Shrewsbury EdTech

Tech resources for Shrewsbury Public School educators


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Traveling Tech Tools

All of our blog posts focus on ways of integrating technology in the middle school classroom. However, there are a lot of uses outside of the classroom as well. This blog post describes how I used utilized technology to make my trip to Iceland such a success.

Planning the Trip

My two friends and I (one of whom lives in London, England) used messaging on Facebook and a shared Google Doc to plan our trip. My brother’s friend went to Iceland last year and emailed him the itinerary she did. I copied this into the Google Doc and opened it up for feedback. We each did research independently, and I kept track of these sites by bookmarking them using Diigo, which is a social bookmarking tool. I knew I would be bringing my iPhone and iPad on the trip, so these resources could be accessed later on through the Diigo app. With these tools, we were able to come up with a rough idea of what to do each day, as well as book our rooms in a hostel in Reykjavik for the week. 
I purchased my flight through one of the many online dealers. I have not found one to always be better, but this time around, Priceline gave me the best price. The flight itself was through Delta. 
Here are two apps I downloaded ahead of time for my iPhone/iPad along with a description of each:
TripTracker (free)
Get real-time status for flights, real-time itinerary push alerts, live weather reports, route maps, hotel information and car rental information to make your travel a breeze.

Fly Delta (free)

I always download the official airline app. You can check in and get real-time status for your flights. I received a message from them telling me my flight had been delayed and the number of my new gate. 


During the Trip

When traveling overseas, you must be careful not to have “data roaming” enabled. I have read some scary stories of people being charged hundreds of dollars in roaming charges. Always turn “cellular data” off. To be safe, I turn on Airplane Mode. This still allows me to connect to WiFi, but nothing else. Last year on a trip to Italy, I contacted my service provider (AT&T) and purchased a one month international package that let me use cellular networks for roughly $30. The connection was spotty at best so I decided not to do it in Iceland.

Since I rarely was connected to the Internet while traveling, I ditched Google Drive for Evernote. While I could read my Google Docs, I could not edit them. I happen to be an Evernote Premium member, so I can download notebooks and edit them offline. As it turned out, Evernote was very helpful for two main reasons: 

1. I created a note for our budget. Since there were three of us taking turns paying for food, gas, excursions, lodging, etc., we had to make sure we all paid equal amounts. I used Evernote to take photos of receipts, plus noted the amount of every expense throughout our stay.

2. Since we could not access Google Maps as we drove (no WiFi), I looked up all of the places we planned to visit on Google Maps the day before while at the hostel. I then took screen shots of those maps and added them to our Evernote Notebook. If we got lost, we looked at the map and figured out where to go. 

eCurrency ($.99) was another very helpful app. As I mentioned before, the Icelandic currency is confusing. For example, a typical beer costs 1,000 Kronas, which is roughly equivalent to $8. This app lets you quickly and easily convert between any two currencies. The exchange rate is updated daily so you know it’s accurate.

After the Trip

Once my friends and I returned home, our first priority was to share photos with each other. Collectively, we took over 1,000 photos, but hey, Iceland is a beautiful country! We each used a slightly different approach to do this: 

Friend #1: Created a Dropbox folder containing his ~600 pictures and shared it with us. This worked very well until it maxed out the space allowance in my Dropbox account. I could not receive any more photos so my friend had to remove them and add the rest for us to download. 

Friend #2: Created a Google Drive folder containing his ~100 photos. This worked just like the Dropbox route but since I have more storage in Google Drive, I was able to get them all no problem. 

Myself: I put my ~300 photos into a folder on my computer. I then compressed that folder into a zip file. I placed this zip file into a Google Drive folder and shared it with my friends. 

Once I received all of the photos, I sorted through them and placed them into different folders. I used Photoshop to touch up some of the photos. If you do not have Photoshop, there are a lot of free options online such as Pixlr and Aviary

The last step is to back up my photos online and share them with friends. Many people choose to share all of their photos on Facebook. While I did post some photos on my Facebook Timeline, that is not where I would choose to host all of my pictures. For this purpose I choose to use Flickr. This is Yahoo’s photo sharing service and is used by many professional photographers. Not only is it just better than other photo sharing sites, but you can sign up for a FREE account and receive 1 terabyte (TB) of free space.

To put this in perspective…if you have a 5 MP camera, you can upload 700,000 pictures!! No other site comes close to giving you that much space for free. 


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iPad Work Flow: Pushing Files Out To Students

As Sherwood and Oak transform into true 1:1 iPad schools, one of the biggest obstacles continues to be “work flow”. Everyone wants to know the best way of making class handouts accessible to students so they can read and annotate them on an iPad. Some are also starting to collect student work, grade it, then pass it back again. We’ll cover how to do this last part in a future tech tip.

The good news is that there are numerous services that let you “push out” handouts and resources fairly easily to students. The bad news is that there is not a “one size fits all” answer. It really comes down to user preference. The best advice is to download a few of these and try them out. See which one you like…then go with it!

For those of you who attended one of the “iPad Work Flow” classes on Friday, Erica McMahon and I discussed the “big four” cloud storage companies: Evernote, Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive. The goal of the last three is all basically the same. They give you a place online to store materials where students can then access them. Evernote can do this as well, but it’s really quite different than the others. Erica created the slideshow below that gives a great overview of work flow and compares the four services. You can also download Erica’s original Keynote file here

Sharing files

Regardless of which cloud service you decide to use, you must pay attention to the sharing settings you use. There are always multiple sharing options that can be summarized by two main types: view and edit. When giving students access to your stuff, you want them to be able to view only! This means they can download files to view/annotate on the iPad. If you let them edit your stuff, they can then modify your documents or even worse, delete them. I will further explain sharing options for each service below.

You will usually be given a link to share with your students. When they click on this link, it will direct them to the files you want them to see. There are many different options of sharing this link with students. The link can be:

  • emailed (the district is working on class distribution lists)
  • posted on a website, blog, wiki, or social media site such as Facebook or Twitter
  • shortened using tinyurl or goo.gl then written on the board
  • linked to with a QR code

Which cloud service is the best?

Again, there is no clear winner in the cloud service game. They all allow you to store files online. They all allow you to share files or entire “folders” with your students. I will provide more information for each one, plus give you some more information and suggest resources for Dropbox, Google Drive, and Evernote. I do not personally use Box, nor do I know many others who use it, so I won’t get too detailed with that one. 

Dropbox


Overview:

When you install Dropbox on your computer, it puts a folder on your hard drive that acts just like any other folder on your computer. The only difference is that there are little green checkmarks next to each folder and file indicating that is has been synced. Once synced, these files can be accessed from any computer via the website or any smart phone if you have the app installed. 

Supported Platforms: 

  • Dropbox website
  • PC desktop client
  • Mac desktop client
  • iOS app (universal app for iPad and iPhone)
  • Android, Blackberry, and Kindle Fire apps

Free Storage

2 GB (but you can get more space by recommending friends, uploading photos, connecting your Facebook account, etc.) 

Max File Size: 

No limit!

Sharing: 

Folders and files can be shared in two ways. From the Dropbox website or within your Dropbox folder, you can “share the link”. This will give you a link that you can share with others to give them access to your stuff. All students can do is view and download your files. 
The other option is “invite to folder” or “share folder”. This means you want to share your stuff with another Dropbox user. This gives them full access to your stuff. They can change or even delete your files. If you’re sharing documents with other teachers on your team, this may make sense. For anything you share with your students, you will want to share the link.

Resources:

Dropbox blog
Dropbox help center — Sharing files and folders
Makeuseof: First Unofficial Guide to Dropbox

Box

Overview:

Box is similar to Dropbox, but not as good in my opinion. It does have some advantages over Dropbox including more free storage (5 GB compared to 2 GB) and Google Docs integration. However, it is missing one of the key components that makes Dropbox so easy to use. There is no desktop client for your computer (unless you upgrade to a paid version). In other words, it does not install a folder on your computer giving your “drag and drop” functionality. The free version also has a maximum file size of 100 MB whereas Dropbox has no file size limit. 

Google Drive

Overview:

Google Drive is the reincarnation of Google Docs. It is clearly modeled after Dropbox and offers all of the same benefits including the installation of a Google Drive folder on your computer. The folder on your computer syncs ALL of your files, even online Google docs, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations. You must still edit them on the website, but organization is much easier now that you can see where everything is located. As of this posting, the iPad app also lets you edit Google Documents (without tables) with real time collaboration, just like the online version. Google spreadsheet and presentation editing is rumored to be coming soon.

Supported Platforms: 

Free Storage

5 GB (Extra space is very cheap as well. You can purchase another 25 GB of space for $30/yr)

Max File Size: 

10 GB (which is larger than the amount of free space you get)

Sharing: 

Click to enlarge

Google makes sharing easy. You can share files and folders from the Google Drive website or from within the iPhone or iPad app. You cannot, however, share from your desktop at this time.

In the photo to the right, you can see that Google gives you three sharing options: public on the web, anyone with the link, or private. All three options will give you a link to share, but the link will not work if it is private unless it is shared with each student individually.

The most important thing is to make sure that they are only given access to view. Do not change this to “can edit”. This would allow them to edit and delete documents!

Click to enlarge

You can always take a look at the sharing settings for any given file or folder. In the screen shot to the left, you can see the sharing settings for the folder I share with my students. It is “Public on the Web – Anyone on the Internet can find and view.” It also gives you a few ways of sharing the link including Gmail, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.

I also shared this folder with students directly so they have easy access to it from within their own Google Drive accounts. I shaded out their email addresses, but you can see they can only view.

Evernote

Overview:

Evernote is a very versatile application that lets you “capture anything”. It is capable of doing many different things, but I will focus on just using it as a way of storing and sharing files. It does not use a folder structure like the other services. Instead, you create notes. You can then attach files or pictures to these notes. If you attended our Work Flow class, Erica explained how she uses Evernote. She likes being able to write directions in the note so students know what to do with the file. Different notes can be combined to make a “notebook”. These notebooks are Evernote’s version of folders. Evernote also makes use of “tags” to help stay organized.  The free account is usually plenty for most people. They do have a premium subscription for $45/year. They also offer a 50% education discount. All you need is 3+ teachers to sign up together!

Supported Platforms: 

Free Storage: 

Evernote handles storage differently than the others. Rather than a total size limit, you are allowed to upload 60 MB total each month. (1 GB for premium subscribers)

Max File Size: 

25 MB per note (50 MB for premium subscribers)

Sharing: 

It is possible to share entire notebooks or individual notes. You can either create a public link for anyone to access or you can share with other Evernote users. Just like with Google Drive, there are different permissions that allow others to view (which is what you want) or modify notes. The only drawback to sharing in Evernote is that the interface looks different, depending if you are using it on your laptop, the iPad app, the iPhone app, or the website.

Resources:

When choosing a cloud service, consider the other teachers you work with. If you teach on a team, it makes sense for you all to use the same thing. Not only will this make it easier for students, but this will promote sharing between teachers as well. 

My recommendations

  1. If you are looking for something very simple and easy to use, start with Dropbox or Google Drive. Both offer desktop syncing and easy sharing options. 
  2. If you are looking for a lot of advanced features, give Evernote a try. 
  3. If you use Google Docs with your students, Google Drive makes the most sense. All students have been assigned Google accounts already so the iPad app gives them quick access to your stuff. Once the iPad fully supports editing of Google Docs, this will also become a powerful creation tool. 

What I currently use

I actually use all three of these services in different ways:
Dropbox: I keep all of my own stuff in Dropbox. Most of it is private, and nothing in Dropbox is shared with my students. I have used a free service called DROPitTOme to collect student work less than 75 MB in size. It automatically gets sent to your Dropbox account. This has been helpful for large files such as PowerPoints. 
Google Drive: I use Google Drive for all of my school stuff. I have folders shared with teammates and folders shared with students and parents. I create most of my handouts in Microsoft Word. I save the original file in Dropbox, but I will also save a PDF version to Google Drive. I also use Google docs, spreadsheets, and presentations quite a bit. 
Evernote: I am currently using Evernote for the first time this year, though I am not using it to push files to students. Instead, it is being used as a private test run of student portfolios. I created a notebook for each student and am adding student notes as the year goes on, including parent emails, observations, pictures of student work, etc.