iPad Apps for School

A teacher on the English Companion Ning recently posed a question about which apps to buy with the $50 her school was giving her to outfit her iPad. You can find these sorts of posts all over the edublogosphere, so perhaps my contribution isn’t worth much, but for what it’s worth, these are the apps I think an English teacher should have, along with their current prices.

notability_iconNotability ($1.99). Notability is a note-taking app that allows you to type your notes or write them with your finger or stylus. You can import PDF’s, annotate them, and export them out again, which is great for literary analysis and annotating texts. It has a fairly intuitive interface with several kinds of editing tools, including a pencil, highlighter, eraser, and scissors for cut/paste. You can record and play back audio and incorporate other media. It does a lot more than the Notes app that comes with your iPad, though that is the app I frequently see people use when they are taking notes on the iPad. It’s an incredibly useful note-taking app.

imovie_iconiMovie ($4.99). iMovie is a great movie-making app. The iPad app is a scaled-down version of the iMovie app for Macs, but it still has a lot of options. You can use the app to create tutorials for students or presentations, and students can use it to demonstrate their learning of a concept through digital storytelling. One of our teachers reported that he liked it better than the Mac version because it was more intuitive on the iPad.

explaineverything_iconExplain Everything ($2.99). This app is great for demonstrating concepts, similar to Khan Academy-type videos. One of our teachers uses apps like this to have students explain their learning. The videos can then be exported and posted in a place where others can view them. If you are looking for lighter apps, Educreations (free) and ShowMe (free) are also good, but they don’t have all of the features that Explain Everything has. If you teach younger students, you might also look at ScreenChomp (free).

evernote_iconEvernote (free). Evernote is fabulous. I take almost all my notes on the computer in Evernote. Be sure to check out Nick Provenzano’s Epic Evernote Experiment to learn more about using this app. It is so easy to clip websites and insert images into this app, and what makes it nice is that you can use it on all your devices, and it will sync so that your notes are available everywhere you go. You can even log in to your account on the web and access your notes from a computer that doesn’t have the program installed.

flipboard_iconFlipboard (free). You can use Flipboard to create personalized magazines full of content you are interested in. What makes Flipboard a game-changer and nudges Zite, a similar app, out of the way is Flipboard’s ability for you to follow Twitter hashtags using the app. One I would recommend you follow right now is #engchat. A few others, particularly if you are integrating iPads are #ipadchat, #ettipad, #ipadedu, and #ipaded. You can also integrate the app with Facebook, and there are several suggested topics if you don’t know how to start. Browsing on Flipboard is as much like browsing through a print magazine as is possible on an iPad. I love it.

sonnets_iconShakespeare’s Sonnets ($13.99). This app is expensive, but it is so worth it if you spend any time teaching Shakespeare’s sonnets in your classes. It includes all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, both in print and read by actors and scholars such as Sir Patrick Stewart, David Tennant, Stephen Fry, and James Shapiro. In addition, it includes the Arden Shakespeare notes and commentary by David Paterson. It’s a fairly large app, as you might imagine with all that media. I am continually having to remove it to free up space when I’m desperate, but I always wind up adding it again. It is the 800-pound gorilla of Shakespeare apps.

shakespearepro_iconShakespeare Pro ($9.99). Shakespeare Pro has all of Shakespeare’s plays, all of the sonnets, other poems, and Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, as well as a concordance and a glossary. It also includes, if you care about that sort of thing, a collection of portraits and quotes. I find I don’t use them that much. Through the app, you can also create an account with Shakespeare Passport, which will give you discounts at all kinds of Shakespeare venues.

bookcreator_iconBook Creator ($4.99). Book Creator allows you to create multimedia books on the iPad. You can send them to friends, submit them to the iBookstore, or read them in iBooks. Students of all ages can use it, from pre-K to college. Teachers can use it to create their own books, too. It has an intuitive interface and allows for importing pictures, video, music, and even recording your voice.

haikudeck_iconHaiku Deck (free). Haiku Deck is a presentation app that allows you to create beautiful presentations. It finds images that match your words, or you can personalize it with your own photos and screenshots. You can share it via the web to be viewed on any device capable of surfing the web.

blogsy_iconBlogsy (if you blog, $4.99). Blogsy is great for blogging on your iPad. It connects to WordPress (.com and self-hosted), Blogger, TypePad, Movable Type, Joomla, Drupal, and Tumblr, among others. You can drag and drop images into the post using Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, or Instagram, and you can even pull videos from YouTube and Vimeo into your posts. Text formatting is easy.

googledrive_iconGoogle Drive (free). Using Google Docs used to be painful on the iPad if it even worked at all, but Google Drive’s app is really easy to use and WORKS. It does not have all the features that Google Drive on the web has… yet. For instance, you can’t see the revision history, and it doesn’t allow access to multiple Google Drive accounts, which makes it harder to use in schools when you have students continually signing out and signing back in, but you can get around these issues with an app called GoDocs ($4.99) if these are features you need right now. My advice would be to wait because I have a hunch that Google Drive will include at least revision history in a future update.

You will notice that most of these apps are not English/literature/language arts-specific. You are better off establishing use of a series of apps that allow you to work and create on your iPad rather than focusing on subject-specific apps, which too often are simply drill-and-kill and lower quality.

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Reflections on ISTE 2013

Dynamic SerenityI am still gathering my notes on the ISTE conference last week. You can see them in this public Evernote notebook I’ve shared. Sometimes it’s not the most helpful thing to try to parse someone else’s cryptic notes, but for what it’s worth, feel free to have a look.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference, but I have two pieces of advice for anyone who is using a slidedeck to present at a large conference like ISTE.

  1. Don’t put text on the bottom of the slide. If the room is really crowded, some of the people in the room will not see the text. They will stand up a little to see better, which only makes the view worse for people behind them. I know lots of templates have text on the bottom, and it looks pretty. I have done it, too. You just never know what the room will look like, however, and text on the top is more accessible.
  2. Why not share your presentation via Google Presentation or SlideShare? If you do that, seeing it in the front is a moot point, and you can put text wherever you want. The presentation is now in the hands of your audience, and they can more easily annotate it, download it, and (dare I suggest it?) remix it.

Invent to LearnI came away from the conference excited about the possibilities of maker spaces, and after an energizing presentation by Sylvia Martinez, I downloaded her new book, co-written with Gary Stager,  Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. I can’t wait to learn more about making and engineering. One statement she made, which I will share here, is that we wouldn’t be talking about how to integrate the arts into schools and turning STEM into STEAM if schools hadn’t artificially removed art. She said you cannot stop kids from being artists. She shared the example of her daughter going through art school and how she learned that artists are on the cutting edge of technology.

One focus of the conference was gamification, and I am interested in exploring that topic further, as well. You have probably heard of the Mozilla Open Badges project (if not, check it out). I am excited to see how this project develops, particularly after Bill Clinton endorsed the idea. To be dead honest, my instructional technology masters was almost completely useless in terms of preparing me for what I do. And don’t get me started again on the test I had to take to add technology instruction to my certificate. It helps to have the degree on your résumé, I guess, but I hope, in light of how expensive education is (and it’s getting more expensive) that we can consider alternative credentials. Put together with endorsements, similar to LinkedIn, and I think badges could be more valuable than wasting money on classes with content you never use again. I’m just thinking out loud, and I don’t have the answer. Certainly some attention to personalized learning is in order.

photo by: papalars

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Digital Learning Day at the Worcester Academy Library

Digital Learning Day was February 6. How did your school raise awareness for digital learning?

Worcester Academy’s library chose to showcase QR codes. We commissioned a display project from art students. We were thrilled to discover the QR code they created actually scans!

QR Code ProjectLibrary staff researched media such as e-books, podcasts, videos, and websites that connected to library books and other materials.

Materials DisplayThen we created QR codes and affixed them to the books and materials. in the picture above, you can see Neil Gaiman’s novel Anansi Boys. The QR code attached is linked to a YouTube video cartoon version of one of the many Anansi folktales. The other book, 1812: The War that Forged a Nation by Walter Borneman is linked to an episode of the In Our Time Podcast that discussed that war.

DisplayThe display was wide-ranging and included links to library resources, Black History Month resources, and resources related to the curriculum.

2013-02-13 08.47.41Books connected to a major World Civilizations project that ninth graders complete at Worcester Academy had QR codes that linked to e-book versions that students could access from home.
Novels and Other MediaFiction and other media were not slighted, either. A new box set, The Long Road to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music has a QR code that links to Black History Month resources, and Rachel Cohn’s novel Beta links to the Human Genome Project’s Cloning Fact Sheet.

2013-02-13 08.48.01We also displayed some titles from our Professional Development Collection.

You may have noticed the iPads as well. The library owns a set of iPad 2′s and 3′s loaded with a QR code reader called Qrafter. Students and teachers can scan the QR codes using their own devices, or they can use one of the iPads and send the link to themselves from the iPad.

QR Code SuggestionsWe set these slips of paper out among the displays for students and faculty to suggest QR codes for books and other media. Two of our sixth graders have already shared QR codes. One student shared a book review of the children’s novel Tuck Everlasting and another student shared a Britannica blog post connecting gladiators in ancient Rome to The Hunger Games.

QR codes have enormous potential to extend learning in libraries and information services far beyond the four walls of the libraries themselves.

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Tuning Out

Fingers in EarsSometimes you just need to take time off and check out.

I can’t remember the last time I checked Twitter and tried to read most of the tweets. I can’t remember the last time I checked out one of my favorite blogs. I haven’t written a whole lot lately, either. And all of that is OK because I think sometimes we need to take breaks from all the information overload.

I like to be a part of the edublogosphere and keep up with my colleagues and friends on Twitter. But sometimes it can be overwhelming, and the sheer volume of information can be daunting. So, I have been on an information sabbatical, and it has been wonderful. I have learned how to make soap, and it has become a satisfying, engaging, and interesting hobby for me. I have been reading a little. I watched the entire first season of Doctor Who and a few episodes of the second, so now I’m totally hooked. I have been busy with the start of school in my new position.

The move from Georgia to Massachusetts was mentally and physically exhausting, and I think I just needed some time to recharge my batteries. I didn’t unplug right away, but I would say it’s been about a month since I really kept up with all the social media I usually use. I am beginning to feel recharged. I think once I get my bearings at my new school and find myself settling into the routine of the school year, I will be able to engage in social media again. As for right now, if you’re wondering where I’ve been, well, here I am. I am not the kind of person to announce a hiatus or quit altogether, but I recognized I needed to tune out the cacophony for just a little while.

It’s been a wonderful vacation, and I know in my heart I’ve missed some really important things, but stepping back can be important, too, and I think many of us hear the message that we need to be continually engaged in the conversation or people won’t read our blogs or will not follow us on Twitter. I decided not to worry about that a long time ago. If my blog is good, people will visit when I post. If they are looking for quantity, they probably won’t. If what I tweet is helpful and interesting, people will follow, and I don’t need to worry about losing folks who think I don’t tweet enough. This is great advice to anyone who wonders how to juggle it all. The fact is, I’m not sure anyone can. You have to set priorities based on your goals. Right now, my goal is to settle into my job and enjoy my new home. So far, so good. I will be in touch soon.

Image via Roxie’s World

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What is a Connected Educator?

August is Connected Educator Month.

What is a Connected Educator?

Let me start with a reflection about my children. My children use YouTube constantly to learn how to do things. Tonight at dinner, my daughter Maggie told me how she used YouTube to learn how to create a flash dress up game. Keep in mind she opened Flash for the first time maybe a couple of weeks ago, if that. She used the tutorial to create the game. I frustrated myself trying to do anything in Flash for most of a semester in grad school. Anyway, Maggie’s game looks awesome, and it works great. Maggie knows how to leverage her personal learning network—in this case, YouTube—to learn how to do something. That is how our kids are learning. They are curating and collecting resources that help them learn to do what they want to learn to do.

Maggie is not too different from the students in your classroom. Your students are connected. They can’t remember a time when everyone wasn’t connected. Teachers should be lifelong learners, and one of the things teachers should learn is how to get connected to other teachers. One of the best ways to connect to other educators is through professional learning networks, or PLN’s.

My favorite professional learning network is Twitter. I recently acquired an iPad and use the apps Zite and Flipboard to discover stories that are relevant to me. I also follow many educators on Twitter and group them according to various interests (e.g. “readers,” “tech,” or “writers”) so I can quickly check in on their latest tweets. I participate in #engchat, a weekly Twitter discussion of issues related to teaching English. Many folks share items they feel will interest English teachers with the hashtag #engchat even when a chat isn’t scheduled, thereby making it easier for English teachers who follow #engchat to find their tweets.

Another way I connect with my personal learning network is through this blog. I post about whatever is on my mind, and if people are so inclined, they share the post with others and comment on the post. I reply to their comments, and we have a conversation about the issue. I first realized the power of this kind of connection when I decided to read Understanding by Design several years ago. I began reflecting on my reading here, and before I knew it, there was a loosely structured book club, a wiki for sharing units, and a connection to Grant Wiggins.

If you are looking for a way to connect with educators, my suggestion would be to try using Twitter. Locate good educators to follow. It’s OK to lurk at first, but when you feel comfortable, you should begin conversing with the teachers you follow and posting links to resources you like. Participate in an education chat on Twitter. Jerry Blumengarten has a great list of hashtags and Twitter chats that educators will find helpful. You’re sure to find one that interests you. As you begin to use Twitter more, you might want to download a Twitter client or use an in-browser client like HootSuite. Most clients allow you to save searches for hashtags so you can easily check in on your favorites.

Here is Will Richardson on personal learning networks (PLN’s):

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Here is a great collection of books for connected educators. Check them out!

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to figure out all of this Web 2.0 connectedness your tech-savvy colleagues are talking about, what better time than Connected Educator Month? You can follow the Connected Educators Project on Twitter at @edcocp, and follow their hashtag #ce12.

photo by: ajusticenetwork

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The Future of Books

Thank you to my WA colleague Wendy for bringing this wonderful iPad app to my attention:

This app is a digital book based on an Academy Award-winning short film entitled The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It’s a fabulous film that tells a mesmerizing story about the power of books—how we can give new life to old books by reading them, and they can, in turn, give life to us; how they can change our lives and help us write our own life story. The film comes bundled with the app, which is currently $4.99 (and a true bargain). The reader can interact with every page of the digital book. You can help Morris get lost in a book, spell with alphabet cereal, make books talk, and so many other cool events drawn from the film. As you read, a narrator reads the story to you, the text of which runs along the bottom of each page. My son and I sat down together and read it. He rarely comments on things we read, but he kept saying “Great!” as we were reading. Even though Dylan is verbal, he rarely talks (and when he does, it is often echolalia rather than a direct response), and it is unusual for him to make any remarks at all when he’s engaged in activity like using an iPad app, but he simply loved this one. It didn’t take him long before he was touching everything on the screen to see what it would do.

Two other digital books have recently been released which I haven’t had a chance to purchase yet: T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:

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And the complete collection of William Shakespeare’s Sonnets, which includes Patrick Stewart, Stephen Fry, and David Tennant (among others) interpreting the sonnets:

(“Sonnet 29″ is my favorite poem, by the way.)

In addition to dramatic readings, both apps include the complete text for a new multimedia reading experience, as well as also includes commentary and notes to help readers understand the text and make connections. For the kind of experience you get with these apps, the prices really can’t be beat, especially if you consider that a good paperback copy of either The Waste Land or Shakespeare’s Sonnets, complete with annotations (never mind the media) would probably run at least $13.99.

No one asked me to endorse these apps, but I’m so excited about the rich reading experiences they offer. Would you want to read every book this way? Perhaps not, but for particularly thorny texts like The Waste Land or the Sonnets, it makes a great deal of sense to include all these tools for comprehension and extension that will help readers from a variety of backgrounds—learning difficulties, English language learners, disabled as well as gifted and/or avid readers. I can see the power a book like any one of these three would have. I don’t know how you feel, but the possibility of teaching these books, using these materials, is exciting. I keep thinking of Miranda (and not in the usual ironic kind of way): “O brave new world that has such books in in it.”

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QR Code Tips

I participated in a Teq webinar on QR codes today. I thought I was fairly well versed in QR codes and their uses, but I learned a couple of interesting things today that I thought I’d share. First of all, I hadn’t played much with QR Stuff. I think I sometimes become set in my ways with regards to tools—not that I don’t like to try new ones, but if I have a tool that does what I need, I tend to stick with it unless I need to change, and sometimes, this isn’t a good thing. QR Stuff is cool because it allows you to change the color of your QR codes and also allows you to easily create codes for a variety of data types, including plain text.

One of the webinar participants said that you can point QR codes to Google Docs to share text-based content, too. I like this idea, but I need to play around with it a little more. I am a little bit embarrassed not to have thought about connecting QR codes to Google Docs before. Unfortunately, some tech issues on my end kept causing me to drop out of the webinar, and I had to reload U-Stream in order to get it working again. It seemed to happen whenever I tried to use chat.

Finally, I learned about the QR Reader iPhone app. I have been using Red Laser, which scans all kinds of bar codes, including QR codes, but I actually like the way QR Reader handles scanning QR codes better. Red Laser’s focus is mainly on price comparison, and its QR code features are limited. It’s easier to scan codes with QR Reader. Better than that, however, QR Reader has a creator feature that allows the user to create all kinds of QR codes and save them to the iPhone photo album, send them via email, print them, or share them on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or Tumblr. Cool!

I had already heard about another tool mentioned in the webinar, Class Tools’s QR Code Treasure Hunt Generator, a very quick and easy tool to generate scavenger hunts, but I don’t recall if I have mentioned it here before, and it’s something many of you might want to check out.

QR codes have a lot of potential in education; your only limitation is really your imagination (and your mobile device).

It also pays to see how other folks are using tools you think you know a lot about and try doing things their way.

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Adobe Creative Cloud and Creative Suite 6

Yesterday, Adobe announced Creative Cloud and Creative Suite 6. Creative Cloud will be subscription-based ($29.95/month for teacher/student editions). Users will be able to download and install CS6 applications through the Creative Cloud. Creative Cloud also works with tablet apps like Photoshop Touch and will enable users to sync and store files in the cloud so they can be accessed on different devices. I’m really excited about the opportunity students will have to create mobile apps and magazines and catalogs for iDevices and Android devices. I envision schools creating their literary magazines using Adobe and publishing them via the web and iPad. Since users will have access to Adobe Typekit, which includes over 700 fonts, students can experiment with the look and feel of their publications’ typefaces. Creative Cloud users will also have access to upgrades before they are launched as major updates. Creative Cloud also includes Adobe Muse and Adobe Edge, two new tools for HTML5 design and development. Soon, users will also have access to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 and Digital Publishing Suite via the Creative Cloud.

Creative Suite 6 has updated Photoshop. I was most impressed to learn that the new autocorrect tools do a better job of correcting issues, and the new Content-Aware capabilities look great. Illustrator has a new user interface and Image Tracing Engine, Pattern Creation, and Gradient Strokes. InDesign has new Adaptive Design Tools—Alternate Layout, Liquid Layout, Content Collector Tools, and Linked Content. Dreamweaver will make it easier to design interfaces for different devices, making the process of designing websites to work on iDevices and Android devices easier. Flash Professional includes a toolkit for CreateJS that will help users transition flash skills to HTML5. Premiere Pro has a new editing environment and now supports Open CL on MacBook Pros. After Effects is faster and now includes a caching feature that will make it easier to move among several projects.

You can learn more about Creative Suite 6 here.

Full disclosure: I am an Adobe Influencer and received a free version of the Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection.

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Why Are Public School Websites so Bad?

While Randall Munroe’s XKCD cartoon above is mocking university websites for deficiencies in design, the same could be said of many public school websites. A few years ago, my kids’ school website only worked in Internet Explorer. It was the most terrible design you can imagine, done in Front Page I think, with all the most important information buried or even out of date. The reason for that was that the media specialist, who had a full time job running the library, teaching classes that visited the library, and working with teachers, was also tasked with running the school website, and she didn’t have the time or the expertise to do so. The school now has a technology specialist who runs the website, and it is much better than it was. However, it’s still not close to being a slick-looking as some of the private school websites I’ve visited. I think several factors may influence a school’s website design, and the deck is stacked against public schools:

  • Private schools have to market themselves. They’re competing against every other private school in their area, and they have to allocate funds to attracting students. Part of their marketing is a good website. The first step in exploring a school is most often taking a look at their website, and if it’s bad, the family might never even move forward with an application. Information needs to be easy to find, and the site itself must be easy to navigate. It should look professional and give visitors a sense of what they might see in the school.
  • Private schools often hire outside web designers. Public schools tend to assign the task to employees or students, with mixed results. Sometimes you get someone really good who knows what they’re doing, but designing and running a website is a big job, and employees are often stretched too thin to do a good job. A variety of designers cater to private schools. Contrary to popular belief, private schools are not necessarily swimming in money, but they do need to spend money on good websites because of marketing.
  • Public schools seem to communicate more via email, telephone, signage, paper, and snail mail. They probably don’t have a real reason to duplicate all of that information on a website, although I would argue that they should if they want someone outside the community to find the site useful. For instance, we’re moving to Massachusetts this summer, and my husband complained that the public schools’ website in the area we’re moving to was quite difficult to navigate. I tried it out, and he’s right. The district website attaches a frame around the website for the one school I looked at, and navigation was impossible. I never could find a faculty directory.
  • Sometimes the appropriate staff (a technology director, specialist, etc.) floats among several schools or even a whole district. Because private schools are independent, they have to hire faculty and staff to cover these areas (or outsource some of it). Otherwise, they won’t have it. If they don’t have technology faculty, they run the risk of being behind the times and therefore losing potential students to schools that spend more on up-to-date technology.

Asking technology faculty to float is a horrible idea. Each school should have a dedicated member of the faculty who works with teachers to integrate technology. I don’t say that because it’s my job, and I need job security. I say it because I think it’s true. Otherwise, you’re going to have more difficulty getting faculty to integrate technology. You will always have the dedicated teachers who spend their own time learning how to use technology on their own, but if you are trying to make a real school-wide shift, it’s not going to happen if your faculty doesn’t have someone to help them. It’s no wonder public schools can’t dedicate more time to making their websites attractive and user-friendly. They don’t have the personnel, and the personnel they do have don’t have the time.  However, websites are an important communication tool, and in the year 2012, it is not asking too much to have a website that visitors can enjoy using to learn more about a school. Many free and cheap CMS’s exist to help schools (which doesn’t solve the time issue). A good website should be something to which schools dedicate time.

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Ten Technology Integration Apps

I regularly see blog posts sharing 10, 50, 100 apps for educators, and I haven’t written one before mainly because it seems to be well-trodden ground, but last night I decided perhaps it couldn’t hurt to share my list. After all, these other blog posts still regularly introduce me to apps I’ve never heard of, so perhaps a few of you haven’t heard of any of these apps either. I use all of these apps to help me with my role as a technology integration specialist working with colleagues both online and off and with students.

  1. Twitter. Seems like an obvious one perhaps, and I am probably not sharing anything you haven’t heard of, but I love to use Twitter to see what other folks are talking about, what apps they’ve found, and to bookmark links (more on that in a moment). I talk with other folks in my field and also keep up with what is going on in the world of books. I follow along with #engchat discussions on the Mondays when I have time and the topic at hand is something that intrigues me. I often also use the hashtag #edtech if I want something I tweet to catch the eye of educational technology folks, but as far as I know, they don’t have a regular chat set up.
  2. Diigo. I was an early adopter of Firefox, and early on it was kind of buggy and kept losing my bookmarks. I liked pretty much everything else about it, so I decided to search for bookmarking alternatives. Back then, the major player was Delicious. Then Diigo came along. It’s a wonderful service. Teachers can have added features for free. I can set up Diigo to automatically post my saved links to my blog either twice a day, daily, or weekly. I can also connect my Twitter account to Diigo so that any tweets I favorite will automatically be saved links in my Diigo account. This has become my preferred method of saving links because most of the good things I bookmark I find via Twitter. Diigo also has groups. You can share bookmarks with a class of students and give them access to share bookmarks, too, so that everyone is contributing to the pool of resources, and you can also create groups for colleagues. I regularly share Diigo bookmarks with folks on the English Companion Ning because we have a Diigo group. You can also tweet links as you save them. Also, Diigo has browser extensions you can use to easily save bookmarks. I can also have Diigo sync with my Delicious account so that I don’t have to add bookmarks in two places, and folks who subscribed to my Delicious bookmarks can still see my new bookmarks.
  3. LiveBinders. I have not begun to tap the potential of LiveBinders, but it’s a tool I’m excited about. LiveBinders is the digital equivalent of the three-ring notebook. You can save resources and organize them. Links you save will be a collection of pages instead of lists of links, which can give you a better idea of what is in the resource collections. You can use them to go paperless or create your own digital textbooks. You don’t need to know anything about coding to use them. You can also upload your own files like documents, presentations, and interactive whiteboard files. You can essentially create a collection of resources on virtually any topic. An added bonus: LiveBinders shares their favorite collections on Twitter, so if you follow them, you’ll regularly come across great collections of resources.
  4. Evernote. Evernote is one of those tools I wish had been around when I was in high school and college. Of course there wasn’t really such a thing as the Internet back then, but I digress. Evernote is a great note-taking tool. You can clip web pages and save them. You can create online notebooks that sync with your iPhone, iPad, or Android apps so you have your notebooks wherever you go. You can also use tags to make your notes easy to find and collect your notes in notebooks (different ones for each subject or topic). Evernote also connects with a series of other apps you can get in their “Trunk,” their version of an app store. The Trunk has so many cool apps that work with Evernote that it would be hard to begin to discuss them, and perhaps that is fodder for another blog post. You can use Evernote as a web app or download it on your Mac, PC, or mobile device and sync it across all your devices.
  5. Dropbox. I don’t carry around flash drives anymore because I can save everything in my Dropbox. Users have access to their Dropboxes via Mac, PC, the Dropbox website, and mobile apps. Like Evernote, Dropbox syncs across devices. The amount of storage space is generous, and you can obtain more space with referrals or you can purchase it. You can also associate Dropbox with other apps (similar to Evernote’s Trunk). One of my favorites is DropItTo.Me, which I use to collect student work digitally. They can upload their work to my Dropbox without having access to any of the other content. You can also easily share documents with others via Dropbox without having email them attachments. I shamelessly used my referral link here, but if you do sign up for an account using that link, both of us get extra space.
  6. Mac’s Dictionary app. Sorry PC folks, but you are missing out on a great app. Mac’s native Dictionary app has been in my dock since I have had my Mac, and as a matter of fact, just yesterday, I was teaching my students with Macs how to use this app. We are talking about word choice, and all of you English teachers have read an essay in which it was clear a student looked up a word in a thesaurus and used it without making sure they understood what the word meant, leading to unintended and often humorous consequences. I showed them that this app allows them to look up a word in the thesaurus, and all the synonyms are hyperlinked, which allows you to click on the synonyms and see the dictionary definition so you can be sure you know what the word means. On a related note, I was pleased to discover that Merriam-Webster’s dictionary app is now free for iPhone/iPad with ads. You can get a premium version with no ads for $3.99. Ads don’t bother me much. A few of the students in my class whipped out their phones and downloaded that app yesterday when I brought that up in class. The Merriam-Webster app has a hyperlinked list of synonyms after the word definitions. Dictionary apps like these should be seamless parts of our workflow now because they add the hyperlink functionality to the traditional dictionary.
  7. iCal and Google Calendar. I group these apps together because I use them together. I sync my Google Calendars with my iCal app, which also syncs with my iPhone’s calendar. I find that copying and pasting events is much easier in iCal, so I created my teaching schedule (we have a weird rotating schedule at my school) using iCal, but I add appointment slots to my calendar using Google Calendar. Folks can sign up for time to meet with me, which ensures they have my full attention for one-on-one training. I wouldn’t know where I was supposed to be at any given time without these two apps working in sync with one another. Google Calendars can also be shared so that folks can collaborate.
  8. Things. Things is not free, but I like it. It’s a good to-do app that I used all through grad school to keep track of due dates. Most recently, I set up a project using Things to keep track of all the things I need to do as part of my relocation to Massachusetts. As I think of more things, I add them to my to-do list. Things also has an iPhone/iPad app that syncs over wireless with Things on my Mac. Everyone probably has their favorite to-do app, and different apps work for different folks, but Things works for my own particular workflow. Things makes sure I do what I need to do when I need to do it, and it feels great to check items off that list.
  9. Wix. Wix is a great website builder that has flash and HTML 5 templates, many of them free. I think it would be great for creating student portfolios. It has a drag-and-drop user interface. You can use it for free, but premium accounts allow you to use Wix on your own domain, eliminate ads, and also come with unlimited bandwidth, extra storage, Google Analytics site stats, and other goodies (depending on the premium level you choose).
  10. WordPress. I have been using WordPress for years after trying other platforms such as Movable Type and Blogger. WordPress is great. You can install it in a flash, and you can add plugins that give you more options. For instance, I have plugins that automatically post my blog posts to Twitter so my Twitter followers know when I’ve updated, and I also have a plugin that helps me find great Creative Commons-licensed images on Flickr to use in my posts. The sky is the limit with WordPress. In fact, I recently learned from Wes Fryer via Twitter that WordPress powers nearly 15% of the world’s top million websites. In fact, 22% of new active domains are using WordPress. Students and faculty can both use it to blog or manage content on their websites.
photo by: Johan Larsson

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