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