Monthly Archives: January 2014

My #BETT2014 experience

This year, I once again got to travel up to the big smoke and attend BETT to see what had change in a year since the last time I visited. Though I was certain not a lot had change, I was excited to not only be proven wrong, but the opportunity to meet up with fantastic practitioners was lure enough to make the journey.

This year was different in that I had a slight plan of action to ensure that I covered everything that I needed to. I wanted to explore the different interactive boards available especially one that would cater for PMLD, discuss and try out different software available for Eyegaze and look at some of the other smaller stands to seek out unique products that could make a real difference to the teaching and learning of our SEN students.

The SEN zone on the whole was massively under represented again, with the majority of stands showing off their ideas of a interactive wall and floor displays. It really infuriates me that these companies can charge such high premiums for their installations (£9800 in one case) where with a little know how, you can do your own installations at a fraction of the cost using Kinects and webcams. (Quick plug – head over to GestureSEN to see what a group of schools are doing with this technology) Anyway moan over, onto the highlights of what I saw at BETT this year.

Beamz Music System

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this at BETT. It is a universally designed laser controller that gives users instant access to hundreds of musical instruments, sound effects and songs. It works by users breaking the beams to trigger a instrument. There are 4 beams which can be set up to play different instruments. The nice thing about this is that each instrument is played in tune and users can either play single notes or break the beams to play the instrument continuously. This is great for cause and effect, sequencing, fine and gross motor skills and working directionality with students.

The added bonus of this system is that it can be used with switches, adapted keyboards and the accompanying iOS app so this makes accessible for a large range of students. It is also Eyegaze compatible!! Lastly the price is very affordable for schools and I was shocked to hear that it only cost £250 for the hardware, software and accompanying activity guide. My order will be going in soon!!

TTS

I always liked visiting this stand because it is great to see what new products they have to offer. This year they had a whole range of outdoor resources which I felt would excellent to create your own talking garden. Some of the products included:

Talking Turtles – these are a waterproof set of recordable turtles which could be used in sand, water and other sensory materials. You are able to record a message on them that could correspond to the numbers in them to reinforce mathematical understanding.

Talking Daisy’s and Tree – again another resource that you are able to record messages on. They would be a bright and attractive addition to a outdoor area and great for working on speaking and listening skills – talking number lines, treasure hunts etc. The great thing about these is that they can be left outdoors so no dragging them back and forth to the classroom.

Wonder Bug – this could be describe as a rugged outdoor Beebot. It can be used in all conditions and could add to some great adventures in the woods. Also can be used with washable paint so you could use it to create some great artwork with your students.

Hills Components

We have used Hills Components for a while now for projectors mounts as they offer great value for money. When I visited thier stand I was interested to see that they had launched a new website and this came with a number of new products. If you order in bulk many of the items can be purchased at very low prices like the £10 iPad mount which I will mention below.

Unbreakable Headphones – this look like an excellent purchase for many schools especially in special ed as we seem to be breaking headphones left, right and centre. They come with a braided cable, steel tensioned headband and anti pull cables on areas where traditional headphones break. Again great value especially when purchasing a bulk order as the price comes down to as low as £3 per headphone.

iPad mounts and stands – they had a range of iPad stands and mounts and it’s worth exploring their website further as their prices seem very responsible on comparison to others. They also showed us iPad mount for wheelchairs that allowed the iPad to be clip in and off when you need it to. The RRP is £29 however as they are an educational supplier if you were to bulk order these the price could come down to as low as £10, which I think is very competitive.

Acctim Lulu Teach Time Clock – I really like the look of this clock and think its bright colours give an alternative and fun way to teach the time.

Inclusive Technology

EyeGaze software – though it’s taking some time to be released, the software that Inclusive are working on looks like a great addition to the range of EyeGaze technology. Some attractive and fun activities have been designed with the added inclusion of assessment tracking to enable to see how students are progressing with their use of EyeGaze technology.

Osborne Technology

One of my briefs for the show was to explore what interactive mobile smartboards there were which would be suitable for PMLD students. The main thing I was interested in was a board that enable access for students laying on a bed or reclining back in their chairs. Many boards would tilt into a table but when it came to tilt the other they did not make the grade. I was about to give up hope, when I got directed towards the Osborne stand.

iCore Flip 180 – finally I found the board I was looking for!! What is great about this is that is has full 180 degree tilt so can go from being a flat table to being turn upside down so that students can access on a bed if needed. It is also height adjustable so lots of different angles can be achieved. This is certainly a product that I am going to explore further and I they offer free trails to ensure that it is the right product for your students.

Overall, I really enjoyed BETT this year, it was great to meet up with Andrew Walker (@andtomac) and Susan McCarthy (@SusanMcCarthy) from the gesture based PLC plus meeting Sarah McDonald (@daisyrah) for the first time. In addition I had a very interesting chat with Hector Minto (@hminto) about the development of EyeGaze and I am looking forward to our school investing in this technology. I also attended an excellent seminar by Carol Allen (@caroljallen) about the technology and autism and then enjoyed a great chat with her over coffee, discussing a range of topics. Lastly the Teachmeet was an excellent event in the evening with a great range of speakers and some excellent class tools to take back to school and share with others. Big thank you and well done to the organisers for putting on a fantastic event.

Even though it was a long day, it was certainly worthwhile and I am already looking forward to attending next year.

Google Chromecast – little tool with lots of potential!!!

I have been fortunate to get my hands on a Google Chromecast over the Christmas period and have been exploring what the potential of this device could be for use in the classroom.

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Google Chromecast is Google’s attempt to make it easier to bring web video to your TV via the use of their dongle.This plugs into an HDMI port on your telly and projector and allows you to send videos, music and other files to it via Andriod & iOS devices and using Chrome browser on you computer. There are a limited amount of apps that take advantage of the Chromecast (YouTube, Netflix, Google Music to name a few) however this list is increasing. The function that I am quite excited about is the ability to stream an open tab in the Chrome browser and the potential for this. I will explain more about this later but first I am going to look at how to setup the Chromecast.

What’s  in the box –

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Setup – The setup for the Chromecast could not be easier and it can be done on smartphone. tablet or computer. Firstly plug the Chromecast into the HDMI port on the TV/Projector. If your TV has a USB port the Chromecast can draw its power from that otherwise you will have to use the power brick that comes with it.  Once connected it creates its own mini network for you to join via your tablet, phone or computer. You will have to download the Chromecast app which allows you to detect the dongle and go through the setup process. This involves knowing the details of the WIFI network that want to connect to. Once this is done, you are ready to go and send videos to it with devices on the same network.  (NB. I am waiting to try this through a proxy server and I know that are issues with this so will update once I have tried)

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Screenshot from iOS Chromecast app

Apps – As mentioned there are apps on Android and iOS that come with the capability of sending video to the Chromecast. Google have said that new apps will be added but at the moment they are thin on the ground – notable apps include YouTube, Netflix and Google Music. When using these apps a Chromecast symbol will appear which allows you to send the video to the dongle. The nice thing about this is that you tablet or phone becomes a remote and as the Chromecast is streaming the video from the web and not your device you can continue to use it without interrupting the stream.

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YouTube app with Cast button

Chrome Browser – Now this is where I feel that there is lots of potential for the Chromecast. Using the Chrome Extension ‘Google Cast‘ you have the ability to send any open tab to the dongle and this will mirror this on the TV/projector. Similar to the apps any web video can be cast to the dongle. Also you can use the Google Cast extension to share your entire desktop with the dongle  – both features are in beta but work well on the occasions that I have tried them

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The feature that I like is the ability to use your Chrome browser to play local files including video, music and Office files. This is ideal, if you have files you want to share with a class and gives the Chromecast an added dimension to it functions. Below are a list of video and music files that Chrome supports –

Video – .mp4,  .3gp, .avi, .mov, .m4v, .mkv, .ogv, .ogm, .webm

Music- .mp3, .mp4, .m4a, .ogg, .oga, .wav

Office and PDFs – to get office files working in Chrome you will need to install the Chrome Office Viewer extension. This will allow you to open Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents in the browser ready to cast to the dongle.

In conclusion, I feel the Chromecast is another tool that can be utilised in the classroom similar to that of the Apple TV. The nice thing about it is that it is multi-platform and allows for the wireless sharing of a laptop screen. There is lots of potential there and for the price around £30 makes its a attractive tool to utilise in the classroom.

NB. Google have recently announced that they will be bring extensions to mobile devices which means you should be able to cast what you have on you mobile Chrome browser to the device. In addition it will interesting if they bring the Desktop sharing function to mobile devices as this would make it more viable for those who have iOS devices to use compared to the Apple TV – we will wait and see)

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