Monday, December 4, 2017

Apples for Teachers? How About a Pear (Deck)?

This past Tuesday, I got an email from Risa Fadenrecht, the director of the Pear Deck Certified Coaches program.  In her message, she gave me some feedback on a Pear Deck presentation that I had submitted as part of the Certified Coaches cohort in which I was accepted a few weeks prior.  She also slipped in there, "Don't tell anybody because the official announcement will come later in the week, but you are officially accepted as a Pear Deck Certified Coach!"  The next day, I got the official announcement of my acceptance.  It came after a few weeks of online discussions with educators from all over the United States an Canada, "testing" my knowledge and skills of the ins and outs of Pear Deck, and building a presentation that exhibited the features of Pear Deck and demonstrated an engaging experience of students. The acceptance was a recognition of not just my knowledge and skills in using Pear Deck, but more for my love of the program and sharing its awesomeness with other people.

So, you haven't heard of Pear Deck, have a little knowledge, or maybe you want to build on what you know already?  If you fit one of there criteria, please continue to read on.  If not, no hard feelings, but I hope that you continue to read anyway!

At first glance, Pear Deck is a presentation tool that is similar to PowerPoint or Google Slides.  However, to describe Pear Deck as simply a presentation tool is doing it a great injustice.  Pear Deck is also a student engagement tool through its ability to embed images, video, questions, websites, and works really well with some of your favorite educational tools, like Google apps, Flipgrid, Kahoot!, Edpuzzle, and so many more.  Instead of simply projecting a presentation on a screen in front of your class, students become actively engaged in the lesson when they have the presentation on their own device, and you have the choice of controlling the presentation yourself or by opening it up in student-paced mode. 

As educators, we all strive to see where our students are through various forms of formative assessment.  However, even the best-intentioned teachers can get bogged down sifting through exit tickets, spreadsheet data from a Google Form of Kahoot!, etc.  Pear Deck helps through its live formative assessment tools.  Want to see how the class feels about a concept after spending a few minutes on it?  Use the quick "thumbs up/thumbs down" slide.  Feel more like a multiple choice slide?  How about a short answer, or even a long answer?  Maybe you are a math teacher and want students to give you a number answer.  Or how about getting to those students that tend to be more artistic by using a drawing slide?  All of this is possible with the question slides in Pear Deck!

Some (most) of the time, a slide with a few words isn't enough.  Pump up your slides using images, either by using Pear Deck's search tool or embed your own.  Found a great YouTube video?  Embed it, play it, let the discussion fly!  Have an outside website that putting in a link to doesn't do justice?  Have that website pop up right on students' screens!  Need students to contribute to a classroom activity as a whole?  Embed a Google Doc with editing rights or have students record a response using Flipgrid!  The possibilities are endless!

All subject areas and grade levels have specific vocabulary that needs to be mastered in order to be successful.  Get your students involved by using the Flashcard Factory! Assign students to groups and task them with creating the definitions.  The Flashcard Factory gives students the opportunity to not only create definitions and sentences using their terms, but they can add illustrations to the cards as well!  Best of all, sets of flashcards can be exported to Quizlet to give students the opportunity to review and compete with themselves and their peers. 

Pear Deck is limited in its design template, with a white background as the only choice.  Love what you are reading about Pear Deck, but want the choice in designing the template?  Fear not!  Pear Deck allows you to create a presentation in Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, or .pdf and upload it to Pear Deck!  From there, incorporate question slides, embed videos and websites, and take your presentation to the next level while keeping your eye-catching design!  Even better, the Pear Deck add-on for Google Slides allows you to create a Pear Deck presentation directly in Google Slides (at this time, it does not have the same full functionality of creating a presentation in Pear Deck, but a recent update to the add-on added more options for question slides)! 

Prior to the Pear Deck Certified Coaching cohort, I already had extensive knowledge of Pear Deck, its features, its uses, etc.  Since the Slides add-on and Flashcard Factory are relatively new, there was some work that went into learning more about each of those tools.  However, one of the best parts of the cohort was lessons in Pear Deck's "Peardagogy".  During the cohort, we learned about what makes a slide deck go from "meh", to good, to great.  One thing that I realized was that I was certainly guilty in the past of making some of my slides "too busy" with words, images, etc.  I realized that it is okay to break down one slide into five slides if need be, spending less time on each individual slide, but still covering what needs to be addressed and keeping my audience better engaged.  I can guarantee that future presentions by yours truly may be "longer", but they will be more visually pleasing and more engaging as a result. 

I cannot say enough good about Pear Deck.  In the edtech world, free is always good, but sometimes there are those tools that are well worth the price of admission, and Pear Deck definitely fits the bill.  At $99 a year for the premium features, you can create visually appealing, engaging, and fun presentations and FORMATIVE ASSESSMENTS.  If you have any questions about Pear Deck, please do not hesitate to contact me, I am always happy to "plug the Pear"!

Until next time... 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Big Switch

Like most people, I rely very heavily on my smartphone.  I use my phone for the obvious things, like phone calls and text messages and I ditched a landline in my house probably 7-8 years ago.  I use my phone for email, tracking food intake and exercise, news and sports updates, social media, work, and so much more.  I also use my phone for music, loading over 11,000 songs onto it so I have my entire collection at my fingertips at any given time (basically, every CD I have ever purchased is loaded onto iTunes, plus anything I have bought from iTunes or Amazon, and the vinyl albums that come with digital download codes, it works out to over 80GB of music), plus the dozen or so podcasts that I subscribe and listen to on a regular basis.  While I don't consider myself to be addicted to my phone, I can go hours at a time without messing with it and I am at peace in places where there isn't any cell coverage, a substantial part of my daily life is tied to my phone.  Clearly, choosing a quality phone is a priority when one will be using it so much.

My first smartphone many years ago was an HTC Evo Shift.  That was the one that had a full keyboard tucked into the back that you slid out.  I clearly remember "needing" to have that keyboard.  My previous phone prior the Evo Shift was a Kyocera that had that full keyboard and I wasn't ready yet to make the transition to the digital keyboard.  My wife also had the Evo, but she made the jump to the digital keyboard before me.  After a couple of years with the Evo Shift and the Android platform, I made the transition to the iPhone 4.  Over the past 6 years, I have gone from the iPhone 4, iPhone 5, and iPhone 6, thinking that I was going to be an iPhone guy for life.

Over the course of the past few months, I started considering switching over to the Google Pixel.  I had heard a lot of great things about it, plus since my life is so incredibly centered around Google apps, I figured it would make a lot of sense to use a device built by the same company whose products dictate my day to day business.  My hesitation came from my several years' relationship with Apple and the App Store, my iTunes account that is chock full of music (plus my apps, podcasts, videos, etc.), and my general familiarity and expertise in the iOS platform; learning the Android platform all over again did not sound too appealing.  Then the iPhone 8 and iPhone X came out, further twisting my thoughts further regarding a new phone.  Ultimately, my decision was to wait since my iPhone 6 was still in good shape and paid off.

Things change when capitalism takes over in late November.  Every company and corporation tries to lure people in to buy their stuff during the holiday season and cell phone companies are no different.  On Thanksgiving Day between the food and family, I perused the different stores deals on phones, finding that the Pixel 2 was going to be 50% off on Black Friday!  iPhones were also going to have deals, but more to the "buy it for full price, get an iPad for $99," which is still a great deal, but I wasn't interested in a $1000+ phone (I wanted at least the 128GB, if not the 256GB), plus dropping another $99 for the iPad, not to mention all of the accessories that you need to get when you buy a new device, such as car chargers, screen protectors, cases, and the like.  So it was back to the "what are the advantages and disadvantages of switching to the Pixel 2 and the Android platform?"  Ultimately, I decided that the pros outweighed the cons and the deal on the Pixel 2 was too good to let pass, so Friday afternoon, I sauntered into the Verizon store and made the switch from iPhone to Google.

My impression thus far is that I couldn't be happier!  There isn't anything about the iPhone that I am missing thus far, but there are many things regarding the Pixel 2 that I am loving in comparison to the iPhone.

I have to have my music! 
One of my biggest hangups was in regards to iTunes, something that is not available on the Android system.  I read several articles on how to transfer iTunes to Google Play, some of them sounding very easy, some of them sounding complicated.  When it was all said and done, I was able to download the Google Play Music Manager to my computer, let the manager search my computer, find everything in iTunes, and transfer it to Google Play.  As of this posting, the manager was still working on it.  I originally started the process on Saturday morning, leting it go for about 24 hours before a 12-hour stoppage on Sunday as I was traveling from Reno back home to Las Vegas. Overall, it's going to take about 3 full days before the process to be finished.  I expected it to take a long time, so I am not upset at all.  As Google Play is uploading from iTunes, the songs that have been uploaded are available on my phone.  On top of that, iTunes charged me $25 a year for iTunes match, essentially Apple's music cloud service for my library; Google Play is 100% free from what I have found thus far!  As for the Google Play app for podcasts, there are a lot of podcasts that I listen to that were not available on Google Play.  However, thanks to a suggestion by Ryan O'Donnell (another happy Pixel user), I downloaded Pocket Casts, a podcast manager that not only had everything that I listen to, but you can share podcasts easily with others, even up to a specific minute!  It did cost $3.99, but well worth the cost to not have to use the Google Play app, Stitcher, NPR One, or all of them.

Nice shot of the Wolf Pack rolling out the
Fremont Cannon after their 23-17 victory
over UNLV!
Photos and photo quality are alsor bright spspotsf the Pixel 2.  I used Google Photos on my iPhone, so every picture I took was backed up to Photos, but it was also in the Apple Photos app, taking up space on the phone's hard drive.  No such problem with the Pixel 2, as photos go directly to Google Photos and are not stored on the phone's hard drive.  On top of that, the photos that the Pixel 2 takes are stunning!  I always thought that the iPhone took great pictures, which it does, but the Pixel 2 takes phone photography to the next level!  Too often when taking photos in low light or taking action photos, the pictures come out blurry or in other ways not as good as what one would hope.  Every photo that I have taken with the Pixel 2 thus far has been crystal clear without any blur, even on the action shots.  I don't take a lot of photos, but with photos this good, I may start taking more!  And bonus features:  you can open the camera app with two clicks of the power button, switch to selfie mode by shaking the phone when the camera app is open, and because the photos go straight to Google Photos, that app will create some stylized, motion, and other cool pics on its own, or you can go into the app and create some amazing images yourself.

The beautiful Sierra Nevada while rolling down US 395, somewhere south of Mammoth Lakes

When I turned on the phone for the first time, I dreaded the thought of having to go through my old iPhone and find all of my apps in Google Play and download them individually.  Once again, I was blown away when all I had to do is plug my Pixel 2 into the iPhone, run a scan of it, and Google Play downloaded and installed the apps that I had on my iPhone as long as they were available in Google Play!  So far, out of well over 100 apps that my phone found, I have only had to download two apps that didn't make it through the scan.  Maybe it is because my iPhone was a couple of years old, but I find the apps to run more smoothly and download more quickly on the Pixel 2.  I also like that on my apps' notifications, you can perform actions a lot quicker without having to open the app.  Many apps like Twitter allow you to do so on the iPhone, but I don't recall seeing that option on Voxer, for example.  And then one of the greatest things I have discovered, and maybe it's available on iPhone and I didn't figure it out, but the split screen on the Pixel 2 that allows you to open two apps and VIEW THEM BOTH at the SAME TIME!  No more bouncing between apps when trying to work with multiple apps!

If you are considering a new phone, I cannot say enough good things about the Google Pixel 2.  I cannot knock iPhone, especially the iPhone 7, 8, X, and variations of each model; they are all high-quality devices.  But for the money, ease of use, and cool little tricks that the Pixel 2 can do, I am very happy with my decision to switch.

Until next time...