Saturday, September 24, 2011

To Lion or not to Lion - that is the question !

I recently had to incorporate a number of new laptops into our bank. With the demise of the Macbook (of which I was never a BIG fan) the decision had to made to what we would purchase. The macbook is still available for education but it is technology that is a few years old (and obviously on the way out). The choices were the Air or Macbook Pro. To fit into the educational price range (at least for our budget) it would have to be the 11" Air. This isn't much bigger than the iPad ( but a dearer price) and the 13" Air was going out of our budget. The decision was to go with the base model MBP 13".  I felt fairly happy about this as I feel that the MBP is a much sturdier product than the MacBook and will live up to the riggers of multiple users. Also a 13" laptop fitted the needs of the present Stage 3 classes. They will be using the iPads as well but I'll explain that in a future blog. The major decision was to be "What operating system ?" All of our computers run Snow Leopard and we also have a Mac mini server that runs Snow Leopard. Although they will come with Lion will we bring them back to Snow Leopard or keep the existing ?

I decided to see how Lion fitted in. I had a few weeks before they needed to be fully integrated so I started with one. I had ordered a couple of teacher units with 8G of Ram and set one of these up as a trial unit. My first impressions were rather reserved. I thought that most of the changes were cosmetic - therefore no real reason not to back date them to Snow Leopard. But the more I used it - the more I found and the more I liked. Everyone finds things they like and dislike that are different to popular opinion. I was no different.

The two major aspects , Launch Pad and Mission Control, I rather dismissed at first. Until I started to use them a little more effectively. Launch Pad, which looks like an iPad or iPhone, I decided was a fairly quick way of students finding the programs you want them to use (and tucking away the ones you don't - such as the App store). You can make folders - therefore have all the programs that a particular class uses often (say a Year 5 folder with Google Earth, Sketchup, Scratch etc).  Mission Control would help the students find where they were and what they had open.  The scrolling for different desktops is great. You could have one desktop with Safari open, one with Pages and one with a PDF of your lesson notes. Very handy!
Preview has also been revamped and made more useful. You can do a lot more editing in it. The aspect of "full screen" view - I was at first rather cynical - but I find I use it a lot. If you are working on a 13" screen, to easily go from full screen to showing toolbars is a God send. Even the "backwards" scrolling I found no issue with. I go from a Lion machine to a SL machine and I haven't found a need to change the scrolling direction. The changes in Mail and iCal, which the critics all raved about, I find rather ho-hum. Students won't really use them in my set up. I am yet to road run Airdrop, but I am thinking this could be very handy for distributing files to students as well as students sharing work with each other. All in all, Lion  - a winner - therefore stay with it.

My next dilemma  - can I clone Lion and have the machines boot off the server ? With Snow Leopard my work was minimised by being able to ghost an image , with all the programs and settings I wanted, putting it on the server, and then having a laptop boot from the server. This meant that if a computer had an issue (other than hardware) I would have it boot off the server and re-image the machine. This was quicker and more effecient than spending hours trying to find out what little, niggle issue, was causing issues.  What I had done in the past was to use Carbon Copy Clone. At first I cloned an image to a portable hard drive and set the laptops on this. When we got our mini mac server - I put that image on the server. Because Lion has a recovery partition I wasn't sure it would be straight forward.
Here's where I ran into difficulties! I tried CCC, making an image and then putting it on the server. When I booted up the new machines - they couldn't find the server. Hours were spent trying to figure this one out. I   also tried booting off the portable hard drive - it still couldn't see the image ! Frustration - as I've stated earlier - I am a wood butcher - therefore have no real knowledge of these matters. Ironically - I attended an iPad  presentation, where an Apple engineer was present. I asked him about my problems. He said that I would need a Lion server to deploy a Lion image. Ok - one issue solved. But why wouldn't my Lion machines see the image off a portable Hard Drive ?
I did a lot of reading off the net and trials. I ended up trying "Super Duper".  This worked ! I managed to clone a Lion machine (with all programs and settings) to a Hard Drive. I then used this image to boot a number of MBP's . Then loading the image to the HD. Success !
As far as using Lion on my network - I have found no issues. It picks up the network printers, I have linked the student home drives from our windows server , as well as their folders from the mac server. It manages to pick up everything that the Snow Leopard machines could.
I can see and control them through Apple Remote Desktop which helps immensely. I can update them and send packages. I may upgrade the server to Lion at a future date (certainly expense is not a factor) but will hold off for the moment. It will be to my advantage because I can administer the SL machines as well as Lion (which is going to be any new machines) as well as the iPads. But, to save myself the learning curve (I am just getting a handle on SL server) and to make sure there are no hic ups (after all - it is only version one)
Bottom line - upgrade to Lion ? Yeah , why not ?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ah - are we too old to learn ? I don't think so ! Marco Torres and Beyond Chalk.

The last week have been extremely stimulating and has lifted my spirits in regards to education and the use of technology. Notice that I wrote "education" first. Gone are the days tinkering for technology for technology sake.THe modern approach is " I want to do such and such - what tools can assist me ? " Not " How am I going to make technology fit into the task I have to do ?" This is certainly not the thinking of students today. This was exemplified by an example I heard today, which was reflected within my own family. On two occasions my son was bought a wristwatch by well intentioned relatives.  They both have never been worn. He has always used his phone to tell the time. Today I heard a similar story of a young lady who gave  her niece a wristwatch - only to be asked "What else does it do?" Kids today - or should I say - reality today.

Last week I went to a very stimulating presentation by Marco Torres, a LA educationist, film producer, and keynote speaker at numerous International Technology and Education Conferences. It was a day of stimulating thought and discussion. He was a man who appears to be one of the people who initiated  the Apple “Challenge Based Learning” (have a look at the Apple Educational website). He also produced a number of the “Myth Busters” TV series and the show is based on the Challenge Based Learning concept. When you look at the show you certainly see two guys learning ( not two guys teaching). Many of the aspects he spoke about are too involved to go into here - but as a brief summary these are some of the points that struck a cord with me. 

He spoke about people who have a passion for what they do. One thing they all had in common - they had a hobby ! He had made a study over a number of occupations and the most successful and passionate people were the ones who had an outside interest. They were able to make associations or connections with their interests and their jobs. He found the same for the teaching profession. If you want to be a remarkable teacher - get a hobby!
He also gave many examples of students who were not overly academic - but had drive and passion. The ones who were curious and endeavored to take things one step further. Really - the mode of which we should be teaching. The approach of the modern learner is  “ Learn, Create, Share”. We should be accommodating this style - not fighting against it because its not the way we have always done things. 
If I had to sum up two brief aspects I got out of his talk it would have to be “Teach Curiosity “.  Fits very comfortably with the concept of “teaching for life long learning”. When it all boils down - it is the main skill we can give kids in this every changing, turbulent world. 
The second was “Solve and issue and tell a story”.  His web site is rather chaotic but worth a look. Also if you get a chance to hear him speak or attend his workshops - I highly recommend it. His web site is
The second workshop I went to was of a more practical, hands on style. It was presented by “Beyond Chalk” - a group I have had dealings with before. This was more about “you want to use the technology for your students - here’s how”. Beyond Chalk are a group who use young, enthusiastic and knowledgeable presenters - no easy task considering the aging teacher population (in Australia at least). I always come away from these sessions invigorated, enthused and more knowledgable. Tori, the young lady presenting took us through various aspects of working with the mac platform to help and enhance our students learning. Very practical, student focussed and a spurt of student focussed enthusiasm. I always come away impressed and invigorated.  
If you get a chance to attend any of their workshops - if you keep an open mind, - you will certainly get something out of it.
Ah - it's good to be stimulated and invigorated !