August 24, 2011

Technology for Teachers

In my Goals post I mentioned some technology that I would like my students to use, but the more frequent use of technology in my classroom is the programs/websites that I use.  As I set up for the new year I thought I'd share some of my favorites.

Dropbox:  I almost forgot to include dropbox since it's more a way of life for me than a tool I use.  No, seriously, I'm 3 referrals away from maxing out my referral bonus.  If you don't have it yet, make sure to get an invite from someone because it means extra space for both of you!  Okay, so what is this life altering item?  It's a folder.  Really, that's all it is on the surface.  Underneath though, it has hidden magic powers so that everything you put into the folder is automatically backed up online.  Then, when you open that same folder on another computer the new version is already sitting there waiting for you, no jump drive required.  But it's way better than google docs or similar sites, because it's a folder, on your computer.  You can get to it when you're offline, you can work in your favorite program and you can save all different types of files in the same place.  Plus there's the sharing and the web access and... oh just go watch the video.  Point being, it's awesome if you use more than one computer (home and school anyone?) or want to collaborate on anything.
*Free, remember more space for free if you get an invite!

PlanbookEdu: I started out with a paper planbook, then used google docs, then a word doc in dropbox and last year a co-worker told me about PlanbookEdu.  For the first time (I'm about to start my 5th year of teaching) I'm going to use the same method 2 years in a row!  The website is very simple, which is exactly what I want.  There are boxes in a weekly grid like a traditional paper book but you can customize the number and orientation, and they change size to fit the text.  You can create a template, set things up to repeat, bump lessons when you have a snow day and much more.  They are awesome about hearing feedback and accommodating requests, they're currently in process of adding tons of standards, and you can customize your own.  When I emailed to ask how to copy only some of my classes from last year to this year they responded "just let us know what you need and we'll take care of it!"  If you need to submit lesson plans there's a button to push and they're sent.  You can also share your planbook with other teachers, which is a great way to see what your co-workers are working on when you don't have much time to meet.
*Free to use, $25 for Pro version which I happily pay

Engrade: At my first school we used PowerSchool.  I loved that kids and parents could log in to see a complete progress report at any time.  When I switched schools I wanted that same access, so I did a bit of googling and ended up with Engrade.  Similar to PlanbookEdu, they're constantly adding new features (and respond quickly to emails) but the basic format remains simple.  It works with weighted categories and all that good customizability.  I'm not sure if we're going to be required to use iPass this year (that's what we use for report cards but last year they started giving 9th grade parents access) so I haven't started setting up Engrade yet.

LaTeX: When sorting through a large pile of papers last week I came upon some handwritten tests.  I forgot we didn't have computers my first couple months of teaching (we'd just moved into a new school).  I use Microsoft Word for most things, but when I taught Algebra 2 I realized how much easier it is to type in TeX (a math programming language, there's a bit of a learning curve if you've never used it but the internet is awesome and can tell you how to do anything you'd ever want and more!).  It also works much better for image placement in geometry, so now I use it for all of my tests and some other assignments.  I made the mistake of announcing that I had typeset the common midterms I was giving (the versions I got were a mess!) and then got assigned the duty of fixing the others.  At least it will make them easier to re-write this year.  Downside: you can only share documents in .pdf so they aren't editable to non-TeX-users (meaning any re-writes will be done on my computer).  At least if I'm useful I'll get to keep my job?
*Free, I use MacTeX, not sure what's the best distribution for PC

Powerpoint: I know, you all use it all the time.  But, in addition to making things nice and big so that even the kid in the back who forgot his glasses can see the assignment, it has really nice image manipulation.  It's a quick and easy way to draw a diagram and then export it as a .jpg to use in your worksheet.
*It's already on your computer (unless you're cheap like me and only have Keynote, same deal though)

Lunarpages/iWeb: I have a course webpage: (mylastname) (feel free to check it out if you know my last name, I just don't really want kids googling the course page to end up here, not that anything bad is here, but, ya know, it's mine for now at least).  I pay $0 for the domain, I paid $0 to get the domain.  That's right, a free domain of your choosing and all you have to do is mail in some school letterhead!  Any public school teacher, administrator, PTA head etc. can get a website to use for pretty much whatever you like.  Once I got the domain I thought back to the html class I took in high school, and then clicked on iWeb, no html required!  I have a page for each course that I update daily with homework and extra copies of assignments, plus a calendar (from google calendar) and some silly math comics.  Not a lot of students use it, but it's so easy to maintain that it's worth it.
*Free domains for teachers (sorry, public schools only), either you already have iWeb or you have to find some PC equivalent

What are your favorite programs and websites to make teaching just a bit easier (or at least more organized)?

If you want more information on any of these let me know.  I love them all and would be happy to expand and expound.


  1. I love the plug-in for PowerPoint and OneNote that allows a PowerPoint that a teacher is doing sync with a OneNote notebook for all of their students. I actually just blogged about it! ( Thanks for the wonderful suggestions, and all so FREE!

  2. I just read that post of yours and I'm quite jealous. I wish we had tablets!

  3. Just a quick note of thanks for planbookedu. I set it up today and am going to really really try to use it this year. (I've never really used a planbook. Which makes me sound like some kind of lunatic, but I did have a system that made sense to me. Anyway. Thanks!)

  4. Good luck to you! I always hated using the paper planbook since it was so rigid, I totally get having a system that doesn't fit into the traditional definition of planbook.

  5. For PlanbookEdu is it a 1 time $25 charge?


  6. It's actually yearly, but the free version isn't missing too much...