MikroTik RouterOS Training Class

Penn Manor engineers are moving to MikroTik routers as part of a district network equipment upgrade. MikroTik RouterOS is packed with powerful features and the equipment is significantly less expensive than similar routers from Cisco. To help accelerate our learning we are excited to host a public MikroTik Certified Network Associate (MTCNA) training course at Penn Manor School District in March.

The two-day router training course will cover MikroTik official certification material. Students will obtain an understanding of MikroTik RouterOS, and learn skills that can be applied to current networks and projects. The course includes labs where students configure RouterOS and build networks. At the end of the class students will have the chance to take the Official MTCNA test provided by MikroTik.

The course is scheduled for March 30th and 31st at Penn Manor School District’s Hambright Elementary School Training Room,
3000 Charlestown Rd, Lancaster, PA 17603. We are located approximately 90 minutes north of Baltimore and 90 minutes west of Philadelphia.

For more information and to register, please visit the MikroTik Lancaster course site.

Amazing August Tech Updates

The summer months are always a time of intense activity for district staff. Penn Manor’s IT Team has worked ardently to prepare for the 2014-2015 school year. Here are a few project highlights from a summer that felt entirely too short!

Centralized Online Student Registration
After a successful spring trial of online Kindergarten registration, we implemented centralized online registration for all new students enrolling for the 2014-2015 school year. The new system is a major reconfiguration of our registration procedures and represents the first significant process change in over 15 years. Changing PDE data reporting requirements are a driving force behind the change. Nearly 350 new students have been registered via the new system. Welcome to Penn Manor!


Relaunching the PM High School 1:1 Program
We’re excited to start the year with our 1:1 student laptop program fully engaged. Laptops have been refreshed with the latest version of Ubuntu (14.04) and dozens of open source learning software. Approximately 350 students took advantage of a our summer take-home program. All other Penn Manor High School students will receive their school laptop during the first week of classes.


Teacher Laptop Upgrades
Marticville Middle and PM High School teachers are returning to new laptops as part of the district’s 4 year teacher laptop refresh. Teachers were given the choice of devices. The options were a single 13” Macbook Pro or the two-for-one-deal of a 15” touchscreen Acer laptop plus a 10” Android tablet.

Teachers received the new laptops during an August technology workshop. Along with the laptop upgrade we have fully implemented ownCloud, a district-hosted automatic backup and file synchronization service, for all K-12 teachers.


Hambright Elementary and Manor Middle School Building Technology
New construction and building renovation work mean new data cabling, new projectors, and new classroom technology systems. Both buildings received serious network infrastructure upgrades, including high-capacity fiber and CAT6 network cable. We’re also very excited to implement HDMI audio/video in each classroom.

These highlights are only part of the summer story. The overall volume of district IT work during the past three months has been extraordinary. I’m so proud of my capable, creative and tenacious IT team. August could have been awful; my staff worked together to make it awesome!

 

Enabling Students in a Digital Age: TEDxLancaster

It was an incredible honor and privilege to be selected to present our open source 1:1 laptop learning initiative and student apprenticeship program at the inaugural TEDxLancaster event on May 3, 2014. I hope I successfully captured the spirit of our program, and venerated our remarkable student tech team.

Help Desk Phone Support Changes

Penn Manor School District is a big place. With 10 buildings and a 110 square mile footprint, providing immediate tech support for staff and students is an ongoing challenge. I am fortunate to have stellar IT staff, but my small crew is often stretched a little thin. For example, our help desk line consists of one dedicated person, Gina Brubaker. There are times when calls fall into voicemail simply because she is already on the phone, away from the desk, in a meeting or helping another staff member.

Experimental attempts to clone Gina have thus far proven unsuccessful, so we are trying a new plan. We recently restructured the 1776 help desk line to behave more like a classic call center. Various members of the IT Team log into the help desk line throughout the day. When a support call arrives, Gina’s phone rings first. If she is already on a call or otherwise unavailable, the call transfers to the next available tech support person. The new call routing system provides backup for Gina, and increases the likelihood of reaching a live person when help is needed most.

Behind the support curtain, the Penn Manor IT Team now uses an internal IRC server for real-time communication. In addition to our tech support chats, status reports from our Kayako ticket system and Nagios network monitoring tools are piped into the IRC stream. All chat transcripts all logged to an internal webpage, so my team can go back in time to review history and tech support discussions. Personally, I love the IRC server because it establishes a convenient space room for my entire team and provides a central dashboard on district technology support.

While staff replication experiments will continue in earnest, I think the new help line configuration and IRC server will create better customer support experiences for our academic community.

Call us!

Photo credit: scott1723

Education Apps for Android Starter Guide

Penn Manor School District recently distributed 200 Asus MeMO tablets to elementary and middle school teachers. To help our staff jump in and begin exploring, we developed a starter guide to highlight a few useful classroom apps. With over one million Android apps in the Google Play store, the sheer volume of content can be overwhelming. The attached guide helped our teachers focus their efforts. I suspect it may be useful to PM Techblog readers as well. Enjoy!

Teacher Apps For Android 2013

 

Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2013

As the holidays approach, the Penn Manor Technology Team begins to receive questions about affordable technology gift alternatives to iPads and traditional Apple and Windows laptops. Below is a updated version of the holiday tech gift guide email I sent to district staff; I hope it is helpful to Penn Manor families as well.

Google Chromebooks and Android tablets are priced significantly lower than equivalent Apple gear. Plus, there are over a million games and apps on Google Play, the alternative to Apple’s App Store. Google Play includes a huge catalog of music, movies and books. Just in time for Cyber Monday, here is a list of snazzy tech gifts for kids of all ages:

Android Tablets

Google Nexus 7

Nexus 7 is my top tablet recommendation for families. The new 2013 model has been updated with a fantastic HD screen, faster processor and a slimmer build. Consider the 32GB version, which should provide enough storage for a mountain of games, music and apps. For comparison, a 32GB Nexus 7 is priced at $269; the iPad mini with 32GB of memory is $499. Think of all the apps, games, books and stocking suffers you can buy with the $230 you save!

*As of November 30, 2013, Google is offering a $25 Play Store credit with the Nexus 7.

ASUS MeMO Pad 10

If you are looking for an affordable 10″ Android tablet, start with the ASUS MeMO. This tablet is about the same size as the new iPad Air and similar to the tablets teachers received as part of the summer 2013 update. MeMO battery life is over 10 hours and the processor is super snappy. Currently $299 on Amazon, this great 10″ HD tablet is half the price of a 32GB iPad Air!

Note that Android tablets double as eReaders; simply install the Kindle or Nook app to access books purchased via your Amazon or B&N account!

Google Chromebook Laptop

A Chromebook is a fast, lightweight laptop optimized for the web. Unlike traditional laptops, Chromebooks rely on Internet applications and online services rather than locally installed programs. Chrombooks are virus-free and offer excellent battery life. If you need a laptop for home web browsing, games, Facebook or Pinterest, the Chromebook is tough to beat.

Several new Chromebook models hit the streets this past year. Two models stand apart from crowd. The Acer C720 Chromebook is priced at $249 and includes an 11.6″ screen. HP offers a nice 14″ Chromebook for $299. You’ll find these and other Chromebooks on Google’s store.

Bonus! Gifts for Student Technology Enthusiasts

Opensource.com recently published an outstanding guide with 20 super-cool tech gifts for all budgets. Check it out here.

 

1:1 Laptop Program Update

Penn Manor High School is approaching the day when every student has access to a personal laptop for learning. In preparation for our January 2014 building-wide 1:1 computing program, a pilot group of 90 students are testing district-issued laptops in school and at home. For the past two months, the pilot group, comprised of Open Campus students and others who are enrolled in online classes, have adopted the laptop as their primary scholarly device.

Student feedback is key to the program; student experiences help us refine installed software and test the laptops in various classroom situations. Based on student input, several changes will be implemented. One example is the neoprene case originally selected for the pilot laptops. It has proven to be less resilient than expected, and the IT Team is investigating a tougher case alternative. Additionally, several software image changes are being implemented to make the laptops more efficient and easier to use. Read more about the pilot program kickoff on PennPoints.

Pilot computers are the Acer TravelMate TMB 113 series laptops running Ubuntu, a flavor of the Linux operating system. The Acer/Ubuntu combination is a perfect blend of computing capability, battery life and software flexibility. Bugs and kinks have been minimal, and students have remarked positively on the laptop’s compact size. Given a successful device pilot, we have selected the Acer TravelMate with Ubuntu as our standard 1:1 program device.

The student help desk team is a vital component of the pilot program. Providing peer support to fellow students, the student team solves technical issues, prepares and configures laptops, trains peers and prepares documentation and help guides. You’ll find a great example of their work on the 1:1 help blog: http://blogs.pennmanor.net/1to1/. PennPoints, recently posted an excellent article on the student help desk.

Penn Manor High School teachers have participated in technology professional development for the past several years. To amplify their exiting skills and help build additional instructional capacity ahead of the full 1:1 program, teachers are participating in 2-3 days of educational technology sessions on a number of new and old topics such as, Open Educational Resources, Moodle, curating content with Evernote, file and resource sharing, student writing/blogging, LibreOffice, screencasting, Google Apps, and document annotation.  Technology professional development sessions are scheduled either after school or during full day trainings.

To keep parents informed of the program, three evening parent information sessions are scheduled. The first session was held on Thursday October 24th. Dr. Gale and I provided an overview of 1:1 program’s instructional goals and answered parent questions for nearly two hours. The next two sessions are scheduled for 7PM on November 20th and December 11th and will be held in the Penn Manor High School library. Registration is not required.

During the second semester, the full program will begin and all 1,700 Penn Manor High School students will receive a laptop. The IT Team is on-schedule for a full program launch by the end of January 2014. However, it is critical to keep in mind that our program is not about the device; it is for and about our students. Excitement is building as we move toward our goal of empowering all Penn Manor High School students with a laptop to explore personal passions such as creative design, engineering, programming, writing and music.

Finally, a big thank-you to PM High School Technology Specialist, Alex Lagunas. Alex has been working tirelessly to prepare for the pilot and guide the student help desk team while simultaneously supporting day-to-day building technology needs and staff help requests. While juggling his many tasks and projects, Alex always remains cool, calm and collected; I’m fortunate to have him on the Penn Manor IT team.

More updates to come!

Back to School with Open Source Software

Note: This article was originally posted on opensource.com, Red Hat’s community hub for all things open source.

For parents: Shopping for back-to-school supplies, textbooks, clothing, and other accouterments can be frustrating and expensive. To help take the sting out of this ritual, students and parents might consider turning to free, open source software and tools in preparation for a new year of study.

For students: Beyond cost savings, open source software empowers students to take ownership of their work and be free of software licensing treadmills. And, perhaps the ultimate educational opportunity is the ability to examine, analyze, and contribute to open source software and tools like these.

For teachers: Turning theory to practice, students can learn by doing as they help with documentation, quality testing, bug review, or even code contributions. Teaching is not simply the delivery of content, via lecture-taxi, to passive minds. Participation and collaboration ignites powerful learning, and empowers students to engage in thoughtful, meaningful scholarship. And open source can be the catalyst.

Here are five great open source applications for learning:

Xournal

Annotation, journaling, and note-taking apps are incredibly popular on tablets and smartphones.Xournal brings these capabilities to the Linux desktop. Students can utilize Xournal to annotate PDF files and capture ideas. Alternately, teachers might use Xournal to grade submitted papers. Extra credit: Use Xournal in conjunction with GfxTablet, an app that allows you to draw on your PC via your Android tablet.

Kazam Screencaster

Forget Kahn Academy; put students in the driver’s seat and let them teach the class. Screencasting is a powerful tool for demonstrating student mastery of concepts and ideas. Inspire students to become teachers, trainers, and digital experts with Kazam Screencaster, a simple desktop video and audio recorder.

LibreOffice

Microsoft may offer a reduced cost student edition of Office, but who needs it when LibreOfficecan handle your productivity tasks with vigor and vim. LibreOffice is a flagship open source product and continues to set the bar for other collaborative projects. With the ability to handle standard Office documents plus Publisher and Visio files, LibreOffice is a personal productivity powerhouse and a big step toward student document liberation.

MuseScore

Unleash your inner Mozart with MuseScore, a high-quality music composition and notation program similar to commercial software such as Sibelius and Finale. MuseScore boasts an impressive list of features and runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows.

Kojo Learning

Play with math, programming, music, and art in the powerful Kojo Learning environment. Based on ideas derived from innovative programs such as Logo and Geometers Sketchpad, Kojo offers a rich platform for students to explore the synthesis of mathematical ideas, coding, creative thinking, and learning.

What applications are loaded into your open source backpack? Are you already using some of these applications in the classroom? If so, tell us how in the comments below.

Penn Manor Tech News and Stories

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