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As I watched the ball drop in New York city on a TV at our vacation condo rental in Maui, Ryan Seacrest reminded the world that 2009 was year for Twitter, who won the "Breakout of the Year" by Webby Award. But then I checked and Twitter was first launched back in 2006 and the public finally "ate it up" last year. With all the hype Twitter has received, I was surprised to read an article that revealed only 8% of online teens use Twitter. Whoa. My first reaction was that schools were not integrating the latest technologies and maybe Twitter was left on the shelf. Although, I read that teens are Web 2.0 purists and enjoy publishing media driven content instead of mere words. Talking to my wife who is an English teacher, this makes sense. Students would much rather make their own movies or tag friends in their photos than write about their often mundane school life.

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I have been waiting for three years for a rumored "G-Drive" from Google that would allow you an easy access storage space to upload and keep your files. I know you can do this indirectly through email but I wanted a file system style with folders for easy access and organization. Well, Google is now offering this free storage through their Google Docs platform, which is a smart move to get more people on board. Google's strategy has always been to start by offering a small amount of storage and slowly increase it based on demand. Right now you get 1GB of free storage but the upload limit is a whopping 250MB which 25 times bigger than Microsoft's Skydive even though they give you 250GB to store small files with their ads cluttering your online storage space. I think the best news about Google's announcement is their switch to unlimited Google Docs. I was worried because I was on a fast rate to max mine out...but no longer. Thanks Google, I think we are going to continue to be best pals for a long time.
Today was a professional development day at our school and I was asked to lead an hour long session on Google tools. I had given a similar seminar a couple weeks ago for a room full of teachers and enjoyed sharing tips to make life more efficient with Google but also ideas on how to integrate Google into the classroom. My computer lab has 24 computers and iMacs which I thought would be efficient but teachers just kept coming and the final head count was 47. I did a quick run through of Google Search, Gmail, iGoogle, and Reader in the time I had. I like to go fast pace and give people glimpses of the tools so that they have to really use their minds to keep up with the presentation and also to convince them to dig into it on their own after watching my trailer. Here are the slides with the screencasts embedded
into the presentation: http://tiny.cc/mrheilgoogletools.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had students ask me to fill out college recommendation forms. I have so much respect for those rare students who have figured out my computer class and earned an A+. I would bet that 90% of those students will become successful. It is rare for a "book-smart" student to get an A+ because I assess more creative and practical thinking skills in my assessments which are project-based. Usually my street smart students excel. Anyways, I was looking at various college fairs coming up for the seniors and my eyes popped out when I read about the Second Life college fair that was to be held at International School Island...in the virtual world of Second Life!

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TAGS: pdf - word - convert
Had a couple of teachers ask me over the week what is the best tool to convert their PDF to a Word document. Most start with a Google search and the first hit is www.pdftoword.com. This one is a gymic. You supposedly upload your pdf and put in your email for them to send it to you but it never comes. I'm sure they sell your email to online marketers. The second hit is www.pdfonline.com which I found to be the best. Simple upload it and download it as a RTF file which is compatible to all text editors such as MS Word or Apple's Pages. The third hit, www.convertpdftoword.net, is a service you have to pay for. So my suggestion is touse PDF Online.

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I teach HS classes but treat my students more like freshmen college students because I'm trying to prepare them for that next step. Also, to be honest I choose this route because it is less work for me and this style usually works because the majority of my students are responsible and self-motivated. Although, what about that small minority group that needs someone to check up on them in detail?

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As a computer teacher, sometimes the last thing I think about is the English side of the lesson. Although, I need to focus more on it, especially since I teach a wide-range of international students. Since my wife teaches English at the university, she reminds me of the importance of English instruction in my lessons. I often assume the students understand the content and vocabulary of my lessons, but in computer, students often don't grasp the technical jargon. Today I was surfing a Twitter group and discovered Lesson Writer which allows you to insert the content of your lesson into their lesson builder and it quickly and intelligently generates a list of vocabulary words that students may need help with. It even provides definitions and easy pronunciations to these difficult words along with questions to review understanding. It took me less than one minute to generate the following lesson:

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I used wordle for the first time yesterday to create an About page on my other website. I was amazed at how easy it was and it had a plethora of visual options. I am already starting to think about how I can use it next year when I teach in Seoul and thought it would be a good first day assignment to get a fun profile of the students and they can share their wordles' with the class.

In the past I would take a huge piece of colored construction paper, cut it up like a jigsaw puzzle, and give each student a piece. Each had to write their name and draw pictures of things that described them. They would then come together as a class and put the puzzle together with teamwork. I always found success with this activity and proudly displayed them on the class wall.

TAGS: web 2.0 - Google
If a school does not have the money, network, or knowledge to support Microsoft OneNote, there are other comparable open source options: Google Notebook (basic but conveniently compatible with the Google Suite) and Zoho Notebook (which has a bump up on features and interface). The Zoho video introduction has a good overview background on the power of Zoho and towards the end it gets really good. Google Docs is good for essays but for research gathering and projects, a notebook is very appropriate with more of an open environment and more potential. So which one is better? It is debatable.

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TAGS: Skype - plug-in - WordPress - web - e-learning - online

Over the weekend, I was helping my cousin out with her WordPress blog and uploading a sound file. Although we live about eight minutes from each other, we used Skype to discuss the problem face-to-face using webcams. I was also able to see a live view of her desktop as she navigated throughout here website to show me the problem. I was able to easily see the problem and show her how to resolve it. I recommend installing the Skype View plug-in that can allow the other person to view your desktop while holding a conversation.

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