Monday, December 31, 2012

Reuse, update and recycle old technology

Technology changes rapidly and it seems like something you just bought last week is already outdated and replaced by something new. Some people and companies are always buying the latest and greatest technology, but schools, and most people, can't afford to do that. So, what can we do?

One thing is to reuse old technology for new purposes. I use an old Palm PDA as my backup alarm clock. I can set repeating alarms for each day and when it goes off, the screen turns on, adding a visual alarm along with the sound. I use my old Palm Centro phone as a backup remote control for the TV, DVD, and VCR. It has an IR transmitter and an app that has all of the programs in it. I also have an old netbook that I still use. It is my remote back up system. It has Dropbox and Sugarsync on it and backs up those accounts, along with my Google Drive and Google Accounts and Evernote. This means that all of my data is on my main computer, this netbook, those systems, and my mobile devices. Great way to reuse an old device.

You can update old technology and give it new life. With thousands of computers in our district, many are very old. Yet for a small amount of money, we can get them running better and longer. We have been updating hard drives and RAM for a fraction of the cost of a new device and they run great. We also move the older computers for the lower grades student use since the software they use does not need high end devices. We even have very old LCD projectors out there that work fine. We are taking old laptops and updating the RAM and re imaging them. Most of the services and apps that the schools are using are all going web based so these older laptops, using a browser like Google Chrome, will be perfectly adequate and will be used like Chromebooks for web based apps only.

As schools got computer projectors and streaming video, TV's with VCRs and DVDs have been sitting idle. We just found some converters that allow you to connect your computer to a TV. Since we have some great, large TVs, we can use these converters to allow teachers who do not have a computer projector to share their computer image with their class.

You can also recycle your old technology, and even get some money for it. We have lots of old computers that need to be disposed of, along with printers, fax machines and old monitors. There are a variety of companies out there that will not only take away your old technology, they will pay you for it. They even certify that the data is securely erased. The only thing they don't pay for is the old monitors, but they also don't charge to hall them away and properly dispose of them.

Don't just throw away your old technology, find new uses, new lives, or at least get some cash for it.

How do you reuse and recycle your old technology?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gooru - the Search Engine for Learning

Gooru is a site I wrote about a while back when it was in Alpha status. It is now in Beta status and open for everyone to use.

Gooru describes itself as a "Search Engine for Learning". It is a study tool that allows students to explore resources and study guides that are aligned to standards. The materials are in math, social studeis and science and are from 5th grade up to high school. Resources include digital textbooks, videos, animations, links and much more. It also includes social media functions so that students can work, study, and share with others.There are ready made collections of resources, and users can create their own collections of resources as a study tool, or even as a class project.

There are self-assessments in Gooru that help it adapt to the student, suggesting resources and study guides based on the student's performance.

The resources are all vetted by educational professionals and you can even create custom collections and resources.

The site has resources to learn more about it and how it can be beneficial to educators and students.

Technology I'm using daily as a School District CIO

This past November I started a new chapter in my career and became the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the district I was a teacher in for 10 years. It combines my experience as a teacher and educational technology specialist, as well as my 10 years as an engineer and project manager, into one very exciting, busy, crazy, rewarding job. I am responsible for the IT department, as well as coordinating with the data teams and all technology issues and projects.

In the past, I've written about the technology I used on a daily basis as a teacher. Today, I want to write about the technology I'm using on a daily basis in my job as CIO and how this technology helps keep me organized, informed, and communicating with others. Some of it is the same, some different, and some just used differently.

Evernote - Evernote, an electronic notebook with lots of great features, is my main tool. I have used it for lesson plans, lesson notes, lesson resources as a teacher and travel info, recipes, clippings from web sites, to do lists, personal references, tech resources and instructions and so much more. It is the main app I use for almost everything. 

As CIO, I have created multiple notebooks. They are each named CIO and then the specific notebook title and all stacked under CIO as a main category. I have a note entitled "Priorities" that I update each week. It has a list of the major tasks and projects that I need to work on that week. I don't keep much for details in this note, rather I put the link to other notes that have all of the details on them. 

I also upload files as attachments to Evernote so that I can easily access them anywhere, on any device. Files that I have to edit often are stored on our servers and I can access them remotely via VPN client. 

I also use the Clip to Evernote extension for Chrome (my browser of choice) to clip web articles for future reference. 

Another great feature is the Outlook to Evernote extension. I use Outlook for email, contacts, and calendar, and can export any email or contact from Outlook to Evernote, including attachments. This keeps my email less cluttered and allows me easier access to the emails and files from other devices. 

I use Evernote to take notes in meetings also, either with my smartphone, Chromebook or laptop, or using my Livescribe Sky pen to take handwritten notes (I'm faster that way) and have them synced directly to Evernote. 

I use the Evernote desktop app at home and at work due to the advanced features and local backup of data. I have a premium account (only $45 per year), although many people would be fine with the free account. 

Dropbox - Dropbox is a great file sync, backup, and sharing service that you can use for free. The rest of the files I need to use that are not in Evernote or Google Drive are setup in my Dropbox so that they are synced on my home computer and my smartphone. I can access my files from any web browser also. I never have to worry about losing a flash drive or forgetting to copy or email myself a file.

Google Chrome is my browser of choice. It's fast, secure, easy to use, has great extensions and bookmarklets, and just works great. I have it automatically open up my most used tabs: Gmail, Google Calendar, Blogger, Tweetdeck, and Evernote. I also have bookmarklets for saving pages into my Google Bookmarks, accessing school systems, and much more.

Evernote Clipper - clip web pages and articles into my Evernote notebooks for reference or sharing with students. URL Shortener - shorten web page URL's for better sharing and tracking of sharing.
Webpage Screenshot - take screenshots of web pages, edit and format them, and save them.
Evernote Clearly - clean up a web page for easier reading and clipping.

Google Apps - I use Google's many apps, including Gmail, Blogger, Calendar, Docs/Drive and Reader for myself and as part of my daily job. We are also going to Google Apps for Education for our students and faculty along with Chromebooks for different groups.

I use Tweetdeck in Chrome browser to access my PLN on Twitter. It is easy to use and has great features like multiple columns and scheduling of tweets. It's a great way for me to connect with other CIO's and Technology Directors for help and advice.

Android Smartphone - with my Android Smartphone, I can access all of my materials and resources, all of the apps and resources listed above and even control my computer with SplasthTop Remote.Android works great with all of the Google resources I use, and the Evernote app for it is awesome. This allows me to access meeting notes, files, and much more anywhere I go. Very handy as I travel the district for meetings and working with staff on technology projects.

Livescribe Sky Smartpen - This job entails a lot of meetings, issues, and challenges. One way I have been able to keep up with things is through my Livescribe Sky WiFi Smartpen. With this smartpen, I'm able to take notes in meetings on paper, which is very efficient, especially with my note taking style, which incorporates sketches, symbols, arrows, and more that don't translate well with a keyboard. The smartpen saves all of my notes and syncs them to Evernote over WiFi. This means that all of my notes are stored inEvernote so that I can access them anywhere. They are even searchable. I can also record audio in important or fast moving meetings to make sure I don't miss anything.

Outlook icon

Microsoft Outlook - As a teacher, we all used the web version of Outlook. Administration and office staff use the desktop version of Outlook because we utilize more features. Email management, calendar and meeting schedules, contacts, and more. The full version of Outlook also has the Evernote extension so I can save emails, attachments, and contacts right to Evernote. 

Brookstone Boogie Board -  a paperless notepad. It is small, thin and lightweight. You write on it using the stylus, or even your finger. It has sealed battery that lasts for 50,000 erasures. I figure 50,000 erasures will last about 20 years or so. It only uses power to clear the screen. I use this as my scratch pad on my desk to take quick notes with before adding them to Evernote or doing that task.

I also use some other systems, such as Tack-IT for our Help Desk, and our budget and purchase order system. For hardware, I have an HP desktop workstation, HP laptop, Chromebook (Samsung 303) and my smartphone and Livescribe SkyPen. 

So, that's what I use each day in my role as CIO. These technologies allow me to be organized and easily access all of the data and information that I need to access each day, as well as communicate with my staff and other personnel. 

What technology do you use each day in your job?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays - Most Read Posts of 2012

Happy Holidays from Google!
image from homepage 

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas from Connecticut. I'm finishing up my day at work today with a quick post of the Most Read Posts of 2012. It's been an interesting year for me, as I started a new job as the Chief Information Officer for our district. It's a rewarding and challenging job that I love.

Tonight we head to friends' for Christmas Eve and then off to my cousins' tomorrow with the whole family.

I want to wish all of my readers Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. In this time of joy and celebration, please keep those less fortunate in mind, and please remember the 26 we lost in Newtown, and also the 2 Firefighter's lost today in upstate New York.

Most Read Posts of 2012:

1. 10 Tech Skills Every Student Should Have

2. 10 Important Skills Students need for the Future

Friday, December 21, 2012

Google Play books reads aloud - great for struggling readers

I just wrote about Evernote Clearly having text-to-speech and I just found out that Google Play Books does too. It has a read aloud function that will read books to you. It has to have an internet access at the time, but it is another resource for students who struggle to read.

Google Play Books gets high quality read aloud, pinch zoom, recommendations

Adobe Photoshop Touch Updated for 7 Inch Devices

Adobe® Photoshop® Touch

Adobe Photoshop Touch is a great app for tablets and smartphones that I wrote about before. It has just been updated for 7 inch devices like the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire and iPad mini.

This is a great app for students and educators to use for photo editing and effects and now it is available for the smaller tablets. I happen to love my Nexus 7 and the 7 inch table size, so I'm very happy. The app is $9.99.

Take a look at more information about Adobe Photoshop Touch.

Evernote Skitch meeets Windows to create a great, easy to use screen capture and image editing service.

skitch screen capture
Evernote, the app I talk about way too much, has some other great apps that work with it. Skitch is one of them. Skitch is a free image editing and screen capture app that has been on mobile devices for a while and is now, finally, on Windows.

It is easy to use, has enough features for most users, and is free. Hard to beat that. You can use it to take screen captures, annotate images, and it integrates with Evernote.

Teachers can use it to capture and annotate images for students, professional development, e-portfolios, etc. and students can use it for class projects.

It is available for iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and Windows 8.

Learn more at the source page below.

Source: Evernote Skitch website

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Evernote Clearly gets Text-to-Speech - premium only

Evernote is one of my most used apps, ever. I'll be sharing the apps I use, and how I use them, in my new job as CIO shortly.

Evernote has a very cool product called Clearly. Evernote Clearly is a browser extension for Google Chrome (other browsers will be added soon) that allows you to read online with less distractions. You simply click the extension and it hides all the distractions from blogs and articles, allowing you to read with less distractions and more easily.It use it a lot, especially on sites that I want to clip to Evernote (it keeps all the junk from getting clipped too).

This is great for students who have issues with distractions and makes things easier to read.

It has a great new feature also. Clearly now has Text-to-Speech for premium account users. Premium accounts are only $5 per month, or $45 per year and are well worth it, adding some great features.

Words are highlighted as they are read and users can pause and skip. This is a great feature for ELL, early readers, and struggling readers. It supports 12 languages.

Source: Evernote Blog

Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown - Sandy Hook Elementary

Friday was a shocking day. I was at one of our elementary schools working with a principal on some technology ideas when we started to get the news about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, just 15 miles north of us. We were shocked and saddened even without knowing any details. Staff members live in that town and were trying to get more information about their own children.

As the day and weekend progressed and more information was released, things got worse. One of the students killed was the daughter of a teacher in our district. One of the hero teachers, Vicki Soto, was someone I had known when she was younger. She was a member of the EMS Explorer post at the EMS service I was a paramedic at and I had worked with her and the other Explorers many times. I know many of the first responders, having either worked with them as a paramedic or trained them. I've worked some very bad calls, including the death of a child, but I can not even begin to imagine what they are going through.

Newtown is a great town that my wife and I love. It's beautiful and quintessential New England. We go there a lot to go shopping, have some great pizza, and have ice cream at a dairy farm. It's a town that we have been considering to buy a house in, and still will.

It's been a rough few days. I can only hope that all those affected can find peace and comfort.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mimio Teach Interactive System - great IWB system with great features

Many teachers use interactive white boards in their classrooms. They can be used for interesting lessons, engaging students at the board, recording what is done on the board, and controlling the computer from the board.

There are a variety of brands and devices out there, and one that I like is the MimioTeach system. This turns any white board into an interactive white board. It can capture handwritten notes, annotations, operate the computer and presentation from the board and more. The receiver is mounted on the white board using suction cups or adhesive mounting brackets or magnets.

There is software for it that is similar to the Smart Board software and there are tons of lessons and resources available on their site. You can capture what you write on the board, your annotations, create your own lessons with the MimioStudio software, or use some of the lessons that are in their library.

The Mimio system includes the MimioTeach (make any white board interactive), MimioVote (classroom response system) and MimioPad (wireless tablet) and MimioView document camera. The entire MimioTeach family of products are excellent to use.

Another nice feature is portability. You can use them anywhere and the system is wireless. The capture can even capture to the device and then connect to a computer later to transfer captured data. A teacher moves rooms, the Mimio goes with them. Need to use one in another room, bring one along. Storage is a snap too since they are small. Lock them up to protect them from theft or damage. Bring them along to a conference and use them with your presentation.

If you are thinking about getting an interactive whiteboard, check out the Mimio System. They are more cost effective and easy to install and operate. The products all integrate with each other, are easy to use, and have great support. There are discounts for educators, great training materials, and a vibrant community of educators and lesson resources.

Here are some pictures of the system:


(I am not compensated by Mimio at all for this article)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Do I own too many gadgets? Nah!

I was looking at all of my gadgets and I was wondering if I have too many. Here's a list of what I personally own and how I use them.

1. Android Smartphone - I use it every day for everything from email, to web browsing, Evernote, calendar, phone calls, Netflix, Kindle, accessing files, and much more.

2. Nexus 7 Tablet - email, web browsing, Evernote, Netflix, music, Kindle and more. Use it for travle and conferences. Love the 7" form factor - bigger screen than smartphone, but easier to hold than a full size tablet.

3. HP TouchPad Tablet - pretty much everything I use 1 and 2 for, but in a larger form factor. My wife also uses it alot. I have Android dual booting on it, but mainly use the webOS boot. It was a great tablet that had a lot of promise before it was cancelled.

4. Laptop - my full size laptop serves as my home computer. It has Windows 7 and I can do anything on it. It is also the main place my files are stored. All the files are also backed up through SugarSync and Dropbox, Google Drive and to an external drive. They are also backed up to my Netbook (see #7 below)

5. Livescribe Pen and notebook - I use this to take notes at meetings. It automatically syncs the notes via WiFi to my Evernote account. I can then access the notes anywhere. I take notes very quickly with a pen and can add symbols and drawings with it. Much better than using a keyboard or tablet and stylus.

6. Chromebook - I have a CR-48 Chromebook that I use as a lightweight laptop. The keyboard makes content creation and data/writing things much easier than on a tablet. I also use it to test out apps for our district's Chromebook initiative.

7. Netbook - I used to use the Netbook as my travel device. Now it is a great backup device for travel and portability, but it is also a data backup device. All of my files and data are backed up to Sugarsync and Dropbox and Google Drive and then they are also synced to the Netbook. I also have my Evernote account backed up here. Great way to use an older device.

So, what do you think? Too many tech toys, or just enough, or not enough?

Monday, December 3, 2012


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