Evernote is a great too for staying organized and I think it would be excellent for any research assignment such as the IB extended essay. This tutorial explains the basics of Evernote and how to use it as a research tool.
Self Control is a great, free app for Mac that allows you to block website that are distracting to you for set amounts of time. Say you are having trouble concentrating because you can’t stop checking your Gmail account. Then add www.gmail.com to your black list and the app will not allow you to access the site for the time that you set. You decide what is blocked and for how long. Here is a video tutorial by one of my students explaining the features of the software:
Part three of my quote series. I found those quote quite fitting as I just read this article explaining that Wikipedia is just as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica. I really don’t know why teachers have such a negative image of Wikipedia, it’s has to be the least bias and most up to date source of information in existence as people from countries, religions and all walks of life edit and modify it.
Chrome VS Firefox VS Safari, which browser do you use? Which browser offers the best experience? I get asked all the time what browser I use and why. I also ask people all the time why they use certain browsers. It’s interesting to hear peoples opinions. My favourite browser is Chrome, I find it fast, reliable and it can handle anything I throw at it. I am always running multiple tabs, opening links in new tabs, loading multiple videos at once, etc. And Chrome takes it all in it’s stride. But other than that, I find it hard to explain why I prefer Chrome. It’s the little things that make a difference I find, so I decided to go into more details and think a little deeper about one of the most used and useful tools on a computer, the browser.
When Chrome was first released, I LOVED that I no longer needed a search bar and an address bar. Anything that you typed into the address bar that wasn’t a URL, Chrome does an instant Google search for you. It didn’t take Firefox long to catch onto this idea and integrate it into their browser a few releases later. It took Safari much longer, but Safari 6 now offers this as default in their browser. One thing to note is that not all ‘omnibars’ are created equal. While Chrome and Safari can search anything in the address bar, Firefox has some troubles sometime when using special characters as the first character of a search. For example, if you wanted to search a hashtag in Firefox, it would return the result as an error. To circumvent this, you have to go Googles homepage first, then do the search from within the browser.
As I mentioned above, I use a LOT of tabs in my browser. I think Chrome handles tabs the best out of any other browser for a few reasons. One reason is that it can simply fit in more tabs than any other browser. It consenses the tab and makes them really small which is a great feature. Firefox and Safari’s tabs will not shrink past a certain size, which means you have to scroll through your tabs from a button on the right of the screen. Less than ideal.
Another great feature of Chromes tabs is that when you are closing them, they don’t change size until you move your cursor. This makes it really easy to close multiple tabs fast. Just hover over the close button and keep clicking. You do not have to move your cursor around finding the correct close button on each tab. On Firefox and Safari when you close a tab, the other tabs resize immediately, making it inconvenient to close multiple tabs in a row.
The final thing that I like about the tabs in Chrome is the ability to pin them as app tabs. If you right click a tab and pin it, it will then shrink and stick to the start of your row of apps. I use app tabs for sites that I visit regularly like email. This feature is also available in Firefox, but not Safari and is one of the main reasons I don’t use the new Safari more often.
It’s important to have your PDF’s open natively in a browser window. It’s a hassles to have to download them and then open them in a viewer. I think Safari was the first browser to support this, but Chrome also now has this feature integrated. Unfortunately Firefox has still not caught up. It’s possible in Firefox but you have to modify the original software with an add on to allow this function.
When I first started using Firefox’s sync feature, I could stop lugging a computer between work and home and work totally from the cloud. This sync feature is great as it allows you to save all of you passwords, history, cookies, bookmarks, etc. in the cloud and sync it with any computer you use. So when you have your browser synced, the saved passwords that you used at work, are now also saved at home on your browsers. Firefox offers this, but the inital sync up is hard as you have to enter serial numbers that seem to expire, so you really need both computers at the same place, at the same time to initially make this happen. Chrome uses your Google account to sync your information, making it really easy to use. Safari offers a syncing feature through iCloud, however it only syncs opened tabs, no other information.
Once again, Chrome shows how advanced it is by creating an app store. You can download a range of different apps into your browser. My favorite is offline mail, incase your away in a distant land without internet connection, you can still view, read, compose, send and reply to mail (obviously the mail you send to will not be sent until you reestablish an internet connection).
The final nail in the coffin is Chrome’s remote desktop feature. If you wish to, you can use Chrome to control a remote computer, anywhere in the world, as long as you and the computer you want to access has Chrome, an internet connection and someone at the other end allowing the connection to happen. Just download the app and it walks you through the whole process. This is a super powerful tool that usually costs a considerable amount of cash. However, Chrome allows the download of this app for free!
In summary, as you can see from the table below, Chrome comes out a clear winner in usability and innovation. I highly recommend using it on any computer you have. Firefox comes along close behind, in second. Unfortunately, in my opinion, even with the recent advancements, Safari 6 has a long way to go if it wants to be competitive.
Chrome and Firefox can be download for free from their respective website:
|Address bar search||
✓ (only with Safari 6)
|Fully function address bar||
|Tabs don’t move when closing||
|Pinable app tabs||
with add on
It seems that more and more teachers are becoming comfortable with technology and want to jump in feet first. This is great, because they are becoming more in control of their digital footprint. The first step a teacher can take when they accept the internet as a positive contributor to their professional life is to develop a digital portfolio. It’s becoming more and more common for teachers to have a digital portfolio, along with an online CV, details of work experiences and jobs as well as a range of other aspects about their career.
There are many options when creating an online portfolio. A lot of people have a blog and that is where they write reflections on their learning, reflections of what they have taught, displays of students work, etc. Sometimes they also have static sections where they list their work experience, contact details, references, etc. This is much more fluid and changes every day/week/month.
Others are more static, so it doesn’t change very often and is only updated when your resume updates. I think this is less effective as it wont show up very high in search engine results (you wont have many links on it or people wont have your page linked very much because there will be nothing to share on it, plus it’s not updated a lot. All factors which contribute to high search engine ranking). Also, this way of creating an online portfolio is much more like using new technology (websites) in old ways (static resume).
So here are some options when creating a professional teacher portfolio:
www.blog.com – This is a free blogging platform (with the option of a paid upgrade), powered by WordPress. It has advertisements but has good customer support and allows a lot of customization for a free service.
www.pbworks.com – A wiki platform that you can easily use to create websitex (less visual modification is available). This is what I my course delivery site but it could be customized any way you like. Example – www.misternorris.pbworks.com
WordPress (with external host such as www.godaddy.com) – similar to WordPress.com, but it’s fully customizable, has no adds and allows you to make sure to fully constomize your URL. You have to pay a small fee each year for the domain (URL) and website hosting (about $50 a year). This also allows you to have your own custom email account (E.g. firstname.lastname@example.org). This is what I use for this site.
As you can see, there are many options, depending on your needs, budget and how much customization you use. If you are using something else, be sure to share in the comments below.
I realized that a lot of people struggle remembering shortcuts. So I wanted to come up with the easiest way possible for people to remember them. In the past, I made posters and hung them around the school. But for the average user, they would need to print it out and stick it at their desk. This wouldn’t really be something I would do so I tried to think of better ways. Then I realized that if I made a desktop wallpaper, everyone could have it on their computer, with instant access. What a great idea! This is the result:
So now all you have to do is click the download link above. This will open the image in a separate tab. Now right click (hold control and click) then image and select ‘Set As Desktop Background’. Now all you have to do is remember or write on a small piece of paper the shortcut of fn + F11 and it will hide all of your windows so that you can now see all of the shortcuts! I would recommend writing the hide all shortcut on a small piece of paper and sticking it to the bottom of your screen so it’s always there.
I designed the poster with some black space on the right so that you can have some documents on your desktop. I think this poster will also give you incentive to keep your desktop clean or else you wont be able to see the shortcuts!
If I have missed any important shortcuts please let me know in the comments below. I would have liked to add of the mouse/trackpad shortcuts, so maybe I’ll make another version in the future with those in it.
Please let me know if this was useful to you by leaving a comment below. If you like it, please share it and spread the word.
The internet, it’s economy and it’s ramerfercations have come about in such a short time span it’s hard to know to put it into perspective. For most of our students, being digital natives, they have no idea that there was life before the internet. They have no idea that MySpace dominated before Facebook and that the idea of having affordable internet on a mobile phone (thanks to the iPhone) is also a very recent manifestation of technological advancements. I also think it’s good for us that were around when all of these amazing technological advancements came about to remember when it all happened.
So I was researching to see if anyone had made a timeline of when these technological advancements came about but I couldn’t find anything decent enough. So I decided to make my own. I hope you enjoy it and can use it in your classrooms.
I used Prezi to develop the timeline as I’ve had the idea to use Prezi for a while. I love the three dimensional features of Prezi, being able to not just move up, down, left, right but also in and out. I think for a timeline this is a great idea as it can give the viewer some perspective and infinite amount of detail can be added to the timeline as each section can be zoomed in further and further to add new events and details. In reality this worked well, but I did have regular problems importing images. I love that you can search for and import images straight from inside Prezi. But that feature was a little glitchy and didn’t work 100% of the time. Dragging and dropping from my desktop was also not effective at all. The best way I found adding pictures worked was finding them online, saving them to my desktop, then uploading them in Prezi. This was a little time consuming. But over all, I’m very happy with the results and would love to see someone use Prezi as a timeline in more detail to see how the zooming in and out of events could really change the way we write and view timelines.
In 2012 you would think that we could develop machines reliable enough that they do not fail and we do not have to back up our work. But in reality, that’s not the case. Computers hard drives can crash. People can lose or damage their device beyond repair. Viruses can permiate your machine rendering them useless. You may lose your machine in a fire or a flood. The hard reality is that our data is just not safe enough being just on your hard drive. This is where backup comes in. A lot of people know they should backup, but not many actually do it. And usually when you get that ‘ah ha’ moment and you realize how great an idea it is to backup, your computer is broken and you have lost your whole digital life. I would suggest to use a backup solution BEFORE you lose all of your files. Save the tears and stress of it all. So to help you, I have outlined a few solutions below in order of least reliable to most reliable.
THE LEVELS OF BACKUP
LEVEL 1 – Partition
Ease of use: Medium
It’s essential that you have another copy of your data. You can partition your hard drive (basically cut it in half and have a copy of your work on the other half in case one half is lost), but that’s not so safe because if your hard drive fails or you lose it, you’ve still lost all your data. It’s hard to transfer data from one partition to another because the drives may not be the easiest to access. On the upside, partitioning is free, provides reasonable safeguards against a virus and requires no extra hardware.
LEVEL 2 – A USB drive or portable hard drive
Cost: ~€0.08 / GB
Ease of use: Medium for tradition back up, easy if using Time Machine
A backup on a USB drive or a hard drive that you carry around with your computer is one step better than a patrician, but it’s still not the most reliable solution. What happens if your drop your computer in a puddle? Or your computer bag gets stolen? Both copies of the data are gone. The reliability of a portable external drive is OK, but if your external hard drive also crashes at the same time, then you have lost both copies of your data as hard drives have a limited life cycle. You also have to make sure you keep all of the folder structures the same and make sure you are regularly plugging the drive in and and dragging the files to the drive (unless using Time Machine which is highly advised). The chance of having the most up to date copy of your data when something goes wrong are slim, because in my experience, chances are your last backup was a month or so ago, if you could be bothered plugging it in at all. Also, USB drives have limited capacities and are so small and portable that they can be very easily lost or damaged.
LEVEL 3 – An external hard drive stored at home
Cost:~€0.08 / GB
Ease of use: Medium for tradition back up, easy if using Time Machine
This is a better again, as it’s hard to lose or damage, but the downside is you have to remember to backup your work regularly. Chances are, you will start out with the best of intentions, then get lazy and rarely back up. One good thing to do if you are using any hard drive is to use Time Machine to back up your data. All you have to do is plug in your external hard drive, turn on Time Machine (and leave it on) then your computer will make a disk image of itself automatically, each time you plug it in. So if you created a document on Monday, then accidentally deleted it on Wednesday, you could go ‘back in time’ and restore your computer from Monday’s image.
One consideration is that you have to make sure the drive is big enough to fit the image on it, so it needs to be at least the same size as your computers hard drive, ideally twice the size. So your looking at about a $100 outlay. Another good feature of Time Machine is that it has a pop up that reminds you if you haven’t backed for a while. If you do choose to use an external device, I highly recommend using Time Machine with your Mac.
LEVEL 4 – Create Your Own Server In Your Bedroom
Ease of use: Pro level
Basically, you run your own server from your house and access it remotely. This can work but is expensive as you need another computer and is so difficult, that only super savvy computers users could set it up. I have no idea how it works myself, so don’t ask me for help!
LEVEL 5 – Time Capsule
Cost: €0.15 / GB (However this also includes wireless printing and a wireless router. Actual cost per gig should be around the same as an external hard drive.)
Easy of use: EASY!
Time Capsule is a hard drive and wireless router made by Apple. It walks you through creating a wireless network in your house and also backs up your computer wirelessly using Time Machine. It does this automatically, so if you are out and about and make changes on your computer, when you get home and connect to the wireless connection, your backup is updated. This is a great backup solution and there are many other cool features of the Time Capsule, like wireless printing and many wireless network settings such as guest log in, etc.
The only downside is if you are out and about, you create or change many important files and then lose your laptop, the changes will not be saved as your computer had not had a chance to make it to your wireless network. The other problem is if your laptop and Time Capsule get destroyed (flood, fire, etc.), all your data is gone.
LEVEL 6 – Cloud Backup
Cost: Backblaze $50/year (unlimited backup space), Carbonite $59/year (unlimited backup space), SugarSync $150/year (100 GB), Mozy $110/year (125 GB), etc.
Ease of use: Very easy
Over the last few years, the internet has seen the emergence of ‘the cloud’. Basically, a ‘cloud’ is a place where you store or access files online, rather than on your computers hard drive. The advantage to this is that you can access your files anywhere on any device with internet. The other advantage is that the servers that the information is stored on is generally much more reliable than any hard drive you or I could maintain. They are in big storage facilities with a multitude of cooling and maintenance solutions with a whole range of backup to protect the servers. Generally, the servers are backed up onsite as well as off site, saving the data from a local disaster (flood, fire, earthquake, etc.). As a result, the reliability is amazing.
One good way to utilize this technology is to use a cloud backup solution. There are a multitude of options around but personally, I use Backblaze as it’s the cheapest I could find that meets my needs. For Backblaze, all you do is install a small app and it does the rest for you. It send all of your files securely to their servers, fully encrypted and safe. As soon as you make a change on your computer, it updates it. As long as you have an internet connection, anywhere, it keeps all of your work backed up, trouble free, automatically. There is no limit to how much space you can use on their server. Another great feature is if you are away from your computer and need to access files (for example, you need files from your home computer on your work computer), you can log into the website and download any files from the cloud that you need.
As for the price, the way I see it is it’s the same price as a new external hard drive every two year, but without the hassles of remember to plug it in, maintain it, etc. with unlimited space. For me, I think this is easily the simplest, safest, most reliable backup solution available and a great investment in your digital life.
This school year, my school had two laptop carts. One in the elementary school and one in the middle/high school. The computers are house in a big, grey metal cart. When it arrived, the cart had no power capabilities, so basically we just purchased the structure and we had to set up the chargers and cables. From what I was informed, the carts are hard to source in Japan, so it had to be shipped to Tokyo from the US. I was also told that the cart cost roughly ¥3000. Or when put in perspective, three laptops. Now that’s an expensive grey box!
I for one think this is ridiculous! It cost three computers in the hands of students, just to roll the computers around. So myself and my department have been thinking of better ways to house and transport the computers. We tried static shelves. It worked but the computer had to be transported by the children, one by one before and after each lessons. This would have worked if the computers were being used by just one class, but they were a shared resource which made it tough. We sat the shelf in the hallway and students would pick them up, carry then to class, and return them when they were finished. We thought about the idea of putting the computers in tubs and carrying the tubs. The problem with this is that it was just way too heavy. Four computers in a tub weighed much more than was safe to carry. Not to mention how cumbersome it was and how easy it was to spill them.
After a few failed attempts, we put the ideas to rest and decided that the only way to transport our computers was to use an expensive cart. Until one of our team noticed what another school in the areas was doing. They were using pre fabricated shelving, putting wheels on it then storing and transporting their laptops on shelves. I had not seen the actual cart, just heard about it, but I was a little skeptical. It sounded very messy and a cheap way around the problem. But my boss was adamant that it would work and purchased all of the equipment needed. I set it all up with the help of the computer technician, on one of the last days of school so that it could be ready for teachers and students on the first day of next year.
When reading the box, I noticed that it said the shelves could hold up to 120KG. When looking at the flimsy shelves, I was VERY skeptical of this claim. I didn’t think it could hold the technician, let alone both of us on it together! So we tested it. I had the technician stand on it. I expect it to bend and come close to breaking, but it passed the 40KG weight test with ease. I then tried it. Once again, I didn’t think it could hold up, but it passed the 80KG test with flying colours. This is when I knew that this cart was going to be strong!
We started putting it together and at every level of the shelving, I stood on it to make sure that all the joint were in place. No tools required, just a Lego mindset and some imagination and you could make anything out of this stuff.
We set aside the bottom shelf for the chargers. The next shelf housed six computers, two stacked on top of each other. We had another two shelves the same then a top cover. It would have been quite easy to add another three shelves so that each row of three laptops had their own shelf, but we didn’t feel this was necessary. We put sides all the way around the cart so the computers would not fall out, on all sides except the front so students could slide the computers in and out.
The wiring took a long time to do. All up it took 2.5 hours and the construction of the cart took about 30 minutes, so about two hours to make sure the wiring was right. But we wanted to do it once, do it properly and not have to worry about it again. It was fiddly, but we made sure it was all cable tied into place and run along sections that computer would bump out of place.
The final product, I think, is actually better than the more expensive version. It’s lighter, more maneuverable, more customizable and much smaller. When compared side by side, it’s about half the height! This is a plus for students, as I know how awkward they consider the grey box to roll around. Some teachers even have troubles. So being smaller and lighter, it should be well received by students and teachers. The cables are easily set in place, unlike in the grey box. However, there are a few negative aspects of the new cart. If you are concerned about security, then the new cart can not be locked. But for our applications, we never locked the old cart anyway. One other concern we anticipated was that the shelves would be too low and skinny for teachers to get the computers in and out of. But my reasoning is, the computers are for student use, so the shelf is the perfect size for children’s hands. They can easily get computers out and put them away. The computers are for student use at the end of the day, so why not design the cart with the same principals in mind.
So despite the few negatives, I think the fact that it only cost $300 all up, a 10th of the price of the grey box and a saving of two and two thirds of a laptop, the new, small, customized, prefabricated cart is by far the better choice. What do you think? Have you seen other alternatives?
At the start of the school year, I set myself the large goal of implementing open, online portfolios in the form of blogs for all of my students from Grade Three to Grade Seven. I started them off with middle school (Grade 5, 6 and 7) right at the start of the year. I planned to implement the project with Grade 4 and Grade 3 a bit later in the year. As I only teach one 40 minute period per class, per week, it took a few weeks to get them off the ground. But this included constant revision and online safety lessons all rolled into the setting up of blogs for all students. Once we had them up and running, the students started to post in their portfolios and add some work to them. This was great to see and their reflections were always interesting to read.
I did spend a lot of time in those first few lessons reinforcing responsible online citizenship and what was and wasn’t appropriate and acceptable. I also constantly reminded the students that their blog was their professional portfolio, which means they could post whatever they liked, as long as it had to do with their ‘profession’. In short, it had to be about learning. All of the students really respected these rules and guidelines. They were very constructive with their comments on other posts. They always asked if it was OK to post something they weren’t sure of. Not once did I have to say that what they were posting was inappropriate. But at least I knew they were thinking before they jumped in and published which was great to see. Once or twice, I had to speak to a student and ask them how the 15 Taylor Swift photos they posted were related to their learning. After some thought, they usually just took it down. These conversation were really important as it helped reinforced to the students as to why they were creating their portfolios. And I believe, because they were given trust and responsibility, they all lived up to the high expectations that were set. Not once did we I find an instance of bullying. Not once did I find the students posting anything rude, derogatory, defamatory, etc. The fact that everything could be traced back to them, could have also helped with this situation, but I also think the fact that we trusted them, in an open and public forum really made them live up to expectations.
I then encouraged other teachers to ask the students to post work from their classes in their portfolios. A few really jumped at the chance to be able to display the work they were doing with their children. Students and teachers started to comment on the posts which also made their learning more relevant, giving the students a real world context and purpose for their work. Not to mention meaningful two way feedback. Some teachers didn’t quite understand the concept or purpose and as a result, didn’t utilize the students portfolios to their full potential. But I see this not as a criticism of them, but more a criticism of myself and my explanation of the tool to the teachers. I also didn’t ask all teachers as I wanted the portfolios to have a slow introduction into the students learning. I also didn’t want to overwhelm the teachers and make them think it was extra work (it’s not, I continually reinforced to the students that it was their portfolio and their responsibility). This is fine and I hope it is rehashed with the teachers next year, encouraging all staff to get involved, now that they can see how it looks one year on. Another way that this could be approached is to have teachers developing their own portfolios so that they can see how meaningful they are in the learning process. If the teacher knows, uses and believes in the purpose of the tool, I would assume that the tool would be more widely used in the classroom.
One stumbling point that I came across was the parents reactions. I jumped in feet first, and didn’t educated them enough about the cause. I also didn’t educate my superiors enough because when parents asked them questions about the portfolios, sometimes they couldn’t answer the questions the parents had. As a result, in November, just a few weeks into the implementation of the portfolios, I led a parent information session titled, ‘Digital Citizenship – Educating 21st Century Learners’. Ideally, this should have been at the start of the year, before or as we were starting to implement the portfolios for all middle school students. If I had the chance again, I would implement more regular, informal parents sessions as well, just so they understood where technology integration and implementation is leading and to break down the fear that is sometimes associated with new technology. In the future, I have to remember to get the parents and admin on board, even if it is a project that I plan to implement myself, in my class time. I have to make sure all stakeholders understand why the students are making their own portfolios, why they are so important, what amazing benefits they offer and also the possible risks and how we plan to address these issues.
This was the main reason why I didn’t end up introducing the portfolios to Grade 3 and 4. I saw the resistance from parents as a sign that maybe we aren’t ready to go down into the junior school with portfolios just yet and if we can show how effective they are in the middle school, then maybe the junior school parents and teachers can also see the amazing benefits. I do think that the students could manage the portfolios very easily, but I think it would take some education to get all stake holders on board.
In the end, I was very proud of how the middle school students utilized their portfolios this school year. There are some amazing posts and they look great. The students are working things out for themselves (Maybe all caps isn’t a good way to write? Maybe a different colour text for each line isn’t really necessary?) and I feel it’s really showing their thought process and learning.
I would also really recommend it to any educator that started to think about doing this in their own classroom. The ways that work can be displayed is not possible on paper. The fact students constantly reflect and write to a huge audience is not possible on paper either. Having a real world audience, where teachers, principals, parents, grandparents, family, etc. can all read and follow a students progress is so powerful! Students understand the implications of a wide, authentic audience and want to perform at their best. Plus the real world digital citizenship experience and trust that I gave the students to have their own publish space online is a huge benefit to any classroom.
I urge you to read some posts by my students and give some feedback, they love comments as much as adults! Here is an RSS feed of all of the middle school portfolios, I hope you enjoy them!
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