Friday, July 31, 2009

Free Graphics Resources

Programs like Microsoft Word and OpenOffice have some drawing capabilities. I like both of them and have been able to do very simple shapes and layouts with them. But sometimes I want to create something more detailed and involved, or my students are looking for a way to create their own pictures and graphics.

I love free stuff, and I have found Inkscape to be a very capable graphics program, and it's free. In fact, it has a lot more capabilities and functions then I will ever be able to use. But, it is relatively easy to use for basic things and has article, tutorials, and documentation to help you.

Inkscape links to another great free graphics resource, the Open Clip Art Library. This site has thousands of images and clip art that are free to use. Most people don't realize that you can't just use any image you find on the internet without crediting it or paying for it. This site makes it easy to find free images. As a side note, Goolge Image Search also has an option for only displaying images that are available for public use.

Check these out and have some fun creating your own images and graphics.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Free cool tools for teachers

Harmony Hollow software has some great software and a really great set for teachers.

The Totally Free Teacher's Tool Suite is a set of free software items that are very useful for teachers. The suite includes Gift Wiz, The Hat, Cool Timer, and Text Tally.

Gift Wiz is a tool to select and match up people for gift exchanges, but I have used it to match up partners for labs and projects.

The Hat allows you to randomize any list. I use it to randomly pick on students or to sort students in different orders.

Cool Timer is an on screen timer. I project it up on the board so that students can see how much time they have left for the activity they are working on. You can select different sounds to use as the alert. I have fun picking different ones.

Text Tally is an easy way to count words, characters, and lines in a document.

I use the first three quite often, as do a lot of my colleagues. One word of caution, our school's blocking software doesn't allow us to get to Harmony Hollow's site so you might need to download the program and home and then bring it in to school.


Free Educational Technology Magazines

There are a lot of educational and educational technology journals and magazines out there. I have two favorites, both of which are free.

The first one is Tech&Learning magazine, which I am a TL Advisor for. I write a bi-monthly blog and do product reviews for them. The magazine has a lot of great articles and resources for teachers. They also run educational technology conferences around the country. The conferences are a great way for educators to see what is new and how to integrate technology into their classrooms.

The other one is THE Journal. THE Journal is another great resource with some really good articles, tips, and information for educators.

Both magazines also have great websites with a plethora of information. You can subscribe to either an electronic or paper version of the magazines.

The articles and information in both magazines are well written, timely, and relevent and well worth reading.

New posts to start soon

Sorry for the lack of articles lately. I've been on the road, checking out farmer's markets in CT, checking towns for future house purchase, and doing some lecturing and teaching. I have lots of new articles that will be published shortly. Stand by!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

SugarSync Update

I've been using SugarSync for a few months now and love it. I have a computer at home that I do a lot of work on, the Acer netbook for teaching EMS classes at different locations and doing work on the fly, and my computer at school. It was always a pain to keep these computers and the files in sync, but SugarSync has fixed that problem.

I have the "Magic Folder" on each computer and SugarSync automatically keeps them all in sync. That means that I can work on the files on my home computer and it will automatically upload the new or modified file to SugarSync's servers and then when I turn on one of the other computers, SugarSync will automatically download and sync the new or modified file onto that computer. I can also access, edit, and save any file through the SugarSync web site on any computer.

I have yet to need to use more than the 2GB free account, but I'm thinking of upgrading to the 30GB account ($49.99 for the year, or $4.99 per month) and keeping more files accessible.

Try it out. I found it to be easy to use and a great resource. I will be sharing it with my students also, so that they can access their files at school so that they don't have to keep bringing in flash drives.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is the most widely used office productivity suite, but it isn't the only one. It used to come included with many computers, but nowadays it is only a trial version. This means that people are having to pay for Microsoft Office in addition to the cost of a computer. Many people are still using Office 2003, which Microsoft will stop supporting in the future. With budgets a major issue, as usual, schools, teachers, and students can get free alternatives to Microsoft Office.

There are some free alternatives out there. The two I use are Google Docs and

Google Docs, detailed more here, is great for online collaboration of documents because you can share the documents with others. Everything is hosted online, although there is an offline version. It is great for students because their documents are stored online and they can access them from any internet accessable computer. Google Docs includes word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation applications. Because it is web based, you can use it on Windows, Mac, or Linu. And, it's free. is free software from Sun Microsystems. Unlike Google Docs, Openoffice is software you download to your computer and the files reside on your computer. (for ideas on syncing files among multiple computers, check out SugarSync).

Openoffice is a fully functional office productivity system that rivals Microsoft Office in many ways and includes applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, formulas and graphics. I have found it really easy to use coming from Microsoft Office since the menu's and commands are very similar. Openoffice can save files in many formats, including Microsoft Office formats so that you can use them on other computers without a problem. Openoffice is available in multiple languages and for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Google Docs and OpenOffice can save students, faculty, and schools a fortune in licensing fees and allow better collaboration and productivity.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fun things to do with a camera phone

It's summer vacation, so I thought that I would post some things that aren't necessarily all about education.

Here's a list of some things to do with a camera phone:

1. Remember where you’re parked at the airport or any crowded lot. Photograph the nearest parking location sign.

2. Take a picture of your hotel, building address, room number, and the nearest street sign.

3. Take a photo of your child every day as a safety precaution when you’re traveling.

4. Capture a whiteboard after a meeting.

5. Document damage after a car accident.

6. Document your home and belongings as proof for your insurance company in the event of a loss.

7. Snap a picture of the takeout menu and business hours of your favorite restaurant.

8. Shoot a photo of a flyer for an upcoming event or item for sale.

9. If you lend out CDs, DVDs and books to friends, take pictures and label them with your friends’ names.

10.Take a picture of something you’re about to disassemble, then use it as a reference when you’re putting it back together.

11. Entertain kids with a photo scavenger hunt, with a list of things to take pictures of.

12. Photograph yourself when you don’t have a mirror.

Some education related things:
1. Take a picture of things you wrote on the board for one class so you use the exact same thing for the next class.

2. Take a picture of a memo on a bulletin board.

3. Take a picture of lab setups for future use or to include in lab instructions

4. Take a picture of your room set up at the end of the year so you make sure everything gets back after summer cleaning.

5. Document anything you need documented.

You can save the photos on your camera phone, export them to your computer, upload them to a website, or even use Evernote to save and organize them.

Enjoy your summer!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tool and tip to use with a netbook

Another thing I am doing with my netbook that makes my life easy is using an SD card that folds to fit into a USB port. I keep this in the SD card reader on the Acer. If I ever need to move a file from or to the Acer and I can't do it via the internet, I can just take the SD/USB card and use that with any computer to transfer files.

Update of my experience with the Acer netbook

I received an Acer Aspire One netbook a few weeks ago from Acer through a special program ( and I love it. Mine has a 6 cell battery and lasts for over 6 hours with Google Chrome and OpenOffice running. I am getting used to the smaller keyboard and use it when I teach at other sites (paramedic, EMT, and CPR classes).

What I really love about it is it's size. It is small and lite, but still easy to use. My classroom at the high school has the small desks with the side desktop, so a netbook fits much better than a full size laptop. I've been able to use every web page, web application, and software that my students would use in my class without any problems and it runs faster than many of the desktops at the school. I'm working on getting funding to purchase a classroom set of them for next year because they are so useful. I want to be able to give every student a computer to use in my room. The netbooks would also allow us to bring them outside when we do experiments.

I am pushing netbooks vs. full size laptops at the school because of cost and size. They do everything the students need them to do.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Free OCR - Optical Character Recognition (online service)

Free OCR is a free, obviously from it's name, online service that can convert scanned documents into editable text. This can save you the time it would take to retype the original document. It takes a scanned image of text and converts it to a real text file.

Free OCR will accept documents in PDF, JPG, GIF, TIFF or BMP format. It will accept documents up to 2MB in size, which is pretty big.

Free OCR worked just as well as a commercial OCR software that came with my scanner, with the same amount of errors (minimal) and time frame. PDF files worked the best, with the least amount of issues and errors. You still need to check over the converted document for errors, as no OCR system is 100% accurate.

The fact that it is web based also means that you don't have to install anything on your computer and you can use it from any system or web browser.

This is a great way to digitize papers, articles, and memos into an editable format. It really comes in handy when you can't find, or can't get access to, the original electronic file.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July America!

Happy 4th of July America. Let us remember those that gave us our freedom then and those who keep us free now.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Should Schools Require Students to Purchase Specific Technology?

Technology is a great educational resource and tool. There are literally thousands of types of technology, software, and hardware out there for educators and students to use. But what happens when a school requires students to have a specific brand of technology?

Many colleges require students to have a laptop and if they don't own one, they can get one at a discount through the school. Other colleges issue the students laptops with the cost included in the tuition and fess. Some schools now require students to purchase iPhone's or iPod Touches. While I'm all for students having great technology tools, I have a problem with schools mandating the brand or system that students use.

The iPhone is a cultural and business phenomenon. Apple has sold millions of them around the world and it is difficult to go one day without seeing someone using one. The iPhone, and iPod Touch, have a huge number of great applications that are useful to students and educators. But does that mean that students should have to use it at a school? What happened to freedom to choose and a free market? Along the same lines, some schools or departments at schools, require their students to purchase Mac's instead of PC's. Other schools require students to purchase Windows based laptops.

This is not a good thing. Restricting students to a certain brand, company or system is wrong. Students should be allowed to purchase what ever brand or system that they are comfortable with. In this day and age, it doesn't really matter which system you have, you can do anything you need to. Mac's have Microsoft Office on them, Windows can do video, audio, and graphics. Web based applications like Google Docs, Zoho, and more mean that the operating system doesn't really matter anymore. Other smart phones can do what the iPhone can do. I did a comparison of the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Windows Mobile, Palm OS, and Palm Pre systems and found that every educational application available on the iPhone has some sort of counterpart on the other systems. All of them can go to the Internet, get email, view videos, view documents, take pictures, text message, and more. In fact, some of them have more educational tools available than the iPhone.

What about service contracts? A student with a phone from Verizon or Sprint shouldn't have to switch to AT&T because their school requires them to have an iPhone. They also shouldn't have to carry two devices if they keep their own smart phone and have to purchase an iPod Touch for school. If they already have an iPhone, they shouldn't have to switch to Windows Mobile, or Blackberry because the school wants them to.

Schools need to stay away from dictating the brand or system that students should have, and instead list what students should be able to do with their own laptop or smart phone. Schools need to also make sure that their applications are system independent. Lectures, applications, documents, and more should be able to be used on Mac, Windows, Linux, Palm, Android, Blackberry, or any other system. Schools should spend their time on making sure that students can use any system instead of pushing students towards a specific system.

Freedom of choice and a free market system are the only way to encourage inventiveness and allow students to be comfortable with their technology. Let the companies do the marketing for their products. Schools should do the educating.


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