5 questions to answer when choosing a Chromebook for either your students or your child

First off, let me come out quickly as a Chromebook fan. In 2011 I bought this pictured Samsung Series 5 3G 12.1 inch for $476.33. chromebookNowadays, it is relegated to a recipe finder because it is just a little too slow for anything else. The battery charger broke down a couple of years back, but that is the only problem I have ever had with it.

I wish my old UK school had gone with Chromebooks and Google Classroom. Instead they bought into Apple. I think that Apple is great for a school’s marketing image, but not a great way to go in the classroom. In my opinion Apple is gated (only Apple apps can be used), hard to administer and extremely expensive, though of course kids love it because it’s like owning Nike or Adidas over Shaq (Walmart’s own brand sneakers).

The major benefit for schools using Chromebooks is that updating software pretty much takes care of itself provided the units are rebooted every now and again. If a school buys via Google edu they offer a $30 management yearly license enabling central management of devices. The benefits of centralized administration of devices cannot be underestimated. The graphic below from Futuresource consulting demonstrates just how quickly Chromebooks have taken over the K12 market.

From FutureSource Consulting: https://www.futuresource-consulting.com/Press-K-12-Education-Market-Qtr4-0317.html

If I had to buy a Chromebook today there is a lot more choice than I had in 2011 and when I started looking at the choice of 42 different models on the google education portal I realized that if I was a parent or looking to choose one for my students, I would have a difficult time knowing what to pick. This article aims to help by asking some fundamental questions. The prices are taken from the Find Yours Chromebook page and they are similar to those on the edu.google.com devices page.

1) How much or little do you want to spend?

If money doesn’t matter that much, then the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 ($449) or Samsung Chromebook Pro ($549) are top choices. At the other end of the scale, the Lenovo N23 also has a touch screen and converts, but comes in at an affordable $179. However, the N23 has similar other specs to my first Chromebook, 2GB Ram and 16 GB drive compared to the C302 with 4GB RAM and a 64GB drive.

2) Is your child’s computer going to fall off the desk or be subjected to fidgety fingers?

When I was responsible for the upkeep of about 500 laptops at a school, one of the most irritating things that would go wrong with them was the “hilarious” way that students would pry off the key caps and move them around on the keyboard – or at least attempt to – thereby rendering the laptops out of action until an engineer got around to replacing the springs underneath and reseating the keys. In the classroom computers tend to get dragged around, dropped on field trips and generally abused beyond your wildest imagination. So it’s a good idea to aim for a set that can withstand both mischievous children and gravity’s hard knocks.

Lenovo have thought hard about users in this environment and their N23 boasts anti-peel keys, has a non-slip texture and is “drop-resistant”. Dell’s Chromebook 11 ($219) is similarly designed to withstand the backpack environment with a rubberized trim and fully sealed keyboard.

3) Battery life

Given the choice of having to recharge during the day or not having to recharge during the day, this is a no-brainer. Laptop trolleys are great at night, but why on earth would we choose to have students plug their devices in during the day?

In CNET’s tests, the Acer Chromebook family performed well with the aforementioned C302 coming in at 9th place and lasted for 9 hours. The Acer R13 ($399) was in first place with impressive 13 hour staying power. But all Chromebooks have a long battery life, certainly longer than most laptops.

4) Long bus rides – homework opportunity lost?

Some school buses now have WIFI – we can but hope that this will become as normal as  teens with smartphones (90%) – but until that happens the option to work offline might be important to you. Bear in mind that it is simple to link your child’s Chromebook to their phone’s hotspot connection if you have a good unlimited data plan.

Aside from these “if only wishes made it so” fantasies, the important thing to look for here is the space to store those apps that will help your kids work when offline. Aside from Google docs, Google Keep and Gmail there are a plethora of apps that can now work without an internet connection and will automatically sync up to the cloud as soon as connection is restored, some will require some pre-planning if continuing work on a previously stored piece of work. By the way, this is one of the reasons that I like “bring your own device” policies – because kids have to learn to manage their own work and devices. 

Storage is probably the biggest difference that affects the price point. 16GB is only going offer 10GB usable space, after system software has eaten its chunk of storage. The computers mentioned earlier that fall into this category are the Dell Chromebook 11 and the Lenovo N23. 32GB is available on the Samsung Chromebook Pro and Acer R13. The Asus C302 comes with 64GB making it the outright winner in this category.

5) To hybrid or not to hybrid

A hybrid is a computer that can be used as a laptop and then reconfigured (turned) into a tablet. Generally they will have smaller screens and be lighter too. They also tend to be more expensive. Except for Lenovo whose N23 hybrid is around the $273 mark. Most of the options chosen earlier were from this small group (of 8 instead of 42). The value in being able to use a finger (or stylus in the case of the Acer Spin 11 or Asus C213 – both coming in around $350) to write and make notes, marks on documents will be very helpful especially when doing maths and science notation.

Finding the perfect Chromebook


I hope this article has been helpful. I know writing it has made me want to go out and replace my old model with one of these new bits of gorgeous technologies. I didn’t discuss cameras and microphones – a purposeful omission. These are great, are often used for fun projects in the classroom, and although they are often the most requested feature, they are not necessarily the most important. If you know your children need to do lots of multimedia projects, then this is an additional criteria to bear in mind.

Finally, if I could go shopping today, I would probably pick one of the Lenovo N23s, mostly because I’m a bit of a Lenovo fan and I like spending as little money as possible… however, the C302 is very tempting indeed.


Some of the websites consulted while putting this together:

Google’s own https://www.google.com/chromebook/find/

Google’s education portal https://eduproducts.withgoogle.com/products/category/chromebooks-for-education

How Google took over the classroom (New York Times) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/technology/google-education-chromebooks-schools.html

Office of educational technology https://tech.ed.gov/?s=wifi+on+school+buses


reflections on work hunting

animated gif of workplace

A couple of days ago I attended an interesting and useful event organised by ChickTechPDX and hosted at the beautiful offices of a local software company, Jama. A panel of tech industry recruiters spoke about their companies, jobs and challenges to a room packed with women and some men, who were either other recruiters, a recruiter looking to recruit a new recruiter or, just, you know, people looking for work in the PDX tech landscape!

I learnt a couple of really good lessons!

First… when a guy you don’t know starts throwing numbers around, be interested in them! I was terribly British about it, coming back with my well rehearsed mantra about how important it is for whatever it is to mean something really important and how that was more important than the numbers! Anyway, note to self, next time someone starts talking money, appear hungry for it!

Second… I have a really weird résumé. And no I’m not going to link it, because it is a work in progress — today even more so than last week. But what my résumé has to do is to tell my story and then it needs to tell my story from the perspective of the particular audience it is intended for – which means writing quite a few different ones.

Thirdly… It also needs to use today’s language to communicate tech skills from yesteryear. i.e. full stack web developer not web developer – though I recommend this rant about that particular label. This rewrite is going to be laborious and not just a little irritating. But now I get it! The people reading my résumé are immersed in today’s technical language, have worked hard to understand today’s language and and are proud to be part of this technical community; I just need to do some translating. That’s okay! I can do that.

scholar.google.com can be deeply disappointing

Today I was fact checking a FB post (as you do), and the screenshot below was the result from scholar.google.com. It was only the eighth result that even came close to being scholarly!

Screenshot from scholar.google.com
Screenshot from scholar.google.com

I admit that the problem might have been the search terms. But nevertheless, a blog and three html pages was not what I was expecting!

Google’s algorithm for scholarly searches needs improving, and this is clearly not a new issue as discussed by “Academic Librarian” in this post.

edCamp takeaways

apple part of edCamp logoI went to my first edCamp last month and although I was only able to stay for one session – on Flipped Classrooms – it turns out that everything I learnt during it is useful! Time well spent. One teacher, whose name I didn’t write down and I am so sorry for that, teaches media and technology at an alternative school (for students with special needs) in Portland and has a media background. He had some particularly good suggestions and applications to use with students and for teachers to use when producing their own videos:

  • Use numbers in the video – especially when creating a skills demo so that students can easily communicate when they got lost or stuck
  • www.soundtrap.com seems to be a particularly effective sound editor, a big step up in terms of ease of use from Audacity. Has a 5 project basic free account.
  • Open Broadcast Software is a video editing application. I have just started using this, will report back again when I’ve used it some more. But it is a light touch option, gives a preview, not a big download and looks like it has everything one would need to produce edited video.

Someone else suggested using EDpuzzle to track student’s understanding of what they are viewing in any video assigned to them. I can’t wait to use this application, and don’t worry you can add any school name to sign up if – like me – you are using this as an online tutor or are just researching.

To go with this application, I suggest exploring the badly named MoocNote where students can take notes while watching any video.

I am looking forward to my next edCamp! Thanks go to the wonderful organizers in Portland and everyone who pitched a session this time through.


reading journey inspired by a tweet

A good friend of mine tweeted a list today and it inspired me to respond… only I couldn’t fit it into a tweet. This doesn’t have much to do with edtech, except to say how powerful 140 characters can be, especially when accompanied by an image.

So here is my reading journey, inspired by the wonderful Ro.

Enid Blyton – the famous five, the secret seven, malory towers and st clare’s – all while helping at local library on Saturday morning

A series of bible fables for children – a new one would arrive each birthday and christmas from my godmother, who took her role very seriously indeed and also happened to be a publisher. It didn’t work! But I have never forgotten the stories.

A big yellow book of fairy tales, a gift from the same source. These did work! Bluebeard was my favourite – no comment – but this is the one book I wish hadn’t been given away to Oxfam.

Jean Plaidy – embedded a love of imagining history.

Charlotte Bronte all – followed by Emily, some,  – tried, but didn’t enjoy Anne much!

Agatha Christie – all.

At this point I don’t remember reading anything by any men. Other than Shakespeare, Hardy and Dickens of course. But those were required, rather than consumed under the sheets by torchlight.

The Hobbit but it made no real impression, and though I remember wanting to like the Lord of the Rings, it wasn’t meant to be.

All of Checkov. Then Dostoevsky. The link was tenuous.

And then there were the Women again, this time all black. Angela Davis. Maya Angelou,  Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.


Spring cleaning social media accounts

It’s been a long time since I first stood up at an INSET day and promoted the idea to colleagues that teachers should maintain separate social media accounts. The main purpose remains keeping one’s professional interests separate from one’s personal ones and to maintain different privacy settings for these. Worst case scenarios have been reports of teachers refused jobs because of FB posts or friending students – also FB. Some people might find it easy to switch privacy settings as they go and to “just say no” to friendship requests, but those pesky privacy settings are very easy to ignore.

For several years I experimented with different configurations in order to try to show the way. It was pretty simple really, one just needs different email addresses. However, over the course of a couple of job changes, a country change, a career change, multiple accounts on Twitter, Facebook (FB) and Google, and eight years later things had got a little messy. This post describes some of the mistakes I made along the way, lots you may already have worked through but I hope some lessons might be useful and save you time.

Facebook Logo 114 FACEBOOK

In the summer of 2012, when I stopped teaching at secondary level, I found myself with four different FB accounts:

  1. For friends
  2. For work
  3. For use in the classroom with children aged 12+ for teaching
  4. For the school’s page

The first two weren’t an issue and I kept these going and still have them, more of this later. The third was easy, I just deleted the account, but the fourth was annoying because it involved creating a new id, including an email address within the college’s domain.

Lesson One: Create a fictitious ID within the work domain from the start which can be passed between whoever is or becomes responsible for social media. The main problem is that FB bans certain words from user names like “Web Master” and tries to maintain that all FB users are authentic identities. It’s a toss-up between seeing this as an opportunity to get creative or just being an irritating waste of time.

Twitter logoTWITTER

I started a Twitter account in 2009 but really got going with it in 2010. Mostly work related stuff. But by 2015 I ended up with another four accounts – three of which remain:

  1. @edtechsInfo
  2. @MandyHoneyman
  3. @mkh_at_play

Quite a while ago I linked my Twitter account to FB; I felt that it was a great way to keep my work FB timeline active, though I also have a feeling that some of my work friends might hide those automated posts when I am in a particularly fervent tweeting period, like during conferences. I also created an automated publication linked to Twitter which collected various stories and collated them together. This gained me lots of new followers and is even pretty successful in finding stories that I am interested in myself.

While establishing edtechsInfo I changed my Twitter account to match. This meant I could keep all my followers and Twitter history intact. This made sense to me as this account was always primarily about work and edtech anyway. But I also wanted all my email accounts to be matched to the right Twitter accounts – makes sense right? This was more complicated because I had an extra account using one of my main email addresses. Nevertheless, after quite a bit of massaging of account settings in Twitter, I achieved my streamlined objective.

Lesson Two: Having created a FB page linked to my work FB account for edtechsInfo, I switched my Twitter account link to auto post to that page, however and I also wanted @MandyHoneyman to post automatically to my work FB timeline. Twitter doesn’t allow two separate accounts to link to the same FB account. The workaround for this was to use an old IFTTT account. So now, theoretically, I can post general work stuff via Twitter to FB timeline and edtech specific stuff to the edtechsInfo FB page. This is a new experiment so we will see how well that works in time.

Google+ logoGOOGLE

None of this would be possible without multiple email addresses and now I am self-employed I am only using Gmail. But with multiple Gmail accounts come multiple Google IDs and so to my final social media playpen – Google Plus. I don’t use G+ that much… yet and most of my activity is on my very old (and kind of inappropriate) email address. But I still have tried to separate out my IDs – again based on work, edtechsInfo and play. Most important is to know that YouTube channels are also based on G+ IDs. So, for example, edtechsInfo’s G+ presence is firmly attached to edtechsInfo’s YouTube channel.

Lesson Three: Moving video around is boring and time consuming. There is, unfortunately, no way I can find to avoid having to download videos from one YouTube account and then upload to another in order to switch videos to different channels. If anyone knows of an easier way, please share.


Everything I am I owe to learning touch-typing

Last night I met a middle school technology teacher and I asked her what her students learnt in class. She shocked me by replying “keyboarding”. The heightened level of shock may have been due to the St Patrick’s Day drinking that preceded my question but I had expected her to say digital literacy, e-safety, perhaps a little programming, or worst case scenario, that her students learnt how to use different software packages, perhaps Google Apps or Microsoft Office. The last thing I expected to hear was “keyboarding.

My shock turned to frustration on behalf of her kids. How boring to be drilling through qwerty keyboard exercises – exercises that haven’t significantly changed since I learnt to type in 1976! How can these kids possibly be engaged! They must be using games like tux-typing (open source option) or other games like 2Type (I first tried this out in 2005), or maybe they have gone all out and bought TTRS ? My new tech teacher friend (NTTF) responded that the problem with typing games are that the kids get too into trying to achieve success in the game and forget that they are aiming to “master the home keys”, though she did mention Dance Mat,  from the BBC and, ironically, just one small part of its great looking KS2 (grades 2-6) Computer Science and ICT course.

My NTTF obviously uses games sometimes but mainly relies on repetition whilst walking around the class correcting posture and fingering errors. Horrendous memories flooded back of drilling on a manual keyboard belonging to a big black monster object which looked similar to this:

From http://clickthing.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/unsound.html
From http://clickthing.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/unsound.html

Aaaa, ssss, dddd, ffff, asdf, asdf, qaz, wsx, edc, rfv tgb – oh the joy of graduating to “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”. If I can’t type that phrase now quickly and comfortably on a new keyboard then that keyboard just ain’t good enough. 

But this morning, when the effects of the St Patrick’s day Guinness had worn off, I questioned my knee-jerk response to my NTTF. After all it was only 10 years ago that I visited my own secondary school’s feeder primary schools in the UK strongly recommending that they use some of their ICT teaching time with their years 5 and 6 to teaching typing skills. My argument was that students who were able to touch type were more confident on computers in KS3 (grades 7-9) and finding it easier, and much faster, to produce the coursework requirements for GCSEs (grades 10/11) – and in the KS3 ICT curriculum at secondary school there was no space for teaching typing skills (there still isn’t).

Fom my own history – if I hadn’t done those drills back in 1976, I would never have become a typesetter, would never have got a job at The Independent newspaper, would never have learned web development, would never have become a teacher, would never have worked at the Open University and certainly wouldn’t be writing this!

Do I think children need to be able to touch type on a qwerty keyboard? Yes. Do I think they are learning a skill they will use for the rest of their lives? Probably. Could they learn a different keyboard layout, i.e. Dvorak or alphabetic, and also type faster? Possibly. Will we ever know? Not any time soon. For fun do check out the Open Steno Project – after all these guys are the very fastest typists on earth.

So on that basis, I think that parents need to help their kids learn touch typing, starting on small keyboards for small hands. Some interesting articles worth reading about this are listed below. But do I think middle schools should spend 90 hours of kids time learning to touch type — at the expense of some other very important digital literacy subject matter? No. Make it homework, make it a lunchtime club, make it a valued skill? Yes.

typing certificate
Health Warning – difficult application for anyone with Dyslexia – letters swim across the screen.

Teaching Keyboarding: More Than Just Typing by Linda Star, Education World
Elementary students learn keyboard typing ahead of new Common Core tests by Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post


More about video for video feedback

I spent the last couple of days emerging again into the world of edtech having hibernated over the winter. On Tuesday I went to a Meetup in Portland that attracted way more people than the basement room was built for, nevertheless it was a good way to meet people – we were all close!

I met a couple of guys who had driven down from Seattle for the event. They talked me through their video platform startup, circleHD.com. It sounded pretty interesting and I am still testing it. The main positive points from an edtech point of view, was that a teacher could have a free account, could store videos and share videos from their platform and, and this is the important bit, get some analytics from views. They say that are also including an annotation – which I haven’t found yet but will come back and write more when I have.

movenote in action
Capture from movenote review page

Yesterday I attended AcceleratED16 – a conference for education adminstrators (senior leadership team in UK speak) organised by OETC (an organisation that promotes edtech and arranges discounts for its members).

During one of the sessions on the professional development track Jennifer Scypinksi demonstrated using movenote to deliver a weekly newsletter presentation to staff.

I have been looking at it today in order to evaluate its use as a feedback tool to students. And I think it could be very good indeed. I have made one recording so far, though I nearly gave up because I had to fiddle around for hours to get Adobe Flash Player to listen to my microphone (switched from Chrome to Firefox in the end to get it to work). I am generally pleased with the result and I think it has real possibilities. I will need to rerecord this one because I’m not happy with the camera position.

After that I am going to compare movenote to screencastify and will post the results here.

#altc winter conference 2015

All the links from my presentation at #altc, given today

The background story went more like this though….

3.45am huge crashing sound, monsoon rain and howling gale…. really scary…. followed by

3.55am BLACKOUT …. phoned it in (on 1 bar phone access) …. went back to bed…. lay there….

4.35 am decided to drive to Starbucks, could still get there by 5.30am if I moved it…..

5.05 on my way out the door, the leccy flickered back on…..

5.07 and off….

5.20ish and on…..on…. phew… omg… I needed coffee so bad!

pouring coffee
animated coffee (lost attribution, so sorry!)

5.45am (have faffed around with mic for 10 minutes – I h8 windows 8)

6am Gave presentation , lots of people, not a lot of questions.

6.30am phew its over….. another cup of coffee

6.45am some really useful comments on my draft paper (see link above)

Thanks #altc… that was fun!