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!

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Literacies for the digital age: Data literacy

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in February 2015 and is re-posted here with permission.

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts highlighting the digital literacies our students will need to succeed. The first posts covered financial literacyvisual literacymedia literacyhistorical literacy, and numeracy. This post will provide you with some ideas on how to infuse data literacy skills into the curriculum.
The thirteen literacies I feel need to be explored, practiced and mastered by students can be found in the graphic below.

According to Dr. Milo A. Schield, students must be able to read, interpret and evaluate information. They must also be able to analyze, interpret and evaluate statistics. And they must be able to gather, assess, process, manipulate, summarize, and communicate data.
These three skills collectively comprise data literacy.
One way to have students gain the data literacy skills is the student creation of an infographic as a creative assessment. This assessment process includes practice with the information, visual, and computer tool literacies, too.
An infographic is a visual representation of data that allows the viewer to understand a topic, get another view, or persuade them to research further.
In the Newspaper Designer’s Handbook, a McGraw-Hill publication by Tim Harrower and Julie Elman, they provide some thoughts on why one might use an infographic. They are writing about infographics to enhance a news story, but the same ideas are applicable to student-created infographics to support a research project.
  • To complete the “story” for those who are interested
  • To draw in viewers from those that might skip the information
  • To pull out salient numbers, details, and comparisons
  • To clarify with statistics, geographical detail, or trends
  • To help insure the viewer “gets it”
Infographics fall naturally into categories such as statistical infographics, timeline infographics, process infographics, and research-based infographics.

Statistical infographics contain an overview of a topic and data to support the content. These infographics are used to either inform or persuade.
Pouring in your cup
Statistical infographic

For elementary students, showcasing statistical infographics which use size to indicate the different percentages instead of numbers would be easier for them to replicate.

For elementary students, showcasing statistical infographics which use size to indicate the different percentages instead of numbers would be easier for them to replicate.

One way to get students “hooked” is to showcase infographics that engage them, like this timeline infographic that tells a story.

Normandy invasion
Timeline infographic 2

A process infographic is a little different from a timeline. The creator adds a branching component to the visualization. A process infographic could be used when students are creating “how-to” essays. The infographic can be created by the student writing the essay, or a partner student can design the infographic from the essay.

Process infographic

One of my favorite types of infographics is the research-based infographic. Students are given a sum of money and have to conduct research to determine how to raise those funds. published the infographic below and, although they did not include where the data was found, they did include fairly comprehensive overviews of how they determined the statistics.

Research-based infographic

Here is the explanation for one of the items included in the infographic above: “Peyton Manning makes $14 million per year. Super Bowl notwithstanding, in the 2009 regular season he completed 4,500 passing yards (totaling 162,000 inches). If you divide his salary by the number of passing inches, he would need to pass the ball a little more than 8.4 inches to make $729. And just in case you’re wondering, a football is 11” long.”
There is a new series of research-based infographics called “If the world were a village of 100 people” created by Toby Ng. These data-based infographics are simple and informational, but are very compelling.
To learn how to process data, students should view already-created visualizations and discuss how and why the data is presented the way it is and its relevance.
This great infographic provides an overview of some visualization options.

One good place for teachers and students to learn how to pick the most effective visualization for the data is Hans Rosling’s Gapminder site. The Gapminder site has a teacher area with samples, ideas, and curriculum to support the teaching of these skills. There are instructional videos and PDF downloads for both teachers and students.
Gapminder world

Another site to support students learning how best to visualize data is Google’s Public Data Explorer.

There are many apps and tools that can help students create their infographic. Something as simple as a Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote, or Google Drawings single slide or page can be used. Once the infographic is created on a single slide, the slide can simply be saved out as an image and easily shared.
Within Discovery Education Streaming, there are over 1100 pieces of clip art and many primary source images that can downloaded and used for the infographic, too. Here are some samples!
Line of clipart
There are many online sites that provide templates for infographic creation. Some are paid sites that provide a few free templates. However, according to Eric K. Meyer, the author of what I consider the best book about infographic creation, a good infographic should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. He likens the visual elements in an infographic to those in a new story’s headlines and lead.
In addition, he goes on to state most readers skim both text and images rather than reading them, so a well-crafted visual image at the top of the infographic may just be the hook the viewer needs to stop and take the time to read and look at the information in the infographic. He talks about the way people read an infographic as an inverted pyramid style with the main point at the top followed by secondary points and supporting details. He also states any text in the title of the graphic should communicate facts rather than just label the information.
Inverted triangle
Inverted triangle

The templates offered by the online infographic creators do not often follow this tenet. Infographics need “weight” so the viewer knows what is most important. Many infographics I see are simply posters, with all the information equal in weight. Since an infographics is intended to inform or persuade, there does need to be a “hook” so the viewer will examine it in depth.
What is useful about the online infographic-creation sites is that a student is able to start the infographic from scratch and many, many graphical assets are included. Some of these tools even have the ability to input data directly into the tool and pick an appropriate data visualization for the project.
Online infographic creation sites
Tablet apps for infographic creation
You can find much more information, samples, ideas, and tips on my Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything: Infographics page. Here is a quick video overview!