Thursday, January 2, 2014

10 Tools to Help Students Keep Track of Tasks This Year

This is the time of year when many of us make resolutions. If one of your students' resolutions is to do a better job of keeping track of tasks and assignments, have them take a look at one of the following options.

If your school is using Google Apps for Education or your students have personal Gmail accounts, they already have some great tools at their disposal. In Gmail students can simply select "tasks" under the "Mail" drop-down menu in Gmail. That will open a small pop-up window in which they can enter their lists of tasks. Google Calendar is what I use for keeping track of longer term projects. After entering a project due date I set a series of reminder alerts to be emailed to me at various intervals until the due date.


Todoist is a task management service that impresses me with its clean design and intuitive user interface. Todoist on the web makes it easy to create to-do lists in chronological order or in order of priority. One of the features that I think a lot of people will like is its synchronization with Outlook and Gmail. This synchronization makes it easy to set reminders to follow-up on emails. Todoist allows you to share your lists with others so that you can divide the work load of group projects. Todoist offers Android and iOS apps that provide a variety of ways to manage your to-do lists anywhere that you go.

Fetchnotes is a neat service for creating and keeping notes online. Fetchnotes uses an interface for creating and sharing notes that will feel familiar to Twitter users. When you write a note, just use a hashtag to label your note. Then whenever you want to search for a note just enter a hashtag. For example, if I was a student taking notes in a history course I might use the hashtag "#revolution" for all notes related to revolutions. Then I could go back and read all of my notes about revolution by just searching for that hashtag. When you want to share a note with someone in your contacts you can do so by just putting "@" before the person's name. Fetchnotes works on the web and offers Android and iOS apps.

Any.DO is a slick collaborative task management tool that initially launched as an Android app. Any.DO now offers iOS and Chrome apps too. Any.DO is designed for creating to-do lists and sharing them with your friends and colleagues. On Any.DO you can type out a list of tasks or enter tasks by speaking into your phone. Once you've entered your task you can assign it to a day and time for completion. After assigning a completion deadline you can share that task with anyone in your contacts list even that person doesn't have the Any.DO app installed on his or her phone. Any.DO also gives you the option to attach notes to your tasks, set reminders for your tasks, and put notes into folders that you've created.

Wunderlist is a free task management service that syncs across all of the devices that you use. Wunderlist works the same way on iOS, Android, and in your web browser. Creating task lists in Wunderlist is an intuitive process. Just click the "new list" button and start typing out your list of things to do. You can create as many lists as you like within your account. You could create a list of things to do at home and things to do at school. Or you could create lists for the week, the month, and the year. You can set a due date for each task in all of your lists.


Flask is a simple tool for making to-do lists and sharing them with others. To create a to-do list on Flask just go to the site and start writing your list. You don't have to create an account to use Flask. Unique URLs are assigned to each list that you create. To share your lists click the share button to send the link to your list to others. You can also embed the list into a blog post or webpage.

DropTask is a task management service that has a neat user interface. To create a task in DropTask you drag a "task bubble" onto a blank canvas where you. Each task bubble can be dragged and dropped into a task group bubble. Each of your tasks can have a due date assigned to, files attached to it, and be given a priority status. DropTask can be used individually or with a group. Group members can sign into DropTask to check on the status of a task and to assign new tasks to the group.

WorkFlowy is a simple task management service that I just learned about from Dianne Krause's daily bookmarks post. WorkFlowy works in an intuitive outline format. It works just like I would have it function if I was writing a list of things to do in a notebook. Click "+" to add an item and use the tab key to indent an item. To set a due date for yourself just type a hashtag like #today or #tomorrow to prioritize your tasks. When you complete a task just click on it and strike it out. WorkFlowy has a series of tutorial videos to help you discover all of the little tricks it offers, but even if you don't watch them you can use WorkFlowy efficiently.

Strike App is a simple to-do list creation and management tool. To use Strike App just title your list of things to do and start typing your list. When you've completed a task just come back and strike it out by clicking on it, dragging it off the screen, or "x-ing" it out. You can share your to-do lists by sending people the link to your list. For those people who like to experiment with different backgrounds and themes, Strike App offers a handful of designs to choose from.

Thought Boxes is a task management service with a hint of mind mapping in its user interface. At its most basic Thought Boxes is a place to create to-do lists. You can organize your to-do lists into groups that Thought Boxes refers to as "trains" as in "trains of thought." Your lists can include basic text notes as well as links to other sites. The trains that you create in Thought Boxes are basically categories for your to-do lists. For example, in the screenshot below you will see that I created a train for tasks related to my teaching responsibilities. You can rearrange the boxes in each of your trains in your Thought Boxes account by just dragging and dropping them into place. The free version of Thought Boxes does not allow you to share your trains with others.

PortfolioGen Classroom - A Digital Portfolio Tool for Students and Teachers

PortfolioGen is a free service that I reviewed last year as an option for teachers to use to create professional portfolios. Recently, PortfolioGen launched a classroom account service for teachers and students. With a PortfolioGen Classroom account teachers can view their students' portfolios and send them feedback from one screen.

PortfolioGen portfolios are basically websites that you and your students can customize to your liking. The sites support uploading documents and other media. If you're using your PortfolioGen portfolio primarily for text and static visual content, you may be interested in the built-in option to download your portfolio as a PDF.

Applications for Education
PortfolioGen Classroom could be a good service to have your students use to showcase examples of their best work throughout the semester or year. Through your PortfolioGen teacher account you will be able to see their portfolios in one place. The limitation to PortfolioGen Classroom is that you can only have twenty students in one account at a time.

TED-Ed Lesson - How We Conquered Smallpox

In the HBO series, John Adams, there was a brief scene in which we saw the Adams children being treated for smallpox. That scene sparked a bunch of questions from my high school students. The following TED-Ed lesson tackles the topic of smallpox vaccination. Through the lesson students can learn about the history of smallpox, how it spread around the world, and how the smallpox vaccination was developed.


Applications for Education
Besides the historical aspect of this lesson, it could be a good introduction to larger lessons about vaccinations.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Thinking Blocks - Model Math Problems on iPads, Interactive Whiteboards, and in Your Browser

Thinking Blocks is a nice site for elementary and middle school mathematics teachers. Thinking Blocks provides interactive templates in which students use brightly colored blocks to model and solve problems. As students work through the problems they are provided with feedback as to whether or not they are using the correct sequence to solve each problem. There are templates and problems for addition, multiplication, fractions, and ratios. You can also develop your own problems using the modeling tool.

Applications for Education
I originally learned about Thinking Blocks a few years ago when James Hollis posted about it at Teachers Love SMARTBoards. James suggested that Thinking Blocks could be good site for helping students see how algebraic reasoning works. And, of course, if James is writing about it, it must be well suited to use on interactive whiteboards.

Thinking Blocks is also available as a set of four free iPad apps.

How to Review and Manage 3rd Party Apps Accessing Your Google Account

Many apps and services make it easy to sign up and sign in by using your Google Account. While this is convenient, I use the option a lot, there are always risks associated with giving a third party permission to utilize your Google Account. The biggest risk being that if the third party's security is compromised, log-in to your Google Account could also be compromised (to clarify, Google does have measures in place to limit this risk, but it's still a risk). What I do to minimize this risk is to revoke third party access to my Google Account for any service or app that I don't use on a regular basis.

The directions below walk you through how to manage the permissions that third party services have on your Google Account.

Step 1: Go to https://www.google.com/settings/security (sign into your Google Account if you aren't logged in).

Step 2: At the top of the page select the "security" tab then under "account permissions" select "view all."
Click the picture to view full size. 

Step 3: Click on any of the applications listed to view permissions and to revoke access.
Click the picture to view full size.