Sunday, September 26, 2010

FREE software for teachers

Here is an updated list of software that I recommend for teachers on their personal computers.

List is sorted in order of frequency of use.


Web Browser

If you have a Mac, the default browser is Apple’s Safari, on Windows it is Internet Explorer.  However, there are a number of reasons you should consider installing a second (or even third browser).

  • Firefox remains the most customizable feature rich browser.  It is opensource so it is made by people who share their expertise to make one of the best browsers available.  Check out all the free addons that expand what firefox can do.  My most used, must have addon is Video Downloader which can be used to download offline copies of YouTube videos for use in the classroom that isn’t dependent on an internet connection.
  • Google Chrome is amazing and fast with all the google sites such as gmail, google docs, reader… etc
  • Not to be left behind, Internet Explorer is moving to version 9.

Office software such as word-processing.

  • Microsoft Office is the solid ‘education industry’ standard.  If you work in a BC district that has subscribed to the licensing agreements it is a mere $11 to take the software home.  Get the license code from your district educational technology team and see more information here: Microsoft Home Use Program
  • OpenOffice is a ‘free and open productivity suite’ which looks and has many of the same features of Microsoft Office.  See:
  • Google Docs – although this isn’t something you have to install as it is FREE and online, it is amazing for educators wanting to collaborate as it has live online editing.
  • Windows Live Writer – is the blogging program that works with most types of blogs.  It makes it really easy to embed photos to posts!  See previous post.


  • AVG Free is all I’ve ever needed.  Install, allow the automatic updates and let it work. I recently got to see it in action as it picked up a Trojan Horse on my computer and cleaned it off.  Most people start looking for an antivirus once their free trial of McAfee or Norton runs out on the computer they purchased. 

Video Player

  • VLC video player is the one program that will play almost any type of video file.  This includes the ‘.flv’ video files that are created when downloading YouTube videos using Video Downloader for FireFox (see above).

PDF Creator

Have you ever wondered what file format to save your class newsletter in so that all your parents can open?  Well PDF if the most universal file type that can be opened on all computers and retains the formatting.

  • Cute PDF writer once installed is like having another printer.  Once your document is ready, click print, select CutePDF and save the file.

Video/Sound recording and Curricular

  • JING will capture whatever you have on your screen and the audio from a microphone.  It is a great way to explain how to use a website to students.  The link to the recording can then be shared.
  • Audacity will allow you to record sound and create a podcast.  Check out the version 1.3 beta.
  • Google Earth is an amazing way to view, measure and manipulate our physical world.
  • Microsoft Photostory is a long-time favourite to put voice-overs on pictures.  It works in Windows 7 so it is here to stay.

Software to skip…

On my last posting on free software I had MSN and Skype.  I no longer use these now that that you can make free phone calls to North America right from within GMAIL.  Rumour has it that even Facebook is getting into the free phone.  See more on the article by the Globe and Mail.


I would love to know what others would suggest for titles to have in the educators' toolkit.  Post a comment here..

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Student Research – Evaluate Sources

Evaluate Your Sources image

When doing research with students it is good to provide them with a set of topics to evaluate a source such as a website.  There are many different lists of criteria that are available on the internet.  Here is one I’ve created from a few difference sources.

  1. Relevance – Is this the information that you need?  Is the information on the site what you needed to know.
  2. Currency – How updated is the information?  Can you find a date?
  3. Authority – Do you trust the author(s)?  Who owns that domain name?  For example, look for websites that end in “.edu”, “.gov” or “.org” as these are  typically publically funded rather than .com extensions which are commercial sites.
  4. Bias – For topics that have a wide-variety of opinions such as sport, politics, what is the viewpoint of the source?
  5. Accessibility – Is the reading level appropriate?
  6. Special features – Are there pictures, animation, videos?  Is the site free of distractions?

More resources:

Lesley University – Evaluating Websites

Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educator – Critical Evaluation Information

Criteria for Web Site Evaluation – I like how this presentation has students use the Who, What, When, Where and Why?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Using Technology in My Classroom

Every year more teachers get access to amazing technology that can support and enhance what they do in the classroom.  Teachers talk about how it can be daunting to first introduce something new into their practice.  So much of this hold true for technology which is constantly changing.

Advice to myself…

Here is some personal advice for getting started this year with educational technology.  I plan on trying to do as many of these as possible this year!

  1. Use what I’ve got.  There will always be a better device, SMARTBoard, faster laptop, projector, whatever.  Rather than waiting, use whatever I can get my hands on.  A laptop and projector is a great place to start.
  2. Good enough is good enough.  If I spend an hour preparing a Powerpoint for a lesson or find a few good YouTube clips to show there is always another few hours I could spend planning and preparing but the amount of energy that I spend relative to the value to students decreased once it is good enough.  Make some plans and go with it!  I might add that this holds true for this blog.  I’d like to share more and worry less about perfection :)
  3. Focus on what I want.  The internet is the most amazing and distracting environment that I explore each day.  I need to be more efficient, find what I want and get onto something else.
  4. Build on what I know.  I’m always learning new things about technology and want to figure out ways have them make sense in my teaching.  I realize that there are multiple points of entry with technology and I don’t need to know all the details to get started.
  5. Flip It.  Look for the positives.  When the technology didn’t work the way I wanted to, find the positives and build on that.
  6. image

I’m really looking forward to using technology with all the learners that I’m working with this year.  What else should I add to this list?