Tag Archives: edtech

My new chromebook – a review

I’ve been without a laptop for a while now – and have been doing a lot of thinking about what to get.

My previous machine was a mac – and  I loved it.  Out and out loved it.  I loved the Operating System, the reliability, the freedom from viruses, the quality of the build – I got 6 years good work out of it.

I didn’t love the price.  It would cost me about €1,200 to get a mac now.  As a teacher for whom the economic crisis is still in full swing, well, I can’t justify spending that kind of money on a laptop.

At school I’ve worked with PCs for years.  And they have their good points.  The MS suite is powerful, there is a huge choice of hardware – across a large price range.  There are also the downsides – regular downtime for updates, needing third-party anti-virus software, cheaper machines can be really slow to boot, old machines get unreliable.

So when I went shopping I wanted a machine I could use and be reasonably cheap.

And so I came to check out Chromebooks. As the administrator of Google Apps for Education in our school, I’m already very comfortable in the Google ecosystem, but it was still a bit of a gamble for me.  I’ve never used the chromebook previously – and I don’t get to see too many of them around.

So I went with the machine I’m using now.  A Toshiba Chromebook 2.  And the price was amazing.  I got it for €279 in Argos.

cb2The build Quality

The laptop has a 13.3″ screen.  So you’re talking about a full-sized laptop here.  The downside is that the screen doesn’t have the same punch as a more expensive machine, but it works perfectly well for my purposes.  And if I want to watch a film – there’s always Chromecast.

The machine is very plastic – and not the expensive stuff.  I suspect that in a year of heavy use I can expect to see some of the silver begin to fade from the edges.   Again, this is a fully functional machine for €279

The keyboard is very nice to use, and after a day of getting used to it, the trackpad seems to be very reliable and easy to use.

Storage is very limited.  There were 2 models of the Chromebook 2.  One has a HD screen, 4 Gb ram and (I think) 32 Gb of storage.  The option available in Ireland has an SD screen, 2 Gb ram and 16 Gb storage.  And that’s the one I have.

The 16 Gb hasn’t been an issue as my school Google account has unlimited storage (yup) and the Chromebook links to it seamlessly.

The Battery is very impressive.  I’m getting 8-10 hours from a single charge.  In practice this means that I can bring it to work for 2 days and not worry about the charger.

The Operating System

The first time I turned on the computer I thought I was in for a disappointment – it took over an hour to get going.  Eventually I contacted Google customer support and they rang me back within 60 seconds of my submitting my form.  A real person phoned me!

Anyway – the delay was an update being applied – and I’ve had no problem since.
The Chromebook is INCREDIBLY fast to start.  A cold start to the login screen is about 8 seconds.  Once you get your password in, it takes about 12 more seconds to be ready to work.

Google say that they take care of virus protection and updates.  The upshot of this is that I have sometimes noticed a little notification to remind me to restart in order to finish an update.  But the update is done in seconds.

The system itself circles around the Chrome browser.  And it’s a dinger.

I’m typing with 7 different tabs working at the moment.  2 different mail accounts, 2 different Drive accounts, tweetdeck, a search window, and wordpress.  There is no lag that I can see.  I have also worked with netflix chromecasting to the TV, with my kids watching a film, and me able to work on the same machine.

Pretty impressive.

There are a number of apps available on the Chromestore.  At the moment I have evernote, tweetdeck and a range of Google apps running.

Obviously Google Docs are very easy to work on this.  Plenty of options available – but some features that you may like in the MS suite are just not available here.

Some bits they don’t tell you about

There is no Caps Lock button.  That’s replaced by a search Icon that will open up a window showing you what apps you have available.  CAPS LOCK – is actually available press <alt> and the <search> buttons simultaneously.search buttonThe Search Button

There are no ‘Function’ keys.  In their place is a list of keys that can move forward and back between pages visited, refresh the browser, go full screen, show all screens in miniature, adjust brightness & sound.

Skype is not supported – so if you like that, then this isn’t the machine for you.  I haven’t yet used hangouts on this, so can’t report on that.

End Result?

I’ve had this machine for a month now – and I’m extremely happy.  It’s fast, it’s reliable and the price is incredible.  It has needed  me to embrace Google Apps fully – but I was already on that path, so no burden there.
A great buy.

Standing up to the Pesky Unions

Well done to our Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan.

She has had the guts to face down the Secondary School Teachers Unions and is pushing ahead with the pet project of her predecessor Ruairi Quinn.  (Junior Cert Reform, with teacher assessment)

So, she has faced down our strikes, and is holding fast. So she has courage – well done, Minister, take a bow.  Her stand is all the more impressive as she is adamant that all this for the good of the students.

Let’s ignore for a moment the implicit bit that suggests that teachers are not interested in students.

Instead let’s celebrate that we have a minister who is willing to stand up to vested interests.  A minister who is willing to risk popularity in order to do the right thing for students.

Therefore…

Minister, I look forward to the day when you will do the following to support our students:

Reduce class sizes.  This is an incredibly simple measure, but one that has a huge impact on the dynamics of any classroom.  I wrote before about how my daughter was for a time in a class of 34.  This is a ridiculous situation and one that should never be allowed to happen.  This does have the downside of costing money, but the minister has assured us that the evaluation farce was not about money, so maybe there’s room for maneuver. Call me cynical, but I won’t hold my breath.

Restore Guidance Counsellors.  This is another incredibly simple measure, and again has a huge impact on students.  Our guidance counsellors do incredible work with students.  Apart from the obvious help in subject and college choice, guidance counsellors sit with students in times of crisis.  Again, this one would happen to cost money, but I’m sure that the minister will stand up for what’s right, yes?  Actually no.

Restore School Budgets.  Again, a simple thing to do.  Schools get a budget to operate, and this budget is based on the number of students enrolled.  For the past few years this budget has been cut, with a further 1% cut due in September.  Another simple thing to reverse.  But again this isn’t about the money, is it?

Restore resources for Students with Special Educational Needs.  Another simple thing. Really, isn’t this not only simple but ethical?  Are those with special needs already at enough of a disadvantage in educational terms?

Have an effective budget for book rental schemes, and IT in the classroom.  OK.  This is more complicated, and requires some real thinking and procedures to go into place.  Some real work required here.  But it is so necessary.  Books are incredibly expensive, and each new school year brings stress to many families trying to dig out extra money for books and uniforms.

As regards IT – there is no cohesive policy, and what you get from school to school can vary radically.  So our students do not have a level playing field when we talk about ICT in the classroom, and technology in education generally.

So, so much is just about money, and we have a minister who is willing to stand up to others.  So surely she’ll stand up for these principles?

Surely, now that the Minister has shown her mettle in standing up to the unions she will show equal courage standing up to the bean counters?  She will stand up to those who have a view that education can be budgeted down to the minimum possible, and then blame the teachers for failing?

But let’s be honest – the minister is showing little enough care for the reality of life for so many students from disadvantaged areas.  It is about the money, and there’s no point in pretending anything different.  The Minister is failing us, is failing our students – and trying to shift the blame.

 

 

Getting Started in Google Classroom

One of the tools available in the Google Apps For Education (GAFE) suite is Google classroom.  It gives the teacher the ability to set assignments, allows students to return assignments, and facilitates teachers’ engagement with students as they complete their assignments.

So.  How to get started with this?

If you are a teacher in a school / Institution using GAFE, then you need the administrator to register you as a ‘classroom-teacher’.

Next, go to classroom.google.com and sign in with your GAFE account

Once you are logged in, you will get a home page that will show all the classes you have created (but that’s a step or two later)

First, how to create a classgroup:

On your homescreen, near the top at the right hand side, you will see a + sign.  Click on this, and you should see a drop-down menu like the one here:

classroom1

Click on the ‘Create Class’ option.

That will give you this screen:

classroom 2

Give your shiny new class a name (and a section if you’re doing just one part of a course)

Once you click ‘Create’ you will be taken to this or a screen like it:

classroom 3

At this point you can take the (brief) tour offered at the bottom right-hand-side of the page, or you can dive in and add students to the class.

Here, you have two options:

  1. Give students the class code (listed at the bottom right of the page).  The students then log into their google account, go to classroom.google.com and type in the code.
  2. Invite students manually

To invite students manually, click on the ‘Students’ tab in the top centre part of the page.

Classroom 4

Click on the nice, blue ‘Invite’ button and you will get this option:

Classroom 5

The system will first give you the option of inviting students in your own contacts list.  This is actually limited unless you already have the students’ email address.  You need to click on the ‘My contacts’ button, and then click on ‘Directory’.  This will give you the directory of all the users with an account in your school (domain)

Classroom 6

The hard part now is to actually add students from the directory in the most economical way possible!

Here’s what works for me:

  1. Have your roll handy
  2. Type the first name of a student into the search box
  3. You will be shown all the students with that first name
  4. Tick the check-box beside his/her name
  5. Once his/her name appears in the box below, type in the name of the next student
  6. Repeat until you have all your students included
  7. At this point click on the ‘Invite Students’ button
  8. The students will now receive an email inviting them to join your class group
  9. They need to click the longer link in the email.
  10. This will bring them to their classroom account, and they will then need to accept your invitation.

Classroom 7

 

There are extra options at this point.  You can click on the ‘About’ button for your class group to set more information (your choice!)

Classroom 8

Good luck!

If you are already using Classroom and have tips, ideas or more suggestions – I’d love to hear them!

Related Posts:

Sharing Documents in Google Drive

Getting Started in Google Drive

Google in School

7 Ways to use Google Classroom

Getting Started in Google Drive

I’ve written already about my school getting started with Google Apps for Education.

For a next step, I was thinking of what are basic skills that students need if they’re to make use of what’s on offer.  So I put this together to give students (and staff?) an idea of how to get started.  Is there anything I’m missing in this step?

When you sign into your Google Account you will see at the top right hand side of the screen the apps menu.  Click on the icon that looks like a grid.

apps toolbar

 

You will then see this drop down menu:

apps toolbar 2

Click on the Drive icon.  If you are using Chrome then Drive will open in a new tab.  Not sure about other browsers.

Once Drive is open, it’s time to learn how to create a document.

menu

At the right hand side of the screen, you will see the shiny red ‘New’ button.  Click on this.

menu 2

Once you get the drop-down menu, click on the option ‘Google Docs’

Again, if you’re using Chrome, a new tab will open.  This is your new document.  At the right hand side of the screen, click on ‘File’ and rename the document.

rename file

 

This will give you a small window where you can give the document a new name:

rename file 2

Once you have renamed the document, learn how to put in text, and format your work.

sample document

 

To create a table, simply point your mouse to the ‘Table’ heading in the toolbar and use the drop down options:

make a table

As with most computing skills, the only real way to learn this stuff is to try it out.  You can see the table I chose is 6 columns across by 4 rows down.  Simple to add!

Go on.  Give it a try.

 

The Aftermath of a Musical

In March our school held its musical, songs from Grease.  I wrote down some of my thoughts about it here.  Today, I’m in class and what’s next is a bit of a free for all with my TY class, where I’m asking for their memories of the show.  Just for the hell of it, I’m attaching their stage names to their answers!

What is your strongest memory of doing the musical?

‘Eugene’ getting to do my speech – loved doing it!

‘Sandy’ I loved working out Scene 5, and Scene 2.  They were good fun to do, some great songs.

‘Rizzo’ – my song.  Working together, having a laugh.  Roger’s ‘Mooning’ song with Jan.  My wig was very hot.  I was sweating under it.

One of the male cast ‘Sonny’ was shorter than the others, & was flung into the air a few times.

‘Frenchie’ – all the rehearsals. My wig made me  look like somthing out of ‘LazyTown’.

Building friendships with the directors. Jim & Co. from CADA

The Friday show was a surprise & one of the teachers had to fill in the role of ‘Frenchie’ at the last minute.

‘Kenickie’ – Jim (The Assistant Director)  was a top man.  Gave you confidence and got you into it.  He treated everyone nice.#

‘Doody’ –  The opening night stands out. We were all giddy backstage, but once the call came for 5 minutes we got all serious & everyone did their part.  I really remember the end of the show and we all started congratulating each other afterwards.

How much hard work went into it?

Everyone – lots & lots.

Learning the script was very hard.

Fast costume changes were difficult

You had to work during the mid-term break and over St. Patrick’s weekend.  How did you feel about that?

‘Rizzo’ didn’t like it, but it was worth it in the end.

‘Sandy’ it was grand. Just took it was worth it at the end.

Coming in during the breaks when your friends were off was hard.

What was the scariest part for you?

Doing the show in front of the school on the Friday.

The auditions were scary! (a lot of people said this)

‘Kenickie’ – my first time singing on stage was scary.

Tell me about the feeling of going on stage.

Nervous for some

‘Eugene’ says he wasn’t nervous!

‘Sandy’  I loved going on stage, nerve wrecking, but I loved it.

‘Doody’ – it was my first time on stage, nervous, afraid to mess up – and I never sang in front of people before.

It’s now nearly one month later.  What has the show meant for you?

We should have got a reward for all our hard work.

It built up my confidence in front of people.

We all get along better.  It has made us closer.

Surprised – I didn’t think I’d be able to get up on stage & speak.

The main director is scary!

I think there should be a musical every year.

‘Kenickie’ ‘Sandy’ & ‘Doody’ – it was the best thing in fourth year, made the year and it brought me much closer to a lot of the cast.  NO REGRETS

 Has it surprised you how much work has to go into gettting something on stage?

YES (from everyone).  The rehearsals went on for about 8 weeks. Especially in the little amout of time we had.  8 weeks really flew.

You managed to combine script, songs and dance in some scenes.

‘Rizzo’ I preferred doing the dancing & singing.  I didn’t really like the acting part.

‘Kenickie’ – it made the scenes, but it was much more difficult to do.  The acting was my favourite part.

‘Sandy’ I loved the singing and dancing.  Script was ok, but definitely preferred the singing and dancing.

And, from the backstage crew…

It was really, really dark!

Trying to move stuff backstage without making noise was difficult.

It was hard work.

Fin

And there you have it.  A little experiment during class with a group of tech-savvy fourth year students.  They loved doing the show, and I think really got the reward out of doing something so different to ‘normal’ class work.

And now, they can go home for 2 weeks of Easter Holidays.  Well done guys.

Education and Equality

We have an ideal that all students who enter our schools will be treated equally, that they will be treated fairly, and that they will be offered equal opportunities.

This is a myth.  Not true. Good PR.

You see, we live in an incredibly unequal society, and this inequality is reflected in our schools.  And this is a fact that our Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, seems to ignore.

So, just how does inequality show up in schools?

Well, all schools receive a running cost from the government depending on the number of students enrolled.  And yes, this does sound fair, but the costs of schools are such that the running costs will often exceed the money received from the government.  After all, taking the team to a match requires a bus, visiting the Young Scientist Exhibition or going on a field trip for geography requires money.  Some schools have more, some have less.  And this means the education experience of students can and will vary depending on the finance available.

You see, I don’t really believe the minister understands just what a disadvantage it can be to be from a disadvantaged area.  I mean how could he?  He hasn’t had to face a pay-cheque of less than €80,000 in years.  He went to a nice school (The Bish), and recently got to visit it with one of his advisers (coincidentally also a past pupil of the same school).

The thing is, if you attend a school where most of the parents have a decent wage, then the school looks for a top-up fee to support school activities.  These activities could include school tours, proper IT for classrooms (whether tablets, computers or whatever).

If your school is in a disadvantaged area, then things don’t look so good.   Being in a disadvantaged area you can expect to see higher rates of unemployment, lack of engagement with education, and social exclusion.  In short, schools could not in fairness ask for top up fees from these parents.  Any development is dependent on grants (which are getting scarcer).

The picture looks a bit like this:

 

equality-justice

Just because schools receive a similar grant does not mean that the students will benefit from equal opportunities.  The playing field is not equal, a student who starts from a position of disadvantage will need extra help.

Our education system is in a lot of trouble at the moment.  Teachers are under pressure; we have a new Junior Cycle programme that is being rammed in despite the concern and opposition of thousands of teachers; school funding is being cut.

And yet, we claim we believe that education provides opportunities for students; that education is valuable; that education is more than just about measuring students. There’s a disconnect there and I hope that someday we get an education minister who actually believes in education and trusts teachers as professionals.

Our students deserve it.