Mitch Norris

-  119 posts

The portfolio of Mitchell Norris - International, ICT educator and Apple Distinguished Educator. Find out more at www.misternorris.com

A Brief History Of The Internet

The internet, it’s economy and it’s ramerfercations have come about in such a short time span it’s hard to know to put it into perspective. For most of our students, being digital natives, they have no idea that there was life before the internet. They have no idea that MySpace dominated before Facebook and that the idea of having affordable internet on a mobile phone (thanks to the iPhone) is also a very recent manifestation of technological advancements. I also think it’s good for us that were around when all of these amazing technological advancements came about to remember when it all happened.

So I was researching to see if anyone had made a timeline of when these technological advancements came about but I couldn’t find anything decent enough. So I decided to make my own. I hope you enjoy it and can use it in your classrooms.

I used Prezi to develop the timeline as I’ve had the idea to use Prezi for a while. I love the three dimensional features of Prezi, being able to not just move up, down, left, right but also in and out. I think for a timeline this is a great idea as it can give the viewer some perspective and infinite amount of detail can be added to the timeline as each section can be zoomed in further and further to add new events and details. In reality this worked well, but I did have regular problems importing images. I love that you can search for and import images straight from inside Prezi. But that feature was a little glitchy and didn’t work 100% of the time. Dragging and dropping from my desktop was also not effective at all. The best way I found adding pictures worked was finding them online, saving them to my desktop, then uploading them in Prezi. This was a little time consuming. But over all, I’m very happy with the results and would love to see someone use Prezi as a timeline in more detail to see how the zooming in and out of events could really change the way we write and view timelines.

Backup Solutions – The 6 Levels

In 2012 you would think that we could develop machines reliable enough that they do not fail and we do not have to back up our work. But in reality, that’s not the case. Computers hard drives can crash. People can lose or damage their device beyond repair. Viruses can permiate your machine rendering them useless. You may lose your machine in a fire or a flood. The hard reality is that our data is just not safe enough being just on your hard drive. This is where backup comes in. A lot of people know they should backup, but not many actually do it. And usually when you get that ‘ah ha’ moment and you realize how great an idea it is to backup, your computer is broken and you have lost your whole digital life. I would suggest to use a backup solution BEFORE you lose all of your files. Save the tears and stress of it all. So to help you, I have outlined a few solutions below in order of least reliable to most reliable.

 

THE LEVELS OF BACKUP

LEVEL 1 – Partition
Cost: Free
Reliability: Medium
Ease of use: Medium

It’s essential that you have another copy of your data. You can partition your hard drive (basically cut it in half and have a copy of your work on the other half in case one half is lost), but that’s not so safe because if your hard drive fails or you lose it, you’ve still lost all your data. It’s hard to transfer data from one partition to another because the drives may not be the easiest to access. On the upside, partitioning is free, provides reasonable safeguards against a virus and requires no extra hardware.

 

LEVEL 2 – A USB drive or portable hard drive
Cost: ~€0.08 / GB
Reliability: Medium/low
Ease of use: Medium for tradition back up, easy if using Time Machine

A backup on a USB drive or a hard drive that you carry around with your computer is one step better than a patrician, but it’s still not the most reliable solution. What happens if your drop your computer in a puddle? Or your computer bag gets stolen? Both copies of the data are gone. The reliability of a portable external drive is OK, but if your external hard drive also crashes at the same time, then you have lost both copies of your data as hard drives have a limited life cycle. You also have to make sure you keep all of the folder structures the same and make sure you are regularly plugging the drive in and and dragging the files to the drive (unless using Time Machine which is highly advised). The chance of having the most up to date copy of your data when something goes wrong are slim, because in my experience, chances are your last backup was a month or so ago, if you could be bothered plugging it in at all. Also, USB drives have limited capacities and are so small and portable that they can be very easily lost or damaged.

 

LEVEL 3 – An external hard drive stored at home
Cost:~€0.08 / GB
Reliability: Medium
Ease of use: Medium for tradition back up, easy if using Time Machine

This is a better again, as it’s hard to lose or damage, but the downside is you have to remember to backup your work regularly. Chances are, you will start out with the best of intentions, then get lazy and rarely back up. One good thing to do if you are using any hard drive is to use Time Machine to back up your data. All you have to do is plug in your external hard drive, turn on Time Machine (and leave it on) then your computer will make a disk image of itself automatically, each time you plug it in. So if you created a document on Monday, then accidentally deleted it on Wednesday, you could go ‘back in time’ and restore your computer from Monday’s image.

One consideration is that you have to make sure the drive is big enough to fit the image on it, so it needs to be at least the same size as your computers hard drive, ideally twice the size. So your looking at about a $100 outlay. Another good feature of Time Machine is that it has a pop up that reminds you if you haven’t backed for a while. If you do choose to use an external device, I highly recommend using Time Machine with your Mac.

 

LEVEL 4 – Create Your Own Server In Your Bedroom
Cost: High
Reliability: Medium/high
Ease of use: Pro level

Basically, you run your own server from your house and access it remotely. This can work but is expensive as you need another computer and is so difficult, that only super savvy computers users could set it up. I have no idea how it works myself, so don’t ask me for help!

 

LEVEL 5 – Time Capsule
Cost: €0.15 / GB (However this also includes wireless printing and a wireless router. Actual cost per gig should be around the same as an external hard drive.)
Reliability: Medium/high
Easy of use: EASY!

Time Capsule is a hard drive and wireless router made by Apple. It walks you through creating a wireless network in your house and also backs up your computer wirelessly using Time Machine. It does this automatically, so if you are out and about and make changes on your computer, when you get home and connect to the wireless connection, your backup is updated. This is a great backup solution and there are many other cool features of the Time Capsule, like wireless printing and many wireless network settings such as guest log in, etc.

The only downside is if you are out and about, you create or change many important files and then lose your laptop, the changes will not be saved as your computer had not had a chance to make it to your wireless network. The other problem is if your laptop and Time Capsule get destroyed (flood, fire, etc.), all your data is gone.

 

LEVEL 6 – Cloud Backup
Cost: Backblaze $50/year (unlimited backup space), Carbonite $59/year (unlimited backup space), SugarSync $150/year (100 GB), Mozy $110/year (125 GB), etc.
Reliability: High
Ease of use: Very easy

Over the last few years, the internet has seen the emergence of ‘the cloud’. Basically, a ‘cloud’ is a place where you store or access files online, rather than on your computers hard drive. The advantage to this is that you can access your files anywhere on any device with internet. The other advantage is that the servers that the information is stored on is generally much more reliable than any hard drive you or I could maintain. They are in big storage facilities with a multitude of cooling and maintenance solutions with a whole range of backup to protect the servers. Generally, the servers are backed up onsite as well as off site, saving the data from a local disaster (flood, fire, earthquake, etc.). As a result, the reliability is amazing.

One good way to utilize this technology is to use a cloud backup solution. There are a multitude of options around but personally, I use Backblaze as it’s the cheapest I could find that meets my needs. For Backblaze, all you do is install a small app and it does the rest for you. It send all of your files securely to their servers, fully encrypted and safe. As soon as you make a change on your computer, it updates it. As long as you have an internet connection, anywhere, it keeps all of your work backed up, trouble free, automatically. There is no limit to how much space you can use on their server. Another great feature is if you are away from your computer and need to access files (for example, you need files from your home computer on your work computer), you can log into the website and download any files from the cloud that you need.

As for the price, the way I see it is it’s the same price as a new external hard drive every two year, but without the hassles of remember to plug it in, maintain it, etc. with unlimited space. For me, I think this is easily the simplest, safest, most reliable backup solution available and a great investment in your digital life.

A Laptop Cart At A 10th Of The Price

This school year, my school had two laptop carts. One in the elementary school and one in the middle/high school. The computers are house in a big, grey metal cart. When it arrived, the cart had no power capabilities, so basically we just purchased the structure and we had to set up the chargers and cables. From what I was informed, the carts are hard to source in Japan, so it had to be shipped to Tokyo from the US. I was also told that the cart cost roughly ¥3000. Or when put in perspective, three laptops. Now that’s an expensive grey box!

 

The current laptop cart, minus some laptops.

 

I for one think this is ridiculous! It cost three computers in the hands of students, just to roll the computers around. So myself and my department have been thinking of better ways to house and transport the computers. We tried static shelves. It worked but the computer had to be transported by the children, one by one before and after each lessons. This would have worked if the computers were being used by just one class, but they were a shared resource which made it tough. We sat the shelf in the hallway and students would pick them up, carry then to class, and return them when they were finished. We thought about the idea of putting the computers in tubs and carrying the tubs. The problem with this is that it was just way too heavy. Four computers in a tub weighed much more than was safe to carry. Not to mention how cumbersome it was and how easy it was to spill them.

After a few failed attempts, we put the ideas to rest and decided that the only way to transport our computers was to use an expensive cart. Until one of our team noticed what another school in the areas was doing. They were using pre fabricated shelving, putting wheels on it then storing and transporting their laptops on shelves. I had not seen the actual cart, just heard about it, but I was a little skeptical. It sounded very messy and a cheap way around the problem. But my boss was adamant that it would work and purchased all of the equipment needed. I set it all up with the help of the computer technician, on one of the last days of school so that it could be ready for teachers and students on the first day of next year.

When reading the box, I noticed that it said the shelves could hold up to 120KG. When looking at the flimsy shelves, I was VERY skeptical of this claim. I didn’t think it could hold the technician, let alone both of us on it together! So we tested it. I had the technician stand on it. I expect it to bend and come close to breaking, but it passed the 40KG weight test with ease. I then tried it. Once again, I didn’t think it could hold up, but it passed the 80KG test with flying colours. This is when I knew that this cart was going to be strong!

We started putting it together and at every level of the shelving, I stood on it to make sure that all the joint were in place. No tools required, just a Lego mindset and some imagination and you could make anything out of this stuff.

 

The new laptop cart, sold as a rock!

 

We set aside the bottom shelf for the chargers. The next shelf housed six computers, two stacked on top of each other. We had another two shelves the same then a top cover. It would have been quite easy to add another three shelves so that each row of three laptops had their own shelf, but we didn’t feel this was necessary. We put sides all the way around the cart so the computers would not fall out, on all sides except the front so students could slide the computers in and out.

The wiring took a long time to do. All up it took 2.5 hours and the construction of the cart took about 30 minutes, so about two hours to make sure the wiring was right. But we wanted to do it once, do it properly and not have to worry about it again. It was fiddly, but we made sure it was all cable tied into place and run along sections that computer would bump out of place.

 

Everything is cable tied into place.
Plug this single adapter into a power source and all of the laptops charge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final product, I think, is actually better than the more expensive version. It’s lighter, more maneuverable, more customizable and much smaller. When compared side by side, it’s about half the height! This is a plus for students, as I know how awkward they consider the grey box to roll around. Some teachers even have troubles. So being smaller and lighter, it should be well received by students and teachers. The cables are easily set in place, unlike in the grey box. However, there are a few negative aspects of the new cart. If you are concerned about security, then the new cart can not be locked. But for our applications, we never locked the old cart anyway. One other concern we anticipated was that the shelves would be too low and skinny for teachers to get the computers in and out of. But my reasoning is, the computers are for student use, so the shelf is the perfect size for children’s hands. They can easily get computers out and put them away. The computers are for student use at the end of the day, so why not design the cart with the same principals in mind.

So despite the few negatives, I think the fact that it only cost $300 all up, a 10th of the price of the grey box and a saving of two and two thirds of a laptop, the new, small, customized, prefabricated cart is by far the better choice. What do you think? Have you seen other alternatives?

 

A side by side comparison. The new, prefabricated cart on the left and the expensive grey box on the right. I think it's clear which the winner is.

Open, Online Portfolios, One Year On

At the start of the school year, I set myself the large goal of implementing open, online portfolios in the form of blogs for all of my students from Grade Three to Grade Seven. I started them off with middle school (Grade 5, 6 and 7) right at the start of the year. I planned to implement the project with Grade 4 and Grade 3 a bit later in the year. As I only teach one 40 minute period per class, per week, it took a few weeks to get them off the ground. But this included constant revision and online safety lessons all rolled into the setting up of blogs for all students. Once we had them up and running, the students started to post in their portfolios and add some work to them. This was great to see and their reflections were always interesting to read.

I did spend a lot of time in those first few lessons reinforcing responsible online citizenship and what was and wasn’t appropriate and acceptable. I also constantly reminded the students that their blog was their professional portfolio, which means they could post whatever they liked, as long as it had to do with their ‘profession’. In short, it had to be about learning. All of the students really respected these rules and guidelines. They were very constructive with their comments on other posts. They always asked if it was OK to post something they weren’t sure of. Not once did I have to say that what they were posting was inappropriate. But at least I knew they were thinking before they jumped in and published which was great to see. Once or twice, I had to speak to a student and ask them how the 15 Taylor Swift photos they posted were related to their learning. After some thought, they usually just took it down. These conversation were really important as it helped reinforced to the students as to why they were creating their portfolios. And I believe, because they were given trust and responsibility, they all lived up to the high expectations that were set. Not once did we I find an instance of bullying. Not once did I find the students posting anything rude, derogatory, defamatory, etc. The fact that everything could be traced back to them, could have also helped with this situation, but I also think the fact that we trusted them, in an open and public forum really made them live up to expectations.

Student led conferences, another perfect reason to develop open, online, digital portfolios.

I then encouraged other teachers to ask the students to post work from their classes in their portfolios. A few really jumped at the chance to be able to display the work they were doing with their children. Students and teachers started to comment on the posts which also made their learning more relevant, giving the students a real world context and purpose for their work. Not to mention meaningful two way feedback. Some teachers didn’t quite understand the concept or purpose and as a result, didn’t utilize the students portfolios to their full potential. But I see this not as a criticism of them, but more a criticism of myself and my explanation of the tool to the teachers. I also didn’t ask all teachers as I wanted the portfolios to have a slow introduction into the students learning. I also didn’t want to overwhelm the teachers and make them think it was extra work (it’s not, I continually reinforced to the students that it was their portfolio and their responsibility). This is fine and I hope it is rehashed with the teachers next year, encouraging all staff to get involved, now that they can see how it looks one year on. Another way that this could be approached is to have teachers developing their own portfolios so that they can see how meaningful they are in the learning process. If the teacher knows, uses and believes in the purpose of the tool, I would assume that the tool would be more widely used in the classroom.

One stumbling point that I came across was the parents reactions. I jumped in feet first, and didn’t educated them enough about the cause. I also didn’t educate my superiors enough because when parents asked them questions about the portfolios, sometimes they couldn’t answer the questions the parents had. As a result, in November, just a few weeks into the implementation of the portfolios, I led a parent information session titled, ‘Digital Citizenship – Educating 21st Century Learners’. Ideally, this should have been at the start of the year, before or as we were starting to implement the portfolios for all middle school students. If I had the chance again, I would implement more regular, informal parents sessions as well, just so they understood where technology integration and implementation is leading and to break down the fear that is sometimes associated with new technology. In the future, I have to remember to get the parents and admin on board, even if it is a project that I plan to implement myself, in my class time. I have to make sure all stakeholders understand why the students are making their own portfolios, why they are so important, what amazing benefits they offer and also the possible risks and how we plan to address these issues.

This was the main reason why I didn’t end up introducing the portfolios to Grade 3 and 4. I saw the resistance from parents as a sign that maybe we aren’t ready to go down into the junior school with portfolios just yet and if we can show how effective they are in the middle school, then maybe the junior school parents and teachers can also see the amazing benefits. I do think that the students could manage the portfolios very easily, but I think it would take some education to get all stake holders on board.

In the end, I was very proud of how the middle school students utilized their portfolios this school year. There are some amazing posts and they look great. The students are working things out for themselves (Maybe all caps isn’t a good way to write? Maybe a different colour text for each line isn’t really necessary?) and I feel it’s really showing their thought process and learning.

I would also really recommend it to any educator that started to think about doing this in their own classroom. The ways that work can be displayed is not possible on paper. The fact students constantly reflect and write to a huge audience is not possible on paper either. Having a real world audience, where teachers, principals, parents, grandparents, family, etc. can all read and follow a students progress is so powerful! Students understand the implications of a wide, authentic audience and want to perform at their best. Plus the real world digital citizenship experience and trust that I gave the students to have their own publish space online is a huge benefit to any classroom.

A quote from a keynote by Rushton Hurley. The photo is from Heather Durnin's class in the midst of a live radio show. From by Dean Shareski.

I urge you to read some posts by my students and give some feedback, they love comments as much as adults! Here is an RSS feed of all of the middle school portfolios, I hope you enjoy them!

 

MY RELATED POSTS

– Why open online portfolios?

– Community building around Technology

– Digital Citizenship – Educating 21st Century Learners

– 7 tips for writing a good reflection

13 iOS Apps For Education

iOS devices (iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone) are becoming increasingly popular in the education setting. Due to their prices, easy accessible for students of all ages and their versatile uses, I see them as a great tool for teaching and learning.

I have been using them for two years now, purely as a tool for learning. I find the utilities such as the still camera, video cameras, the sound recordings, etc. great tools for classroom use. I think when people start to see the apps as a silver bullet, magic pieces of software that are going to replace something they do in their classroom as naive. The apps you want developed are only going to be made if there is demand and if someone can profit from it, just like a website. Like all technology, the iOS devices need to be used as tools for learning, not replacements for teaching.

In saying that, here is a list of the apps I would make sure are on any iOS device I used to help me utilize the technology as a tool for teaching and learning.

 

Evernote

USE: Taking notes and saving files

PRICE: Free

Essential for staying organizing. The great part is that you can also sync the account with any other device you own. So if your using iPads/iPods/iPhones you can easily access notes, PDF’s, videos, photos and anything you have stored in Evernote on all devices. You can read more about it in one of my former posts.

 

Instagram

USE: Taking and sharing photos

PRICE: Free

Not an essential app for education, but one that has so much opportunity in the classroom. Instagram is a simple photo taking app that adds filters to give it a vintage look to your photos. The other part of Instagram is the social network. It has it’s own social network, which is a stream of photos that you see from people you follow. The other great feature is it’s so straight forward to share on other social networks like facebook, Twitter, etc. This app could have many applications. It could be used in an art class to provide opportunity to practice photography skills. Or students could sync their account with their own or a class Twitter account or blog to update parents about the work they are doing in class. A great way to show the learning that is taking place in the classrooms.

 

WiFi Photo Transfer

USE: Transferring photos from device to computer

PRICE: Free

A simple app that makes your device into a wireless server so that you can access the photos or videos you have taken wirelessly. No more lost cables. No more forgotten cables. It’s free and makes your workflow that much quicker.

 

Vimeo

USE: Recording, editing and uploading videos

PRICE: Free

Not only record, but edit and upload straight to Vimeo from this amazing free app. This bring so many possibilities for the classroom.

 

Pocket

USE: Saving pages to be read later offline

PRICE: Free

Formerly called Read It Later, this is a great app that allows you to flag web pages in a browser and access them later. When the pages are viewed in Pocket, it takes out all adds, images, etc. and just leaves the text. It also downloads the pages so they can be viewed offline. So if you are in a subway or if you in the park and you don’t have WIFI access, you can still read the pages you have flagged. This would be perfect for students that have to read from sites or Wikipedia entries. It helps take away the distraction and they can read the articles anywhere, anytime. In the park on the weekend, on the bus on the way home from school, at lunch time in the playground, etc.

 

Twitter

USE: Twitter client

PRICE: Free

Personally I used HootSuite as my Twitter client, but the official Twitter app is easy to use and manage. In the classroom, with younger classes I’d have one class account and have the students follow people related to the field they are studying. I’d also have them post about things they are learning, questions, etc. Parents could follow the account and see what was happening in the classroom. For older students, they could create their own account and tweet out to the world. The other great thing about this is that you can set up the Twitter account on the device in the System Preferences and be able to use Twitter integrated into all other aspects if iOS5. If you don’t have iOS5, you will have to update first, it’s free and awesome.

 

Posterous

USE: Blogging

PRICE: Free

Posterous is a blogging platform. The app is an easy way to compose and publish posts to your blog. Personally, I use my own hosted version of WordPress and I have my students use Blog.com but Posterous could be used quickly and easily from an iOS device to publish blog post. To see why I think students should be blogging, read this post.

 

Keynote

USE: Creating presentations

PRICE: US$9.99

Just like Keynote on a Mac, Keynote for iOS is a quick and easy way to create presentations. With the use of iCloud, these presentations can be accessed on a Mac wirelessly. Another option is to buy a VCA adapter and have the students/teachers present straight from their device.

The results of this app are amazing, here is just one great presentation composed entirely on the iOS Keynote app, from pictures to text to slides.

 

SoundCloud

USE: Recording and sharing audio

PRICE: Free

Create a SoundCloud account, take a recording of anything (a voice, an instrument, a speech, etc.) and upload it directly to the SoundCloud account. There are so many educational possibilities!

 

iWriteWords

USE: Handwriting practice

PRICE: US$2.99

This is a great way to teach old things in new ways. It would be perfect for kindergarten students up to Grade 1 or 2 and the great thing about it is that it helps students form correct sequencing of the letter development. Students must write their letters in the correct sequence (E.g. top to bottom) or they can’t move on to the next letter. If your a stickler for hand grips, then you could always get a stylus.

 

Maps

USE: Mapping

PRICE: Free (pre installed)

Whatever you would use Google Maps for, you can use this app for. The bonus of this app is that depending how you connect to the internet, you can have access to your current GPS data in real time. A world of education possibilities, from treasure hunts and orienteering to a range of geography lessons.

 

Compass

USE: Finding directions

PRICE: Free (pre installed)

Just like a regular compass but based on GPS not magnetism.

 

Calculator

USE: Making calculations

PRICE: Free (pre installed)

Everyone needs a calculator every now and then.

Learning As An Active Process

Learning As An Active Process

Part two of my quote series.

Grade 2 Make New Friends

Grade 2 have been working on biographies but they are also studying about people from around the world. So in ICT class, I had small groups study a child from another country. We had four groups per class that first researched and answered questions about their new friend that they were studying. Then they made a slideshow from the findings. They narrated the slideshow and uploaded it to Vimeo. Here is one of the first videos that was completed. To see the rest, follow this link.

Tech Integration VS Tech Classes

Currently I teach at a school where we have dedicated technology lessons for all students from kindergarten through to Grade 7. Each class gets 40 minutes a week in a lab with a technology teacher, me!I know of other schools that address technology the same way. Some schools have this approach and I guess it’s down to the schools philosophy on education as well as it’s philosophy on technology as to how technology is used in and out of the classroom.

Another way to approach technology, that I see a lot of the leading institutions now doing, is to give every student a laptop. Running a 1:1 programs means students have their own computer that is used by students not only at school, but also at home. A lot of these schools see technology as a tool for learning and as a result, don’t have any specific technology lessons. The technology is embedded and integrated into the curriculum and used when appropriate. They employ technology coaches to help the teachers implement this across the curriculum. I see this is a much more meaningful way to use technology. But it is not without flaw.

I believe in using technology as a tool, but I think the stand alone classes are great at making sure that all students are receiving access to technology, no matter their homeroom/subject teachers ability with technology or what technology they have at home. With a 100% integration model, the students use is limited to their teachers willingness to use technology. You could argue that time should be mandated for each class to use technology, or say that each class must do at least one project incorporating technology per unit of work. And I’m sure that some schools do place expectations on how much technology should be used, but this would go against the ‘technology as a tool’ philosophy. It would be used for the sake of it, which I don’t think is how it should be approached.

I can see other positive aspects of standalone technology lessons too. One would be that the same (hopefully correct) message is being expressed to all students about technology or it’s use. Be it about Copyright or being a responsible online citizen or how to organize your email account. All students are actually taught these concepts explicitly so a student can’t simply ‘slip through the cracks’ and not get the important lessons on technology and it’s use.

On the other hand, the benefits I see of an integration approach is that with the use of a coach to guide the teachers learning, teachers are developing their own ability instead of ignoring technology and passing on that responsibility to the person teaching the stand alone class. With an integration approach, technology needs to be taught by all teachers and therefore needs to be used by all teachers. At least used enough to meet their professional responsibilities. Some teachers might take this freedom and run with it, developing outstanding, interactive, engaging lessons that incorporate technology. Some might do the bare minimum. But at the end of the day, the teacher is learning along with the students. And with the integration approach, the technology is being used as a tool, not a subject, which I think is the most important aspect.

In weighing up these pros and cons, I don’t think any one approach is ‘correct’, it is simply a different approach. There are upsides and downsides to both models. I think the model that needs to be chosen comes down to how the school sees technology and it’s educational vision.

Ideally, I see a combination of both models as the best approach. An integration model where students and teachers use technology as a tool and are guided by a tech coach. There is a shared responsibility with all teachers to embed technology into the curriculum. As well as some time with a specialty technology teacher touching on responsible online citizenship, organization, how to make their workflow more productive, etc.

Obviously this is my opinion at this point in my career, I’m very excited to see if it will change in the future and what experiences will make me change my mind. The future seems bright!

3 Essential Tools I Use To Monitor And Maintain My Computer

Owning a Mac, I find I have to do very little maintenance to my machine. It runs well majority of the time and only slows down when I have had it on for weeks or have 15 applications opened at once. However, I still find it important to monitor my computer to make sure it’s running at an optimal level. These are the tools I use to monitor and maintain my computer.

 

iStat Pro

iStat Pro is a free widget that is installed into your dashboard. It helps monitor your system so you know what is happening on your computer. The features include:

  • CPU usage – to monitor how much your processor is being used as a percentage.
  • Memory usage – this is great as it can usually help you determine why your computer is running slowly. If the graph is completely blocked out in a single colour, it means you need to reset your computer to free up some memory, or use FreeMemory (see below) to help you out with that one.
  • Disk Capacity – you can see how much space you have used and how much space you have free for any disk you have attached such as your computers hard drive, an external hard drive, a network drive, a USB drive, etc. I try to make sure I stay under 80-85% capacity on any drive I use to help prevent crashes and keep my computer running fast. Whenever a drive gets full, it significantly decreases it’s speed.
  • Temperatures – you can monitor the temperature of any part of your computer. If you have your laptop on a soft surface, it may block the fans at the back of the computer and make the computer very hot. This is not good for the computer so this section allows you to monitor the heat of any part of your computer and act accordingly.
  • Fans – I don’t monitor this section very much, but this can also help you understand why your computer is loud or heating up.
  • Battery – this helps you determine your battery health (how much of the original capacity of your battery that it can now be charged to), cycles (how many times your battery has been charged when it has reached below 50% capacity), charge percentage and remaining time before it’s empty. To keep your battery healthy, make sure you fully charge it, then fully drain till it shuts down and full charge it again at least once a month. I set a pop up reminder in iCal and have it pop up once a month to remind me to do this.
  • Uptime – this is one section I use a lot. I rarely turn my computer off (looking at my uptime now it’s up to 22 days), because I usually just close my laptops lid to put it to sleep. This allows me to start up my computer quickly from it’s sleep and my machine seems to run well doing this. However, when my computer is running slow, chances are it’s because it has been on for too long. To correct this problem I have to restart my machine to free up some memory and make my machine run fast again.
  • Processes – these are the applications that are running and how much CPU power or memory they are consuming. You can see what applications are really stretching your computers performance or see whether all of those applications being open at once really effect your machine.

I find iStat Pro invaluable for monitoring my computers performance. A quick peak at it usually tells me why my computer is not performing at it’s optimal level and I can act accordingly.

 

FreeMemory

FreeMemory is a free Mac OSX app store download. That means it can be accessed from the app store that is on your Mac desktop or Mac laptop. This is not to be confused with the iTunes app store. The OSX app store helps you download a range of software to your computer, even iWorks (Pages, Keynote, Numbers) can be downloaded in the OSX app store so it’s very convenient. However, the apps are generally fairly expensive. FreeMemory is one exception to this rule. It works the same as the memory usage section of iStat Pro but it displays your memory usage in your menu bar all the time. So if your computer is running slow, a quick glance to your menu bar can help determine the problem. The app also helps you clear memory, but that feature takes a long time to complete. To clear the memory fast and more effectively just restart your computer. But for monitoring your memory usage in real time, it works great.

 

 

Broom

Broom is a great app from the same makers of FreeMemory that allows your find and delete large files on your computer. It only cost 99 cents US and is a cinch to use. It helps you locate files in three sections, Places, Folders and Files. The Places section is handy because it searches your caches, logs, trash and downloads folder and tells you how much space each of these sections are taking up. You’d be surprised how many files end up in the caches and logs sections! To delete them, just select the section you want to delete and click the ‘Remove Selected’ button at the bottom of the app, couldn’t be easier!

In the Files and Folders sections, it makes a list of all of the files and folders on your computer and how big they are, so you can sort them by size order and see which files are really taking up a lot of space.

 

These are just some of the tools I use regularly to maintain and monitor my machine. Do you also use these tools? Are there any that you use regularly? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

Finding A Problem and Solving It

After watching the TEDx talk below by Dan Meyer, I was inspired to try something like it in my class.

But I didn’t know what problem we could work on. I wanted the problem to be meaningful to the students. I wanted them to come up with a problem to solve and I think I knew the answer. In one of my classes, one of my students was looking through a pile of old yearbooks. She found on of when she was in Grade 1 and we had a chuckle at how cute the now teenagers looked when they were young. Then we started seeing some people we knew but no longer go to the school. We counted how many students that attended the school that were still enrolled now they were in Grade 8. There were only about six students… Six students! My student found this fascinating and asked me how many I thought would be left at the end of Grade 12. This gave me an idea…

I developed a unit where the students would follow this same process of seeing how many students are in the class that also attended in Grade 1. Then from graphing the results and looking at past data, they could estimate how many of them would be left in a couple of years time. All of the data will be really easy to attain by simply flicking through some past yearbooks. I think my students will really enjoy this unit and I can’t wait to teach it!