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The other day I was contacted by a group representing Lenovo who told me that they were interested in having me review a computer of theirs.  I’ve done this sort of thing before and was already excited, but the email just got better and better.  In a nutshell, they think they have a great computer for the education space and wanted to have some educators put it through it’s paces.  They sent me a Lenovo ThinkCentre M90z without an expiration date, with the expectation that I’ll share out how I use it.  No problems there, right up my alley.  But the best part is…  they’re giving me the chance to give a second identical unit to give to a Teach42 reader!

Yeah, you read that right.  Details are forthcoming, but rest assured, a computer exactly like the one in this post will be given away to one of you.  How?  That’s all shaping up (pun intended) and I’m not quite ready to give out details yet, but you’ll find out soon.

In the meantime, I tried to figure out how I could best make use of this machine in my own life AND figure out the best ways it would fit into the educational space.  The obvious answer just happened to be on my lap as I was reading the initial email…  my own little digital native, Aiden.  We decided to let him have a nicer computer than my wife and I have and see how it works for him.

I’ll be honest, having spent quite a bit of time in the realm of early childhood, computers are a tricky subject for me.  I think there’s tremendous value in using them with kids, but the input devices are not well suited to them.  Mice are a challenge to kids who are still developing fine motor skills and the keyboard is just a place to smash fists into.  And that’s why the feature I was most excited about with this machine is the 23″ multitouch display!  I couldn’t wait for Aiden to get his hands on it (pun intended), especially since he’s had extensive experience with the iPhone and iPad.

A week or so ago, the computer arrived and I figured since it was going to be ‘his’ computer, I’d let Aiden help unbox it.  I can’t speak for you, but I guess I had no idea just how big a 23″ screen is.  I’ve gotten used to laptops, where a 17″ screen is considered to be huge.  This thing was massive.  Interestingly though, the box wasn’t.

Aiden breaks open the box

I’ve unboxed a slew of computers.  I was fully expecting to pull off the ‘upside down box pull’ maneuver to get the machine out.  So I was rather surprised to see a couple of straps and find that the entire computer would be pulled from the box in an oversized bag, the likes of which we might take to the farmers market.  Definitely unique way to do it and made it really easy to get the computer set up.

We'll see this bag again at the farmers market

The other thing I’m used to is a massive pile of cables and pieces.  Power cable for computer, power cable for monitor, monitor vga cable, two or three speaker cables, mouse cable, keyboard cable, ethernet cable, and who knows what else.  This computer had four things.  Power cable, Keyboard, Mouse… and the computer.  That’s it.  It seemed almost too simplistic.  But no need for everything else.  It’s an all in one, so no separate monitor.  Built in WiFi so no ethernet.  Plug it into the wall and away we go!

Getting the keyboard out

It seems like the first time you boot up a computer, it always takes forever.  In this respect, it was no different.  Everything needs to get its initial settings and you need to go through Windows setup.  But once that was done, we were all set.

The first boot is always the longest

As I mentioned before, one of the biggest issues of using computers with young children is the peripherals.  The mouse just isn’t well suited to those little hands, and the concepts of left click and double click are just a challenge to get across.  And that’s why after a couple of minutes, we hid the mouse.  Yeah that’s right, I just put it behind the screen entirely and we started putting the touch screen through it’s paces.   It’s incredibly responsive and made navigating around the OS easy….. for me.  For him, the menus, folders and double clicking of icons was still strange.

That’s where SimpleTap comes in.  It’s a dashboard for touchscreen interfaces that overlays itself over the desktop and gives you one click access to a variety of functions.  It’s incredibly easy to add new icons to it though, so I immediately added a bunch of Microsoft multitouch apps and games that came with the computer.  Those worked well and provided us entertainment for the first hour or so.  One of his favorites was the photo collage tool, but that’s mostly because he could flick the photos around the screen and use two fingers to zoom in and out.  It was pretty similar to the iPad, but just different enough to throw him off a bit.  Small learning curve, but didn’t take too long to adjust.  Will be nice when all those gestures are standardized across all touch screen devices.

Doing what comes naturally

After that Aiden wanted to watch some videos.  He’s incredibly fond of watching Lego Star Wars stop motion videos on YouTube.  So I set up a shortcut in SimpleTap that takes him to a search for the keywords Lego Star Wars.  One click to pull up SimpleTap.  One more click to launch that search within YouTube.  And then he can watch videos and do single clicks on the related videos to watch others.

That’s when I realized that while many installable programs aren’t well suited to the touchscreen (being designed to be driven by a mouse), WEBSITES on the other hand are incredibly well suited for it.  All single clicks, and rarely do you need to worry about a right click.  So I think the bulk of the games that I’ll be setting up for him in SimpleTap are going to be web based.  Last night I set up Kerpoof and Starfall for him to explore and will keep adding as time goes on.

Like it??  Love it!!

As you can see, he loves the machine.  And with good reason, it’s beautiful, quick and incredibly easy to use.  Of course, when he isn’t in his room, I’ve been using it quite a bit too.  I’m trying to find some of the more ‘esoteric’ ways that the multitouch can be used.  But I’ll more about that later.  For now, I’ll just wrap this up by saying that when they first offered to send me the machine, I had some serious doubts about whether I could honestly say one PC had any more potential for classroom usage than any other.  I typically don’t think about brands very often, and consider most computers to be carbon copy clones of each other.  But this machine has got the wheels going in my mind.  The multitouch really does make a huge difference, and the fact that there’s so few cables/pieces actually makes me reminiscent of when I used to have to set up dozens of iMacs and eMacs at my old school.  And associating a PC with the elegance and simplicity of Macs is a rare experience for me.

So far so good.  You’ll be hearing more in the future.  And don’t forget, keep your eyes open, as one of you reading this will be getting an identical machine for yourself soon!

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