Thursday, December 22, 2011

Syncing Your Bookmarks with Xmarks

As teachers, we all have websites that we visit often such as Power Teacher, school websites, Google Docs, Facebook, etc. Rather than typing in the web address each time, we "bookmark" these sites on our computer. There are two types of bookmarks. There are those saved in the Bookmarks folder, and then there are others saved on the Bookmarks Toolbar. This toolbar is usually located right below the web address bar in your web browser. Click here to learn more about this toolbar in Firefox, including how to add websites.

At Oak Middle School, we recently began using a Google Spreadsheet for signing out laptop carts. This online document is frequently visited by teachers and is a good example of something that should be bookmarked so you don't need to scroll through all of Ann's OMS Expresses trying to find the link she gave us weeks ago!

My Firefox Bookmark Toolbar (click on it to see a larger image)

The one drawback to saving bookmarks on your computer is that most people these days do not use the same web browser (such as Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Safari) on the same computer every day. Most of us use multiple computers and sometimes multiple web browsers, depending on which one is working better that day. This is where Xmarks comes to the rescue! Xmarks is a service that backs up and syncs your online bookmarks. Due to this service, you will never be without your bookmarks again.

How does it work?

Xmarks is an "add on" or "extension" for your web browsers. (Different browsers give it different names.) It is compatible with all browsers and all types of computers. Go to and click on "download". Choose the web browser that you use and click to install. This is being installed online in your web browser. It is NOT being installed on your hard drive.

It will prompt you to create a new account, and you will need to create a username and password. Once this is done, you can "sync" all of the bookmarks on your computer. Xmarks will back up these bookmarks on its servers so if your laptop dies tomorrow, you can at rest knowing your bookmarks are not gone.

The real advantage to using Xmarks comes when you use it on multiple browsers and/or computers. Repeat the same steps above to set up Xmarks on all of your web browsers on all of your computers. When you do this though, you will log in to the same account using the same username and password. It will sync with the other computer and your bookmarks will quickly become available.

When I had to get a new school laptop a few months ago, the very first thing I did was install Dropbox onto my computer. The second thing I did was install Xmarks on both Firefox and Google Chrome. I also have a PC in my classroom as well as at home...both have Xmarks set up. So now, when I bookmark a really cool science site that I see on my computer at home, I know I will be able to access it when I get to school.

If you would like to try Xmarks, but are not sure how to set it up on your computer, come see one of us. We will get  it up and running for you.

Other Features

While I primarily use Xmarks to sync my bookmarks, it does offer a few other cool features:
  1. You gain online access to all of your bookmarks. Even if you are on a computer in a library in Germany, you can log in to your account and see them all.
  2. You can opt to sync all of your bookmarks or just some of them. You may not want some of your personal bookmarks to be on your school laptop or you may want to "leave school at school". Either way, this is easily done.
  3. You can "share" bookmark folders which basically makes them publicly viewable by anyone. This could be an interesting way to share online resources with students.
  4. There is also the option to sync passwords on different sites though I have not explored this option.

What's Next?

In my next blog post, I will share ways of taking online bookmarks to the next level by using "social bookmarking" websites such as Diigo or Delicious.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Scan a document on our copiers!

Need to create a PDF of a document you have?  Looking to save a digital copy of some paper?  You can do this on our new copiers (in the main office, the copy room, or room 404) - all you need is a flash drive!

Here's how to do it:

First off, place your document on the copier, as if you were making copies.

Next, select "scan" on the top menu.

 Select the middle button on the menu that pops up - it says "File / USB."

 Next, make sure you have a USB flash drive.  You'll be storing any PDFs or images you create on it.  When facing the copier, the USB connector is on the right side, near the top front corner.  Just insert the flash into the slot.

 A message should now come up, saying "Found USB Device."  On the next menu, select the USB Media option.

On this same menu, you can select to save it as a picture (TIFF) or PDF file.

Click File Name to change the name of the file.

The last column, Multi / Single has a very specific function:
[MULTI]—Press this button to store your scan as a multiple page file. When you scan several pages, the
equipment stores all the pages as a single file.
[SINGLE]—Press this button to store your scan as a single file for each page. When you scan several pages, the equipment stores each page as a separate file.

Once you're set with the options, click OK.

This brings you back to the main menu.  Click "scan" and you're all set!

If this menu comes up, you can put a new sheet on the scanner and then hit continue, or select "Job Finish" when the last page is done.

That's it -- remove your flash drive, and you can now store your PDFs / images wherever you need them!

For additional documentation, go here: 


Derek & Jeremy

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Need to convert a file?

How often have you had trouble accessing a file?  Maybe there's a PDF you'd like to edit as a text file, or someone gave you a video or audio file that you're having trouble playing... want that wav file to be an MP3?  Need an image to be a jpeg and not a gif?  Let us introduce you to:
With, you can change any media file to any other format - for free.  Simply register for an account, and then choose from their drop down menu:

You can then upload a file or choose one from somewhere on the net... it's fast and simple.  Once you register, you can even email the converted file directly to someone else.

 So, add this to your virtual toolbox - it can be a real time (and headache) saver!

Derek & Jeremy

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Communicate and Share Information With Students Using Google Docs

When most teachers think about how they can use Google Docs in the classroom, they often think about students writing and collaborating with other students. Yes, students can collaborate to write essays, create "PowerPoint" presentations, make interactive surveys, or create graphs using student-collected data. Yes, all of these examples can also be shared with the teacher to you can keep track of their progress.

No, this is NOT how I primarily use Google Docs in my Science classroom!

Every day, rather than my students creating documents that are shared with me, I am the one creating documents that are shared with my students. You see, I use it to communicate and share documents with my students. As we mentioned in an earlier post, teachers on our team have all of our files saved in a Dropbox folder on our computer. These files are also saved online and can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection. However, these files are private to me and not accessible by my students.

Therefore, I also store all of my Science documents in Google Docs. Google account users are automatically given 1 GB of storage. As long as you are not uploading movies or LOTS of pictures, this is plenty of space. I primarily upload Microsoft Word and Excel files, along with some PDFs. All of my files are stored there, and I am only currently using 5% of my allotted space.

I organize all of these files into folders (called "collections" in Google Docs) that are separated by unit. Students can follow a link to my "Science Docs" and access these documents. If they are absent or lose a handout, they can easily download or print another copy. I abandoned PowerPoint a few years ago in favor of Google Presentations. These online slideshows may lack some of the bells and whistles of PowerPoint, but they are very functional and always being improved. All of my slideshows are in my "Science Docs" so students can watch them at home as often as they like. For this reason, I often instruct students NOT to take notes during my presentations. This way, they are focused on what I am saying, and not hurrying up to write down everything on each slide.

How to Upload and Share Documents:

You can upload everything from a single file to an entire folder. When you click "upload", it asks you if you want to convert them to the corresponding Google Docs format. I usually do not check this box and opt to leave it in its original formatting. This way, if a student downloads a Microsoft Word document, they will be able to open it up in Word with no problems.

How to Share Documents:

If you are interested in sharing documents with your students, you must either share them to be "Public on the web" or "Anyone with the link". I  make mine public on the web because there is nothing personal and if someone else can benefit from using them, that is fine with me. You also have the option to share an entire folder ("collection") so any documents placed inside that folder will have the same settings. I know this sounds complicated, but the link below explains all of them very nicely!

Other Ideas To Share Info with Students Using Google Docs:

Post daily homework assignments. 
  • In lieu of using an online homework site like, we created an 8 Gold Homework Google Doc that gets updated every day with assignments for that night.
  • This document is "public on the web" so all students AND PARENTS can see the daily assignments.
  • It is also shared with the team teaches as well as a few trusted students who have access to edit the document. If teachers forget to update the document, one of these students can add the information.
Maintain a class "Plan Book". 
  • In addition to putting Science homework on the team homework doc, I also write down class summaries each day on a Science Plan Book Google Doc.
  • Students can look here if they are absent to get a more detailed idea of what we accomplished in class that day. I also provide links to any handouts and online resources showed in class that day (such as website links, YouTube videos, etc.)
  • I first experimented with this "plan book" approach last year. Not only was it helpful for my students, but I now have a detailed summary of my entire year to look back on. It has helped me keep track of my pacing this year as well as reflect on which lessons worked well and which ones I want to change.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Save email space - don't attach it, beam it!

Tired of having your inbox clogged by a couple of big files?

Here's an easy way to share those files and pictures with everyone, without having Outlook choke: 

What is it? Just Beam It is a VERY simple way to share files with anyone and everyone, using Firefox, Google Chrome, or Internet Explorer.
All you do is go to -- there, you'll see an interactive box:

All you need to do is one of two things: in Chrome or Firefox, open the spot where you have the file saved and drag it into that window.  Otherwise, click on "select a file to beam" and click the file in your directory.  The app then uploads the file - up to 2 gigs in size - and gives you a link that people can use to access it:

You just save the link, and you can send it to anyone and everyone - it takes up no space, and those who want the file can download it... leaving their inbox free from large files.

So... next time, don't "alloak" or "allsherood" that big file - beam the link!

Per usual, you can see all our tips on our blog -

You can contact us any time, and we can come by to help you with any of our tips, or you can swing by to see us.

Derek & Jeremy