Teacher Lee Briggs on technology in today's classroom. Brought to you by Weekly Reader.

Posts tagged ‘teacher’

One of My Favorite Tools Keeps Getting Better

I love, love, love Evernote.  I used to (and still mostly do) operate in my classroom using a mish-mash of legal pads, emails, folders and enough sticky notes to fell a small rainforest.  Most teachers I know of work the same way or similar. Evernote lets you take notes and save them to the cloud. You can tag them for indexing or search them to recall all kinds of useful information instantly, from shopping lists to your students’ reading scores.

Evernote has recently acquired a company called Skitch. Skitch was a Windows and Mac app that allowed you to edit and write on documents, screenshots, and images. Handy, sure; but nothing fantastic. By merging Evernote and Skitch, you can now save your images to notes, and add notations, highlighting, and the like. Not bad.

Wait, they just made Skitch into an iPad App? AMAZING!

This is a needed and missing puzzle piece in my use of my iPad.  There are not a lot of good options for filling out forms or writing on images. Now I can write up forms, annotate documents and shoot them off as emails, save them to Evernote, or collaborate with colleagues. Not only can I save typed data to Evernote, but also hand-written information, sketches, maps, and screenshots.

I only just started using this tool. More to come as I put it through its paces.

We Have YouTube! Now What?

The internet is a wondrous place, full of amazing information and things to learn. To me, the internet can be similar to going to the big city for the first time. It is easy to get so caught up in the glamour of the place, the opportunities, that sometimes you get lost and end up someplace you should not. This is especially true for one of my favorite resources: YouTube.

YouTube has fantastic potential. Need to show your land-locked farm kids what the Panama Canal looks like? There are plenty of videos of people passing through the locks. Want to see the Spanish Armada reenacted using Legos? You have that too. Music videos on being a paleontologist? Help learning an instrument? Want to report on human rights abuses to the west? YouTube has the ability to transmit more information and connect more people than any other site.

Many people credit the development of the printing press as crucial in the American Revolution because of its ability to get the word out. Is it any wonder that the Internet has played such a role in recent revolution in Egypt? YouTube is a tool as potent as the printing press; it has the ability to not only give people the means of production, but also distribution as well.

YouTube also has the ability to waste insane amounts of time, and through its “suggestions” connects you to things that have no business being in a school. YouTube videos are not rated, and it is for good reason that most school filters block it entirely.

But, like any tool, in the hands of responsible teachers, YouTube can be great. We recently got staff access to YouTube. And sure, my kids and I looked up a few viral videos (note: a video of a talking dog is a great motivator, and cheaper than candy) but we also saw a bunch of great videos about science. One thing to avoid like the plague, though, is the comments posted by random individuals who seem to get a kick out of being as vulgar as possible.

Here a few tools that I found that can make YouTube a little more school-friendly.

viewpure: A great tool that removes ads and linked videos from a video, making it clutter-free and age appropriate.

Hyperlinking to a point: By clicking “share” and then “more options,” you can link to a specific point in a video.

And lastly:

YouTube Education: A blessedly ad-free part of YouTube where educational videos have been posted, most by other educators, with lessons and tools available for everything from preschool to university courses. You will find every Sesame Street video ever made here, right along with an introduction to particle physics.



A wonderful app I have been using lately is TeacherPal. It is indeed a friend to me. I discovered this free app a while ago, but never got much of a chance to use it. For the most part, it is a graphical classroom management app that allows you to make classes, take attendance, assign grades, and take notes on student behavior.

Now, I did not intend to use this much. Like most schools, we already have a web-based attendance and grading suite made right here in Wisconsin, called Skyward. But being web-based it is tricky and often cumbersome to use on a tablet. TeacherPal just looks great. My classroom is organized by large thumbnail photos of my students. I tap one and it gives me all their attendance info, lets me take notes on their behavior or reading scores, see what their grades have been like, and even send an email to a parent.

I still am going to use Skyward for grading and attendance because I have to, and because I am not going to do the same job twice. But TeacherPal has been great in letting me keep track of the dozens of behaviors and interventions that I previously had to put into a spiral notebook.

My partner in the iPad trial, Scott, said it best when he mentioned how great it will look at conferences to click on a student and have all the important information right there, rather than a stack of papers in a manila envelope. If a hard copy is needed, say for permanent records? TeacherPal allows you to either upload your data to DropBox or emails you a handy Excel file, organized by student.

For everything that this app does, the only thing that hampers it is the occasional crash and subsequent loss of data. Though in using it in the last two weeks, I have lost only a single note. To its credit, it did warn me that it had not been uploaded to the database and a restart fixed it. In education, where records are vital and can cost you your job, I hope it’s something they take care of soon in an update. If you are a teach and own an iPod or iPad, trust me and download this soon!

Another Scanning Strategy

Scanned, merged, and ready to go.

Last week I mentioned how I scanned in all my masters. A co-worker of mine came to me with a problem when he was attempting to do the same thing and I thought that I would share the solution with you. He was trying to scan in a particularly large activity book when it became clear that the scanner wouldn’t take it and he was forced to scan the book in 5 parts.

This led to a problem: how to connect multiple PDFs together? This is a fairly common issue. I ran into it earlier this year when I had to send in my massive professional development plan into the state as part of renewing my license. I needed to combine lots of different forms and documents into one. Normally this easy to do if you have a full version of Adobe Acrobat, which we did not. But luckily, those open-source angels on the internet created a utility called PDFsam, which can separate and merge PDF files quickly and easily for free. It saved us a lot of time and grief. And in the end, isn’t that what computers are for?

Downloading Videos

One of the things that I get asked a lot is how to download video from websites like YouTube. Because we are behind a proxy filter at my school, this is often the only way to get video from this great online source into the classroom. The other reason that this is useful is because YouTube tends to try to suggest other videos to you that might not be safe for school and sometimes a stand-alone video file is safer.

There are countless ways to take video from a website. After all, it has been loaded onto your computer already; all you need to do is tell your computer to “grab” it. I am going to share my method of downloading and displaying a flash video. By no means will it work every time, but it’s another option in meeting your needs.

There are three programs I use for this: two to get the video and one to display it without a lot of fuss.

  1. First, install Firefox, mostly because it is awesome. Argue it if you want, but this is a rule in my classroom, kind of like the rule about never bringing ranch dressing into my room. It’s a great browser with lots a features and more importantly the ability to install extensions that expand what it can do, Just go to tools>add-ons.
  2. Second, about those extensions: the one you want to install either through Firefox or their extension library is called downloadhelper. It’s a nice little program that creates a neat three-color icon in your browser whenever it finds something it can download.

    Download Helper, helping

  3. Go to your favorite source of online video. When it starts to spin, click it and select whatever file looks like it might be the one you want. This can be tricky since they will often be named in some strange code, but look for one that ends in .flv. click it to start the download.
  4. The .FLV file is the most common type of online video these days; a flash video file that can probably be played on your browser, but not by itself and not in many media players such as Windows Media Player or QuickTime. It can, however, be played using the second greatest program ever: Video LAN Client, or VLC. This is a simple, streamlined media player that is very powerful. It does one thing—plays files. And it leaves out all the bloatware you find in QuickTime or Windows Media Player.

There are other methods, of course, like converting the file into something easier for your computer to handle, but VLC does such a great job I tend to save myself the trouble. Save the file to a flash drive, or save yourself a lot of trouble and save it to your Dropbox.

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