Google chromebooks now available for the Canadian classroom

chromebook-canadaThe official Google Canada blog made an exciting announcement today (Tue Mar 19, 2013). Google Chromebooks are now available in Canada.

Up until now, if you wanted a Google Chromebook and lived outside of the US, you had to buy it on eBay, go to the States yourself, or find some other way to get your chromebooks across the border.

Now, you can just go to Best Buy or Future Shop to buy a Google Chromebook in Canada. (Actually, right now, it looks like it’s just available online, but hopefully that changes.)

What does this mean? It’s now easier for Google chromebooks to be a serious contender for use in the Canadian classroom. (Chromebooks are Google’s version of a light-weight laptop / netbook.) A lot of classroom technology use revolves around internet access and word processing. Google Chromebooks are a cheap way to do this.

  • Chromebooks are relatively cheap – around $250 Canadian. (The HP model is $330.)
  • Chromebooks integrate beautifully with Google Docs and if your school runs Google apps for education, this is a great thing.
  • Since students login with their Google Docs account, if you are Google apps administrator, you can restrict which apps or websites student access. (You can white list or blacklist websites and you can preload and deploy apps to all of your school Google chromebooks.)
  • Chromebooks auto update. You don’t have the headache of having to manually upgrade class sets of iPads.
  • It goes without saying, but Chromebooks have a keyboard. I know a few students and teachers who have been frustrated when it comes to doing some serious typing on their iPads or tablets.
  • Great battery life. A Chromebook could easily last for an entire day in the classroom. 10 hours ain’t bad.
  • Incredibly fast boot time. Open the device, and a couple seconds later, students could be typing away into Google Docs.
  • The chrome web browser is familiar to students. Plus, you can run flash-based websites. (You can’t easily run flash on an iPad. Yes, there are some apps, but websites you load through these apps always seem to lag.)

On the other hand, there are some downsides to using Chromebooks in the classroom.

  • It’s cloud-based computing; it only works when you’re connected to the internet. If your school has Wi-Fi problems or you have a slow network, Google Chromebooks are going to be a frustrating experience for your students and teachers. (On the other hand, a standalone PC running Microsoft Windows or OpenOffice will work just fine without the internet.)
  • There’s a culture change from going from a Windows-based computer to a Google OS-based computer. When Chromebooks first rolled out, they didn’t have a start button, but now the operating system looks a little bit more familiar to computer users.
  • Also, you can’t install a lot of educational programs that teachers and students may be familiar with. For example, you can’t install Microsoft Word, geometer sketchpad, or Photoshop (even if your school board has licenses for the software.) There are some cloud-based alternatives, but I really do prefer SMART ideas mind mapping software to cloud-based Lucidchart. Also, I haven’t found any good WebCam or Photoshop alternatives on the chrome web store.

I used Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.5 Premium (Windows 8) to type this post. Find out more.

  • Dragon correctly understood 97.2% of the words. There were 536 words in the first draft of this document and Dragon only made 15 word mistakes.
  • The speech software also made 1 additional capitalization and punctuation mistake. If you include this mistakes, Dragon Naturally Speaking got 97.0% of the words correct.
  • I used the new enhanced Dragon 12 wireless bluetooth headset (Plantronics Calisto BT 300 II) when dictating this post. Works fine if you don’t ask Dragon to correct any errors. (Actually, I find dictating using Dragon naturally speaking a lot quicker if I don’t try to train Dragon and fix my mistakes. Instead, I simply highlight the mistake and say the words again.)
  • Click here to find out more about the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Student / Teacher educational discount.

Teaching Media Literacy using (legal) Hollywood Movie Clips in your class lesson


Do you teach media literacy? Do you want to spice up your lesson with a short scene from a real Hollywood movie? A colleague of mine recently showed me the coolest website. has posted online free and legal clips from Hollywood movies that you can share with your students and embed into your lessons.

  • Now, teachers don’t have to worry about trying to find the right spot on a DVD.
  • We don’t have to worry about piracy or copyright issues
  • We don’t have to worry about searching through user posted content on YouTube, hoping to find this scene we want from a movie, and instead ending up with a lot of lame, low-quality, bootleg versions or fan-made parodies.
  • You can put the movie clips directly into your powerpoint or classroom blog.

You can search through the website to find movie clips based on a bunch of keywords: actor, title, genre, action, mood, character, theme, dialogue.

Doing a lesson on girl bullying? Why not show a clip from mean girls? Or, you can search through all the movie clips based on character types featuring bullying to find something you like. (MovieClips also lets you crop the clip to show a specific segment.)


Meeting the Plastics

Mean Girls


You can embed the movie clips player on a personal site for noncommercial purposes (as long as you follow couple of basic rules, like using their embed code, and making sure your site doesn’t include any inappropriate content.) You can’t use the movie clip site for commercial use. You also can’t make derivative works based on the movie clip site. (In other words, you can’t remix a movie video clip.)

Of course, as part of any media literacy lesson, we should be considering how this website makes money to recover costs and make a profit.

  • gives you quick links to view the full movie on Netflix, or purchase it through iTunes or Amazon.
  • You can also purchase the posters through movie goods.
  • They also provide a link to license the clip (for commercial use).




This post was written using Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 Premium (Windows 8). Find out more.

  • Dragon 12 Premium correctly transcribed 99.0% of the words. There were 305 words in the first draft of this document and Dragon only made 3 word mistakes.
  • The voice recognition software made an additional 0 capitalization and punctuation mistakes. If you include these mistakes, Dragon Naturally Speaking got 99.0% of the words correct.
  • I used a USB Logitech headset to dictate this blog post into Microsoft Word 2010.
  • Click here to find out more about the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Student / Teacher educational discount.

YouTube videos not embedding correctly on WordPress class blogs

020713_0343_YouTubevide1.jpgWhoops? Did something break?

Looks like the glitch is fixed. Youtube videos look just fine now.

I was just about to email a friend to show them how they could embed YouTube videos onto their classroom blog when I noticed YouTube videos on my own classroom blogs weren’t working properly. (I run a self hosted WordPress server for my class blogs and student websites.)

Normally, you just paste the YouTube website address directly into a post, and the video magically appears. (You have to make sure that it is not hyperlinked – if it shows up as a blue link, then the video won’t show up unless your students click on the link.)

I thought it was me, but when I visit the official support page, the embedded YouTube videos don’t show up properly either.

Oh well. I’ll have to show her that YouTube trick later.

This post was written using Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 Premium (Windows 8). Find out more.

  • Dragon 12 Premium correctly transcribed 98.7% of the words. There were 150 words in the first draft of this document and Dragon only made 2 word mistakes.
  • The voice recognition software made an additional 0 capitalization and punctuation mistakes. If you include these mistakes, Dragon Naturally Speaking got 98.7% of the words correct.
  • I used a USB Logitech headset to dictate this blog post into Microsoft Word 2010.
  • Click here to find out more about the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Student / Teacher educational discount.

Digital smartpen assistive technology in the classroom

013113_0348_Digitalsmar1.png “I know my weakness at school: a laptop. I get distracted by videogames.”

At least, that’s what the guy at Future Shop told me when I was looking into getting an echo smart pen.

And I believe him. I see it all the time with students in my classroom who use assistive technology. The computer can be a great learning tool and cloud-based services like Google Docs can really help students stay organized.

On the other hand, internet access can really be a distraction. Think about how often employees can be distracted by social media sites at work. Then multiply that by hundred to account for the teenage brain.

Livescribe sells digital smart pens that can record what the teacher says as the student take notes. Over the past few years, a few different parents and teachers have spoken to me about it, so I thought I would check it out. Continue reading “Digital smartpen assistive technology in the classroom”

Upgrade to Windows 8 Pro by Jan 31, 2013 and save $30

011713_0331_UpgradetoWi1.pngI recently upgraded my old Windows XP machines to Windows 8 Pro. I was talking about this with a few teachers in the staff room, and they didn’t know that, right now, Microsoft has a special upgrade price.

Why did I upgrade? I really like the idea of Windows 8 storage spaces which lets you pool multiple hard drives into a single space. A hard drive on my home server recently crashed over the winter holidays, and now that Microsoft no longer supports Windows home server, it makes sense to try to switch to Windows 8 while I can. (I’m sure I’ve got a copy of Windows XP lying around somewhere that I can use to upgrade to Windows 8.)

Also, I’m really interested to see where Windows goes in the tablet market. I love my iPad, but the fact that you can’t have multiple user accounts is a serious drag in a school environment. (How many teachers bring their own personal iPad to school, but are reluctant to let a student use it because they don’t want kids to be able to access personal information?)

Four years ago, I bought an MDG flip tablet netbook for the classroom. I wonder if I can get Windows 8 Pro working with the touchscreen on the old device. Maybe that will be my March break project…

Do you use Windows 8 Pro?

Backing up Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 User Profile

011413_0209_BackingupDr2.pngThere is nothing scarier than opening up Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 to get an error message saying there’s something wrong with your user profile. (Well, I suppose your computer not booting up is pretty scary too. Or, when your hard drive crashes and you lose all of your family photos, that sucks.)

If you’ve been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for a while to dictate your computer, then chances are you’ve spent thousands of hours logging in corrections and helping the voice-recognition software to recognize your voice little better. You probably don’t want to lose that hard work. Thank goodness for backups.

My Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 user profile broke today.

  • Something got corrupted somewhere, but fortunately, I was able to restore from within Dragon.
  • This month, I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8, but I don’t think that caused any problems.
  • I recently wrote this post, and this post just fine with Windows 8 (64 bit). The new enhanced Bluetooth headset still seems to be slow, but the Plantronics Calisto BT 300 II wasn’t working well under Windows 7 either.

Continue reading “Backing up Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 User Profile”

Can your students guess your password?

Could your students guess your computer password? Top 10,000 passwords in a WordleTeachers live in a digital world. We use computers and email systems to store and communicate student information to parents, teachers, and other colleagues: marks, assessment information, tests, special education data, etc.

Could one of your students guess your password?

Obviously, this isn’t a problem if you teach grade 1, but if you teach in middle school or high school, you have a lot more tech savvy students with a lot more time on their hands.

Is your password, “password”, “123456”, or “12345678”?

  • Apparently, almost one out of 10 people use one of those three passwords.
  • It stands to reason that one out of 10 teachers uses one of those passwords as well.

Continue reading “Can your students guess your password?”

CrashPlan for teachers

010413_0259_CrashPlanfo1.pngSomeone once told me, there are three things that are inevitable in life: death, taxes, and hard drive failure. If you’re like most of us, backing up your hard drive is a chore that you never quite get around to. Until disaster strikes.

We live in a digital world. Our kids have been photographed since birth. How do you take care of your digital life?

Recently, my hard drive crashed and we’ve lost an entire year of family photos. Yes, I’m a computer geek kind of teacher, and yes, I did have a backup plan. Apparently, it wasn’t good enough.

  • I have a Windows home server backing up our personal computers every night.
  • Important files were in a dropbox folder, so a copy of these files live in the cloud
  • Unfortunately, our family photos were stored on the home server itself, and I never got around to paying for an extra hard drive to backup the contents of the home server.
  • So, when the hard drive on the server broke, we lost all of our family photos and backups for our home computers.

Continue reading “CrashPlan for teachers”

iPhone 5 cases: OtterBox Defender or Lifeproof Fre?

I recently got the iPhone 5. Two words: love it. In fact, I don’t know how I lived without it.

I used to have an old school hand-me-down iPhone from my brother. I use the Pocket Informant iPad app to try to manage my calendar and to do list. I use pocket informant and ToodleDo to try to keep my life organized, but running an app on an iPhone 3G is painfully slow.

Now, running informant Pro on my iPhone 5 is unbelievably fast. Click on the app, and it opens immediately.

So, now that I’ve signed my life away for three years, it’s time to protect my investment with a solid case. It came down to the OtterBox Defender and the Lifeproof FRE. Continue reading “iPhone 5 cases: OtterBox Defender or Lifeproof Fre?”

Using Dragon Naturally Speaking in mind mapping software

Some students use Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software as assistive technology the classroom. Voice recognition is not a magic solution that will help all students, but for some students, writing using their mouths instead of their hands can be a more effective way for them to get their ideas onto paper.

Mind mapping software is another great accommodation to help students organize their ideas.

SMART ideas is great because you can create multilevel concept maps that you can easily export as JPEG images inside of Microsoft Word documents. Lucidchart is an online concept map program that syncs with Google Docs and lets you export your mind maps as well.

In some applications, Dragon Naturally Speaking has full text control of the active field. If you look at the Dragon bar, you see a little green checkmark meaning that you can dictate directly into the application. For example, you can transcribe your ideas directly into Internet Explorer, or Microsoft Word.

Continue reading “Using Dragon Naturally Speaking in mind mapping software”