Monday, October 23, 2017

Create A Custom Mobile Experience with Microsoft PowerApps

I recently dabbled with Microsoft PowerApps, creating a custom mobile experience for my own data collection process. PowerApps comes packaged with our Office 365 tenant so there was no additional cost. Overall it was fairly straightforward and easy to get up and running quickly.

Like so many things, the actual interface was quick to construct, most of it pulling from templates. Where most people will struggle is in the construction of the data management tools behind the app. I already had a working Excel spreadsheet for collecting data so that part was already done.

PowerApps quickly pulled together a mobile experience where I could sort, filter and search through spreadsheet data. I can also create additional lines in the spreadsheet using mobile form fields. I liked being able to make two separate apps for different sheets in the same workbook, helping to keep my data organized.

Now I already had the same Excel spreadsheet pinned to the home screen of my Android phone. So the PowerApp did not provide any additional functionality, but the form based fields are much easier to use on a phone than the native spreadsheet mechanisms in the mobile Excel app.

If you have access to Microsoft PowerApps and use your mobile device frequently, I highly recommend exploring the possibilities of streamlining data collection and documentation through custom apps. To learn more or to get started, check out Microsoft's Introduction to PowerApps tutorial.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Book Review: The Crossover

The Crossover The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Crossover uses the rhythm of rap and the visual expression of poetry to tell the story of twin middle school brothers. Their father played professional basketball and while his sons show similar promise on the court, the boys struggle to reconcile other interests.

While the crossover is the family's signature move on the court, the concept carries haunting implications in their lives of the court. Told from the single perspective of one of the twins, the story has passion, depth and heartfelt anguish typical of almost every middle school student.

I liked the way the entire book was written as poetry or lyrics. Each chapter filled only a page or two so it was quick to read. However, while the pace flowed quick like a fast break, the content and meaning was rich and thick. Several times I had to go back and catch the subtle inferences from the previous chapter that blossomed with fuller meaning in the next.

I recommend this book for middle school and up, especially those who might not enjoy poetry. The language can be a bit rough, more indicative of rap and sports smack talk bravado. Underneath is a tenderness and heart for family.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Book Review: Nimona

Nimona Nimona is an enjoyable quick read. Because its origins as a web comic, the overall pace and plot development reminded me of reading serial comics like Alley Oop every day in the newspaper. There are a handful of expletives sprinkled throughout and a couple sexual innuendos which places this graphic novel into the high school category for me.

Nimona's backstory has elements of The Highlander, Dr Who's Ashildr and a few other ancient myths. The modern mix of science, magic, and heraldry gives this tale of friendship a quirky backdrop for familiar themes of morality, prejudice and forgiveness. Noelle's artwork is charming and focused on story development of superfluous details.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

60 Degree Designs with SketchUp

This weekend I used SketchUp to design plans for a three sided, rotating stage scene device called a periaktos. The picture does not include the foam board panels that would be painted and cover the framing.

SketchUp is a great tool for detailed design work. It takes a little practice and non-linear thinking to piece it together. In fact, I prefer to draw the pieces as they would be cut, then convert them to components so they are less likely to become distorted.

This particular design required several "cuts" at 60 degrees so the protractor tool got quite the workout. I also imported two warehouse components, the 5 gal bucket, and the castors - no need to literally reinvent the wheel.

If anyone has experience building a periaktos, please let me know what challenges you faced. I believe this design meets all the requirements but I sometimes wonder what problems I have yet to discover. I have separate designs for lumber cuts and construction of each flat frame.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Change Your Outlook Challenge

Can you customize your Office email experience? Take the Change Your Outlook Challenge. #gamifyed

This week I made a deck of Outlook Challenge cards and challenged staff to compete against each other. The rules are simple:

Break into teams (pairs work best). Shuffle the deck and place it face down. One team takes a card off the top. If they can demonstrate how to perform the action, they keep the card. If they are not sure, they may challenge the other team to perform the task. Whichever team successfully completes the challenge keeps the card. The team with the most cards wins!

On the bottom of each card is the Microsoft Office Outlook support website where each of the card items was pulled from. Step by step instructions are included on the website for each card. I also pointed out that the correct instructions change based on the Outlook version used.

Feel free to make your own cards or download, print and cut apart my set.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Know and Protect Your Copyrights

My very bad drawing of a unicorn
recent article by the Washington Post drew a different type of attention to President Trump's latest cartoon tweet. While national TV news broadcasts focused on the inflammatory nature of the image, the Post explored the origins of the cartoon.

The original editorial cartoon was drawn by Indianapolis Star cartoonist Gary Varvel. Since Gary and I taught together several years ago, I recognized the drawing as his style. It seems several others recognized his work and wondered about his views on the President's commentary.

This incident provides educators a great opportunity to remind students that reworks, mashups and covers all need permission and attribution from original sources. Copyright infringement occurs frequently and without thinking. Fortunately the Indianapolis Star has some influence and resources to protect it's brand, though I doubt they will get far against the White House. Individual artists have little to no resources for addressing copyright infringement.

While the law can be difficult to understand, Copyright Kids provides a simple explanation with links and resources, including curriculum for teachers.

Note: The photo is a drawing of a unicorn I made at the request of a K5 class. No one has asked to reproduce it.