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Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast
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Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast


Mobile iPad Lab on the Cheap: DYI Charging Cart

Things being what they are… just isn’t always enough money to do things the “Professional, High Quality” way we would like.

Our district is in the throws of “Racing to the Top” and at the same time we are still under severe budget constrictions. Every technology dollar budgeted is directed towards ‘Testing Computers’. Meanwhile, my dream and educational vision is to increase student use of the technology for problem solving, creativity, communication, collaboration, and amplifying their understanding. The challenge is doing more with less.

I fundraised, scrimped, saved and advocated for the purchase of a ‘Class Set of iPads’ at my school and even though the iPads themselves are about half the cost of laptops or desktop computers, there are still those additional costs for a full set of apps, protective covers, and then the big one: a charging cart for moving the iPad lab from classroom to classroom. The
Bretford Charging Cart is really nice, sturdy, secure. A worthy mode of transporting and charging those wonderful iPads. But when you are starting with nothing and penny pinching, that cart is about the equivalent of 5 iPads.

So the essential question was: “Could I innovate and make my own iPad Lab Charging Cart?”

My first stab was a milk crate– hmmm… didn’t roll, 24 iPads were pretty heavy, wasn’t even slightly secure, iPads were exposed to dust and dirt, and the clincher was- how do I charge all this stuff?! In my job role, I am so tired of wires, cables, adapters, cords, chargers, etc. Sometimes networking seems to be more like tangling than connecting!

So the next choice was a rolling file cart. I was pleased to find that this particular cart would accommodate nearly 40 iPads in two rows with the charging dock facing up. Here is a step by step to help you build your own iPad Rolling Classroom Lab!
–note that this set of instructions is for a lab that charges, but doesn’t provide the hardware for wired syncing


1) Purchase Vaultz Locking Mobile Wheelie Chest. This link is available for your convenience, but I have seen these at Staples, and Office Depot.

2) Test for iPad Capacity.
Of course, before you start to modify or invest in other parts for this project, it would be good to check and see if your iPads will fit as nicely as mine did. I didn’t purchase an iPad case that added substantial thickness or width to the overall size of each iPad. So try your iPads and see if you will be able to accommodate as many as you need. Ultimately the finished project will position the iPads over the wheels and leave room for the chargers in the front of the box as seen here above left.

Remember, you want to be able to charge these in the cart, so there should be room above the iPad for the charging cables without undo stress.



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3) Use a Hole Saw.

I wanted my iPad Cart to accommodate chargers, cables and a powerstrip to plug the chargers into inside the box, so the teacher could lock the iPads up each night while they were recharging. So I used a hole saw to cut a port in the front left bottom corner of the box. In retrospect I could have used a smaller diameter hole saw, it just needs to be big enough to thread the plug of the power strip through. After all this is set up, I will cover the hole with a square of felt with a slit for the cord to pull through.

4) Build your Charging Station. Buy 6 USB 4 Port Chargers (for 24 iPads).
I wrestled for a while with finding powerstrips that would allow 6 or 8 Apple iPad Chargers to sit side by side on one powerstrip. I would think that there is something like this out there, but as I was working through this, I realized that it would be hard to fit three of these powerstrips, with their cables and the iPad chargers into the space I was saving for this. So then I begin looking for third party USB charging stations. None of what I found provide the full amperage that a single Apple iPad charger provides, but the one I selected Provides standard USB 5V at up to 2A (max). From experience, this meant that if four iPads were plugged in to one of these, it would take approximately four times as long to charge as if I used the Apple Charger. If school ended at 4 PM and started at 9 AM the following day, there would be more than enough time to get a full charge restored to the iPads (17 hours). I have heard that the new iPad takes a bit longer to charge than iPad 2 and iPad 1. Some background information from––> Gizmodo.

5) You may need to grind down the charger AC adapter.
I found that I needed to remove some of the plastic wings that were apart of the aesthetic design of the chargers.

wings may also serve to stabilize the charger on the wall or powerstrip, but once my chargers were attached to the powerstrip, that would not be an issue, since they would be so close side by side, they would stabilize each other.

Your powerstrip may not require you to cut these off.

I had access to a grinder, but you may need to use a vice with a sander to do the same job. Careful of the hot plastic, it burns!

6) Assemble the Chargers.
I initially want to have capacity for 24 iPads in my cart. The power strip I chose had 5 outlets, so I put four of the 4 Port USB chargers on that block, then I added a three outlet extension cord to the 5th outlet on the powerstrip. Eventually I could have 28 iPads charging in this cart: (7) 4 Port USB charging blocks.

The 4 port USB Charging Blocks have the option of removing the AC adapter built in and using a Figure 8 AC Adapter cord similar to what is found on VCRs and other household electronics.

7) Hide the Wire Mess Part 1
As I mentioned before, as an educational technologist, wires are necessary, but I often get overwhelmed and frustrated dealing with the spaghetti that is the bane of my existence. I wanted to keep this neat and easy to use for my teachers and students. The next step was to cut a piece of 3/8” plywood so that it fit in and formed a wall between the charging chamber and the iPad chamber.

The plywood fits down below the metal rail that the top of the cart rests in.

I also cut and used wood glue to adhere a 1” X 1” to the bottom of my chamber wall. This will help reinforce (keep from bowing) and stabilize the wall. I will also put velcro on the bottom of it, to help keep the wall in place.

8) Hide the Wire Mess Part 2
Next comes the cover to hide the wires, powerstrip and USB Charging Blocks. Using leftover scrap from the 3/8” plywood, I cut notches in it to pass the USB charging cables through. The slits don’t have to be exact in size or depth, just relatively evenly spread apart. I made enough for 7 charging blocks in case I get as many as (4x7) 28 iPads to populate this case.

I found that a sharp razor knife was the easiest way to cut
black felt to cover the two pieces of plywood. You could hot glue the felt, but I found it fast and easy to use a staple gun. I then used scissors to cut slits where the cords would slide through.

Note: It is amazing how nice jury rigged things look once you cover them in black felt. smiley_smile

9) Neatening Everything Up
I started to use wire twist ties to group the four wires so they would not be randomly going everywhere, then I decided to use nylon ties. The nylon ties were much tighter, and provided a cleaner look. I only want enough of the cables to stick through as necessary to reach the iPads.

I used a few more small strips of velcro to hold the top to the side of the divider plywood. Even though the velcro had a pretty strong adhesive, I used the staple gun to secure the felt and velcro to the plywood. Everything was wedged pretty tight so that probably wasn’t necessary, but kind of helped seal things up.

img_0998-810) Cushion for the Bumpy Sidewalk
Our school is an outdoor school with rather old sidewalks between wings, so I put a couple of sheets of foam under the iPads to provide a little additional cushioning. It probably was not really necessary, but it didn’t cost me anything extra, so why not?

11) Last Step: Velcro the Power Strip Cable
The last thing I did was use a small wood screw to fasten a velcro wrap to the side of the case so that during transport the Power Strip Cable was not dragging around on the ground.

Shopping List (not all items are mandatory)
Vaultz Locking Mobile Wheelie Chest
Two scraps of 3/8” plywood
5 port surge supressor powerstrip
6 Cosmos 4-Port Wall USB Chargers
~24 Small Nylon Ties
24 USB –>iPad Dock Cables
Small Piece of Black Felt (less than a square yard)
Short Extension Cord with three plugs at the end
Figure 8 electrical AC Adapter cord
Foam packing layer

Hole Saw
Razor Knife
Staple Gun
Table, Band, or Circular Saw to cut wood
Sander or Grinder to modify the USB chargers if necessary

I would love to hear from you if you have any comments, corrections, or suggestions. Leave your comments below or send me an email!


What Do Kids in the Hall Say About Your Class?

A collection of nationally reknown educators recently started a Facebook Group built around Angela Maiers mantra “You Matter”. The “Choose 2 Matter” group asked for examples of how we have helped some one Choose 2 Matter. This blog post is a response to that question.
In my role as technology consultant, I work with relatively small groups of teachers in two cities a week during the summer and at least 1 group a month during the school year around the nation. Although it is not a required part of the curriculum, I always try and fit in a discussion / activity concerning Classroom Culture.

Classroom Culture is one of the last, but most important areas that teachers still have considerable control. As educators, we set the stage for our classroom. We can’t do much about the baggage that our students bring with them into the classroom, we don’t often get to choose the textbook or course standards, and we often are limited considerably by our physical environment (paint, temperature, sound levels, type of lighting, etc.). But we do have considerable control how learning activities are staged.

So the essential question is:
What do the students say among themselves about your class?

Answering this question may be a depressing thing to contemplate. I think most all teachers want their students to like them, and maybe even more they want them to like their subject area and course.

So I believe this is a very important reflection activity for us as educators…
What do they say? and What would we like them to say?… Once we have answered these questions, the next obvious question is How do we get there?

Some of the first answers to the last question from workshop participants is:
Respect your students, and teach them to show respect to each other. Make them feel safe (physically, emotionally, and intellectually) in the borders of your domain.
Carefully choose your words and perhaps watch video of your self interacting with your students in both whole group as well as small group settings. What does your body language say?
Provide not only wait time following questions, but give students time to reflect and interact with each other.
To create life long learners, passionately share your failures as opportunities to learn. Model life long learning. Props to
David Warlick for this thought.

You will no doubt begin to come up with many more ideas, but I would like to leave you with one additional strategy to consider. Now that digital cameras are on most everyone’s phones, and cameras are readily available in other forms, MAKE PICTURES all the time! Capture your students working, struggling, discussing, debating, laughing, entertaining…. or better yet have a couple of students assigned to be photojournalists for the week.

Then display those images as bell ringer slideshows, learning celebrations, and possibly on review materials, in webpages, on parent emails and conferences.

What are you communicating to the students and what does this have to do with Classroom Culture?
How about:
  • I care about you.
  • I like you.
  • I want to remember you.
  • What you do in here is important.
  • What your (brother, sister, kid down the street) did was important.
  • People/Students are a focus of this classroom.

This is just one small (fun and easy) strategy for developing a positive classroom culture, and it will take many other strategies to complete that transformation. But there are many side benefits to having a visual record of your classroom… even curriculum goals will benefit: seeing themselves doing stuff in your class will cause the concepts to be revisited and reinforce the permanence of the cognitive structures being created.


Each Choice We Make, Leads Us to the Future

I am often stimulated to deeper thought about the implications of the use of technology by Leo Laporte and his guests at one of my favorite podcasts, This Week in Technology

In last week’s episode, Leo used one of those inflammatory types of expressions that cause a gut reaction: REDLINING the INTERNET.

Redlining from Wikipedia: It describes the practice of marking a red line on a map to delineate the area where banks would not invest; later the term was applied to discrimination against a particular group of people (usually by race or sex) no matter the geography.

Now this may be a bit of exaggeration used to make a point. But it certainly got me thinking!

He said that the effect of our social graphs and digital footprints have become a sort of Social Redlining – how it works is this…
  1. We search for certain things (cookies record this)
  2. We click on certain links (cookies record this)
  3. Then when we load in a new webpage, the web server ‘serves up’ advertisements that correspond with the ‘profile’ or social graph that you have subconsciously created.

Anyone that has shopped for bird feeders on Amazon, for instance, has gotten the email: “
Customers who have shown an interest in bird feeders might be interested in the following products: (numerous related products follow).

For most of us, this is a good thing. It is a given that websites are going to serve up ads. That is how they pay the expenses of gathering content, hosting it, etc. Most of us would rather see ads for stuff we are interested in, so even the consumer benefits.

What was interesting about this though is it has an amplifying, steering affect, which may become a drawback. It may narrow your choices and restrict your experience in a bad way. If you click on one style of music several times, you may never be exposed to other styles. The marketers are making an assumption about you, which may or may not be completely true and like a self-fulfilling prophecy you become more ingrained in the things that were once only a part of the whole picture of who you are.

I am not suggesting that we explicitly teach students to change the way they click and search the internet. But I do thing there is value in discussing this as we talk about modern economics, marketing, consumer behavior and technology (media) literacy.


image found in Wikipedia article • originally from the National Archives

Reviewing an article
Reviewing an article about Google’s unifying their multitude of services has particular relevance to this idea. One of the results of this recent change in policy is to unite the data they generate to create what will certainly be one of the biggest databases of human activity and interests ever created. What can be done with that information? "The more data and the more signals that you know about any particular cookie or users, the more predictive you can be," said Mr. Wheeler, who expects to see Google release advertising products that tap into the social and interest graph the privacy policy is enabling it to build. "Their data set is being stitched together in a way that I think can bring tremendous value to advertisers." So can your social graph turn into a sort of Redlining of the Internet? What do your clicks and searches say about you?