Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reviews: Keeping it all together :)

Here are more reviews of the awesome free sites that I have been digging through. These sites are focused on helping students, teachers, or (home school) groups keep it all together and organized. If you're an on the go family that needs a new way to keep track of life and schoolwork, these sites will definitely help
If you are looking for subject or curriculum based sites that are free, come back soon because I have plenty of those to share in the near future.

 More for the student, than the teacher. The best way to describe Soshiku is to compare it to that day planner you lug around with you. You know the one: full of rescheduled assignments, course work, your daily schedule, sticky notes and paperclips hanging out all the over the place. It's your everyday life crammed into a book that you can't live without. Or maybe you do live without it, but you really need to get one :) This site is that day planner. It organizes your courses, manages assignments, keeps your notes, allows you to upload files, reminds you of due dates and upcoming tests, and lets you work with your science fair partner. The absolute best part: it can notify you of upcoming tests or assignment due dates via e-mail or TEXT MESSAGE! Where was this site when I was in college? I am so jealous! The site says it is for high school or college students, but it is simple enough to use for all ages. And because it's online, you can access your information anywhere there is an internet connection.

Similar to Soshiku, this site focuses on the student world of courses, assignments, and tests. A few things that separate this site from the others is that it allows you to keep track of exam grades and calculate averages. It currently does not offer any compatibility with your phone, but the site says those capabilities are coming soon. I think once it can text you with notifications, it will surpass Soshiku.

Donna Young's Free Homeschool Planner
If you prefer the good old fashion paper planning, this is the site for you. This site offers lots of free printable forms, and some that you can fill in before you print. It offers lots of neat stuff, helpful advice on planning a curriculum, and tips on using the printable forms. They offer calenders, daily planning sheets, weekly planning sheets, journal pages, and even an adorable kindergarten diploma. I would recommend this site to anyone who spends money on planners of any kind, and is a great way to have make your schedule and info more accessible in the home.

 This may be my inner child talking, but Stixy is so super cute! Stixy is like the family message board (schools and offices have them too). Some people prefer the cork boards, some people prefer the more updated magnetic/dry erase ones, some people still roll with the chalk boards of yester-year. Whichever fits your family style, Stixy will bring it online. Have you ever been on the road, at a meeting, or on the way to the grocery store and you needed something off of that board. You can picture the little sticky note that you need, or the magnet holding your grocery list in place. Now you can check your board from your cool new smartphone or anywhere there is an internet connection. And this board is way more interactive than the one you have the fridge at home. You can attach images, pdf files, word documents, calendars, to-do lists, assignments, important dates or appointments, the list can go on. You can change the color, style, and size of your font. You can make it as super cute or mundane as your heart desires. Those techy teenagers might actually remember to check the board. Stixy is also great for class notes, assignments, quizzes, storing and organizing research, sharing photos, and keeping connected with your local homeschool group.

Yep, it's a list. . . on the web. Weblist allows you create, store, organize, and share information on the web in what it calls a list. Your list can be anything, about anything. Your lists can contain websites, photos, videos, text documents, pdfs, and more. Have a long list of websites that you like to reference in your lesson plans? Create a weblist for each subject and never go on the hunt for that site with the really good worksheets again. This site is also great for research projects and reports that include various forms of info and digital media that you need to store in one place. Each list gets its own unique URL, so you can easily share your personalized list of great resources and info with whomever you choose instead of sending out massive files to download or multiple urls to websites. Perfect for a teacher to make all the course materials available to the students and parents at home. And a great way to keep track of files that a home school group may share.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Happy Birthday Crawfish Pie!

Five years ago to the day, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. It's hard to believe that so much time has passed already, but I can't deny what stands before me. She is growing into such a wonderful person and I am so lucky to have her in my life. Her personality is huge, she plays hard and loves with all her heart. She is caring, smart, and funny. Crawfish Pie loves to play outside all day, she loves meeting new people, and she loves to learn new things.

Though we are homeschooling I am not sure who teaches who the most valuable lessons. ABC's and 123's seem to pale in comparison to everything she has given me, and there isn't a day that has gone by that she hasn't put a smile on my face. I have learned to have more patience, and she has taught me to see the grey areas in my previously black and white outlook on life.

She is definitely an "outside the box" thinker, and I enjoy trying to keep up with her brilliance. Her intelligent mind coupled with her amazing imagination never cease to amaze me. She can always finds a creative solution to a problem no matter how big or small, and she will take the long road because it gives her more time to play along the way.  She truly is an amazing person, and she inspires me to be the best Momma that I can be.

I hope that she will keep these qualities as she continues to grow.
And I hope her future is as full of love, energy, and passion as she is.

Happy Birthday Crawfish Pie!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let the Reviews Begin: Google Apps for the Classroom

Google. . . an internet entity that is so powerful its name has become a verb. "Google it". Their search engine is one of the most widely used, but until recently I hadn't noticed all that they have to offer. Best of all, everything is free! With the tools and apps that Google has, your online world (including all your educational material) can be streamlined, organized, easy to access anywhere there is an internet connection, and stored on a Google server (freeing up space on your computer).
The following reviews are my own opinions based on my own personal experience that I have had with the featured site. There has been no contact between myself and the Google empire, and I am not being compensated in any way for featuring any of the sites.

Google Groups
This site offers a way to stay connected through group email lists and discussion boards. It is similar to Yahoo Groups, but is currently in the process of streamlining it features so it will no longer offer file storage. I wouldn't be too worried about that though, they have other free sites dedicated to file storage that you could easily access from the discussion board or the email feature. These groups are super easy to set up, share, and manage. Perfect for maintaining communication with home school families, groups, and students.

Google Docs
One simple word explains this site : everything. If you need somewhere to create and store all of your educational files, this site for you. Google Docs offers everything you need to create text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. It stores them on their server, so your computer is free of clutter, you can share your information with anyone, and you can access your information anywhere. There is no software to install, and of course it's free :) Google Docs allows more than one person to work on a document at the same time from different locations (peer reviews, group assignments) and once your document is complete you can publish the document as a web page with a unique Google url. You can also choose to upload your own files if you are partial to a software brand.

Google Page Creator
With Google Page Creator, you or your students can easily create and publish a webpage. This site has simple to use "drag and drop" features that allow to change the layout without knowing any codes. Set up a page for your class, your local group, your family, or the topic of a recent research assignment. There is no software to download, you can upload your own images, and add links to other websites.

Google's Picasa
This is a great tool to edit and publish pictures and photo albums. This site also offers Web Albums, which upload your photos to the web, saving space on your computer and allowing you to share with your friends and family. This software is available as a free download, and once installed will locate all of the pictures on you computer and place them into folders organized by the date taken. Picasa offers editing tools that are easy to use, and you can arrange the pictures in the folder in any order you want. Great for use with reports that require lots of pictures, photos of school events, family photos, and more. If you have photos, you will want Picasa.

Google SketchUp
Wow. This thing is amazing. The official description is "an easy-to-use program that lets you and your students create, modify, and share 3D models. From history to calculus, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to see your ideas in 3D. And when you're done, you can export an image, make a movie, or print out a view of what you made." I have watched a few tutorials on youTube, and it seems like this software would take some getting used to. The end results are astonishing though! You can use this software to make a 3D anything, using your own photos or start from scratch, and you can also work in conjunction with Google Earth to put 3D models of buildings on the map! As an educator you can create 3D models of geometric equations or have your students create models of chemical reactions. Google claims that you can incorporate their SketchUp software into any subject, at any grade level. If your students are visual learners, this will be a very useful tool to have in your arsenal.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

We're back! (I think)

 Holidays are always a good excuse to skip the dirty work. Throw a surgery in the mix and you can guarantee that nothing will be accomplished for a while. So, after much time off (from schooling and blogging) it is time we get back into the swing of things. We started the New Year off right, with a makeover for the classroom that included all the cool posters and supplies Crawfish Pie received for Christmas. She is so excited about school, and unbelievably excited about doing school work in her new classroom. All you other moms reading this know how contagious that excitement is! Although it is technically the middle of the school year, I have decided to make a few changes to our curriculum. That's one of the perks of being a home school family. Crawfish Pie has shown me that she is thirsty for more knowledge than ABC's and 123's. We are keeping our Alphabet Scrapbook, its our art project for the day and we both really enjoy it. We will be making good use of all the games Christmas brought to our house this year, which I never thought of as educational in my youth but somehow are very appealing as educational tools now that I have a kid of my own. Another big debut in the Stelly house is the Tag reading system that Aunt Erica gave to Crawfish Pie!!!!! I don't think the extra exclamation points are enough to express how truly excited we are about that thing!  I have also been searching the internet for more free educational activities that we can do together and may have found more free stuff than a girl can handle! Keep an eye out for upcoming reviews of the free websites, and don't worry, I will add them to the list of free stuff as I go through each site to make sure its content is fully appropriate (we all know how much spam can come from a free site).  Cheers to a whole new year of learning and loving it!