Category Archives: Technology

Technology for teaching and learning

How I turned a laptop into a desktop computer 

How I turned an older laptop into a desktop computer.

I decided to get a monitor that I could plug into my laptop to make it easier to read and write for the dissertation that I have started. My idea was to buy a monitor and use it with my Macbook Air. I chose a 24 inch monitor as I wanted to be able to view two pages at the same time. The laptop connects using a standard HDMI cable and a HDMI to ‘lightening’ adapter or an HDMI to ‘lightening’ cable. I also tried the monitor with a 5 year old Dell Inspiron laptop and it worked pretty well, which got me thinking…

I added a wireless keyboard and mouse (which uses a USB dongle and Bluetooth) which saves having to use the laptop in front of the monitor and not being able to see the bottom of the screen.

Computer screen and keyboard
Computer screen and keyboard

So now I have my Dell laptop running Windows 10 and Office 365 with plenty of options for viewing.

I can still use the Macbook if I want but for now I am happy to leave the old Dell where it is!

I feel that I have got a useful and space saving desktop computer for the price of a monitor, keyboard and mouse. And if the older laptop dies I can either use another laptop or buy a basic desktop unit.

What do you think? Have you tried something similar?

Specifications

Monitor: LG 24MP68VQ-P Slim bezel 24inch IPS LED around US$160

Keyboard and Mouse: Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse around US$30

Dell Inspiron N4110 with i5 processor and 8gb of RAM. This model had an HDMI slot

Should children learn to touch type?

Should children learn to touch type?

This question has been around for a long time, certainly since the typewriters in the business studies rooms were replaced with word processors!

Students are now surrounded by digital technology and use a range of devices for their work. It is common for children to use tablets, such as iPads from a young age, and many secondary and high school students are using laptops. These are trends that will continue.

Is it important to be able to touch type?  I mean being able to accurately use a keyboard, while looking at the screen or elsewhere, and using all fingers on the correct keys. There are commonly heard arguments for and against learning to touch type

Arguments against learning to touch type

  • it takes a lot of time, time that is better spent on other learning
  • technology such as predictive text and touchscreen devices mean children will not need to type in the future
  • speech recognition and dictation software is replacing typing
  • one or two finger typing is just as fast on hand held devices

Arguments for learning to touch type

  • using a keyboard is the most effective way of inputting text, if you can type efficiently
  • laptops and computers, with keyboards, are going to be around for a while
  • it is a lifeskill, like riding a bike, once you learn you will not forget
  • good habits are best learned at an early age, as bad ones are hard to shift
  • once you can touch type accurately, your speed should increase

In conclusion, why I think that touch typing needs to be taught in school

Students in high school and above are going to be expected to use computers to produce longer and longer texts, for this reason efficient and correct touch typing is essential. Schools need to put aside time to teach this invaluable lifeskill, we cannot rely on parents and self motivated children to learn only at home. Maybe a compromise is to have ‘typing club’ at times during the school day. If we have 12 and 13 year old children typing with two fingers we are doing them a disservice.

Recommended Free Typing Tutor

There are free typing tutors available. I have seen children succeed with the free typing tutor available on line from typing.com. Teachers can even set up classes and monitor progress. The free version does have advertisements but they are not too noticeable. A small fee will remove the ads completely.  Another reliable one is typingclub.com There are many other typing tutors available, some of which are very good, but beware of ones with too many distractions and games!

What do you think?

 

Teacher’s Tech Toolkit

What does a teacher need in their Tech Toolkit?

I recently read this article: Which should I buy a PC or a Mac? I know it is a perennial topic but it made me think – what does a teacher need in their ‘Tech Toolkit?’ For this post I am thinking about hardware rather than software, which is another story. Of course many people will have their own ideas but what should be the minimum?

What should be in a teacher’sTech Toolkit?

I think the following should be the minimum for a teacher’s tech toolkit:

  • a laptop
  • an external hard drive
  • a smartphone

Now I will explain why I think this!

Why have a portable hard drive?

External Hard Drive
External Hard Drive

Let’s start with possibly the least obvious. External, portable hard drives are cheap and can be used to keep a back up of your data. They typically use a small size hard disc (that keeps the overall package small) and do not need a power supply. They are powered when plugged in to the USB slot on your computer. They come in a number of sizes (e.g. 500gb, 1tb, 2tb, 3tb). There is not a lot of point in buying a very large capacity unless you have a lot of video to store. As a rule of thumb get one with the same capacity as your computer. If this gets full over time buy another – the price will have fallen by then!

Once you have your external hard drive remember to use it from time to time! If you are using one on a day to day basis you should have another one stored somewhere safe. I know of people who have had break ins and lost the photos stored on their computer and the back up hard disc, which has been stored nearby. Why not leave one in a safe place at work? Or at your mum’s?

Why have a smartphone?

If you already have one you will probably know why. If not consider this: smart phones have a camera, and a video or sound recorder. You can use your smart phone to record activities instantly and you can access google or Pinterest there and then. You can even make phone calls. Just make sure that it is on silent mode, and it is rude to look at it while ‘listening’ to people.

Why have a laptop?

MacBook Air
Apple MacBook Air

Any recent laptop has the capability to connect to the internet and it allows you to type documents, arrange photographs and look at or edit video. A laptop is obviously portable. How portable you want to make it depends on your needs. If you are always on the move the lighter the better – and that means more expensive.

What are the alternatives?

At the minimum a teacher should have a laptop, smartphone and external hard drive but there are some other things that may also fit your needs.

A desktop computer

If you are working in one place and use the computer for hours on end you should consider getting a desktop computer if only because it is better for you. The ergonomics of a separate keyboard and adjustable screen are better for your back, neck and eyes. You also get more bang for you buck with a desktop (compared to a laptop) and they are much  more expandable.

A tablet

A tablet can do many of the things that a smartphone does and will offer a larger screen. This could be an alternative to a smartphone – but do you really need both?

So what do I actually use?

  • For everyday use: An Apple Macbook Air (mid 2013) with 8 Gb of RAM and 256 Gb solid state hard drive running OSX (work supplied)
  • For back up: 500 Gb portable hard drive (USB)
  • Home computer: Dell Inspiron (2011) 4 Gb RAM and 500 Gb hard drive. (I can plug this into my TV using HDMI cable) running Windows 10
  • Smartphone: Sony Xperia Z3 Compact with 64 Gb SD card running Android 5
  • Tablet: iPad (2003) 16 Gb running IOS 7 (work supplied)

From this list you may conclude that I am fairly neutral in the ‘should I buy a PC or mac?’ debate. I like using both, but look where I spend my own money!

What do you think?

Is there something else that should definitely be in a Teacher’s Tech Toolkit? Please share you thoughts in the comments below or on the social media links.

Dictation and Reading Tools – on a Mac

Here are some built in tools that allow the Mac to read aloud and turn our speech into text.

Text to speech (reading) on a Mac

This cool feature is built into the Mac operating system. You may need to activate it. Here’s how:

Quick step-by-step

Open System Preferences > Dictation and Speech

Choose : Text to Speech

Check: Speak selected text when the key is pressed

Current Key: option + esc

Window showing text to speech options
Window showing text to speech options
How does it work?

Select (highlight) the text that you want read to you. Press the option and esc keys together. The text will be read out loud to you.

Part of Mac keyboard: opt and esc keys
Part of a Mac keyboard showing the option and escape keys

If you would like more details, including how to change the voice you can look at this video. The uploader also talks about how this helps with his dyslexia.

 

Dictation on a Mac

Quick step-by-step

Open Preferences > Dictation and Speech

Choose: Dictation – On Button

Press fn (function key) twice

Dictation Dialogue Window
Activation window showing where to turn dictation on
How does it work?

Open your word processor (e.g. word), click the cursor for where you want to start. Press the fn key twice. Speak normally and the text should begin to appear. You will most likely need to do some editing on the text but it is a good way of getting your ideas written down.

Part of Mac keyboard showing function key
Mac keyboard showing function fn key

 

Read & Write for Google Chrome and Drive

These settings will not work with Google Chrome or Drive.  Herer are some videos to add an extension that will work with Google.

Here’s a video about how to add the Read & Write for Google – Chrome Extension

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaxxeWnlBdk

Here’s some more info about how to use the Read & Write toolbar

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msKY6jTY7kY

MacBook Air: After two months

I’ve now been using the MacBook Air for two months. Here is my snapshot:

Pros

  • battery lasts all day long (for typical office tasks)
  • battery recharges quickly
  • it’s light and slim
  • it boots up – and shuts down in about 10s
  • it’s fast
  • it’s very quiet and runs cool (most of the time)

The light, slim design – coupled with fast start up time – make it ideal for using on the go. It can easily be carried and then got out for a quick note.

Cons

  • the two and three finger gestures take some time to get used to – I am still finding myself having to back up where I have made a ‘gesture’.
  • browser wars – the safari browser works best on the Mac OS, but I want to use Chrome when using google docs
  • the screen is a bit on the small side ( a compromise made for a smaller, lighter laptop)
  • I have no idea what iPhoto is doing with my pictures

Overall

I like it. It’s fast and portable. It’s great for most office tasks, browsing etc. So far, so great!

MacBook Air

It’s a while since I have used a Mac, but now that the school is going to use both Mac and Windows I will be using a MacBook air. I know that there has been a lot of discussion over the years about Mac vs Windows, with much of it around personal preferences but I will try to give my impressions about using the laptop in school and at home.

First things first:

It’s a MacBook Air

Tech Spec: Processor 1.3 gHz Intel Core i5  / RAM 8gb 1600mHz DDR3 / Intel HD Graphics 5000 1024 MB / HD Solid State 250 gb / OSX 10.9 /

The hard disk has a Windows partition, which means that it is possible to install a windows operating system on the computer. I will not do this unless I need to…

Software: I have Office for Mac installed which gives me access to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Outlook gives access to our school mail server. I will also be using Google Drive, so I have installed the Google Chrome browser alongside Safari.

First Impressions

It’s solid and well made, a bit heavier than I thought it would be. Typing is easy with a solid place to rest my wrists and scrabble style keys that are backlit in low-light conditions. The case is slim and the lack of a conventional hard drive means that it is quiet and runs cool without the need for fans blowing away the heat. The first part of my learning curve will be to forget my windows keyboard shortcuts and begin to learn some for the mac, oh and not having a right click but using a two fingered gesture instead!

Familiar Apps, Unfamiliar Menus

The Microsoft Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook) are all familiar, but different enough to leave me scratching my head looking for features that are available on the windows platform.

Now I am going to get on with using the MacBook Air for the next few weeks, including a trip out of the country for a conference, then I’ll post some impressions… watch this space!