Microsoft Surface Pro for math?

I’ve been looking to replace our math department’s aging convertible tablet computers with something new for next school year. I was really excited about the Microsoft Surface Book, but found the detachable screen to be somewhat cumbersome. I also felt that through the process of pressing the eject button, waiting anywhere from 2 to 20 seconds, and manually turning the screen around, the screen would get dropped. The shell was somewhat slippery, and made it difficult to hold securely. So I shipped the demo unit back and picked up the Surface Pro 4 tablet instead.


I like nearly everything about the tablet, as far as the hardware goes. The hardware really has a top-shelf look and feel to it. Windows 10 however, seems to be rather bipolar with this whole “tablet mode” thing.  It really wants you to believe it’s a tablet, but all of the traditional Windows features are still there, just more difficult to find now.

My biggest complaint has to be with the on-screen keyboard. When in tablet mode the on-screen keyboard seems to work as it should – most of the time. When not in tablet mode and external keyboard not connected, the on-screen keyboard doesn’t show up when it should. You can manually launch the keyboard, but that doesn’t seem to be a consistent experience. In fact, I couldn’t get through the out of the box setup wizard without attaching the $129 (optional) keyboard cover.

As for using this with our math teachers, I’m not sure I can explain to them why Windows behaves the way it does. I really had high hopes for this system, but I feel like I will have to train users twice on this system. For someone switching from Windows 7, you have to learn Windows 10 AND this whole tablet mode.

Perhaps I’m making a bigger deal of it than it really is but shouldn’t technology be easy? I guess I expected more for my $1300 than I got.



Let’s write a positive AUP

This school year we have been working on revising our Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) as it hasn’t had a serious update in several years. As I’ve been reading through the policy, I realized just how negative the policy sounds – and it’s quite depressing. Fortunately students don’t actually read the policy, otherwise none of them would ever take the laptop that we issue to them. So, I decided that we needed to have a 1 page version of the policy, but it MUST have a positive message.

I found this graphic to be very similar to what I wanted, but I disagree with several of the items in the list. Not because they are “wrong answers,” but we cause many of those items are taught in some classes and I didn’t want to convey the wrong message.


Enter a caption

To see the original image, you can find it here from Bill’s Flickr page.

So I created a shared Google Doc with my staff asking for input for what we wanted our students to do, and not do with technology. We got quite a few items that I hadn’t thought of, and several duplicates. I boiled down the list and came up with 15 items for what we wanted them to do, and 9 that we didn’t want them to do. I sent a Google Survey out to my PLN, and to my staff. I also decided to send a copy of the survey to our student body, to see what students felt was important.

It was interesting because a couple items that staff had were not in the student top 8, and a couple from students were not in the staff top 8 items.

Here is what we came up with:

How should you use your technology?

I will:

  • Think critically
  • Make informed decisions
  • Make a difference
  • Find answers to their questions
  • Express their creativity
  • Explore possibilities
  • Become more organized
  • Act as respectful, responsible global citizens

I won’t:

  • Use technology illegally
  • Plagiarize
  • Lose focus from being productive
  • Inflict harm of any kind on anyone
  • Bully others
Note: This is a student friendly version of technology use examples. Students are still required to read and agree to the Acceptable Use of Technology policy that is on all student laptops, and print copies available upon request from the Technology Department.


We’re still working on a graphical version of this list that we can use as a poster, hand-out, or display on our digital signage system. Feel free to use the list as-is, or as a starting point for your own list!

Evernote revisited

Since my post about abandoning Evernote, I’ve since had a change of heart. I’ve tried various replacements, but nothing else fits into my daily workflow the way that Evernote did. Furthermore, I’ve switched from Android to iPhone and find that I love the interface.

That being said, I may just use something else while on the Chromebook due to the repeated loss of data. Perhaps the web interface is the way to go, and abandon the installed version for now.

Does network redundancy have a place in education?

After months of waiting for our telco provider, we finally got our Internet connection speed upgraded from 100 Mbps to 200 Mbps. The next phase in upgrading our school’s network involves upgrading our 5 year-old firewall to a new unit. When speaking to different sales engineers, they all asked if we wanted redundant firewalls. I hadn’t really put much thought into it before, but it really makes sense for education.



In your typical classroom there are (almost) always spare pencils, paper, textbooks or other learning materials. This way if the student forgets to bring their materials, learning can continue. For our 1:1 laptop program we have spare laptops for students who have forgotten their devices. What if our firewall dies? What if our wireless network controller were to crash? What if our Internet connection goes down for several hours? The answer to all of these is – learning stops.

Is $3,000 too much to spend on a redundant firewall? What about $4,000 for an extra wireless controller? I guess it depends who you ask. District administrators may think so, after all we’ve gotten by without it all these years. Now that we are relying on the Internet for high-stakes testing, online curriculum, and online gradebooks I’d say it’s a small price to pay.

For years now, servers include built-in redundancy to prevent downtime. Most of them had spare power supplies, hot swap hard drives, and RAID controllers to prevent data loss and downtime. Is it fair that we aren’t offering redundancy to our children’s education?

Why I’m done with Evernote

First let me say that I have been a faithful Evernote user for several years now. It has been my go-to application because it is cross-platform, and syncs my data to the cloud. I love Evernote, well I used to.


I recently purchased a Lenovo Yoga 11e Chromebook and have been using it on a very regular basis. Some Android apps have been allowed to run on Chromebooks, and Evernote was one of the first. A few times when taking notes at a meeting, I would flip to another application or step away for a short while only to find my latest notes to be gone. Today I was at a meeting and had to step out for a couple of minutes, so I shut the lid on the Chromebook. When I returned, I noticed that my most recent changes to the notes were missing.

It turns out that once a note has been edited, changes are only kept while the current window is open. If the window gets closed, or the device goes to sleep then the changes are gone. This is quite the opposite of how Google Docs works. I no longer feel that I can trust Evernote with my notes, and know they won’t disappear on me.

So long Evernote! It’s been a good ride but unless you can save my notes on the fly, I won’t be coming back.

I’m open to suggestions for a replacement. Tweet them to @johncase142 or leave a comment.

I’m proud of you!

Sometimes those are the words that you just need to hear.

A couple weeks ago I reconnected with my high school golf coach on Facebook.  Dave was the PGA pro at our local golf course, and I had known him a little while before he became our coach. In high school I was a good golfer, not a great golfer. Dave always knew what to say to get my head straight, or to calm my nerves. I really enjoyed having Dave as a coach and didn’t know that 20 years down the road, he still could have an impact of me.

This summer has been a particularly stressful one for me work. Our Mac server lost a hard drive in the middle of imaging our labs, one of our SAN servers lost 2 drives and died, our master image for student laptops was not working properly, and we’ve had budget issues. It has just been a rough start to the school year, and we’re not there yet. After Dave and I became Facebook friends, I checked out his profile and his pictures, but there really wasn’t any communication other than the invite. Then last night Dave wrote on my wall that he looked at my pictures,  glad to see I was doing well, and he was proud of me. Those last four words really hit me. I haven’t seen Dave in over 20 years, but he was proud of me, and what I have become. I’m sure that when he typed them, he had no idea how much that would mean to me.

Some days you just need those extra words of encouragement and you don’t realize how those four words can make someones day. I have a challenge for you. When you see someone who does something that makes you proud, tell them. It may mean more to them than you know.

Thank you Dave.


Tech shortage for K12 this year?

As the 2014-15 school year is quickly approaching, it seems to be increasingly hard to get technology. Dell has recently halted the sale of their Chromebook product through their website (education customers can call their sales rep to order) This spring Lenovo couldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to get their X140e laptop in time for school if the order wasn’t placed before July 1st. Bytespeed laptops are taking much longer than expected, and Epson projectors are on backorder.

Is it an industry-wide shortage, or are education customers opening up those checkbooks? What have you seen when trying to buy equipment for the upcoming school year?