Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A trio of reviews

Three companies have sent me items to review and reviews of them follow.  It is always fun to try out new technology gear!

MagBack for iPad

I am always on the lookout for ways to mount my devices in the car and around the house. MagBack for iPad is one neat solution! MagBack for iPad bills itself as the "world's thinnest iPad mount". The MagBack kit consists of two magnetic MagSticks, that can be mounted anywhere, and two MagBack Pads that mount to the back of the iPad. The MagBack is available for all models of the iPad Mini, iPad 2/3/4 non-Retina, and iPad Air 1 and 2, and comes in a variety of colors. The cost of the MagBack is $39 and you can also buy 3 sets of extra MagSticks for $19 to use to mount the iPad to additional places around the house or in your car.

The MagSticks can be mounted on a wall, your car dashboard, your cookbook stand, or the wall behind your desk. They are a shiny silver and are 4.5" x .5", so are unobtrusive even when mounted to your car dashboard. The MagStick can be mounted on wood, a painted wall, fabric, leather, glass, or aluminum (and I am assuming the "pleather" on my car dashboard!)

There is a template included in the package to ensure you get the MagBack Pads aligned correctly on the back of the iPad. These MagBack Pads also provide a nice gripping surface when you are carrying your iPad. The Apple iPad Smart Cover does not interfere with the MagBack Pads (and vice versa), since the MagBack Pads mount on the short sides of the iPad. 

MagBack Pads and MagSticks

MagBack Pads mounted on the iPads

Here is a another review of the MagBack for iPad that includes additional screenshots and a video demonstrating the process for installation.

MagBack is also accepting pre-orders for its MagBack for iPhone. In this model, the "Pads" are built right into the phone case and there is only one MagStick needed.

Headset by ThinkWrite

ThinkWrite was formed in 2013, and designs low-cost mobile device accessories to support the education market.

They sent me their headset (headphone and microphone combo) to review. This low-cost headset sells for $19.99 and volume discounts are available.

ThinkWrite specifically made a headset to meet the needs of schools. It is very durable and is made from special plastic that allows the headset to be bent (as kids are likely to try) without breaking! The headset is constructed with a "pleather" material that is easy to clean and provides padding and adjustments to fit any child's head. Take a look at how indestructible they are!

The inclusion of a mounted microphone that sits close to the student's mouth makes these very useful for students recording narratives and podcasts since the classroom noise level is kept to a minimum. And there is an in-line volume control to easily allow students to moderate the sound on something they are listening to.

Teachers are always on the look-out for low-cost technology solutions for their classrooms, and I think these ThinkWrite Headsets are a winner!

Reflector 2 by AirSquirrels

I have been a proponent of the Reflector app since the day it was introduced (when it was called Reflection). The Reflector app turns your Windows or Mac computer into an AirPlay device, allowing one or more devices to mirror their screens to your computer via WiFi or Bluetooth. If your computer is hooked up to a video projector, of course, the teacher and students can share their findings, work, or questions with the rest of the class. And it makes it easy for a teacher to roam about the classroom and clear up misconceptions by mirroring their device screen to the "big" screen.

One of my favorite features of the Reflector 1 app is the ability to record the activity on the screen of the mirrored iOS device while it is mirrored to the computer. As one who creates lots of instructional videos, I use this feature daily. Even the sound comes over to the computer so it is included in the movie I produce. In a classroom, the ability to easily record an iOS device screen is invaluable when a teacher needs to record an on-going lesson for an absent student, for parents, or by wanting the ability to record a student's work for their digital portfolio.

However, Reflector 2 ($14.99 per single license with volume licenses available) has bumped up the capabilities of the software! Devices running various operating systems can now mirror to the same computer! And whether the device is an iOS device, an Android device, or a Chromebook, the mirrored screen can be recorded! This is a wonderful addition for BYOD/T environments where students may have a mix of iOS devices, Android devices, and Chromebooks in the same classroom.

Reflector 2 also allows the teacher to emphasize a certain device on the computer screen when multiple devices are mirrored, as well as hiding connected devices. In addition, the teacher can show a device full-screen to eliminate all other distractions for the viewer

Reflector Director is an iPad app ($6.99) that allows the teacher to handle the emphasizing, hiding, and previewing of mirrored device screens on the computer from the iPad, rather than having to sit at the computer to do so.

There are a few additional programs that AirSquirrels makes that also may be helpful in a classroom. The Reflector for Android app allows iOS devices to mirror to the screen of an Android device (it does not enable Android mirroring.)

Reflector for Amazon Fire TV and TV Stick ($6.99) allows one to mirror a Mac computer, Windows computer or Chromebook (in conjunction with AirParrot 2) to a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick as well as mirror any iOS device to your TV that has an Amazon Fire TV Stick.

With all of these features, Reflector 2 meets the needs of teachers and students no matter what device they are using or need to share!

Sunday, May 31, 2015


This post originally appeared on my Discovery Education Network blog, Kathy's Schrock Katch of the Month, on July 1, 2013 and is re-printed with permission from Discovery Education.

IMHO or Why give constructive criticism?

I recently had a brutally honest day. I was asked to review a new book coming out and write a blurb for the back cover. The title was something I was interested in, so I agreed. As I read along in a chapter about change, I came across the line. “Everyone knows that teachers, especially, are resistant to change.” Hold on! This book was written for educators– why dis' them in the text? And who is “everyone” and why are teachers more resistant to change than anyone in a different profession? I re-wrote the sentence to be less insulting.

As I read on in the technology sections, the exemplar lessons were pretty much the lowest level of technology use. The assessments were used to inform instruction but did not gauge student acquisition of content knowledge at all.

So, as I found things that I felt could be made better and more meaningful to the proposed audience, I jotted them down and included additional ideas, quotes, and links to resources. I sent them along to the editor with a note stating I did not feel comfortable offering a blurb for the book because I did not believe in many of the tenets that were put forth. It was probably too late to do anything about the content, because the book looked like it was in its final form, but I felt compelled to do it.

The same day, I was sent a lesson planning white paper that was released by a company. It was already on the Web. However, there were no author credentials on the pages and, since it was pedagogical in nature, I wanted to know that someone who was (or had been) a K-12 educator had written the piece. It was also a bit “preachy”, so I reworked one of the paragraphs to something a bit different, without changing the content. I sent my thoughts along to them.

I guess the point is, in education, where others sometimes tell us things we don’t agree with or we feel would never work in a regular classroom setting,  it is up to us to give constructive feedback when you see something that you don’t like or don’t agree with.

The important thing is to provide something other than simply writing “that sentence seems to put down the whole teaching profession”. Re-write the content so it will not be demeaning to teachers and will  make the teachers take more notice and continue reading the book or article. Provide links to resources that are, in your opinion, more appropriate   than the samples that are provided in the article, book chapter, Tweet, or GOOGLE+ post.

This goes for educational trends, too. Although it sometimes seems, IMHO,  educators jump on lots of bandwagons for new pedagogical models, I don’t always initially agree with the idea or the implementations of the new idea. I read about it, look at successful practices, and then comment, constructively (I hope!) about it. For instance, I passionately disagreed with this blog post about turning Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy on its head.  In this case, I publicly disagreed in the comment area, but oftentimes I may just write to the blogger directly and offer some alternatives for her/him to think about.

Following are some links about constructive feedback and criticism. Most are not directly related to education or even the online realm, but you should garner some good ideas. As with anything you are passionate about, you need to wait a few minutes before posting a bit of constructive feedback to someone else. Passion in print comes across differently than passion in person, so you have to plan your responses carefully. Write a draft, look it over, take a walk, and then push the send button.

We need to encourage constructive discourse in our profession. I also feel we should to step back and think about all aspects of a plan or trend before becoming enamored with the idea just because everyone else is. Maybe parts of the new concept are useful to help students acquire both the 21st century skills and the content knowledge they need. But, perhaps other parts of the new idea won’t work in your situation and you have already discovered alternative methods that work well. You need to share those alternative ideas with the rest of us!

Don’t be afraid to constructively criticize and don’t be afraid to be criticized, which you might be. If you are passionate about something or think something is not quite right about an aspect of education, write the company, the blogger, the Tweeter, the President, and let them know. Sometimes people just don’t know what they don’t know!

Do you have any specific thoughts on ways to give online constructive criticism/feedback? There are not a lot of good ideas out there…please share via Twitter (@kathyschrock), Google+, or email me at!

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 set-up effortlessly! It brought over my folders and sub-folders and I was in business!
  • I am using 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:

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