Monday, July 15, 2013

Some Windows 8 Love

Back in January I got my first taste of Windows 8 (make that Windows RT, a little while after the release of Microsoft Surface RT). Now, I'm a convert, and I'm sure a continual pain in the neck to the folks in our Tech Department.
  • "So, when are we going to push Win8 out to staff?"
  • "Have you tried the 8.1 preview yet?"
  • Which I'm sure leads to their non-verbal thoughts of, "Kid, don't you think we have other things to do these days?" 
I have to say, it take a little time to adjust to the interface. It works more intuitively with a touch interface, as compared to a mouse interface, but both can work interchangeably. What made it easier to me was to think of it as a horizontal arrangement of all the programs I would otherwise see in the vertical Windows 7 Start menu.

Learning a few simple Surface RT gestures also helped:
  • Swipe in from right: Charms, including sharing, search, settings, and what-not
  • Swipe in from left: Switch or snap open program(s) or app(s)
  • Swipe from top or bottom: Reveals App Commands
  • Press-and-Hold: Basically, this is just like a right-click with your desktop mouse
Recently, I read an article that paralleled my own experiences with Windows 8, too, which I think most readers might enjoy: Why I Love Windows 8 (and no, my account has not been hacked), by Dr. R. Keith Sawyer, in The Huffington Post.

So, if you haven't tried Windows 8 yet, give it a shot. If you've tried it and still aren't sold on it, take a look at the Windows 8.1 video, below, and give it another chance. Among other things, it will have the option to boot back to the familiar Windows 7 interface, the Start button makes a return, you can snap more than 2 programs for side-by-side (-by side?) multitasking, and the Search function looks really great! I don't think you'll be all that disappointed.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Outlook Out of Office Assistant

Every now and then it’s healthy to step away from emails, especially over vacations and breaks, etc. Here’s how to tell folks that, while their messages may be important, you won’t be responding to them for a while.

  1. Open Outlook.
  2. If you use Outlook 2007, simply click Tools and select Out of Office Assistant
  3. OOA1
  4. If you use Outlook 2010, click the File tab. In most cases, the Info tab will be selected by default for you. Click the Automatic Replies (Out of Office) button.
  5. OOA2
  6. Click the button next to Send automatic replies.
  7. Check the box next to Only send during this time range: and set your start and end dates & times.
  8. You’ll need to designate the message you want to send back to people Inside My Organization as well as Outside My Organization. These can be the same, or you can customize either to your heart’s content. There are even some special Rules you can set up, but for most of us, this will be enough. Click OK or Save, depending on which version you are using.
  9. OOA3

Now your customized message will be sent automatically to anyone who sends you an email while you’re taking a break. All of your messages will still accumulate in your Inbox during this time, and you can look in on them and reply as you’d like.

Note: If your boss sends you something while you’re away, you are still responsible for checking and replying as usually expected during your vacation or break, depending on your school’s or organization’s usual expectations, etc. Using the Out of Office Assistant feature does not relieve you from whatever normal responsibilities you would otherwise be expected to maintain.

Outlook Contact Groups & Distribution Lists

It’s fairly easy to send a message to one or two persons, but what if you want to send a message to an entire team, grade level, or all the parents of students in your class? That’s when you need to make a Contact Group or a Distribution List, depending on which version of Microsoft Outlook you use…

  1. Open Outlook.
  2. If you use Outlook 2007, click the little down-triangle next to New and select Distribution List.                                                             
  3. DList1
  4. If you use Outlook 2010, click New Items, point to More Items and select Contact Group.              
  5.                                  Groups1
  6. First, give your group a name, like “Math 2nd Period” or “Parents 2012,” etc. Think a little about how you name it, so that typing it in later will be easier.
  7. Click the Add Members button.
  8. If you are adding parent email addresses for the first time, you can type them in one-by-one by selecting the New Email Contact option.
  9. If you already have the email addresses entered as Contacts in Outlook, select the From Outlook Contacts option.
  10. If you are creating a list of employees within our District, select the From Address Book option. Make sure you are looking at the Global Address List. Groups2
  11. Save the group when you’re done.
Keep in mind, you’ll have to update this list when kids are added or dropped from your class rosters. To utilize this new list, compose a New E-mail. Type in the name you just gave it in the To: field, and create & send the message just like you normally would!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Close Reading Explained, by Teaching the Core


Teaching The Core has posted a great explanation of close reading and its value to students in the era of Common Core standards. If that’s not enough, the author also includes this great Prezi presentation to help explain the ideas in a more visual form.


Click the frame to start, and use the arrows at the bottom of the frame to move through the slides. When you come across what appears to be an empty slide, it is probably a video – click on it to watch. Same goes for slides containing a YouTube video.

(Note: The presentation above contains references to the Smarter Balanced consortium. We in Illinois are part of the PARCC consortium. Both groups are involved in creating the next generation of assessments aligned with Common Core State Standards. Both place great emphasis on and support for close reading.)

Common Core Lessons from LearnZillion


LearnZillion has literally “zillions” of Math and English Language Arts lesson plans aligned with National Common Core State Standards. Lessons include a downloadable & customizable lesson plan (Word document), supporting materials (Word or PDF format), and video instruction that students can access at school or at home. To access all materials, users will need a free account (logging in with an existing Google Account was the quickest for me). The ability to preview some of the materials (in a Scribd frame) was blocked for me, but downloading the materials instead took care of the problem.

What a great resource!

Common Core Lesson Plans from Library of Congress


The Library of Congress has a searchable database of free Common Core-aligned lesson plans, primary sources, and other materials available to download and use in your classroom. The database is searchable by state, grade level, and subject. Only English/Language Arts and Literacy for History/Social Studies choices are currently available for Common Core, but more are available depending on your state selection. Users can also search by national organizations, like the National Council for the Social Studies or the National Council of Teachers of English, American Association of School Librarians, National Education Technology Standards, etc.

Thanks for the tweet, @coolcatteacher

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Veterans Day Resources

Since Veterans Day falls on a Sunday this year, many schools like ours will not observe a day off to recognize those who have served. Here are some links that will help you and your students understand the importance of this day.

Thanksgiving Resources

Turkey Day is just around the corner! Here are some links to help kids understand the holiday in a little more depth!

First of all, the Smithsonian’s Plimoth Plantation web site will provide a definitive look at Thanksgiving, from the perspectives of both colonist and Native American.

The Boston Children’s Museum has an excellent Web site explaining the ways of life of the Wampanoag before and after their contact with English colonists.

Our Current Thanksgiving Wouldn't Be The Same Without: Abraham Lincoln and Sarah Josepha Buell Hale. Gosh, I miss my History classroom some days...

Larry Ferlazzo’s listing of The Best Sites to Learn & Teach About Thanksgiving

Free Tech for Teachers has recently listed some great resources, here and here, including:

New Office Web Apps on SkyDrive!

Office Web Apps

So you’re away from your school desktop computer, you need to edit a page you need for your class first thing in the morning, and all you have available is wi-fi and a tablet or a laptop that doesn’t have Word installed?

Or perhaps (like me) you’ve fished that flash drive out of a pants pocket after a washer or dryer cycle for the last time, and you just don’t want to take that chance any more?

SkyDriveNever fear, SkyDrive is here! Microsoft SkyDrive and the Office Web Apps have been around for quite a while, but they really only worked with certain browsers & devices. The latest update to SkyDrive and Office Web Apps allow them to be accessed by mobile devices, like Android phones and tablets and any iOS device, like an iPad, iPodTouch, or iPhone, running iOS6.

Microsoft Office Web Apps are “light” versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, that run in a Web browser, like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.

Please note: On iPad, the SkyDrive app simply lets you manage files, but not create or edit documents. Access Office Web Apps through a browser like Safari instead.

SkyDrive and Office Web Apps are completely free and always available to you anywhere you have Internet access. In fact, if you already have a Hotmail account, you probably already have a free account with 7GB of storage already, including free pared-down versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, too!

Watch this 14-minute video to learn how SkyDrive and Office Web Apps work together.

The great part about these tools is that you can share files with others and collaboratively edit the documents simultaneously. This has been a feature enjoyed by Google Docs (now Google Drive) users for quite a while – now it will be built-in to Office files no matter where you go or what device you want to use. These would be great tools to help kids collaborate on documents for group reports, etc., anywhere, anytime. Here’s an older video that shows just how to do that: