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) –

Why Go BYOD?

Going BYOD
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I’ve been actively making pictures since my dad let me use his Kodak Brownie Hawkeye back in the day. I immediately began to push the limits of what this camera could do. Sports photography was one of my early interests and this camera was particularly ill suited to that kind of photography. Kodak designed this primarily to make pictures of the family or other still life, not for action. Still, I kept at it, essentially trying to use a tool for something other than what it was intended for. A few years later I bought my first 35mm camera, a Practika L. Now I had something that I could grow with and wouldn’t limit me in my creative pursuits. More to the point, it made WAY better pictures than the Kodak.

Now I really don’t consider myself any sort of expert in photography. I often need to remind myself that it’s just a hobby and it’s probably a dumb idea to drop three grand on a Nikon D800. I do however enjoy making pictures that are clear, sharp, have good colour and generally as high an image quality as I can get. For this reason I avoid using my phone as a camera whenever possible.

Yes, I’ve heard all the preaching about the best camera is the one you have with you. Yes I know that cameras in some phones are rivalling the quality of low end point and shoots. Yes I’m aware the iPhone4 is the most popular camera on Flickr. Here’s the thing, I’m still not buying this “convergence of devices” idea quite yet. Phones may be great for snapshots, much like my Kodak Brownie was. For anything more robust I’ll use my Canon S90. It’s almost as pocketable as a phone and I pretty much carry it with me all the time.

The big plus? It shoots RAW. This gives me the option of doing all sorts of things in post using Aperture. It’s the difference between developing my own film and printing in the darkroom vs. sending film out to be developed. It’s just something I really like doing.

Now I’m not saying that I’m never going to use my phone to make a picture, it’s just not my camera of choice. I also recognize that some very talented individuals can make some excellent photographs with their phones. I’m just choosing to use a different tool.

Can you teach 21C skills without technology?

Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies – it happens when society adopts new behaviours.
– Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, p. 160

So my colleague Cat Lee posted this on Twitter a while back, and it started me thinking. Right away I wanted to answer, “Yes” then thought that a question like this deserves a lot more critical thought. The question asks us to separate behaviour and learning from hardware. I’m okay with that.

With that in mind, what are the skills necessary to be a 21st century contemporary learner? There are more than enough lists to choose from and I don’t think any one particular set of skills can (or should) be ranked higher or lower than any other. Three general areas keep coming up over and over,

  • Foundational Knowledge
  • Meta-Knowledge
  • Humanistic knowledge

Students working in tomorrow’s marketplace are going to require creative and critical thinking skills, a broad inter-disciplinary base and they will need to be able to play well with others. I suppose these could all be taught to some degree of effectiveness without technology. I’m just not entirely sure that’s the best plan of attack.

Learn to Love the Database

I recently found that my iTunes library was living in two places. The media was divided on 2 hard drives. Everything was moving along nicely until I decided to retire one of the smaller hard drives. I copied files over with all diligence and everything seemed just fine. When I went to sync my iPod I found myself staring at all sorts of grey exclamation marks and a whole lot of empty playlists.

Knowing a bit about databases helped me get my library back in shape. In the past I’ve dabbled around with Filemaker Pro so I had a bit of prior knowledge with database structures. Nothing close to the expertise that my friend Andy possesses, but enough to get myself in and out of trouble. This ended up saving me hours that it would have taken trying to build my library from scratch and re-importing music.

I sometimes hear about problems with iTunes or iPhoto libraries and other databases. Understanding how they are structured makes sense to the developers, not always to us. I found that learning a bit of the rational behind the organization of databases gives me some peace of mind that my media is happy where it’s living.