Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Life Organized - Part 1 of 3

I have been helping out colleagues lately sharing with them organizational tools I use so I thought I would write a post (actually a series of posts) I could just point them to.  I do go into more detail then what some of you need but I am writing this toward an audience who may not be entirely comfortable with all things "techy".  This is not meant as a "how to" guide but just an overview of some tools, why I use them, and how you might use them.

In this first post I will talk about the Droid and Google Apps.

My life did not used to be so laid out.  Anything I needed to remember I could just file away in my head.  If something was forgotten or missed, mehh.  Then life happened.  Now if it does not get written down it does not happen.

Many of the tools I will mention I have only started using in the last year or two.  It mainly started when my wife's PDA died.  We decided to take the plunge and both got a Droid.  Now I have no idea how I made it through life pre-Droid.

Smart Phone -$
This would be tool #1.  All the tools I will mention are accessible with the Droid.  Many of them will even sync (if you make a change on a computer it will automatically be changed on the Droid and vice versa) to the Droid.  Most of our friends and family are on Verizon so we decided to stay instead of going the iPhone route.  So far no complaints.  It's just awesome, well except for the cost of the data plan but I still say it is well worth it.

Google Calendar - free
It is actually nice being able to see in detail what is happening.  We created a calendar for each member of the family.  We also did a birthday/anniversary calendar.  Now that school is using Google apps, we can also pull in our work calendars.  The main tip is to make sure you pull in your work calendar into your personal Google account and not the other way around.  When I log into my school Google account, I only see work related information.  However it is set up so I can edit my work calendar while logged into my personal account.  I also set up a calendar for each class I teach.  Our district uses school center to host our website.  Instead of using the calendar in school center for my class webpage, I embedded the class Google calendar I created.  Now I only have to log into school center at the beginning of the year to update any random info.  I run my class through Moodle which is another reason I never have to use school center.  The class calendar is also embedded in our class Moodle page.  I only need to log into my Google account and add to the class calendar.  The calendar is then instantly updated wherever I put it.  Students who have a Google account can subscribe to our class calendar so they do not actually have to visit my website or Moodle.  When I add an event or make a change, they can instantly see it on their Google Calendar.  If each of their teachers did the same, a student could see all of his/her classes at once.

Google Reader - free
It all started when I came across a TED Talk. I now follow many blogs.  Instead of having to go to each blogger's page to see if they posted something new, it comes to me.  Whenever someone publishes a new post it shows up in Google reader.  I can now quickly scan through multiple blog postings without having to leave reader.  Another feature is to track key words or set up a Google alert.  Let's say I am interested in standards based grading.  I can set up my reader to pull in any news story, blog posting, basically anything published on the web about standards based grading.  This is not a search.  I do not have to do anything except tell reader to watch for anything to do with "standards based grading".  Reader looks for new content and brings it to me.  New content meaning anything about "standards based grading" starting the day I set up the reader to look for it.  If I want to see old content (something published to the web before I set up reader) then I would need to do a search and manually go look for it.

Chrome - free
Chrome has won me over from Firefox.  They can argue all they want about which is faster, what I like is the sync ability.  When I open Chrome at school it looks just like the way I have it set up at home.  Not all but most of the extensions will also sync.  Extensions add features to Chrome that Google did not make themselves.  Other people make them to use with Chrome.  The only unfortunate thing is for folks in my school district.  IE is the only one guaranteed to work completely with our online gradebook.  There are some features that do not work in Chrome.  One work around is to install an IE extension.  It looks like you are using IE except you are still inside Chrome.  The one I use is "Chrome IE Tab Multi".  However there are a couple kinks but for the most part the gradebook features I want still work.

Note: If you decide to use the Google tools I mentioned, I recommend you do so using a personal Google Account.  If your school district has Google Apps and provides you with an account, the school district owns it.

Next post: A "to do" App, note taker, password manager, and file synchronization.

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