Classroom Relection

What was my least favorite part of student teaching? Making a video of my teaching, then watching it with peers and critiquing it.

What was my most valuable part of student teaching? Quite possibly that same video.


I finished undergraduate and graduate school in the late 1990’s, when mobile telephones were still in bags and required power from a cigarette lighter.  At that time, it was a massive effort to video a lesson in a classroom. Much like watching a video on TV in the classroom, to video a lesson you hauled in a massive tripod and a huge camcorder, complete with a fresh VHS tape, pointed it toward the center of the room, and hoped you didn’t move out of the frame and spoke loud enough to be heard over the air conditioning, students moving chairs, and the bell ringing.


Today, the entire concept of doing video in the classroom is different. We have high quality cameras in our pockets at all times. The idea of taking pictures has evolved from “how many more photos are on this roll of 24-exposure film” to “should I Instagram this or post it to Facebook?” We grab memories all the time and share them with families and friends,  so why not do the same in the classroom.

Fold into this the idea of reflection of our practice.  Athletes do this all the time to improve their swing, throw, or hit. Teachers today have a wealth of tools available to make this reflection easy, but probably the hardest part is something that technology can’t fix: Reflecting on your practice is hard, and sharing that reflection with others is even harder. Simply put: the practice of closing the classroom door makes it hard for many teachers to be open to reflect on their classroom instruction, especially with other teachers.RCA_VHS_shoulder-mount_Camcorder.jpg

I hope that technology is going to change this, though.  Because society has changed the norms around taking pictures and video and sharing that with others, I’m hoping that norm will carry over to the classroom for reflection.

I’ve recently purchased a couple iPads, but more importantly, a couple Swivl devices. The Swivl features a robot that the iPad docks into and bundles a microphone. That microphone, worn on a lanyard around the teacher’s neck, contains a tracker that helps the Swivl robot pan around the room, following the teacher. The microphone captures high-quality sound, and the iPad records the entire session on the device.

It doesn’t end there, though. Where the Swivl really shines comes after the recording ends. Once an online account is created with Swivl, the video is automatically uploaded to Swivl’s secure servers and shared back with the account holder. From there, you can easily review the video. The Swivl Pro account adds lots of great features, including annotating the video, sharing with colleagues, and more. You can also add additional microphones and place them with students, then tune into specific conversations to hear student discussions, figuring out where your lesson was strong and where some reteaching is needed.

Swivl does a lot more, which I’ll likely talk about later. You don’t even need the robot to try out the software, which will work on iOS and Android.  You can see more about Swivl at and consider purchasing one. You can also purchase a Swivl at Amazon, as well as other tools for classroom reflection.

Back to Blogging

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, as you can tell from the post just before this one…lots has changed for me professionally since the last post. I continue to serve as Instructional Technology Coordinator in my 10-school district in York, South Carolina, but I added the role of Public Information Officer about a year and a half ago.  Due to retirements in the district the position opened up, and I was working to coordinate our district’s AdvancED accreditation process, so I asked to take on that role as well to consolidate efforts.

The Public Information Office role has been a lot of fun, but a challenge to keep up with along with the other responsibilities. Being a PIO is a full-time job in all but the smallest districts. Our district is just on the fringe of the Charlotte media market, so we are able to “avoid” attention for some situations, but are frequently looped into stories involving Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools as well as the other districts in our county.  Often times it is a “this happened there, what does York do?” type of story, which doesn’t take much to respond to. Occasionally it is a significant story involving our district, which requires all of my time and focus.

My real goal in the PIO role is the same as other PIOs throughout all organizations: Tell the story of our students and staff. I’ve been successful in that quest a few times recently, including the always-tear-jerking Military Reunion I was able to video just before the Christmas holidays last year.  A York graduate returned home a day earlier than expected and surprised his sister in her classroom.  That video is here:


I’ve captured the Teacher of the Year announcement, student projects including t-shirt launchers constructed in a Physics class, and many more events in schools that only begin to tell the stories inside the walls of our campuses.

I’ve also been lucky enough to be working with PIOs in the other districts in my county who I have leaned on for support and guidance, taking advantage of their knowledge and training. The state’s branch of the National School Public Relations Association is also extremely generous with their time and resources, and like classroom teachers, love to swap war stories when they get together.

I’m going to try to blog more frequently over the next few months, in part to help tell these stories, as well as some personal talk, including products that I’ve bought and like to use, and probably some other random stuff. As with other bloggers, drop me a note and let me know what you think or what you’d like to learn. I’m @tcooper185 on Twitter as well.


30 Day Challenge: Chromebook Wrapup

August is here, which brings me to the end of my 30 Day Challenge with the Chromebook.  I did a pretty good write-up in my Update last week, but I wanted to hit a couple other points I didn’t mention last time.

Cb14-websites-etr-306x2324G data: The HP Chromebook 14 I got came with a TMobile data chip inside which includes 200 MB of data a month for the life of the device.  While on vacation I didn’t need the 4G data much.  But, I didn’t have a data connection while at my in-laws (actually, I just didn’t setup their wireless router for me to access), so I tried out the 4G connection.  TMobile’s connection was strong in their home, and I had been a few days without connecting to Facebook and such, so I made good use of the data.  In fact, I burned through the 200 MB in a short period, doing some Facebook and Twitter browsing, along with checking in with work and personal email.  I’d guess that the 200MB lasted me about an hour of full-on browsing…certainly enough for some Gmail and work email, and a bit of Facebook, but not much more than that.  TMobile has a pretty decent Day/Week/Month pay as you go plan, but I just decided I didn’t need to get online on the laptop that much, and only used my phone the rest of the visit.  Also, the chip inside is only an HSPA+ chip, not LTE, but it doesn’t matter much…TMobile’s HSPA+ connection is more than enough for light browsing…I never found myself waiting.

Keyboard:  I continue to be impressed with the keyboard.  Again, it’s probably from coming from the keyboard on the Surface Pro which is more compact, but this one definitely feels roomy.  Responsive and quiet, the keyboard works well.

Trackpad:  This can make or break most cheap laptops.  This trackpad is very good.  Pinch to zoom works well, along with 2-finger drag to scroll a page.  Tap to click is nice, and the click has a good feel to it when I use it.

Battery: Today I took the Chromebook with me to the dealership to get my car’s oil changed and I streamed Google Music and YouTube along with some web surfing for about an hour.  I’ve been on it another 30 minutes or so, and right now it says I have 73% remaining, or 4 hours and 30 minutes.  That would put me in the neighborhood of 6 hours of battery life.  Not super-stellar, but adequate.  I’ve also got the brightness cranked up since I’m sitting outside, so that probably is a lot of the reason.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the device.  I was working on a Word document using Office 365 online, and was easily able to save the file to OneDrive.  Once it’s there, I can drag it over into Dropbox on a PC.  I could also save a copy of the document to the Chromebook directly, then open it in Google Drive, but I needed to pass the documents on to a grant evaluator and didn’t want to mix Google Docs and Excel, so I’ll transfer them over later.

Ultimately, would I recommend the device?  I think for most everyone, a Chromebook will do what they need.  Connectivity is a must, though… I was early to my oil change appointment so I was sitting in my car, but out of the range of the free customer wifi.  I tried opening Docs, Slides, Sheets, and nothing worked.  All I was able to open was Calculator.  Since wifi is available most everyone someone would want to use a computer in the first place, this shouldn’t be a problem.  The included 4G helps with that as well, but I had already used my 200MB of data for the month and I was too cheap to buy more since I’d be inside within the hour, so I just sat and listened to the radio.  It worked just fine, just like the Chromebook would work just fine for anyone willing to live in the cloud.

Chromebook 30 Day Challenge: Update

Earlier this month I posted that I would be trying out a Matt Cutts’-style 30 Day Challenge, trying to use the Chromebook as my primary computing device for the month of July.  I purchased the HP Chromebook 14 a few months ago and made it my goal to use the device as often as possible in my daily computing, both at home and at work.

Like many school districts, we are a Microsoft shop, so I was especially curious how the Chromebook would interact with my work environment.  For the most part, the entire experience worked incredibly well.

heroFirst, about the device:  The HP Chromebook 14 is a very nice device.  On my desk at work I have 2 18-inch monitors, so lots of screen real estate.  I also have an iPad with Retina (Gen 3) and an original Surface Pro, each of which have much less screen real estate.  The HP Chromebook 14 has a very nice 14-inch screen that is much larger than my Surface Pro.  Granted, I would never want a 14-inch tablet, so the form factor makes sense for each device.  I love my Surface Pro, but often want for a slightly larger screen.  The HP Chromebook 14 screen is pretty large, but more importantly from a productivity standpoint, this leads to a nicely-spaced keyboard (no number keypad, but that’s fine with me).  With the larger screen and keyboard also brings a large battery inside, and this device has excellent battery life.  Only once have I opened it up from being in my bag and found it with less than 10% battery life.  The product page mentions up to 9.5 hours of battery, and I’ve found this to be true.  The trackpad is very nice (better than any Windows machine I’ve ever used at twice the price-point of this Chromebook), and that is a major plus for the device.  I’ve not needed to use the USB ports (it has both 3.0 and 2.0 ports), the SD card slot, or the HDMI port.  Sound from the speakers is fine, but not a highlight like the battery life or trackpad.

No device is perfect, and the HP Chromebook 14 is the same for me.  My biggest problem with the device is the weight.  It comes in at barely over 4 pounds, which compared to my iPad or Surface Pro, is really heavy.  I know it’s all because of the battery and screen size, and I’ve really become spoiled with simply picking up either of the other devices and walking down the hall to someone’s office or into someone’s classroom, but the weight (and in turn probably the large size) has made me begrudgingly pick up the Chromebook and walk with it.  I also struggled with the fact that I couldn’t access network resources (network storage and some printers), which really hurt productivity when I’m the only one in the district trying this.  Printing was able to work using Google Print, but that still required me to use my Windows PC, and was still kinda flaky when I use it: setup was much more difficult for me than it seemed like it should have been, and printing was very delayed for me as well. My district version of Outlook Web Access only allowed me to use the Light version, which is so stripped down as to be nearly useless, and this was probably my biggest pain-point during the challenge.  Honestly, I cheated for some more complex email searching needs and jumped over to my Windows PC.  I also needed to Remote Desktop into my work PC while on vacation, and while ChromeOS does have that capability available, I just used my Surface Pro and TeamViewer to do that work for about 20 minutes.

IMG_20140724_075406IMG_20140724_075406IMG_20140724_075406As to the classroom with students, I think the device would be very good for many students.  Chrome OS has become very capable in the last 12 months.  As I type this post, I have Tweetdeck scrolling on the right 25% of the screen and WordPress open in the other 75%. Window Snapping works very similarly as in Windows 7/8, and I use that feature alone many times a day.  I think this is a huge productivity feature that is missing on iPad and Android devices, so to have it on a laptop is essential, especially with the 14″ screen.  I believe that students can use most any device in the classroom with a smaller learning curve than most teachers, so ultimately the device choice should be heavily influenced by teacher requests.  I live in the Chrome browser at work, with the exception of Office products and TechSmith Snagit and Camtasia.  There is a SnagIt extension for ChromeOS for both video and screenshots, but I can’t use the screen capture across multiple browser windows.  That is a very minor issue, and perfectly useable.  Even Office 365 works incredibly well in Chrome, and I completed my productivity work in Word and Excel online, seamlessly saving to OneDrive, which then magically updated on my Windows PC.

I still have a week left in this challenge, but I’ve confirmed my beliefs that the Chromebook could easily be the primary computer for a large percentage of people.  A school visit to Richland Two in Columbia, South Carolina, a few years ago changed my mind on how the devices could be used in schools, and putting my hands on one for an extended period of time this month made that even more apparent.  I’m excited to use it even more in the future.

Chromebook: 30 Day Challenge

Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, is taking a nice long sabbatical, he is well-known for his 30 Day Challenges. Reading his sabbatical post made me think about doing my own 30 Day Challenge.  I need to get back into blogging publicly more often, so starting a 30 Day Challenge should help drive me back into writing.

Chromebooks and Chrome OS have come into education into a really strong way in the last year or so. Google has refined the Chrome OS and enhanced the offline modes, helping to address the initial concern people (myself included) had with the device in limited connectivity situations.  Meanwhile, hardware manufacturers have really stepped up the quality of the devices being produced while keeping the pricing reasonable, so overall the landscape has become much more interesting.

My 30 Day Challenge for the month of July 2014 will be to use a Chromebook as a primary computing device in as many scenarios as possible.

Some background on Chrome OS: Chrome OS is basically the Chrome browser from Google along with an operating system to allow it to run on the device.  The OS is minimal and everything happens within a browser-style window.  The OS continues to evolve, including advanced features like left & right-side window locking for easy side-by-side windowing, adding of bookmarks directly to the task bar at the bottom, and more.  Chrome OS is automatically updated in the background as updates are pushed out from Google, so you are always up to date.  Plus, if you’re already in the Google ecosystem (Gmail, Chrome web browser, Android phone) the synchronicity is very impressive.  You can pick up from one device to another with open or recent tabs, sync sign-ins (if you trust Google with your passwords), and more.

I recently purchased an HP Chromebook 14 with TMobile LTE from Woot recently because I wanted to try out a Chrome OS device.  I use Chrome on all my computers and a Nexus 5 as my daily driver, so I’m in the Google ecosystem enough to warrant giving it a shot.  I was also curious to see how the TMobile addition of free LTE (200 MB/month for life of the device), but more importantly in my mind, this specific Chromebook had 4GB of RAM, which seems to be very important for Chromebooks if you’re a big tab user like me.

As I try to use this Chromebook frequently, I’ll be on vacation for a week, part at the beach near Pensacola Florida and part in suburban Atlanta. At least in the time I’m in ALT I won’t have wifi, so I’m really curious to see how frugal the Chromebook is with the 200 MB of data.  I know my work email works, but it is the “light” version of Outlook Web Access which is fairly ugly and light in fuctionality.  Of course there is the Google Docs, but I’ll also make use of Office 365 and online Word, Excel, and more.

I’ll try to report back before the end of July and update the progess, especially depending on how much of my TMobile internet I end up using while on vacation!

Communicating with Parents

Summer break has begun across the country for most everyone, and with that break brings preparation for the next school year.  I plan to write about a few topics this summer, putting out a few web tools and apps that you might find useful. Each week will have a theme as well!

This week I want to focus on communication with Parents.  It is essential to keep Parents/grandparents/guardians involved in what is going on in their child’s classroom, as an engaged parent is a helpful parent. Keeping them in the loop will bring offers of help, spur conversations at home, and preemptively answer questions (maybe even cutting down on emails!)

Three tools to that end:

weeblylogoWeebly is a simple and easy web page creator and host.  Can be created from a computer web browser or a mobile device, it uses easy drag-and-drop design, tons of templates, and more.  If you can use Word, you can use Weebly. If you like Publisher, you’ll be up to speed with Weebly in no time.  Easily and quickly keep parents up to date on class projects and activities.  Try out Weebly for a summer gathering to get familiar with it!  Weebly has for-pay plans, but their free service will work for all classrooms.

2014-06-17_14-56-57Remind is a free “communication platform built for teachers. Using Remind101, teachers can engage their students and parents more effectively without needing to know their cell phone numbers and without having to give their phone number out.”  Basically it is a web-based text message system like those you might sign up for a restaurants to receive deals, but for the classroom. Your parents sign up for your messages, and you can preschedule or send texts as needed. Field trip reminders, papers to be returned, and anything else that fits in a short text message can be sent easily to parents, and no one knows your cell phone number. Open a free Remind account and put in your own phone number to test out the system!

top_header_bar_mbclogo@2x-6cce8a247747d6acad1eeed9246703e9My Big Campus is our district’s Learning Management System, or LMS.  Similar to Edmodo, Canvas, and others, My Big Campus allows full class collaboration online. Assignments can be created and turned in electronically, students can upload and save files to the service, post blogs and upload pictures, and much more.  My Big Campus also has a Parent Portal component which will let your parents keep tabs on their student’s activities and requirements.  Parents can see what is happening in your class and all of your updates, but they don’t see things that other students post, keeping student work private.  Teachers can also share resources with students and teachers. Your district might use Canvas or Edmodo or some other product, so look into that!

Consider all of these tools as you think about new ways to include your parents in your classroom activities!  If you know of others, let me know and I’ll include them in future posts.

The iPhone 5S on Virgin Mobile – Unboxing and TMobile

I recently picked up an iPhone 5S on Virgin Mobile.  Sprint (the backbone that Virgin Mobile rides on) has been expanding their LTE service around the country, including in my area (supposedly) and I wanted to see how the coverage was where I live and work.


For fun, I recorded the unboxing of the iPhone 5S.  It’s identical to all the other iPhone 5S’s, but sometimes seeing the insides makes folks more comfortable buying the device, especially from a “discount” retailer like Virgin Mobile.

I also wanted to see if the Virgin Mobile iPhone 5S was actually shipping Factory Unlocked, so I go a TMobile SIM and popped it in.  Sadly, as you’ll see in the video, the phone is locked and will only work on Sprint or Virgin Mobile.

So You Got a Surface Tablet…

surfacertThis week at the ISTE 2013 conference, over 10,000 people will receive a free Microsoft Surface RT tablet, exposing over 9,874 people to the world of Surface RT.  I purchased a Surface RT on launch day and used it for quite a while, enjoying the device within its limitations.

If you are new to Windows 8 and Windows RT, the first thing you’ll want to do is create a Microsoft Account.  Similar to a Google Account or Apple ID, it’s the account you’ll use to save your profile and app history, email, and more.  If you already have an Xbox, you can use the same Gamer ID as your Microsoft Account.  Same as with your Skype ID.  Details are on Microsoft’s page here:

Windows 8 is clearly designed for a tablet, which explains much of the backlash Microsoft has faced over the last few months since its release.  Windows 8 runs nicely on the Surface RT tablet, as long as you know about some special features.  In the same way that Apple makes use of off-to-on-screen swipes for the Notification screen, Microsoft does this on all sides of the Windows 8 screen.  

surfacert2Windows 8 and RT does have the familiar Desktop.  Plus, Windows 8 has FULL Office 2013!  You can find out more about pinning apps and more at

Shutting down the Surface RT:  Possibly the most complained about feature of Windows 8 & RT is shutting down the device.  Much like your iPad, you simply don’t need to shut it down, but can close the screen (or flip up the Touch Cover) and it’ll go into Connected Standby. Connected Standby wakes up occationally to phone home and get updates/email/notifications, but then goes back to sleep.  Simply put, treat it the way you do with your iPad.  If you need to restart or shut down, simply swipe from the right, tap Settings, then Power, and select Shut Down.  More details at

I’ll post more soon about the popular apps you’ll want to install, but hopefully the above links will get you started!

Are you at ISTE 2013?  Did you get a Surface RT?  What are your thoughts?  Let me know in the comments!

Microsoft Surface RT Tablet

Microsoft released Windows 8 along with their Surface tablet on October 26, 2012. Windows 8 is a great departure from Windows of the past, building true touch into the Windows operating system. I have used Windows 8 on a laptop for months now, and I really like it. There are a lot of differences at first glance, but Windows 8 includes a traditional desktop along with the new Windows 8 UI, so you get the best of both worlds.

Surface is Microsoft’s take on a Windows 8 tablet. The first Surface tablet released runs Windows RT, which isn’t the traditional Windows 8 experience. In Windows RT, there are no traditional Windows applications (PhotoShop, SMART, Promethean, etc.) available to run…Windows just doesn’t allow it. Just as Apple makes you install apps through the App Store, Windows 8 includes a Windows Store, and that is where you get your apps for Windows RT.

My favorite thing, in theory, about the Surface RT tablet is it comes with full Office. In the classroom, especially secondary classrooms, having full Office is incredibly important in my mind.

The size and battery life of Surface is supposedly very good, and all early reviews say the build quality is excellent. The Surface has an available Touch Cover and Type Cover, taking Apple’s Smart Cover and adding a real keyboard on it. I’m excited about this as well.

My Surface RT arrives today. I hope to get my first thoughts posted pretty soon, so if there are things you want me to specifically comment on, let me know in the comments.