Moving to a new server

School has been busy.

Setting up a website is easy… and yet hard at the same time. Sure, there are lots of teachers who like Google Sites, but personally, I just can’t get over some clunky experiences that I’ve had with them.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Google, and I’m a big fan of Google Docs in the classroom. Our students are used to Google Docs, so having Google Sites within that classroom management system works.

Plus, Google has come out with “new” google sites as opposed to “classic” google sites. There are some differences listed here, but I’m still not sold.

(Back in the day, you couldn’t have students leave comments on your class google site, without them being an “editor” and having the ability to edit the webpage itself. No thanks.)

So, I use WordPress.

I like how you can customize and run your own code if you rent out server space. Over the years, I’ve been through a few different companies.

For the past few years, I’ve been with SiteGround. Some nice features, but when I tried to have 25 students log into our class website (using buddypress), the website just crawled.

Now, I’m trying WPEngine. That’s significantly more cash for a class website, but on the other hand, it seems to work better with a class set of students logging in at the same time.

Today, I migrated this classroom technology site over to WPEngine. We’ll see how things go.

Why I bought a touchscreen computer for my teacher computer in the classroom

So I recently got a new computer to help me be a better teacher.

(At least, that’s what I tell myself. It might have something to do with having new technology toys to play with, but isn’t that what classroom technology is all about?)

I am the proud new owner of a Dell Inspirion 17 7000 series laptop. It’s a touchscreen 2 in 1 tablet from Dell.

I like it a lot. It’s blazing fast, I’m running Windows 10, and I can click here and there on the screen with ease.

I went for the touchscreen because one of my students brought their touchscreen computer from home to use in the classroom.

The touchscreen is pretty good…

  • Newer apps, like Microsoft Word 2016 will change the layout of their screen depending on whether you’re using a mouse or touch. (Touch mode provides more space between commands to optimize for use with touch.) Save 16% off Office 365 with a yearly subscription
  • The touchscreen on my laptop isn’t good enough to draw with pen or use in graphic programs like Adobe Photoshop (Free Trial) so I’ll have to think about that for next time.
  • Some web applications are better than others at recognizing touch. Right now I’m exploring different online planning tools for the classroom. Kanban tool lets you click and drag the cards around with your finger on the touchscreen, but Trello does not.
  • Touch is awesome. The coolest thing I’ve discovered is that you can swipe on Windows 10 with their mail app to quickly get through the emails. It’s like swiping on your phone – makes a little bit easier to archive and get to the daily grind. Maybe this year I won’t have 6000 unread messages by the end of June.

The Dell Inspirion 17 isn’t all fun and games.

  • I brought it into the classroom today and noticed that my new computer does not she have an old-school VGA port. Food for thought: if your school projector is old-school with no HDMI, might be something to think about before you invest in new hardware.
  • I went for the 17 inch big-screen because I like the screen real estate. I thought the weight wouldn’t matter but this laptop really is a brick.
  • Some teachers might miss having a DVD or CD drive to play movies in the classroom.

So why did I choose to invest in a touchscreen computer for my classroom? Because I want to improve marking efficiency.

My dream is to be able to talk and give student feedback directly into Google classroom and then just touch different parts of the screen instead of having to hunt around with my mouse.

Google classroom is getting better and better. I use it a lot last year and will continue to use it this year.

(Especially because apparently they listen to user feedback. My students and I gave feedback to Google directly from the app. I suggested that students needed a way to be able to sort or change the order of classes on the front screen and recently when Google rolled out this feature, they sent me an email saying hey just wanted to give you a heads up that we took your feedback and make some changes.)

The only thing I wish Google classroom had was an integrated marked book. Right now I’m checking out this Google Classroom gradebook add-on and it looks pretty cool for a paid add-on but the fact that it can import all of your marks from Google classroom and make pretty spreadsheets and pretty reports that you can send the parents that’s a huge time saver. Especially because it looks like you can email parents directly. Automated wow.

We’ll have to see how this touchscreen works, but hopefully it’s an improvement to getting descriptive feedback to students with informative comments about what they did well, what they need to improve on, and explicitly how to get there.

This post was written using Nuance Dragon Professional Individual 15 and Microsoft Office 365. There are 646 words in this first draft. Dragon NaturallySpeaking made 12 word errors which you can see below. The voice recognition software got 98.1% of the words correct.

How good is New Dragon Professional Individual voice software?

My favourite voice recognition error in this blog post was where I said “improve marking efficiency” and Dragon software heard “improve marketing efficiency” – I guess sometimes we do need to sell our lessons better to our students…

But overall, getting 98% of the words in this document correct is pretty impressive. Here are the 12 dictation errors that Dragon made:

I said Dragon Professional Individual heard
Classroom technology is all about classroom technologies all about?
2 in 1 tablet two and one tablet


something to think about Something I think about
draw with pen draw with 10
The Dell Inspirion 17 The Dell in Sperry on 17


is an Isn’t
And will continue no continue
Automated wow. Automated while.
 improve marking efficiency  improve marketing efficiency

Google Earth will change the way you teach in your classroom (in 2-3 years…)

Last week, Google (Alphabet) announced to the world that users will be able to post their own stories, photos and experiences on Google Earth.

Kind of like turning Google Earth into a social network – users can post private or public stories about their world for others to see.

(And, all without advertising revenue. Google Earth Director Rebecca Moore told Reuters, “Google Earth is our gift to the world… and not everything Google does has to make money.”)

It sounds like this will be an extension of the Google Earth Voyager tool which currently lets students visit interactive sites and map-based stories.

Right now, Google Earth voyager story guides are written by Google Earth partners. They tell stories written or curated by professionals about a variety of topics, including…


Your students can view current content about the world, all from their web browser. (Well, ok. Google Earth doesn’t have satellite photos of Quebec city in 1608, but you can use streetview to explore modern day Quebec right now.)

What is Google Earth becoming in the next 2-3 years?

It sounds like Google Earth is becoming more like a social network, where regular, average, typical people around the world can add posts, stories, videos, photos into the Google Earth framework.

Rebecca Moore, Google Earth’s Director told the crowd in Brazil at the “I am Amazon” launch that soon people could post “the story of your family history, the story of your favorite hiking trip – it could be anything. It doesn’t have to be profound.”

The difference will be that average Joes will be able to post stuff – unedited, uncurated stuff.

And this becomes an incredible teaching resource to bring into the classroom.

How is this Earth shattering educational technology?

Well, let’s be honest. Lots of teachers base their program around a textbook… That the school bought a few years ago… Which was already in print for a few years before that… With content that was researched just slightly before…

So the idea that you can have a living textbook in the form of Google Earth, with content from everyday people sharing snippets of their life… It’s wikipedia meets global satellite photography on an epic scale. 

Textbooks can be great tools. They’re safe, comfortable and easy for teachers to use from one year to the next.

(They’re also familiar for parents and students: read this chapter, answer those questions, use the glossary, and google the answers online when you’re stuck.)

But textbooks also have the danger of providing outdated information, as well as perspectives of the authors.

Hans and Ola Rosling make the argument in their TED Talk about “how not to be ignorant about the world.”

“Teachers tend to teach outdated worldviews, because they learned something when they went to school, and now they describe this world to the students without any bad intentions, and those books, of course, that are printed are outdated in a world that changes. And there is really no practice to keep the teaching material up to date.”

So, imagine a world where we start the conversation with printed textbooks to learn about global warming, fair trade farming, or developed / developing economies…

And then use Google Earth as a tool to find real-life case studies about the world today.

Doesn’t this classroom technology already exist?

A little. Google Earth and Google Maps are already great teaching tools.

  • You can see geo tagged photos on google maps to see what websites and users have posted around the area.
  • Students can zoom in and see relatively current satellite images about places they are studying.
  • You can use Streetview to zoom in and walk along where the Google Streetview camera has driven or trekked. (Heck, people can even upload their own 360 degree streeview images.)

We don’t need to rely on textbooks for our view of the world.

Right now Google Earth Voyager allows students to look at prepared curated content. Students doing a novel study on Harry Potter, could use Google Earth as a virtual textbook to study the Harry Potter world in Britain

How will this change the classroom in 2-3 years?

Students will be able to find Google Earth Voyager content and stories made and produced by everyday citizens.

Even better, in 2-3 years, students will be able to create and publish their own content on Google Earth just like that.

And that will be a game changer.

The one keyboard shortcut your students should really know.

Ok, let’s be honest. That title was a little click-baity.

But, really. Students who know their way around a keyboard and a computer are definitely at an advantage.

As a literacy teacher, I tell my students, if it takes you twice as long to read a page, then it’ll take you twice as long to do your homework. And, that’s assuming you’re reading at grade level.

Well, in our digital world, if it takes you a really long time to move around Google Docs, then it’s going to take you a really long time to get your work done.

So, here are a few keyboard shortcuts that work in most programs. Chances are, one of them, your students didn’t know.

1. Cut, Copy, Paste

I see so many students highlighting some text, and then right clicking (or going to the edit menu) to copy and paste text.

It’s easier if you can remember:

  • CTRL C (“C like copy”) to copy text
  • CTRL V (“the ‘v’ is right beside the ‘c’) to paste the text.
  • CTRL X (“to cut it out like scissors) if you want to get fancy.

2. Bold, Italic, Underline

Same thing. Hands up if you see students highlighting a word, and then clicking the icons at the top of the screen to bold, italicize, or underline a word.

Keyboard shortcuts are faster. Highlight the stuff and then…

  • CTRL+B (“B for bold”)
  • CTRL+I (“I for italics”)
  • CTRL+U (“U for underline”)

That makes sense.

3. Undo, Redo

This one I find a little sneakier. The computer kids tend to pick this one pretty quickly.

Ever make a mistake? Most students don’t realize there’s an “undo” button at the top of Google Docs (or many programs).

There’s even the “redo” button beside it, in case you want to “undo” your “undo” and redo it. Ahh, you know what I mean.

You can also undo / redo steps by going to the edit menu:

But, stop reaching for that moust – a quicker way is to use the keyboard shortcut:

  • CTRL+Z is to undo the last thing you just did.
  • CTRL+Y (because it’s right beside the “z”) – is to repeat the last step you just did.

This is useful because CTRL+Y “redo” lets you repeat whatever you just did, over and over again. Lets say you just made a word the perfect shade of purple. Now, you can select another word, and then CTRL+Y to get that exact colour.

I find this useful in Google Sheets – I might change a cell to a certain colour, and then I can CTRL+Y to repeat that custom command.

4. Switch between tabs / windows

This is a good trick if you have multiple web browsers or tabs open.

Sometimes, when I’m teaching from my laptop and I’m projecting on the big screen, I want to switch quickly between two different webpages.

  • ALT+TAB switches to the last window you just had open. (And then you can ALT+TAB back to your current window.) When I’m doing report cards, I switch from a chrome browser open with a Google Doc of all of my comments… and then I ALT+TAB to a browser where I enter my report card comments.

  • CTRL+TAB switches between the open tabs in a web browser. I don’t really like this one as much because it’s harder to switch back and forth between two specific web pages. CTRL+TAB keeps going to the next tab on the right. If you want to go to the next tab on the left you need to hit CTRL+SHIFT+TAB which just gets awkward for me.)

5. History (Find a webpage that you viewed earlier today)

Sometimes, my students are doing some research, and then they find a cool source, but close the page or move on.

Then, they can’t find the page they were on and start to get frustrated.

No problem. You can view a list of all of the websites you’ve viewed today with one short cut. Just hit:

  • CTRL+H (“H for history”) and you can see all of the websites you’ve been today (and yesterday, and the day before, and…)

I suppose this can spark a larger conversation about privacy, how to clear your web browsing history, how this doesn’t mean you’re truly invisible and most importantly, how if you’re logged into your school (or work) email on your home web browser, then chances are, all of those web pages from home will show up at your school search history.

But, that’s a conversation for another post. This one is about keyboard shortcuts.

6. Select the entire word, paragraph, or everything in the document

We have chromebooks at school, but no mice. Some students are better than others at using a trackpad.

Every day, I see students painfully trying to select an entire page, or paragraph using the trackpad. Sometimes, a keyboard is much quicker:

  • Click once to move your mouse to a word.
  • Double click (click twice quickly) to select a word.
  • Triple click (click three times in a row quickly) to select the entire paragraph.

The triple click is key. Sometimes, students are trying to select the entire file name of a document. Just triple click and get the entire title.

The “triple click” was the one keyboard shortcut that I find myself using with students a lot lately. But here are a few other good ones.

  • Click once to move your mouse to a word.
  • Hold down the SHIFT key and use the cursor keys (→ ← ↑ ↓ ) to highlight lines as you move up and down the document
  • Hold down the SHIFT key and hit PAGE UP and PAGE DOWN to select multiple pages.

All of the precision you want to highlight and select text, with none of the mouse headaches.

And, of course, if you want to select the entire page:

  • CTRL+A (“A for all”) to highlight the entire document.

What keyboard shortcut do you find students need to know, but don’t know?

Think we missed something? Leave a comment below.

March Break and Getting Unstuck

Sometimes, it’s hard to get unstuck.

My buddy suggested getting out of the house. Hang out in a coffee shop and work away on the free wifi. So, here we are – double double in hand, and marking bins left at home.

Here are 10 things that I want to think about over the next little bit:

  1. Google Classroom and why I love it (mostly.)
  2. Google Maps as a research tool
  3. Trello as a way to organize life
  4. How to explicitly teach planning to students
  5. Voice dictation into Google Docs
  6. Keyboard shortcuts that make life better for students
  7. Free typing programs. Where are they hiding.
  8. Google Chromebooks, and why I still love them in the classroom.
  9. Bloom’s Taxonomy and digital literacy
  10. Three things I wish Google Slideshow could do (that Powerpoint does better.)

There we go. That’s my future vision of where I want to be. I will be “unstuck” when I’ve written about these 10 ideas. Go team.

You can do better than a 10% discount for Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 premium.

If you’re going to buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 premium, don’t pay full price.

Sometimes, when you’re on the Nuance website, just as you’re about to leave, they will offer you a discount.

When I bought the voice recognition software, it offered me a 20% discount which I took right away. (Darn.)

20 percent discount

 Yesterday, I was peeking around the site and just as I was about to leave, it offered me a 10% discount.

2015-06-05 21_49_57-Nuance Americas Online Store - Shopping Cart

The long and the short of it is that discounts vary and you should look around. If you use this promo code link, you’ll get 25% off the regular price for Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 premium.

In other words, instead of spending $199.99, it will only cost $149.99. You save 50 bucks.

2015-06-05 21_59_08-Nuance Americas Online Store - Shopping Cart


Windows 10 is coming and I just reserved my free upgrade.

2015-06-05 21_10_31-Get Windows 10Right now, I’m using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 with Windows 8.1 Pro.

But, in a few months, on July 29, 2015 to be exact, my computer will apparently auto magically download and upgrade to the newest version of Windows.

And, I like that it’s free.

I wasn’t expecting to upgrade to Windows 10. There was a little innocent button at the bottom of my screen inviting me to get Windows 10. A few clicks later, and I’m on the waiting list.

2015-06-05 21_12_18-get windows 10 icon

And then I had to figure out what was new about Windows 10.

I watched their lovely promo video, but nothing really jumps out at me. Apparently I can do familiar things, unexpected things, and even great things. We’ll see.

Windows 10 will have voice recognition.

I’m a little bit interested because it looks like you can dictate text using speech recognition in Windows 10. I’m not sure how accurate it will be compared to Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 – we’ll have to wait to find out.

I watched a quick preview of Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant. (It kind of looks like Siri, on a Windows PC.) It was an early build at Microsoft’s preview event, so I’m sure it will improve.

The reporter was in a crowded room speaking to a laptop microphone which didn’t understand all of his instructions. (I’ve seen Dragon NaturallySpeaking work in a demonstration in a loud crowded exhibit hall with impressive accuracy. Mind you, the demonstrator was talking into a USB microphone headset and not the laptop microphone like in the Windows demo.)

Personally, I don’t use voice recognition to control my laptop. (If you have a physical disability, or carpal tunnel syndrome, then using voice recognition to control your computer might be essential.)

I dictate into Microsoft Word and I use my mouse to click on things, but I could see how voice-recognition could speed up the process. After all, we speak into Siri and our phones with simple commands. Maybe that’s the next step for PCs and desktop computers.

How will Windows 10 voice recognition compare against Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13?

Time will tell.