Monday 18 December 2017

iPad Pro Quick Review

The Verge Review

So, I have had some time to get my hands nice and dirty with the new(ish) iPad Pro 10.5” over the last few days. I had been using the previous model for about 6 months and as a self-confessed Android-guy, I must admit that I had fallen in love with it just a little bit...But this new model takes it to a whole new level!

I am typing this post on the Smart Keyboard which attaches via the smart connector and makes for a nice upgrade from the ZAGG Folio I had been using. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the actual typing experience of the ZAGG as the keys had slightly more travel and resemble a traditional keyboard more than the soft keys of the Smart Keyboard. But the clincher for me is that thanks to its physical connection, there is no delay when using the keyboard.

I am also noticing the extra screen real estate on the newer model - this is achieved without really increasing the overall size of the device by making the bezels smaller and the extra inch or so is actually quite noticeable.

Although my iPad will be used mostly for work, I have installed quite a few entertainment apps like PLEXDSTV Now and Showmax and even a few games (yes, I am a big kid!) and I must say that the experience is better than you would find on any other tablet. As Marques Brownlee says in his review, it is pretty much the best tablet money can buy at the moment.

The Apple Pencil is an accessory that many would consider unnecessary, but I have found that I use it all the time! There are tons of great apps out there for taking notes, and I even use the free Evernote app to create simple flow diagrams or write lists.

Overall, I have been VERY impressed with the new iPad Pro. The keyboard and pencil compliment the experience and truly moves it closer to the dream of ditching your laptop and making this your only machine. Now, if only they'd drop the price by a few thousand...

Speak soon,

Friday 1 December 2017


When cheeseburger emoji's become critically important, is that a sign of the times we live in???

This is of course in reference to @sundarpichai who tweeted (sarcastically, I hope!)

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday 17 October 2017

The next big thing

Waiting for the next big thing. Isn't that what we're all doing?

Every year tech giants release new versions of their flagship devices, and every year they make small incremental upgrades.

It's 0.1mm thinner!
It's got smaller bezels! (Frames around the screen for those who don't know!)
It's got a processor that's 10% faster!
It's got a bigger battery!
It's got no headphone jack! (Boooo!....)

Whoop-de-doo. I have never been someone who waits in line for the next iPhone, or rushes to buy a new release of a video game the day it hits store shelves. But lots of people do. Heck, you even have people who make a living waiting in line so others don't have to!

Tech hardware has reached something of a plateau in recent years. There really is not that much more that manufacturers can do to drastically improve the user experience from a hardware perspective.

And when it comes to increasing the use of technology in schools, it is a very similar story. I am approached on a regular basis by someone who wants to sell me something at a reduced rate (just to get a foothold in the market) and I am yet to see something that completely blows my mind.

Every publisher is trying to get into the e-books game, and each one is developing ways to augment the experience for both students and teachers. But every product is essentially the same, albeit some better (and more expensive!) than others.

So where should schools spend its money?...

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Thursday 14 September 2017

3 Tools to Untether Teachers

I have worked in many schools that rely heavily on the use of interactive whiteboard displays to promote engagement and student involvement in lessons. These boards serve a great purpose, but I often find high school teachers use it far less than their primary counterparts. Older students seem to quickly get over the novelty of being able or allowed to write on the board usually reserved for the teacher...

These days a lot of teachers are asking for something that would allow them to share their mobile device screens with the class. This would allow them the freedom to be more mobile and also break down the traditional barrier of the teacher's space being the front of the classroom. Below are a few options for you to try out.

Apple TV is a dedicated box that connects to your display and can catch streams from iOS devices. It allows you to watch movies or TV shows, but also works well with screen mirroring. It is expensive though, and exclusive to Apple Devices so make sure you are in the right environment before you dive into this one.

Monday 21 August 2017

Devices devices devices

For a self-confessed gadget geek, what can be more fun than the opportunity to test and play with a variety of cutting-edge (mostly!) devices? Well, getting to keep them all I guess!

Just recently we embarked on a journey to test devices for use by our teachers in the classroom. This is one of the first steps in our journey to embrace digital learning, and it is quite an exciting one!

We have bitten the bullet and purchased 7 devices that will be tested over the course of 7 weeks. And yes, because we bought them outright, we get to keep all of them! Even the ones we don't like...

Seven teachers will use each device for one week on a rotation system and complete a feedback survey at the end of each week, rating the device in terms of a variety of factors ranging from battery life all the way to ease of use. Already, after just one week, some practical design elements have been highlighted as being critical, but I won't spoil the surprise just yet.

Why are we going about it this way, I hear you ask? Surely there must be hundreds of schools that have embarked on similar journeys - could we not just use their experiences as a platform to make our own decision? Well, no. We have identified that we are a school with unique characteristics. We have a body of students that come from a largely comfortable financial demographic, an exciting mix of young and more experienced teachers, and an academic record that is second to none. All of these factors contributed to our decision to undergo our own rigorous testing to evaluate exactly what it is we need and what would have the biggest impact on improving outcomes for our students.

I would love to know what you guys think based on your own experiences? Are we going about things in the right way? What can we expect from our endeavour? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday 5 July 2017

Plickers vs Clickers

So, much like a few schools I know of, we own a set of "clickers".

If you don't know what I'm talking about, think of the popular game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and the "Ask the Audience" bit and you've got the gist of it. It basically allows teachers to quickly gauge student progress and have results displayed immediately. Very nice. The problem with these systems is that they are expensive (we paid around R30,000 for ours) and most schools have only one set that needs to be booked out well in advance. For most teachers, it is simply not worth the hassle.

Welcome to the arena: I have only just started using it myself recently, but already the teachers at my school are in love with the idea and have been using it very successfully over the course of the last couple of weeks. The idea is very much the same as with traditional clickers, although this is what could be called a "low-tech" option. Why? Because all you need is ONE device (a smartphone or tablet will do nicely) and a set of printed cards for each class. Each student is assigned a specific card and they respond to multiple choice questions by holding up the card to the teacher. Their answer depends on the orientation of the card (see image below), as the 4 sides of the image on the card each represent answers A, B, C or D.
An example of plickers card. In this example, the answer would be "B". 

The teacher then simply holds up his/her device and captures the answers which are displayed in real time on the board behind him/her. NEAT!

My experience with it has been near flawless. All it needs is a little advanced planning to think up the questions ahead of time (although I did add one or two in the spur of the moment as well!) and voila!

Here is the result of one of my questions:

A word of warning: Plickers or any similar tool should be used like most things - with moderation.
A recent article on Edutopia discussed research that indicates "...while clickers seem to boost students’ ability to retain factual knowledge, that may come at the cost of deeper conceptual understanding."

you've been wared! But...happy plicking!

'till next time.


Sunday 4 June 2017

Google Drive Extension for Office

In the tech world, when you come across something that has been around for a while, it is like arriving at a party an hour late. You feel a little bit silly for having missed out on some of the initial fun, but it doesn't really matter if the rest of the party is amazing!

This is how I felt last week when I discovered the Google Drive plugin for Office. I have had many discussion with teachers who love the idea of using GSuite to store and access files from anywhere, but prefer using their trusted Office formats. Using Microsoft's Office365 has been the obvious solution, but for schools who use GSuite as their platform of choice, this becomes more of an issue. 

By installing the Google Drive plugin for Office, users have the option to save files directly into their Google Drive from within Word, Powerpoint or Excel.

This is a game changer for some people who would previously dismiss the idea of using Google to store their files as they are not happy using Docs, Slides or Sheets. I am a massive fan of being able to use software the way you would like to, and not ONLY the way the creators intended! 

Well done el Goog and el Micro-suave!

Hope this helps some of you out there!

'till next time.


Sunday 14 May 2017

Little kids and tech - are we doing it right?

Animal Cards

I can't remember where I heard this story, but it's a good one. A father wasn't sure why his big 50" TV had all these horizontal smudge marks across the bottom of the screen. That was, until one day he saw his 3-year-old walk up to the TV and try to "swipe" across the screen to change the channel from the news his dad was watching!

Our children are digital natives. They grow up knowing what apps are, and NOT knowing what a phone with a cord looks like. We need to embrace this fact rather than think of ways to prevent it from happening - it is an inevitable process that will happen regardless of what we think of it.

But do we, as parents or educators, leverage this attitude and familiarity with technology to create amazing learning opportunities for our young children?

Wednesday 3 May 2017

GIF's are great for explaining what you mean!

Over the last few months I have been experimenting with different ways to create short, quick tech tips for my teachers. I have tried video tutorials, emails, hyperdocs, interactive PDF's (more to follow on some of these) and most recently started experimenting with GIF's.

Now, I have used GIF's before, but have always found them slightly cumbersome to create. then last week, after reading about LOOPY on Lifehacker, I discovered a tool that makes creating a GIF super easy.

Licecap let's you record any area on your screen (like many popular screencasting apps do) and outputs to GIF format immediately. You can decide on how many frames per second you want the playback to be (this will have an impact on how smooth it will appear, at the cost of increased file size) and also the size of the window you want to capture.
The response I have had from teachers has been VERY positive. As an example, I had sent out some written instructions on how to change the view in Outlook. One teacher struggled, but after sending a GIF demonstrating how to do it, she managed it without a hitch. She emailed back straight away with a massive thank you!

How do you use GIF's to enhance your teaching?

Let me know in the comments below.

'till next time.

Tuesday 11 April 2017

AR and VR - what is all the fuss about?

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Google Apps for Education (GAFE - now better known as GSuite) Summit in Cape Town. It consisted of 2 days packed full of learning, with keynotes, presentations and sessions led by both local and international Educational Technology experts. We had Jay Atwood (@jayatwood) and Rafranz Davis (@RafranzDavis) from the States, as well as many local teachers aiming to enhance the use of technology in schools by sharing some of what they do.

One of the sessions that I was particularly keen to attend, was led by Karen Walstra (@KarenWalstra) and touched on the use of AR and VR to enhance the learning in the classroom. Despite working in a secondary school, it struck me that these two technologies could possibly be used very effectively in primary school with how some of the apps available could really bring the learning to life.

What you need to make the most of these apps is a smartphone or tablet (for AR) and an Android smartphone and some VR glasses for the virtual reality apps. These glasses can be had fairly cheaply if you opt for something like the Google Cardboard and you could probably get it even cheaper if you shop around or buy in bulk.

Keep reading below to discover how some of these amazing apps could liven up your classroom. 

Monday 3 April 2017

Are we getting the most out of Edutech conferences?

Ted Talks

Ted Talks. Technology Conferences. Google Apps events. Microsoft Educator training sessions. Apple Classroom introductions. It seems teachers have a plethora of options available to them when it comes to developing their tech knowledge. But what makes a good training session or a great conference?

I pose a few questions that may help to guide your thinking when it comes to solving this conundrum.

Monday 20 March 2017

Think outside the box.

I am always amazed when I get to watch someone who is truly talented in their field, regardless of what that may be. One of my kids' favourite things is watching "people are awesome" videos on Youtube. The extreme dedication id takes to perfect your craft is something that I admire in extreme sports athletes.

Tuesday 14 March 2017

Automation for teachers - if you're not using it, you're missing out.

How long would you wait in line for a cup of coffee?

I'm pretty sure the average person's answer to that question would be different now than it would've been ten or fifteen years ago. These days, everything happens faster. We no longer have ridiculously slow dial-up connections for the internet, Amazon deliveries take mere hours to arrive and we can watch that movie now instead of waiting for it to come on after the news tonight. And it's great. But do you know what's even greater than things happening quickly? When they happen AUTOMATICALLY.

Today I'll share a few of my favourite ways to set up automated tasks that will shave valuable time so that you have more time to do the things that actually matter. Like finishing season 6 of Game of Thrones before the new season starts...

1. IFTTT (If this then that)

Thursday 9 March 2017

Teachers: Unleash the power of your phone!

How to use cell phones in the classroom! 


Top 10 ways to engage students using their phones!

These are the kind of headlines you will find quite often when trawling the interwebs. But how often do we think about how a mobile device can actually make a teacher's life easier? Here are 5 ways your cell phone can save you time and energy...and maybe even allow you to squeeze in an extra cup of coffee!

1. Access your files in a pinch

Whether you use Google Drive (part of the newly named GSuite), Apple's iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive or any other cloud-based storage, these can all be accessed using your smartphone when you are not in front of a connected computer. This happens more often than you might think, especially if you are one of the unlucky "floating" teachers without their own classroom. Being able to jot down scores in a spreadsheet or quickly share a presentation with a colleague before a meeting without having to rush around to find a computer is a great time saver. Phones will never be as good for productivity as an actual computer with a keyboard, but are great in situations like this.

Thursday 2 March 2017

Tools for stunning visual presentations

I've written before about the importance of engaging your audience visually during a presentation, and I wanted to share a great way that makes it easy to include stunning visuals in your next PowerPoint, Keynote or Google Slides presentation.

When I taught presentation skills to groups of 17-year-old high school students, I realised that these kids were never taught the importance of having a visual aid that helps to enhance the message you're trying to get across. Their first instinct was to include a lot of words in their slides, which of course means everyone was reading rather than listening.

I wish I had known then about the two platforms I want to mention today - Canva and Visme. I have used both of these recently with great success, and I think teachers and anyone looking to deliver a visually stunning presentation should look into what these products have to offer. Both offer a free service, with some added benefits when upgrading to the paid tier. Both offer a simple drag and drop interface and make it very easy to customize your elements by changing size, colour or font.

Monday 20 February 2017

5 Ways to deliver punchy presentations.

It is very difficult at the best of times to have a positive frame of mind on a Friday afternoon when you're sitting at a staff development meeting. Making sure you get the most out of the training provided means keeping an open mind, having a positive attitude and trying your best not to think about the cold beer waiting for you when you get home!

Unfortunately, no matter how good or relevant the topic being covered is to you, a poorly presented session will undoubtedly mean you are not getting out of it what the organisers intended. Here are a 5 ways to ensure you keep your attendees focused during the presentation and talking about it to their friends and colleagues afterwards.

1. KISS (Keep it simple, stupid)

An overused cliché that still rings true. Trying to convey 13 separate points in a brief 1 hour 20 minute session is impossible - at best your audience will remember the first and the last point. Instead, keep your message short and to the point. Identify a few key things and maybe expand on each a little.

Thursday 16 February 2017

The teacher's dilemma

How can we prepare students for standardised tests at the end of high school and still teach them valuable 21st Century Skills necessary to be successful in the job market?

Teachers often have to balance these two aspects: teaching their students what they will need to know to perform well at the end of the year versus giving them the skills needed to succeed in life. The pressure from school management is immense and teachers will rely on what they know when the going gets tough. Trying to find new and interesting ways to get students working together and solving problems quickly falls by the wayside when the pressure is on. 

This approach may be successful in the short term, but in a world where robotics and AI is fast becoming commonplace, the need for modern-day skills becomes even greater.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

If change was easy, I wouldn't have to write about it!

Change management.

A buzz word you will see on many a CV out there in the wild. But what does it mean in a practical, day-to-day working environment? I hope to talk a little bit about it from my perspective as a Tech Integrator in an educational setting.

The phrase in my job description of “integrating modern technology” would immediately make it clear that some form of change management would need to occur, and boy, do teachers just love change...Warning: a sweeping statement is about to follow.

Friday 3 February 2017

RGHSTechtips social media

Part of my role as tech integrator is to run the RGHSTechtips Youtube and Twitter channels.  Please feel free to check them out and stay up to date on the latest tips for an integrated classsroom.

Thursday 26 January 2017

Start of something new...

Hello World!

Creating and running a blog is something that many people have attempted to do, but quite often it starts off with a bang and then fades away reasonably quickly. With this blog, I am going to attempt to buck the trend and update regularly - using it as a place to document my experiences as a Technology Integration Specialist and hopefully offer some advice on what works and what doesn't!

I will aim to provide regular tips that I have found to make my life easier, as well as those of the teachers in my school. My background as a classroom teacher means that I know what works practically in the classroom, and that I will not recommend or endorse something just because it is the latest fad in a fast growing industry.

G Suite for Education is reportedly being used by over 70 Million people, and Microsoft Classroom is also picking up steam thanks to their foothold and experience in enterprise. We are currently running a trial of both of these systems, with a small pilot group of teachers using either one or both with their classes. We are hoping to establish which one of these cloud-based solutions will provide us with the best way to take learning outside the classroom.

I will be updating our progress regularly, so stay tuned!

'till next time.