Lovely charts – now this looks good


Lovely Charts is a new free online diagramming application that lets you create some pretty professional looking charts that would be great for use in class projects. Even better, they’d be great for use in any professional organisation; the quality is outstanding.   

I’ve been having a bit of a play with the people diagrams. They look like wii characters without the faces. I have to say, if someone presented a chart to me using these figures I’d be far more likely to remain engaged with their presentation.  There is a screencast on the site taking you through some of the features -well worth a look.

Jay Hathaway from Download Squad is impressed. Here’s what he had to say; 

Lovely Charts is a slick new web-based tool for creating flowcharts and wireframes. Features you’d expect from a similar desktop app come standard: copy-paste, undo up to 20 steps, and pan/zoom all work the way you’re used to. Objects snap into place, and the basic drawing tools are all there. The only drawback? You can only save one chart at a time until you upgrade to the pro version. Depending on your needs, though, the 18 euro for 6 months might be worth it to you.

Looks like it will prove useful. Think about giving Lovely Charts a try.

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WikiTaxi – offline access to Wikipedia

Now here’s something that could prove useful. WikiTaxi provides you with free offline access to Wikipedia. Here’s what it can do according to their front page;

WikiTaxi enables you to read, search, and browse Wikipedia offline. No Internet connection is needed, all pages are stored in a WikiTaxi database. Because Wikipedia is constantly growing, WikiTaxi uses compression to make sure that the database stays reasonably small. The huge English Wikipedia easily fits on a 8 GB memory stick.

There are explanations on their homepage about how you go about creating a Wikitaxi database. You have to do a database dump, which means that you are downloading Wikipedia from the internet and importing it into a Wikitaxi database. According to them, this is easy to do and there are instructions on their page explaining how you go about doing this.  I haven’t done it, so I can’t verify if it is easy or not. It sounds like a big call to me, considering the size of Wikipedia, but they claim that compression makes it possible.

Why would this be useful?? Not all of us in this world have seamless Internet access. Some of our students struggle with digital divide issues and can’t get access to what is becoming a very good reference source that is available online. Imagine if we could provide our students in situations like this with 8g memory  sticks (that are becoming cheaper by the day)  that have Wikitaxi available for them to use at home. Cheaper maybe, than subscribing to an online database like World Book or Brittanica that requires an internet connection once again.   

Jay Hathaway from Download Squad pointed me to this new app. Read his post for his take on it.

Surf canyon – refine your search results with a bullseye!

Just found this cool little tool while browsing through Download Squad. It’s called Surf Canyon and what it does is to find good search results from the pages in search engines that you’re not likely to look at. Let’s face it, anyone working with kids these days would have to be noticing that they are not likely to search through the entire first page of Google results, let alone move onto pages 2, 3 or 4. I do try and search beyond the first page, but I’d suggest I’m in the minority! I remember asking students last year how many of them looked beyond the first four results from Google – there were less than five hands raised from a class of 24 or so.

That’s why I’m keen on exploring the possibilities of Surf Canyon. Once you’ve downloaded it (it works for Internet explorer and firefox) you will find a bullseye icon appearing next to the results you have received. When you click on the bullseye, you will find ir opens three search results recommended by surf canyon for the keyword you have searched for. Next to each result also appears the page number the result was on. Here’s what I found when I searched myself! and clicked on the bullseye.

This would be a great tool for teachers to use to help demonstrate to your students how a relevant search term could be hidden on page 7 of your search results. I need to play around with it a bit more to see if it returns relevant results on a regular basis, but it looks like an interesting tool that I could use for instruction.

Thanks Drew Orlanoff from Download Squad for the heads up.       

Snackr – a new way to read RSS feeds

I read about Snackr while browsing through Download Squad  via my Google Reader. If you read a lot of blogs you’ll know that you have to have a means of managing the plethora of information you want (need!) to consume. My reader is invaluable – I subscribe to sites by pasting the url into the add subscription box within the reader and any new feeds from the blogs I subscribe to come to me directly. I don’t have to open a new tab and open the site each time I want to see what people in my educational network are writing about.

What I’ve found recently is a lack of time to get to all the reading done. Now that I’m active on Twitter coupled with the demands of my job (not to mention my family obligations!) I’m finding I’m time poor in relation to my reader. Although I’m finding the connections I’m making via Twitter incredibly valuable, I’m lamenting the fact that I’m missing some of the deeper thinking that is evident when you read what people are posting in their blogs.  

Snackr is going to help me manage my reading. Download Squad have explained it really well so I’ll block quote from them rather than try to paraphrase their thinking!

Snackr is an Adobe AIR-based RSS ticker that pulls random headlines from your RSS feeds and scrolls them along the bottom or the side of your screen, letting you click through to read anything that looks interesting. It’s not a replacement for your regular RSS reader, but it makes a great supplement. Snackr’s well worth checking out if you’re an information addict who has to have the fire hydrant open at all times.

  I suppose I am turning into an information addict. I downloaded Snackr (you have to make sure you have downloaded Adobe AIR first – easy to do) and now it’s running along the base of my screen. I’ve added feeds to the basic set that came when I downloaded the application. You can easily add or delete feeds. The scrolling was moving too quickly for me so I slowed it down – less likely to have an epileptic seizure now! Already I can see the benefits. I’m not finding the scrolling too obtrusive and I can easily click on an item that might be of interest. When I do up pops a box with part of the post visible. A quick read indicates whether or not I want to view the post in its entirity. Again, easy to do. Just click ‘view post’ and you’re redirected to the source.  If it becomes obstrusive you can collapse the ticker (I think that’s what it’s called!) so that you can concentrate on a task at hand.

I’m liking it so far! Thanks Jay Hathaway from Download Squad for giving me the heads up.

Trendrr -Would maths teachers find this useful?

I’m not a maths teacher, but when I saw this I immediately thought of how it could be applied to teaching. Been looking at Download Squad (a fave site of mine) and noticed a post about Trendrr – a  graphing tool that lets you compare and graph social data from popular websites such as YouTube, ebay and myspace. According to Jay Hathaway;

Trendrr makes graphing simple by including a drag-and-drop scratchpad that lets you edit and compare graphs with a minumum of effort. “

It may well be that many of these social network sites are blocked in schools which may limit its effectiveness as a Web 2.0 tool in classrooms. I couldn’t help but think, however, that this would be a great site to be using to get your students interested in comparing data from sites that they use in their everyday lives – a bit of real life maths! Perhaps  teachers could create some graphs before class and have them ready so students can draw conclusions from the data. We all know how much more attention we pay to things when they have relevance in our lives. Thinking about it,  could be a great tool for Humanities teachers looking at the human condition and social trends.

(Graph – from Download Squad)

Back from camp – time to tell you about Google Notebook

Returned from camp today. Had a great time with fantastic Year 7 students willing to give everything a go. I’m a huge supporter of Outdoor Education camps since I left on my first one two years ago. On that one, we paddled 60kms down Australia’s Murray River and camped on river beaches nightly for five days. HUGE learning curve for me – had to adapt very quickly and stay motivated even though I found it really difficult. At the end of the week I’d felt a shift in me – a sense of achievement and a bonding with a group unlike camp experiences I’d had before. Happens every time I do an Outdoor Ed camp – everyone grows in some way. Last night’s debrief session was wonderful – every student could articulate how they had learnt something and what they were going to take away from the experience – powerful stuff!

Something else that I think is pretty powerful and transformational for both teachers and their students is Google Notebook. At the moment I’ve got two Google Notebooks running. One I call blog ideas. What I do is open my notebook when I’m reading feeds from my Google Reader – it’s absolutely essential to get yourself a Google Reader (or other RSS feed service) if you want to subscribe to websites and receive updates that come directly to you rather than you having to go to the effort of finding the website every time you log on. My Google Reader has literally changed my life (and I’m not kidding!) Back to the point of the discussion – I open the Google Notebook called ‘blog ideas’ and what I can do is cut and paste things I’ve read into my notebook that I think might be a good idea for a blog post. It’s helping me to make sense of what I think is important and is also helping me to write posts on a frequent basis. If you remember, I’ve set myself the ridiculous target of attempting to write a blog post a day. Call me stupid -I’m already saying it to myself!

My other notebook is one that I’m using to collate ideas for a presentation I have to make with a colleague. Because we are going to have to work on this together, I have chosen the ‘Share this notebook’ option that is available to you when you use Google Notebook. This sends an invite to people you want to have access to the notebook so that you can both make contributions. It’s this collaborative potential that I think is transformational for staff and students. Teachers could use Google Notebook (or Google Docs) to work on developing ideas for units of work and students could use them for group projects. As individuals, teachers and students would find the Google Notebook valuable for collecting information from the Web for projects. I showed my notebooks to a researcher from a university in Melbourne and she could immediately see the potential this offered for the work she does.

If you haven’t seen it yet, get yourself a google account and check it out – I’m sure you’ll see ways to use this fantastic free resource immediately. Getting a google account is easy too – just register with an email address, user name and password. Dead simple and the benefits are huge.

I’m really comfortable  with my Google Reader and aren’t fussed about opening the notebook at the same time. Download Squad have just posted about a combined feed reader and blog client in one called YeahReader. Here’s how they describe how it works;

“In addition to the usual feed reader tools that let you mark items as read or unread, you can also click a “blog this” button to copy feed items into the blog client. “

They also point out this very valid point which is why I think bloggers should proceed with caution;

“Just be careful to use this power for good and not evil. In other words, if you’re going to say, write about an article you found on Download Squad, please don’t copy the whole article and pass it off as your own work. That’s what we like to call copyright infringement.”

They’re absolutely right – their article is worth a read – I’d encourage you to follow the link.

Down for everyone or just me?

How’s this for a handy site, Down for everyone or just me?. Found out about it from Download Squad who posted it 12 mins ago!  (I just love my Google reader.) How many times have you tried to open a site only to receive an error message or some script you don’t understand.  This would have been really handy for me yesterday. Our school server was down, and being the weekend, I couldn’t determine if it was just me or if everyone else was in the same boat. Had I known about this site, I could have just typed the URL into the search bar, clicked ‘or just me’, and I would have been able to find out if I was on my own or part of the collective whole experiencing problems.   

Download Squad  questioned whether people were going to remember the URL ( Personally I think it’s great- it’s exactly what I’m thinking when I can’t get access to a site so I’m sure I’m going to remember it. 

Easy convert of PDF to Word.

We’ve been discussing PDF documents at school recently and the difficulties manipulating information contained within.  Download Squad have posted about a free download that converts PDF documents to Word format.  I tried it out tonight. It was easy to download and the conversion was quick. In less than 20sec a large PDF file was available as a Word document that could be edited. Our interactive whiteboards save data as a PDF – this could be a very helpful free tool for teachers who want their students to be able to edit documents.  



Here’s something that I need. I can’t tell you how often I get home and am totally unprepared when it comes to putting together a meal for my family. I get in a rut and make the same thing on a weekly basis until I kill it and no-one will eat it anymore! I’ve got to the stage where takeaway is too often an option. Maybe the solution lies in Supercook -the intelligent recipe search engine. This is a search engine that finds recipes for you based on the ingredients you have available in your kitchen. When you get to the site you add the ingredients you have available and recipes display on the screen that you can make. Tags suggest other ingredient options you could include to expand the recipe options available. It’s a bit of fun but could also be useful if you have a busy life and find planning meals a chore. It could be a useful teaching tool for those teaching food preparation.

Amazing what you can find on the Web these days! Thanks to Emily Price from Download Squad for the alert to this site.

Technology in Education – what should we be doing?


Todd Ritter from Download Squad attended the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference and heard David Pogue speak. He was amazed by the reaction of the audience to ideas David expressed about technology he feels would be usefully applied in educational settings. Todd made this comment about audience participants;

 “it became clear from the audience gasps and collective jaw-dropping that educators are not keeping up with technology changes. Demonstrations of technologies that have been around for more than two years were causing the educators to feverishly put pen to paper so they can take things like Skype back to their schools to use in the curriculum.”

While I think it’s true that many classrooms are not exploring technology to its full potential, I wouldn’t be so damning in my criticism. Many teachers are flat out trying to meet curriculum demands and the emotional needs of their students. While I agree that new technologies can make the learning experience more engaging, many teachers do not feel confident enough to try new things out. One of the things I’m trying to do with this blog is to highlight some of the new technologies available and empower teachers to feel confident enough to tackle something new. I had a wonderful experience with a colleague today. Our Electronic Services Librarian had set up a Wiki for her class and I was helping my colleague learn how to edit pages and link text to websites. I then suggested we find an appropriate YouTube video and embed it in the Wiki. We clicked on the plugin button and selected insert YouTube video. We copied the embed code from the YouTube video and pasted it into the box that had appeared on our screen. We clicked save and voila! YouTube video embedded in Wiki. She was thrilled and felt empowered. This was a teaching opportunity for me and my colleague will pass this on to her students. Winners all round! This is what we need to be doing to support our colleagues in feeling comfortable with new technology. Once they realise things aren’t so difficult to do there will be more uptake and our students will have the opportunity to learn technologies that will assist them in becoming the lifelong learners they need to be.

Todd Ritter suggests Five ways to improve technology in education. Read his post – he has ideas that I think all educators should be considering.