Monday, October 5, 2015

DIY Gamer Kit from @TechWillSaveUs #MakerEd

I had the opportunity to play with the DIY Gamer Kit from Technology Will Save Us and I have to say that it is awesome. Here are my thoughts on using this kit. 

I was given the option of purchasing the kit unsoldered or soldered with love. I have not soldered in quite some time and I'm sure my wife would not want me wielding a soldering iron. It cost a bit more, but I was happy to get the device without any personal burn scars on my hands. 

Everything came together in a nice package and I was able to jump online and follow the directions. The resources of the kits are amazing and easy to follow. If you want to solder on your own, they have the directions for that. If you want to assemble and start playing, they have directions for that. I was able to take it out of the box, assembles it, add a battery, and I was ready to go. Here is what it looked liked assembled. 

Here are some students adding the stickers to the back. 

The next part of the kit is downloading the Arduino software onto my computer so I can start programming my unit. Again, Technology Will Save Us makes this so easy. Their directions walk you thorough the process in a matter of minutes. They also have directions on how to install other games (Flappy Bird and Snake) to your unit. They have other programs that you can play around with as well. Here is one that I was able to place on the unit that I shared on Instagram. 

This was so much fun to play around with on the computer and the unit. I was able to simply plug in the USB and connect it to the computer and start playing with code. I'm not much of Code or Arduino guy, but I felt like a pro in minutes and want to spend more time playing with the code to see what I can change.

I intend to buy more of these for our Makerspace. I want kids to build these and program them for the space. Students can have challenges and competitions to create complex games for others to play and beat. This was such a fun experience for me and my students were interested when I showed them what I was able to do.

There are other kits that are also worth exploring and have peaked my interest. They have a Synth Kit, Speaker Kit, Electro Dough Kit, Thirsty Plant Kit, and more. Check them out to diversify the kits in your Makerspace.

If you are looking to give students more opportunities to tinker and Make, adding some kits from Technology Will Save Us in a no-brainer in my opinion.

Have fun and get Making!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Thoughts on the Microsoft Surface Pro 3

This past summer, I was given a chance to visit CDW in Chicago. I was given a tour of their facility and talked about how their system of managing products for businesses can impact education. It was interesting to see how their shipping facility worked and how they were expanding to create better services for all of their customers. It was nice to hear how they were interested in making the process to buy and receiving tech for schools a much easier process. CDW has been a sponsor at MACUL events and their staff has always been helpful when I had questions. If you have not worked with CDW, you need to check them out and see how they can help you or your school.

It was an awesome trip that included a visit to Microsoft Office in downtown Chicago. I was able to see some new things and here about how Microsoft is becoming more flexible in the tech space and wants to work more with other types of software. This was refreshing to hear. I think it is something that can truly help Microsoft down the line in the educational world. As part of the visit, I was able to play with a Surface Pro 3 for the past month and I'm going to share what I think about with all of you.

I'm actually writing this post on the Surface Pro 3 right now. I'm using the new Edge browser and I'm running Microsoft 10. Blogger warns me that Edge is not supported and this moment and that there might be some issues. I've done a few posts using the Edge Browser and I have not encountered anything goofy yet.

The keyboard, which is an extra cost if you are buying a Surface, is very easy to use and snaps on wonderfully. It also folds back behind the screen if I want to carry it around and use it in tablet mode. I have found this wonderfully helpful in the classroom. I can be standing at the podium listening to class discussion and entering info into Google Classroom or the Google Doc and then quickly pick up and walk around to get a closer view of the students talking in their groups. This flexibility in the classroom is awesome. The Surface is not very heavy, so carrying it around is not cumbersome at all.

The battery was able to last all school day with heavy use. I was even able to throw on a movie from Netflix at the end of the day while I graded to see how long it would last. There was still 20 percent left after a full school day and 90 minutes of playing Netflix. I was able to charge it over night and it was ready to go in the morning. That is awesome!

I was able to download all of the things one would need for their computer without an issue. I downloaded Chrome so that I can access all of my school Google Apps. I can switch to Edge when I need to use my personal account. I could add another browser if I really wanted to. The downloads were fast and simple.

Another awesome feature for me was the stylus that comes with the Surface. I've never been a huge fan of using a stylus, but other web apps have made it very helpful. I use SMART amp with my students. It is an awesome application from SMART that integrates with Google Apps and allows me to work on a digital space with students in real time. Click the link for more info. The Surface is an awesome tool for working with students while on amp because it allows me the freedom to move away from the computer connected to the screen and SMART Board and access amp on the Surface. The stylus allows me the ability to draw and annotate anything I want as I walk around. Students can also access amp from their devices as well. This allows for a completely mobile environment where all students are connected and sharing. The Surface and the stylus make this possible with ease.

I'm a big Evernote user. I always have been. People have asked me about OneNote, but I've never used it. OneNote is built into the Stylus with a click of the top button. OneNote opens and you can start writing your notes or typing away. You can also capture directly from your screen and drop that into OneNote as well. If I wasn't so deep into my Evernote use for me and my students, I could see using OneNote regularly with the Surface.

The 12 inch screen is beautiful and I was able to watch Netflix without an issue. The picture is crisp and clean. No stray pixels to be found. It is a large screen that makes it feel like I am seeing everything I need without an issue. The touch screen is accurate and responsive without any lag. It makes the workflow seamless.

Cortana is nice to use, but I do not use it very much. It is tough to use in class with all of the students chatting. It is nice to tell it to open a specific app instead of trying to find it. It hears me clearly and rarely does it get confused or have trouble executing the task requested.

The Surface starts at $699 and the keyboard is an additional cost of $129. That might seem like a steep price, but you are getting a full computer that could replace your laptop easily. The tablet use is great and the Windows store has all the apps I need and use on my other tablets. The bigger screen is great and it is a wonderful mobile device. Microsoft is pushing the competition and I would recommend people to take a serious look at the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 if they are considering purchasing a new device for work or for home.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Conversation #withMalala @MalalaFund

This summer, I was given the chance to see a sneak preview of the documentary He Named Me Malala. This is the documentary that shares the story of Malala Yousafzai and her work to bring equality and education to girls all over the world. Here is a trailer for the movie.

This movie was simply amazing. It moved me. It showed the strength and courage of a young lady who is determined to make the world a better place even though her life has been threatened. This is a movie I cannot wait to show to my students. I really want to pair it up with Persepolis. The documentary was just beautifully shot and it really showed the other side of Malala that you do not see in the press. You are shown the silly side with her family. She helps her dad send out a tweet and work Twitter. She gives her brothers a hard time. She goes to school and stresses out over the home work she misses when she is in Africa helping build schools. It is an interesting view on an important figure in the world today. Her message is beautifully shared with the audience and left feeling better about the world because Malala was going to fight the good fight and try and make it a better place for my son. 

As part of this sneak peek, I had the unique opportunity to be part of a phone call with Malala Yousafzai the other day. A student submitted some questions and one of them was chosen. My student. 

Shannon M asked, "What is the most significant way being Muslim has impacted your activism?"

This was such an awesome question from one of our student journalists. People of her own faith have vowed to silence and tried when they shot her. Her response was wonderful. 

Malala said that being Muslim is just like any other religion. It means peace, community, loving each other, taking care of each other. Its part of my life to be kind to others, to be peaceful to others, to offer forgiveness. To her, this is what Islam is about. 

She takes these beliefs and focuses on helping children all over the world with The Malala Fund

The Malala fund is set up to provide quality education for girls all over the world. She says that secondary education is the basic human right of every girl. She will not stop until every girl can go to school. I get chills when I think about her and her work. She is making a difference. 

I want to let all of you know that you should make time to see this documentary with your family and your students. Do what you can to book a field trip and share Malala's story with them. Malala needs everyone to come together to ensure that girls everywhere receive the same education as their male counterparts. She has chosen to stand up and speak up? Will you join her?

I stand with Malala. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

New #NerdyCast with @Web20Classroom #EdChat

Another #NerdyCast for your viewing pleasure! I chat with Steven Anderson at the request of some listeners who want to hear more about doing presentation and speaking to large groups. Also, Steven gives us his pick for NASCAR racing. He is so versatile.

Listen here


Download from iTunes.

Monday, September 28, 2015

National Day on Writing Event by @WeAreTeachers

Looking for a fun way to engage your students when it comes to writing? National Day on Writing is going to be on October 20, 2015. 

WeAreTeachers is going to host a Google Hangout with New York Times Notable Author Kate Messner with a focus on grades 3-5. During Messner’s virtual visit, students will learn that published authors go through the same process as student writers when creating a book, including brainstorming, researching, planning, drafting and editing. Messner will also share how authors, editors, copyeditors and illustrators work as a team to publish a book. Students will have an opportunity to ask the author live questions.

This is a wonderful opportunity for young readers and writers to talk to an author and hear about the writing process from a perspective outside of the classroom. It is always a great thing to bring an outside guest into the classroom and share their experience and this is a fantastic way to do that for free. 

When teachers sign up, they will be able to download free pre and post event activities to keep the conversation going after the event has ended. Follow this link to sign up and get more info. 

About the Author

Kate Messner is an award-winning author whose books for kids have been New York Times Notable, Junior Library Guild, Indie Bound, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. was the winner of the 2010 E.B. White Read Aloud Award for Older Readers. Kate also spent 15 years teaching middle school and earned National Board certification in 2006. She lives on Lake Champlain with her family and loves spending time outside. To learn more about Kate and her books, please visit her website,