Hardware issues

Most of this website is about software. However, we get asked pretty often about what sort of hardware teachers really need and what should be on their wish list. The first question is fairly easy. ALL of the activities in this book can be carried out with the following bits of kit.

(We are assuming you have at least desktop computers and an Internet connection)

Digital cameras (as many as you can get your hands on). Ask parents to donate their old cameras and camera phones to the school! Make sure they remove holiday snaps (or worse) beforehand. Don’t be tempted by the colourful kitsch ones – the money is in the colour and the kitsch! Our favourite of the moment is the bottom-of-the-range Nikon Coolpix which will do just about everything you need, it’s simple to operate and robust enough to stand up to the average classroom.
If you can afford a camera with a zoom lens, make sure it is an optical zoom. Digital zoom cameras are cheaper but basically they just enlarge the image as you would on a computer and as it enlarges, it pixelates and goes blurry. Not only do kids hate this but also you are actually paying for something you do not need.

Video cameras / Camcorder
At least initially, get simple, easy to use video cameras with as few buttons and functions as possible. Buy the cheapest that looks sturdy! Learners will do their editing on the computer so expensive cameras with inbuilt editing features are fairly pointless. Video cameras should ideally run on mains AND batteries – they cost a bit more to start with but otherwise you will be forever buying and changing batteries, which can prove very expensive. If you do go down the battery route, make sure they take standard batteries and invest in rechargeable ones and a charger.

Camera tripods.
We like Gorilla tripods because you can attach them to anything and are much easier for children to use than the sort with extending legs. Mini, fixed-leg tripods that you sit on a table are OK ish except children can NEVER find a table the right height and so they take ages dragging tables around the room (or outside) and propping the tripod on piles of books which always fall over.

Cables and leads
Buy cameras that have standard mini USB connections. Collect as many USB and mini USB leads as you can (where do they go?!). It is useful to ask parents to donate any old ones they have lying around.

Ideally you need at least one plug-in microphone. The built in mics on most computers will not pick up the reedy voices of the average 11 year old. We like the ‘snowball’ ones because they give excellent sound quality for the money and are very tough.

The wish list
If you want to push the boat out, this would be our wish list but it really does depend on what you want to do.

More or less in priority order…

Wi-Fi throughout the school (instead of the hard wired connections schools have been stuck with) is a step in the right direction. There are never enough connections and they are always in the wrong place. You also need a fast upload speed if students are going to publish their work to the web. Most broadband packages are advertised to domestic users on the basis of their fast download times so that you can get your films-on-demand without waiting for hours. Fast upload speeds are not a selling point to users who want to do no more than publish the odd comment on Facebook. However, in schools, you rarely need to download big files but having 30 children all putting their work on the web can take forever if the broadband upload speed is slow.

Mobile devices
• Collect iPods / mp3 players and other hardware that people are getting rid of! Even out-of-date ones that will not run the latest apps can be used for storing tracks and recordings if nothing else.
• As many mobile phones as you can get your hands on. People tend to trade in smart phones but even entry-level phones often have Internet access. Even better if you are lucky enough to get some unlocked or SIM free ones. However, you are severely restricted in your use if your school does not have a wireless network. Even so, one for the teacher that can be connected to the smart board is good.
• If you are going to invest in tablets, despite the fact that we are Mac addicts, we would strongly advise getting android tablets not iPads. They are cheaper to buy and, more importantly, there are far more free apps available for them.
• You also need to take into account that you will need a Wi-Fi connection first because otherwise you will not be able to download software easily or use them for the purpose they were designed – as mobile devices! This does sound as if we are stating the obvious but a school we know recently bought ten of them without considering this.
• Invest in specialist software (for iPads use Configurator) which allows you to put a standard set up on all your iPads instead of having to set them up one at a time. It is perfect for the classroom where devices need to be quickly refreshed and kept up to date with the correct settings, approved policies, apps and data.
• Check your insurance – if you are taking tablets or smart phones off site, the small print in your insurance policy may well say that they are not covered – we know a school who found this out the hard way as well.
• Enough iPads/tablets/iPhones for 1:2 learners in a class would be a good long-term aim. The e-learning for STEM Teachers deals with the idea of BYOD – Bring Your Own Devices but we decided that the hassles of having 20+ lower-secondary students with their own devices could send teachers to an early grave. By the time pupils are in their teens, they are much more likely to cope with devices that have different user interfaces.
We have explained why we love e-reader in the primarybook lesson called ‘Kindles for Kids’. See the primary book www.taccle2.eu
Radio mics
If you have Wi-Fi in school, invest in radio mics so that you are not taping cables down and so that you have a greater range. (They come complete with a little receiver box that is wired into the computer or a mixing deck)

As old desk top computers die, change them for laptops. You know it makes sense!

Smart boards
We are assuming that most of you will probably be able to use an interactive whiteboard and over a period of time will discover more and more of its capabilities. However, some teachers we work with still tend to see their board as just a computer screen that is usefully large enough for everyone to see. We are interested in how you can really exploit its potential so that it becomes something learners can interact with. Try this link for some good ideas to make your smart board (and lessons) fly!

This post is also available in: Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Welsh

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