MacBook vs. Chromebook

So it’s been almost 6 months since the last post and I think that’s a pretty fair chunk of time to observe how the Chromebook and Android tablet have performed in the classroom. There really aren’t any surprises here and what I’ve observed won’t really break any new ground.

tl;dr Chromebooks are less expensive. MacBooks are more functional.

When the Chromebook made it’s first appearance in our classroom many students got excited. Instant on and easy login were a big plus. No need to wait for Windows Network Authentication and a spinning HD to load an OS. These things also hold a battery charge like a real champ. Even under heavy use I only need to plug this in once a week. Under normal use I charge it monthly. It’s at this point where the Chromebook seems to start losing its lead in the race.

Students use them for creating presentations, writing, accessing our online learning platform, and that’s about it. In the Junior Math curriculum there’s a little bit of work on spreadsheets, but not a whole lot. That’s it. Even when I try to work above the line in a SAMR model it seems like quite a stretch using a Chromebook. They just weren’t designed for that.

This is a problem. Technology use in the classroom should be more than just substitution. A lot more.

Using a MacBook, or a similarly equipped Windows device, we are able to work above the line and redesign our learning tasks to take full advantage of the power we have available to us. Using tools iMovie and GarageBand the opportunities just open up and are only limited by our imagination and creativity.

Then there’s the price. Unfortunately the least expensive MacBook is 5 times the price of a Chromebook. For most schools the cost is the bottom line. Even Tim Cook’s old school has switched from MacBooks to Chromebooks. Then there’s teacher training. What’s the point of using a MacBook for word-processing all the time? Then there’s IT support. Lots of school boards out there still prefer supporting only one flavour of OS. Some are downright nasty about it.

So Chromebooks seem to be enjoying the path of least resistance, but at what cost?

Apple vs. Android

So last year our district started a teacher technology program that puts a Windows laptop or a Chromebook and Android tablet in the hands of teachers. It’s still at the lottery selection stage currently, but I imagine it will roll out to all interested teachers eventually.

So that’s the promising news.

Now for the not so promising news. Where is the option to select Apple products? Well that’s still up to teachers to purchase with their own money, because someone won’t support what they can’t repair. So there’s that.

So choice one is to receive a Windows laptop that comes with OSAPAC software, lots of IT support and looks and works like the thousands of machines that our district has in place. Option two is a Chromebook and Nexus tablet. Nice for those that are willing to do a little experimentation and still be supported by IT. There is an option three where you can purchase your own iPad and MacBook with your own money and receive no district support. Your support is provided by AppleCare, should you decide to purchase it beyond the initial grace period.

I suppose there is an option four whereby you don’t do anything and still teach in a pre-technology era, but those people really aren’t reading this blog.

So I was fortunate enough to receive a nicely spec’d out Chromebook and a Nexus 7 tablet to use in my classroom. Now I already have my own personal Chromebook that I use at school, so I’m a little familiar with what these machines can do. Having another one in the class creates some interesting options for use. I also have a personal MacBook Air and Retina iPad Mini that I use at school. There are a few other bits and pieces, but these are the main players. With that background taken care of, let’s move on.

I thought it might be interesting to document the advantages and shortcomings of each of these devices. Well, the Chromebook and Android table and the MacBook Air and iPad Mini. I’m not really a Windows user, although I can definitely use one if I have to. I understand they are entirely different in what they offer and really have no place being compared to one another. Yet, as a teacher I want to be using the best tools under the proper circumstances to get the job done, and each of these devices has its own niche. Practically speaking I am also well aware that one set of devices is a fair bit less expensive than the other, so that will play a role in the comparison as well.

I will admit right from the beginning that I have a lot more experience with Apple products that I do with Android products. I’m really going to try and maintain some degree of neutrality in future posts as I reflect on using these devices. I realize ahead of time that may be a bit of a challenge.

So here’s the idea. I’ll post some thoughts on how I use these devices in the classroom and how students use these devices in the classroom. I don’t know if I’ll end up with a score card kind of result, or more of a blended experience that might suggest the most promising use for each device. Maybe a combination of both.

Mod-3 RADIUS Case Review

I’ll say this from the outset, I’m not a person who routinely drops their phone. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever dropped any phone, dating back to my faux woodgrain Nokia 232 somewhere back in the mid 90’s. I’m not a dropper. I get that some people have kids, or just simply operate in such a way that their phone, more often than not, ends up in harm’s way. That’s the Otterbox crowd, and there are plenty of armour-like cases for those folks. This case is not for you.

When I first touched an iPhone 5 I was immediately impressed by the feel of having a solid chunk of aluminum in your hands. It felt way different than my iPhone 3, or my Sony Xperia. My first reaction was that I didn’t want to give this up by wrapping the phone in plastic. Thus my search began for the most minimal case I could find.

My iPhone is always in one of 3 places; a table, my pocket of a messenger bag. The one thing I was aware of was the scratches that happen, not so much on the face of a phone, but the back of the device. I had experienced this with my click-wheel iPods. Anything that would protect the phone from the surface it was put on, yet still allow access to all the buttons and have the phone retain its look and feel.


Along came a Kickstarter project mod-3 and their RADIUS case. I read the reviews and there seemed to be issues with the group filling orders. So I waited. I waited about a year until they built up their authorized retailers and finally purchased the case from Bite My Apple. The shipping took a little longer than I expected, about 4 weeks. Even though they did mention a 4-6 week shipping window, I think Amazon has spoiled me when it comes to shipping times.

The case ships with some extra screws and an allen wrench. You align the corners of the phone with the case and tighten the screws. I think I will end up putting some Loctite on the screws, because these things are incredibly tiny. Once screwed in, the x-frame is held in place quite securely.


So how does the case perform? In a word, brilliantly. Now, remember, this is a highly specialized case designed for a specific audience. This is not your run-of-the-mill bumper or wallet case. This is designed with the minimalist in mind, or those that don’t like traditional cases. I’ve had no problems with the corners catching on my pockets, or even the screws coming loose. Everything works just as it should. One thing this case does do that is not advertised, is that it attracts a lot of attention if you let it. I was in a local Apple Store showing one of my friends the case and over the next half hour I think every staff member on the floor wanted to know more about it.

So for you minimalists out there looking for something with just a little more protection than no case at all, this just might be the thing for you.

Other Reviews

Mod-3 Radius case for iPhone 5 review – The Gadgeteer

Mod-3 RADIUS case for iPhone 5: The most minimal case you’ll ever see – TUAW

Radius Case for iPhone 5 (Hands-on Review) –

Relate, repeat, and reframe to promote change

Dennis Sparks on re·sil·ience

People can change the deep-rooted patterns of how they think, feel, and act.

— Alan Deutschman

In Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life Alan Deutschman explains that people are influenced to change through three linked elements he describes as relate, repeat, and reframe. Relate underscores the importance of sustained relationships with individuals and groups that inspire and sustain hope and provide support. Such relationships can be formed with teachers, mentors, support groups, or communities, among others. Repeat means learn, practice, and master new skills until they become habits. And reframe means providing others ways to think about a situation. Because established frames resist facts and reasoned arguments, deep-rooted beliefs and conceptual frameworks must be identified and altered to support desired changes.

Although Change or Die is not explicitly about education, it explains why well-intentioned innovations expire rather than thrive. A problem, Deutschman says…

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Olympic Medals and Test Scores

For two weeks every couple of years many countries get involved in counting medals earned by their Olympic athletes. One of several problems this brings up is how does one determine an accurate medal court? You can stack countries in a number of ways; total number of medals, total gold medals or some arbitrary point value attributed to each different medal. In a Fibonacci weighted point system (3:2:1) a gold might be worth 3 points, a silver 2 points, and bronze 1 point. Perhaps an exponential weighted point system (4:2:1) where each medal is worth twice as much as the one below. So a  gold is worth 4 points, a silver 2 points, and bronze 1 point.

First of all, let’s be clear that the IOC has no part in this and has made a point of stating that medal ranking is a media fabricated event. The Olympic Charter states: “The IOC and the (organizing committee of the Olympic Games) shall not draw up any global ranking per country.”

Does this sound like some other media fabrication that happens every fall where schools and districts are ranked based on provincial or state testing? 

Any way you slice it you end up with an artificial, media created ranking. Just like with schools, most provincial and state tests do not support the manipulation that media outlets choose to spin. The idea of selling houses based on school rankings is as absurd as ranking a country based on their medal count. Is a country with more gold medals better than any other? Is a student who achieves at a certain level better than any one else? I hope not.

So if you get all up in arms about school rankings based on provincial tests, shouldn’t you be just as upset that the media ranks how well your country performs against others every couple of years?

Reflection on the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute


iTeach with iPads

Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words-Rumi

Words.  So plentiful and easy to use in most situations…but what about those events in life for which there are no adequate words?  Those events that color your world and leave you transformed in such a way that defy explanation…

IMG_1925As I sit on the plane returning home from Austin, Texas, I am reflecting on just such an event.  6 days ago, I arrived in Austin to attend the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute.  Over 400 select educators from the United States, Canada and Mexico came together for a week of professional development, deep conversations, reflective practice and authoring.  I know when I get home, I am going to have several people ask me about the experience and that’s where things get difficult.  The adjectives I use will be inadequate to describe the week. …

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Thanksgiving Dinner as Action Research

Large gatherings of really clever people provide fabulous opportunities to connect on many different levels. On occasion you might be lucky enough to engage in a transformational conversation with a critical friend that can help not only define your one best thing, but also remove the vaseline from the reflective lens and clarify a previously blurry path.

I was fortunate enough to have just such an experienced the other evening with ADE Phyllis Brodsky from Tucson AZ. We were talking about changing our assessment methods and the impact it was having on our practice and on our students. As I was listening to Phyillis I found myself making both social and temporal connections to my own experiences with action research. The conversational path took us to Thanksgiving dinner. It occurred to both of us that Thanksgiving dinner was a perfect metaphor for the teacher as a reflective practitioner, and it, in fact had many of the essential components of the action research process.

Every year you plan on a Thanksgiving dinner that’s going to be better than the year before. Every year you try to add something new to Thanksgiving dinner. As a practitioner you are driven by the iterative nature of the process in that progressive understanding grows from cycles of inquiry. The reflective process is most powerful when it cycles back, reviews and builds on each successive inquiry. In the Thanksgiving metaphor such iterative reflective work is facilitated by regular and consistent analysis of what dish and to what degree your guests are enjoying the meal.

Action research needs to be reasoned in that frequent analysis drives deep learning. Is there particular evidence of a student’s thinking and learning enough to draw general conclusions about what has been learned? How widely can an accepted practice can be applied in a specific instance with particular students in a classroom? There is also a reciprocal component to teacher inquiry in that theory and practice connect dynamically. Does the Thanksgiving recipe translate into a good meal?

What are some of our next steps? I think as reflective practitioners we need to be better at leaving a trail of bread crumbs, or stuffing in this case, that documents our journey. We need to make an effort to journal about our efforts and document the impact or instructional choices are having on our students, and on ourselves. We rely too heavily on our memory to rationalize our instructional decisions while we are sticklers for collecting multiple samples of evidence of student learning, sometimes on a weekly basis. If we are to accurately reflect on our journey we need to keep a record of it.

So my appeal to you is this; journal digitally or analog, use audio or video like ADE Reshan Richards, or perhaps draw something like ADE Brad Ovenell-Carter. It doesn’t matter. Document your own learning in whatever way is sustainable. Then in November (or October) we can sit down to the best Thanksgiving dinner ever. Until next year.

Shift Happens

This year was a big shift for students in our class. We made a deliberate shift from textbook learning to a much more inquiry based, authentic learning classroom focus. The shift was a challenge for many students.

Overheard in the fall,

“Can’t we just do worksheets in math?”

Overheard yesterday,

“I’m so excited. Tomorrow we have a double math period!”

Perhaps the First 5 Days really takes 5 months. This is due in large part to my PLN in the Twitterverse for helping me stay the course and keeping the focus on the moral imperative.

‘Twas the day before Christmas break

We had a very spirited discussion today in our table groups. It was a perfect example of accountable talk.

The students were writing their response to the following question,

By controlling medical research funds, you are in a position to guarantee that a cure will be found in 15 years for any disease you choose. Unfortunately, no progress on any others would be made during that period. Would you target one disease?

It really didn’t matter what they decided. The point of the exercise was to have them state a clear opinion and support it. Students faced off in an oral display of give and take. Everyone was respectful of the opposing opinions, yet held steadfastly to their own beliefs. Even at the end of the period when one student remarked, “We really didn’t get anything done this period” one of her friends countered with, “But we have so much more to write about now”.

It’s starting to come together.

Finally, a blog post

So here’s the deal. I’m a bit impatient when it comes to some things.

“How long is that download going to take?”

“Come on, boot up faster”

“Seriously? Six months until the next OS update?”

Interestingly though I find myself patient when driving in traffic and generally calm when waiting in line for things.

One thing that really gnaws away at my low frustration tolerance shortcoming is change. Change in myself and other people. I want it all to happen faster. Not only do I want it to happen faster I want it to mesh perfectly with my utopian ideals of the way things should be. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

It took me a couple of months to realize that this was contributing to the dissonance around my classroom practice this term. People weren’t buying what I was selling. BYOD didn’t happen in the first week. I wasn’t able to successfully flip my classroom by the end of September. I wasn’t instantly faced with a class full of inquiry-based learners. The shift in the culture of assessment didn’t happen overnight.

Okay, I realize I was foolish to think that any of those things were going to change right away. Still, why wouldn’t you want to do things easier and better? Ongoing descriptive feedback moves student learning forward much more effectively than a series of end-of-unit tests. Three-part math lessons help students construct a much deeper understanding of mathematical concepts than consecutive pages of drill exercises in a textbook. Why not opt for a more effective way to do things?

I guess I’ll have to channel my best Andy Dufresne and patiently chip away at the old constructs before change can occur. That’s not too much to ask, is it?