-one tablet technology struggle with the pre-requisite skills associated with moving files from app to app.  This process is now called App Smashing, and when you learn how to use it to your advantage, it really does make things nice and simple.  Workflow is king and the easier it is to distribute content, create solutions, and then store that information for feedback, the more success you will have in the digital classroom.

In the following example, I will be demonstrating how to utilize iTunes U, Various Apps, and Google Drive together for a smooth classroom workflow.  iTunes U will be our method of distribution, Apps will provide the ability to complete work, and Google Drive will be our method of collection. (These training videos take into account that you already know how to set up courses in iTunes University.  If you do not, please refer to the iTunes U training for more information.

Getting Started:

First you will need to set up your Google Drive folders.  We will be using Google Drive as our method of collection.  We want to make the process simple by first having the students create a folder that they will share with their teacher, and then by organizing those folders from the teacher account.  The key takeaway from this is that you will want a common naming system.  The following videos explain this process:

Next Steps:

Now that we have created our folders on Google Drive, we are ready to complete our work and turn it into our file for a grade.  In our examples we are going to take a PDF worksheet, annotate that document and submit it into our Google Drive folder that we established in the earlier videos.  The next example uses a software application that creates an image that we then will submit to our Google Drive for grading.  And our final example demonstrates using a quiz from iBooks as a way to get feedback from a student.  This final example also demonstrates creative ways to utilize the built in features of the tablet to create content for distribution.

First example:  Taking a PDF assignment from iTunes U, opening it up using the requested application, completing the worksheet, and turning it in using Google Drive.

Second example: Using iTunes U to request that the students create a drawing, using an app to complete the drawing process, and then turning in the drawing using Google Drive.  The key to this video is that the drawing application requires that the file be first turned into an image before it can be uploaded to Google Drive.

Third example:  iTunes U is used to request that a test is taken in an iBooks epub book.  This book is opened and the test is completed.  The test results need to be submitted to the teacher using Google Drive, but there is no clear cut way to accomplish this.  Using the screen capture option on the iPad an image is created and then submitted for a grade on Google Drive.

All of these training videos and more are part of an iTunes U course that can be found by going to the following address on your iPad device.  In this course you will find other materials on creating iTunes U content, and more ways to App Smash your way to a successful classroom.