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!

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Not at ISTE 2014

So, I’m not at ISTE 2014 this year, but here are some of the things I’m watching:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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