Thursday, July 15, 2010

iPad for grown-ups: reading books

I have been reading lots of educators postings about the iPad sharing all kinds of cool ways to use them in school and for learning, but I have always known that when I finally get one it will be for me!  Because I am a reader and everyone I live with is a reader (Define: reader  = a person who reads fiction regularly during the school term as well as serious work-related material; a person who will stay up into the wee hours of the morning during a working week on occasion reading fiction until it is finished!). When we all go on holiday together too much of the car boot space is taken up with library books. So the advent of a versitile eBook reader will be a wonderful asset to our household.

For the past week I have had an iPad and today I sadly/gladly handed it over to the person I bought it for.  I would have bought two so I could have one for myself, but we searched six states in the USA as we travelled and we only ever managed to find the one wifi iPad sitting in a store waiting to be bought - at Best Buy in Medina, Ohio.

So while I had the iPad I downloaded the Apple book reader, iBooks; the Barnes and Noble book reader; Amazon's Kindle reader; Borders' book reading app; and a free one called Free Books.

Then I bought a few books, took advantage of Barnes and Nobles free eBooks and downloaded lots from Project Gutenburg.  I also added a few lengthy .pdfs that I had been meaning to read. Then I tried to squeeze in as much reading time as I could. Fortunately a flight from one coast of the US to the other, a 6 hour stop-over in LAX and a 12 hour flight to NZ gave plenty of opportunity to read a few books and documents.

Here are some of my thoughts from the past week of reading....
There really wasn't a lot to pick and choose between the reading apps.  They all had nice page turning, bookmarks, the ability to go online and lookup words or information (if you have wireless - which of course I never had on a plane).  They did the double page landscape and the single page portrait.  I was a bit miffed that it was only pdfs that you could pinch and squeeze to enlarge text.  I had anticipated being able to do that with books and give aging eyes a break.

The real differences come in what they allowed you to download or to buy. Project Gutenburg is currently providing the backbone to all of the reading apps and the free book giveaways. It has 33,000 titles available to download for free and it is surprising to discover which books are already out of copyright and have now been digitised by the team of volunteers working on this project. All the classics and childhood favourites are there. I think that the Free Book app has the best interface of the ones I tried for reading these. I notice that if you go to the iTunes Store it is a free download, but the weblink is charging $1.99.

I presume the iBook reader is not yet available in NZ because iPads are not here yet. And if it is like the music and movie iTunes store, the US offerings will be different from the NZ ones. So that works fine if you have a US account.  Barnes and Noble work from IP address and will not sell to anyone outside North America.  I really don't know what that is about.  I downloaded lots while I was there, but know that there will be nothing more from now on - unless anyone cares to email me some of the next round of free books ;)  Amazon is quite bizarrre.  While I had a US IP address, they knew I was a New Zealand customer and wanted to charge me a $2 shipping fee!!! for eBooks.  So I didn't try any of theirs. And Borders seemed to be the most straight forward.  Give them your credit card and they will sell you an eBook.  I like that non-discriminatory approach.

Most of the readers offer the option to read in sepia rather than just black on white.  That is a nice option for the eyes.  And I did like the way I was able to turn the backlight brightness down on the plane to give my eyes a rest too.  The battery lasted easily for 10 hours, but we discovered today that it is a trial when you are up to a good part in a book and the battery goes flat.  Talk about frustrating.

Reading in bed with it is fine.  Reading on the plane was not quite as good.  Planes are uncomfortable at the best of times and the iPad didn't squish into the confined space in the same way a paperback does. But reading pdfs on a plane via iPad is way better than wads of printouts.  If you are a person who falls asleep over your reading and lets a book slide to the floor with a thunk, then you would need to invest in a good protective case!

Biggest frustration; not being able to quickly flip back through the pages when you have lost a piece of plot context and you want to check up on something that happened earlier.  
In conclusion, it is probably clear from this post that I am a fan of the iPad as a book reading device for grown-ups.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Global Collaboration

One of the joys and benefits of technology developments in the past decade has been the ability to connect, communicate and collaborate with people from all over the world as part of our shared learning experiences. We have benefited from having a number of schools in the USA interested in video conferencing with our students and working together on collaborative projects. However, because we have some shared history from Europe a few hundred years back, we can be lulled into thinking that we need to be doing 'projects' together rather than spending time finding out about how each other lives and sees life.

After two weeks in the USA enjoying the unfailing hospitality and kindness of people across the six states we visited, I have been reflecting again on the many cultural differences between Kiwis and North Americans. Many times I have reminded myself to not be deceived by the fact that we speak different versions of the same language. We have very different cultures, influenced as much by factors such as geography and climate as by our forebears.

I would urge both Kiwis and Americans to make the most of these digital communication opportunities to explore (and enjoy) the real cultural differences between us and not make presumptions based on what we glimpse on television ( NB: Kiwis) or how Peter Jackson and other movie directors portray us (NB: Americans). This is the first time I have visited the USA when more than 50% of the people I have talked to have complimented me on my soccer team! And even more have told me that visiting NZ is 'On my bucket list'.

I have been taking notes as I have travelled around, mainly via photos on my phone, of things that have intrigued / amused / astounded / informed because we don't experience them in New Zealand. In no particular order, here are some snippets - Vive la difference!
items with an ** are illustrated in the photos below....

First item has to be: everything is larger than anything New Zealand has ever experienced - you name it, it will be much bigger :)
  • Portions and malls; trucks and land; holiday houses - 4 bedrooms seemed minimum- and campers; fishing lines; airports
America has great roads - huge roads, fast roads, well maintained roads. Lots of toll roads to pay as you travel on. And they drive fast on them.
  • Everything on the the roads seems to be huge. The trucks, the cars, the SUVs, the boats being towed.
  • People tow amazing combinations - fast eg a ute towing a very large camping trailer towing a car towing a boat. All in one long line. Going fast.
  • Motor cycles don't seem to require helmets - even on the freeways going fast **
  • Radio station frequencies are advertised on the sides of freeways dedicated to giving you information about the area you are traveling through
  • Sign on the back of a passing truck: "My USA - no comfort or aid to the enemy".
  • Every state has different laws about seat belts. They change as you cross state borders eg Virginia says " Buckle up Virginia - It;'s a law we can LIVE with!"
  • In some states the speed limit is enforced by aircraft!
  • On a very fast freeway we all screeched to standstill while a state trooper shooed a family of ducks across the highway
  • We saw 3-4 dead bambis on the side of busy roads. Maybe cars are more lethal than guns nowdays
National pride - you have to experience July 4th in the USA to really get a picture of people who know how to do national pride.
  • Every house on the street flying the flag and sporting bunting. And if you go to church over the weekend you get to see it in the church context too. **
  • The food in the supermarket came flag-themed with masses of red/white/blue food for sale on July 4th **
  • Interesting the way they sing "God Save the Queen" on July 4th - kinda nice
Other stuff
  • Inside a decadent ice-cream eatery, Cold Sone Creamery, there is a sign on the counter outlining all the ailments that these icecreams will NOT cure! We thought we were just out to get an ice-cream, not to cure cancer! **
  • People kept telling us that Virginia Beach was 'very strict'. We discovered that you get fined for swearing in public, for appearing drunk while walking etc there **
  • The visual pollution: power lines and billboards cluttering the sky in remote parts with beautiful scenery
  • We were quite surprised that we could not eat outside when we were having meals in beachside cafes in North Carolina. The waitresses said it was against the law.
  • A long public pier put over the sea was gated off and payment of $10 was required to fish and $1 to walk out onto it. **
  • The air conditioning units - you need a jersey to wear inside on very hot days or you freeze
  • Pennsylvania billboard: "We treasure our country, our cows, our children" - we passed it too fast to get a photo :) However, in all the miles of farmland we never saw a single cow outside on the farms. Maybe the cows were all inside somewhere….
  • Bathrooms have long been a fascination of mine and this trip I saw an effective method of controlling graffiti; they placed a board inside a picture frame on the back of the toilet door - and it worked - all the messages were contained within it. But the dreaded gaps are still there! **
  • Cheese - well, there is nothing that resembles the cheese we eat in NZ
  • Coffee - Funny how something that you would think would be the same the world over can be so different!
  • Tipping everyone, everywhere; the price appears to have gone up and they have started publishing notices to 'foreigners' that we HAVE to tip 18% of a meal bill **
  • Visitors are no longer called 'aliens' - now we seem to be 'foreigners'
  • Cafe menu have appetisers, salads etc but the entres section turns out to be the main course?? Asked waiters about it but they didn't understand the question (or the accent!)
There is lots more, but I think that we need to take time with our students to help them connect with each other and try to put themselves in each others' shoes. I believe it is easier to have a quality learning experience with kids from countries who speak a different language because we don't make presumptions that they are the same as us - just with a different accent.

The Haul - Shopping for America

Doing our bit to support the American economy is an important feature of any trip to this part of the world and we have made sure we didn't drop the ball on this one. Today I realised that this could be another authentic education activity, thanks to reading USA Today over my morning coffee.

US teenagers (I have only come across girls so far) are posting 'haul' (shopping Show 'n Tell) videos on YouTube. And stores are starting to take them seriously. Makes my couple of photos posted on Facebook pale into insignificance! The example I have embedded below is heading towards a million views and there are heaps more of them online.

After visits to the US I usually return home buzzing with ideas about how we can leverage the latest technology trends in our schools, particularly with a focus on literacy. It wouldn't take much to integrate this idea into the English curriculum, but I can also see a great 'hook' here for Maths- we just need a sponsor.
Watch this space for the launching of the "GI Haul" video channel!

A haul video is a video displaying the fruits of a shopping trip which someone uploads to the Internet. Haul videos may be used by bloggers to connect with their readers and community, and they are also used to generate communities of their own...... Researchers who are interested in the changing ways in which the Internet is utilized and people interact with each other may cite the haul video as one example of how the Internet has changed social interaction. Historically, young women commonly showed off their hauls in person to friends, parents, and roommates. Today, they may be more inclined to post a haul video which will reach not only friends and family, but people all over the world who may be interested in the vlogger's life or opinions on fashion.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Preparing for a Netbook Rollout

As we make plans for the Manaiakalani netbook rollout to the Year 5-13 students in our cluster, one of the priorities for learning at the ISTE conference was what schools, districts and states in the USA who began similar projects several years ago have learned from the experience. We were particularly interested in state schools and anyone who had implemented a project like this with lower decile students. If you don't think this distinction is important, let me tell you that whenever we talk to people outside our cluster about the Manaiakalani Project vision, the first thing more than 50% say back is, "But what about theft and damage?" A response to that question is a post on its own!

We attended a presentation titled "How to Design a Successful 1-to-1 Program".
The brief included:
"The Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) is the largest and only statewide 1:1 initiative in the USA. Encompassing every public school 7th and 8th grade student and every educator teaching grades 7 through 12, MLTI has 70,000 laptop computers deployed across the State.... Maine has deployed over 155,000 laptops and 800 wireless networks in the last 8 years. If there are mistakes to be made, we've made them. Learn from Maine's successes and failures to help ensure a successful 1:1 program in your school."

This session provided a wealth of information and I have noted down practical ideas here which we think will be very useful to the Manaiakalani Project netbook roll out. So, in no particular order, here goes.....

Teaching and Learning thoughts:
  • Teacher Preparation is essential
  • One year before students have the devices the teachers need a laptop and a data projector of their own
  • BUT don't wait until staff are fully trained to give the kids their netbook - they will never be fully trained for what is around the corner!
  • Use online communication tools with teachers to support their learning, to collaborate and co-ordinate eg Google Apps
  • Hold regular teacher meetings where these questions are asked; "What are you doing that's working?" and "What are you doing that you are having challenges with". And record the answers in an online space.
  • Get teachers out of school to state and district (cluster) meetings to share their learning and needs
  • Every staff meeting book 10 minutes to have a teacher show something that is working
  • Don’t teach software - teaching learning, using the software
    Principals need to be attending the professional development alongside the teachers
  • It won’t make a bad teacher better, but once you have taught a 1:1 class you will never want to teach in another way again
  • The pedagogy must be different. Putting a device in the hands of every student and continuing to teach in the same way we were taught is not going to work.
  • In the US they found that 60-70% of the text books they used were available online or as pdfs or podcasts
Parent and Community (Whanau) thoughts:
  • Insist that parents come in to school for training before the individual student is allowed to take a netbook home
  • Newsletters in a variety of forms are essential for communication
  • Ongoing training of parents (at school) should be done by children - but always mix it up. Don't have kids train their own parent!
  • By product of this is that PARENTS use technology more at home
  • Send the netbooks home. Research shows that sending the netbooks home results in improved test scores.
Technical Support issues:
  • Less breakage occurs in netbooks that are being used all the time than those that are stored a lot!
  • Breakage is inversely related to HOW the technology is being used
    What they are being used for makes a huge difference. If the kids see classes/learning as boring.... breakage and theft goes up
  • More breakage occurs with laptops than netbooks
  • Need a regular weekly meeting to review challenges and highlight those that need to be urgently fixed
  • Infrastructure - always double the bandwidth you think is necessary.... and double it every year. You will never have too much
  • Every classroom needs its own managed access point for wireless
  • Students MUST be used as technicians. You will never be able to employ enough adults.
  • After trial and error, student technicians fell into two layers; kids who enjoy 'fixing' and problem solving, and kids who organise and administer the requests for repairs
  • All netbook issues are logged with the kids who organise the repair scheduling - they cope with the stress being generated by kids with dysfunctional netbooks
  • The hands-on techie kids liaise with the adult technicians and work through the job schedules. This way they are not having to interface with aggrieved peers
  • Have two old desktop computers in the back of the room as fall backs for kids who left netbook at home or have it in for repairs. Don't replace with another netbook!
  • It is not worth insuring netbooks. Cheaper to replace them.
  • Use old laptops (especially those with dead batteries) as desktops in back of classroom - for when a kid has one out for repairs OR when kid has been inappropriate - give them one of those :)
  • Filtering/Firewalls solution: The best solution they have found is the one they call the GOYA solution (Get Off Your A***) “Teach your teachers to get up and walk around the room” to actively monitor what students are looking at on their screens!
We would appreciate any other useful and practical tips from folk who are further down the track than us.

NB: This post clearly does not address the huge pedagogical shifts we are having to make to prepare for a netbook roll out. There are many other posts in this blog which reflect our thinking in that area.

***Update: Russell Burt has shared his notes after attending several 1:1 sessions at ISTE on a .pdf which can be downloaded from this link

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Your Keys to the City - Denver

First impressions on arriving in Denver, Colorado are that it is a very friendly and very clean city.  After spending seven days in the city for the ISTE conference we can confirm it truly is. We only saw graffiti once as we drove out of town.  It has a fantastic climate, good shopping in the centre of town, good eateries and every place we went to had New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the menu :)  Denver is one of those places in the world that you leave knowing that one day it would be good to come back.
It is a city that is easy to navigate - the regular layout of the streets meant even the most geographically challenged (me) could find their way with ease.  And the public transport was great.  We tried it all; taxi, airport shuttle, bike, horse and gig, free shuttle buses and city buses.  All the drivers were helpful and waited patiently while kiwis fumbled with correct change.  This is a welcome change when you are a tourist.

One of the special delights of the city was the Your Keys to the City programme in the main street - 16th Street mall.  10 pianos were left out 24/7 for passers bye to sit down and entertain the foot traffic.  And these were no ordinary pianos.  They all were hand painted by local artists. 

"Ten uniquely painted upright pianos can be found along the 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver for one month starting May 21st. They are part of a seasonal program called "Your Keys to the City" created by the Downtown Denver Partnership. The concept is designed to encourage those in center city to interact with their public spaces in new and spontaneous ways while contributing to the vibrancy within our urban core! "

We presumed one of the reasons the city was so clean was the large number of people employed to clean up after people and horses. It certainly wasn't the police presence because we hardly saw any.  It was surprising then that there seemed to be so many homeless people and people asking for money.  Although it was pretty constant it never felt threatening.  The major drawback was the complete lack of iPads to be bought in the city.  People owned them and were using them everywhere we turned, but they proved impossible to buy. Fortunately we had better luck in Cleveland!