Looking for more classroom computers? Turn old laptops and desktops into Chromiumbooks (open source Google Chromebooks) Part 1

Where did July go? Future Shop is already running back-to-school specials and we’re not even into August yet.

Sometimes the biggest challenge with integrating technology into the classroom isn’t a lack of interest, desire, or know-how, it’s a lack of resources. And the problem with resources is that they cost money.

One of my side projects this summer is seeing if I can turn some old computers into viable working classroom learning tools using Chromium OS. If you’re like me and you play around with technology, chances are, you have a few old laptops or desktops gathering dust in your basement.

Sure, those clunkers running on Windows XP might still work, but after you install the most recent service pack and update all the software, sometimes those machines run very slowly indeed.

And, as classroom teachers know, there’s nothing more irritating than a slow machine grinding down the pace of learning (unless it’s the sound of 30 students complaining about how slow their computer is.)

What are Google Chromebooks, why would you want one in your classroom, and what’s the difference between Chrome OS (the operating system in an official Google Chromebook) and Chromium OS (the free operating system you can download and install on your old laptops and desktops)? Continue reading “Looking for more classroom computers? Turn old laptops and desktops into Chromiumbooks (open source Google Chromebooks) Part 1”

Summer Planning… Oh, and Save $10 on iTunes $50 gift card

Ah, summer vacation. I love having some time to play with new technology and think about new possibilities for the classroom next year.

Lately, I’ve been working behind the scenes on my student blogging network and online literature circles. I’m hoping to open that up to more teachers next year, as well as offer social networking for the classroom. (You can see my sandbox here where I’m playing around with setting up a classroom technology forum and tweaking some code.)

I’ve also been dictating a lot with Dragon Naturally Speaking. I don’t use it very much for the classroom, but I pretty much write every blog post using Dragon Naturally Speaking premium and (now) Microsoft Word. (If you’re thinking about getting Dragon Naturally Speaking, you might want to check out the difference between the cheaper home edition vs the Dragon Naturally Speaking premium edition. Teachers can also save by buying the educational version.)

Google updated its search engine algorithms at the end of April and traffic on this site dropped significantly. The big life lesson for me was the importance of diversifying your assets. So now I’m spending more time working on two other websites:

  • WebCircles.ca is where I blog about blogging in the classroom. One of the things that I’m working on for next year is giving my students more control over their student blogs through a WordPress theme called Thesis.
  • EduApps.ca is where I blog about educational apps for the iPad. Lately, I’ve really enjoyed blogging with the Blogsy App for the iPad. I’m creating another website to demonstrate the power of the Thesis theme and I’m writing a few of the blog posts on the road with my iPad. I like Blogsy a lot more than the WordPress iPad app simply because Blogsy comes with a real visual editor – What You See Is What You Get.
  • Blog.classroomteacher.ca is for everything else – just my random thoughts about using classroom technology and deals that I think my friends would like.

Save $10 when you buy an iTunes $50 gift card

Speaking of deals, if you use your iPad in the classroom, now is a good time to stock up on iTunes gift cards and save some money on those educational apps.

  • In case you haven’t seen it yet, Future Shop is selling $50 iTunes gift cards for only $39.99. (Sale ends July 19, 2012. Sorry for the late notice – it is summer holidays after all.) This sale price applies to both the iTunes gift cards and the App Store gift cards (but it doesn’t really matter which card you get because I’ve been able to apply both types of gift cards towards app purchases on the iPad.)
  • If you missed the Future Shop special, PC financial MasterCard is also holding a similar deal for cardholders: save $10 when you buy a $50 iTunes card with your PC MasterCard and the coupon in “the goods” coupon book which you probably received in the mail.

Have a great summer.

This blog post was dictated using Dragon NaturallySpeaking premium and Windows Live Writer. (What’s the difference between Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium and Dragon Home?)

  • There were 501 words in the first draft of this post.
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking made 12 word errors which mean that it understood 97.6% of the words correctly.
  • The voice recognition software also made an additional 2 punctuation error meaning the total accuracy rate was 97.2%.

Click here to find out more about the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Student / Teacher version.

Dropbox Pro plan now has twice as much space

Whoa. Dropbox just doubled the amount of space that I have with them.

Two hours ago, I had 84 GB of space. I just renewed my premium subscription – $99 for 50 GB of space and then I pay an additional $39 for the “pack rat” unlimited undo history add-on.

For an annual cost of $138 US, I get 84 gigs of space (84.75 GB to be precise.)

  • 50 GB that I pay for.
  • 32 GB for referring people to sign up for a free account with dropbox
  • an additional 2 GB for jumping through the hoops (i.e. completing the getting started steps, linking my social media accounts, using the camera upload feature, etc.)

A few minutes ago, I received a lovely e-mail from Dropbox letting me know that I now have a lovely 136.75 GB for the same price. This is great timing because recently, I’ve been thinking about switching over to other cloud solutions.

Google drive is the big contender. I love Google docs and if Google drive becomes as ubiquitous as Dropbox and it starts showing up as a syncing option in various iPad apps, then I may consider moving. Google drive is considerably cheaper than Dropbox:

  • Your free Google drive account gets you 5 GB of space, but your Google Docs don’t count toward your storage space in Google drive on the web. In other words you could have an infinite amount of Google documents.
  • If I paid $100 with Google drive, I would get 2 TB (2048 GB) of space. Right now, with the new Dropbox pricing model, I pay $100 US for $100 GB. (If I wanted 100 GB with Google drive, I would have to pay $4.99 per month which works out to be $59.88 per year.)

This raises the big question: why am I still with Dropbox? For the same amount of money that I’m paying Dropbox, I could be getting 15 times as much space from Google.

I’m probably an unusual case because I’ve maxed out the amount of free space that you can get from referrals. If we think about the average user who pays $100 to get 100 GB with dropbox, compared to $100 to get 2 TB with Google, the average user would get 20 times more space from Google drive.

Wait a second. Why am I with Dropbox? Here are four reasons why I still use Dropbox even though Google drive is 20 times cheaper: Continue reading “Dropbox Pro plan now has twice as much space”

Dragon Naturally Speaking, Microsoft Word, and Windows Live Writer

I really like Microsoft Word.

Sure, I use Google Docs in the classroom with my students. No one does online collaboration like Google – Microsoft and Wikispaces just can’t compare.

  • I love how you can have multiple students working in the same Google document at the same time, and Google does a great job of merging all of the changes in real time. You can literally watch each other type.
  • I also really like how everything is in the cloud with Google Docs. Students can start an assignment at school, and then complete the work at home without ever having to fumble around with USBs or e-mailing themselves outdated versions of their work.
  • Finally, I like how I can type up a note using my data projector and instantly share the Google doc with all of my students. Heck, if they have laptops, they can even watch me type in their Google Docs instead of watching me type on the big screen at the front of the classroom.

But if I want to print a document, I always switch back to Microsoft Word. I just find it a much more powerful word processor.

(And no, Microsoft, I’m not really impressed with your cloud-based version of Microsoft office, yet. I don’t find your web-based version of Microsoft Word very powerful (A2 license) and the idea of paying $2.50 per student per month (or $750 for a class set of 30 students for an academic year of 10 months) for the A3 license just to gain access to the cloud enabled Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010… Well, $750 per class per year is pretty steep – especially considering Google docs and OpenOffice are free.)

I find making a document pretty much easier to do in Microsoft Word compared to Google Docs. Sure, Google might have recently added 450 fonts to Google docs to spice up your documents, but I find layout and formatting a document in Google Docs too clumsy.

1. I like the fine control you get in Microsoft Word for margins, image layout, tables spacing, and paragraph formatting.

2. I also like the fact that it’s easy to zoom in and out of a document in Microsoft Word. Google Docs will let you zoom in (CTRL +) and zoom out (CTRL -), but you’re zooming in (or out) on the webpage using the web browser, as opposed to keeping your menu the same size and zooming in on the document text. You also can’t view a Google document in page width mode and completely fill up the screen.)

3. I find spell check and grammar check a little bit more reliable in Microsoft Word than Google Docs. Sometimes my students have complained that Google Docs doesn’t underline in red nonsense words.

So how does Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software hold up in Microsoft Word?

Talking to your students about email safety online

As parents and teachers, we know our students are growing up in a digital age so there's a lot of discussion about how to teach children to be safe online. Conversations about online safety usually revolve around inappropriate websites, Facebook privacy settings, stranger-dangers, and thinking twice before you click and text that friend a compromising message or photo that could sabotage your career or personal life.

But, there's more. What about banking security and online identity theft? What about password security?

Why would an elementary student need to think about someone stealing their identity when they don't have a bank account yet? Because many of our students are leaving a pretty wide digital footprint, the Internet has a long memory, and people are using online research as a way to guess your email security questions.

(Or, if your students aren't worried about bank fraud ten years down the road, what about someone hacking into their World of Warcraft or some other social networking account? What about someone hacking into their email and reading their personal messages or logging into their IM account to stir up trouble.)

My friend's mom was recently the victim of attempted fraud. Someone hacked into her email account, changed the password, and then emailed her financial planner from the account for details about her retirement funds. Once the hacker got the balances over email, they attempted to transfer money out of her account. Fortunately, the financial planner called my friend's mom in person to confirm the transaction, at which point the transfer was blocked. Even though she didn't lose any money, it's scary to think of a stranger going through your personal email.

How did the hacker gain access to my friend's mom's email account? Well, I'm not completely sure, but here are three potential ways they did it.

Continue reading “Talking to your students about email safety online”

WordQ and SpeakQ: Assistive Technology for the Classroom

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time playing around with WordQ and SpeakQ. (Mostly because my free 30 day trial is about to expire, but also because I like playing around with voice recognition software.)

WordQ is a pretty neat piece of assistive technology.

  • It’s a third-party application that helps students to write, whether they’re using Microsoft Word, OpenOffice Writer, Notepad, Internet Explorer, Google Docs, or pretty much any other program.
  • WordQ can show a pop-up window with a list of possible words based on the letters you’ve typed so far, and the other words in the sentence. (In other words, WordQ does in-context prediction.)
  • WordQ also provides sentence examples for tricky words so a student will know which witch is which without having to struggle through a confusing definition.
  • WordQ is fantastic in its simplicity. It offers a pretty decent text-to-speech voice engine that you can turn on with the click of a button. WordQ will read each word as you type (i.e. after you hit the spacebar) and it will automatically read each sentence (i.e. after you type the closing punctuation and hit the spacebar or enter key.) This gives your students an auditory way to proofread their work as they type.  Your students can also highlight phrases and click the read button to hear WordQ read entire passages.

I like WordQ because it works everywhere, and not just in word processors. For example, if you’re trying to type in a website address, WordQ can helpfully suggest words as you type. (Unfortunately, not all words are in the dictionary like “Google”, but that’s another story.)


WordQ also does its magic when you’re trying to save filenames.


What is SpeakQ?

SpeakQ is a neat little plug-in / add-on for WordQ. It adds a little microphone button that lets you talk to your computer. This is neat because it gives you another tool to help you spell tricky words just by talking to your computer.

When we’re talking voice-recognition software in the classroom, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the other name that comes to mind, but SpeakQ and Dragon NaturallySpeaking meet different needs.

Although I love Dragon Naturally Speaking for personal home use, as a teacher, I’m not really a big fan of voice-recognition software in the classroom because I find the classroom environment way too loud for good-quality speech recognition. (I also find students generally way too self-conscious to talk to their computer with their friends and classmates watching.)

Also, Dragon Naturally Speaking is a really complex program for the average student. There are a lot of commands and it requires a lot of training and I haven’t really seen any Grade 7 and Grade 8 student come through my classroom that used this program effectively.

Why I like SpeakQ

SpeakQ is nice because it’s simple. Continue reading “WordQ and SpeakQ: Assistive Technology for the Classroom”

SpeakQ Speech Assistive Technology vs Dragon NaturallySpeaking Voice Recognition Software

WordQ is assistive technology software that helps students write by predicting their next word as they type. SpeakQ is a plug-in for WordQ that adds speech recognition.

Sometimes students get stuck trying to spell a word because they are so wrong that they can’t find the word in the dictionary, and assistive technology can’t predict what word they’re trying to spell. For example, if you’re trying to spell the word “phonics” with an “F”, you’re out of luck.

SpeakQ is a nice add-on for WordQ because when students get stuck, they can simply click on the microphone and dictate the word to the computer.

mic image

If you visit the SpeakQ website, they market their voice-recognition software as “forgiving speech recognition” which is “more tolerant speech recognition for children, accents and speech difficulties and other software.” Does “forgiving” mean “less accurate”?

I use Dragon Naturally Speaking and Windows Live Writer to blog on this site. I also like comparing speech recognition software to see if I can find a better and more accurate product. Basically I evaluate voice software by reading the rainbow passage to my computer and then counting the number of words that the voice-recognition software misunderstands.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking is incredibly accurate. It usually gets around 97% of my words correct when I speak to my computer in a quiet room. SpeakQ seems pretty good, but I wonder how good it is compared to Dragon Speak. Here are the results of a quick comparison study.

Continue reading “SpeakQ Speech Assistive Technology vs Dragon NaturallySpeaking Voice Recognition Software”