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.

2011 Classroom Technology Blog Review: 31 Posts to Help K-12 Teachers use Technology and Software More Effectively

Children using computers in the classroomHappy holidays to you and your family from blog.classroomteacher.ca.

If you’re a teacher that lives around here (Ontario, Canada), then chances are you’ve just begun your two weeks of winter holiday: A chance to spend time with family, loved ones, and friends… And hopefully a chance to work on some classroom technology projects, that you just haven’t gotten around to during the school year.

2011 has been a productive year for this site: 31 posts written to help teachers get more out of their computers.

Here are some of the things happening behind the scenes on this site:

Continue reading “2011 Classroom Technology Blog Review: 31 Posts to Help K-12 Teachers use Technology and Software More Effectively”

House Cleaning the ol’ Classroom Technology Blog

It’s summer time, so we’re taking the opportunity to do some house cleaning on our blog about classroom technology. Getting rid of things that didn’t work, moving things around, and generally trying to spruce things up around the digital property.

It was embarassing to discover that our teacher blog was so slow that Yslow gave it a “D” and Google Webmaster tools said our site took on average, 18.5 seconds to load which is “slower than 100% of sites” on Google. (Having said that, we’re still making money which pays for a lot of the computer projects and sites that we do in the classroom.)

We made a few tweaks, sped things up to get a Yslow rating of A (96), and we’re trying out CloudFlare on our Bluehost account. Bluehost does CPU throttling which definetely slowed our sites down, but we’re hoping that CloudFlare caching will speed things up and reduce the strain on our pretty cheap shared hosting plan at Bluehost.

We’ll keep you posted.

Behind the Scenes

We haven’t posted here in a while, but things have been busy behind the scenes.

  • We’ve been setting up classroom blogs for some of our colleagues. (Who knew that the domain edublogs.ca would still be available.)
  • We’re focusing and reorganizing this site (blog.classroomteacher.ca) to focus more on technology in the classroom rather than blogging in the classroom.
  • With that in mind, we’ll be moving most of our blogging and WordPress discussions over to our new edublogs.ca.  There are lots of ways to use class websites, literature circles and edublogs and we’ll be showcasing ideas over there.
  • We’re looking for ways to become more efficient in what we do. Right now, we’re exploring Dragon NaturallySpeaking in the classroom. We have students submit a lot of work electronically, and we started to wonder if it would be quicker to speak our assessment feedback into student work, instead of typing our feedback. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 costs around $99 for the Education (Student/Teacher) Edition.

    We’ll do a review on this blog once we see how well the new version works. (Voice Recognition software is often given to Special Education students as an assistive tool, but how many of them really master it and use Dragon effectively? Imagine what you could do if you could role model how easy voice recognition could be if you invest time to train the computer to understand your voice.)

[ad#Dragon]

Domain Names: Things Teachers Need To Know Before They Buy a Domain Name for their Classroom Blog or School Website

There are lots of good trusted companies that will register domain names for you. They range in price from a few dollars to fifty dollars per year.

But, be careful. Often times, the refund policy on a domain name ranges from no refund to a few days. Different companies have different special offers, but always read the fine print.

Teachers are not usually webmasters, so here are some things to know if you are thinking about buying a domain name for your school website or classroom blog:

  • You can buy a domain name separate from a web hosting package. (If you’re using a free service like WordPress.com or Edublogs.org to host your class blog, chances are, you’re only in the market for a website name.)
  • Sometimes a domain name registrar will sell domain names for $1.99 per year. Read the fine print: they might be for less popular domain extensions (i.e. .info), the price might be valid for only the first year, or you might need to buy a hosting package as well.
  • The typical .com or .ca registration costs around $10 per year. At this price, you should be able to point your domain name to any server in the world. (Be careful: If you use a free service like WordPress.com or Edublogs.org, you might have to pay a fee to have your new domain name show up on the address bar. For example, if I buy the domain name classroom-teacher.ca, I can point it to my wordpress blog (classroomteacher.wordpress.com). If I type in classroomteacher.ca, it will send me to my wordpress blog, but the address in my webbrowser will switch to classroomteacher.wordpress.com unless I pay a premium to WordPress.com).
  • The Canadian Internet Registration Authority publishes a list of accredited registrars that are allowed to sell .ca domain names. Make sure you shop around. Prices vary significantly. (Some places charge over $30 per year for a Canadian domain name.)
  • Make sure you get domain name privacy when you register your domain name. (Otherwise, students can look up your address, email, and telephone number). By default, the information you use to sign up for a domain name is publicly listed in the whois database, unless you get a privacy package included from your webhost. (For example, BlueHost offers free Privacy with their web hosting package. UPDATE: Why we’re thinking about leaving BlueHost.). All personal domain name registrations in Canada are automatically hidden from the whois database.
  • It can take up to 24-48 hours for your domain name to become live on the internet. (Your new domain name address needs to be sent to DNS servers around the world and sometimes this can take time.)

Where do we shop for domain names?

We currently have domain names registered with the following companies:

Why we chose Bluehost to run our Classroom Blogs

UPDATE (Dec 2009): Why we’re thinking of leaving Bluehost.

Paying for a web host to run your own self-hosted WordPress blog is not for everybody. In fact, it’s for very few teachers out there.

If you’re new to blogging, start out with a free WordPress blog, either at WordPress.com or Edublogs.org. Try it out, create a school or classroom blog and see what you can and can’t do.

Many teachers are perfectly happy with what they are able to do with a free blog. Your students can post and comment in a perfectly safe environment using the basic templates (themes) and features (plug-ins) provided.

But some teachers will want more. And these are the people who should consider paying for some server space on a web host and running their own WordPress blog(s) off of their shared server space. Here are some ways to know if you’re ready to move up to a self-hosted WordPress blog. Continue reading “Why we chose Bluehost to run our Classroom Blogs”

Classroom Blog Ranking – How Popular is Your Classroom Blog?

How does your classroom blog rank in the blogosphere? Where does your class website rank? Is anybody even out there?

As teachers, we’re focused on helping our students to polish their work. Some of us set up a classroom blog so that our students have an authentic reason to write: to publish their work online to a larger readership – the world.

Then, the harsh reality sets in. It appears that no one is visiting your blog.

This post isn’t about how to drive traffic to your classroom blog, although that’s a vitally important step. (As soon as we figure it out, we’ll let you know.) Instead, this post is to figure out how popular is your blog.

How To Figure Out If Your Blog Is Popular

We’re teachers, not web designers (for the most part). So, although many of the following points might be common knowledge to bloggers and designers, if you’re not a teacher in the biz, chances are it’s new to you.

  1. Do strangers leave comments on your posts or your students’ posts? If the only people leaving comments on your student work are students in your class, then you’re missing out on the power of the internet. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your first comment from somebody out in cyberspace… Just make sure you consider internet safety and figure out how to protect your students online.
  2. Are you tracking your visitors? Most teachers don’t know how to set up a wesite, let alone track visitors, but one of the most exciting things can be knowing that other people are visiting your site. You can install a free invisible webtracker like statcounter which will collect data about provide detailed real-time stats about who your visitors are. (You’ll need to be able to edit the HTML code of your blog directly, which means you’ll probably need to run your own self-hosted blog,)
  3. Do you know where your visitors are from? One of the most attractive features about running a classroom blog is that people from around the world can read your work. A free widget like clustrmaps displays a map right on your blog showing where your visitors are from. Your students will love it. (You’ll need to be able to edit the widgets on your blog, which means either a classroom blog hosted by 1) an educational service like edublogs, 2) a free blog service like WordPress.com, or 3) a self-hosted blog.)
  4. Does Google know who you are? Search engines can drive a lot of traffic. If you type in site:http://blog.classroomteacher.ca, you can see if this site is indexed by google. Although the googlebots regularly crawls the web and updates the index, you may want to submit your site directly to Google.
  5. Does Google consider your site important? Google PageRank (PR) is a score out of 10 ranking how important Google considers your classroom blog. Zero means Google doesn’t consider your site important or your site is brand new. In comparison, a PR of 10 means your site is the ultimate authority. (Curiously, Google.com has a PR of 10). Today, Blog.ClassroomTeacher.ca has 7 posts, 1 page, has been active for approximately 2 months, and has managed to get a PR of 3. (There are several sites online that will allow you to check the PageRank of your classroom blog.)
  6. Do other people consider your site important? There are several different ways to measure the popularity of a classroom blog. Alexa is a traffic rank where the lower your number, the more popular your site is. (We currently have an Alexa rank just over 2 million.) Your Alexa score is based on the number of Alexa users (people who have downloaded the Alexa toolbar). Similarly, Technorati is a rank of how popular your blog is in the blogosphere. The lower your technorati rank, the more popular the site. (We have a technorati rank just over 1 million.)Jon Lee has a neat little piece of code that lets you show off some of your blog stats. Showoff Rankings will proudly display your Alexa, Compete, Technorati and Google PageRank (although you do have to manually enter your Google PageRank because it’s against Google’s Terms of Service to have it automatically updated. Some bloggers might throw in a PageRank of 10, but they’re not really fooling anybody.)

Summer Break

We’re putting this educational blog on hold for the summer.

Teaching in Ontario means that we have summer vacation in July and August. (Not necessarily a given… teachers and students are still slugging away at the curriculum in Australia where it’s currently their winter.)

So we’re going to have to put some of our projects on hold, including our blogs to build self esteem through random acts of kindness. This July, we’re doing some traveling as well as doing some additional teacher training online. But, hopefully, August will bring some high quality internet connections and allow us to get things ready for the upcoming school year.

Have a great summer!

Blogging in the Classroom

Blogs (weblogs) are a great social media tool to communicate with the world, publish your work, and to interact with people around the world. According to Technorati.com (which is the Google of blogs), there are currently over 112.8 million blogs in the world today.

A blog is like your own personal soapbox from which you can shout your message out into the world. You can blog about anything: your cats, your life, or your hobbies. However, the best part about blogging is that if you generate interesting content, you can attract people who want to read your stuff. It’s the ultimate in self-publishing.

So, it makes sense that teachers are exploring ways to safely bring blogging into the classroom. Publishing work online in a blog gives students an authentic reason for writing. Continue reading “Blogging in the Classroom”