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!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

H&R Block Budget Challenge: Get ready!

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

Students are often taught, in a social studies class or a economics class, about the impact the decisions made by businesses and government have (and have had) on society and the economic climate. Students study capitalism, the Great Depression, War Bonds, government bail-outs of corporations, manufacturing, and other related events..

However, the area that is often overlooked is the personal finance component of financial literacy. Sometimes, how to develop a budget is taught in a math class when learning about spreadsheets. And I remember working in pairs in my high school health class while we developed a budget for a wedding. But there is not often a systemic curriculum for real-life applications of personal finance, especially in this digital age. Learning how to balance a checkbook is great, but what about online banking and investing? Planning for retirement? Paying taxes?

H&R Block provides a wonderful contest each year. the H&R Budget Challenge, that both helps students learn and practice personal financial literacy, as well as offers their teachers and themselves a chance to win grants and scholarships! 

The H&R Block Budget Challenge is a free online contest with the goal to teach students strong budgeting skills and fiscal discipline. The contest 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.

The Budget Challenge is a teen financial literacy program in the form of an online game that simulates real life financial and personal money planning of budgets, retirement, taxes, and more. The Budget Challenge is open to students 14 years of age or over in grades 9-12. There are multiple start dates for the competition (first one starting September 10 and last one over April 21) so it would be easy to fit into your curriculum when you see fit. Answers to all your questions about the Budget Challenge may be found here:

Students will all need a personal email account, teachers are required to inform student parents/guardians about the program and prizes. and also subscribe to the educator mailing list for the contest.

There is both an iOS and and Android app available to help students keep track of their progress in the H & R Block Budget Challenge and students can also access the information through the Web site when using a computer or Chromebook.

Budget Challenge App screenshots


I know if I was signing my class up to participate in the H&R Block Budget Challenge, I would want to have them prepared with some background information.

There are online materials and sets of state standards to help teachers develop lessons and units dealing with personal finance into and across the curriculum. I have included resources in the my blog post, but I especially like the Council for Economic Education's set of standards for financial literacy which cover skills for grades 4, 8, 9 and 12.

  • Earning income
  • Buying goods and services
  • Using credit
  • Saving
  • Financial investing
  • Protecting and insuring

There are also apps and interactive online sites that can get your students ready for the H&R Block Budget Challenge!

Lesson plans created by teachers for previous years of the H&R Block Budget Challenge can be found on the Budget Challenge site here. These will give you some idea of the types of lessons that can be designed.

Thrive and Shine is a app that teaches teens and young adults about personal finance. It is available for the iOS and Android platforms as well as a Web app. The site includes a curriculum and ideas for teachers, too.

Thrive and Shine screenshot

Unleash the Loot! is an iPad app that is intended for grades 5-8, but would be fun for the high school students to play, too. It can help them realize the basics of personal literacy such as setting goals, budgeting, earning money, saving and spending, and giving to charity.

Unleash the Loot! screenshot

The online site includes interactive scenarios for kids and teens to work through to learn about personal financial literacy. This  site also offers tips and tricks, especially for teens, in the areas of earning, saving, spending, owing, tracking, giving, investing, and safeguarding.

The Practical Money Skills for Life site by Visa includes some short interactive games to help students budget. One is called "Road Trip for Savings" and you have to collect money by doing "chores" as you drive across the US. I never was able to get anywhere, running out of money for gas and insurance, but students would probably do just fine!

There are other games on the site including two well-created sports games, Financial Soccer and Financial Football (also available for iOS), that have students answering questions in order to advance up the field to score. For iOS and Android, there is a Plan'it Prom app for both iOS and Android to help students and parents budget for the prom!

I hope you sign up for the H&R Block Budget Challenge and encourage your students to participate!