Category Archives: Technology

Kind of but not really a new iPad review

I have lived through a period of great innovation in consumer electronics. I remember when there were only about 20 channels on TV and some of those didn’t come in very well. I remember when you had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel, even. I remember having a stereo in the living room that could play 8-track tapes. I used to buy record albums or LPs.

I remember taking pictures on film and having to think about the shot before you hit the shutter button (I remember cameras with shutters!) because you only had 24 shots per roll of film. And, it cost money to develop your pictures. And, you had to wait a couple days for the pictures to be developed, until they came up with 1 hour photo processing.

I remember when compact discs came out. My dad bought our first CD player in about 1986. It was this little black deal and we had just a couple of CDs for it. I still remember the first two CDs I bought: “Rage for Order” by Queensryche and “Under Lock and Key” by Dokken. True story. I remember distinctly discussing with friends how I didn’t think that CDs were all that much better than records. Records sounded good enough. Who needs these shiny discs?

And then I heard a CD.

No hissing. No pops. Just the music, clear and bright. (Turns out that brightness became a liability in some ears, but not mine. I still don’t really think records sound better.) From then on, I wanted CDs and didn’t like listening to records.

Then, DVDs started coming out. Well, by this time, I had seen Laserdiscs and coveted them dearly over VHS. Those little tapes seemed muddy, washed out and blurry compared to Laserdiscs. And, DVDs were marketed for mass approval. They seemed poised to take over. So, I was pretty sold on DVD players from the get-go.

A few years ago, HDTVs started coming out. I had a similar reaction again. How much better can High Definition be? Sure, they are widescreen, and since I’d been to film school, I preferred to watch things in widescreen. I much preferred the black bars on my screen to the awfulness of pan and scan fullscreen.

Then, I saw a high def TV in person. Good lord, it was beautiful. Clear, crystalline, life-like. I had to have it. Today, I can’t stand watching stuff in standard definition. It bugs me.

So, a few years ago, I bought an iPad. I knew from the moment they were announced that I wanted one. And, when the newest iPad was announced, the third generation, I wanted one again. This time I believed that the screen was superior, that it would be an improvement for sure. And it was. But, like with CDs and HDTVs, that old iPad just looks bad now. I can see the pixels now. Text looks a little fuzzy. Damn iPad 3 has ruined me again.

So, if you’re wondering, is the new iPad really better, then yes, yes it is. Many people, especially those with the iPad 2, can probably still do without upgrading. But, if you have been holding out, then now is the time to buy a very nice tablet computer. You will be happy.

I thought I would also throw out there that I just got a new phone, a Nokia Lumia 710 with Windows Phone 7 on it. I very much enjoy using it so far. It isn’t iOS, but that isn’t bothering me right now, except that it’s outside the iCloud/iTunes ecosystem. Windows Phone 7 is elegant and easy to use. And, once I put in my Facebook and Google accounts, it had my contacts. That was pretty cool. I didn’t have to post on Facebook that I needed everyone’s contact info again. Facebook is the new phonebook. Along with Twitter. But, Facebook is people you really know. Twitter is for people you know of.

Technology is cool. I like Technology.


My Students Start Blogging!

I thought this was kinda cool. I got tipped off to Edublogs as a good place for students to start blogging. So, I opened up my own blog over there (and paid for it, so if you use them, pay for it and help support a great service!!!). This last week I’ve been encouraging my students to open up blogs, too. I am linking them to my own page and asking them to blog a little each day. It’s been starting slowly with a hitch here and there but otherwise I’m very encouraged. The students seem to think it’s fun, mostly, and it allows me to have them try to review their learning for the day.

I am asking them NOT to use it as a diary exactly. I want them to reflect and summarize some of the things they’ve learned. It will both serve to refresh their memory on what was covered and also help them exercise their writing muscles. I’m using a cool iPad app, Feedler, to read their feeds and it goes quickly. I flew through about 40 posts in an hour, and even left a few comments for them too.

I like this right now. Some of their posts are quite insightful. I am really hoping they will enjoy doing it and forget that it’s good for them and just do it because they like it.

Not Yeah But; Try What If

In the ten years I have been teaching I have heard a lot of yeah buts. It is striking to me that teachers, not all, certainly, but too many for my comfort, are so resistant to change. We teachers should be the model for life-long learning and adaptation. Too many of us are stuck in the mud of convention and same as it ever wasness.

Yeah but we don’t have the resources for that.

We need to find a way. Our students are bringing networked computers with them to school everyday. Cellphones. What if wecould use them to poll our students, have them send text messages to our free Google Voice account, or use Twitter’s text messaging capabilities. What if we used the electronics students already owned in classes to help them learn?

Yeah but we can’t have students using cell phones in class.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I have seen an administrator use a cell phone during a meeting (lots). I could get some nice school supplies. Heck, I’ve even been speaking to an administrator who pulled out their phone and looked at it right while I was talking to them about actual school business. I have also seen school district officials using their cell phones during board meetings and, yes, graduation ceremonies. So, given that the vast majority of the adults (including the teachers) in the school and district are using a cell phone on a daily, hourly, even “minutely” basis, you want me to turn around and tell students that they can’t use their cell phones during class?

What if we taught students when it was appropriate to use their phones? What if we allowed them to text their answers to questions for an instantaneous formative assessment? What if we allowed students to use text messages as long as they were getting their work done? What if we treated text messaging as just another form of verbal communication instead of acting like it was one of the most dangerous acts a teenager can perform?

Yeah, but students need to practice face to face interactions. Social networking is destroying our ability to, well, socialize.

First, seriously? You think kids need to practice talking face to face? Isn’t that what we do, like, all the time? I mean, honestly, saying that social networking and texting is going to take the place of face to face interaction is a bit like the arguments that people made against adding sound and color to movies. Today, it sounds ridiculous. Just like this will to people twenty years from now. It’s not. Really.

A study by the Pew Research Institute in 2009 found that social networking and use of mobile phones DID NOT increase isolation. To the contrary, it appears that people using Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging are better informed and more active in a greater, wider network with stronger ties to people than people who do not.

What if we taught students to use social networking properly? What if we taught them to post responsibly? What if we helped them see how social networking could be used to help them solve problems and gather information instead of wringing our hands and burying our heads.

The bottom line is that the majority of “yeah, buts” are deeply rooted in unfounded fears and resistance to change because it takes work. It’s time to let go of that. What if we all embraced change and moved forward together to make the world a better place? What if we all read articles, and wrote articles, about better teaching practices? What if?

*Update* I just found this article that talks about this same subject but with some good solutions. It’s addressed, I think, more toward administrators but is still worth thinking about.

#winning: Tweeting at the Senior Assembly? Swag!

Today, I gave up.

I know we’re not supposed to have students using cell phones in school. But, for those of us who teach, you know that the kids have them and they use them and you might as well be telling them to hold their breath while in class if you tell them to put their phones away. I’m the Activities Director at my high school. One of my assignments is to work with the Seniors during the standardized testing days. Seniors don’t get tested; so, while the rest of the school is diligently bubbling their little fingers off, I have to entertain, occupy and keep the Seniors in thrall inside the school gym for four hours.

It is exactly as awful as you can imagine. I have tried to come up with activities that will interest them, but, honestly, with about 400 teenagers in the room, you know that there’s no way to make all of them happy. You know how there’s always two or three kids in class that hate the assignment, no matter how cool it is? Well, multiply that out. Instead of 30 or 40 kids, you have 400. So, instead of 2 or 3 it’s 20 or 30. Or more. It can get ugly fast. They don’t want to be there and they’re old enough now to start questioning why they are there and what’s the point. So, even when we bring in a good speaker who talks about successful strategies they can use to manage their time, money and life when they get into college or the work world, there’s still a bunch of them that just don’t care. Or, if we bring in a three-screen multi-media movie/presentation designed to inspire them to achieve more, there’s a bunch that are bored. We have tried all these things and more.

I have even put together a full-fledged carnival on the soccer field with inflatable slides, bounce houses, climbing walls, and bungie swings. And, still I get complaints. If you teach high school for any length of time you come to realize that teenagers simply complain. It’s in their nature, somehow.

So, yesterday, I went into the gym and had one of the worst days ever with the Seniors. This is my fourth year doing it. It was hot and they were restless and that was after a half an hour. It was so bad that even our guest speaker had to stop and say, “Guys, I’m not getting paid to be here. I’m just trying to help you out with some good information. Try to show a little respect.” To no avail. They stopped talking for a minute. But, then the phones were out, the ipods were out, the earbuds were in, and so on. One girl literally turned her back on the speaker to talk with her friends. Yes, I went up into the audience to admonish her. I stared down several kids using their iPods. I motioned many to put away their phones.

Some reading this might say, “So, Poirier, take control! Make those kids put that stuff away and pay attention.” I agree. That’s a super idea! But, when it’s more than half of the audience, it’s almost impossible. Let’s be honest, discipline in a classroom, or assembly, is really by agreement of the students more than anything else. And, my experience is, if you get too heavy-handed, they turn on you completely. If you have 400 plus surly Seniors in the gym and they turn on you, well, I think you must realize it’s not a good thing at all. In a way, if we’re being honest, I’m really just keeping them there long enough to qualify for ADA money. We simply can’t allow them all to be absent that day, no matter how much we might want to.

However, today, I gave up. Today, I pulled out my iPad and used my @kaiserasb Twitter account with the students. See, Twitter has this cool feature that if you have text messaging on your phone, you can access the Twitter service with the phone number 40404. In fact, you don’t even need a Twitter account! Anyone can text the words “follow @username” to 40404 and they will get that user’s tweets as text messages. (Note: replace the word “username” with the username of the person you want to follow.) So, I had the kids all type a text message that read “follow @kaiserasb” and send it to 40404. Then, I told them that periodically I would have them text me something to win extra tickets to bring guests to the graduation ceremony. Our graduation tickets are like gold to some of these kids.

Next I told them that I wouldn’t take questions except through Twitter. They had to text the question @kaiserasb to get me to answer it. It became a game, even. And, my Twitter timeline became a backchannel discussion that leaked into the main discussion, or, at times, became the discussion.

It was fun! Imagine that! I was enjoying the Senior Assembly!!! Now, I’m not going to pretend that everyone was listening, because they weren’t. But, Robert A. Heinlein once said, “Never attempt to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.” Now, I object, in principle, to referring to any of my students as pigs, obviously, but this is a metaphor, not a comparison. In this case, trying to get some of these kids to pay attention to me as I went over the Code of Ethics for graduation activities, or the Senior Information pamphlet was useless. So, I began the day by saying, “Today we are going to go over graduation information. You will sign a sheet later saying you understand what is expected of you. Also, we will keep track of who was present today and by being present, you agree that you are responsible for what we cover. However, being that you are all 17 at least and probably even 18 years of age, I am going to give you the choice to pay attention or not. If not, please move further up the bleachers. If you want to listen and pay attention then please move further down the bleachers or sit here on the floor and it will be easier.” I gave them a couple of minutes to move.

And then I went over the Twitter usage. For me, it worked a charm! Kids were tweeting questions about graduation, they were reading the pamphlet and the code of ethics and then asking questions, they were responding to my questions and they were commenting on the information. Some complimented my new haircut. Others asked when they could go home. I learned that kids use the term “ratchet” as a noun to describe someone in an unfavorable light, as in, “Can @kaiserasb get this ashy ratchet away from me?” I didn’t. I said that was their problem. Someone tweeted to me, “@kaiserasb You are #winning!” For those unaware, # is a hashtag that Twitter uses to track tweets so you can search for all #winning tweets easily. Also, winning is something Charlie Sheen does, apparently. Someone else claimed they had SWAG! I said that my wife says I have swag and got a tweet back that “@kaiserasb ain’t got no #swag!” The kids were smiling, laughing and enjoying the back and forth. I got requests for shout outs and delivered them. The teachers who were helping supervise even got shout outs. It felt great! It felt cutting edge! A room full of kids interacting, time flying by.

Oh, and the kids learned what was proper behavior at graduation, what the dress code was, how to check out and so on. How do I know? Because I would periodically say, “Okay, for a free graduation ticket, tell me who you turn your Code of Ethics into once it’s signed.” And I checked my Twitter feed for the first tweet to correctly identify the bookkeeper. I later said, “What do you need to bring with you to pick up your tickets for graduation?” Someone tweeted back, “ID” and another “CYA ticket.” Both were correct. Both received free graduation tickets. And instead of having to stop and get their name, I simply “favorited” their tweet on my timeline and went back later to see who got the free tickets.

So, I got instant feedback from the kids that cared. Were they all engaged? No. But, then, they all wouldn’t have been engaged anyway. I have sat through enough staff meetings, attended enough conferences to tell you that even the best speakers with an audience that actually cares, probably loses about 20% of the audience’s attention at any given time. So, instead of people that want to be there, replace them with 12th graders suffering from severe senioritis and you can imagine what a tough room that is. I could have been more strict and pushed the kids to be quiet and listen. But, I would have been a lot more angry and they would have been a lot less cooperative. Honestly, I think I got more engagement from them today than ever before. I answered more questions because I didn’t have to say, “You, there, in the red, yes, what’s your question? What? Say it again? People, quiet down I can’t hear the question. Oh okay.” I didn’t even ask them to quiet down in two hours. The kids that wanted to get the information got it. The others? Either they got it and moved on to their own thing or they didn’t care and will suffer natural consequences, or it never mattered in the first place because they weren’t graduation. Ultimately, today, everybody got something they wanted.

I call that a #winning situation.