Thursday, January 28, 2010

Backing up your cloud/web based data

I'm a big believer and user of cloud / web based apps and data storage. I use Google Docs, Google Reader, Google Sites, Blogger, Evernote, Engrade, iGoogle, Aviary and more. Web based computing allows me to have access to my data and files anywhere that I can get internet access, including on my smart phone. It also allows me to share data and information with others. I also like web based apps and data because it is platform independent - Windows, Linux, Mac - it doesn't matter. The web based apps also, in my experience, seem to run better on older, slower computers than native applications.

I'm also a believer in being prepared and having backups of my data. The services I use have great data centers and backup, but sometimes their servers go down, and sometimes I may not be able to get internet access.

I backup all of my work and data in multiple places so that I always have access to it, even without an internet connection. Here's what and how I do:

1. Google Docs - I use GDocBackup to backup my Google Docs. I also have Google Gears installed so my files are synced with my computer that way too. You can also export your Google Docs to your hard drive.

2. Evernote - I have Evernote's desktop application at home so all of my notes are backed up on my home computer. I also export the data once a week to an html and txt file for backup.

3. Engrade - this is an online grade book. I export my files once a week to Excel for backup.

4. Google Products - I also export my Blogger blogs, iGoogle Settings, Google Reader subscriptions, Calendar, email, tasks, and bookmarks once a week as a back up. For each of them, go to settings and look for the export command. Here's more information on how to export data from Google's services.
(I use Google Chrome so my bookmarks are synced between my two computers.)

5. Google Sites - I use HTTrack Website Copier to make a backup of my website.

All of the backup files are in a directory that is automatically backed up to SugarSync and then kept in sync on both my school and home computers. Sugarsync does this automatically, so it is no effort for me. I also have really, really important data (financial, digitized paper records, etc) on a flash drive in my fireproof safe. Just in case.

I also sync my Palm Centro smart phone with my Google Calendar and Google Contacts using Goosync. I then backup everything on my Centro by Hotsyncing it to my home computer. I also have a microSD card in the Centro that has a back up of my important files so that I can access them via my Centro, even if there is no signal to get an internet connection. I can use Sugarsync to access all of my other files via the internet on my Centro also.

My home computer's disk drive is also backed up to an external hard drive every day.

Some may say this is overkill, but all of it takes me about 10 min each week and gives me great piece of mind.

How do you backup your files and data?

Related Posts:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple iPad - is it a game changer?

(images from Engadget)

Apple just announced their long awaited and anticipated tablet/slate, the iPad. Steve Jobs described it as something between a smart phone and a laptop.

It is really an over sized iPhone. It runs the same operating system and can use the same applications. iPhone apps look a little weird on it, but they are releasing a software developers kit so that developers can modify their applications for the iPad.

This device has been heralded as a "game changer" by many in the technology, and education sectors. It is a very cool device, but I don't know that it is the game changer they expected.

Like the iPhone, the iPad is a thin tablet. It even has the center button like an iPhone. It is 1/2" thick, weighs 1.5 pounds and has a 9.7" (diag) screen. The screen is multi-touch and capacitive. Memory comes in 16GB, 32GB or 64GB (flash memory). It has Bluetooth and WiFi also. Apple states that the battery lasts 10 hours with a month of standby. My guess this is a combination of a new chip from Apple and the fact that the operating system does not multi-task.

There will be support for 3G wireless in some models too. They have a special deal with AT&T with lower prices and prepaid (no contracts). The GSM will be unlocked also.

I was surprised that there is no camera on it. I would think a forward facing camera would be good for video conferencing.

That's right, no mention of multi-tasking on the iPad. For me, this is not good. It also has a virtual keyboard only. These two things make this less of a productive or educational tool. I can't imagine a student doing research and creating content and projects on a device that doesn't multi-task. Every time they left an app, it would close. It would also be difficult to do much typing on a virtual keyboard that is flush with the screen instead of tilted. I think that a laptop is still a much better educational tool than this.

Now, if they have an app that can use a special stylus and allow students to take handwritten notes in a digital pad, that might be useful for some.

There is a Bluetooth keyboard with a stand to support the iPad at a nice angle, which would make it better for productivity and educational uses. No word on price or availability.

I think the device is very cool and is great for web browsing, checking email, watching videos, playing games and the like, but I don't see it as anything that great as a productivity or educational tool. Not yet at least. I think that developers can create some great apps to make it more useful, but it has limitations.

They also announced a new app for it: iBooks. iBooks is the eReader/Bookstore for the iPad. Apple has partnered with publishers to create content for the iPad. So far it just looks like an eReader. I was hoping to hear that the publishers were creating interactive books with links, popup definitions, and more. Hopefully that will come in the future.

It is great for sitting on your couch and doing things but I don't see it as a great way to create things. Virtual keyboard + no multi-tasking + keyboard at same angle as screen = hard to create things.

They do offer a version of iWorks for it (separate cost) so that you can do word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.

We'll see what happens as it matures and develops and more apps appear. The Bluetooth keyboard and stand is a nice accessory to make it easier to create, but then you lose the "slate-ness". You can't use it on your lap like I use my laptop or netbook. You can type with the virtual keyboard on your lap, but that takes some time to get used to.

I really want to see multi-tasking and native flash support. Flash support is available on Palm's webOS. Palm's Pre and Pixi will be the first smart phones to get native Flash next month. Then Adobe will be porting the technology to other platforms.

Apple doesn't seem to care about Flash but educators should. Many educational web sites, news sites, and science sites use Flash for videos, demos, and interactive activities and labs. Without Flash support, you can't use the iPad to access these things.

It is a really nice device. I think that it does fit between a laptop and a smartphone as Steve Jobs said. However, I think laptops will be more useful for work and education. The iPad might be great for at home and travel, but it is lacking some things that I feel are essential for productivity and creation.

The iPad will start at $499 (16GB model) . The 16GB model with 3G will be $629. The 64GB version is $699 and with 3G is $829.

The Wifi versions will be available in 60 days and the 3G versions will ship in 90 days.

But my $300 netbook does more than this and has multi-tasking, Flash support, a real keyboard, support for peripherals, and millions of apps. I guess if you are already an Apple user (especially iPhone or iPod Touch) then this would be good for you. As a Windows user, I'm not as inclined to run out and buy it. I also think that a school system that uses Windows computers would be much better off with laptops, netbooks, or tablet PCs.

So, that's my take on the Apple iPad. Not really the game changer I'd been hoping for, but a nice device none-the-less.

Let's hear your opinions and thoughts.

UPDATED 1/28/10 at 1730 hrs:

This article is also posted at Tech&Learning magazine. There are a bunch of comments there and I just posted the following in response to some:

I have to explain and counter some points:

1. I thought of the stylus and digital ink for math and science and engineering. You can't enter equations during class while taking notes with a keyboard. A stylus and digital ink would be great for this. A stylus, as a commenter mentioned, would also be good for art.

2. Good for current iPhone owners because they can port their already purchased apps to it.

3. Not good for education because it is expensive and apps cost money. I haven't paid for software for my classes in years because there are so many free apps available for education.

4. There is no multi-tasking now - as I said, the future may make this a better device. Freezing an app is not the same as multi-tasking.

5. Textbooks on it - like most of Apple's things, its a closed system. That means that if you start in with them, you are kind of stuck with them. I can access tons of online, FREE textbooks right now for all of my classes. My students don't lug any books around. And, instead of being stuck with the textbook the school system buys, they have multiple options. My physics students have access to 6 free digital texts and 12 online, interactive, web sites that are all better than any of the $130 physics texts I previewed. They can access these anywhere, not just on one device.

6. Netbooks - my netbook multi-tasks like a champ. I have 9 tabs open in Chrome, am running OpenOffice presentation and writer, and have a photo editor running. And, it is running very fast without any problems. Multi-tasking, USB ports, 5 x the disk capacity, and thousands of FREE applications for it.

7. I can read books on my Palm smart phone and my netbook and laptop too. I've been using an eReader for many, many years. It's nice that there will be more books available, but they will not be free. The books on the iPad will have to be something special to justify their cost.

8. I'm more of a believer of web based apps anyways. I don't want my students to have to worry about having an Apple product at school and a Windows or Linux product at home or vice versa. With web based apps, the hardware matters much less.

9. Apple's apps only run on Apple products. Apple is the only manufacturer. There is no other option if you use Apple OS. With Windows and Linux, there are multiple hardware vendors. Schools can get great deals on hardware.

10. I don't know too many school systems near me that could afford to outfit each student with their own iPad as Randolph Jakes states. Most 1:1 schools have class sets of devices that students only use in class.

I stand by my opinion that this is a consumer device, not yet an educational one. It is hard to create on it due to the virtual keyboard.

Reviews and surveys across the web, including Engadget, Fast Company, Edutopia, CNET, and more all show that the iPad was a let down and most people surveyed are not rushing out to order one. As it matures, who knows what it will be able to do.

This is a great discussion. Let's keep it going. Discussions like this are what can push manufacturers and software vendors to create new products and push new products to new uses.

UPDATE 12/10/2010
Since the launch, Apple has sold millions of iPads. I've used a few that friends have, and while it is a fun device, I stand by my original thoughts. It is lacking for education. Still expensive compared to netbooks, no real keyboard (except as pay for accessory), no Flash support (a huge number of educational sites and sites used by teachers use Flash), not enough free apps. All contribute to the fact that it is not my choice for education. I think that netbooks using Google Chrome OS will be a better choice. Inexpensive, real keyboard, Flash support, tons of free apps, everything stored and sync'd in the cloud, and easy to use.

I know that Apple fans love their devices, but Apple is expensive and a closed system. I like inexpensive or free, open systems better.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Most Read Posts


Here's a list of the top read posts. It was interesting to see the ones that had the most visits.

Thanks again to all my readers and supporters over the last year. This blog has been a lot of fun to write and share resources.

300th Post!! Free online calculators

This is my 300th post!! I have really enjoyed doing this - sharing resources with other educators. Thanks for all of the encouragement and feedback!

This post is a listing of some free online calculators. I have used them all and really find them to be great resources for teachers and students.

Here is a list of 6 that I've used and like. The first one is my favorite.

MotionNet Engineering Directory Calculator (also has other resources on it).

Do you have any others? Any free downloadable Scientific Calculators?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Google Chrome Web Browser revisited

Google Chrome Web Browser has been released for quite a while now (and I've been using it since then), but still many people don't know about it. Richard Byrne just posted a nice article with some videos about Chrome too, so I decided to revisit what I feel is the best web browser.

I've written about it before (HERE and HERE and here is a good resource about web browsers) but want to point out some new features.

Some of the main features in Chrome:

Fast! Web sites load fast and web applications run quickly and smoothly.

Simple! The browser takes up less screen area giving you more area to view your website.
Combined Address Bar and Search bar - type a web address or search term in one box and you either go to the website or get search returns. Simple and easy.

Easy tab use - open, close, and move tabs easily.

Isolated tabs - if a web site on one tab crashes, it won't affect your other open tabs.

Opens online documents using Google Docs. Easy to view all kinds of files.

Themes - pick your theme (colors) for your browser.

Bookmarks - sync your browser bookmarks across multiple computers using your Google account.

Bookmarklets - besides having bookmarks on your bookmark toolbar, you can also include bookmarklets which are buttons that cause an action. Examples include: Clip to Evernote (clips the content to your Evernote account), Google Bookmark (creates a bookmark of the page you are viewing), Diigolet (which puts a link to the website into your Diigo account) and many more.

Extensions - extensions are add on programs for web browsers, and what made Firefox so popular. Chrome's development version supports extensions (and the main version will soon too). I only use a few so far, including Google Translate (of the page you are viewing), Internet Explorer tab (opens a tab in IE to view IE only websites), Aviary (perform lots of functions using Aviary's web based graphics editors), Blog This! (which clips a web page to your Blogger account so you can blog about it) and Google Calendar which tells me how long until my next appointment.

Favorites and Recently closed tabs - are all listed when you click on a new tab. This makes it easy to go to your most visited sites and to revisit sites that you have just closed.

Customizable / Privacy settings - you can customize the way the browser looks and functions and you can set different privacy settings to protect your privacy while online.

Stable and secure. Chrome is a very stable browser (I have had almost no crashes, ever, with Chrome) and very secure from attacks and hackers.

This is just some of the features of Google's Chrome Web Browser. Try it out for yourself and see how nice it is.

Free Lessons for High School Web Design Classes

High School Web Design is a site that has free lesson plans and resources for teaching a high school class on web design (hence the name of the site).

The site has lesson plans and project ideas, PowerPoint presentations, links, and an example course schedule. The site has a nice set up that is easy to navigate the information is formated well.

I would suggest that any high school web design teacher take a look at this resource. I'm sure you will find it worthwhile.

(It would also work as a review for students or teachers.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Recent Resources I posted on Twitter

Recent Resources I've Posted on Twitter:

Campus Technology's archive from Virtual conference

Really cool alternative to Smartboards

Info for Concussions in high school students

Share with future teachers - guide to becoming a teacher and getting a job

Did You Know video Wiki - great videos!!

RT @cuppa_coffee: Advantages of Using a Blog for Teaching: Do you use a blog to teach?

Sugarsync-2GB free online storage, backup, & sync across computers

RT @web20classroom: The Encyclopedia of Educational Technology

Follow Me on Twitter -

Related Article:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Palm Pre + - now at Verizon

The Palm Pre+, Palm's latest version of it's webOS based Smart phone will be available at Verizon on January 25th., along with the Pixi+. UPDATED - they are now at Verizon!

Both phones have great features including multi-tasking, personal information management, web browsers, automatic over the air sync, smart notifications, 3D games, merging of calendars and more. Flash for mobile browsers will debut on the Pre+ in February.

The Palm Pre and Pixi are top-of-the line smart phones and should be considered for educational uses. Here is an article with a list of just some of the educational apps for the Pre.

One of the things I hate right now in education is that so many people are talking about the iPhone and iTouch. We should not always look at one manufacturer for equipment. Palm, Blackberry, and Android are all great devices that can be used in education. Here is an article about keeping schools Operating System and Hardware independent.

I believe that schools should not require any specific device. We should be looking at systems that allow all students to use them no matter what computer or phone brand they use. Many students already have smart phones and could use them. If schools make things platform dependent, it leaves many students out in the cold. Everything I do is web based and all documents are on Google Docs or are PDF files so that no matter what system a student has, they can read and access the files.

For more info on the Pre+ and Pixi+, go to Palm's Website.

Krunchd - make one link to multiple sites

Have you ever wanted to share more than one link with someone and didn't want to have to write/type all of the links? Or, are you using Twitter and only have 140 characters available?

Krunchd is a free service that allows you to create one link that will bring someone to a collection of links you set up on Krunchd's system.

Example: I want to share a bunch of article links on Twitter about Project Based Learning. They won't all fit, even by shortening each url. So I go to Krunchd, set up a single link for all of them and post that one link. I can even give the collection a title and description.

You get to pick the URL, which is pretty cool. If you leave it blank, the site will generate one for you. The link will be and then 18 characters of your choosing.

Original Links:

A very useful site for sharing multiple links.

Learning Science - collection of resources is a great resource for science teachers. It is a free online collection of resources for teaching science, organized by subject area and standards.

The site has tools for science, such as graphing, timekeeping, and graph paper, links to other resources, ways to use Google apps in science.

When I looked under physical science, I found information and resources separated by standards for different grade levels. From there, I was brought to a list of online resources to use when teaching each standard. Some of them I already knew about, but many were new to me.

I recommend that all science teachers take a look at this site. It is well organized, easy to use, and has a lot of great resources for your lessons.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Scribblar - online whiteboard - UPDATED

(originally posted 10/11/09)

Scribblar is an online meeting room / white board. Students can use it to collaborate on projects, teachers can tutor via the computer, and teachers can use it for collaborative meetings and projects.

Scribblar gives the users a virtual white board on the screen and writing tools to create text, lines and shapes. They can even add images.

There is also a chat window on the side bar so that users can talk to each other while working. There is even a live chat system if you have a microphone and speakers.

I see students using this to work on homework problems together. Teachers could use this to help students with homework after school or on the weekends.

Dweeber is another resource that has some similar functionality for students.

UPDATE: Scribblar can now support PDF files. Free users can upload PDFs with up to 5 pages. Your uploaded PDF will be turned into an editable image in Scribblar. Thanks to Free Technology for Teachers for the tip!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Should we force students to learn? or How can we change schools to engage students?

As I was walking back to my room today after making some copies in the office, I glanced into some classrooms. I noticed many students and teachers doing some great things and figured there was some good learning going on. But I also noticed that some students had their heads down, or were looking out the window. There were also a few students wandering the halls. It got me thinking, is forcing every student to take certain classes the right thing to do?

(I had also recently read this blog post over at Teachpaperless which got me thinking.)

I was thinking about students that have no desire to learn about Shakespeare, the French Revolution, atomic bonding, or polynomials. I was thinking that many of them may pass these classes and graduate, but not really have gained anything from the class. They may have a poor outlook on education because they were not excited or engaged by their classes. They may feel that school was a waste of time. How many of these students drop out of high school because they hate school? How many dropouts would stay if they could take classes that they WANTED to take? How do we fix these issues?

I am a firm believer that we need more vocational education in our high schools. "Shop classes" and "industrial arts" have been cut and many schools have minimal classes in these areas. I did a summer externship (through the CBIA) two years ago with local manufacturing companies and they all complained that there are not enough machinists and technicians to meet their needs. They were also seeing a shortage of CAD (computer aided design) technicians in the area. Our schools have a limited number of these types of classes, but they are not enough. The state vocational-technical schools are always facing budget issues. We need more.

Many high school students will not go to college, and that is ok. They need to know basics in English, Math, History, and Science, as well as computer basics, to be informed citizens and to be able to function in a workplace. But, do they really need to struggle in upper level classes? Maybe we need to get them to a certain level and then let them pick the classes they want to take. Why do we have to have so many restrictions and requirements?

We should be offering more vocational classes such as machining, CAD, electrician, carpentry, auto mechanics, culinary arts, computer technician and more. This would prepare non-college bound students for good jobs and careers.

We should also take advantage of technology and use it to truly differentiate student learning experiences. Let's get rid of our very old, stagnated system and come up with something new. Like individualized programs for students. With this, we could accommodate more students in the subjects that they really want to learn. Trade/Vocational programs for non-college bound students and more advanced classes for the students who are bored because the work is too easy.

Project Based Learning, online classes, non-traditional sequences of classes, a greater variety of classes, and some outside-of-the-box thinking can help more of our students succeed in life. Online classes and testing could help some students learn the basics and prove proficiency and then allow them to move onto other classes. Imagine what a school like that could look like! All students engaged because they are learning things that they want to learn. Applying all classes to their future needs, whether that is college or job. Authentic learning that truly engages and prepares students for the future.

I would love to teach in that school.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

There are some very similar discussions going on in right now. Check out these articles too:

Check them all out and join the discussion.

Free Online PDF Generator - is a nice and simple PDF generator. You simply select a file on your computer, click "generate PDF" and it will create the pdf file and a file download window will open.

I converted a few different files and it worked fast and did a good job.

I usually use CutePDF, but that has to be installed as a printer on your computer. This is online, meaning you can use it where ever you happen to be using a computer.

According to the site (which is just one page):

"You are welcome to convert any kind of file to a PDF. Below is a list of filetypes that are definitely supported:

  • Microsoft Word Document
  • Rich Text Format Document
  • Plain Text Document
  • Most Image Formats (PNG, JPG)"
Share your free PDF generators/converters in the comments.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Great Web 2.0 resource site

Kevin Honeycutt has a great site with information, videos, links, and resources for Web 2.0 tools for educators and how to use them. He also has other information and links for online safety and cyber-bullying.

I've only begun to delve into his site and I have already found a huge amount of resources. Check it out.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Factbites: Where results make sense

Factbites is a new way to search the internet. It is described as "what happens when you combine a search engine with an encyclopedia".

It is definitely a different way to search for information. Instead of listing a bunch of web sites that have your search terms in them, it lists sentences and paragraphs from sites that are related to your search. The search results are also grouped by sites and related topics. Many of the sentences and paragraphs are a definition to your search term. This can be useful for just needing to quickly look something up.

There were some quirks to it. I typed in "electron" as a search and it changed the search to "electronics." When I searched for "Twitter" it had no results at all.

Here is a screenshot for a search for "pedagogy". You can see how the results are much different than a Google search. (Bing is blocked here at school because inappropriate content can be seen on the search results page of Bing, even if the referring site is blocked. This includes porn videos that will play in the search results page!)

I think that this is a good addition to different search engines and can be used to look up a definition or other information. It is still in Beta so it is not fully refined yet.

You could also use it to teach students about search engines and different ways to find information online.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Value of Educational Technology

I recently had a colleague ask me "why should I learn this tech stuff. How will it help me or my students?" I answered that it could make him more efficient and organized, able to learn new things, and allow his students to do new things, explore, engage, create, and have fun learning. We talked for a few more minutes and I convinced him to come to a professional development session I was running entitled "An Introduction to Educational Technology" where I introduce some basic edtech tools and resources and show the participants how to get started using educational technology. Many teachers are intimidated by everything out there, so I also point them towards resources that can help them overcome their fears and learn to use the resources.

The conversation got me thinking more about the value of educational technology. I have always believed in edtech as a valuable educational tool and resource, but I wanted to try to verbalize my beliefs better and come up with concrete examples. So, here goes.

Value of Educational Technology: (or, how does it help teachers and students)
  1. Organization - things like Google Calendar, iGoogle, Evernote help keep us organized and more efficient
  2. Collaboration - Google Docs, Twitter, Prezi, Blogs, Wiki's, Scriblar, and more allow teachers and students to interact, work together, and work with others.
  3. Web 2.0 - in general, allows students and teachers to create and interact instead of just observing
  4. Personal Learning Network (PLN) - learning and sharing what you know
  5. Professional development - online resources, informal through PLN, online classes
  6. Research/Information - the internet ('nuff said)
  7. Virtual labs, trips - take your students to places they'd never get to see otherwise, do labs and experiences with them, even when you don't have the supplies or equipment.
  8. Save time and money
  9. Provide new learning experiences and help improve education
  10. Connect with students and parents easier - email, websites, blogs, etc.
  11. Provide differentiated educational experiences (video, audio, print, interactive, help and tutoring)
I was trying to figure out how much money I have saved in my classroom alone by utilizing educational technology in place of other things.
  • My physics classes do not have a textbook because I use two free online physics texts, three great websites, and a free downloadable pdf version of a physics textbook. Savings of $140 per student. (the textbook we have is very old and out of date)
  • I don't print out anywhere near the amount of paper for students that I used to because I post things on the class blogs and website. Savings of literally tens of thousands of pieces of paper and copier toner and my time.
  • Electronic grade book, attendance, note taking, etc. has saved money on grade books and paper (and allowed parents to keep track of their child's performance)
  • Free online virtual labs and simulations instead of paying for licenses or lab equipment
  • Free software / services (Google Docs, Sites, Blogger, Evernote, etc) instead of paying for licenses - students can therefore do things at home that they normally couldn't afford to do either.
I could not put a numeric value on educational technology. I know I save money, I know I save time, I know I offer my students labs and experiences that I couldn't otherwise (due to budget issues), I know the students have fun, I know that they are creating instead of just consuming, I know I am more efficient and more organized, I know I learn a lot from my PLN, I know my students learn a lot from the class and their work. How do you put a price on that? I think it is priceless.

What do you think the value of educational technology is?

Can we quantify it with numbers and data?


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