Monday, October 1, 2012

Keeping Up With Google Apps - My "Secret" Method

One of the questions that I am frequently asked is, "how do you keep up with all of this stuff?" 98% of the time I don't have any special advanced access to new features or products that are coming out (sometimes a company will send me an embargoed press release, but most of those aren't all that informative). The way that I keep up with tech news is through my RSS reader. I'm subscribed to lots of company blogs including most of the official Google products blogs.

The Google product blogs that I have listed in the top of my RSS reader are the Google LatLong blog (maps and Google Earth), the Google Drive blog, the Google Apps blog, the Google Apps Updates blog (this one is geared toward Apps administrators), the Official Android Blog, and the Official Google Blog.

A Message to The Brookings Institution About School Reform

Warning! Rant Ahead!

Last week I received an email from someone in the PR department of The Brookings Institution. The email asked me promote a forum they were hosting about ways to improve student attainment and achievement in K-12 education. They had invited a lot of politicians, government bureaucrats, and other "expert" school reformers (most of which I hadn't heard of and some whose works I've read and disagreed with). Needless to say, it was not a forum I was interested in promoting let alone spending money to attend (admission wouldn't have cost me anything, but getting there sure would have). So like I do with 99% of unsolicited messages from PR people, I just ignored the email until today when I got a follow-up message.

The follow-up message from The Brookings Institution included highlighted sections that they thought I would be interested in promoting. They wanted me to promote Harnessing Technology to Improve K-12 Education (you can get it as a PDF here). I don't think they thought I had actually read it. I had so I wrote back and shared my thoughts with them. Here's what I wrote...

Thank you for the follow up. I appreciate your efforts to point out things that might be of interest to me and my readers. I have read the work of Chatterji and Jones. Their ideas smack of people who do not truly understand the challenges facing public schools today. They, like many other "experts," are trying to apply a business school model to K-12 schools. Public K-12 schools are not businesses, they are places of learning and learning is not defined by test scores. Good teachers are not defined by test scores either. I will not promote the works of people who think that applying business school, finances trump all, methods will improve schools. Likewise, I am not likely to promote most of the education "reform" efforts of people who have not actually spent time teaching in a public school classroom. If the Brookings Institution believes that they are doing a good thing by promoting these kinds of misguided "reform" efforts, please look for someone else to promote your materials.

Was I too harsh? If you have read the proposal, can you tell me if I am missing something?

Eight Alternatives to Buying Scientific Calculators

One of the problems that many mathematics and science departments confront is accounting for all of the scientific calculators they lend to students. Like textbooks no matter how diligent a school is in tracking how many are lent out, one or two always seem to disappear by the end of the year. Also like textbooks there are some good and free alternatives to buying scientific calculators. Here are some that you can try.

Desmos offers a fully functional, browser-based  graphing calculator. The calculator performs all of the functions you would expect to see in a graphing calculator with a couple of extras that you don't find in typical graphing calculators. Desmos allows you to share your equations and graphs through a link. Desmos graphs your equations as you type them and redraws them as you alter your equations. And because it is written in HTML5 Desmos works on your iPad.

Microsoft has released a new scientific calculator that you can download for free (Windows only). Microsoft Mathematics 4.0 is a graphing calculator that plots in 2D and 3D. Of course, the calculator does many other functions such as solving inequalities, converting units of measure, and performing matrix and vector operations.

There are a lot of calculators online for performing all kinds of functions from simple addition to solving complex equations. Calkoo is a website that offers forty-three free online calculators for a variety of functions. The list of calculators that Calkoo is divided into ten categories. Those categories are mathematics, measurement & conversion, saving & investing, capital budgeting, cost of capital, wages & taxes, financial analysis, health, loan & leasing, and stock analysis.

Encalc is a free online scientific calculator. Encalc describes itself on its homepage as follows, "Encalc is an online scientific calculator. Its strength lies in its ability handle units and dimensional analysis, to define variables and its large database of constants. Parenthesis and scientific formulas are also supported." One of the features that I really like about Encalc are the explanations of how different variables and constants function within an equation or formula. Encalc can be embedded into your blog or website too.

Web2.0calc is a free online scientific calculator. While it won't replace the TI-85, it can do what your average high school student needs it to do. The best part is, you don't have to use it on the Web2.0calc site because they offer three widgets that you can use to embed the calculator into your own blog or website.

Speed Crunch is a free scientific calculator application for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. Speed Crunchperforms all of the functions necessary for high school Algebra and Geometry courses except graphing. In addition to performing all of these functions, Speed Crunch has a "math book" containing commonly used equations and formulas. One Speed Crunch feature that appealed to me from a design standpoint is the color coding of equations to differentiate between constants and variables. is a free online graphing utility that I found in the Google Chrome Web allows you to plot multiple functions through its dynamically resizing grid. To graph an equation on just click the "+" symbol to enter a new equation. Click here to watch a short video of in use. One thing that the video doesn't show and isn't clear the first time you use is that you need to delete the existing default equations before you start.

Scientific Calculator is a Chrome web app that works offline and online. The calculator performs all of the functions that you would expect and it offers a couple of handy additional features. When it is connected to the web the calculator records your calculation history. Any scripts that you write in Scientific Calculator can be saved online and shared for use by others.

Use SpeakPipe to Send Voice Messages to Email Recipients

SpeakPipe is a free service for receiving voicemail messages from visitors to your blog or website. I reviewed it back in May. Today. SpeakPipe added a new service to their offerings. Now SpeakPipe users can send voice messages to anyone.

The new SpeakPipe messaging service is easy to use. Just sign into your account at then click the "send a voice message to email" button. Clicking that button will prompt you to enter an email address and to allow SpeakPipe to access your computer's microphone. SpeakPipe will record you and send an email to anyone you specify. The recipient of your message does not have to have a SpeakPipe account to hear the message. The recipient of your message can listen to your recording online or they can download your message.

Applications for Education
SpeakPipe installed on your blog or website could provide an easy way for parents to leave messages for you. SpeakPipe's messaging service could be a good way for you to reach busy parents who would rather hear a message from you than read a message. The download option for recipients also makes SpeakPipe an option for creating short one-take podcasts or to simply create voice reminders for yourself.

SendHub - Text Parents, Students, and Colleagues for Free

This month Free Technology for Teachers welcomes SendHub as a new advertiser. SendHub is a service that allows you to send text messages to groups of up to fifty people at once for free. SendHub is an opt-in service. You give parents and students a code to text to opt-in to be a part of one of your groups. You can manage up to three groups in a free account. When you're ready to send a text message you can send it to one or all of groups at once from your cellphone, from your tablet, or from your computer. Learn more in the video below.

SendHub from John Fallone on Vimeo.

Applications for Education
Students and sometimes their parents can't help but look at their phones when they hear the alert that they have a new text message. Capitalize on this compulsive behavior by using SendHub to send reminders to students about homework and other important information for your class. You can also use it to send out encouragement and praise for a job well done.