Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Free Stuff - summary of free things I use to save money at school

Everyone in education knows that money is always a problem. We never have enough for our classrooms. But, there are ways around that. Free stuff means that you can allocate your limited funding to things you can't get free. There are also grants out there, but they can be hard to get (some grant applications are over 10 pages long!). So here is a list of free resources I use to save money at school (and at home).

1. Google Docs and Open Office. Why pay for Microsoft Office when Google Docs and OpenOffice are free! 90% of what I do can be handled with Google Docs. When I get something that is more intense and needs more features, I use OpenOffice. Our school district has been looking at Google Apps for Education, which could save us tens of thousands of dollars a year in licensing fees. The other great thing about Google Docs is that your files are online. No more worrying about copying files to a flash drive to bring home. No more excuses from students that they left their paper at home.

2. Don't print!! I try not to print or copy when I can. I do have some students who don't have computers or broadband internet at home, so I have to print some things. But, I have 8 computers for students in my room so I don't print things for class. Each class has a classroom blog (read more HERE) that I post resources, information, and class assignments on it. For computer assignments (virtual labs, research, webquests) the students just click the link. I don't have them print their work, they just email it to me, or post it as a comment to the blog. It saves time (no copying) and saves paper and toner.

3. Websites, email, and blogs for communication. The classroom blogs, my class web site, and email are all great ways to communicate. Most people have email or at least a phone that gets messaging. If schools could confirm that all parents and students have email or text messaging, or internet access and we could stop printing memos and notices. (Every teacher at my school has school email, yet the school will send an email AND print the memo - what a waste of paper).

4. Evernote - I use Evernote as a note taking system. No paper needed! I have my notes organized by topic. I have reference notes, lesson plans, tech tips, and much more on here. What I really love, is that I can access my notes from any internet enabled computer or cell phone. I also like the ability to "clip" web sites into a note in Evernote. What's great, is that hyperlinks on the web page are kept when clipped into Evernote. You can also attach files to your notes. Free accounts can only attach images (JPEG/PNG/GIF), audio (MP3, WAV, AMR), PDF, and digital ink files. I try to convert most of my files to PDF anyway for cross-platform support. (Here is some info on how to create PDF files for free on your computer, or online. ) I can access my Evernote files from any internet connected computer or smart phone too, so they are always available to me.

5. Textbooks, who needs them? I don't use a textbook with my physics classes. The book we have is outdated and hard to understand. We have a lot of them and they are in great physical condition so the district won't buy new ones. But that's OK because I don't need them. I use some websites and free physics textbooks I've found instead. No money spent on books that average $120 and will be outdated in a couple of years. No worrying about lost books.

I use http://www.physicsclassroom.com/ as an online resource and interactive textbook for the students. I has demos, animations, and more. I also found The People's Physics book which is available online or as a download. It is really well written and has some great examples in it. I then supplement these with other websites and resources for each section.

6. Engrade - Engrade is a free online gradebook for teachers. I have all of my classes listed here and each student is given an access code so that they can see their grades any time they want. I also give access codes to the parents so that they always know how their student is doing. It is accessable from any web enabled computer and you can generate multiple reports and export the data if needed. The great thing, no paper and no money spent.

7. Free professional development - I use my Personal Learning Network for free advice, tips, and resources - why spend money to attend professional development sessions when you can find so much out there for free. Here's my article on getting started with a PLN. And I love virtual conferences, which are also free. Most major conferences have virtual counterparts, such as FETC and TechForum.

Here's some more stuff on professional development on a budget.

8. Sugarsync - Sugarsync is an online system that backs up your files and allows you to access them from any web enabled computer or smart phone. There is a free, 2GB capacity account available. What is really great is that it keeps your files in sync among multiple computers. Make a change to a file on computer A, and it is automatically uploaded and sync'd with their servers and any other computers you have specified. You can even open/edit a file directly from their server and it will automatically sync the changes you make. I keep my school files on here so that I can work on them and access them at home and on any computer at school. No need to buy flash drives that can get lost or damaged. Just have your files on your computer and available online.

9. 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.

10. Free educational web sites - way too many to list, but easy to find! Google is your best resource for finding great things online and then use your PLN (See #7 above) to find more great resources.

11. Donors Choose. Donors Choose was actually started by teachers. You sign up for an account, fill out a project proposal, selecting the items you need from a variety of vendors, and then people with money to donate go to Donors Choose and select projects to fund. I have had multiple projects funded through Donors Choose. It is a very simple process and the staff can help you with any problems. I have been able to get a lot of great materials and equipment for my classes through Donors Choose.

I hope this helps you with some ways to save money. Please share your ideas with us!


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