Tuesday, December 23, 2008

SMS Texts for Free from Gmail

I used to use teleflip to SMS from my computer. It was Sweet! I could send out emails from my email client and teleflip would take care of the whole "what carrier?" piece.

The "what carrier" is the deal-killer question when it comes to sending texts to cell phones from the computer. I know my friend's phone number, sure, but I have NO IDEA who he gets service from. Come on!

So there are a couple of services online that do let you send SMS texts without specifying which carrier, and as I was testing them out I found that this month Google introduced a little add-on to Gmail that is likewise very sweet. You have to enable it in the Settings--Labs section, but once it's enabled you can chat from your Gmail screen with your friends' cell phones.

Most importantly, you don't need to know their carrier. Google handles that part and gives you a convenient little chat window so that your friend (student, coworker, etc.) replies and you see it as if she were on another computer and engaging in a little chat. Very nice.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Removing the "Next Blog" Element in Blogger

To remove the risky “Next Blog” feature at the top navigation bar . . . Just head to your template tab within the blog settings, go to the edit html view and add this code after any other chunk of code ending with the } symbol — paste this code in just below.

#navbar-iframe {
height: 0px;
visibility: hidden;
display: none;

Friday, September 5, 2008

Student-Made Doc of Blog Requirements (spring 2008)

(the neato part about this list is that the kids created the list in a Google Doc, and then I published it directly from GDocs into a blogpost)

things that should be on our blogs:
  • Link to the teacher and to others
  • stuff on our computer (applications)
  • picture of yourself*
  • computer shopping (uncle albert or eduwise)
  • graph from Excel (picture and link to the file on MediaFire)
  • toondoo embedded (flowers for V Day)
  • video on teacher tube (embed any video)
  • robot picture
  • animoto embedded
  • soda can label (picture and link to the file on MediaFire)
  • mind map (short story: plot, characters, setting, mood/theme)
  • conference trip maps
  • magnifying glass (picture of Mag Glass over text)
  • tumblr 5 posts on tumblr (sport or hobby--embed a video)
  • post this document to your blog!

Monday, August 25, 2008

RIP Teleflip

When I tried teleflipping out from my email to my friend's cell phone last night . . . and it didn't work . . . I was a little concerned. Then when I hopped on Google News and saw articles such as "Has Teleflip Flipped its Last?" my heart sank. Not only because I really liked the service, but because I've told so many people about it in the past two years.

If you're one who never got to use teleflip's service before its untimely death, I'm sorry. It really was that cool. I hope to see a successor soon . . . if you see it before me will you let me know?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Software for the PC

I just bought Janet (my wife) a lightweight laptop and have the pleasure of setting her up on a Windows Vista machine. It came with Vista, and though my plan was to run Linux from it . . . Ubuntu couldn't get the built-in camera and network card to work without hassle and I don't have the luxury of time to hassle with it. So she's Vista and I'm finding a fairly shallow learning curve going from XP to Vista. It does give me a chance to reflect on what software I install on Windows machines when building from scratch, though.

Here are the freeware software apps I've installed so far:
  • Firefox --with the extensions listed in a previous post.
  • Thunderbird
  • Picassa
  • Open Office
  • GOM Player --Allows me to play FLV movies and can be set so videos automatically go to full screen.
  • iTunes
  • MagicDisc --I have kids, and I don't like to have to have the physical CD in the drive in order for them to play. This doesn't seem to work with Vista so I'm looking for an alternative.
  • Tuxpaint
  • Skype
  • MW Snap --Screen capturing made very easy.
  • Adobe Reader
  • PhotoStory
  • Google Earth

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Collaboration Game

I've been thinking about it for years . . . it's finally time to do it.

Here are some of the ideas for how to "play" with another class of middle schoolers, then the next step will be to hook up with those classes and see how it works.

Ground Rules:
  1. Each student should operate under a teacher-approved nickname and never reveal Name, Age, or Location . . . even though the game forum is private. Practice digital citizenship wisdom.
  2. Students should not, within the game forum, arrange to meet outside of the game forum. This includes giving email, phone, or other contact info.
Although there will be other discussions that students are able to weigh in on any time and with any frequency, some of the forums will be for the playing of games.

Guessing Game:
  1. Choose the as a group something for the other group to guess. Your goal is to find something that they can guess within 5 guesses . . . if it takes them longer than that you haven't done your job well.
  2. Choose a category: local animal, vegetable, building, or geographical landmark.
  3. Create 5 clues that will lead the other group to it, then post the first clue and category in the games discussion forum.
  4. The other group can ask 2 YES/NO questions each day, one or both of which may constitute a guess at the answer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dabbling in Google Earth

On my list of SuperNeatToolsToLearnNEXT is Google Earth--it is with chagrin that I admit that my experience is shallow with this amazing tool (for now). But I am changing that, and I want to point out a great resource that demonstrates how to use GE in the content area of Language Arts.

Google Lit Trips is a fun idea . . . interactive webquests with beefy features.

Here's a good .kmz file that I will show the teachers at my school in August: My Brother Sam is Dead.

Download the KMZ file, then open Google Earth and select File | Open and choose that downloaded file to open. I'd turn off many of the default layers and labels so that the data for My Brother Sam is Dead is nice and visible. Fun stuff.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Free Software for Mac

What software do you install on your Mac? Our school district just updated us to 10.5.3 and wiped away all my old toys so I'm reinstalling.

Here are some of the things I've already installed, but I'd love your ideas!

NicePlayer--When I double click on a .mov file, it automatically opens to full screen and begins playing. Very nice!

Perian--allows me to play the .flv files I capture from YouTube with the Download Helper Firefox extension. I could also convert them from .flv with Zamzar or media-convert.com, but I like being able to play them right out of the box.

CaptureMe--There's a built-in grabber tool that works just fine, but CaptureMe saves in jpg (vs. png), which is very valuable to me. There is also some video capturing capability, but I don't use that very much.

321 Timer--This is a widget I find useful in my classroom and when I do professional development. Handy!

There are others I use, too, of course, but I didn't want this post to be too long. I like Handbrake & ClipCreator, Array & Scratch (from MIT), Jing, FlickrUploader, and Skype. And others, but they don't rate as favorites!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Firefox Fav's

I have to have my laptop re-imaged, so just I backed everything up afresh . . . but then I realized that I'll have to reinstall all my Firefox Extensions.
So here's the list of what I'll be re-installing.
  • Better Gmail2
  • Tab Catalog
  • PicLens
  • Download StatusBar
  • Scrapbook
  • Trailfire
  • Google Notebook
  • GreaseMonkey
  • VideoDownloadHelper
  • Jajah
  • NewTabButtonOnTabBar
  • PDF Download
  • Skype Extension for Firefox
  • Tab Overflow Scrollbar

Saturday, April 26, 2008

FM in my classroom

I'd like to hear about the cool things you're doing in your classrooms, and I'm a little glowing with the success of what happened yesterday, so here it is:

I actually bought the stuff for this last fall, but I never had a compelling reason to use it until yesterday (Friday). First I'll tell you about the stuff I bought, then I'll tell about the situation that arose that made me want to put it into use, then I'll tell you the beautiful thing that happened in my classroom.

On second thought I'm going to do it backward so it better tells the story of the need driving to the tool---I'm too often guilty of finding out about a tool (envision a screwdriver) and then looking around my school for screws that need my tool.

The Beautiful Thing in My Classroom
Yesterday in my two study hall classes, nobody was bored. Nobody, not even the kids who have caught up their work and don't really care to sit and read (that's what they normally do), asked if I needed any help with anything. It was pretty much perfectly silent in my classroom, as half the kids worked on missing assignments and the other half . . . watched the screen at the front of the room with rapt attention.
Two questions: What were they watching, and why was it silent in the room?
They were watching podcasted sessions of TED Talks (more about that in a minute), and they were each wearing a mini FM radio and tuned in to my frequency.

The Situation That Arose
I had seen some TED sessions before, but I'd never followed through to go to the iTunes Store in iTunes, search TED, and subscribe to the free video podcast. Wednesday night at our Regional EdTech Event someone mentioned it again, so I took a moment and subscribed. Then on my commute I played a couple of episodes and was impressed anew at the ideas that are expressed there. I listened to the one on String Theory and a funny one about North Korea, and once again I said to myself . . . "I wish my middle schoolers could be hearing this stuff!"
Simultaneous with this wish to share the ideas with my student audience is the fact that many of my study hall kids don't need study hall as much as they thought they would, so battling boredom is a constant.

The Techie Tool
Last fall I bought a little FM transmitter from Crane. Actually I bought another less powerful one first that didn't work, but I like the Crane and was able to open it up and increase its broadcast power (I just followed someone else's instructions they'd posted online--it was easy enough). I also bought 30 little FM radios at the Dollar Store. Some of those didn't work, so I threw the radio part away and sold the headphones to kids for a buck. :)

My total cost is a bit over $100 plus batteries, and it's fully cool. I hooked up the Crane transmitter to my computer and projected the video on my screen. The room is silent, with 15 kids watching TED Talks and the other 10 busily finishing their math so they can watch, too.

I warned the kids not to waste my batteries listening to the radio, and then I decided to check up on them. They had just listened with rapt attention to Stephen Hawkings (okay, I admit to disrupting the silence by talking about Hawkings and the machine he was using to communicate), and I was ready to start them on the talk about North Korea. I leaned in close to my computer and whispered "Hi guys. I'm just checking to see if you're listening. If you can hear me, please put your thumb on your chin, okay?" Since I use a Mac, the software I used to pass my voice from input to output is called LineIn (sorry--I don't know what I'd use on the PC, but if you can help me with that I'd like to know). Everybody in the room with headphones responded by putting thumb to chin EXCEPT for Aaron, and I leaned in again and whispered "Aaron, are you listening to the radio or to the TED Talks?" Everybody looked at Aaron and grinned, and he suddenly grew embarrassed and said "What?!?" I said "Better give my headset back, bud."

Kids left study hall with their math homework done (which is good) and other kids left study hall with their brains stretched a little, which is maybe even better. I got to try my little invention and was very pleased with its success.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Podcast Hosting

An excerpt from a recent edtech group's email conversation in Oregon . . .

The Question:

How do the people/schools that have free podcasts on iTunes (ex: Radio Willow Web) get those there? Do you have to pay? Where are the podcasts hosted?
Just looking ahead.
Thanks! ~Alex

Someone Else's Answer:
nope no cost... you just make your mp3 file and upload to your web server.. then you write your .xml file with the proper code and upload it to your web server and then you code in your link to your xml file on the page where you want the link and renew that on your web server ... that is all there is to it... it's all hosted on your own server.. itunes really has nothing to do with it other than being the media that your target audience uses subscribe to the podcasts

My Answer:
If you have access to your webserver and can write an xml file to reference it, then you don't need www.gcast.com.
Since I don't . . . I do. :)

When I have my middle schoolers set up their podcast channels we use a free web service called GCAST. It's super easy, and did I mention it's free? Once we have the MP3 files, it's a couple of clicks to upload the files for hosting and all the podcasting code is automatically generated. [We can create the MP3 sound files using Audacity or Garage Band, or we can also use a video editing software like iMovie or Movie Maker and then scrape off the audio into an MP3.]

GCAST allows kids to click-subscribe to the feed with iTunes (which I have them do just because), but it can also generate a cute embeddable code snip that they put into their blogger blogs.
In case you didn't already want to go see gcast.com, here is the bonus feature: kids can generate podcasts with their cell phones (get permission first!!) and no computer at all. Once they've set up an account (need I say "free" again?) they can open their cell phone, call a number, and record their story. Then a couple minutes later it's on the net and iTunes can get the new episode, their blogs play the new episode, or it can be downloaded as an MP3.

Happy Podcasting!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cringley's Blog Touches Truth

I always like finding out what other people are reading (on blogs) and listening to (on podcasts). I figure I can be as savvy as they are if I read what they're reading!
One blog entry I read today was worthy of a reference here . . . are you already a reader of PBS's Robert X. Cringely? He rubs shoulders with the elite of the tech industry and is an entertaining writer; I like reading his weekly blog. But normally his blog doesn't really touch my world because it's normally about charting the future of where technology will go. This entry is where Cringely touches on EDUCATION!


Happy Reading!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Capturing Embedded Video (from YouTube, TeacherTube, etc)

There are two methods I use for getting playable files (.mov or .wmv) down from the internet.
The first is zamzar and it's pretty easy. Just plug in the URL where you saw the video you wanted, and in 20-30 minutes you get an email with download instructions. One drawback is that the file format choices are a little limited. Here are 2 quick pics of that process:

Zamzar #1:

Zamzar #2 (25 minutes later):

Video Download Helper
Then the other way to capture is to grab the .flv file using the VideoDownloadHelper Firefox extension. Once I have the .flv file on my computer, I use Media-Convert.com to make it into whatever format I want (including .wmv).

To Download:
The icon is the three multi-colored balls that begin to spin when there is downloadable content. A click on the balls and I'm ready to download the video.

That's all it took to get the .flv file down, but now I have to have it converted into something more useful. I'll upload it to media-convert:

Media-Convert #2:
I uploaded the file and it spent a couple of minutes processing, then showed a download window.

In both methods I have to rename the video once it's downloaded into something that makes sense to me. Using keywords from the online video would help others find it online.

Playing FLV Files
If you don't want to bother with converting .flv video files into more standard .mov or .wmv formats, then you can just make them play without conversion. To do this on the Mac, the best way is to go get PERIAN and install it (it's free) so that QuickTime codec can read FLV. On a PC, GOM PLAYER is a free video player that can play FLVs without conversion--I really like it for playing all my other video formats, too!

Happy hunting! Let me know if you find a more streamlined way to get videos, okay?

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Did You Know?

Here is the Karl Fisch Did You Know video --trimmed down to 5.5 minutes and hosted on TeacherTube.

Storing Student Work Online

I'm the guilty one. I assigned a big slideshow project and only checked out the computer lab for FOUR WEEKS. What I forgot to factor in was that my middle schoolers really don't know how to cite their sources, so that had to be taught, there were a bunch of assemblies, and students were absent at times. Point is, not everyone finished, and I had to return the laptops!

Now what?

Kids still have to turn in the project, and they want to work on it on school computers AND AT HOME. So they need an online storage option . . . preferably one that does not require a valid email address. If I had been expecting this problem, I would have had them build the slideshows within Google's Presentations; then no problem would have arisen. But I didn't and they didn't.

So here is an option for storing student work online: http://www.mediafire.com/

Students can login with an email address and password, but since it doesn't verify the email they can use whatever "email" they like as long as they remember it later.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Capturing YouTube Videos

Another way to download a youtube video onto your hard drive for use in school (in my school nothing hosted on youtube will play!).

First I went to Zamzar and told it I wanted to download a video. I told it I wanted it to be a .mov file and gave it my address. Then I went to the video I wanted and copied the URL from the address bar. I removed the word "watch" to make it in the same format as the zamzar example.

The whole process took less than a minute and I captured the process using JING*. Here's the JING video:


Several minutes later I received the email from Zamzar and clicked the link to download my .mov video.

Anyhow, I thought you'd be interested. Let me know if it works for you or not.

*JING is a freeware tool for Mac/Windows/Linux. It captures images and videos of your screen, and then can automatically upload them to screencast.com (a free video streaming site). So all I did, once I had set up my screencast account, was tell JING to film my firefox window, then share it. A minute later JING said "the URL for your recorded video is now copied to your clipboard" and I pasted it into the email above. It's pretty slick.