Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What Would We Purchase? Considering a Device for Your Child

Similar to pumpkin spiced lattes, the red cups at Starbucks, and Black Friday ads on TV, part of the holiday season in the IT office is fielding questions from staff members and families about recommended technology purchases for students. These conversations are one of the reasons I love this time of the year. It is a perfect opportunity to connect with families about how their children are using technology at home. As I drafted an email response to a parent this morning, I thought, "Hey! This would make a great blog post."

All of our students have access to technology at school through Chromebooks, iPads, and multiple computer labs and home access is not required. However, if you are looking supplement these tools with the purchase a digital device for your child at home below are some recommendations from all of us in the IT Department. We tend to be a very pragmatic group, so our thoughts on the perfect device are largely based on these five criteria.
  • Ease of use
  • Instructional connections
  • Maintenance and durability
  • Lifespan
  • Overall cost 
I'd also encourage you to check out the Digital Citizenship page on the NCS website. Any of these devices are great opportunities to start (or continue) the conversation about online behavior and responsibility. The Digital Citizenship page has useful resources for parents and families from Common Sense Media. Finally, regardless of what items you are purchasing this holiday season, consider using Amazon Smile by clicking on this link. Amazon will donate 0.5% of qualifying purchases to Natomas Charter School.

Early Elementary (TK-2)
Honestly, our first question for students in this range is "Do they really need their own device?" I've observed in my own home the gravity-level pull an app can have on a young child. A family computer that the child can access with a parent's assistance might be the best option for many households. However, if you have a child who is motivated by technology and has some ability to self-regulate (maybe with an adult's assistance) I find that tablet devices, especially the iPad or iPod Touch seem to work really well. They can be handy devices for developing some basic technology skills, such as trouble-shooting and navigating the web with a very simple user interface. Through the use of the built-in camera they can also be useful for exploring the world, taking pictures, and creating short videos. We do have a tendency to recommend Apple over Android devices mainly due to the simple process for setting up restrictions that act like parental controls and a pretty clean, intuitive App Store with quite a few educational apps.

Intermediate Elementary (3-5)
By fourth grade every child needs to be able to type "a single page in a single setting" according to the Common Core State Standards. This equates to approximately 20 words per minute. Additionally, at Natomas Charter School we provide Google Apps for Education accounts starting in 1st grade. Since children need practice typing on a physical keyboard and already have school provided Google accounts, an inexpensive Chromebook might make sense for this age range. The devices tend to run somewhere in the neighborhood of $250-400 and do not require any additional software or maintenance. If you have an internet connection you are good to go. The low price point also means that should it be dropped, splashed with milk, or stepped on by a heavy dog (all true personal stories) the device could be more easily replaced. Plan on a Chromebook lasting 2-3 years.

Middle School (6-8)
The perfect device for middle and high school really depends on multiple factors including family budget, student interest in creating multimedia (video, audio), and additional computer interests (gaming, programming, etc). A Chromebook is a perfect device for most middle school students. Students can easily access Schoology, Google Apps for Education, and other online tools. However, if you have a child who is into video production, Minecraft, or creating audio files then you are probably going to need more of a full-featured laptop (see below). This can be off set by having a shared family computer for special projects.

High School (9-12)
Similar to middle school, choosing the best device for your high schooler can involve multiple considerations. A laptop is probably the best choice as it will allow the student to access any online content, as well as create media files. However, if your family budget is limited, the Chromebook is a great place to start. Mac vs. Windows is largely a personal preference, although all of us in the IT department would probably chose an Apple product for two reasons - easy-to-use parental controls and minimal maintenance. Families (or ideally kids) with little IT experience can easily update the operating system, add hardware if needed, and keep the device running it's best. These computers tend to be a bit more expensive, but from our experience last longer and have fewer headaches. If I had a middle or high school student in my home I'd be looking at the 11" or 13" Macbook Air. They are portable, fairly robust, and have a long battery life. Sometimes you can save a bit more money by checking out education or refurbished pricing. Refurbished Apple products have the same warranty and honestly what I have been purchasing in my home for the past 6 or 7 years without any problems. If you are replacing a device with a new Apple purchase you might also be able to trade it in for some money.

If you have any questions after reading this post please let us know. We're always happy to help staff members and families find the perfect device for home use.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Do you Gooru the SBAC with Graphite? CCSS Resources

It's November, one of the busiest times of the school year. Between holidays, field trips, and parent-teacher conferences I always found this was the time of the year I was most likely to fall behind on lesson planning when I was a classroom teacher. Where can I find a video that will really engage my kids? I wonder if any one has a lesson already created for this topic? And...I have about 10 spare minutes to find it. Sound familiar? If you are in a similar boat check out these three websites for finding high-quality, Common Core (and content area standard) aligned resources. I promise you'll find them handy and useful.


Gooru Learning

I first heard about this site over the summer, but Rob reminded me about it from the iNACOL conference this week. Gooru is an awesome community of educators who are sharing resources and collections online. Resources are individual tools or websites searchable by topic that can then be narrowed down by grade level, content standard, or media type. Collections are multiple resources aligned to a topic that have been curated and shared by a teacher. Through Gooru you can find resources and collections, as well as create your own collections. Some districts and educational institutions are evening using the site to share curated and vetted material in the Libraries section. To get started all you need to do is create a free account.


Graphite is a tool that was released by Common Sense Media in summer 2013 and is being used by teachers all over our school. The site has a Ratings & Review section where you can search for resources by grade level, content standard, or type of tool. You can also use the Common Core Explorer to drill down by a particular standard. However, my favorite area is the App Flows section which contains frameworks created by teachers linking together multiple digital tools through a strong pedagogical framework. Some of our colleagues including Alicia Carter, Cary Zierenberg, and Petra Luhrsen have been part of the team creating these through the National Writing Project. Simply navigate to Graphite, create a free account and you will be ready to go.

Smarter Balanced Digital Library

As part of our transition to Common Core, the California Department of Education is providing access to the Smarter Balanced Digital Library for all credentialed teachers and administrators in California. This site contains a plethora of instructional and professional development resources for teaching these new standards. Resources might include complete lessons to specific tools and websites to use with your students. All of them are searchable by standard, grade level, and many other attributes including media type and intended student population. Waaaayyyy back in July or August you received an email from the email address with information regarding how to login to the SBAC Digital Library. Your login credentials should be your school email address and natomas1 if you have not already changed your password. If you have trouble logging in please let me know and I can work with NUSD to get your account fixed.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #15 - Getting to Inbox Zero

In last week's Gmail post I mentioned the phrase "inbox zero" and a few of you have asked me about it. The idea behind inbox zero is that you can have an empty (or nearly empty) inbox by customizing your layout, employing some strategy, and adding a few tools. I find that it also makes responding to email much more efficient and timely.


To make the task of managing email a little easier, start by making these settings adjustments to your inbox.
  • Unread First - Set up your inbox so that unread messages show up first. I make use of Priority Inbox so that I can have the starred just below unread.
  • Conversation View - In Gmail settings under the General tab toggle on Conversation View. This will automatically group emails into a threaded conversation based upon the subject line. This helps tremendously with viewing a conversation that has occurred over multiple emails.
  • Send & Archive - Add the Send & Archive button to your replies in Gmail Settings just below the Conversation View option. This is a quick way to reply to conversations and have them fall away from your inbox.


Once you have your inbox customized, it is time to start thinking about strategy. However, it is also important to ensure you don't get sucked into an email black hole. Very few of us have "responding to email" as a job duty or annual goal, so set a time limit for yourself and remember that while email is an important communication tool, it does not drive our daily agendas. A friend in the Central Valley, Jon Corippo, shared this strategy and I find it works quite well.
  • Archive - You don't need to keep all of your email in your inbox or shift it over to a folder. Simply click the Archive button. The message will be moved out of your inbox, but still available to easily fine with Gmail search.
  • Delegate - Maybe you are the wrong person to answer the email? Pass it along to the correct person with a request that they cc you with the response. Once sent Archive the conversation.
  • Respond - Take a minute or two and respond to the message, but make it short and sweet. No one wants to read a really long email. Once sent Archive the conversation. If the person responds the message thread will reappear in your inbox.
  • Defer - Perhaps you need to do some research and come back to the message later. Star the message and come back to it later.
  • Do - Complete the activity and hit reply to let the sender know it is finished. Once done click the archive button incase you need the message for later. If it is related to a project you need to complete click More and add it to your Tasks.

Additional Tools

After configuring your inbox and applying some strategy consider using a few of these additional tools to make your email time more efficient.
  • Canned Response - Find yourself writing the same (or nearly identical) email over and over again? Set up a canned response that can be fully customized. You can find this feature in Settings -> Labs 
  • Filters - Some emails don't need to be read right away. Set up a filter to have them skip your inbox all together and end up in a folder. I do this for daily news emails from vendors or blogs I subscribe to via email. The land in a folder called "Daily News" I skim and scan a few times each week.
  • Gmail Search - As I wrote last week, I love Gmail Search. It provides me the confidence to know I will find an email should I chose to Archive it.
Give these tools and strategies a whirl and let me know how inbox zero is working for you. Jennifer tried it out last week and was amazed at how quickly she was able to dig out.