Monday, 29 December 2014

Testing out a TDSB Chromebook

Unboxing - First Impressions

As a member of the DLL (Digital Lead Learners) for the TDSB I've been assigned a Google Chromebook (Acer C720) for work. I initially wrote rough notes on my experience after just my first 24 hours having it at the start of December. I had lots to say (both positive and things that could use improvement) and now here's the tidied up version of those notes.

Relatively speaking, I actually feel like an iPhone 4S is more powerful than this machine, and that the key advantage to this Chromebook compared to a smartphone is the physical keyboard and a decent sized screen. For example, with Siri built in, I can dictate the rough copy of a blog post on my phone, but I have struggled to find a similar dependable dictation function on the Chromebook (even with their chrome store, and the fact "ok google" is built into search.

The Physical Machine

I am impressed at the responsiveness of the Acer touchpad (it behaves exactly like a Mac). While it kind of feels like when I touch it the top is a bit loose, this allows for really soft touch clicking (instead of a harder press of the trackpad, which also works by the way). I will need to compare it against a colleague who has an identical machine to better describe this. The two finger scrolling works instantly as it should.
[This is compared with products I've used from HP (netbooks and laptops), which has incredibly frustrating unresponsive two finger scrolling, and for that reason alone are basically junk machines.]

I don't like that the keyboard has a bit less functionality. For example I'm a huge fan of shortcut keys to improve workflow efficiency. I've been trying to use control and arrow keys to get to the end of a sentence or line (because typically this is faster than using the track pad) - however, there is no end key, and less option keys than I typically use on my Mac. Also - THERE"S NO CAP LOCK!!! Which is a bit weird to be honest - typing with your pinky finger down (note the " instead of ' above).

The search button on the keyboard is nice (but it's basically like the Windows button, just in a different place). I do like the back and forward buttons in the top left above 123. Since this machine is primarily for web navigation, I shouldn't need to constantly move my cursor to the top left of the screen - pushing a keyboard key is much easier --- check out this xkcd comic for an interesting take on time and efficiency. If this button saves me 1 second, 50 times a day, then over 5 years I will have saved 1 entire day of work! Pretty amazing if you actually think about it.

It's Just a Browser

As for the OS/Software, it operates exactly as advertised. The 7 second bootup is great (compared to a regular computer, and even compared with taking a smartphone out of sleep mode). For this the fact that it just works brings you very quickly to the point where you don't even think about it. This says more about the increase of how much of everything is done directly online in the cloud than anything else.

I don't like the TDSB email system (OWA - Outlook Webmail) on the Chromebook because it requires SilverLight - and which I guess can't be installed? Maybe this plugin can be downloaded for Chrome? (More research required). These are "managed devices" so perhaps TDSB central IT will update this for me so that I can have a more functional inbox. (Or perhaps they will finally give up on OWA and just switch us all to gmail, since student email is now through the gmail skin).

I do like how fast it loads up new browser windows. I don't like that there is some difficulty capturing a screenshot (again, no obvious buttons on the keyboard - more research required?). I really like how fast and easy I could make a screen capture video using "Snagit" (came with the Enterprise solution, but easily found on the Chrome store). The problem was that this app didn't seem to be able to record one part of the screen: the top bar was not accessible. I had to take a pic with my phone to get the top right corner. (I was trying to compare the differences between the top bar in the managed user account to a personal Google account.)

Still trying to get a handle on some of the vocab and particularities. For example switching users is confusing. It is interesting to see what has been pushed from the central IT enterprise solutions. I am trying to figure out which usage strategy is better - to try and manage multiple google profiles (eg. school board one, personal one, teacher one) from within one user - or to use different users from the start. I am also still trying to figure out the difference between sign out and shut off? Does either close all your work? What about the effect on battery consumption? I kind of feel like they are basically identical functions. (More research and experience obviously needed).

(This paragraph is more recent reflections on the above paragraph.) I've since discovered that my managed TDSB account closes everything when I click sign out or shut down. Whereas with my professional gmail account everything is still there when I come back, whether I sign out or just turn off the machine. In both accounts, if I click the 'lock' button or just shut the case, my work is still there when I open it again. Still no idea if this affects battery life (ie. is the machine still 'off' when you close the case?) compared with choosing "Shut Down".

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts

Finally, on a bit of a silly note, where do you find the serial number? Is there a system preferences display box somewhere? I had to turn the machine over to see the physical sticker and try to type at same time (I actually just took a pic on my phone). I also haven’t yet figured out how to plug in a projector (think I need an HDMI cable) or how to use a USB external storage device.

So after my first glance I have to say I'm pretty happy with it, given it's intended purpose. However, if I want to do work with my 3D printer (ReplicatorG), or 3D design work (Sketchup), or photo editing (Photoshop), or web design/management (Dreamweaver) then I'm out of luck until viable/suitable cloud-based alternatives come along. I know work is being done in most of those areas, it's only a matter of time.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Hour of Code - PA Announcements

I know it's literally "Old School" to do this, but we do still do them so I thought I would share for all the other schools that still do this! Here are some announcements I created that our student announcers are reading on the PA system each morning this week to promote CS Ed week and the Hour of Code event. Feel free to borrow/use/remix these for your own school.


Person1:  Hey did you know that this week is CS Ed week
Person2:  What's that?
Person1:  Computer Science Education week!
Person2:  Is that when you do that Hour of Code?
Person1:  That's right! The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that ANYBODY can learn the basics. 
Person2:  I guess we will be doing that in IT class with Mr. Hann?
Person1:  Yes. Though sadly did you know that 9 out of 10 schools don't teach coding.
Person2:  Well maybe doing an hour of code can change that!
Together:  LET'S CODE!


Person1:  More girls tried computer science last year than in the last 70 years. 15 million students worldwide learned an Hour of Code, including over 10 million girls!
Person2:  But isn't coding more for boys?
Person1:  NO WAY! Computer science is about thinking and problem solving, things that both girls and boys can do!
Person2:  The CEOs of Yahoo and YouTube are women, to name a few. 
Person1:  But we can do better. If you are a girl, consider going into computer programming as a career - start with one Hour of Code this week!
Together:  LET'S CODE!


Person1:  Have you tried the Hour of Code yet?
Person2:  Yes! I made Frozen characters Elsa and Anna code an awesome snowflake!
Person1:  That means you are one in a 100 million! 
Person2:  If you want to try it on your own, click online to
Person1:  Join the biggest ever learning event in the world.
Together:  LET'S CODE!


Person1:  Have you tried the Hour of Code yet?
Person2:  Yes! I tried javascript for the first time.
Person1:  If you want to try it on your own, click online to
Person2:  Join the biggest ever learning event in the world.
Together:  LET'S CODE!


Person1:  The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. 
Person2:  Anyone, anywhere can participate. 
Person1:  One-hour tutorials are available in over 30 languages. 
Person2:  No experience needed. Ages 4 to 104. 
Person1:  If you haven`t had a chance to try it in class with Mr. Hann you can also try it on your own at home for free - just go to
Together:  LET'S CODE!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Epic Failing - Live in Class and Online

Friday - last period. It's the last day of the week, at the end of the day. Perhaps this is not the greatest time to reveal a new project, but I'm running out of time before June, so I go ahead, showing them the shared Google docs each group will be using to plan their project. I send them home to work on it.

Friday - 9:00 pm. I realize I forgot to transfer the homework questions/notes into all the documents - I only did the one that I showed in class. Argh! Only 3 students have logged in so far (and they couldn't work because of my mistake). Is this good or bad? I had told them they needed to login more than once to allow people to post first, and then to comment later.

I am risking failure as a teacher, attempting to innovate with a big "PBL" (Project Based Learning) culminating project: each group is making a pinball machine. They are still getting the same content as the rest of the grade 8s, but we are going about it a different way, in the hope that we can better engage my struggling learners, and provide deeper (scaffolded) challenges for my more advanced learners.

The project will be a real "DT" project that brings together all their current core subjects (except French, which I could probably work in if I really tried).

The only problem is, I don't feel like the students haven't caught my vision yet. Hmmm.

Saturday morning. I go online; there's almost no change since last night. Apparently I don't have any early risers in my class. I'm a bit panicky so I send a reminder tweet for class to get online and participate.

Saturday afternoon. Filled with dread, apprehension, not enough kids are participating!!! I begin to ponder what it would look like to photocopy worksheets for the rest of the year!?!

Sunday morning. We finally hit a milestone: one group has had all members log in at least once. We're off to a start, but it's still a work in progress.

So I started last weekend with both apprehension and anticipation. It's a huge project, complex, requiring responsibility and independence. It opens the door for students' creativity, collaboration, and problem solving. I'm excited, but I'm also terrified I'm going to fail.

Will my students get on board? Will they buy in? Will they fail? Fail to understand the material (taught in a different way)? Fail to do the work? If so does that mean that I have failed?

As I ponder what we've done so far I suppose I can call the start of the project at least a partial success. Hopefully (if I can keep good documentation) I can learn from my mistakes for another year. Kind of like a video game, as Sean Jenkins puts it.

Failure is good, healthy, and a normal part of growing up in particular, and of life in general. However, just because these are true doesn't make experiencing it any more pleasant! A child learning to walk falls down, often crying from the unpleasantness of it all, but almost always they hear the encouragement from a trusted adult: "Get back up". In fact there is a movement growing that seems to suggest that kids don't have ENOUGH risk in their life anymore, and that their isolation is to their detriment. See for example this National Post article about "risky" playgrounds.

I'm thankful though that my admin and superintendent(s) have seen fit to allow us to make attempts at innovation. We may be about to do an Epic Fail, but on the other hand we might be about to do something great! We won't know until we try!

Sukh Sandhu
I searched the cupboards at home last year and pulled out my (28 y.o.) sister's Fisher Price roller skates. You know the ones that go over shoes? I put them on my 4 y.o. last summer, along with helmet, gloves, knee pads and elbow pads. I know I know I may have been a bit overprotective, but he's sensitive and it was his very first time, so I prefaced his skating time by trying to prep him mentally: "you will probably fall down - if you do, what do you do next? Get up again. Right!"

Learning to walk as little kids we probably fell over a lot, but for each fall we got a little bit stronger! (plus they weren't really bad falls since we were generally closer to the ground at the time.) Imagine if we DIDN'T fall over? We would not know how to handle it when we it (eventually) happens to us as adults! Or imagine that we were TOO AFRAID of falling? We would spend the rest of our lives slithering, wallowing and crawling along the ground!

The story goes that as Caesar stepped over the Rubicon river, and pointed his troops towards Rome, he stated they were beyond the point of no return. There was no turning back: "The die has been cast". Thats the way I'm feeling right now. Fail or succeed I'm committed. So let's just ride into this new frontier and see what happens. I'll keep you posted (no doubt Live on YouTube, just like Pierce and Jeremy).