The Future of Tablets — and More

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Recent news of a drop in iPad sales1 by Apple triggered some thoughts. Reporting that educational sales of iPads are still on the rise prompted more thinking. Then, I found that some of our customers had a very interesting response to our queries about this area.

We deliver our software as HTML5, making updates unnecessary and allowing for the software to run on any platform: iPad, iPhone, Android device, Chromebook, MacBook, MS Surface, Linux desktop, etc. We can readily convert the software to an iOS app and to an Android app. The question we asked is, “Should we?” The answer, at least from schools, was as resounding “No!”

ipad oct2014

Making predictions is a very risky business, if you care about your credibility. I am going out on a very long limb by making two predictions for the future. Any number of new developments can make these predictions wildly inaccurate or could cement their certainty.

The first prediction is that iPads will continue the decline in sales and eventually level off. There will be some bumps in this path, of course, but the overall process is one of stagnation at best. The article gives some reasons. For example, people are not upgrading their old iPads as quickly as Apple had anticipated. An iPad is not an iPhone and does not engender the mass hysteria with respect to new versions that you see with such a constantly visible status symbol as your cell phone.

Those tablets also don’t have as many preferred uses as many had predicted. Most who can afford an iPad also have a “real” computer that they use for power applications such as word processing. The tablet is mostly used for videos, music, email, texting (when not using the cell phone for that), and so on. In brief, tablets are not supplanting computers in large numbers. Given a computer and a cell phone, with screen size growing apace, the tablet is the “middle child” and is unnecessary to everyday functioning. It’s too large to carry in your pocket and too small for many serious uses.

The above is not to suggest that tablets will vanish, only that they will settle into a niche market until someone radically changes the interface. The touchscreen is magic for young children and some applications. My grandchildren took to them like kids to candy, even at ages 3 and 5. Still, a touchscreen interface can only take you so far. Adding three-finger gestures really doesn’t make it that exciting. The problems lie in two primary areas: screen size and computing power (CPU and memory). The apps for them have been designed to use what’s available.  Continue reading

Technology Is a Partial Answer to Improving Teacher Quality

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

On October 29, the New York Times published an op-ed by Frank Bruni1 that is based on a new book by Joel Klein (past chancellor of New York City Public Schools) and that has plenty of advice for educators. According to Bruni, Klein tells us that the primary issue in education is teacher quality.

Bruni’s analysis of Klein’s writing is good enough that everyone should read it and read between the lines too. Bruni also had the opportunity to interview Klein and asked some penetrating questions. Here are some bullet points that I have excerpted from the article:

• Stiffen the admission requirements for schools of education.
• Fix education school curricula, including ensuring teachers master their subjects.
• Create a rational incentive system for compensating teachers, a huge problem today.

You can read the article for the details. What does all of this have to do with technology? A great deal, actually, and in two important areas. The first area is teacher training. We can do much in this area, both with simulating teacher classroom experiences and with mastering subject matter. We currently train pilots with simulators before putting them in airplanes. The same thing could be done for teachers to help them more rapidly reach competency with student interaction, discipline, and engagement.

I am only intimately familiar with science education and can say that we have some great tools to advance science teacher understanding of their subjects. Too many science teachers enter classrooms unprepared to teach science for the simple reason that they do not understand the nature of science. It’s sort of like teaching chess without knowing how the pieces move. We can fix that.  Continue reading

The Crinkle-Free Pocket Map – Google Maps

Allison Turgeon 80By Allison Turgeon
Student
University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Struggling with a cumbersome paper map is difficult and inconvenient, and then it begins to rain. Google Maps is a user-friendly alternative, a technological tool that can be accessed via a computer or a mobile device, compatible with both Android and iOS operating systems. This app offers users a variety of functions, increasing versatility and convenience. It is an innovative and handy tool that assists users in more than just arriving at their desired destination with great ease.

Google MapsWith Google Maps, users can type or say a street address, a point of interest, or a named location into the search bar. Kapi’olani Community College classmate, Kelsey Hardee, says, “Now that I have a moped, I love the voice option so I can be directed hands free!” Google Maps locates the destiantion on a map. From here, users have the option to seek driving, transit, walking, or biking directions. With multiple routes, users can select the one that is most convenient and meets their needs. After selecting their desired route, the application offers directions to the desired destination or an option to hear turn-by-turn navigation instructions, similar to those of a standalone GPS system. Additional features include satellite imagery, allowing users to access a street-view of the area, a particularly useful function that helps to increase visual familiarity of an area.

A recently added feature allows Google Maps users to explore nearby businesses, including eateries, hotels, malls, and other points of interest. This feature is complete with consumer ratings and reviews, business information such as hours and contact information, and driving, walking, biking, or transit directions to visit the point of interest. According to David Pogue of the NY Times, “Google’s points-of-interest database also excels.” While other apps offer a similar feature, many of them actually access Google Maps to provide location and directions. Google Maps is more effective and convenient since it reduces the number of steps in the process.  Continue reading

All Rise! – Ergonomics and Back Pain

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

A few years ago I went to the Rutherford B. Hayes House in Fremont, OH. (In case you are wondering why, I had a friend who worked there at the time.) One of the things that struck me was his standing desk. When I first saw it, I assumed it was a podium for lecturing, but my friend informed me that, no, it was the desk where he often worked. Other than Thomas Wolfe (of Look Homeward Angel fame), who apparently wrote standing at his refrigerator, I had never heard of anyone standing and writing or doing other paperwork. I decided it must just be easier for tall people somehow and did not give it another thought.

Illustration from Brett and Kate McKay's "Become a Stand-Up Guy: The History, Benefits, and Use of Standing Desks," Art of Manliness, 5 July 2011.

Illustration from Brett and Kate McKay’s “Become a Stand-Up Guy: The History, Benefits, and Use of Standing Desks,” Art of Manliness, 5 July 2011.

Then, a couple of years ago I started having back and neck problems. I spend many hours, like many modern people, sitting in front of a computer for hours on end. After several doctor visits, I started changing the way I worked. The doctor gave me a website that would show me how to properly (ergonomically1) adjust my workspace. She also recommended a timer for my computer that covers your screen for a few minutes every so often. I did not do that, but I did start taking more frequent breaks. I mentally break my work into segments depending on what I am doing. When I reach the bottom of a page, I take a break. When I have completed five PowerPoint slides, I take a break. After I have graded so many pages, I take a break. Sometimes, I’ll just stand up and sit down, but I try to get up and at least walk into another room.

The doctor also showed me some folding shelves that you can mount on the wall at the appropriate height for standing and working on your computer. I didn’t buy one, but I did set up my iPad on a chest high bookshelf. Then, rather than checking my email while I was sitting and working on my laptop, I started checking my email on the iPad so that I would have to stand up and walk over to it and stand as I read and responded to emails.

I still have problems with my neck and hips, but there is a definite improvement. When I am in a situation, such as a hotel room, where I cannot set up my equipment as ergonomically, I can definitely feel a difference. Then I have to be conscious of taking those stand up breaks.

The reason this topic came up is that I ran across an article, “How Standing Desks Can Help Students Focus in the Classroom,” by Holly Korbey at MindShift.

I learned that many famous people, including Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Dickens, used standing desks. Korbey focuses on a study done by Mark Benden, Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at Texas A&M Health Science Center. He and his team believe that too much sitting contributes to a variety of problems that children have in school, as well as to obesity. They found that elementary students who stand up more to work burned more calories and were more engaged in learning when they could stand and move around. As an educator, this makes sense to me. Children need to move and twitch and fidget. And, maybe, adults do, too.

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1 For more on ergonomics, see “Ergonomic Workstation Guidelines,” North Carolina State University.

What’s This Song Called? – SoundHound App Review

Scott Miyahira 80By Scott Miyahira
Student at Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

We’ve all been there. You’re shopping in the grocery store, sitting in your car, or watching television at home, and a catchy tune floats into your ear. You listen intently and maybe even bob your head to the beat. You’re really getting into this song you’re hearing for the first time, but before you know it, it’s over, and you have no idea what you just heard. Like a sappy romance film cliché, you’ve fallen in love and don’t know if you’ll ever meet again. You ask your friends, but no one seems to know either. You didn’t even get a name…

All melodrama aside, those days are over thanks to SoundHound. For any music lover on the go, it is the best mobile music identification software available.

SoundHoundSoundHound is a free mobile application, universally compatible with iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows devices. When you want to know the title, artist, or lyrics of a song, all it takes is a tap on the screen of the SoundHound app and it will identify it for you in as little as three to ten seconds. I am an avid music listener and collector with nearly four thousand tracks on my iPhone alone, and I am constantly looking to add to my collection. However, keeping up with ever-changing music trends and artists can be extremely difficult. SoundHound allows me to quickly identify new songs I hear and like or songs I recognize but can’t identify, thus enabling me to look them up and potentially add them to my ever-expanding library. I must shamefully admit that, for these reasons, SoundHound has become one of the most frequently used apps on my phone, beating out productivity and informational apps.  Continue reading

Rarely Do I Download an App and Keep It, but When I Do — It’s a Keeper!

John Palmer F2014 80By John Palmer
Student at Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

Living in today’s high-tech world, it’s almost a silly question. Have you ever forgotten the password to your FaceBook login, eBay log-in, WordPress page or your “other” email account? Of course you have. Everyone has, myself included! But what if there was an app, and all you needed to do was remember one password, and it, in turn, would be the key to getting into every other app, website or even bank account you use? Keeper is an app for saving passwords that is a time-saver and highly useful.

KeeperRarely do I download an app or software that I cannot live without, but Keeper is such an application. Why? Keeper remembers everything so I don’t have to. I have used it for many years to remember (and protect) passwords to my bank account, log-ins to websites, even to pay my electric and phone bills. You can completely eliminate the risk of your cookie data being robbed when using it on your PC or MAC since it stores data like a database, as opposed to a web page, which leaves your information open to bots that comb and steal cookie data, making you, that’s right, say it with me people — vulnerable. In fact, the cross-platform compatibility is so great that it works on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, even your Kindle or Nook.

The browser version works on Safari, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox. It also uses world-class encryption technology so you never have to worry about all of your private information being hacked. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that if you aren’t already using this great app, next to your social media, email, and phone (and notwithstanding Flappy Bird, but that’s another story), you will without a doubt find yourself using this app often.  Continue reading

The ‘Fury’ of War Tanks

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

The new Hollywood movie, FURY, focuses on tanks, their role, and tank crews in World War II. This 2-hour 14-minute film opens in theaters on Friday, 17 Oct. 2014. It stars Brad Pitt, a sure audience draw, playing the somewhat complex leader of the five-man crew of the FURY, a Sherman tank. If you go to this movie, watch Logan Lerman as Normal Ellison. He almost steals the show.

The movie starts in April 1945, near the end of the European part of World War II. VE (Victory in Europe) day is celebrated here as May 8, 1945. It’s spring, and everything is mud, mud, mud. American troops are in Germany by this time, and the famous Battle of the Bulge ended a few months earlier. German troops are now defending their homeland ferociously.

FURY, a Sherman tank.

FURY, a Sherman tank.

The main character of this movie truly is FURY, at least for me, and really did steal the show when I watched. The tank used in the filming was real, supplied by the Tank Museum in Bovington, England, a late-war Sherman with a 76mm gun. That’s the big gun on the turret. The inside shots were done in a specially created set that could open up in several directions for the different shots. The entire set was mounted on a gimbal that could move it for the inside shots where the tank was in motion. If you think that the inside of that tank looks really crowded, you should know that it was made 10% larger than the real thing.

Before discussing tanks in more detail, I should warn potential movie goers that this is a very violent movie with lots of grisly scenes, very grisly, and plenty of profane language in nearly every scene. Interestingly, there is no explicit sex.

For those who don’t mind the above, this is truly a riveting and tense movie. There’s little let up in the tension that begins with the first scene. I found it difficult to turn away from the screen even when the most horrific scenes took place. The characters are interesting but, except for Pitt (playing Wardaddy) and Lerman, they’re not plumbed deeply. Even Wardaddy, who says, “It’s my home” about the tank, never has this aspect explained, except implicitly. We are left to wonder if this attachment came about over time or from a single incident. We also are given no clue as to how he became fluent in German.

One more “character” in the movie is the entire FURY tank crew of five. The examination of the development of this team and its personality helps to make up for not looking more deeply into the individual characters because it’s the team and the tank that count in the end.

My favorite quote, again from Wardaddy, “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent,” sums up the movie. Get ready for a Hollywood ride.

Back to the tanks — we’re still using those old machines today. The first were used in World War I a century ago and were rather primitive. They were little more than mobile armored weapons and personnel protectors to move troops across the no-man’s land between trenches while withstanding the machine gun fire and easily trampling the extensive barbed wire fences for the following ground troops. The WWII tanks were much more powerful and versatile and formed the mainstay of many land operations. In the movie, we see quite a few German officers at the front on horseback. This contrast of horse and tank may be intended to suggest that tanks will soon go the way of the horse.

David 'Sting' Rae, center, with the crew on set.

David ‘Sting’ Rae, center, with the crew on set.

To have a better idea of what the past and present role of the tank is in warfare and what the future may bring, I interviewed David “Sting” Rae, a technical consultant for the movie. Mr. Rae sees a continuing role for tanks in the military. According to Mr. Rae, “The US Marines reinvented the role of the tank in Fallujah during the Iraq conflict where it proved almost decisive in breaking the will of the insurgents and allowing the infantry to take and hold ground.”  Continue reading

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