Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Using Windows with the Mac ecosystem

Many educators have to use both Windows and Mac platforms. Sometimes they have Windows laptops at school and a Macbook at home. They sometimes have iPads in the classroom and sometimes have Chromebooks. I have recently found out that it is possible to use both major platforms and keep your life in balance!

I received an HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Ultrabook laptop to review. I had just sold my 11" Macbook Air and did not have a personal laptop to use, so the EliteBook came at the right time!

My desktop is an iMac and I use and iPad and iPhone, so I decided to see if I could still keep up-to-date and work on my items in the Apple ecosystem using the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Ultrabook.


The HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Ultrabook

The HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Ultrabook is a very well-crafted, thin, light laptop with tons of up-to-date features! With the SSD drive, it turns on and shuts down quickly, opens installed programs quickly, and completes intensive tasks, like rendering, just great!

The machine I received has these specs:
  • Windows 8.1 Pro
  • Intel Core M processor: 1.2 GHz up to 2.9GHz with Intel Turbo Boost
  • Integrated Intel HD graphics 5300
  • 12.5" diagonal LED-backlit touch screen (2560x1440)
  • Backlit keyboard
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 512GB SATA SSD
  • Intel® Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • 2 USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI port
  • MicroSD card slot
  • Glass Forcepad touchpad
  • Headphone/mic jack
  • Webcam 720 HD
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • NFC
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Docking connector
  • Size: 12.2" x 8.26" x .6"
  • Weight:  2.66 lbs.
VGA/Ethernet adapter
One accessory I received with the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Ultrabook was a smartly-designed dual Ethernet/VGA dongle that attached to the docking port. It was nice to have both of those connections in one adapter! As a presenter, I make use of Ethernet at the presentation table (to avoid the wireless that the participants use) and most projectors in venues are still VGA, so this is the perfect combination.

The full datasheet with all the options may be found here.

There were some features that were new to me. I love the built-in fingerprint scanner to log-in to the machine, the touchscreen for using Windows 8.1 in the way it was meant to be used, and the glass Forcepad touchpad. It took a little getting used to a "no click" touchpad, but, once I did, it really makes things faster and easier! The EliteBook Folio 1020 also has a quiet, backlit keyboard with just the right amount of travel to let you know you have hit a key. The speaker is top-loaded over the keyboard and, for conferencing, there are HP tools built-in that can minimize the background noise if you do not have a headset.


I used the machine exclusively for a week, and, as I stated before, I wanted to see if I could keep up with the products I currently use on the iMac, iPhone, and iPad Air by using the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Ultrabook.

In schools, it is becoming less and less important to think about the hardware. The emphasis is on "Can I get done what I need to get done?" With many schools still running Windows enterprise networks, Windows-based machines are still very prevalent in the educational settings. But, with both major players (Microsoft and Apple) realizing that it is important to allow users "choice", I am able to use this cool new laptop and get my work done easily!

  • I installed Firefox, Chrome, and Safari for Windows so I had access to all my browsers, plug-ins, and extensions.
  • I have Office 365 for the Mac and was able to install the Windows version on the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Ultrabook, so I have access to the Windows suite of tools (and love the fact I have Publisher back on the Windows side!)  
  • My favorite organization and curation tool is OneNote and I use it on all of my Mac and iOS devices. Of course, it is a Microsoft program so it was easy to sync it to my notebooks.
  • I opened Outlook to begin the process of setting up my email, and imagine my surprise when it took me through the icloud.com set-up effortlessly! It brought over my folders and sub-folders and I was in business!
  • I am using iCloud.com and the iWork Beta to work on my Pages, Keynote, and Numbers documents on the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Ultrabook . As you can see from the images below, I can even present basic Keynote documents via the cloud. (Embedded videos don't seem to work, so I will just put them online and link to them within the slideshow itself.)
  • I installed iTunes for Windows for my Apple music library
  • I purchased Reflector for Windows for mirroring my iPad to the
    HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Ultrabook for presenting my iPad workshops.
  • I am a Creative Cloud user, so was able to download my Adobe apps to the EliteBook Folio 1020 and use them.

HP EliteBook Folio 1020 worked with my external DVD drive

Logged into iCloud with the HP EliteBook Folio 1020

Working on my Keynote presentation via iWork Beta
Full-screen presenting with iWork Beta and VGA adapter

Many of the other tools that I use are Web-based, such as the ones listed on this page. Online tools are often used in the education sector because, if the school does not have a 1-to-1 initiative, or teachers and students cannot bring devices home, with online tools they still have access to the tools they need.


I am convinced educators can stop talking about being a Windows or Mac "shop" now. With new feature-rich laptops like the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Ultrabook or the new 12" MacBook, and with the software and tools accessible from either platform, I think school districts now can make a choice based on their needs, rather than the hardware dictating what can and cannot be done!

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: http://www.amazon.com/oc/echo/.

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):  MyMoney.gov
    • 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!