Thursday, January 24, 2013

Boundless - free, open source, digital textbooks

Boundless is a service that provides free, open source, digital textbooks. There are 18 open textbooks with Creative Commons licensed content, for college subjects including accounting, biology, economics and more. 

Boundless provides a free alternative to expensive textbooks and they can also be used as supplemental materials for students. The content is changed and additions made, in direct contrast to printed textbooks that are usually outdated before they are printed.

Boundless has an interesting process. They find the best free online content, have experts curate and vet it, and then deliver it in a way that is easy to read and navigate. 

They also have some great features like SmartNotes which condense the full book into the main points, terms and examples, and Interactive Notebook to highlight items and add your own notes, Flash Cards, Quizzes, Study Guides and search. 

Boundless is a great resource for college students, as well as advanced high school students and teachers. I'm a huge proponent of free resources vs. expensive textbooks and really like the fact that these free digital resources are constantly updated and improved. 

Here are all of their textbooks:


What I use with Physics classes instead of textbook

Resources to Replace Textbooks

CK-12 - free e-textbooks and more - updates and news

Google Slides now available offline!

Google Docs/Drive is a great, free resource that allows you to create, edit, share, collaborate on, and comment on Documents (Docs), Spreadsheets (Sheets), and Presentations (Slides), all online. Think Microsoft Office in the cloud with some other great features.

I use Google Slides (Presentations), the equivalent of PowerPoint, for all of my presentations. I like the features it has and like that I can easily share it online and people will always be able to see the newest version. One downside was that you needed an internet connection and some conferences I have presented at can have WiFi issues due to all of the devices being used. I would always save a copy of my presentation as a PDF file to my laptop in case I didn't have a good internet connection. That is no longer necessary.

Google has announced that Google Slides will now be available with offline support. You can now create, edit, comment, and present your Slides presentation without an internet connection. When you get an internet connection, your new presentations or changes will be automatically updated online. Docs has had this for a while already.

This is a great feature that makes Slides even more useful, along with Chromebooks, for people who need to work on, or present, their presentations where they may not have WiFi. It's also great for schools who issue Chromebooks to students that may not have internet at home. Our district is going with Chromebooks and student internet access at home is a concern. That is less of a concern now.

To enable offline Docs/Sheets/Slides, follow these instructions. If you already have offline enabled for Docs, you are all set. In order to use the offline feature, you will have to use Chrome browser or Chrome OS.

Google is currently working on offline support for Sheets as well.

Offline support has been the one reason I see many people stating as why they won't or can't go with Google Drive/Docs and Chromebooks. That reason is disappearing.


Google for Educators Resources

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Doodle 4 Google contest open - create a doodle, win a scholarship

Doodle 4 Google

Google is once again hosting a Doodle 4 Google contest for K-12 students in the US. Students create a doodle of the Google logo based on this years theme: "My Best Day Ever.." would be what? Think outside the box and use some imagination.

The winner will see their Doodle on the Google homepage for a day, get a $30,000 college scholarship and get a $50,000 technology grant for their school.

Along with Google employee judges, there are celebrity judges, including Katie Couric, Chris Sanders (writer of Lilo & Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon) and more.

Voting opens May 1st and there will be one finalist from each state. The state finalists will be flown to New York City for the awards ceremony on May 22nd. All the State Winners will have their artwork on display at theAmerican Museum of Natural History from May 22 to July 14.

Entry forms are available on the Doodle 4 Google site. All entries are due by March 22nd and must have a parent or guardian's signature.

Complete rules, prizes, and registration information is available at the Doodle 4 Google site.

This is a great way to get students thinking creatively and coming up with some great ideas, as well as having a chance to win a scholarship.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Getting Organized Tips and Resources


Here are some tips on getting organized. I am a very organized person (type A personality and was an engineer for ten years) and I used to teach organizational skills to other employees at one of my jobs. There are a ton of different organizational methods out there, but it is actually pretty easy to be organized and stay that way using some free tools.

I use a variety of tools to keep myself organized and share them with colleagues, administrators, teachers and with students. I have some links below to other articles I've written that are similar in nature, so please read those too.

The first thing that is important is to decide what tools you are more comfortable with: paper or electronic. If a student/teacher doesn't have a smartphone or easy access to a computer, it is harder to use some of the electronic versions. However, one solution is to use the electronic versions at home/office and print out things for mobile. I used to do that before I got my first PDA. I would print a task list and calendar in Word and keep it updated and then print it out when I had to use it away from a computer. I used to also use a Franklin Covey planner before my PDA days.

The trick to being organized is to always use your system and not deviate from it. If you are using a smartphone, then always use that, don't use paper too. Take 5 min each morning, lunch, afternoon, and evening to get organized, check your schedule and task list, and make plans for the next time period. Keep your task list and schedule up to date and check it before making plans. Prioritize your task list based on what is most important or needed done 1st. Use a calendar or prompts or reminders to make sure you get things done on time.

Electronic organizing tools can be helpful because they can remind you of due dates, meetings, etc. through text messages, emails, and on-screen alerts. They can also link notes, web sites, and more together so it's easier to find things.

Here is how I stay organized: 
(I use electronic resources and can access them from anywhere)
(Technology I'm using daily as a School District CIO)

1. I have a Android Smartphone running on Verizon so I can access all of the tools I use at any time. That means I'm always able to take notes, create a task or calendar event, and review all of my stuff any time, anyplace. I can access all of my emails, my Google CalendarGoogle Task List, and Evernote from it. I can also access all of my files via Dropbox. (and all of this is accessible from any computer and always in sync through the cloud)

2. I use Microsoft Outlook at work for email and calendar and contacts. I also have this syncing to my smartphone. I can also export emails and contacts to Evernote to keep things even more organized.

3. I use Evernote to take notes, organize notes, organize info and web clippings, and as a project planning tool. I have access to this from any computer and from my smartphone. I organize notes into notebooks and also have tags, making them easier to find when I need them. This is my main tool and includes all of my notes, files, task lists, and more. I even have a note that has all of my web page links on it and I use that as a start page.

4. I even have an app for my phone that will alert me when I am near a place that I have a task for (via GPS) and have been using Google Now more and more to help stay organized and plan my day.

There are some great tools specifically for students, like Trackclass, Shoshiku, and Dweeber that can help them get organized with their classes, schedule, and notes.

For those who still like paper planning and organizing, there are some great paper planning tools. In addition, a Livescribe Pen and pad offers paper note taking and planning, while syncing it to your computer and/or Evernote.

Paper Planning Resources (not free)
Franklin Covey - great paper planning systems, but a little pricey for students.
Day Timer paper planners
DIY Planner - make and print your own planner pages
Planner Pads - paper planners
Day Runner - paper planners
Mead Student Planners
Student Planner USA - some nice ones on here (and not expensive)
SchoolMate Student Planners

You can also create and print out your own calendars and task lists. There are a huge number of sites that have these, and MS Word has templates for it.

There are also some great student planners that you can customize for your school, adding in school calendar and schedules. They also have some great reference pages in the back, including math, English, science, study tips, college planning and more references. Here's one we've used:  Premier Agendas for College Ed. There are a variety out there, and I don't endorse any specific one.

Great Tips, Resources and Ideas for Going Paperless in the New Year
Electronic Planning Resources (free)
Student Planner Software (all free) (lots of good ones here to share with your students)

Organizing Resources
Online Organizing
Get Organized Now - great site with great tips and resources
Julie Morgenstern - professional organizer with some great tips and resources

The big thing to remember is that you have to use your system consistently and you have to take a time to plan out your day. You have to prioritize things and realize that free time and sleep sometimes have to take a back seat to priorities. However, if you plan things well and do things each day, you can avoid the sudden backlog and all-nighters that many students end up experiencing.

Basic Steps for being organized:
1. Plan Ahead (every day)
2. Make a ToDo (or task) list
3. Put things in your calendar (and check your calendar during your planning)
4. Students: write down your assignments and due dates in organizer
5. Students: study/work on homework a little each day to stay ahead
6. Stick to your schedule and commitments
7. Reward yourself with some free time.

Administrators, Teachers and students can benefit greatly form being organized. You are more efficient, get things done on time, don't forget things, and generally have less stress.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Great Tips, Resources and Ideas for Going Paperless in the New Year

I am a big fan of going paperless whenever possible and technology just keeps making it easier to do. Google is one of the sponsors of the Paperless pledge and has some tips, resources and ideas for going paperless and I have collected a variety of resources and tips. Here they all are.Check them out and check out Paperless2013 and sign up for more tips.

I use my Android smartphone, Nexus 7 tablet, Chromebook and desktop computers, along with apps like Evernote (essential to going paperless), email, online faxing and signing, Google Docs and Drive, Dropbox and Sugarsync and PDF tools, a Boogie Board electronic notepad, a Livescribe Sky Smartpen, and a scanner (Fujitsu Scansnap) to go as paperless as possible. The two articles below have more information too.

My tips and resources:

Paper, we don't need no paper! Tools and tips for going paperless

Tools to go Paperless (in school and at home)

- use flat screen monitors on walls as electronic bulletin boards.
- install solar panels on roof to offset increased electricity use.
- 2 monitors for each PC - can have reference on one screen and working document on other instead of printing reference out (or use tablet)
- Use email, chat, and meeting software and other collaborative software
- all markups done electronically
- auto backup of network every day
- all files on network with offsite, fireproof backup (Dropbox, Sugarsync, own network)
- autosave files every 5 min
- battery and generator backups
- limit print outs to absolutely necessary items
- all files saved in two formats - original (such as Word or PPT) and PDF. PDF is readable by every device and operating system using free apps.
- Read-only terminals in certain areas for visitors and reference look up
- network accessible from home/road for personnel - no data on laptops
- all paperwork from outside is scanned into system - original is filed
- all partners, organizations and vendors are encouraged to use electronic communications - email, website forms, etc.
- Student Information are all searchable and connected and linked with all relevant files
- scan legacy files using OCR into PDF files or scan into Evernote to make searchable
- don't print emails!
- all files distributed as PDF's when possible - readable on any system
- Train your employees on going paperless

From Google:
7 best ways to go paperless.

1) Use cloud storage: One place to create, share and keep all your files
Google Drive: Get started with 5GB free. Try it free

2) Send an online fax: Fax machines waste paper and ink is expensive
HelloFax: Send faxes online, 50 free pages/month. Try it free

3) Manage your bills online: Access statements and organize accounts
Manilla: Avoid paper bills, pay online for free. Try it free

4) Sign documents using an e-signatures: Just as legal and super easy
HelloSign: eSign contracts for free. Try it free

5) Create an online expense report: Don't print out e-receipts
Expensify: Manage all your receipts in cloud for free. Try it free

6) Send online invoices and receive payment online
Xero: Online business accounting, 6 months free. Try it free

7) Scan your existing documents: Get rid of your file cabinets
Fujitsu SnapScan: The world's best document scannner. Check it out

What are your tips, tricks, advice, and resources for going paperless?


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