Category Archives: management

Bringing #3DPrinting into the Classroom

Last year I decided to try a cool PBL (project-based learning) activity with my students, which combined multiple subjects: social studies and language arts integrated into STEM skills and products.

The “Parthenon Project” was designed to be somewhat challenging and to get my 6th graders to use and apply their knowledge in new ways, ways that simulated real-life problem-solving scenarios. One of the end products students needed to create was a scale model of the Parthenon, using free SketchUp CAD design software.

Earlier in the year, there had been a lot of resistance to going paperless — despite being “digital natives”, my students had been indoctrinated into our antiquated, pencil-and-paper classrooms.  They had just spent 6 years learning that “learning” = “books and paper” whereas their association with technology was that it is a device for entertainment and socializing… YouTube, video games, FaceBook and Instagram and Vine.  I just named pretty much every purpose my students used their devices for.  Nobody had taught them that computers and the internet were invented to be tools, and since they weren’t ever using them that way in school (other than one hour every other week when they came to me for “computer lab”), they had no way to know any better.

To make an already-long story short, the kids had a difficult time accepting that modern technology could be used to do many of the things they were used to doing with other media:

  • eBooks
  • art
  • most surprisingly, models

They had done the obligatory models of things like California Missions, using clay and popsicle sticks, etc.  Nobody had ever taught them that you can get more precision, without spending a dime, simply by modeling in the computer.

“Yeah, but what if you want to touch or hold it?”

That’s when I showed them 3D modeling and, knowing that we had a MakerBot replicator at the local high school that I could get access to, I made the promise that I would take the most perfect model made by one of the teams and would print it out to put on display in the class.

I had feared my students might not be able to handle the challenging assignment, but to the contrary it showed just how much they could achieve when they were motivated and excited about what they were doing.  CAD design and the promise of being able to bring a vision into a physical reality at the push of a button helped do that.

So this year I decided I would have students make models of even more iconic buildings and architecture from our Ancient Civilizations social studies curriculum – The Great Pyramid, the Ziggurat of Ur, maybe more.  To do that, I would need my own 3D printer so that I wouldn’t have to rely on if and when the high school teacher was available to help me use his.  An even bigger motivator, if I did this, would be to actually print models for my students to have and to keep — if they were successful in their CAD designs.

Thus began the process of investigating the newest, most affordable 3D printers that I could bring into my classroom to encourage students to create, to produce, to invent, to solve problems… to use modern technology for something more than mindless entertainment, and to get them curious and excited about where progress and innovation can take us.

Educational Websites That Use Flash

Four years ago, with the ongoing advent of HTML5 and the non-Flash support of iPads, many people declared that “Flash is dead.”  However, anybody who has been paying attention will realize by now that such a statement is easier said than done: Flash, Java, and similar technologies were used for more than 20 years of rich internet application development — especially in the world of educational websites.  While that has started to change, many (if not most) of those educational resources still have not changed to cross-platform supported technologies such as HTML5.  So, in short, it is still important for a paperless device to be able to access all sorts of educational websites — including those that use Flash (and preferably even supporting other plug-ins like Unity, Java, Shockwave, and more.)  Chromebooks can access most educational websites, including Flash. Windows and Mac can access even more, including Java, Shockwave, Silverlight, Unity etc.  But iPads and Androids are much more limited; neither can access Java, Shockwave, or other plug-ins, and Android devices can only access Flash by going through some special setup routines.

Currently, Flash is used on about 15% of websites — so this is lower than the 25% that required Flash four years ago.  However, the percentage of educational websites that require Flash is much higher. Here’s a list of some examples…

Textbook-Publisher Curriculum Resources

Other Educational Resources That Use Flash
(just a few examples — there are many, many more!)

And these are just the tip of the iceberg…

As you can see, even in 2014 students are missing out on many resources and opportunities if they are unable to access educational resources (including Flash) online — and all of the above can be used for free, without installing any apps.

Some people believe you can get around this problem by simply using a “Flash app” for iPad (or Android) — these are actually cloud browsers, and are not great to use for a variety of reasons. For one, they are more laggy and not as smooth of an experience as simply using Flash would be. The bigger problem is that these cloud browsers — including iSwifter, Rover, Puffin, Photon, CloudBrowse, and others — are actually streaming video to your device, which requires a ton of bandwidth so they can cause serious problems if used on multiple devices sharing an internet connection, which is the case at schools:



10 Needs / Considerations for a 1:1 Paperless Device

Ten 1:1 Paperless Classroom Needs

Wireless Presentation Using Miracast – Who Needs AppleTV or Chromecast?

One thing that definitely comes in handy in a classroom is the ability to project or broadcast information from your device (or a student device) onto a projector screen or other display for everybody to easily see.

One of the first solutions people started adopting for this was AppleTV. And it does work pretty well… but only for Apple devices. That is a problem.

Then came Chromecast, a solution which may work best with Chromebooks, but is still fairly limited — it does not allow for full screencasting / streaming of your desktop, and instead is limited to certain applications and services.

However, there is a new(ish) standard called Miracast, which runs under a similar format as Chromecast, but allows for full-screen streaming of anything you have, on many different devices. Fortunately, Miracast support is built right into Windows 8.1, so all you need is a display with built-in Miracast support (many newer TVs and projectors have this), or a Miracast receiver box that can be plugged into your non-Miracast display device:

The Paperless Process

When talking about “The Paperless Process,” we really need to keep in mind that:

  • there is no singular “right way” to go paperless — there are several possible solutions here;
  • the “paperless process” is not a single process, but a series of processes that represent the whole collection of myriad tasks and jobs we must accomplish in a classroom.

Learning can be a chaotic process, and school tends to have a whole slew of varied tasks and demands — whether this means the many different subjects that students learn in a high school or university setting, or all of the various subjects and tasks they must learn in elementary school: reading, writing, math, science, history, geography, art, music, even physical education.

These different tasks have different needs and demands, so it may be obvious that different technology tools will address those needs to different degrees. A device that may work very well for reading and writing tasks may not suffice at all for art, science, or math tasks.

This is why versatility of hardware, software, and processes and procedures must be considered.  Really, we can look at the varied needs of a paperless classroom as two sides of the same learning coin:

1) Content Consumption (Acquisition) — How is knowledge and information delivered to the students? These days there is a lot of talk about “flipping” the classroom, e-books, and “gamification,” but it all boils down to one thing: how do students acquire knowledge? Do they do it independently, or guided by a teacher? In reality, a paperless device and paperless classroom should allow students multiple paths to obtain knowledge, including online websites, e-books, videos, interactive tutorials, simulations, practice games, and assessment tools.

2) Productivity (Application) — The other equally-important (or more important, in my opinion) side of the coin is: what can students do with that knowledge? How can they apply it, to show that they can extend lower-order skills to higher-order problem-solving tasks, and to be productive 21st-century workers and citizens? In reality, this is the end result we want from school — not mere acquisition of knowledge, but the ability to actually use and apply that intellectual toolkit in “the real world.”

Be Your Own Sub!

I have been teaching students using technology for many years now, and one thing that I have always dreaded over the past decade of using edtech is: being absent. Now, I’m pretty sure every teacher gets some level of anxiety when he/she can’t be in the classroom and must trust our precious students and lessons in the hands of a stranger. But when you add technology — and all of the challenges that come along with it — to the mix, that feeling is compounded. What if the substitute teacher is not tech-savvy or even computer literate? What if something goes wrong in the class?

Well, in the past, I would type up very detailed instruction guides — basically, tutorial packets — with step-by-step screenshots, annotations, and other illustrations along the way. As you might imagine, that is a very time-consuming task! It would take me 2-3 hours of work just to get 6 hours off! (Obviously, I avoided being absent as much as humanly possible.)

However, now that my students are in a 1:1 classroom, I can take a different approach: I can simply make a short recording, giving them all of the instructions myself! Obviously, I don’t want to throw any major curveballs by introducing entirely new concepts and procedures to the mix, but this can be a great way to ensure students have a resource they can refer to if they get stuck or need a reminder of how to do something, and you don’t need to depend on the sub to be able to explain it all. Best of all, it only takes about 30 minutes to do… much faster than the detailed sub plans I was creating!

PS. This video was created using just the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (our 1:1 paperless device), and the free Microsoft Movie Maker software

Windows 8.1 Classroom Tips and Tricks: Multitasking

Windows 8 has some pretty nice features for multitasking in the classroom. This comes in particularly useful for online research and document creation, as well as for going paperless with active digitizer stylus-enabled (“penabled”) hybrid devices such as the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 we are using. In this video, I show a few of the simple ways to efficiently multitask using multiple apps at the same time:

  1. Swipe from the left to rapidly switch between running apps (some can be running in the background), or to bring up a list of open apps.
  2. Pull the apps out onto the left or right side of the screen to “dock” them into a pane or panel and be able to use two apps (or more, depending on screen space) simultaneously.

How to Deep Freeze Windows 8 Devices

As noted in the previous post, there are a few areas of concern when using Windows (or Mac) computers: namely, these operating systems are designed to allow the user to have a lot of control over everything they do — including things we may not want our students to do (intentionally or, more often, accidentally), like moving shortcuts or icons, deleting/uninstalling software, or installing unapproved software apps.

One major first step to prevent such behaviors is to establish a Technology Acceptable Use Policy (a.k.a. Agreement or Contract) for students and parents to sign. This document outlines the fundamental rules and requirements for using 1:1 devices in the classroom, and outlines possible consequences for non-compliance. By signing the document, students and parents acknowledge that they are aware of the rules and will abide by them.

However, even with the above measures in place, accidents do happen (and sometimes students — especially adolescent ones — can make some poor decisions.)

For these reasons, it is a good practice to install software on the devices that will prevent such problems from occurring. One way is to ensure that students have a non-admin login, which would prevent installation of software and would minimize malware threats. However, it doesn’t prevent moving or deletion of desktop icons and shortcuts, and it can cause problems when admin access is needed — for example, if a website plugin needs to suddenly be updated.

Faronics Deep FreezeThe solution I have used over the past few years to avoid these issues is called Deep Freeze, by Faronics. This software freezes the configuration of a computer so that, upon reboot, any changes that occurred are undone and the system is restored to that designated “frozen” state.  This does not actually prevent changes from occurring on the machine. Students can log in with admin rights, can make changes to the system, can update web plugins, or could even install software on the fly if they need it — however, none of those actions will stick. They will not persist forever; when the computer is restarted, all of the changes made while frozen will be wiped out:

Tips for Using Deep Freeze at School:

  1. You can set “Allow Windows Updates” setting to automatically ensure that, while the rest of the computer is frozen, the Windows OS is not frozen and can be updated as normal via Windows Updates (otherwise, you will have to unfreeze the computers and manually check for updates at scheduled times.)
  2. You can also allow scheduled update time slots and scripts to make sure certain programs can automatically update. This can be useful for software that requires updates, like Flash (and other Adobe software. But especially Flash.)
  3. Students will need to be taught that they cannot rely on saving and accessing their files locally! If you save any work to My Documents, for example, that work will be erased and will disappear with the computer is rebooted!  The solution to this is to store files outside of the local device: you can create student folders on the LAN (local area network for the school), which will allow students to access those files from any computer while at school. An even better solution could be to use “cloud storage” solutions such as Microsoft SkyDrive or Google Drive. This is part of Google Apps for Education, which is popular because it is free for schools and provides 30 GB of storage space for every student. It is the solution we — like many other classrooms — are using.

Click here for technical details and documentation regarding how you set up automatic Windows Updates or updates for other programs, while keeping computers safely frozen.

Setup and Management of Windows 8 Devices

You may have noticed in my previous posts about the needs and requirements of 1:1 paperless devices that I did not mention “management/maintenance” as an important consideration.

The reason for this is because, although it actually is an important factor to consider, we have to keep in mind the following:

  1. The priority for choosing a device is the educational experience; the #1 priority is to improve learning and productivity, and all other factors (including pricetag and IT management) are, in my opinion, secondary to this primary goal. Even though they are still very important, it doesn’t do much good to get a device that is “cheap” or “easy for tech support and maintenance” if the device isn’t very useful in the classroom.
  2. There is not an “unmanageable” device. Every major category of device — Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Chromebook — is manageable; it may simply be a matter of different methods and (sometimes) additional software or systems that may be necessary.

I am going to start by pointing out some of the IT setup/management/maintenance benefits and limitations of each of the above , and then explain some ways that Windows devices can, in fact, be fairly easy to manage and maintain — no more difficult than iPads, Android tablets, or Macs.

Device Type IT Management & Concerns
Windows 8Windows-8-logo-300x300 Windows is used on nearly 90% of devices out there (source: NetMarketShare), and has been used as an enterprise solution for many years, and thus has a lot of support by IT departments and various software programs to help cloning of devices, standardization of machines, account profiles (Active Directory, etc.), and monitoring tools.On the other hand, this long-standing and widespread use also tends to cause Windows to be more of a target for hackers and malware. Windows has long had a reputation for some issues, including susceptibility to virus, spyware, or other malware. Windows 8 is far more stable and secure than previous versions, but these are still valid concerns.
Mac (OS X)Mac_OS_X_logo Very similar to Windows, the Mac OS has been around for a long time and has gone through many iterations. OS X is not as widely-adopted at the enterprise level — accounting for about 7% of all devices out there — but it has been around long enough that there are various IT tools to help clone and manage these devices, similar to Windows.  OS X also has a reputation for being more secure, so protective measures may not be as high of a priority as Windows (note: no OS is 100% invulnerable! There have been recent reports of trojans on OS X, for example.)
iPads (iOS)iOS logo Generally speaking, iOS is a much “simpler” operating system than full-fledged computers like OS X or Windows. This simplicity eliminates a lot of loopholes and headaches that could occur, allowing the appearance and installation of apps to be more standardized and streamlined. However, this “walled garden” approach can also cause some management headaches — especially when it comes to installing apps on multiple devices. iTunes accounts can be tricky to manage, and installs on multiple devices can be tedious and time consuming, although there are now specialized tools to simplify this process.
Androidandroid-logo-white Although Android devices have now surpassed iOS overall, this is mainly driven by smartphones (not tablets), and generally dealt with at the end-user level since this represents consumer demand more than enterprise-wide adoptions. Since there are so many different versions of both hardware and software versions for Android, it creates “fragmentation” with different capabilities and limitations across devices; this is one of several reasons why there are not as many tools for simplifying the install and management pipeline for IT departments working with Android. On the one hand, Android is much more open and accessible than iOS, allowing for expanded opportunities and capabilities, but also allowing for various headaches (including recent reports of malware!)
ChromebookNew-Chrome-Icon1 Chromebooks run “Chrome OS”, which is a specialized install of Linux operating system, running Chrome web browser as the central software. In essence, this makes Chromebooks different than all of the above devices, because most laptops and tablets use installed apps and programs. For the most part, Chromebooks do not do this – they simply provide a “client” device to access remote apps run on internet websites; a.k.a. “Cloud Computing”This can really simplify things, because the above concerns about managing multiple installs, or preventing malware, are pretty much eliminated. On the other hand, there are other IT concerns to deal with – namely, issues of bandwidth, connectivity, privacy, and ensuring that the cloud apps you want to access can actually be used by students (many have Terms of Service that specify minimum age requirements which rule out use by younger students.)

Having acknowledged the challenges of each popular 1:1 solution, we can see that there are always considerations to keep in mind — and there are always solutions to each problem, some may just take more time or specialized software than others.

In the upcoming posts I will explain how you can streamline use of Windows 8 devices (like the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2) for use in your school, and minimize the work required to install software and reduce anxieties about students accidentally (or intentionally) “messing up” the devices (through actions as innocuous as moving around desktop icons, or as worrisome as virus infections.)  These are the 4 basic types of tools you may want to consider if using Windows (or even Mac) devices:

  1. Cloning / imaging software to simplify software installs onto multiple devices, and ensure standardization (in our case, we are starting by using Acronis True Image; there are several other options)
  2. “Freezing” or “locking” software to easily prevent or roll back any changes made to the computer, essentially “freezing” it in a state that you desire (we are using Faronics Deep Freeze to accomplish this)
  3. Anti-Malware software (optional), such as Sophos or Norton. Due to the improved Windows security and firewall features combined with software such as Deep Freeze, antivirus software may not even be necessary but could be an optional “extra precaution.”
  4. Classroom Device Management / Monitoring software (optional), such as SMART Sync a.k.a. “SynchronEyes.”  There are a few different programs that will allow you as a teacher (or an admin) to be able to see each student’s screen, track their behaviors and activities on the devices, take screenshots or broadcast student or teacher screen to other devices, send and retrieve quizzes, polls, or files from students, set filtering and restrictions for apps or websites that are accessible to students, and more options. This type of software is not necessary for a 1:1 or paperless classroom, but it can certainly be nice to have.