Monday, June 29, 2009

ACER One Netbook Review

I have recently acquired an ACER Aspire One Netbook to review for possible use in school through the ACER K12 Seed program, which gives you a netbook to review with the option to purchase it at a discount after the review period. I would love to be able to have 1-to-1 computing in my room and I believe that a netbook could make that possible. They are cheaper than full size notebook pc's, fit better on desks, and do everything we need them to do. They have wi-fi, so the students can access Google Docs, the internet, and their email, along with the online programs and sites that we use in class. Their size also makes them easier to store securely.

The model I received is the Blue 10.1" monitor D250-1185. The blue cover is a beautiful, dark shade of blue that is a welcome break to plain old black or white.

It has Windows XP Home Edition, SP 3 pre-installed, along with a 60 day trial of Office 2007. The trial offer is not an issue since I use OpenOffice or Google Docs anyway. The CPU is an Intel Atom running at 1.60 GHz with 1GB of RAM and a 160 GB hard disk drive.

Startup took under 1 minute, which is faster than my Centrino laptop with 2GB of RAM.

The processor is powerful enough to do email, web surfing, document editing, and much more. I wouldn't recommend it for any processor intense applications, but it is more than adequate for 90% of what most people do with a computer.

The size is great. It has a 10.1" (diagonal) WSVGA TFT LCD screen, which is easy to read, even in bright light. It is 10.17" long x 7.24" wide x 1" thick. Yes, it is only 1" thick. It only weighs 2.95 lbs. with the six cell battery.

The six cell battery is a 48.8 W 44oo mAh Li-ion pack with a 6 hour rated life. I found it to be pretty accurate, with average battery life running over 6 hours.

The ACER is very comfortable to hold and carry also.

It has a built in web cam, built in stereo speakers, built in microphone, a multi-card reader which supports SD, MMC, MS, MS Pro and xD cards. Finally, a use for my old SD cards now that my smart phone uses micro-SD cards.

It includes Wifi (802.11 b/g) and a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port. Built-in Bluetooth and WWAN are available as options.

The keyboard is 89% of the size of a full-size keyboard. I have very large hands and I was able to use the keyboard with minimal issues. After a few hours of use, I had adapted to the smaller keyboard without issues. My wife, whose hands are smaller than mine, had no problems using the keyboard. The Touchpad is a nice size, with two buttons below it and multi-touch commands.

The Aspire One has a variety of I/O ports, including the multi-card reader, three USB 2.0 ports, a VGA port, headphone/speaker/line-out jack, microphone in-jack, the ethernet port, and the DC adaptor port.

The built in speakers are adequate for one person to listen to in a quiet environment. They do not have enough volume to use for much beyond one person without much background noise. They are angled downward at the front of the case, so the surface can deflect some of the sound. I found them fine for my own use. Headphones or external speakers are recommended for any other uses.

I found the Apsire One to be very responsive and easy to use. I was able to do everything that I do on my desktop, including photo editing, web surfing, video watching, and more. I would expect the Atom processor to have some issues with major multimedia editing and creation, but then again the netbook was not designed for that kind of work.

The only accessory I would recommend is a protective sleeve. I bought a neoprene one at Staples for under $20. It protects from scratches, bumps, and moisture.

Overall, I would rate the Acer Aspire One as a 9.1 out of 10. It was easy to set up and use and did everything I needed it to do. It is very portable and easy to carry. It is inexpensive. It is a great option for schools looking to initiate 1-to-1 computing. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a great netbook. I am definately buying this when the review period is up. It will come in handy for me and my wife to use, both at school and as a great mobile device.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Microsoft Power Toys (Alt-Tab, Calculator, Synctoy)

Microsoft has some great, free tools to add some neat functionality to Windows XP.

Check out Microsoft Power Toys. These are small programs that integrate into Windows XP. Microsoft engineers created them for fun, and then Microsoft decided to offer them to the public.

There are currently 14 Power Toys available for download. I currently use 3 of them on my computer.

The first one I use is the Alt-Tab Replacement. This PowerToy lets you see a thumbnail preview of the application you are switching to. For those of you who don't know about Alt-Tab: alt-tab allows you to switch between all of your open applications. Normally, you just see the name of the application. This PowerToy also shows you a preview image, which is very useful.

Another one I use is Power Calculator. This is a great replacement for the built in calculator in Windows XP and allows you to graph, evaluate functions, do conversions, and much more.

The PowerToy that I have used the most though, is SyncToy. Synctoy gives you the ability to sync any two directories, folders, or devices. For instance, I use it to sync the files on my school computer with a flash drive that I can take home or use as backup. Instead of copying the entire directory everytime, Synctoy compares the two directories and only updates the new, deleted, or changed files. It is also great to keep your desktop and laptop sync'd if you connect them.

These free applications can help make your life more easy and efficient when using Windows XP.

Sugarsync - Sync your files

Sugarsync is an online file synchronization and backup service. The service is fee based, but they do have a FREE account option with up to 2GB of storage available. If you need more storage space, you can add more memory at very reasonable rates. Reviews in multiple tech magazines always give Sugarsync high ratings and it's fees are some of the lowest in the industry.

Sugarsync allows you to store files online and even keep the online files sync'd with the files on your computer. I love it because it allows me to have access to my files from any web-enabled computer. You can even access your files from a web-enabled cell phone or smart phone. I no longer have to have a flash drive with me to bring files home to work on.

You can even share file access with other people if needed.

Sugarsync is easy to sign up for and very easy to use. You can simply upload files to your Sugarsync account and access them from the web. I recommend installing the file manager on your main computer and then selecting the files that you want to be sync'd to Sugarsync's system. You will be able to access all of those files from any other web-enabled device. The service has built in security and has it's own backup system for your data.

The web access looks just like a typical file explorer on a computer, but it is all web based. You can download files, move them to other directories, send them to people, or even edit them using their WebSync technology. WebSync allows you to edit your files from any internet connected computer and have the changes automatically backed up to the SugarSync servers. This means that you do not to manually download the file, edit it locally, and then re-upload it to the server.

Backup copies of your files and access to them anywhere - for free. You can't beat that.

Welcome to the Web

Welcome to the Web is a great free resource for teaching anyone, child or adult, about the internet. It is easy to use and guides the user through 7 different lessons. Each lesson introduces the user to a different part of the internet, from vocabulary, to searching, to online safety. There is even a challenge exercise at the end of the series to test the user.

The site is a great resource to use with your students in class or as an at home exercise.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

XP Math

XP Math is a great math resource for any age group. The site contains math games by subject area, a math careers exploration area, forums and homework help, and a math resources section that contains eBooks, worksheets, videos, and teacher resources.

Teachers can use this site in their classroom, or just let their students know about the site as a help resource. The site is free, easy to use and navigate, and is well designed. The games and resources are fun and well-designed. Some of the free videos are from the Standard Deviants School series.

The site is a must-use for any math teacher or student.

Online Curriculum Resources

Anneberg Media's site is a collection of curriculum resources for all subject areas, and sorted by subject and grade. Grade level areas are K-4, 5-8, 9-12, and College/Adult.

The resources include lesson plans, on demand free videos, and links to DVDs and other materials that can be ordered for a fee.

The free on-demand videos are great for enhancing your curriculum or lesson with short video clips that can engage your students while explaining or exploring a concept.

There are also resources for teachers for professional development and training.

Many of the video clips are from public broadcasting programs. The free videos are a great resource for any teacher.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Job search for teachers

K12 JobSpot is a site that has listings of open teaching positions around the country. I did a little bit of searching on it and found quite a few positions out there.

It is easy to use and you can search by keyword, location, and job type. It does have a good number of teaching positions listed, but I was able to find more through a local agency and my teaching union site. I'm guessing that a lot of districts don't know about the site yet, so they haven't listed their vacancies on it.

Google Image search - Similar Images

Google has a new way to search for images. You can search for similar images instead of using words. The site is very easy to use and the results are very good.

You can do your own search or search for images similar to example images that Google provides.

On the start page, I clicked on a picture of the shuttle launching and got a huge number of results, including many that were exactly the same picture, but on different sites. There were also a lot of variations of a shuttle launch.

I did a search for "helicopter" and it came up with a large number of images. I then clicked on the similar images link under a picture of a helicopter that I liked and got a great return of images.

Google Similar Images is very easy to use and is a great new way to search the web for images.

Google Chrome Web Browser

Google Chrome is Google's own web browser. It is available for free for Windows computers, and is in final development and testing for Apple and Linux.

Chrome takes a very minimalistic approach as a web browser, keeping the interface simple and the screen uncluttered. Chrome is extremely fast, ranking 1st or 2nd in web tests, including Acid, V8, Sunspider, Celtic Kane, and Slickspeed. Web pages load quickly and simply, without problems.

When you download and install Chrome, it can import your favorites and other settings from you current browser, making the transition to Chrome very easy.

Chrome has tabbed browsing, crash control (which prevents one tab crashing from affecting your other open tabs), private browsing, safe browsing, instant bookmarking, and more. You can even create application shortcuts with Chrome and Google Gears. These shortcuts allow a web page or web application to run as if it was a native software application. This keeps the window layout much cleaner.

Chrome only has one area to enter a webpage or search. Google calls this the Omnibox, and you can enter a web page URL or a search term. As you type, Chrome automatically brings up related pages and past searches that you can quickly search. This makes web searches and entering web page URLs very simple and quick.

If you use a lot of other Google Web Applications, such as iGoogle, Blogger, or others, you will find that Chrome works flawlessly with them.

The bookmarks toolbar is very easily customizable, and there are some great user scripts that you can add to it. I have added "Clip to Evernote", "TinyURL", and "Google Bookmark" scripts to my bookmarks toolbar. This allows me to very easily clip a web site to my Evernote account, create a TinyURL for the web page I am browsing, and add the page I am viewing to my Google Bookmarks account. More scripts are out there and being developed everyday. Chrome does not have the kind of add-ons that Firefox has, but there are some and more are being worked on. Many companies, such as Evernote, have bookmarklets available for Google Chrome.

When you click on a new tab, Chrome brings up thumbnail images of your most visited websites. This is very convenient, allowing you to quickly visit important, often used web sites. This feature can also be disable for privacy.

I find Chrome works better than Internet Explorer, is the fastest at loading web pages, and I like it's interface and layout better than Firefox, Opera or Safari. I have not had any problems with it and it makes a lot of sense for me to use it because I use so many other Google products. Try it out and see what you think. A browser, like many other things, is a lot about personal preference.

For more information on Google Chrome, go HERE.

Some other Chrome resources:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Education Grant Resources

Tech&Learning has a free downloadable calendar of education grants for the 2009-2010 school year. Check it out HERE.

Web 2.0 resources

GO2WEB20 is a great place to find Web 2.0 tools and applications. You can browse through them or search by topic.

I found that the best way to discover new tools was to just browse through all of the offerings.

As I find more and more tools and resources, I'll post them here too.

Evernote - free online notes and more!

Evernote is a great, free resource that allows you to easily capture information using whatever device or operating system you use. It then makes this information accessible and searchable from anywhere. Their tagline: Remember Everything.

You can capture task lists, notes, web pages, white boards, business cards, pictures, and even clip web pages to Evernote.

You can download a desktop version of the software, for free, which will sync to the Evernote web server, or you can just access it through the internet on their web page. You can also access it through a mobile device. They have downloadable applications for the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, and Windows Mobile devices. You can also access their mobile website on any web-enabled phone.

You can create new notes via desktop, web, or mobile version. You can also use your camera phone or web cam to take a snapshot and Evernote can even recognize the text in the image.

You can also email notes, clip web pages, record audio notes, and scan papers, receipts and more into Evernote.

Their website has easy to follow instructions and help sections. The blog section even has a recent entry about teachers using Evernote:

Teachers: Organize your lesson plans in Evernote.

You can put all your notes, outlines, activities, research, etc in Evernote and have it searchable and accessible from anywhere. That way you can start working on a lesson plan at home then continue working on your computer in your class. You can tag lesson plans with specific topics or subjects to make calling them up the next school year even easier.

Evernote is very useful, easy to use, platform independant, and FREE. Get your life organized using Evernote.

    Tuesday, June 9, 2009

    Free online textbooks

    CK12 is a great resource for students and teachers. Their flexbook site contains tons of online textbooks, all free, for teachers to use. You can also create your own flexbook on the site, combining parts of other textbooks from their site, or using materials of your own.

    They currently have flexbooks in Physics, Math, and Biology, but there are always more being created and added.

    The site is relatively easy to use and I plan on creating my own Flexbook for my Physics class.

    Brainstormer random word picker

    Brainstormer is a simple random word generator that is free to use. Simply click the center button and the wheel spins, highlighting three random words that can be used to get you started with writing a story or poem. It is great for helping with writer's block too.

    Free Scientific Videos

    DNA Tube is a scientific site that has scientific videos, lectures, seminars, presentations and animations. It contains mainly biological resources, but there are videos for other subjects also.

    I found a huge selection of great videos and animations on it and recommend this to my colleagues.

    Free Online Professional Development

    Free online professional development opportunity.

    Lesson Plan Resources

    As the school year comes to a close, I want to share some lesson plan resources with everyone so that you can review them at your leasure for next year.

    The first one is Lesson Plan Central. This site is a large repository of lesson plans and links to lesson plans for every topic and grade level. It is easy to navigate, has a huge number of resources, and is free. There are some great lesson plans on this site. I have used some as is, and used others with my own modifications.

    The second one is Discovery School's Lesson Planner. This site is an online lesson planner that any teacher can use. Lesson planner allows you to create and store your lesson plans in your account on their server. You can edit, print, or download your lesson plans to your ocmputer as needed. You can also link to other items you created on, such as puzzles, worksheets, and quizzes. This is a great resource for teachers. By keeping all of your lesson plans on a web server, you will have access to them from any internet connected computer. You can also use all of the other resources at Discovery School has a ton of resources such as the ones listed above, Kathy Schrock's Internet Guide, Science Fair Central, and a Lesson Plan library of already created lesson plans. Discovery Education has a large number of resources for educators and a majority of them are free.

    Monday, June 8, 2009

    Operating Systems and Web Based Apps

    Operating systems - this is the part of the computer that allows you to run software. Microsoft Windows and Apple OS are the two major operating systems out there. There is also Linux, which is an open source project with many varieties.

    Most schools use Windows or Apple, and sometimes have both depending on the use. Apple was always thought of as the operating system to use for music and art, but it has gotten used more widely over the years. The iPhone has helped push Apple's OS out to more people.

    Google has also release it's own operating system, Android, for use on smart phones and netbooks. Netbooks are small laptops that are mainly used by travelers to do email and web browsing.

    Palm has just released it's new operating system, WebOS, on it's new smart phone, the Palm Pre. Palm has announced that this new operarting system will be used on many more devices and the industry rumors are pointing to a WebOS powered netbook in the near future.

    I have just listed 5 different operating systems that currently run, or will soon run, on computers. This means that schools have to worry about compatability and interoperability among school computers and home computers used by faculty and students.

    There are many ways to make this less painful. There has been a big push in the computer industry to standardize certain software formats, such as word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, so that anyone can open a file, no matter what operating system they have. Apple also has versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint that can read and edit the Windows versions, and Linux has OpenOffice, which can also read Windows and Apple file formats, and Apple has it's own iWorks.

    Another push in the computer industry looks to eliminate the operating system as an issue. Cloud computing has been a major topic for years, but more and more companies are pushing it as a way to avoid operating system issues. Cloud computing is simply having all of your files and software hosted on a network somewhere. This means that all you need to acces the files and programs is a web browser. These systems work with any web browser. The system does not care what operating system you are using. You can use Windows, or Apple, or Linux. If you can get to the internet, you can get to your files and applications. Most people have already used a cloud system when they check their email with a web mail system. Cable, Verizon, AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo are all web based email systems that you can accces from any computer with a web browser.

    The most popular cloud system is Google Apps. With Google Apps, you can create, edit, save, store, and share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. You could work on the file on an Apple computer at work, and then continue working on it on a Windows computer at home. There are other cloud systems out there, such as Zoho and Evernote. Many more companies are developing web apps so that they can have users from any operating system.

    Schools should look into more cloud or web based applications in the future to eliminate the issues of compatibility between operating systems. Most web based applications offer offline applications that can run even without an internet connection as well as a way to save your files to your own computer. The other benefit is that most of these systems are low cost or even free.

    As the operating system wars heat up with Windows 7, Apple Snow Leopard and Ubuntu Linux, schools need to make sure that no matter what OS their faculty and students use at home, they can access files and applications at school and home. It also helps avoid the issue of "I forgot my assignment file at home," or "my printer ran out of ink." By using the web apps, students could just log into their account at school and print it out. Teachers would also always have their files available to them no matter where they are. In many cases, these new web applications will also save on licensing fees since they are free.

    Web based applications and files can also be accessed from smart phones like the iPhone, Palm Pre, Blackberry, and G1. This means that you would have access to your files and applications at any time.

    There is a lot of information out there on cloud computing and web applications. Take a look at a couple of these:

    NASA - Flash Videos of future plans

    NASA has a great web site with flash videos of the Constellation program. This program is the basis for NASA's return to the moon and eventual manned missions to Mars.

    The site has some great flash videos and resources about the program and was very interesting.

    More information for educators is available HERE.

    I plan to use this next year as a way to introduce space into my Physics class, and then use it to keep the students interested. I'm hoping that the space program resources that NASA has will also keep my students engaged in physics as they see some of the applications of the physics concepts.

    Friday, June 5, 2009

    Google Squared

    Google Squared is Google's newest way to search the internet. Google Squared is from Google Labs and was just released. Google describes Google Squared as an experimental search tool that collects facts from the web and presents them in an organized collection similar to a spreadsheet.

    The really nice thing about this, is that you can add more columns to get more information from the web about each result. You can also sort and move columns to better organize your results.

    I did a search for "Sikorsky" and instead of the typical search results, I got a grid with a list of Sikorsky helicopters, pictures, and data. I then added my own column, "armaments" and Google Squared added any info on that topic onto the square. You can see my square below.

    I also like the fact that you can save your square to your Google account. This way, you always have the results available without doing a new search.

    This can be used in school to do searches where you can compare and contrast results or easily gather certain data sets about a topic.

    Give it a try over the summer and then introduce it to your classes next year.

    Wednesday, June 3, 2009

    Free PDF creation and merging

    Portable Document Format, more commonly known as PDF, is a great standardized format to use for files. Adobe Acrobat is one of the premier PDF creation and editing programs available, but it is expensive. There are free alternatives for teachers to use.

    I post all of my files for students as PDF files so that they can not be edited. Also, everyone can get a free PDF reader, such as Acrobat Reader to view the files so I don’t have to worry about a student not having the software to view the file.

    Creating the PDF file is very simple. I create the original file using a word processor or presentation program and then convert it to a PDF file using CutePDF Writer. CutePDF Writer is a free utility that installs onto your computer like a printer. You create your original file and then “print” it. Instead of selecting your printer, you select “CutePDF.” The software will convert the file to PDF form and ask you were you would like to save it. You can also use it to “print” any file, including web pages, to a PDF file. I use this often to save web articles for reading later.

    There is also a free application available that allows you to merge multiple PDF files into one PDF file.

    Quick PDF tools is a great resource. The software is easy to install and very easy to use and the website has easy to follow instructions. You simply select the PDF files you want to merge in Windows Explorer, right click, select QuickPDF tools, and select merge. You can then order them in the window in the order you want them merged, and then select merge. It is really that easy.

    I have used both applications to create PDF files from PowerPoint presentation handouts and then merge those PDF files with downloaded PDF files to create a single file guidebook that I use when teaching Google for Educators.

    I love the ability to save any file as a PDF file. I use it to post files to my class website for students to use, as well as to make backup copies of files that I know I will be able to open on any computer, regardless of the operating system or software.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009

    Copyright Issues

    Copyright issues in education are very confusing. Copyright laws are almost impossible to understand and education has different rules for many things.

    Teaching Copyright is a great resource for teachers to use in their classroom. The site has information for teachers to understand educational copyright laws and rules, as well as lesson plans to use with your students.

    Students need to understand that there are copyright rules and laws and that they need to abide by them. Many students think that if it is on the internet, they can use it. They can get away with alot of this in K-12 because teachers don't have the time or resources to check everything the students use, but many colleges have these resources and students can get in big trouble if they have a copyright violation in their work.

    I found Teaching Copyright to be a great resource and very easy to use. It has lesson plans, handouts, resources, and links for teachers. Every teacher should work with their students and help them understand copyright rules.

    Textbook resources for college students

    College textbook costs continue to go up. Even more frustrating for students is spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks and then not even using them in class. If they are lucky, they can get 40% of the purchase price back by selling it to the bookstore.

    There are options out there though. Here are some tips and resources.

    1. Buy used whenever possible - it will save you money.
    2. Check with the professor on the first day of class to see if you will actually be using the book in the class. Also check with the professor to see if you really need the latest version or not.
    3. Share a textbook with a roomate or friend, thereby sharing the cost.
    4. Use online, free textbooks and web sites as a resource if you don't need the actual textbook.
    5. Check the campus bulletin boards and web sites for students selling their old textbooks - this can be cheaper than buying used books from the bookstore.
    6. Check out these free resources for saving money on textbooks:

    Chegg ( This online service allows students to rent books at a huge savings over purchasing the book. There is also the option to buy at the end of the rental. Chegg also plants a tree for every book rented, bought, sold, or donated.

    Campus Book Swap ( Campus Book Swap acts as a bulletin board, helping students buy and sell used textbooks. Students post their book with a description and asking price and other students can purchase the books from them. Books are sorted by school, which makes it easier to find the books a student needs.

    Flat World Knowledge ( This is an open source textbook site that allows instructors to select free textbooks that are written by experts and peer reviewed. Educators can add their own materials to the books and mix-and-match chapters. There are various formats to use and there is also a user discussion forum. - great article on college textbook tips.

    Share this information with your high school seniors and any college students you know.

    12 Essentials for Integrating Technology

    Richard Byrne, a high school History teacher from Maine, also runs a blog about technology for education. His blog, Free Technology for Teachers, is a great resource for any teacher to use.

    He recently completed a booklet entitled "Twelve Essentials for Technology Integration." This booklet, provided for free by him on his site, is a great primer for teachers looking for some basic technology they should use when getting started with technology integration.

    The booklet looks professionally done, even though he did it on his own. It gives a sort summary about 12 different technologies for classroom use.

    I highly recommend this site and booklet to all educators.

    Monday, June 1, 2009

    Great Advice from a movie!

    I just watched "Generation Gap" this weekend with my wife. It is a Hallmark Channel original about a teenage boy who goes to live with his grandfather, played by Ed Asner, for the summer to learn some lessons and turn his troubled life around. The movie was very enjoyable to watch, with a great cast. I highly recommend the movie. Hallmark Channel replays it every few weeks.

    There are two great lines in the movie that I think all teachers should share with their students.

    "Here are the rules:
    1. Be on time.
    2. Do what's right.
    3. Treat everyone with respect."

    "It doesn't matter how many books you get through, it does matter how much of a good book gets through to you."

    I am posting the rules on my classroom wall and explaining them to my students on the first day of class next year. I think that those three rules are perfect for all students, especially if they are taught what the "right" things are.

    Bing - Microsoft's New Search site

    Microsoft has launched a new search site, Bing. This site is different than Windows Live, Google, and Yahoo, in how it presents search results.

    When searching the internet, the results are displayed not based on relevance to the search term like the others, but based on how popular a site it is. Some early reviews and comments show a split among people, with some liking it and some hating it. Like anything else, it is personal preference.

    The layout is similar to other search results, but you can click on an icon to the right of the result and see the first parts of that site.

    In image search, you only get the images themselves in the results. However, hovering over an image brings up more details, like the source web page. This allows for a clean appearance, but I like Google's way of showing the source site because I use that as a guide for evaluating the image.

    Video search will play a thumbnail view of the video in the search page when you hover your mouse over the thumbnail. There is a problem here though. If a user changes the filtering settings for Bing they can see ANY video in the thumbnail, even if there is a filter on the system that they are using. This means that a student could search for videos and watch them in thumbnail version, even if the source site is blocked by the school's filter system, so teachers beware.

    Overall, Bing is a nice, different way of searching the internet. I suggest that people should try it out with the same search that they do on their normal search engine and see which they personally prefer, or which one gives them the best search results for them.


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