Friday, December 12, 2008

The Perfect Student Computer

Here is what we have selected as a test model for our 'perfect student computer'

As you have followed in previous blog posts, our provincial organization, the Computer Using Educators of BC are on a quest for the 'Perfect Student Computer'.  As the price of computers continues to drop, it will allow the purchase and Our list comes from our experience and conversations with classroom teachers about what type of computer we could get into the hands of every student in our class. Here is our list:
  • Must be cheap
  • Light and portable
  • Good battery life
  • Capable of capturing multi-media
  • Decent performance
I intentionally leave processor speeds and memory size off the list as the goal it to define the perfect student computer by what type of device we would recommend to students and their parents.  The research with a table of technical specifications, prices and links to resellers is in this blog post.

The computer that was selected is the Acer Aspire One.  What I like about the Acer:
  • Great price.  These machines were purchased at Bestbuy for $399.  Bestbuy was also a gold sponsor at our 2008 conference.
  • Good reviews.  The article in this month's edition of Computer World magazine was very favourable towards the Acer machine.
  • Comfortable keyboard.  Although this machine is for students, I did try my large hands on many of the different models and found touch typing easy and efficient for taking meeting notes.
  • Lots of storage.  With  140 Gb hard drive there is plenty of space to take copies of your favourite movies and pictures whereever you go.
Things about the Acer Aspire One that we would like improved in future models:
  • Better battery life.  This model has a 3 cell battery which is less than the 4 or 6 cells of some of their competators.  However, I've managed to get about 3 hours of working time with the power saving options optimally configured.
  • Trackpad buttons.  The Acer has the trackpad buttons on either side of the pad.  This saves space but is difficult for manuvers like the drag-and-drop.
Questions from the field
I've had a number of people ask me how do you install software without a CD drive?  While this is a fair question, I think it comes from the paradim shift we went through when the first iMac left out the floppy drive.  Here is the answer.  This device is a 'netbook' meaning it is designed to be connected to the internet or network.  This means at home I connect the netbook to my home computer which has a CD/DVD drive by a process called mapping.  Details about how to do this can be found on the Microsoft website.  This allowed me to do CD installs.  The rest of the software was downloaded and installed from the internet.  The list of free and opensource software installed is here.  One highlight for me was the Google pack which provides a great utility to download and automatically install a large number of titles including the most customizable browser, Firefox.
Other questions that have naturally arisen is about having this netbook as a teacher computers.  The thinking being that if they are so good for students then they would be good for teachers too.  I don't think this laptop is ready to be the main computer for teachers.  It's small screen and keyboard will not be condusive for sustain lesson creating or on-screen marking.  That being said, the three USB ports could connect to an external mouse and keyboard and the VGA port can connect to a large secondary monitor, can transform the netbook to a 'docked' workstation.  The portability factor will be huge for many people as the 2ish lb weight makes it a take anywhere device.

At this point, we purchased six machines and they are with the executive of CUEBC.  We look forward to feedback, comment and thoughts on our journey to find the 'Perfect Student Computer'.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Talk About Assessment

Keynote with Damian Cooper

Talk About Assessment: Strategies and Tools to Improve Learning




Below are my notes from a session with Damian Cooper.  He is an excellent, high-energy presenter.

Big goals of the session:

  • Assessment needs to be good for students.  Should not be biased for language, gender…etc.  Assessment should be flexible.
  • Assessment needs to be manageable for teachers.  Must be efficient and effective.  Note: we must hold students accountable to hand in quality work.
What has changed with students?
  • They can access the content in many ways but they lack the wisdom , we need to teach the skills.
"Expecting Excellence" and "Success" are the titles of most of the educational journals.  Our job as teachers is to ensure that all our students are successful.  We need to get all our students across the finish line.
Differentiation is what is we are about.  Myths are that there are no standards.  With a criterion referenced model we hold the standards constant and
Use Backwards design - what is essential for students to understand by the end of this unit?
The big ideas of classroom assessment
  1. Assessment serves different purposes at different times
  2. Assessment must be planned and purposeful
  3. Assessment must be balanced and flexible
  4. Assessment and instruction are inseparable because effective assessment informs learning.
  5. For assessment to be helpful to students, it must inform them in words so they know what they need to do in order to improve.
  6. Assessment is a collaborative process that involves self, peer and teacher.
  7. Performance standards are essential.
  8. Grading and reporting is a sensitive and caring process by a teaching professional
Differentiating Instruction & Assessment.  Here is a great reminder of what we know but forget as we get busy lesson/unit planning.
  • Instruction
  • Students bring different knowledge & experience to school
  • Students learn at different rates
  • Students learn in different ways
  • Assessment
  • Not all students are able to demonstrate their learning in the same way
  • Not all students respond the same way to test pressure
  • Some students need more scaffolding than others
Views on homework
  • It is an important skill for students to life beyond school but should not be for marks and should not be testing the math skills of parents.  It should be for practice.
What are we already doing in assessment for learning?
  • Do I include ALL students in the questioning?
  • Do I provide individual feedback to promote improvement?
  • Do I provide opportunities for students to use the feedback for improvement?
During the session we had a number of times where we discussed the ideas presented to us.  Damian also shared some video clips from classrooms modeling these strategies.  This DVD is included with the purchase of his book (see above).


In summary, if you get an opportunity to work with Damian Cooper, I would highly recommend him as a presenter.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

FREE Student and Teacher software

Now that I have the six new student netboooks the next step is to install the software.  Just like everyone, we want full functioning machines and our current budget for software is zero.  The great news is that there are now so many options for great educational, fun and productivity software that doesn't cost a thing.  Here is my initial list of programs and links to find and download them.

·         Photo

o   Faststone Image Viewer and resizer:

o   Picasa 3:

o   MS Photostory:

·         Video Player

o   VLC video player:

o   Windows Media Player 11:

·         Antivirus and Antispy

o   AVG Free:

o   Spybot:

·         Sound

o   Audacity (and LAME MP3 encoder):

·         Communication

o   Skype:

o   MSN:

o   Google talk:

·         Browser

o   Firefox:

o   Google Chrome:

·         3-D animation

o   Blender:

·         PDF Creator

o   Cute PDF writer:

·         Curricular software:

o   Google Earth:

Office/Productivity software (thanks to Darren's comment that reminded me about this category, it is funny how I forget to basics when focussing on student engagement).
I would love to know what others would suggest for titles to have in the educators toolkit.

I would love to know what others would suggest for titles to have in the educators' toolkit.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Applauding Assessment for Learning

Attended an amazing professional development session last week with keynote, Ruth Sutton.  She is an expert in speaking about and supporting assessment for learning.  If you get a chance to hear her, I would highly recommend her as an engaging, informed presenter.  Here is link to a similar presentation that Ruth did earlier this year.

Here was the need-to-know, big 5 principles of assessment: 
  1. “The provision of effective feedback to students
  2. The active involvement of students in their own learning
  3. Adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment
  4. Recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are crucial influences on learning
  5. The need for students to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve”
Personal Connections:
I was able to make a number of connections to the work that I undertake on a daily basis with all the action research learning teams that I facilitate.  Here is how she described the 'changing teaching habits - according to Addiction Theory' (Proshaska).
  • Pre-contemplation
  • Contemplation
  • First step
  • Discomfort and floundering
  • Practice
  • Confidence
  • New habit
  • Coach someone else
As teachers undertake professional inquiry there is definitely a process of changing habits and the middle step commonly called 'implementation dip' which Ruth fits the stage of discomfort and floundering.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Perfect Student Computer

The quest for the perfect student use mobile computer continues.  I'm doing some research for our provincial organization, the Computer Using Educators of British Columbia.  Our goal is to find and then recommend the ideal student computer that performs well in the classroom and it priced at a level that parents (PAC's) or schools can make them a sustainable purchase.

Here is my 'wish list'.
  • A modern operating system that is familiar to students and teachers as well as being supportable in schools.  This has me leaning towards Windows XP or Mac OS X.
  • Good battery life.  An ideal is 5+ hours that matches the school day.
  • Strong performance.  The new Intel processor call the Atom with 1Gb+ of memory is a great combination.
  • Ample storage.  While not a show-stopper as the definition of a netbook is that much of the work will be stored online, a large hard drive allows the computer to become a portable media device for music, video and documents.
  • Webcam.  Capturing video, live Skype calls and podcasting are great ways to enhance student expression.
  • Weight.  I have two children in primary grades.  I don't see them carrying a 5lb computer.  The current 2-3 lb range of the mini series seems suitable.
Here is the table of research








mini 9


Aspire One APA150

Macbook 2.1Gh

mini 1000


Atom 1.6

Atom 1.6

Atom 1.6

Core 2 2.1Ghz



Windows XP

Windows XP

Windows XP







1 Gb



8 Gb


160 Gb

120 Gb



.3 Megapixel

.3 Megapixel





2.28 lb

2.5 lb

2 lb

4.5 lb


battery life

4 hours

5.3 hours

5.5 hr

5 hr









NA in Canada






  • I couldn't find a local distributor for the MSI wind machine although I've seen some good reviews on the machine.
  • Tier 1 manufactures (HP, Dell and Apple) are preferred as they are more accepted by district IT departments.  In this case the HP isn't available yet in Canada, Apple's price and large size excludes it from this list and the Dell is about $100 more than comparable models and has less storage.
  • Seems like the ASUS eeePC has a great value.  It is light, good battery life and lots of memory and storage.  I have used a friends eeePC and found the keyboard cramped and a difficult placement of the right shift key.  Since this device is for children and now my hands this could be a minor irritant for the times when I'm supporting students.
It would be great to hear from others who have researched or used these products.  

Research sites consulted:  PC Magazine review