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Showing posts from March, 2012

Amazon, Google, let's see some iBooks Textbooks competition

In January, Apple announced their initiative to get into the textbook market and a partnership with both Pearson and McGraw Hill. From what I could tell, these eBooks are incredible. They feature the same content as the print textbooks with added video, interactive visuals, built in flashcards, and quizzes. All at $14.99. Well played, Apple. This is great news for iPad owners. But what about the (granted dwindling) numbers of people without iPads? Now, Amazon and Google, it's your turn. The textbook selection in the Kindle Store and Google Play is pathetic. If you created a platform for publishers and teachers to produce interactive textbooks books to be distributed through your stores, we would be much more likely to adopt these books because they would be device neutral. It's worth noting that Kindle books do not have to be read on a Kindle. I read mine on my iPad and my laptop, and I could also read them on my fancy new Linux powered netbook . Amazon will hav

Ubermix for netbooks

I'm in my second year teaching English in a classroom with a cart of ten netbooks running Windows XP. I am so grateful to have them, and my students use them at least every other day. However, as an aging operating system, XP runs slowly and is much more complex than we need. The start time is long and we have varied success connecting to the wireless network. On the recommendation of Colin Matheson , an IT specialist at Carmel Unified School District, I installed Ubermix. Ubermix is an all-free, specially built, Linux-based operating system designed from the ground up with the needs of education in mind.  I downloaded the image file onto a separate machine and formated the image onto a USB stick following these instructions . The process wasn't as easy as I expected. I noticed that the install would hang after it said it would take about five minutes to install. So, I did what any sane person would do in this situation. I asked a teenager. In this case, Nils, who is laun

Crowdsource vocabulary word curation to your students

We're currently reading Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God  in my 10th grade English class. Whenever we read complex novels, I like to collect a list of vocabulary words from the novel to study. I used to collect those words myself. Now I have my students create the collection. First I create a Google Form. If you're not using Forms,  you should . You can embed this form in your class site. I use Google Sites, but Moodle or other CMS will work. I always have my students submit their section number and last name in all the forms I use. It's much easier to track who has submitted the forms when I do. Then I have them submit a word they discovered while reading the book. They also include the definition of the word. Below the form I embed the spreadsheet associated with the form. Remember to make that spreadsheet viewable by anyone with the link or your students will just see a blank screen. I called this crowd-sourcing in the title. Maybe we should

Google Spreadsheets for Painless Substitute Organization

At our small school we all cover each other's classes when we need substitutes. The process usually involves a mass email to all the faculty followed by tedious collation and replies. Google Spreadsheets makes this process so much easier. See how.

Your digital footprint: Did you just step in it?

Photo licensed for reuse by mahalie on flickr According to my Facebook news feed this morning, last night was St. Patrick's Day, and it looks like some folks had a good time. Other folks? I don't judge. Much. Not long ago young people could mostly escape indiscretion's ephemera. Now, we all leave a permanent digital footprint, whether we want to or not. Even if your students have mastered Facebook's arcane privacy settings (they probably haven't) anything posted digitally can be duplicated again, again, and again. Students today need to know that the web holds all kinds of personal information that college admissions officers and employers access and use to make judgements. This "digital footprint" can help them or hurt them. Managing an online reputation is much more than avoiding cameras at parties. Students also need to know that they must present themselves as an authentic good citizen. Some may go so far to argue that an empty digital foot

Four questions to answer before buying your teen an iPad

Your child is stupendously manipulative, independently wealthy, or unbearably charming. Or maybe you're a good parent looking to give the best tool to help your kid in school. Either way, you are considering letting this kid have an iPad. Before you send those $500 to Cupertino, answer these four critical questions. 1. What is your AUP? Most schools and businesses establish an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for technology. Consider writing up a family AUP for technology between you and your child. You could clearly define how, when, and where the iPad should be used. Establish what types of websites he is permitted to visit, what kinds of games he can play, and what media he may consume. Explain why you have these rules in place before you purchase the device. Get these rules in writing and have both of you sign it. You could review the details of the policy after six months to meet changing demands and increased maturity. 2. Who controls the Apple ID account? In order to g

Sophomore Speeches: just one of the acts of cruelty I inflict on my students

I win no popularity contests the day I announce to my students they they are going to write, re-write, rehearse, re-rehearse their own original speeches and deliver them in front of the entire 300 individuals of the York School community … and in front of YouTube. See some highlights from this year’s speeches. I am really proud of these kids.

Why I broke up with Google Docs (We're back together)

Google Docs and I had a great thing going. I have been a user since its beta release in 2006. Later I began to experiment with its use in the classroom. Then I attended the Google Teacher Academy and was convinced that I would go completely paperless with all future papers I would assign. It didn't go well. See why Google Docs and I briefly broke up and why we're back together. [Update]  Aaron Slutsky  commented on Google+   I've had some teacher screencast their comments to the students. Think it could be done as efficiently as making comments? Screencasting paper comments may be even faster. I'll have to think about that.

Search Google with a Flower

I have a pear tree in my front yard. I know it is a pear tree because it produces pears. This month it is in full bloom. I have another tree in my back yard that is also in full bloom (left). Unfortunately it does not produce any fruit. Not only do I not get any delicious fruit from this tree, but I also do not have any more clues to tell me what kind of tree it is. This video will show you how I found out what kind of tree this is by searching Google ... not by entering text, but by entering this image in the search box. Now if Google could just tell me what kind of dog Sasso is ... Google thinks Sasso looks like this guy: I cannot disagree.

Notes from Common Sense Media Training

I just returned from two lovely days in Palm Springs, not specifically to get away from the dreariness of Monterey County this March, but it was a welcome bonus. A dozen or so other educators and I met there to receive training on Common Sense Media's Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum . Their mission: Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology.  We exist because our nation's children spend more time with media and digital activities than they do with their families or in school, which profoundly impacts their social, emotional, and physical development. As a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, we provide trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.  CSM offers a K-12 Curriculum on Digital Lit

Social Networking & Kids: Striving to Raise a Generation of Ethical Digital Citizens

Last month, the editor of asked me to write a piece on social networking and kids for their print magazine, Scoop !  Here's the, um, scoop. What is a social network?  All humans have engaged in social networks for as long as they have been, well, human. These are the groups of people, family, friends and colleagues that make our lives rich and engaging. Online social network services like Facebook provide a convenient means for us to interact with these people, who are increasingly spread out around the world. While Facebook is the largest online social network, it is intended only for those over 13 years old and while some parents turn a blind eye, Facebook is not a safe place for youngsters. However, there is a wide variety of social networks available where kids can interact with their friends online safely and where they can learn to become ethical digital citizens. A great resource is Common Sense Media  (, which provides great a