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Thursday
Jul312014

BYOD and the school supply list

... another dang school year started with my students not having immediate, continuous access to [the school's online resources and the Internet]. And the simple reason is that there still isn't a device available that's right for kids and schools. Where is the computing/communications hardware gizmo that:

  • weighs less than two pounds?
  • runs at least eight hours on a battery charge?
  • is 802.11x compliant?
  • can be dropped without breaking?
  • comes only with a full-featured Web browser for software?
  • has a screen that can be read for a long time without eyestrain?
  • sells at a price point most parents can afford -- let's say under $200?

from Disappointed Again, Education World, November 2006

For the first year ever, I may not be able to express my disappointment over the lack of affordable tools for student use. Chromebooks, tablets, and netbooks are reaching a price point "most parents can afford." 

Each year we send a letter to parents in the district advising them on what specs they should be looking for if shopping for their children who are students in our school. We don't recommend brands or models or even whether to go tablet or notebook, but we ask them to look for devices that, among other things, have "a full functioning, recent web browser (Firefox, Explorer, Chrome, Safari) that will allow it to access GoogleApps for Education tools and documents, the Infinite Campus student portal, Moodle 2.0, the state of Minnesota's ELM content databases, and the Destiny library catalog along with other e-resources the district provides."

While I am not promoting any product, Chromebooks seem to meet this criteria rather well. See the screenshot of a GoogleSearch on ACER 720s above. Not fast, not fancy, but they get the job done for the most part.

So here is my question: Why should we not put these on the school supply list, especially in our high schools. Before you suck in a fly with that enormous gasp of horror, consider other items we routinely place on school supply lists and their costs.

Fifteen years ago, I was required by my son's high school to purchase a graphing calculator from Texas Instruments that cost about $130. (The first was promptly lost so I got to buy two, the second which has gathered dust since the class ended.) Given inflation, a $200 Chromebook isn't that much more than that graphing calculator - and perhaps even less than all the notebooks, planners, pens and pencils, trapper keepers, and all the other junk that clutters backpacks and lockers if the device lasts a couple years.

One of the frustrations our teachers have experienced with BYOD is, of course, that students bring many different devices and on an unreliable basis. Having a specific personally owned device as a required school supply would go a long way in ending this problem. 

Anybody in a public K-12 system who has tried this approach to BYOD?

 

 

Wednesday
Jul302014

Should home Internet access be an issue?

Understand the real-life costs of homework. Teachers seem to forget that time spent on homework is not as simple as they may assume. If parents get home at 6 with their kids, and homework requires a half-hour of whining, hand-holding, cajoling and general disruption to the family peace, that seemingly quick and easy 20 minutes of homework in a third-grader’s folder or an hour in a seventh-grader’s backpack robs the entire family of time together, dinner in a relaxed setting and a calm bedtime. Lahey, 3 things parents wish teachers knew.

I hated homework. In high school and college both. In fact, the only reason I majored in English was because reading literature did not feel like homework. It was something I would do anyway. 

So I'm happy to see there is something of a movement afoot to question/limit/improve homework in the K-12 schools. Alfie Kohn popularized this conversation with his book The Homework Myth (and subsequent articles) back in 2006- 2007. It's now making its way into real schools.

As a tech director I have a professional interest in this topic since all our 7th and 8th graders will be using iPads in a 1:1 project next year, an increasing number of teachers are using Moodle to provide course materials, and our computer resources are now largely cloud-based, not machine resident (think GAFE). All these things make doing homework problematic for the kids who do not have home Internet access, even when the school provides a device.

There is no simple or inexpensive way that I've found to provide Internet access to the 5-15% (depending on building) of the kids in our district. Districts are:

  • providind wifi on buses
  • extending school hours
  • working with telcos to provide discounted Internet connectivity for families qualifying for FRP lunches
  • leasing 3G/4G "hotspots" from cell phone providers and letting kids check them out
  • putting district-provided WAPs in apartment buildngs with high concentrations for students without access
  • working with public libraries to provide extended hours/adequate wifi access

None of these are perfect, many are costly, and none will completely close the access gap. 

So here's my question, if homework is as useless, even destructive, as Kohn suggests, just how much time. money, and effort should schools be spending on providing home Internet access to the small percentage of kids who don't have it? Should we instead be asking if homework is necessary at all - including that which requires the Internet?

Just asking ... 

Monday
Jul282014

Using GoogleSites to create teacher websites via ISTE Explore

Marti Sievek, one of our department's fantastic tech integration coordinators, and I just published the article above in the new Explore online magazine of ISTE. You can find the complete article here: <http://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=107>.

BTW, ISTE, you can now stop encouraging people to attend the ISTE 14 conference on its website. It's over. Get on with your life.