Winter 2014 Tech Update

With another year nearly a wrap and the winter of 2014 upon us, it is time to reflect and recount recent Penn Manor IT projects. Summer 2013 was one of the busiest on record for the district, and the past several months have proven equally as exciting.

The summer teacher technology upgrade was completed when nearly 200 elementary and middle school teachers received Asus MeMO tablets. These Android powered 10” tablets are making regular appearances as part of classroom instruction and with special education services. Teachers are finding creative and inventive new ways of using Google Play apps with students. Huge thanks to district IT Specialists Jason Sauders, Shelby Foster and Tom Swartz for facilitating the tablet rollout, and for making the summer laptop upgrade happen so efficiently.

Much of the IT department’s work occurs behind the scenes. IT System Engineers Shawn Beard and Chad Billman completed a number of vital infrastructure upgrades and improvements including new network switches, server builds, and programming changes. Chad spearheaded the creation of Jenkins, a continuous integration server that will massively assist in the creation of new images for our Linux laptops. As December drew to a close, Shawn deftly migrated the district website to a new highly available cloud-hosted service via DigitalOcean.

Speaking of websites, our online viewership has continued to grow. The Penn Manor website received a record 744,000 visits. Thanks to the consistent efforts of our new Community Relations Coordinator, Brian Wallace, the Penn Manor Twitter account has rapidly reached over 860 followers.

The district also migrated to a new emergency calling system, SchoolMessenger. In addition to typical mass-notification services, the new system call home when a student is absent from school. We expect that the parent attendance calling features will be enabled in early 2014.

Open Campus, our online course partnership with Hempfield and Manheim Township continues to expand with new course offerings and increased student participation. Penn Manor student enrollment in Open Campus courses has grown to over 150 and total course requests for all three districts have approached 450. Thank you to Help Desk Specialist, Gina Brubaker, for helping Penn Manor and partner district students smoothly and successfully access and navigate their online courses.

Exploding PA Department of Education data reporting requirements consumes considerable district time and recourses. Our new Data Specialist, Dianne Bates, has rapidly mastered the intricacies of continually evolving PIMS submissions and expertly developed a PVAAS data plan for our student management system. In other data news, Dianne, Gina and Carol Alexander are working to create a fully online student registration process, which is scheduled to be unveiled in the spring of 2014.

Of course, the biggest story is the impending Penn Manor High School student 1:1 laptop program. After a year of planning, a successful fall pilot, dozens of hours of teacher professional development, multiple parent information sessions, student class meetings and great efforts from the Technology Team, we are on target to begin laptop distribution at the start of the second semester. IT Specialist Alex Lagunas has been doing outstanding work with the Penn Manor High School student technology apprentice team while preparing the final laptop software image, assisting with teacher PD sessions and troubleshooting existing building technical support issues. Thanks also to Shawn Canady, High School Teacher Technology Coach, for his role in planning and facilitating faculty professional development in support of the program.

Finally, a special shout-out to our students and staff–in the face of continuous change, they continuously demonstrate academic excellence. I am proud to collaborate with such outstanding students and staff!

Happy New Year!

Charlie

Photo Credit: torremountain cc

Education Apps for Android Starter Guide

Penn Manor School District recently distributed 200 Asus MeMO tablets to elementary and middle school teachers. To help our staff jump in and begin exploring, we developed a starter guide to highlight a few useful classroom apps. With over one million Android apps in the Google Play store, the sheer volume of content can be overwhelming. The attached guide helped our teachers focus their efforts. I suspect it may be useful to PM Techblog readers as well. Enjoy!

Teacher Apps For Android 2013

 

Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2013

As the holidays approach, the Penn Manor Technology Team begins to receive questions about affordable technology gift alternatives to iPads and traditional Apple and Windows laptops. Below is a updated version of the holiday tech gift guide email I sent to district staff; I hope it is helpful to Penn Manor families as well.

Google Chromebooks and Android tablets are priced significantly lower than equivalent Apple gear. Plus, there are over a million games and apps on Google Play, the alternative to Apple’s App Store. Google Play includes a huge catalog of music, movies and books. Just in time for Cyber Monday, here is a list of snazzy tech gifts for kids of all ages:

Android Tablets

Google Nexus 7

Nexus 7 is my top tablet recommendation for families. The new 2013 model has been updated with a fantastic HD screen, faster processor and a slimmer build. Consider the 32GB version, which should provide enough storage for a mountain of games, music and apps. For comparison, a 32GB Nexus 7 is priced at $269; the iPad mini with 32GB of memory is $499. Think of all the apps, games, books and stocking suffers you can buy with the $230 you save!

*As of November 30, 2013, Google is offering a $25 Play Store credit with the Nexus 7.

ASUS MeMO Pad 10

If you are looking for an affordable 10″ Android tablet, start with the ASUS MeMO. This tablet is about the same size as the new iPad Air and similar to the tablets teachers received as part of the summer 2013 update. MeMO battery life is over 10 hours and the processor is super snappy. Currently $299 on Amazon, this great 10″ HD tablet is half the price of a 32GB iPad Air!

Note that Android tablets double as eReaders; simply install the Kindle or Nook app to access books purchased via your Amazon or B&N account!

Google Chromebook Laptop

A Chromebook is a fast, lightweight laptop optimized for the web. Unlike traditional laptops, Chromebooks rely on Internet applications and online services rather than locally installed programs. Chrombooks are virus-free and offer excellent battery life. If you need a laptop for home web browsing, games, Facebook or Pinterest, the Chromebook is tough to beat.

Several new Chromebook models hit the streets this past year. Two models stand apart from crowd. The Acer C720 Chromebook is priced at $249 and includes an 11.6″ screen. HP offers a nice 14″ Chromebook for $299. You’ll find these and other Chromebooks on Google’s store.

Bonus! Gifts for Student Technology Enthusiasts

Opensource.com recently published an outstanding guide with 20 super-cool tech gifts for all budgets. Check it out here.