Thursday, February 11, 2016

Learning to love in a dual-platform relationship (Part 1)

When a representative from Dell approached me and asked if I would like to receive the Dell XPS 15 Touch laptop and review it, I was excited! Being a Mac user, I was anxious to both work with this powerhouse of a laptop as well as see how Windows has progressed with Windows 10. Could I learn to love working in a dual-platform relationship?

Dell XPS 15 Touch laptop, power adapter, and Dell HDMI/VGA/Ethernet/USB adapter

I started off by learning all I could about this great laptop! A complete overview of the specifications follows with the options I received highlighted, but here are the things that impressed me the most.

The 15" screen literally has no bezel! It stretches from side to side with a frame that is only 5.7mm wide!

The screen of the Dell XPS 15 Touch is a 15.6" UltraSharp 4K touch display with a resolution of 3840x2160. It is very bright, crisp, and I can easily open multiple documents side by side when I am working. And the screen is made from Gorilla Glass, which means it is well-protected from scratches.

I love having a touchscreen laptop! I have only used one once before, but after spending a lot of time with this Dell XPS 15 Touch, I realize what a time-saver it is! The hinge on the Dell XPS 15 Touch does not allow any wobble in the screen when I use it by touching what I need. I found myself using touch more and more as I spent time with the the laptop!

This Dell XPS 15 Touch came with a 500GB SSD storage drive. It is extremely fast to open programs, start up, and shut down! In addition, the 16GB of RAM allow me to quickly render videos and speed up other RAM-intensive applications. 

The battery life of this model, with the 4K screen and the 84Whr battery, is estimated to be 11-12 hours! I have not put that to the test yet, but that would last me an entire airplane travel day in coach, where I don't often have a plug. This model of the Dell XPS 15 Touch, with the 84Whr battery, is ½ pound heavier than the version with the 56Whr battery, but the longer battery life is certainly worth the little extra weight!

The keyboard is backlit, which is something that I have become quite accustomed to. The ports on the laptop include the standard HDMI, two USB 3.2 ports, and an SD card reader. However, the Dell XPS 15 Touch also includes the new powerful Thunderbolt 3 port (USB Type-C)  which would allow me to hook up two additional 4K monitors to the laptop if I wanted to!

There is a headset jack (which does both audio in and out) and a built-in 720p Webcam. Because of the thin bezel surrounding the screen, the Webcam is below the screen, near the hinge. Having the Webcam in this location will take some getting used to, since I usually am looking at the top of the screen when presenting a webinar or Skyping with colleagues.

Specifications for the Dell XPS 15 Touch

My Dell XPS 15 Touch came with a great accessory-- the Dell Adapter USB 3.0 to HDMI/VGA/Ethernet/USB 2.0 (DA200). This one little accessory replaces a multitude of dongles! It plugs into a USB port and contains an HDMI connection, a VGA connection, an Ethernet port, and another USB port. Having all of the connections I would need to present with included on this one little adapter is wonderful!

My current Apple 15" laptop is a 2014 MacBook Pro Retina, with 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD drive. The specs and weight of the Mac are similar to the Dell XPS 15 Touch. But the Macbook Pro does not have the long battery life, the beautiful 4K touchscreen, and is a bit wider and thicker than the Dell XPS 15 Touch.

I took some comparison shots after unboxing the Dell. Here you can see the Dell and Mac laptops open, closed, and on their sides.

Dell XPS 15 Touch on the left / Macbook Pro Retina on the right

Dell XPS 15 Touch on top / Macbook Pro Retina on bottom

My first impression of the Dell XPS 15 Touch is that it is a powerful, fast, solidly-made laptop, with a killer battery life, the best screen I have ever seen, and, with the availability of the touchscreen, it is sure to speed up my workflow!

With all else being pretty equal, could I learn to become comfortable using either platform to get my work done?

Part two of this series will talk about learning to love both platforms!

Monday, December 14, 2015

H&R Block Budget Challenge: Get your class involved!

I first posted back in July about the H&R Block Budget Challenge and included links to financial literacy sites to use in the classroom. There is still time to enroll your high school or high-school age homeschool class in this great contest which helps students learn and, more importantly, practice personal financial literacy, as well as offering teachers and students a chance to win grants and scholarships!  

The H&R Block Budget Challenge immerses high-school students in the life of a recent college graduate who has been working for six months. Each participant receives a virtual salary and must make smart budgeting decisions regarding expenses, such as rent, utilities, car payments and more. Students are challenged to balance current and future financial needs and demonstrate resourcefulness, understanding and practical application of financial concepts

There are six rounds of the H&R Block Budget Challenge, and there are still three rounds left to participate in, so sign your class up today! The closing dates for registration for the remaining three simulations are January 7, January 21, or February 4, 2016.

The H&R Block Budget Challenge encourages students to learn personal finance in a fun, engaging way while competing against other classrooms and students for $3 million in classroom grants and student scholarships. These awards include 60 chances for classroom grants up to $5000, 132 chances of student scholarships of $20,000, and a grand prize student scholarship of $100,000!

Since I believe financial literacy is one of the important literacies our students should attain before they graduate high school, I have blogged about ideas to enhance this across the curriculum, and I consider financial literacy one of the thirteen essential literacies. 

The H&R Block Web site also includes Budget Challenge lesson plans and student activities educators can use in the classroom. The H&R Block Budget Challenge and these lesson plans target Common Core standards for English language arts and mathematics, as well as personal finance benchmarks established by the Council for Economic Education (CEE) and the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy


Once students have completed the H&R Budget Challenge, you can continue the financial literacy instruction by the use of infographics. After participating in the H&R Block Budget Challenge, the students will have the knowledge base to determine the usefulness, validity, and information included in these types of infographics. In addition, you can have students re-create the infographics by including new data, a different focus, or research data they have collected. (Additional information on how to use infographics in the classroom may be found on my Web page here.)

Here are some infographics and Google search links to get students started.

Sign your class up today for the H&R Block Budget Challenge

This is a sponsored post on behalf of We Are Teachers and H&R Block
I received compensation for this post, however all opinions stated are my own.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The National Education Technology Plan 2016

The new National Education Technology Plan was launched today. Having worked on the 2000 version of the plan, I was anxious to read the document entitled "Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education".


The #NETP16 provides a current look at successful technology practices in schools across the country and includes five major categories -- learning, teaching, leadership, assessment, and infrastructure. There were no real surprises for me in the document, and I know of many schools who have already met many of the goals and recommendations outlined in the document.


However, for those schools and districts who are still working on embedding technology more meaningfully into teaching, learning, and leadership, the NETP includes short vignettes that can help continue the conversation around technology in their schools. And, with a robust bibliography of resources and people consulted for these overviews, the NETP will allow those who are in the planning stage to contact the subjects of the vignettes and ask questions (or read their blog) to find out more about the steps they took to move ahead in this area.


The NETP document is arranged in a fashion that make it easy for all members of the education community to understand what the current best practices are in the use of technology to support teaching and learning. Higher education faculty can use the NETP to plan their instruction for pre-service teachers. Pre-service teachers can use ideas from one of the vignettes and conduct an action research project. School and district leaders can use the NETP to help board members, parents, and community members to better understand what works in today's classroom. Teachers can take each chapter of the NETP and turn it into a PLC to discuss what is best for their school, grade level, and classroom.


There were a few items that jumped out at me, probably because they were ideas and thoughts that I am passionate about. The first was a new phrase to me-- "the digital use divide". The student use of technology for creation rather than consumption is something that is near and dear to my heart, and that is what this phrase is all about.



The second was found in the chapter on assessment. The overview of next generation digital assessments becoming more project-based and meaningful for the student is exciting! With more powerful back-end hardware and software and robust infrastructure in schools, I believe the time is finally here that this will become a reality.

School districts should consider combining the study of The National Education Technology Plan 2016 and the New Media Consortium's K-12 Horizon Report, which provides a five-year out look into innovations in technology that can impact teaching and learning. By combining best practices with exciting new ideas, I believe the use of technology in the classroom to support teaching and learning in a meaningful and innovative way will become the norm and and help our students get ready for whatever awaits them in the future!


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Speck Technology Cases

Those of you that know me well know I love backpacks and technology cases! And, for some reason, I especially love technology items that are pink. I have always thought the juxtaposition of hard-core technology hardware and the color pink was interesting!

When I read Speck had released two road-warrior backpacks, the MightyPack and MightyPack Plus, and they were available in a backpack that was "Zinfandel Pink/Pomegranate Pink, Polor Grey, and Glitter Pink", I wrote and requested a review copy. I received a note from the Speck rep, asking me what device models I use, and I received a (mostly) pink present in the mail yesterday!

MightyPack pink backpack, 15" pink SeeThru MBP protector, 12" clear MB protector, and pink iPad 2 cover

I have used Speck hardshell cases on many of my computers over the years and I have always loved them. They kept my laptops in pristine condition, even with all my traveling. And my first iPad Air slim case was a Speck case. I am a minimalist when it comes to protecting my technology devices. I like slim and lightweight protection.


The MightyPack backpacks come in two models-- MightyPack ($79.95) and MightPack Plus ($99.95). The MightyPack (pictured above) is 17.9" H x 6.3" D x 11.8" W and weighs 1.8 pounds. The MightyPack Plus is a little taller and deeper at 20" H x 6.7" D x 11.8" W and weighs 2.2 pounds. The difference between the two models is that the MightyPack Plus includes a TSA check-point friendly option that allows the laptop compartment to open flat for easy screening without having to remove the laptop from the case.

The other features of the two MightyPacks are similar.

The MightyPack backpack includes a hard-sided compartment at the top which is lined with fur and includes a mesh pocket, too. This is an invaluable feature for holding those items that need to be protected, such as headphones, sunglasses, cameras, and phones, as well as providing easy access to these devices when the backpack is in the airplane overhead or under the seat in front of you.

The front pocket is zippered on three sides, which provides easy access and includes one slip pocket, three mesh pockets (two-half width, one full-width), and a passthrough opening to the back compartment to allow for charging of devices. There is a nice padded grab handle at the top and the bottom and bottom corners are very padded to provide protection for the devices.

The back compartment includes dedicated padded pockets for both a laptop (up to 15") and a tablet. There are two slots for a pen and a larger stylus, and two half-width slip pockets.

The back of the MightyPack backpack is padded and has padded straps, too. One of the straps has a pocket which will fit a smaller smartphone or a snack bar. There is a small zippered pocket on one side of the MightyPack that fit my iPhone 6s+ in a slim case with some finagling. 

The one thing missing from the back of the MightyPack backpack, in my opinion as a road warrior, is a wide fabric strap to go over the handle on a piece of rolling luggage. I often need to have access to items in my backpack before taking off and after landing, and it would be nice to be able to "attach" it to the luggage so I can easily get to the items I need.


The Speck DuraFolio cases are available for both the iPad Air and the iPad Air 2 ($59.95), as well as the iPad Mini ($49.95). This slim case (0.3" in depth) includes sleep/wake magnets in the cover as well as two ways to fold it for both typing and viewing. The front cover also fold around to the back for easy one-handed reading on the iPad. It comes in various colors, but the one I received is Fuchsia Pink and White!

The bezel around the iPad is a little bit raised to protect the screen of the iPad if it is dropped on its face. In addition, the DuraFolio has met or exceeds the Military Drop Test Standard, which is a standard to determine the durability of equipment after repeated free-fall drops.

Front of Speck DuraFolio iPad Air 2 case

Back of Speck DuraFolio iPad Air 2 case

Speck DuraFolio folded for viewing at many angles

Speck DuraFolio folded for typing 


Speck is well-known for its SeeThru laptop protector cases. They make them for the Apple laptops. The one I received, the SeeThru MacBook Pro with Retina Display 15" ($49.95), comes in eleven color choices and clear. (The one for my 12" MacBook currently only comes in clear and onyx black.)

These cases are thin, sturdy, and snap-on easily to the top and the bottom of the laptop. They allow full access to all the ports on the laptops, and the bottom part of the case has rubber feet to keep your laptop safe from sliding while using it.

I have had Speck SeeThru cases for all my Mac laptops over the years. I have found that they fit nicely over a thin vinyl skin or decoration, too, if you have one of those applied to to your laptop. 

Since I am one that often sells my laptops, the Speck SeeThru cases keep the top and bottom of my laptop looking brand new!


I spent some time looking around Speck's website to see what else they offered in pink.

Pink tech cases, backpacks, and protectors are to my liking, but Speck offers great items in many colors and styles for all the newest devices, so visit their site!

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Bing in the Classroom

Microsoft  has a great new initiative for K-12 education called "Bing in the Classroom" which can help support digital literacy in schools. The program was created to do three things-- to provide a safe environment for students to learn their digital literacy skills, to offer digital literacy lesson plans for teachers, and to provide an easy way for schools to get more hardware.


Technology directors can sign up their school district for an enhanced search option for Bing that provides an ad-free search environment for the staff and students. This option eliminates the ads that usually appear when searching. It enhances privacy protection for students and teachers and includes the ability to filter adult content via SafeSearch.


The Bing in the Classroom program offers daily mini-lessons focused on search and digital literacy skills. These lessons include mapping to the Common Core Standards and have been created by the educators who are members of the Microsoft Educator Network. This network includes a collection of over 1500 lesson plans.

The lesson plans can be narrowed down by grade level, subject, the 21st century skill set, and instructional approach. Here is a sample of a search page for one of the digital literacy lesson plans.

Bing in the Classroom digital literacy lessons

Each lesson includes the learning objectives as stated in the Common Core standards, as well as an overview which contains the skills, instructional approach, Microsoft tools needed, and any required hardware. There are details to help the teacher use the lesson plan, and many lessons include an attached product, such as the Microsoft PowerPoint attached to this searching lesson. 

Sample digital literacy lesson

The PowerPoint presentation presented with the lesson above contains a teacher guide, slides to use with students with speaker notes, and a background slide about the lesson creator.

Support material for a lesson plan

In addition to these digital literacy lesson plans, Bing already has many features that make it a good choice as a district-wide search engine. Here are my favorites!

Search by "calculator" in the Bing search box to get a working calculator

Search by "unit conversion" in the Bing search box and convert almost anything

When searching Bing for images, students can limit the search to Creative Commons-licensed items

Another useful search limiter in Bing Images is to search for images that have no background


The third component of the Bing in the Classroom initiative allows those (13 years or older) who sign up for Bing Rewards, an program that allows users to earn credits while using Bing to search, to donate their credits to a school of their choice. The schools can earn free Microsoft Surface tablets through this reward program!  

Take a look at Bing in the Classroom for your schools!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post to raise awareness for Bing in the Classroom.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Paper by FiftyThree for the iPhone

On the iPadPaper by Fifty Three is the app I use most often for sketchnoting. The apps feature set makes it easy to quickly sketch, change drawing tools and colors, and to "rewind" quickly to undo my mistakes. Paper includes the ability to draw perfect auto-shapes (square, rectangle, circle, triangle, diamonds, parallelograms, line segments with arrow, etc.) and with just a tap, fill-in the shape. Paper also allows the user to move any component of the sketch by just circling it and dragging the item. You can explore the capabilities of the app by viewing the FiftyThree channel of videos on Vimeo.

Today, Fifty Three released the Paper app for the iPhone! For those of you that are Paper users on the iPad, you will be excited about the new features that have been included for the iPhone version! And both the iPad version and the iPhone version are free!

I have an iPhone 6+ and Paper for the iPhone works great! Paper for the iPhone has the same functionality as the iPad app for drawing, sketching and moving components, but has some very useful new features! 
  • Users now have the ability to import and resize images, something I have been hoping for. And there is a Spotlight feature included to highlight a portion of the imported image if you want. 
  • Users can type text, which is very useful for adding notes to the bottom of the sketches
  • With this text input, there comes a very cool way to create a to-do list. Simply type a list item and swipe right, and it adds the checkbox for the to-do item! And swiping left makes the text at the top the header for the list.
  • Users can combine the text, drawings, and images all on a single sketch.

Simplicity and ease-of-use continue to be how Fifty Three develops and re-develops this app!

When I use Paper, I use Pencil by FiftyThree as my drawing tool since, with its Bluetooth connection to the iPad or iPhone, with used with the Paper app it has pressure sensitivity, the ability to erase with the "eraser", a blending of colors mode, and a palm rest area. I use Pencil with all my drawing apps and you can see from this page the Pencil-ready functionalities that exist when using Pencil with apps from other companies.

Here are a few company screenshots from the new Paper by Fifty Three for the iPhone...give it a try right now!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Android apps for the applying level of Bloom's

This is an edited re-posting of a blog post in 2013, which originally appeared on the now-defunct Sony Education Ambassadors site.

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy is a pedagogical model we are all familiar with. This is the third in a series of resources outlining apps, Web sites, and ideas for using Bloom's Revised Taxonomy to support teaching and learning. This resource deals with Android apps for the third of Bloom's levels, applying.
The previous posts in the series were:


Applying is the cognitive skill set in which students use learned material through products like models, presentation, interviews and simulations, to execute or implement a procedure.

Some activities at the applying level include:

Diane Darrow, in her Edutopia series, outlines the questions you should consider when evaluating an app for use at the applying level.


Sharing: Audioboom

One activity at the applying level is sharing. Audioboom is an application for recording and creating a podcast. This free version allows students to create audio up to 3 minutes in length and post that to their own Audioboom page on the web. They can add titles, tags, geolocation info and a photo to the recording before it is uploaded. Here is a great overview of the use of podcasting in the classroom by Tony Vincent.


Teaching: Explain Everything ($2.99)
Explain Everything is a full-featured screencapture/screencaster program. It allows students to share a great idea or explain a tricky concept. They can bring in images and PDF documents and mark them up, take a photo directly, animate objects, or simply draw out the concept while recording voice audio at the same time. Students can demonstrate their learning by creating a tutorial or teaching unit for others.

Explain Everything

Publishing: Tumblr

Activities that involve publishing learned material in the form of a newspaper, article, or story can easily be done with the Tumblr app. With the app, students can post text, images, videos, and much more to showcase the application of their content knowledge. 


Demonstrating: Animation Desk - Sketch & Draw

Demonstrating applied knowledge can be done with a drawing animation program. There are many of these, but I like Animation Desk Lite for hand-drawn animations. It includes all the best features of an animation program-- layers, onion skinning, duplication of previous pages, easy frame management, and the completed animations can be sent out to FB, YouTube, the photo library, emailed, or saved as PDFs. Users can even record their voice as part of the demonstration. KQED offers this article about use of stop-motion animation ideas for the elementary classroom.

Animation Desk

Another stop-motion animation program, StickDraw, might be easier for younger students. Students draw and manipulate simple images.


Performing a skit: Comic and Meme Creator

Students can showcase the application of their acquired knowledge by performing a skit. Create A Comic allows students to add various characters and speech bubbles to impart the information in their comic.

Comic and Meme Creator


These are just some apps to get you started! The Google Play Store offers a ton of other apps that can be used at this level (or sometimes at all the Bloom's levels!) You can find more suggestions on my Bloomin' Apps page-- look for the chart for Android apps!