Monday, March 25, 2013

The impermanence of all things Google ( or why I learned to stop worrying and love Google Keep)

A central tenet of Buddhism is that suffering is caused by a failure or inability to accept the impermanence of all things. Listening to the chatter in the blogosphere this week, it seems that there are not many buddhist technology bloggers. On the back of Google's decision to close Google Reader, many people have been quick to attack Google Keep. Om Malik , a blogger who I follow regularly was extremely quick to jump on the Keep-bashing band wagon and he made justifiable points for  doing so. I have a different point of view. Om argues from the point of view of someone who pays for Google services but I (and the schools I work for) have never paid to use Google products. I am also fully aware that when you don't pay, you are not the customer, you are the product. It just so happens that you are a product who can leverage the situation for educational benefit.
So what do I think of Evernote vs Google Keep? Firstly, I am a huge Evernote fan and use it regularly but mostly for personal organisation. I use it a little  for  keeping  track of student research but the ability to only view their notes is a little  limiting as a teacher. This week I have used Google Keep during lesson observations and also staff interviews. It serves the same purpose as Evernote but I am really enjoying the simplicity of  it. It has reasonable sharing options through the android app and I can access everything easily when I need it. I am finding it very useful as a simple text processor (although Docs would do  the same). My real interest in Google Keep comes with a  bit of crystal ball  gazing. This product will develop and it is only a matter of time before it gets the full apps treatment. Imagine it being fully integrated as a  Google apps product where you can  share a note with all students at the start of the lesson. The opportunity for collaboration within the Google apps framework could blow Evernote out of the  water.

A few final thoughts
Should we be using Google products in schools when they can shut them down in the drop of a hat? In a word, yes. Google products have enhanced learning for my students in ways that are easy, quick and unimaginable with the best paid-for products without costing a cent. If Google shuts down a product, so what. I will find something else that does the same job. It is no different to the problem that schools encounter when that key person who knew how to use your expensive VLE leaves the school. Even expensive hardware products like  iphones stop being supported by the company that made them when they decide not to support that OS any more. I fully accept that Google owes me nothing and I will use their products with this in mind.
Om Malik argues that he prefers to use products that focus on what they do, e.g. Evernote focus on notes. This doesn't always make a better product. Post it are focused on making notes. If you haven't used them before, they are little yellow bits of paper that you can write on that have an adhesive to stick to surfaces. The glue is completely unfit for purpose. I have lost countless bits of data through the poor design of these notes. The only syncing options are copying onto another note or photocopying. Luckily the type of data I write on these notes does not cause many problems when lost. I guess, its the same kind of data I will put on Google Keep, so if Google shut it down I will just accept that it is the  impermanence of all things Google, move on and minimise my  suffering.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Classroom Technologies

This guest post is by James Wilson, a History and Humanities teacher in Hong Kong. This is cross-posted at
Check out some of James' other blog posts too. They're great!
Classroom Technologies
Tomorrow, at a professional development workshop at my school, I’ll be asked to share my experiences using technology in the classroom. In an effort to both recall and organize, I’ve compiled a list of applications. Those under the heading “Essential” should be added to your tool-kit immediately, though I expect I’m preaching to the choir (or worse still, I’m the choir preaching to the preacher)…
  • Organizes notes, references, photos, videos, and anything else that can be digitized.
  • Amazingly easy to use, and simple to share information
  • Students love the “cute elephant”
  • I use it often for MYP criterion B: Investigating
  • Students create separate ‘Notebooks’ for each project I assign
  • Upon submission of the project, they share the Evernote “Notebook,” which shows me the entire process of investigation.
  • Also highly recommended for adults!
  • imgres
  • Essential Apps: Drive, Sites, Docs, Presentation.
  • Google Docs allows for real-time writing and editing collaboration between students and /or teachers.
  • Google Presentation allows for real-time presentation creation between students and / or teachers.
  • Sites is much more comprehensive with mind-boggling potential for both students and teachers (More on this later).
  • Drive is the place where your google docs and presentations can be stored and easily shared.
  • I feel I have only scratched the surface of what Google offers students, educators, administrators, districts, planets, galaxies, …
  • Incredible collaboration tool. See this:
  • All of the topics along the right menu bar were created by students working together, and editing each others work. This History Wiki functions as a student created interactive text. The students ASK to create new pages… Need I pitch this further?
  • In terms of blogging as an educational tool, I’ve drank the kool-aid, I’m blitzed, and I want more!!
  • In my opinion, one of the most underused, under-appreciated tools out there.
  • If you have doubts, create one of your own, record your reflections, and see if you don’t evolve as a writer and graphic designer. See if you learn to locate relevant information more rapidly. See if you are able to convey this information to an audience in a more creative way than before you started the blog. Then, ask yourself:  ”what does it mean to be literate in the 21st century?” Then, ask yourself: “has blogging improved my literacy?”
Not Exactly Essential, but Fun…
  • I’m a big fan of any technology that allows useful information to come to you, instead of you searching for it… 
  • My students still associate Twitter with comments like: “Doritos for lunch, mmmm”
  • They are surprised when I show them my own Twitter feed, the famous authors, politicians, journalists, artists, academics, think tanks, climate watch groups, design and technology gurus, all-star teachers, etc.. that share their latest ideas with me via Tweets. RSS feeds are even more spectacular in this regard, … I’ll come back to RSS in a later post.
  • I’m new to this one. But as I am looking to “flatten my own classroom” ( get rid of the walls that separate my students from the world that awaits them after graduation) it seems face to face real-time global collaborations via Skype in the Classroom would be ideal?
Hope this was useful for some of you… If you have any “Essential” technologies, do the right thing and unveil those gems right here and now!!  … told you I drank the kool-aid  :D

Using Padlet in the classroom

This guest post is by Anna, a secondary school Media and Photography teacher.

Padlet is an excellent tool to help break down complex content for students. I have been using it in a senior media studies course as a way to help students analyse the different production and story elements of film. Padlet allows you to create a 'wall' of information - similar to having a whiteboard in front of you, but students can flick through from wall to wall depending on what stage they are up to.
Here is a link to an example:
They are quick and easy to create, provide visual references and also can be used in a more interactive way where the students can help each other build knowledge around a single idea. Great for literature, English, humanities and in primary school as well!

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Algebra 1 Teachers - How to use Gapminder in the Classroom

This guest post is by Jeanette, a high school math teacher of 15 years that is currently teaching only Algebra 1. She loves to teach and connect students to their potential. This was originally posted at

Real-data Graphing
If you have not seen GapMinder yet, it is a must from every math and history teacher!

I was introduced to this amazing graphing software about a year ago at a conference, and I was so excited to play with it and use it in my classroom. But the how was a bit vague... Unfortunately the craziness of getting back to my classroom after three days out distracted me from the goal of figuring it out.
Well, the Common Core placing statistics back into Algebra 1 pushed me forward. I am so grateful. I want my students to understand numbers in the context of the larger world around them. And this is the perfect tool!

What is GapMinder?
If you have never heard of it before, feel free to take a look at this video. Please know that the great part about the software is the depth of the data. You can change the x and y axis to reflect data on world health, environment, family size or GDP among others. You can change the countries to be shown by selecting them from the right or select them all. It really allows a teacher to meet the needs of their students.

The Lesson Plan

I created a task for my students to complete while taking their first look at GapMinder. This will take place in my Modeling Linear Data Unit. It was an introduction to the program helping them to understand the notation and symbolism. It also incorporated the mathematics of independent and dependent variables, creating a table from a graph, and understanding how to read a graph. For my students, class time must be structured to be valuable as I am still in training mode and this was the perfect way to achieve discovery and structure in one step.

Thinking Ahead...
I am really excited to see what my students do with this software. While I was playing with this software I changed the y-axis to number of children and left the x-axis as GDP. It was amazing to see in numbers the history I thought I understood. I have so many Bosnian students that escaped the war in their country. To focus on Bosnia and see the turmoil the war caused on their country was extremely powerful. I can see the history teacher using this to track the main players in WWII. You can identify the major dates or even show them the graph and have them research the reasons for the discrepancy in the graph. All very powerful.

Common Core Standards
I am working on creating lessons using this software to help students understand box and whisker (S.ID.1) , correlation coefficient (S.ID.8), central tendencies(S.ID.2), and line of best fit (S.ID.6). I can see the outliers (S.ID.3) being very powerful as well with this software. I am very excited about the possibilities.

How will you use GapMinder?
Please share below how you think this software can be used in the classroom. I would love to hear from you!

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Google Gracious Me

This is a guest post by Philip Arneill, a year 6 teacher at the British School in Tokyo. This post was cross posted at 

Philip also has another excellent blog at 

There’s a joke which appeared in TIME magazine some years ago. It goes like this: “Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred-year snooze and is, of course, utterly bewildered by what he sees. Men and women dash about, talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears. Young people sit at home on sofas, moving miniature athletes around on electronic screens. Older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic. Airports, hospitals, shopping malls–every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when he finally walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school,” he declares. “We used to have these back in 1906. Only now the blackboards are green.”
Or white. Or interactive. But has much else really changed?
According to Sugata Mitra in his recent TED talk, not really. He claims that our current, exam-based education system – originally devised as a way to effectively administer and maintain the then global British Empire without planes, computers or telephones – isn’t broken, in fact it functions perfectly. It’s just it no longer has any useful purpose in the world in which we live. It is, in his word, obsolete.
So what will the schools of the future look like? How will they function? Who can really say with any certainty? As I lugged a plastic brick of a Walkman around in the pocket of my school blazer twenty years ago, balanced out by 5 or 6 cassette tapes on the other side, and packets of AA batteries strategically hidden in smaller pockets, I would never have imagined at some point in the  future it wouldn’t be necessary to even physically buy music anymore, and I could listen to hundreds of albums instantly from a Cloud in the sky on a slimline device I can also make phone calls on. It  would have genuinely seemed like the stuff of sci-fi.
What we do know however is that children will not be required to write things by hand, and may not even need to type them. They won’t be expected to work sitting at desks in pre-assigned seats for seven hours a day, acquiring ‘knowledge’. They will need to read, to filter information, to create, to solve problems, and more than likely at their own pace, in ways and environments using tools which are personalised to their particular learning styles. Most likely all this will take place in a paperless world. In the words of Will Richardson in his book ‘Why School?‘, they will need “to connect, organise, share, collect, collaborate and publish. Does that sound like school to you?”.
The biggest catalyst for this revolution in education has undoubtedly been the development of virtual communication technologies, and a bewildering array of increasingly powerful Web 2.0 tools which facilitate it at ever greater speeds. I was lucky enough to attend the recent Google Apps for Education conference, and the immediate and empowering effect on learning can already be seen in Year 6 with our recent Poetry Pockets website. It is our hope as a team that this is one small step in creating not the new schools of the future, rather of the present; for the environment in which the children live is the one which Richardson describes above. Is it not the responsibility of school to both reflect this world and prepare the children for working it?
Our project started very simply by e-mailing a BST Primary poetry competition inspired by Ian McMillan’s “10 Things in a Wizard’s Pocket” as a Friday home learning task. This HL task was created using Google Docs, which children had been using in ICT that week. Having created a personal copy of the Doc, and written their own poem, they then ‘shared’ the Doc with their class teachers.  Through the amazingly user-friendly Google Sites, we were then able to copy and paste all the poems and create a website to share their writing with the wider world. Through the Google accounts which BST provide the children with, this has enabled them now to also begin collaborating on a class website, and in turn their own personal sites to link to that.  Additionally, by simply sharing this weblink with Mr.Thurman, all the Year 6 children were able to enter the poetry competition, something that we could never have achieved through mere teacher encouragement and enthusiastic cajoling! And so the loop continues: connecting, organising, sharing, collecting, collaborating and publishing.
All that, and not one sheet of paper used. Surely that’s a trick even a wizard doesn’t have in his pocket…

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Common Core Standard for Phonetics

Here is a guest post from Tom Zurinskas, creator of Truespel Phonetics.

Free Technology for Schools  has no link with Truespel Phonetics and has not been paid for this post. This has been posted through the 'submit a post' page.

Under "language" in the Common Core comes the teaching of "phonetics" for K and 1st grade, and none after that. But the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) uses special symbols and is not English or keyboard friendly. (See for Common Core English Lit standards K-6)

Instead, what should be used to teach phonetics for the 40 sounds of US English is truespel phonetics. It is the only phonetic notation that is close to regular English spelling as possible and with a stress rule so it is an actual dictionary pronunciation guide. It has been added to the VOA Simplified English dictionary (see

Once taught, truespel's phonemic awareness application remains, and can integrate reading instruction with ESL, dictionaries and translation guides. This simple solution thus can be a revolution proving that simpler is better. Note that truespel is also available free on the internet. (See tutorials at 

Now it's time that a simple phonetics is needed to standardized phonetics. Truespel is the way to go. Note that Korean high school students prefer truespel over other notations for learning US English pronunciation. Also note that truespel is the basis of a suggested phonetic change to Korean spelling. This is world first for phonetic notations.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Memrise: A great website for learning

Normally my blog posts are about websites, apps or software that I use as a teacher. Today I am going to write about one that I have been using as a learner.
Memrise is an excellent website which uses a spaced repetition system to help you learn pretty much anything. As I have used it for languages, that is what I will focus on here. Working as an international school teacher, I really need to learn at least some of the languages of the countries I work in. Straight off the bat, I have to admit though, I'm not very good at it. At least not using traditional methods. I lived in Japan for 5 years and never got to conversational level. I could say "shingo hidari onegaishimasu" (left at the traffic lights) and order a beer but that was about it. My Italian is better, in that I can converse and have managed to deal with quite a bit of bureaucracy but I am not as fluent as I would like to be.
There are several things to consider when learning a new language, such as gramatical structure,  but building up a large vocabulary as quickly as possible has to be a very high priority. Memrise is possibly the best system I have used for vocabulary building. It uses a nice little gardening analogy for memorisation. The first stage is planting the seeds, where you are introduced to new vocabulary. Each new word is introduced and then your short term memory is tested until you have memorised all the words. You then go through a 'watering' stage where you water your memory plants by revisiting them at an optimal time indicated by a timer before then going onto a harvesting stage, by which time, they should be firmly planted in your long term memory. You can go back and revisit what you have learned at any time.
A key feature of learning with Memrise is the ability to create 'Mems'. These are items you attach to each memory card where you use your imagination to help you remember it, for example, the Italian for pig is "maiale", so a suitable mem might be a picture of a pig in my alley. Memrise also has some competitive aspects which make learning with it extremely addictive. You earn points for each correct answer and you can see yourself move up the leader-board. This becomes especially good when you have friends who are on the same course.
Memrise allows people to create their own courses so there are now a wide range of courses available in languages, Maths, Science and Humanities to name a few and the number of courses are growing each day. I have used this as a learner rather than a teacher. I would be really interested to hear how people have been using it for teaching. If you have any ideas you would like to share please leave a comment below or submit a guest post here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dealing with disaster: The usefulness of free technology

It was around 2.45pm on Friday 11th March 2011 that I was working through a rather difficult A-level Physics problem with my class. Mid-sentence, the building started shaking like it never had before, first from side to side then up and down. As we huddled under the desks, I began to wonder if the gas pipelines under the desk would rupture just before the shaking stopped.
The clock in my old office. It stopped when the earthquake hit.
We soon realised this wasn't like the other tremors we had experienced and evacuated the building. In the evacuation area, we watched videos on the TV of tsunami devastation hitting northern Japan. Two days later, the explosions at Fukushima meant we had to evaluate re-opening the school on the following Monday. We decided to close for a week and ended up staying closed for three whole weeks.
A few years before, we had set up plans for running the curriculum during school closure, at that time because of the threat of swine flu. Although swine flu never closed the school, the plans we had in place for using Google apps allowed us to react quickly and minimise disruption to learning.
On the first day of closure, teachers prepared lessons to be completed through the school's Google apps based learning environment. Students completed work, asked questions through Google Talk and collaborated with each other. Many people had left Japan and were accessing the curriculum and creating lessons from Japan, Korea, Australia, England, France and Singapore and for students with external exams on the horizon, this was essential to ensure they did not fall behind. Of course there were issues. Many students didn't access the work at all and some teachers were not as creative as others, but in a time of crisis it provided stability and a sense of community for the students and their families.
You never know what kind of crisis can end up causing a school closure and it is essential to be able to still provide a curriculum for students to keep a sense of normality. If your school is waiting until they can afford an expensive VLE solution, it is maybe time to shake senior management into action and let them know about the free alternatives available.
It would be wrong to write this without taking a moment to think of the people who died on that day, and the others who were left behind to deal with the devastation. Even two years on, for many life is not back to normal. My thoughts are continually with all those people and I hope the time when life returns back to normal is soon on the horizon. Ganbatte!

Using Google Apps as a Free LMS

Here is the first ever collaborative post on Free Technology for Schools by John from New Zealand. He is trying to build a Google apps Learning community on Google+.

A group of 217 educators have formed a community on Google+ around the idea of crowd sourcing our own learning materials for Using Google Apps as a Free Learning Management System. If you have knowledge in this area, or would like to gain knowledge in this area, please come join the group:

Learning units may take the form of Google form checklists with SlideSpeech tutorials, which look (and sound) like this:

John, PhD Student, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Free Technology for Schools is now collaborative

Free technology for Schools is now going to be a collaborative blog. To help with this, I have made it easier for people to submit posts, although you can still submit by email if you wish. To easily submit a post just visit the "submit a post" page

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The educational potential of Google Glass

I've been spending a little bit of time this week thinking about how Google Glass would tie in with Google apps and the potential for learning. I have to admit, I haven't got very far but here is a wonderful example of how guys might use them. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Eliademy: A simple free Virtual Learning Environment

Yesterday, I discovered a new website called Eliademy and it is one of the simplest tools I have ever seen for creating a Virtual Learning Environment and not only that, it is free, has no adverts and "will always be free". After an afternoon giving a session on using Frog ( my school's new VLE), I was impressed at how simple it was to start creating learning materials on Eliademy. It does not have the range of functionality as Frog, it doesn't come close, but it is an amazing tool if you want to create an online course quickly and simply.
Eliademy have 3 bold claims on their website: smart and friendly interface, fast and easy to use and that it increases productivity.When you visit the Eliademy website, it is certainly smart, to the point and very welcoming. The designers have considered what most creators of educational software forget; teachers are busy people and if they have to spend time learning how to use software tools rather than actually planning and creating resources, most will not bother. Clicking on Sign-up gives the option of either signing in using Facebook (a huge time saver!) or completing 4 fields.

Eliademy claim that you will own your own classroom in 3 steps and it really is that simple, you just sign in, create a course and then add resources. It's simplistic layout is so free of distractions that it really does encourage you to increase productivity.
Creating a new topic within a course is done with one click and you can add pictures, files, Youtube, Vimeo and Slideshare. This is relatively good although it would be nice to see a bit more integration with things like Google Apps. Within each course there is the course content, tasks (again set with about 3 clicks)and a discussion forum. Adding participants is done easily by email or by sharing a link on Facebook or Twitter. A great final piece of functionality is the ability to access notes in Evernote and it would be great to se even further integration between the two products along with some other useful 3rd parties.
This is a tool I would absolutely love to see take off in lots of schools. Given that I write a blog called Free Tech for Schools, when I see technology like this that provides the functionality and professional interface of an expensive product for completely free, I begin to salivate. It really makes me think that the best thing you can do to be a truly progressive and creative technologically enabled school is to cut your technology budget down to zero! When you are not committed to expensive paid for products, you have much more freedom to pick and choose between the very best free tools. For now, I recognise this tool to any school who wants a simple and effective solution that will allow them to compete with any school that has invested in an expensive learning platform. I might even say you would be more successful as it is so simple to implement, it could be populated with resources in no time.

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

The number 1 app for every teacher

I discovered this blog post through Doug Woods' Edtech daily Paperli newspaper. Sounds like a great app. I would like to write about it myself but for now, why reinvent the wheel. Here it is

Check out Daniel Edwards blog in general. Lots of useful stuff and very well written.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Using Twitter and Paperli to give students a weekly learning summary

Screenshot of the Edutech Review

A little while ago, I wrote about how using Twitter and Paperli, you can develop a visually appealing way of collating professional learning from other educators you follow on Twitter. Today I would like to show how this can be used to give students a weekly summary of learning that has taken place in school. To do this I need to first explain what the school would need to do to set this up.
At the beginning of the school year, each teacher in the school would need to create a Twitter account and a blog, wiki or website. Each student in the school would then also create a Twitter account and be guided through the process of creating a newspaper on Paperli using the Twitter feeds from all of their teachers as sources. Each week the teacher either creates blog posts or even just finds useful relevant websites and posts a link to them on Twitter. The students will then have a newspaper which shows all the learning that has taken place that week.
This could become an exceptionally powerful tool. For teachers who don't feel they have time to create new content, they can always just post a link to a useful website, or even tweet this week's homework and it will show up in the paper. Other more technically minded teachers could end up generating lots of useful content to share with students.
If a school did this it would be an excellent starting point but imagine the potential for learning if students are also encouraged to keep their own learning blogs. Students would be able to see what their friends have been learning and creating and there is no reason why a student in year 11 cannot follow students in the years above to see where their current learning will lead to. Now that is what I call a powerful learning community. So what are you waiting for. Get Papertweeting!