My Favorite Tools

Day 79/365: ToolboxIf you’re looking to try out some tools to make teaching, sharing, discussing ideas, and planning easier, you might want to check out some of these tools.

Twitter

I you want to ask a quick question or have a conversation, there’s nothing as efficient as Twitter. It’s also a quick way to get the word out about blog posts or other projects. Many people have it running in the background using a client such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Nambu, or Seesmic. I was skeptical about Twitter until I tried it. I think it’s one of those things you will have to try out for yourself in order to see its potential. It can be as useful as the people you follow. I have a great personal learning network on Twitter.

Diigo

I first started using Delicious a few years ago because Firefox kept losing my bookmarks. I became so aggravated by this bug that I decided at least with Delicious, I could have my bookmarks with added benefit that they are available on any computer. A couple of years ago, I switched to Diigo for two reasons: 1) it has the added capabilities of annotation, groups, and easy integration with my blog; and 2) I can integrate it with my Delicious account, so there’s no need to leave any of my Delicious subscribers high and dry.

Firefox

Though Firefox is perhaps not the fastest browser, its array of plugins enable me to customize my browsing.

WordPress

I use WordPress to manage the content on all of my blogs. Elegant theme designs and plugins add functionality. I’ve tried Blogger and Movable Type, and I found WordPress superior to both.

iPhone

As the commercials proclaim, if you can think of something you want to do, there’s an app for that. My iPhone helps me manage my to-do list, my Diigo bookmarks, and my Goodreads account. I also have the complete works of Shakespeare and a great many other books in my pocket. I can keep track of gas expenses and find the cheapest gas nearby. I can manage my grocery list or look up first aid information. I can check TV listings, listen to music, or take pictures. The two most recent apps I downloaded enable me to create packing lists and see what’s down the road at the next few exits.

Evernote

I haven’t used Evernote very long, but I recently planned my entire trip to Salem using it, and I found it incredibly handy. You can clip and save websites and take notes. I am only beginning to explore Evernote’s capabilities. Be sure to check out their blog post on the Evernote trunk and see how a former student of mine uses Evernote.

Google Reader

Google Reader helps me keep up with all the blogs I read. I would never be able to keep track of my favorite blogs without it.

Facebook

Despite some bad press from what I believe are some poor decisions about privacy on the part of Facebook, I still use it to stay connected to my family and friends. Most of my friends and family are not on Twitter, but they are all pretty much on Facebook. It’s an easy way to share news, photos, and videos.

Wikispaces

I haven’t found another wiki service that’s friendlier to educators or easier to use than Wikispaces. I use it for all the wikis I create now.

Ning

I won’t use Ning for my classes anymore because of the changes to their pricing scheme, but I very much enjoy the English Companion Ning and the Making Curriculum Pop Ning as tools to help me share and learn.

What are your favorite tools?

Creative Commons License photo credit: fran.pregernik

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Cool iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad Apps for Your Students

AppsaurusI recently downloaded an app on my iPhone called Appsaurus. What this app does is recommend other apps based on your interests—a little bit like Apple’s Genius. I think it might be a bit buggy because I keep blocking some types of games apps, and I even turned off those types of app recommendations in my preferences, but I’m still seeing them. An app reviewer noted the same issue in her review. However, that issue aside, I have learned about some great apps through this app. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it is a pretty good list of apps that your students who have iPod Touches, iPhones, or iPads might find useful. Prices are accurate as of June 30, 2010, but are subject to change.

Homework and Planning

iHomeworkiHomework. iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Max OS X. This app bills itself as “the only app you need in order to stay organized in school.” iHomework allows users to add assignments, courses, and teachers. An interesting feature of this app is that it allows users to visit the course website or email the teacher. It allows students to keep track of grades, add repeating assignments (such as weekly quizzes), create to-do lists that can be used for non-educational activities, too, and sync between the OS X and the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. $1.99.

myHomeworkmyHomework. iPhone, iPod Touch, and Mac OS X. This app is described as “a simple and easy to use iPhone and Mac application that allows you to keep track of your homework, classes, projects and tests while interacting with a really cool design.” It does indeed, have an attractive design. This app also has a sharing feature that allows students to “transfer homework or class entries to friends and email homework reminders.” I can’t tell from the website whether the iPhone/iPod Touch app will sync with the Mac OS X app. Free.

ThingsThings. iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Mac OS X. I use this app as a to-do list and grad school planner. It enables users to create repeating events and specify when they end. It syncs with the Mac OS X app. Things also allows users to create projects with multiple to-do steps, file goals as “Someday” items, which is handy if you want to do it but aren’t sure when you’ll get to it, and allows you to specify the number of days before the due date that the reminder will appear in Things. $9.99.

iStudiez ProiStudiez Pro. iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. This app allows users to input flexible schedules and keep track of their grades. The app has a nice design. The calendar feature resembles Apple’s iCal app. You can try out a “lite” version of the app for free. $2.99.

Notetaking

EvernoteEvernote. Mac OS X, Windows, Web, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Blackberry, Android, Palm Pre/Palm Pixi, Windows Mobile. This app “to save your ideas, things you see, and things you like. Then find them all on any computer, phone or device you use. For free.” The granddaddy of useful applications, Evernote allows users to take notes, clip web pages, take photos, take screen shots, and organize and tag items into different notebooks. Free.

SpringpadSpringpad. iPhone, iPad, Android, Web. This app allows users to bookmark sites, take notes, take pictures, and scan bar codes. You can integrate it with Twitter or Facebook, and email. Free.

Stick ItStick It. This sticky notes app allows users to take notes and put sticky notes on their lock screens and bump phones to transfer notes to other phones. $0.99.

I know there are a lot of wonderful iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad apps for education, and this list only discusses a few useful apps. Do you have a favorite? Please share in the comments.

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Shakespearean Insults

Shakespearean InsultsOne of my favorite stand-by fun lessons is to allow students to create Shakespearean insults. The Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free series volume with lessons on Romeo and Juliet has a handout I’ve used since 1997, when I first taught the play, to create insults. Though I consider myself fairly technologically savvy, I found out today the handout may almost be obsolete.

Within moments of my introducing the assignment, my students were happily mixing and matching words to create insults and hurling them at each other (without my prompting, even). I have only two copies of C.T. Onion’s glossary left (I used to have five; what happened to them?), so we were trying to share, when I remembered the Shakespeare Pro app on my iPhone has a glossary based on David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words, so we added my iPhone into the mix, and before long, I was telling students about the app and suggesting that if they had iPod Touches or iPhones, they might like to talk their parents into letting them purchase the app. Within moments, one of my students with an iPod Touch found a Shakespearean Insult generator (iTunes link) app and had downloaded it. He showed me some more apps, including this one (iTunes link), which looks similar to what I was asking students to do today. Several students had their iPods and iPhones out, checking out Shakespeare, and one of my quieter students pointed out to her classmates that they could download the text of Romeo and Juliet (iTunes link) as an app. One student asked excitedly if they downloaded the app, could they ditch their heavy books? I said sure, as long as they wouldn’t have trouble finding their place, and I pointed out that in fact, one of my eleventh graders did just that last semester when his class studied Macbeth.

All of this might sound really obvious in schools where technology is wholeheartedly embraced, but it was interesting for me to watch the students using these tools to study a text I studied in high school. I remarked to my department chair the other day that I wished we could forego books if we wanted and allow students to download their books, including those fat, expensive anthologies, onto a Kindle or iPhone/iPod Touch using a Kindle app. Think about how much less it would weigh, not to mention texts can be more interactive, and students can annotate them and keep them.

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Blogging Tools: Beyond Content Management

ToolboxIf you have a blog and have already chosen a platform (if need help with this, click here or here), this post might just make some aspects of your blog richer for you and your readers.

  1. Apture
    Apture works with any publishing platform, and it’s easy to install. It allows you to make your site more interactive. For instance, you can embed popup links to Wikipedia articles and Amazon merchandise. This site uses Apture. What do you think?
  2. Delicious or Diigo
    You can share your links with readers by programming your Delicious or Diigo account to post links to your blog. Although I have my Diigo links in the sidebar, many readers who only read my posts via RSS might not see them, so I decided to start posting them to the blog. I hope the links will prove helpful and interesting. You can find instructions for posting links via Diigo here and for Delicious here (you’ll need to be logged in to your Diigo or Delicious account).
  3. Share What You’re Reading
    Many reading social networks have widgets you can embed in your website. For instance, I am a fan of Goodreads and have a widget on the left that displays the last few books I’ve read along with my starred rating of that book. However, other networks like Shelfari have similar widgets. I also have a plugin called Now Reading, which only works with WordPress, that displays what I’m currently reading in the sidebar.
  4. coComment
    It’s easy to leave a comment and forget to check back to see if you have a response, but coComment can help you keep track of the comments you leave and the responses you receive. If you use Firefox, you can download a browser extension that will make using coComment even easier.
  5. Photo Dropper
    If you use WordPress, Photo Dropper is a plugin that allows you to easily find Flickr photos with Creative Commons licenses to share in your posts.
  6. Twitter
    Many ways of integrating Twitter with your blog exist. I use a WordPress plugin called Twitter Tools that is flexible. It allows users create blog posts from my tweets (I choose not to), display tweets in my sidebar (which I do), and notify via Twitter when I update my blog (which I also do). Twitter also has instructions for badges and widgets. TwiTip has gathered together some resources for other Twitter badges.
  7. iPhone Apps
    If you like to blog about iPhone apps or make recommendations for the same, you might find AppsFire‘s widget fun. It enables you to create a javascript widget to display the apps of your choice.
  8. Feedburner
    Google’s Feedburner gives you more control over and information about your RSS feeds. You can find out how many subscribers you have, what RSS reader they use, and the Feedburner Feedsmith plugin for WordPress will help you integrate your Feedburner feed seamlessly.

If you have a favorite blog tool, please share it in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: StevenBrisson

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I Have a Blog Problem

I definitely have a problem. Do you know I have been telling myself for about a week now that I do not need to start a blog about apps and products for Apple’s Mac and iPhone? I mean, first of all, The Unofficial Apple Weblog and other sites do a much better, more thorough job than I would. Second, I already have several blogs, and I don’t update any of them with any regularity. And yet, I find that I do occasionally want to discuss some of the apps I’m using, even if they’re not education-related. To that end, I have decided that I will occasionally use this space to discuss education-related apps or products, but I will not, and I repeat will not respond to requests to review products unless I am interested. I have received quite a few requests from companies to review books or Web sites, and even been asked if I would link to products or allow advertising on this site. I want complete control over the content, and I want you to know that if I am discussing something here, it’s because I wanted to—because I either really liked it or because I didn’t—and not because I was paid to do so.

Because you perhaps are not as interested (if you’re reading this blog) in apps not related in some way to education, you understandably might not want to read posts about those apps. Therefore, I won’t subject you to them here. However, if you would like to read them, you might want to check out my book blog. I do allow myself to go off topic over there. In the sidebar to the right, you’ll see an RSS feed for that blog.

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