Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tools I Use As A Netbook Teacher

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I use a long list of software and hardware digital tools. Some are used for direct instruction or to engage my students in class sessions. Others keep me organized or remind me of what I need to do, when. Still others are used to share information or announcements with my students or their parents. The list below comprises my main tools, with a short description of each one.
  • Mimio Studio with a Bamboo Pen - this combination of hardware and software is in use all day long in my classroom. The Mimio software is designed to be used with their hardware, but works without it. The Bamboo is a writing surface with a pen that enables on-screen hand-written notes, drawings, and lessons. It plugs into a computer via USB. I use mine instead of a mouse. The Mimio software comes with clip art and templates, or you can import pictures, .pdf files, and more into the screens you're working on. I use Mimio "on the fly" to create notes for my students, and I also put lessons together before class begins. In that sense the software works like Powerpoint, but with more flexibility. Students can also participate by "writing on the board" during class using my laptop and Bamboo system, with a Mimio pen that writes right on the whiteboard, or a Mimio pad that works wirelessly throughout the classroom. All of the Mimio hardware is more expensive than my Bamboo pen which is available for about $60 on The Mimio software automatically gets registered if you have any one of their hardware tools plugged into your computer when you download the software.
  • WiFi projection system - with my Apple TV I can use this system, described in a separate post, to move around the classroom. My laptop, iPad or iPhone can be projected on my front-of-room screen from anywhere in the room. Because this works via WiFi I could actually be anywhere on campus and show what's on my screen. Using the Bamboo pen (see above) I can invite students to participate by writing or drawing "on the board" from their desk.
  • Dropbox and DropItToMe - I use a specific file naming system (explained below) and students save their work into their own Dropbox folder on their netbook. When it's time, they "turn in" a copy of the file that's due to my Dropbox folder via a linked DropItToMe account. They see my DropItToMe screen, type our class' password, click on "logon", then "choose file" and navigate to their file in Dropbox. Once chosen, they click SAVE and the file is uploaded to my Dropbox folder (on my laptop) via DropItToMe's link to it. It's easy to set this up, and my students can get to the link for my DropItToMe account via my website.
    • file naming format: 00paul-assignmentname, where 00 is student number, paul is student's first name, and assignmentname is a brief description of the assignment so I can distinguish between numerous in-progress projects and assignments coming into my Dropbox. When I use this naming format I can sort alphabetically and all the assignments are grouped together, sorted 01-30 by student. I can't stress how important this is. When students use the correct file name I can tell at a glance whose file is there and whose is missing.
    • I rarely use Windows anymore except to demonstrate the Windows file system or an app that only runs on Windows; otherwise, my students are exposed daily to the Mac OS as I use this computer as my main presentation tool. Meanwhile, they learn to use the Windows OS on their netbooks. By the time they leave my classroom they can navigate both operating systems fairly well, especially Windows 7/8.
  • Remind 101 - this software does one thing very well. It allows parents and/or students to "subscribe" to notices sent by the teacher via text and/or email messages. It's set up with an "opt-in" option for my school families. All I need to do is create a free account and print out a flyer that explains to parents what it is and how to sign up. If they choose to do so, then anytime I send a quick reminder ("Remember to bring your $$ for the field trip tomorrow!"), they get notification on their cell phone or email Inbox — or both.
  • SlideRocket  - I used this software to present my videos in a flipped science class; it allowed me to password protect my content. I used videos from Discovery Streaming, meant for classroom use, but embedded into the SlideRocket presentations for at-home use as part of my flipped class. The password protection prevented this subscriber content from being viewed outside of my class of students. While updating this article I discovered SlideRocket had been purchased by ClearSlide, with an unclear path ahead in terms of all the SlideRocket content I've created and posted online. This is one of the downsides to using FREE software and online platforms. You never know how long it will be available to you. By the time you read this SlideRocket for educational institutions may very well be history.
  • Google Voice - I use this for voice mail and text messaging with my class families, plus to make podcast recordings remotely. It's easy to set up a free account, and Google gives you a regular phone number that people can call to reach you. I have mine set up to go straight to voice mail, as I use it exclusively as a voice mailbox and remote recorder for podcasts. You can also make it ring through to your cell phone, home phone, work phone, or any combination simultaneously. In addition to voice calls and/or messages, you can set it up for text messaging. I like Google Voice because I can publish my Google Voice number on my website and offer additional ways for my parents and students to reach me without having to give out my cell phone number. When they leave a message it goes straight to my email and I can listen at my convenience. The text messages show up in my regular text box, and also on a separate app on my iPhone (and available in an app on my computer), too.
  • Google Sites - I use a free Google site for my class website. I also purchased a custom domain <> through which "points to" the Google site. For $15 a year (Hover) I have a professional-looking web presence that's easy to use and update as the need arises. As my families know, just about anything they want to know about our classroom, assignments, projects, my philosophy, or whatever can be found "on my website". There are plenty of helpful resources online to help walk you through the set-up and maintenance of a Google site.
  • Hover - within 5 minutes I was able to choose a domain name, or custom URL for my class website <>, and link it to my class website created with a Google Site. The people at Hover are quick to reply, very knowledgeable, and they've helped me move all of my domains to their company for a much easier and more pleasant experience. Give them a try!
  • Google Calendar - I use Google Calendar for my personal calendar. I also have a classroom calendar which is shared with my students' Google Calendars and embedded in my website for students and parents. All of my daily assignments and periodic projects are listed on this calendar.
  • Testmoz - I use Testmoz to create online tests and quizzes for my students. I purchased a "Pro" account for (I think) $20 a year so I could save all of my tests and use them over and over again. A FREE version is also available. Tests are easy to create and modify and self-graded as long as you use an "objective" type question (multiple-choice, T-F, etc.). I usually type up and hand out a paper version of essay-type questions, as they must be scored manually anyway. I've used Testmoz to have a parent monitor the test-taking of a child who could not come to school, but was able to take the test from home. I keep a silly sample on my website (the password is password) and then "turn on" the appropriate test when it's time to administer one. They can be turned ON or OFF as needed, yet are always available once you create the tests you need.
  • Socrative - as shown on my website, you can log in to my account and see the current lesson in progress when we're actively doing a Socrative lesson. Students log in with their netbooks and see the questions that I've posted. They answer the question then view how their answer compares to that of their classmates as projected in the front of my classroom from my laptop or iPad. Questions can be created beforehand, then "turned on" one at a time for class review, discussion, or as a quiz. Or, students can go through the questions at their own pace, depending on which way you design the set of questions. It's like a student response system using laptops, and it also works with iPads, iPhones or iPod Touches. The screen shown to the students at the front of my room shows how many, or what percent, of the students answered which way, so they can see how their performance compares to that of their peers. This enables me to see whether or not I need to modify my lesson and re-teach a concept. We tend to use Socrative when we're first learning a concept or skill.
  • Google Forms - Google Forms are one portion of the Google Drive set of web-based apps offered by Google. I use a Form for Visitor Feedback on my class website. Students have used Google Forms to poll their students on a wide range of topics. They then take the data which goes straight to a Google spreadsheet and graph their results. These graphs can be embedded into a Google doc, a word processed document, to report their findings. All of these web-based apps are integrated and designed to work together with each other for projects like this. When we do collaborative projects I may have one student create the Form, another analyzes the data and creates the graph, and still another writes the report, complete with embedded graphs to illustrate their findings. This is no different than the kinds of projects they may find themselves working on collaboratively someday in the world of work.
  • iShowU - (Mac-only) or Screencast-o-matic (web-based) - both of these apps capture what's on your computer screen, including any audio from your operating system or microphone if you have one, and create a video of it all. I use these apps all the time to make "screencasts" to show students how to do certain things. Recently, I started making a screencast as a way to give verbal and visual feedback to students on their writing projects handed in digitally. I simply highlight or mark up their paper right on my screen and talk them through the suggestions and comments I have. I then send them the video, usually through Dropbox, to watch at their leisure. You could also close the feedback loop by requiring them to answer three questions about the feedback you've given them, to verify that they've learned from and will make changes because of the feedback you've offered.
  • Evernote - this app is designed to help you "remember everything". Just about anything can be put into a note inside Evernote. A paid account allows up to 1 Gb of uploaded material per month, which I've never exceeded. Or, you can try it out for free with a limit on how much material you can put in. The material can be audio, video, .pdf files, or just typed notes you put into an Evernote note. I tend to either scan or take a picture of anything I want to keep or remember, and send these things straight to Evernote. I can even send something to Evernote by emailing a special address created inside my Evernote account when I signed up. A web clipper (available for all major web browsers) also allows me to send complete web pages to Evernote with one click. Notes can be tagged for easy retrieval by search, but you can also search on any word you choose because Evernote performs OCR (optical character recognition) on all the documents you put into it and will search the full text of your notes for that one word or phrase you typed in the search box. The best thing about Evernote (and also one of the main concerns some people have about it) is that your notes are stored in the Cloud—on the Internet—under your password-protected login. If you have an Android phone, iPhone, iPad, laptop, desktop, or even access to a borrowed computer, you can access your Evernote notes from any or all of these devices. They make a web-based portal, or you can download an app for any or all of these devices. That means your work shows up wherever you are. I keep notebooks for IN, NEXT ACTIONS, and REFERENCE. In addition, I keep a few project-specific notebooks like one for my upcoming vacation, the materials I'll need for a conference workshop I'm leading, and one called Retirement Planning. There are countless suggestions online for how to use Evernote as part of your everyday workflow. The one I found most helpful involves using it as part of a GTD (Getting Things Done) workflow system. I'm currently researching ways to use Evernote in an educational setting with my students. Find additional insights at The Secret Weapon or read the book by Daniel Gold called Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Getting Things Done. He also co-hosts a podcast with Andy Traub that I enjoy called The Productive Life Show. As a teacher I'm always looking for ways to improve productivity, either mine or that of my students. This app and some of the practices I've adopted with it have helped me move closer to this goal.
  • Scansnap scanners - I use two scanners, the S1100 and the iX500 for travel (kept in my backpack) or school, and at home, respectively. Both of them are used primarily to get things into Evernote, as mentioned above. Occasionally I'll email a document I've scanned, or even put a scanned picture into iPhoto on my Mac. One of my pending projects is to scan a bunch of old photos from back in the day of my family of origin. Most of them are black and white! The other project is to scan two 3-foot file drawers of paper so I can shred it all and get rid of the file cabinet.
  • - I recall when I first tried to keep my calendar on the computer. The biggest drawback then was that the software didn't allow me to see a full month or week at a glance. That's changed over the years, and so has software designed for lesson planning. The traditional lesson plan book shows a week-at-a-glance, as does planbookedu. Better yet, if I have a substitute coming, I can print out a day or a week for her and leave it on my desk. Or, I can send the plans electronically if I know who's coming and have their email address. I've lost track of how many times I've done a quick check of my plans for the after-recess class period while sitting outside with my kids. Even on an iPhone the screen is easy enough to see a day's worth of lesson plans with relative ease.
  • iPhone audio recorder to capture class lectures: iTalk, Recordium (iPhone) - there are others that probably work as well on an Android phone. These are the apps I've used on my phone to record lectures and presentations, my grandkids' voices, and plenty more. I have the most experience with iTalk, which will record a couple of hours at a time if you like, as long as you have storage room on your phone. Later, using WiFi I transfer the audio files to my Mac for editing in Audacity (see below) or, sometimes, just leave the files as-is without editing. I have a whole website which includes several audio recordings I've made of sessions I've attended while at FETC. FETC is educational-techology conference I attend each year in Orlando. I also use iTalk to record portions of my class lectures. I send them home as podcasts for my students to review before a test, or when students are absent and miss the class session.
  • Audacity - this is a free audio editor program for PC or Mac. We use it a lot to edit our podcast recordings. With it you can cut out unwanted audio sections from your recordings, or add things you forgot. You can also make multi-track recordings with your audio in one track and music in another. It's always nice to include music in your finished podcasts even if you only have a small clip in the beginning and at the end. My students love to find music on CCmixer that's been licensed for use in our podcasts.
  • Class Dojo and 1-2-3 Magic software - as I've written elsewhere (carrot vs stick), I use these two apps to keep track of student behavior. Class Dojo encourages an emphasis on positive behaviors, while I use 1-2-3 Magic to keep track of misbehaviors in the classroom. Don't get me wrong, though; both programs take a positive approach to classroom management.
  • Podcasts - I've listened to a lot of teacher-oriented audio podcasts; each one gives me ideas for teaching, educational philosophy, or reviews of software I might want to use in my classroom. I've subscribed and un-subscribed to more over the years than I remember. Here's my short list today:
    • Edreach >> Flipped Learning - this podcast focuses on issues related to a flipped classroom. A flipped classroom can take on many different forms. In my science classes I have my students view short videos on the week's topic at home so we can work on hands-on activities in the classroom. Students also work in the classroom on activities to help them learn the important vocabulary for each lesson. What I would usually lecture about in the classroom goes into shortened videos that kids watch at home. On the other hand, assignments I would usually give as homework are now done in the classroom. That's where the notion of the flip comes from. Homework and classwork are flipped, or switched.
    • Moving At the Speed of Creativity - Wesley Fryer blogs, podcasts and does presentations on a variety of educational technology topics. His emphasis lately seems to be on media used in an educational setting. 
    • Out of School - this podcast is the work of two school leaders living in separate countries (the US and Scotland) who gather on a regular basis to discuss the issues they face as 1:1 computing schools using iPads. While we do not use iPads in our 1:1 program, I find the discussions helpful in general as I think about our program with netbooks.
That's my list! I've added to it over the years. As you can imagine, I use some of these tools more often than others. I tend to listen to podcasts, for example, only on weekends while I'm cutting the grass or painting the house. Others get used every day in my classroom. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of some tools you can use.

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