Technology Tips

CloudConvert - Convert Files Easily

The ability to convert files to different formats is always necessary because there are a lot of file types out there. I've written about Zamzar and Media Converter before but this one could take the proverbial cake for one big reason. CloudConvert is very easy to use and currently supports 181 different file formats. But the big reason that sets this apart from the competitors is that CloudConvert has an iOS app that works just as easily. Have a DocX that you need to send to someone as a PDF, let CloudConvert take care of it. The online version is free and the iOS version let's you convert 25 documents per day, then you have to pay. Here is some information from the horse's mouth:
  • CloudConvert supports the conversion between more than 100 different audio, video, document, ebook, archive, image, spreadsheet and presentation formats. Check the supported formats for more details.
  • There is no need to install any software on your computer! Upload your files to CloudConvert and we will do the job for you. Don't worry, your files are safe and only you can access them. They will be deleted again as soon as your conversion is finished.


Is it too loud? Part 2

Awhile back I wrote about an app called Too Loud? that allows you to measure the noise volume in your classroom so students can see visually if they are being too loud (or too quiet? Does that ever happen?) Today I found a cool website called that does the same thing but in a more visually stimulating way. You have to see if to understand it but basically you get either bouncy balls, emojis, bubbles, or eyeballs that fill up your screen and bounce up and down based on the noise volume in your classroom. It's one of those things I know elementary kids will love and middle to high school kids will appreciate too because it will bring out their inner child. Give it a bounce!

It doesn't seem to work on the iPad but it does use the accelerometer and make the bouncy balls roll all over the place.


ShareDrop - Easy File Transfer

If you have a newer Mac you have probably seen, and maybe used AirDrop, which allows you to send files between computers on the same network. But if you have an older Mac you're left out. That's where a service like ShareDrop comes in, in fact it even looks like AirDrop. This would be great for students to turn in digital work who don't have an email address.

I'll let them do the talking about their product:

What is it?

ShareDrop is a free app that allows you to easily and securely share files directly between devices in the same local network, without having to upload them to any server first.

How to use it?

To send a file to another device, open this page on both devices. Drag and drop the file directly on other user's avatar or click the avatar and select the file you want to send. The file transfer will start once the recipient accepts the file.



Update: I found a bunch more of these simple web page services like Page O Rama, Populr, and Dropr.

I use Moodle a lot in my classroom to deliver digital content. The web pages are fairly static but every once in while there's a need for something flashier. One service, called Tackkboard, allows you to make quick, free single-page web pages with no software, downloads or even sign-up required. It is super easy and would be a great way for students to share information or keep a digital portfolio. Here is the blurb from them:

Tackk allows anyone, to create anything, and share it anywhere. There is no software to download, no login required, nothing to join + no special design or development skills needed. In fact, those who have used Tackk, literally call it "ridiculously simple." And we agree.

Simply visit the Tackk home page and start typing. Tackk about that bike you have for sale. Tackk about your engagement or your new baby. Tackk about your band's upcoming gig. Tackk about your vacation. You can Tackk about anything.


Remind101 Update

Remind101 is a great service I've blogged about before that allows you to send one-way text messages to students and parents. It's free and has other abilities like scheduling a reminder to be sent in the future, which is neat. They added an update today that allows you send pictures (and they claim presentations and assignments, but they only show photos) right to your groups smartphones.



One great extension activity that I've often done with kids to have them create their own Jeopardy game. The reason it's so great is that not only are they accessing the knowledge of what you've taught or read in a meaningful way, but they get to share their game with their peers, which is usually a great audience. In the past it was always the coolest thing to make a Power Point that did all of the transitions for you but that's not cool anymore since the Internet is what all the kids these days are clamoring for. Jeopardylabs is a great site that allows you to create, edit, and play a game online.

Today I came across a Google Sheet that does the same thing with a 5 and 6-category template that you can share with your students. They make a copy of the original and then start plugging in their questions and answers. It's the new, old school.



While visiting the ClassDojo website I noticed an advertisement for BoomWriter, which is a site that hosts student writing competitions to write a collaborative book. Basically, they are given the first chapter of a book which can be written by a teacher or someone else. They they all write the second chapter and then vote on what they think is the best chapter and that one gets promoted to the second chapter in the book. Then they do the third chapter, and so on, until the teacher calls the competition over or the book is done. Then the class can buy a copy of the published book. Pretty sweet!

Here is the information from their website on how it works.

It begins with a story start.

A story start is the first chapter of the book. The rest of the story is up to you.

The story start could be written by a professional writer, a teacher, you or your classmates, or maybe even a celebrity!

You write your version of Chapter 2.

Take the story where you like. The only limits are your imagination and a word count.

At the same time, other BoomWriters will be writing their own version of what happens next.

Submit your entry.

When you're done (and before the deadline), you submit your entry for review.

If it's accepted, you'll get points and BoomDollars. You'll use BoomDollars to purchase accessories for your Boomer avatar.

Vote, Vote, Vote!

You and the other BoomWriters vote on the entry you think is the best.

Of course you can't vote for you own entry, and you won't know whose entry it is you're voting for.

You may be able to vote more than once, which is good, as voting also earns you points and BoomDollars.

Did you win?

If so, then your entry becomes the official Chapter 2 of the book. If not, don't worry because there will be many more chances for you to win.

Read, write and then vote!

The competitions continue until the book is finished. Then, *Boom!* you're a published author!

A real book

The end result? A real book that you, your friends, family, and the whole world can buy. Imagine that, a book with your name in it that you helped write.


Class Dojo Updates

I love apps that are specifically built for teachers and education because many of them "get it" and know what teachers need. ClassDojo is one of those apps. It allows teachers to track students good and bad behavior and then run reports to see who is doing what well or not so well. I won't go into a lot of detail about it but trust me, it's a great service and it's available as an iOS app. The reason I'm writing is to share their update that just came out today that allows teachers to direct or bulk message parents with behavior and general announcements. This is very similar to other opt-in services like Remind101.

Plus, the kids get to choose cute little monsters as their avatars.


Beware Google Docs Phishing Scam

Please be aware of this Google Docs phishing scam where scammers try to get you to login to a Google Docs site with a URL and enter your login and password. If it seems fishy it's probably phishy. The article with the warning is below but basically be on the lookout for:

1. Websites that don't recognize you when you go to login. You've been using Google Drive long enough for your browser to recognize you and put in your username or in the very least not ask you to enter all of your credentials.
2. Emails that have a subject titled 'Documents' or something else suspicious.
3. Emails that ask you to click on a link or are not from someone that you recognize.

Symantec is warning users of a phishing scam that takes advantage of Google Docs that is worming its way around the web. And, since it uses a URL, and even uses Google’s SSL encryption, its could fool even wary users.

Fake login left - Real login rightFake login on the left – Real login on the right. Click to view larger…

However, as Gizmodo points out, just playing it safe, and using some common sense will help you avoid problems.

The scam arrives in your inbox with the subject line “Documents,” and points to a Google Docs link. It shows up in your browser’s address bar as a domain, and it takes you to a fake login page that looks like a genuine Google login page. If you enter your Google login credentials here, the phishers have you.

“The fake page is actually hosted on Google’s servers and is served over SSL, making the page even more convincing,” explains Symantec security expert Nick Johnston. “The scammers have simply created a folder inside a Google Drive account, marked it as public, uploaded a file there, and then used Google Drive’s preview feature to get a publicly accessible URL to include in their messages.”

Following your login via the fake page, you’re taken to an actual Google Doc, and your login info is sent to a PHP script on a compromised server.

To avoid becoming a victim of this sly scheme, just be wary and use common sense. First, be careful clicking links in emails. Yeah, we all do it, especially if we think we know the links are genuine, but be careful. Also, if you receive an email from someone you don’t know, and the subject line is something like “Documents,” well, that’s suspicious in itself.

Also, if you are taken to what is supposed to be a Google login screen, and you are a Google user, and it doesn’t recognize you as such, AND you have to login with all your credentials, be VERY wary.


Coding for Kids

One of my favorite memories having to do with computers when I was a kid was learning how to write code and having a machine do something that I had programmed it to do. I remember spending hours copying code from magazines or writing code in basic, creating Choose Your Own Adventure books or simple games. When I got to junior high we got to program the computers to make our names scroll down the screen and do simple math problems. It was awesome.

Nowadays students should learn basic programming skills not necessarily to become coders and gamers, although that's a noble pursuit given where our world is headed, but simply to have a better technological understanding of what's behind all of the gadgets they use everyday. There are a handful of great apps and websites designed to introduce kids to coding that I've described below. There are many out there but these are the ones I've had my kids test-drive:


Random Group Generator

Today I had the need to break kids into groups to play Jeopardy and I wanted a way to do it randomly so one group didn't become stronger than the other based on student's choice, or lack thereof. I found a great website called that has a whole bunch of teacher tools, one of them being Random Group Creator. You simply enter the group size, cut and paste the student names, and hit 'Submit'. It spits out the groups lickety split. Pretty nice. The other tools include a Random Student Selector, Random Pair/Group Generator, Sorter, Word Scramble Creator, and others. It might have something you could use so check it out.


Make Your Own Flappy Bird keeps on giving with their latest installment which allows you to create your own Flappy Birds game. Students learn the basics of coding language by moving blocks into the game creation area and then run their program to see the results. It works on an iOS device too! There's short video (1:33) that introduces the program and then you launch right into creating your game. At the end you can even share it by copying the provided URL. Check out my game that I created in about twenty seconds. Flappy Bird may not be available in the App Store anymore but it surely lives on with


Bookry iBooks Add-ons

File this one under "I never even thought that was possible, and it's awesome."Bookry is a service service that allows you to easily create iBooks add-ons that when opened in iBooks add a whole new layer of interactivity and entertainment for readers. Here is the blurb/snippet from their site:

Create your own customized HTML 5 widgets using our simple online generator then drag and drop into iBooks Author. Bookry widgets let you engage, challenge, entertain and interact with your readers like never before. Readers can play games, solve puzzles, draw pictures and save any data they enter into your widgets to the cloud. They can also share their data with others by email, Twitter, Facebook and Evernote.


Alphabet Organizer

I love the Read, Write, Think website and companion apps. The site is a great resource and I use the apps (Timeline, Venn Diagram, and Acrostic Poem) in my classroom a lot to respond to reading. There is another resource they have called Alphabet Organizer that allows you to take each letter of the alphabet, write a word and corresponding sentence, and add a picture. Here's the details from their website:

Engage students and build phonemic awareness by using Alphabet Organizer in the classroom. Students create an alphabet book or alphabet chart with words for each letter of the alphabet. Or choose just one word per letter and upload an image to help early readers make a visual connection between the word and the beginning letter.

Alphabet Organizer features our worksaver so that students can save a draft of their unfinished work or share their final work via e-mail.

Lesson plans on ReadWriteThink illustrate various examples of how the tool can be used in the classroom; for ideas of how to use it outside the classroom, see Alphabet Organizer in the Parent & Afterschool Resourcessection.

Limited access to computers? Print a blank alphabet chart or blank alphabet letter pages.


Hemingway Helps you Write

The Hemingway site is a website that helps you see patterns in your writing and offers suggestions to improve it. All you do is cut and paste your writing into the site and press Edit and it will offer grammar suggestions, highlight common errors, show complex sentences, and help you get rid of adverbs and use forceful verbs instead. This site is probably suited best for secondary kids.


Another (Easy) Classroom Timer

I like using timers to hold students' feet to the fire a bit and give them some motivation so I'm always looking for good ones. I can tell I like them because I've written about them here, here, and here. Today I read about what could be the easiest and most simple timer yet brought to you by our friends at Google. Simply open up a Google search (or use the search/address bar at the top of your browser) and type in "set timer 2 mins", or whatever time you want. The timer will automatically start and give you the option to mute the alarm, make it full screen, stop or reset it. Easy, quick, simple. Thanks Google code dudes.


Where to Find Good, Free Apps

Every once in a while someone will ask about places to find good apps, especially free ones. In this post I'll discuss and list some great options for websites as well as apps that let you know of apps that are free but more importantly to me apps that usually cost money that are free for a limited time. I like those because they're usually of higher quality, don't have ads or in-app purchases, or are the HD or Pro versions of an app.

Why does an app developer make an app go free for a while (usually a day)? Most likely it's to generate buzz around the app so people will download it and then tell their friends or post it to social media. Other times the app is seasonal or out of date, like a Decorate the Christmas Tree app. Or perhaps they just want you to download the app and look at the ads. Regardless of why, they are out there for the pickin'.

So let's begin with apps that talk about apps. The ones I currently have on my iOS devices that tell me when apps have gone free are:
  • Appsgonefree - my personal favorite because it usually has very high-quality apps and a great user interface (UI)
  • Free App Finder - a new one that I also like because it lists a lot of apps by category which you can then filter to find just what you want or need
  • appoLearning - an app that claims to have the best iPad apps handpicked by teachers. I appreciate that it's broken down by grade-level and Community Picks
  • appsfire - this app has been discontinued but it still works (somehow). The company apparently wasn't making any money with a free app about free apps (ironically) so they changed their business model to advertising. But, the app is in our WSD Filewave portal and can be pushed to WSD devices by filling out this form. You can also go to this page and get free apps emailed to you.
  • Hot App Finder - also does a great job of categorizing. This one lists free and paid trending apps. I haven't used it a ton but it looks resourceful.
The other avenue for free apps is the Internet. There are a few websites I look at every so often as well as search engines and social media sites that do the same thing. Here is my list:
  • FreeTech4Teachers - This is by far my favorite blog to read because the things he chooses to write about most often have a direct impact on what I can do in the classroom. He reviews apps, websites, and a ton more Internet stuff. Very worthwhile to read his blog and follow him on Facebook.
  • SmartAppsforKids - another one of my favorites. I love this site not because of the website but because of the daily email I get that has lists of a lot of hand-picked, free "today only" apps, many of which are for education. The site owner has kids so she's always testing the apps out on her kids, which I do too, and gives good, honest reviews about the apps. What I suggest you do is go to the site and sign-up for her newsletter on the right side. The apps tend to be preschool to elementary focused but there are enough for secondary kids that it's worth it to subscribe.
  • Twitter - This is the newest place I've started to look for free apps and it's probably going to turn into my "go to" place for the future. If you go to Twitter and do a hashtag search for something like "#iosedapp" you'll find lots of Twitterers who post with that tag about free apps. Or search for any combination of words that you think will find you free apps (#iosedapp, #freeiosapps, #freeedapps), If you haven't used Twitter before I highly recommend you get familiar with what it does. It's the future of search and it's here now.
  • iPadApps4School - another great site that has not only free apps for education, but gives reviews for all types of educational apps. This is a companion to FreeTech4Teachers but it's not updated as often.
  • AppShopper - does free and paid apps in one big list. My favorite feature is that it's easy to see which are the free ones and they give a healthy description of each so you know whether it's worth investigating.
  • iOSnoops - the worst-named app, but one of the best for finding free apps. It let's you filter between iPhone, iPad, or both and gives little descriptions to help you decide if the app is right for you.


Great Online Timer

I use timers quite often to keep my kids on task and to give them a deadline. They also keep me on task. There are a handful of good ones out there including, which has been my favorite for a long time because it's so simple. There's few others I've also used with good results but I also like Teachit Timer that I came across today. It has a few neat features like the ability to have a clock and countdown timer on the same screen, or count up and down timers together. You can also customize the sound it plays when it finishes. The clock is ticking...dial it in!


RWT Timeline

I wrote awhile back about the Chronozoom tool from Microsoft which allows you to make sweet timelines online. Today I read about the free RWT Timeline iOS app from Read Write Think and was excited about the prospects for Language Arts and Social Studies. It's a great app for Social Studies for obvious reasons but also great for Language Arts for learning about Story Elements and sequence of events.

The free app allows you to create your own profile and then a timeline. You give it a name, tap on the line, enter your text, choose a picture, and BAM it shows up. From there you can continue to add events, move them around, and finally hit Finish. One cool feature is you can also email the timeline as a PDF. The other neat thing about RWT Timeline is that you don't need to put dates on the timeline, which makes it great for sequencing. It's about time!

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Box has upped the ante once again and is offering 50Gb of free storage. I just wrote about offering 15Gb and this blows that to shreds. Sign up in the next 30 days. When I signed up it originally said I only had 10Gb but immediately I got an email saying I had been upgraded to 50Gb. Sweetness!