Sunday, March 15, 2015

Amazon Echo: a short review

Many of you have asked me to write a review of the Amazon Echo once I received it. "Alexa" arrived a week ago and I have been putting it through its paces.

Amazon Echo is a networked connected speaker, music player, note-taker, and information source. You can learn about its specifics here:

To use the Amazon Echo, you simply speak aloud and ask a question or give an instruction to "Alexa". The more you speak to it, the more it learns your speech patterns and preferences.

First off, it is a great speaker for playing music. Since I am an amazon Prime member, I have access to the Prime Music Library.

I simply tell Alexa to "Play an artist" and music from that artist begins playing. I can ask Alexa to turn the volume up or down, stop, or even give another instruction while the music is playing. I do live in an open-space home (a geodesic dome) so the sound reaches all over the house! You can also play stations from iHeartRadio and other playlists you have hosted on Amazon.

My favorite feature of Alexa is being able to tell her to add an item "to my shopping list" and it shows up in the Echo app on my iPhone. It seems like a silly thing to love about technology, but just be able to easily speak aloud to the Amazon Echo to create a shopping list is a beautiful thing! It also helps that the Echo is in my kitchen. I can also add items to a reminder list that shows up in the Echo iPhone app, too.

Alexa can easily set a timer alert. This is great for those times when you want to be reminded about something that is happening later in the day. And, Alexa can tell you clean, funny, jokes any time of day by simple saying, "Alexa, tell me a joke".

The Amazon Echo also provides information from weather sources, news sources, and can answer common questions found in Wikipedia articles.  If you have an Amazon Fire tablet, you are presented with more in-depth information about your question in the Echo app on that device. 

After using the sophisticated Apple Siri for the last few years, the information you can get from the Amazon Echo pales in comparison. For simple content-related questions and weather forecasts, the Echo does a good job. But any more complex questions result in a "I do not understand what your are asking" response. Amazon's site says more features are coming to the Echo and these updates will be automatically installed over the air when they are  available.

The current features on the Amazon Echo work flawlessly. Alexa understands the artist I want to play, what I need added to the shopping list, what time to set the alarm for, and more. The ability to talk over a playing song and give a new command, ask a questions, or just turn the volume up is almost magic!

You can read more about the capabilities of the Amazon Echo here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Literacies for the digital age: Financial literacy

This post originally appeared in September of 2014 on my Discovery Educator Network blog, Kathy's Katch, where I pen a monthly blog post. Please take a look at the blog when you get a a chance. The new posts go up the first day of each month!
I have identified thirteen literacies important for students to master, which you can see below.  Lisa Nielsen, in her blog post “Should the new math be financial literacy?” states “we have lost focus on preparing young people for what will matter in their real lives. If the education system were to provide some financial literacy classes for kids, it could make a tremendous difference in the economic success of society”. Let’s examine some ways you can easily embed their literacies across the curriculum.
Economic literacy, often called financial literacy, according to Atomic Learning, “targets the importance of making appropriate economic choices on a personal level, and understanding the connection personal, business, and governmental decisions have on individuals, society, and the economy”. The report of the NASBE Commission on Financial and Investor Literacy also offers a useful definition: “Financial literacy is defined as the ability to read, analyze, manage and communicate about the personal financial conditions that affect material well-being. It includes the ability to discern financial choices, discuss money and financial issues without (or despite) discomfort, plan for the future and respond competently to life events that affect everyday financial decisions, including events in the general economy”.


Some states, such as Ohio, have an economic and financial literacy requirement in their Ohio Core state standards to be taught within social studies or another class. In their state, teachers certified in social studies, business education, marketing education, and family and consumer science are all licensed to teach financial literacy. These teachers can help develop a curriculum starting in the earliest grades to make sure these literacies are woven seamlessly throughout the curriculum at all grade levels.
The Council for Economic Education has developed a set of standards for financial literacy that start in grade three.
The strands include:
  • Earning income
  • Buying goods and services
  • Using credit
  • Saving
  • Financial investing
  • Protecting and insuring
Of course, financial literacy strands are also found in the National Business Association’s standards, the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences standards,  and state standards, such as the ones in Ohio, Oklahoma (7-12), Nebraska (K-12) and New Jersey (4-12). There are even sets of standards, such as the Jump$tart Coalition’s National Standards in K-12 Personal Finance Educationthat can serve to help you embed economic and financial literacy across the curriculum.


Discovery Education Streaming includes videos that can introduce age-appropriate content to students titled “Financial Literacy for Students” and a professional development series titled “Financial Literacy: Teach it!” The links below will work if your district subscribes to Discovery Education Streaming.

Financial literacy for students (2010)

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 7.52.55 AM
  • The meaning of money
  • Counting bills and coins
  • Writing out money: decimals and dollar signs
  • Earning power
  • Needs versus wants
  • saving for a goal
  • What do banks do?
  • Creating a budget
  • Savings account
  • Checking account
  • How to use a debit card and ATM
  • Security and banking online
  • Figuring interest
  • Rewards and risks of credit cards
  • Getting a loan: car, school, or home
  • Long-term savings and investing

Financial literacy: Teach it! (2009)

teachit fin lit

  • Penny the  pig
  • Credit clues
  • Career cards
  • Classroom economy
  • Charity presentations
  • Insurance and floods
Grades 5-8
  • Just interest
  • Comparing graham crackers
  • Financial goal setting
  • Dream cities
Grades 9-12
  • Debt consultants


In addition to economic and financial literacy associations, there are investment firms, banks, and government agencies who provide both online and offline material to help you weave financial literacy across the curriculum.
  • Council for Economic Education: EconEdLink Personal Finance
    • Includes lesson plans, up-to-date information, economic data and Web links for educators
    • Interactive tools and lessons for students
  • Federal Financial Literacy and Education Commission (US):
    • Information, games and fun facts about money, saving and planning for the future
    • Curricula, lesson plans, tip sheets, guidance and helpful tools for teaching financial capability
    • Clearinghouse of federally-funded research reports, articles and data sets on financial capability and related topics
  • United States Mint: Financial Literacy
    • Activities and lesson plans about coin to promote basic economic understanding for students
  • Fox Business: The Centsables
    • A cable program support page with comic books dealing with financial literacy topics
  • Federal Reserve Bank (US): Lesson Plans
    • Lesson plans for K-12 dealing with financial literacy; includes a literature tie-in
    • Games and simulations for K-12 students
  •  Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company: The Mint
    • Interactive scenarios for kids and teens dealing with saving, spending, protecting, and entrepreneurship
  • H&R Block: Dollars and Sense
    • Provides and gathers ideas, news, tips, and tricks for teachers and students in the area of investing and savings
  • University of Nebraska- Omaha Center for Education: Economic Education Web
    • K-12 concepts and lessons plans for economic and financial literacy as well as links to data sets
    • Special THEN (Teach History and Economics in Education), a 4th grade curricular tie-in
  • Canadian Centre for Financial Literacy: Activity worksheets
    • A curriculum for financial literacy with a handbook and worksheets for adults or high schoolers

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Review: STM Aero and Equil Smartpen 2

I recently acquired two new tech accessories I want to share with you!

STM Aero Small Laptop Backpack

I was able to take a look at this laptop backpack at the FETC15 conference in Orlando last month. After examining it, I realized this laptop backpack was one that would work for me! Here are the features I love, in order of importance to me when traveling:
  • SIZE: The STM Aero is intended for a 13" laptop, but I only need room for the 11.6" MacBook Air. Many backpacks sized for 13" laptops are big and bulky. This one is not! The outer dimensions are only 16.14 x 10.24 x 5.51 inches. The laptop device space is 9.05 x 12.8 x 0.98 inches, which will fit up to a 13" MacBook Pro Retina. In addition, is very lightweight at 1.5 pounds when empty! It comes in Berry red, black, and gray. (I opted for black since it does not show the dirt!)
  • IPAD: I wanted a dedicated pocket for my iPad Air 2, and this bag includes a nicely lined one of these, too.
  • BAGGAGE LOOP: The back of the STM Aero includes a luggage handle pass-through on the back to make it easy for me to carry it on top of my roller bag when I need to.
  •  KEY STRAP: One thing I always worry about when traveling is misplacing my car keys. The STM Aero includes a strap and hook for attaching my keys!
  • INSIDE SPACE: The STM Aero is not very deep, but I can easily fit my technology accessory bag with the adapters, power supplies, extension cord, and additional items in the space.
  •  SIDE POCKETS: I often carry a water bottle, so a side pocket is a necessity for me. This backpack has 2 side pockets, so I am using the other one for easy access to my in-ear headphones.
  • STRAPS: The STM Aero has comfortable, padded shoulder straps and back, and also includes a "sternum strap" that connects the straps in the front in case I am carrying a heavier load. There is a grab strap at the top of the backpack which makes it easy to carry down the plane aisles.
  • FRONT POCKETS: The STM Aero has a zippered, soft-lined pocket on the front which includes two slip pockets (one that I use for my iPhone 6+ and the other for my Wayfarers) and I store my boarding pass in the larger section for easy access to it.
  • INSIDE POCKETS: Inside the STM Aero, there are three more slip pockets, two pen slots, and a deep zippered pocket. 
I marked up some STM Aero images so you can view the components I included in the review.

When fully loaded, the STM Aero Small Laptop Backpack retains it shape and is very comfortable to wear. If you need more space for your items, check out the larger laptop bags and rollers on STM's site!


I know we already have iOS and Android devices with drawing tools and external art/drawing tablets. And there are electronic pens that can collect your notes and send them to your computer when you use special notebooks for taking notes.

I had read some reviews about the Equil Smartpen 2 and thought it hit the sweet spot for both notetaking and drawing in a more traditional way.

The Equil Smartpen 2 includes a reciever that you clip to any piece of paper, pad, or notebook, a regular size pen, and extra pen tip, and a cool case for carrying and charging.

Equil Smartpen 2

As you are drawing or writing, and you are connected via Bluetooth to your Mac or Windows computer or iOS device, what you are drawing is transferred in real-time to the computer or iOS or Android device. You can then turn handwriting into text if you want to on the computer or tablet. It is easy to begin new "virtual" pages by pushing the button on the receiver. The receiver can hold 4 GB of information.

Real-time transfer of drawing to tablet

There are two apps for the Equil Smartpen 2 for the iOS and Android devices - Equil Note and Equil Sketch - one for writing and one for drawing. I think the drawing app is a paper-based sketchnoter's dream come true! (Equil Note is also available for the Mac and Windows platforms.) 

You don't need to be Bluetoothed to a device when you are taking notes or drawing. You can simply use the pen and the small receiver, which will collect the information, and send it to your computer, tablet, or phone later. (This saves some battery life, since the BT connection can be shut off on the receiver while you are writing/drawing.)

The notes are synced across your devices using iCloud, Dropbox, or Evernote and also share with social media.

I can't seem to locate a stylus tip for the pen to use with the iPad as shown in the video. (Perhaps that was scrapped during development.) You can find out more about the Equil Smartpen 2 on their site!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Using first gen iPads in the classroom

I received a note today from a teacher who wound up with a classroom set of iPad 1's for her classroom, and she was looking for lesson ideas that would work with that "older" device. Of course, many of the lesson ideas, tips, and tricks that are on the Web for any generation of the iPad will provide a good starting point for planning, like those I have on this site, but there are some specific things to consider when using the older iPad.

There were some limitations on the first gen iPad-- it had no camera and only projected certain things through the VGA connection. Back in 2010, I asked people to add apps that would project with an iPad to a Google form. I have no idea if this is of any use now, but here is the link

The iPad first generation can run up to iOS 5.1.1, so, when looking at current lessons that use iPad apps that require a newer operating system, and doing a search for comparable apps in the iTunes App Store, look for the operating system requirements listed on the app page. It will probably take a bit of searching to find those that will work, but it will be worth it! For instance, one of my favorite iPad apps, Sock Puppets, only requires iOS 4.3. And I am sure there are plenty of good creation apps that still work with the older operating systems.

Sock Puppets only needs iOS 4.3

I also figured out if you do a Google search on "iPads in the Classroom" or "iPad in the Classroom", and limit the date span of the search from the day the iPad 1 was announced to the day when the iPad 2 was launched, the resulting series of hits will provide lots of great ideas on the use of the original iPad to support teaching and learning.

Here is how to conduct that search. Do a search in Google, pick the SEARCH TOOLS drop-down menu, pick the date area and pick a "custom date". I searched Web pages that were put up from January 27, 2010-March 2, 2011. (Of course, this does not mean there were no useful Web pages put up after that time.) I did the limited date search to find pages that could only have included ideas and successful practices for the iPad first generation.

Of course, even though the iPad first gen cannot take pictures, students can still download images and edit them using certain photo-editing apps. And there are collage apps, like CollageIt Free, that only require iOS 5.0. It takes a bit of work to find apps that will run on the older iPad, but it is not impossible. And don't forget to search for iPhone apps, which will run nicely on the iPad, too.

I came across this PC World article from 2013 that states you might be presented with the ability to download an older version of an app that will work on your older iPad device. (I don't usually have an "older" device, so do not know if this is still happening.) If it is, it would allow installation of older versions of popular education iPad apps to be installed on the first generation iPad. 

Anyone have any additional ideas for those with the first generation iPads? Are you using one or more of this generation of iPad in your classroom and would like to share the list of creation and editing apps you have on the devices? It would be appreciated and save others a lot of App Store searching time!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Make a mini infographic — win an HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC

The Hewlett Packard EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC is a tiny desktop computer with lots of big features!

Its footprint is 6.9 x 1.3 x 7.0 inches and it weighs only 2.92 pounds, less than a lot of laptops! The HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC  has a 4th generation Intel processor, runs the newest Windows operating systems. The front has of the computer includes two USB 3.0 ports (one of which is a USB fast charge port), an audio out and mic jack.

Shown with optional stand, monitor, keyboard and mouse

On the back, it has an additional four USB 3.0 ports, a VGA connection, an Ethernet port, 2 Display Ports, and an audio-out jack. The bottom of the HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC has a VESA mount.

A wireless card is an option as is an external DVD/RW drive. With a 500GB standard hard drive or up to a 1TB solid state drive, the HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC packs a great computer into a "mini" package. Also, due to its small size, it has more than 3 times the efficiency of a tower desktop.

The unit I received has a 2.9gHz i5 processor and is running Windows 7 Professional, but the upgrade disk to Windows 8.1 was also included in the package. It has 4GB RAM, a 128GB solid state hard drive, and the WiFi card.

Here is more detailed information about the HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC.

HP graciously provided me with the opportunity to give away a new HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC to a lucky US or Canadian Prek-16 educator or pre-service or graduate education student! In order to have a chance to win the Mini PC, educators were asked to make a mini-- a mini-infographic that is!

As you know, an infographic is a visual representation of data. Having students create them as a formative or summative assessment can help them practice their information literacy, visual literacy, data literacy, and technology literacy skills.

When starting off with this type of lesson or unit, it is best to start small. Have students research to find one piece of interesting data, decide who the audience for the infographic is going to be, consider the type of data visualization that would work best to showcase the information, and then create a mini-infographic showcasing just that single piece of interesting data.

USA Today, since beginning publication, has offered a mini-infographic they call a “snapshot” on the front page of each issue of the newspaper. Researchers, reporters, and editors in each of the primary departments of News, Money, Sports, and Life account for most of the ideas and research for these snapshots. Once the research is complete, the information goes to a graphic artist who creates the infographic. This process usually take between three and four hours.

Here are some links to sample USA Today snapshots in the area of news.


In order to participate in the contest to win an HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC desktop computer, the educator had to create a mini-infographic or “snapshot” and submit it to me. The winner of the HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC was randomly chosen from those educators who submit the mini-infographic.

The topic of the infographic had to be in their content area, an education or educational technology-related topic, or anything else of interest to K-12 educators or students. The infographic could have been intended to inform or persuade.  I provided the entrants with the background image to use for the infographic.

To find out more about infographics, visit my infographics page here:


The easiest way to create a mini-infographic is to create a single slide in PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides.  For this contest, I had created a PowerPoint, Keynote, and JPEG version of the background entrants were required to use. The background illustrated the "clean" desk teachers would have by using an HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC!

On that single slide/image, entrants had to add the text and data information, and include the citation to the sources used for their infographic information. All of that information had to be that single slide. Here is a sample I created:

When entrants were finished with the slide, in PowerPoint they picked FILE- SAVE AS PICTURES, in Keynote picked FILE-EXPORT TO- IMAGES, and in Google Slides picked FILE- DOWNLOAD AS- JPEG IMAGE. They saved the image to their desktop or Google Drive (or their Camera Roll or Gallery if they were using a tablet).

Entrants emailed the single JPEG image to me at They also put "Mini" in the subject line of the email and their name, email address, and Twitter handle (if they had one) in the body of the email.

Here were the links to the background image in the three different formats


Educators had to locate some small bit of data they wanted to share with other educators or students. Using the background on the single slide, they added --
  • a title for the infographic
  • a labeled chart or graph
  • text to explain what the viewer is seeing
  • URL to the page(s) where they obtained the data
  • Saved the slide as JPEG to their computing device
  • Sent the JPEG as an attachment to with the subject of "Mini"
  • Included their name, email address, and Twitter handle, if they had one, in the body of the email
The contest was open to PreK-16 educators and pre-service and graduate education students in the United States and Canada.

By submitting the mini-infographic entry, entrants had a random chance to win the HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC and they were giving me permission to possibly post your infographic on my blog site whether they won or not. Their name would not appear on the Web page, just the mini-infographic itself.

By submitting the entry, if they were chosen as the winner, they were are also allowing me to share their name, email address, and mailing address with HP (or an HP associate) so they could send the winner  the HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC.

The winner’s name would be announced on the blog (but not tied to their submission) and on Twitter.

The email address of all who submit entries will remain private except for the winner, whose email address will be shared with HP (or an HP associate).
The submissions were due on: December 7, 2014 by 11:59 PM Eastern Time and the contest is now closed.



Here are some of the great mini-infographics that were submitted! Thank you to all who re-tweeted about the contest and for those that submitted an entry!


The ramdomly-chosen winner of the giveway of the HP EliteDesk 800 G1 Mini PC was Mark Case!
 I used the DecideNow app on the iPad to pick the winner-- congrats to Mark!