Letter to parent interested in buying a laptop for their student

Recently a parent asked me about purchasing a laptop for their student.  I would recommend a netbook. The keyboards are a bit cramped, but in my mind, they make up for it in the reduced size and weight. The solid state drives are more durable than the traditional hard drive, but are being discontinued in the lower price ranges.

Here are the reasons that I would recommend a netbook over a traditional laptop.
  • Laptops do not last as long as desktop.
  • The general replacement cycle for a laptop is three years as opposed to five years for a desktop.
  • Kids are not always careful, but if they have a computer
    • it should be ultra portable so they can take it anywhere and
    • inexpensive, in case of damage.
    • I would rather spend less on a computer and replace it than try to keep it for five to six years.

Almost all computer companies, Dell, Asus, Acer to name a few, have netbook models, so it pays to shop. Many machines can be ordered used or refurbished. I would consider both of these options since you will probably face replacement sooner that you would like.

I really haven’t seen any program for laptops for students or teachers that give discounted prices. Generally the cheapest prices for computers are back to school (August), ChristmasTax Time (January) and graduation (June). Computer makers set price points. They add additional features but stay with similar prices.

The Crowd Speaks: what are you doing for Professional Development this summer?

This is a preview of the article I am preparing for the Summer edition of Connections the NHSTE, New Hampshire  affiliate  of the International Society for Technology Education. Each issue I survey our members on a topic of interest and report back on their responses. This issue we surveyed the membership on Professional Development direction for the summer. Here are the results, a few things stand out.

ISTE Eduverse talks - David Warlick and Steve Dembo by Krossbow

Many folks are going to conferences. Top on the list is ISTE 2010—formerly known as NECC, In Denver CO, June 27- 30.

I love going to NECC, now called The ISTE conference. The sessions are great, although sometimes crowded. There are more vendors than I can cover, so it is an excellent opportunity preview and compare product, and visiting with the participants and meeting online friends f2f would be worth it on its own! – Deb Boisvert

This conference is my annual “brain recharge”. The energy, networking, and access to information is unsurpassed. – Cyndi Dunlap

ISTE 2010 offers many related conference events and workshops, such as EduBloggerCon 2010, all day Saturday, June 26th, at the Colorado Convention Center just prior to the ISTE Conference.

Can’t go to Denver? Don’t worry; now you can participate from the comfort of your own home or office. ISTE has announced Virtual Workshops to this year’s conference line up.

Next year ISTE 2011will be return to Philadelphia. This offers a outstanding opportunity for New England educators, so start making plans now for a team from your school to attend.

Other educators are attending the Constructing Modern Knowledge Conference, July 12-15th in Manchester NH. Constructing Modern Knowledge is a minds-on institute for educators committed to creativity, collaboration and computing. Participants will have the opportunity to engage in intensive computer-rich project development with peers and a world-class faculty.

Still others are attending Alan November’s Building Learning Communities 2010, July 11-13th in Boston, MA

Both Cathy Higgins and Mary Rubega are recommending the CRESTE, Capital Region Society for Technology in Education, Summer Boot camp offerings, . Many offerings are online, throughout June, July and August, ranging in price from $10 to $350. Topics range from Teaching ans Assessing 21st Century Learning to five courses in Google Sketch Up, free software that you can use to create 3D models of anything you like that can be added to Google Earth.

Many NHSTE members are both attending and presenting at conferences.

Alice Barr is teaching a variety of classes Through the University of Southern Maine including, Learning to Use Podcasting and Vodcasting for Teaching and Learning, 21st Century Teaching and Learning with Technology, and The Read/Write Web in the Classroom. She would love to have more students enroll.

Cathy Brophy is offering a Summer Technology Institute, July 12-30, with classes of varied length, in Somerworth NH.

We decided to plan our own mini institute to try to reach out to as many teachers as possible, by offering a wide variety of topics, dates and formats. This is our first attempt at something like this-and we’re hoping to learn much from the experience!

Linda George is Teaching Scratch, a computer application aimed primarily at children thatallows them to explore and experiment with the concepts of computer programming by using the simple graphical interface, at the Scratch@MIT event August 11-14th, at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA.

She says: I enjoy teaching kids how to use Scratch. The kids love learning how to use it and then using that knowledge to create their own projects. The fact that MIT makes this application and freely distributes it, as well as allows the creators to upload their projects and allow conversation among the kids makes this an important global connection. I am presenting at this conference and will be sharing some of the many resources available to the teacher who would like to learn how to help the kids learn how to “Scratch!”

Maria Knee is co presenting Let’s Do It: Planning for Technology in Early Childhood Classrooms at ISTE 2010 and at BLC 2010 in Boston.

As always it shapes up to be a full and exciting summer and I always think that I will have more time then than I do now, so it is always fun to plan.

Thoughts on direction of technology at DCS

This is a post in response to the discussion about Wes Fryer’s blog post about Maria Knee’s class in Deerfield.  As I wrote it  helped me evaluate the grant that we are now finishing up and how it has effected the direction of technology at DCS.

This is great! What a fantastic learning environment. It would be great if all classrooms were like this.

However I have three questions ringing in my head:
-Are the Kindergarten students in the class across the hall getting the same experience?
-How about the Kindergarten students on the other side of the state?
-Where is the documented achievement showing the positive link between the tech and the learning?

Hi Ryan,

Just wanted to give you a few answers where I can, first some background. I am the Tech Coord at Maria’s school. Maria has been an innovator since the AppleII/Logo days. For many years she has done more, with the 2 computers in her room, by taking her kids to our computer lab and by signing out the shared resources such as projectors, than most teachers.

– No, the Kindergarten students in the class across the hall are not getting the same experience – at the moment.

Last year I wrote a grant to outfit 4 rooms in our building, K, 5th ,7th science and 8th Math,  as 21st century classrooms. One of my research projects for the grant was to determine where our small district should put funds in updating classrooms. As the grant progressed it became evident that all of these classes changed fundamentally, and provided powerful models within our building that stimulated change in non project classrooms.

This year we have received another grant that will add 3 more 21st century classes, K, 4th and 7th. We are also using a chunk of our IDEA-ARRA money and our regular budget to outfit more classroom. By next fall ,all Kindergarten classrooms will have IWB’s and projectors and will share additional resources such as netbooks.

-Sad to say, the Kindergarten students in other parts of the state do not have these resources.

In some parts of the state there is not even high speed Internet, other schools do not have the personnel to write grants, and schools are primarily funded by local property tax, that create even more disparities. National high speed access should be a national priority and NH has a long way to go in equitable funding.

-Ooooh the last question strikes home. I am, right now, writing the evaluation for our grant. Hopefully I will have something more to share on this one in the coming weeks. What I can do here is to briefly list our preliminary findings.

1. Technology cannot transform education, only educators and students can transform education. It takes time and hard work, but is a lot of fun.

2. Transformation only occurs when educators take risk and look at their curriculum with new eyes. One of our biggest successes in the project is a 5th grade teacher who moved to the 6th grade mid grant, doing so allowed her to recast her whole curriculum with her new tools. If we all took the time to reinvent our practice every couple of years, we might have a similar growth and change.

3. Transformation is more powerful when it is shared with others, in building and around our world. Of all of the aspects of this project, participants repeatedly identified the weekly meetings to share practice as the most powerful. Participants volunteered to meet Friday afternoons to explore tools and software, and to share what they were doing in the classroom. The meetings were open and a number of other staff members joined us.

4. Our school needs to shift from an equity model to a pockets of excellence model in resource distribution. I am not sure if this is a short or long term shift. For years I have  made every effort to have the same resource distribution for all classes. I have come to realize that unless educators commit to change, the learning of new skills and pedagogy, and the development of a Professional Learning Community for feedback and support, transformation is unlikely to happen. I plan to build and support powerful models in our school, that will create the foundation to add more model classroom, which will grow into model grade levels, impacting the direction of the school, district and state.

All of this happens one baby step at a time. Thank you for asking questions that make me write.

Deb Boisvert

Finishing up a weekend of prep for workshops

On Tuesday our SAU is having a major Professional Development day. I am doing two workshops, one on Sakai Tips and Tricks and one on Using Sakai to create professional development portfolios. As I am working on these presentations I am observing that I plan for a whole range of students, as a do when I plan for kids and that I want to have more planned than I need.

In my presentations this is sometimes overwhelming to participants. I wonder if

  • I move too fast, assuming too much about my audience,
  • I can read students better than adult, or
  • I just forget the time it takes to cover the basics.

I plan to watch myself carefully this time.

Deerfield Community School Tech Tidbits – XtraNormal.com

This week a fabulous free piece of software hit DCS – XtraNormal.com. This is movie software that allows you to create drag and drop animated movies in minutes by typing in the script. It bills itself as text – to – movie program. When making a movie, you are able to choose your actors, sounds, music, sets, expressions and movement. It even has a green screen feature so that your can insert you own photos as backgrounds. Everyone who has tried it has learned it quickly and really enjoyed it. It is an exciting educational tool as it allows you to make great movies, while focusing on the content rather than the technology.  Check out this introduction to Sakai that Mrs. Tatulis did to get a feel for the movies you could make.
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XtraNormal.com, does however bring up an question of ethics and internet safety. It is one of the many websites that is limited to use by those 13 years old or over. The 13 year old cut off mark was set by Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. Web services are not allowed to collect information about children 13 or under without parent permission. There are many websites that aim at this audience and require a parental agreement to set up an account, make some efforts to protect underage users,  and  limit the kind of information that is collected about users.  The Websites that rely only on the user’s agreement, and ones that collect more personal information, are generally only available to those users 14 and older. Legally, most of our students cannot set up accounts on XtraNormal.com, as well as many other sites and, as with any site that is aimed at a very broad audience, there is material that is not appropriate for children.
At school, we handle this with XtraNormal.com, by setting up teacher accounts and by monitoring the work that students do on these accounts. At home, this may be a different story. Many student have the attitude that you shouldn’t give away personal information on the web, which is true, so it is okay to lie about your age to access sites that are not legal for children 13 or under. With this logic, many DCS students set up all kinds of accounts, including Facebook and MySpace. This is where parents need to step in and attend to their child’s online behavior. Legally, all of these cited should be off limits to underage students. Parents may choose to create accounts and allow their children to use them, but this should be with some supervision. Tools like XtraNormal.com can be a fabulous learning resource, but student use of them should be monitored by adults.

My cup overflowth – in a different sort of way

Is you class half full or half empty? Does your cup overflow?

At the recent Educon Christopher Craft introduced me to a new metaphor of excess Cognitive Overload. In my simplified  understanding of the concept we all walk around daily with an intrinsic cognitive load or burden on your short term memory. This is the result of dealing with daily interaction, basics of your job and what really attracts your interest.

by shioshvili - flickr

by shioshvili - flickr

This load is more or less, for different individuals and perhaps even the size of you “cognitive container varies individual to individual. This is not necessarily your level of intelligence but rather your short term capacity and the attention that you need to function at a basic level.
As you attend to  more things that require your attention, they add to your cognitive load, filling your cognitive container – the glass fills. Routine activities, that you are able to perform automatically, add very little to the load. As you add more and more new tasks or stressors you approach cognitive overload. Some of this load is extraneous load or unnecessary . For example, driving for most of us is routine. When you are driving you can usually listen to music and conduct a conversation. If however you are driving in a strange city, are lost and late. You may decide that the radio is extraneous turn it off. Throw in some traffic and you may hit overload and lash out at you companion.
As an adult you may be aware of this feeling. Think of talking on the phone or following the conversation at a meeting when someone sidles up to you to ask an important and involved question. You can feel the discomfort of struggling to divide your attention. You would be likely to ask the intruder to discuss the matter later, or excuse yourself from the phone call or meeting to address more pressing issue. Each of these is a socially appropriate mechanism to reduce your load.
If you loose control of the situation at some point you just shut down.  Typically you will revert to the most ingrained behaviors. This may be a more or less graceful snap. These are the situations in which a parent finds themselves saying one of those phrases from their own past that they thought would never come out of their lips – “Because I said so” or “ When I was a kid…” It is also, usually at the root of the unfortunate response,  when a teacher reaches out and grabs a student or throws off in appropriate retort to a colleague, student or parent.
Everyone faces this process, but it has some interesting implications for schools and education. Vygotsky refers to the level of proximal growth. This is a task just out of your comfort level that asks you to engage with material  that will promote the greatest learning. The very act of creating this situation puts the learner above the level of intrinsic cognitive load and closer to cognitive overload. This is an important place for learners to be, but requires the teacher to be aware of other stressors or experiences that may effect the individuals cognitive load level. We know this. When we say, “He came in with a chip on his shoulder” or “She must have gotten out of the be on the wrong side”, we may be exactly on target. Similarly when we ask a student to read out loud or write on the board, without regard to their ability to do so, we may be presenting a much greater challenge to some student than to others.
Approaching cognitive overload may be more difficult for students than adults because they have less experience with recognizing the increasing cognitive load, and fewer choices to regulate it. An adult is in most cases able to excuse themselves from a situation or even buy time by saying, “Class we will come back to this tomorrow, for now write in your journal or read your book”. Few students have these options in class or even know to ask for them. The majority of student do what they are asked to some extent or face the undesirable consequences of a failing grade, a phone call home, or a at least a stern comment.

Deerfield Community School Tech Tidbits – Keyboarding

Deerfield Community School Tech Tidbits – Keyboarding

You may have noticed that the speed with which many young cell phone users are able to text message. Texting speed comes from regular practice and a motivating purpose. In the mid 1990s in Japan, teens to adults began writing novels on their cells. In fact, according to the New York Times, half of last year’s best selling novels in Japan started out on cell phones.

It would be great to have this same speed on a regular keyboard. Here are reviews of some free online keyboarding programs that can provide both practice and the purpose necessary to develop speed and accuracy.

Dance Mat Typing – This is from the BBC. They have developed a wide array of high quality online educational games, lessons and activities to support the widespread installation of Interactive Whiteboards in 97 British schools in 2003-04. This program has four levels and no advertising. It was the best of the ones I reviewed.

Free Typing Games – This is a site that includes a wide variety of games, tutorials and lessons. The site is very busy and has lots of advertising along with lots of choices. You can post your score for others to see, but only if you are over 13 years old.

There are many other typing games and lessons online. Often they have lots of advertising or are aimed more towards adults learning to type. Many require setting up an account or lead into other non-typing games.

At Deerfield Community School, we begin keyboard instruction with third grade students with a follow-up in the fourth grade. We currently use a variety of commercial typing programs.

What is Twitter and Why would DCS tweet?

twitterYou may have heard about Twitter. It is a free web service that allows the user to post short, 140 character messages, similar to instant messages, email or text messages. All of your Twitter messages or Tweets as they are called are listed on your own page at the Twitter website. This is called your Twitter Feed and is available for all to see. If you log on to your Twitter account, in addition to your messages, you also see messages that others send your way. Messages from others are called at-messages and are labeled with @yourusername. Your tweets and at-messages, from others, are displayed to people who follow you, likewise you see the messages of those who you follow. Following is a process of requesting to see the messages of others and approving others to see the messages that are sent to you. At any point you can block a follower if you are not interested having the see your at-messages/conversations. A Tweet can include links to pictures, videos or websites.

Why would anyone do this?

If you have followed that explanation you are probably asking why would anyone do this. Twitter, as well as other social media such as Facebook and MySpace, has a reputation for useless pieces of information such as what someone ate for breakfast. This is totally a reflection on the Twitterer and would not be someone I would follow, unless they balanced it with some very interesting or useful Tweet. Here are the reasons I twitter

  • To keep in touch with family and friends – I really am interested in the daily life of some I follow.
  • To gain information from vendors and bloggers who keep me up to date with information that is important to me – This is my source for news items, implementation ideas and products I may have missed.
  • To get immediate product reviews – I tweet out what I am planning on purchasing or a problem I am having with something and I often have a number of responses the next time I check. Last year PSNH got more effectie updates on power outages during the ice storm from Twitter than from phone calls.
  • To check the news – I also follow specific news sources such as the Forum at twitter.com/ForumNews

Why would DCS do this?

We have started a School Twitter account www.twitter.com/deerfieldcs so that

  • We can keep in touch with you
  • We can update our school website www.sau53.org/dcs from anyplace anytime
  • So we can provide some updates on what is happening at school that you might not find elsewhere.

To take a look at a Twitter site you don’t need to have a Twitter account. Just go to the DCS website or The Forum website and look for the box with the Twitterfeed or go directly to Twitter to see the DCS, 8th grade literacy , The KinderKids or The Forum page

If you have news or events you would like to see included send you 140 characters to me, Deb Boisvert at dboisvert@sau53.org or on Twitter @deerfieldcs. I would love to be able to post sports scores and other info.

Web resources for more information – if you check the online version of The Bridge or Forum you will be able to click through to any of these links Twitter – Wikipedia , Twitter in Plain English Video ,
The Complete Guide for Getting the most out of Twitter.

Deerfield Community School Tech Tidbits

Can I interest you in a few good websites?This is a reprint of the column I am doing for our parent newsletter and the local online news paper – The Forum

Last week’s Sunday Parade Magazine featured a number of great Web sites for kids. Some of them were new to me, but some were ones we use regularly at Deerfield Community School (DCS). The article inspired me to share a few each week. Here are a couple of good comic creation sites.

Makebeliefscomix.com – This is one of my all time favorites. Students can make their own comics. Last year we used it to make weekly DCS cartoons in the Bridge, the DCS weekly parent newsletter. It is fun and simple.

Interactive Comics – This is another comic creations site. It is a little more sophisticated. It was created by the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.

For a list of other Web sites of interest go to DCS Tech Tidbits.