Three Programs You Need Now

Here is my first Tech Tip Blog Post. It deals with the basic practicalities of making your job easier. There are three programs you need right now, and they are all free. The reason that you need them is that they will allow you to work with others and will make life so much easier once you become comfortable with them.

The first one mentioned, Google Apps, is supplied by the District. It allows you to store documents, PowerPoints, and Excel files online. You can not only access them from anywhere there is an Internet connection, but you can also collaborate with others easily, no cutting and pasting, no e-mailing attachments, and all that other rigamarole. New Brighton’s start page to log in is If you need your log in information, please e-mail me. We are setting up student accounts so they can have the same sort of access to their work. By creating accounts for the district we will be able to administer student accounts for such tasks as fixing lost or fogotten passwords. You can also set up a personal account at

The second is Diigo, a social bookmarking site. It allows you to store your favorites, or bookmarks online, so you can access them on any computer once you log in to the site. You can also share bookmarks with other individuals and groups. This allows you to have access to the research of others, once again without much effort. There is a group for New Brighton Teachers, and there are numerous other groups for educators. You can also create groups for your classes to give students access to approved bookmarks for your class in a secure setting, see me for details. The general site to create an account is Once you have created your own account, you can go to sign up for an educator’s account at

The third program dovetails nicely with existing programs in the district. Many teachers use Kidspiration and Inspiration software to create graphic organizers for use in the classroom. There is a free web-based, (online), program called Webspiration that allows you to do the same thing. Webspiration allows you to upload existing files to the Internet, download files to your desktop, and share your files with others, just by typing in their e-mail address. The people you share with must also have a free account to acces your files. You can edit the files together, or just pass them around by sharing. Webspiration also contains free clip art and media to drop into your graphic organizers to make them more interesting for the students. The program has many other features that I will not get into yet. This tool is available at

The main themes that bind these three programs together, beside the fact that they are all free, is that they allow you to access information from anywhere in the world, and that they allow you to easily collaborate with others. Let’s face the fact that there is not enough time in the day to accomplish everything we would like to do. By working together, we make tasks easier and can accomplish more in the limited time we have. if you would like help setting up any of these accounts feel free to contact me at school.

iPod ID and Sync

I synced the iPod touches over the first two days of class, and I learned a lot in the process. First and foremost, I reinforced the fact that I hate reading directions, and that not reading directions adds time to tasks if you are unsure what you are doing.

To ID and sync the iPods, the computer walks you through the basic steps on the iTunes interface, so I was supremely confident that I did not need the manual. I was so confident that I timed myself during the set up and hit a consistent 6 minutes per iTouch to ID the units. I even “Tweeted” the fact that it was so easy. I completed the ID of about 15 iTouches on Thursday afternoon and finished the process Friday morning.

After all 25 were ID’d I plugged in the cart to sync the first 20. The cart holds 20 in a drawer with each drawer having its own USB cord to connect to the computer. This is the step where I realized that I should have read the manual. When I plugged in the USB and turned on the cart, every single application in my iTunes account began loading into the iTouches. This was an issue, because I have my daughter’s apps on my Macbook too. My high school students did not need letter tracing and beginner puzzles on the iPods. I had to go back in and reset the application tab to “Sync only selected apps.” This allowed me to pick and choose which applications I wanted on the school iTouches. It was not a major problem, but I should have done this when I named each iPod.

At this stage, I also made adjustments for podcasts,which I will be using often in class. I set the iPods up for selected podcasts. At a later date I will push podcasts over to the iPods for the students to use. I repeated the process for the remain 5 iPods in the bottom drawer.

I now know to read directions, but more importantly, I realized that I can use the iPods to differentiate instruction for my students. I can adjust the content on each individual iPod depending on the student, then I can push information through, or sync up to 20 at a time. It is a pretty cool set up.

So overall, if you set up the iPods properly from the beginning, it should take about 10 minutes to ID an iPod and set the upload criteria for all apps, photos, and podcasts. It is still a small amount of time for a major benefit. I lost a bit of time doing things my way, but in the end, I learned a fairly good bit of knowledge about the iPods.

iPods in Education Project Overview

I am going to take a step back and outline the project I will be blogging about over the upcoming school year. This year we are piloting a project that will utilize iPod Touches as a computer in the classroom. I believe we can use them in place of a laptop, for the most part.

I have been researching mobile technology for learning for the last cpuple of years in graduate school. I believe it is the next step in integrating technology in the classroom. Many colleges and universities already use them for educational purposes, as do several school districts in Pennsylvania. There a number of my colleagues throughout the country who are also working on such initiatives, so I have a strong network for support. Our representative from Apple is also a huge help with this project. If I get permission to use her name, I will name her later.

Our set-up consists of twenty-five iPod Touches, 8 Gig, and one cart to synch them all together. The iPods are engraved with an ID number for tracking. I have researched many apps for student use, there are many and they are all free, you can pay for an upgraded version, but for now we are working with the free levels.The nice thing is that we control all of the material that goes onto the iPods, they will be synced to my account. This will prevent the students from downloading content to them without permission.

We are going to purchase over the ear headphones for the iPods, they are relatively inexpensive, but students will be encouraged to use their own earbuds. I will purchase about ten microphones so we can record onto the iPods. The way the iPods will be set up will allow students to surf the Internet, create documents, create audio files, upload and save content to the district’s Google Domain. They will also be able to access content that I place on the iPods at their own pace. If a student needs to review a video or audio file, a picture, or some other multi-media they will be able to do so on the iPod Touch. Students will also be able to take notes in class, using Evernote, and synch all information to any computer they use.

This is the basic plan, more details will follow throughout the year.

iPod Set-up Day 1

Today I went in to work on setting up the iPod Touches and cart for my classes. I did not get them synched, but I did get the cart ready for class. All iPod touches are engraved on the back, I added a printed label for an easier read. I also labeled the slots in the cart for the iPods. This will enable me to hand the iTouches out to the students and replace them quickly. I am betting I will lose at least ten minutes of class time to sign them in and out per period at first. I am hoping that this time decreases as we go through the year. I am also hoping for our school converting to block scheduling eventually…someday…it would make the time loss of setting up the technology minimal.

The district’s Technology Director and I finalized the sign out policy, I will have the students initial a sheet, printed out from my grade book, when they pick up and return their iPod. This will help keep tabs on who gets each iPod, a simple check mark could easily lead to sloppiness. The initialling will keep everyone, focused on tracking the iPods during the period.

I also looked over the cart and the procedure for syncing the iPods, it looks easy enough, just a bit time consuming. The manual approximated 20 minutes for 1 Gig of info for 20 iPods. The next step will be the most tedious, it is also the first step. I have to give each iPod a name and set it up with my Macbook. Once this is done, I will be able to sync 20 at a time. Over the next several days I will get this done and begin synching all of them with my computer.

For now I will be using all free applications for the iPods, I want to see how far we can go before we have to start spending money for them. A list of the applications I will be using can be found at the following link, This page will be kept updated with which apps we are using and which we have dropped and why.

I plan on keeping a running journal on the project stating the good, the bad, the ugly, and the how did we adjust over the course of the year. More will follow later this week once I try to name and synch the iPods.

Fireside Reflections

The recently completed “Fireside Chat” project seemed to be a success. It will need a few tweaks for next year as the “State of the Union Project” but things went well overall. My students procrastinated in a big way and many were afraid of Audacity as a program to use.

Once the sat down and used it they were amazed at how easy it was to create their assignments. Most were looking forward to creating more assignments this way, which they will have the opportunity to do.

I had a large number of students use webcams or cell phones to create their projects which was fine, I learned a lot about the cell technology from them. The technology will be another form they can use if their do not have access to updated computer technology.

The major change will be to set a cut-off date for helping them record in school. It will be especially important if CFF funds are cut off next year, since that would probably not give me any free time to work with students one on one. I can help them turn in projects the day they are due, but recording must be completed in advance.

Overall, the students did seem to enjoy creating a project like this rather than writng an essay. Most of the projects were of a good quality, only a few were “ast minute just to hand something in” types of projects, which unfortunately occurs with any type of project.


Hello, my name is Dominic, and I am a packrat. I have been for many years, and although I admitted this before, I am finally working on doing something to “fix” the situation. The other day while working on some online tools for my students, my Twitter network, names will remain anonymous just so I do not become a name dropper,  ran amok with discussions on educators who have way too many paper files around the home and classroom. I jumped in whole-heartedly, gleefully if you will, at the thought than I now have evidence that I am not alone in my predicament. The issue was possibly a continuation of a post brought up earlier in the week when a contact mentioned that he was scanning all of his hard copy documents into electronic .pdf files.  The idea hit me that my attempts to convert my hard copy files by typing is a futile endeavor, I never paid attention in 9th grade typing class…scanning will be the way to go.

This is not a cop-out, but I have reasons for  being this way. I am a second generation Social Studies teacher, I inherited my father’s file cabinet and added a couple of my own. I was brought up seeing how Social Studies teachers collect information. Later in college, my professors embedded the concept of “you never know what your budget at school will be, so collect all you can while you can!” Reinforcement at it’s best…I am a digital immigrant, I remember my first stint in grad school, we took notes on this new tool, the I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T. In fact I know I still have my notebook from that class with my notes on how to search this new tool. It contains all of the helping and control words necessary to search correctly.

This brings me to something that made me laugh yesterday in class and unfortunately disrupt my intern’s class. I had a student cleaning out my book cupboard to make space for my Econ books. No big deal, student did not want to stay in study hall and asked to help. The student came across a notebook from 1986, it contained notes from when I was my fraternity’s contact for the homecoming parade at IUP. Names and numbers leapt from the pages, which brought back a bunch of thoughts I don’t normally keep active. They were great times, but it is not efficient to have those thoughts active with everything else going on in life…22 years later.

The last example I have is one I use with my senior Econ classes. It deals with opportunity costs and how personal the concept is. When I was around 6 or 7, my Grandpap gave me a little pen knife, maybe it is an inch or so long, along with one he got for working at U.S. Steel in Duquesne, PA for many years. It is about the same size. I was so proud of them until I hit adolescence, then they became just toys. I wanted bigger knives like my friends had so my Grandpap’s presents to me were relegated to a drawer in my room.

I forgot about them until much later in life. I did not remember seeing them when I moved to my own house. My Grandpap was much older and for some reason the thoughts of those knives hit me. At first I thought they were gone, one of those spiteful adolescent purges when told to clean your room. It took awhile, but after some time I found them. They were then moved to the bar my Grandpap gave me when I bought my house, it too had been his. After realizing how important those items are to me, I would not let go of them for anything in the world. When I tell my students about the knives, they laugh I could not even sell them at a garage sale for $1.00, but they mean a lot to me, even before my Grandpap left us a few years back.

Because of this incident I was unrepentant about compulsion to be a packrat. Now I realize I need to tier my compulsion, personal mementos, no matter how corny will be kept, information that can be digitized will be sent into the great digital cloud of information that now surrounds us all. My only question now is, what will I do with all of the flash drives I will need?

Next Year’s English Project…if I can get an English teacher to help…

I was watching “Classical Baby, All grown up'” with Arianna, my daughter this evening. They were reading poetry to images with some of the readers being the authors, others stars, and even children reading poems and giving their ideas on the poems. It was really cool, some of thekids were very young, but they seemed to get it. I do not know how much was scripted for them and how much was their own, but it was cool and believable. Next year I think it would be great to do something like that in our district, but expand upon it.

When I was Title I teacher in another life we had some of the better readers record stories for the not so good readers to use if they were reading on their own. I have no idea where the tapes went, but they were made. I think the Classical Baby” idea would be great with the expanded addition of original student poetry read over Ustream. The work can be archived and shared with the Middle and Elementary Schools. The original work can be from all grades since our District writes at most levels, the kids would love it. It is authorship beyond the classroom or school walls.

As for using published work by other authors, maybe private sites can hold the recordings for the younger students to use as a guide to reading. The kids like working with the other levels and all would benefit from the experience. I would have to look into copyright issues, but fortunately an associate I met on my online network at, has done a lot of research on the topic. Eduwikius is an entirely different post, for another time, but they are an excellent network of very helpful professionals.

Since I now teach Economics/POD and American Civics I would need to pull the English Department in on this endeavor. It will be much easier to accomplish if we get the Classrooms for The Future grant. I was chosen to be the coach and would have more time to help implement his idea if everything falls into place. Here’s hoping for the plans to fall into place.

Student fear of Internet

I can not figure it out for sure, but I have a number of students who are afraid to use the Internet for their 20th Century President Projects. I know they utilize the Internet for socializing, I see them on the ‘net looking up stuff during study halls. I have stressed that I am not taking points off for having trouble with the technology and offered full help in working with new issues that arise from the technology. Yet, I have a group that runs when asked to use the net for something besides surfing. Actually, adding to the class wikispace is easier than the other type of projects they could choose from. I have given them the option of anonymity or first name listing for credit. I have tried to make the experience workable for them, but there is still a good bit of resistance. I wish I could find a better way to motivate them than just force them to participate with the technology. I do understand that it is not about the technology, it is about the lesson, however I want them to become familiar with the tools they will more than likely be using in life in their future. It is an issue to keep working at defeating.

Today’s Wiki-work

The students seemed to grasp the ideas with the notes on the Executive Branch.  We worked as a class and I showed them how to fiddle around with some of the options we can do. They are allowed to edit the space, so they need to be able to do these tasks successfully. They seem to like the group setting and I use their ideas, we will see if it transfers to work outside of the classroom.

Wikispace Knowledge

I need to expand my knowledge of the wikispace universe. I learned a neat trick last week of imbedding video right into my pages, but I need to learn how to indent the students’ notetaking work. The students are learning quite a bit, so I need to stay ahead of the curve to better help them with the site. The tutorials are easy to understand, I just need more time!