Holiday cookies

There are lots of things to over indulge in during the holiday season including late nights, fatty food and sweets. Most people don't think twice about the number of internet cookies they get into their system, though. In fact a lot of people don't even know what a cookie is or how it is used. Lets get that part out of the way first.

What is a cookie, anyway?

A cookie is just a small piece of text stored on your computer. It cannot gather data or crash your hard drive. It is just a short bit of text that a website sends to a browser like Firefox or Safari. That browser then stores that little bit of text for later. When you go back to the site, it will ask the browser to look up any cookies they might have sent you. The browser then sends the same text back to that site. So why do browsers do this? Well, look at what a cookie contains. Here's an example- ID=195AY2 www.website.com. In this cookie, the site just wants to be able to know that it's YOU coming back and not Joe Shmoe. That way they can say "Oh, hey Ben! Here are some new books we think you'd really enjoy." It makes the internet far more personal. Internet banking and online shopping depend on also cookies to function.

As with everything, there is an evil side to cookies. You don't necessarily want everyone knowing who you are all the time. You may not want Nike (for example) sharing your ID with Facebook to increase advertising revenue. It really comes down to an invasion of privacy. So what do you do? You may only want to get rid of cookies from a few websites you don't trust. Or you may want to delete all of your cookies and just start fresh.

A word of caution here... Don't delete all of your cookies unless you know the username and password to all of the websites you visit. If you go to a site that "just lets you in" it may use a cookie to do so. Erasing all of your cookies may prompt the site to ask you for your username and password. If you don't know them, you may be in for a few headaches!

Here is a list of three browsers and how you can delete the cookies you may have picked up during the holidays.


Click on the little wrench on the upper right hand side of the browser. Go down to "Tools".  Next click on "Clear browser data". You'll be given the option to clear your history, cookies, passwords and the like. You'll also be given the option to erase the information from the last hour, day, week, month or the beginning of time.

In the top tool bar, click on "Tools" then "Clear recent history".  From there, choose wich cookies you'd like to delete. Read this excellent tutorial for more.

This is the easiest browser to delete cookies from. Click on Safari, then go to Preferences. Go to the privacy tab. There you'll see how many cookies you have. Click on the "Details" button.

You'll see this window pop up.

Notice two things. You have the ability to remove ALL of the cookies if you want. Do this with caution. You'll also see a search bar at top. There, you can search for cookies from specific sites.

Here, I've found a cookie from Facebook. To delete it, you could just hit "remove all" or you could choose the cookies you want to get rid of and hit "remove". You'll need to hit "done" when you are finished getting rid of the cookies you don't want.


Socializing productively

This has been a great break. It was wonderful being able to chat with family and friends, many of whom I haven't seen in ages. Now I have to buckle down and prepare some lesson plans get ready for the upcoming semester. I could sit down create new and (hopefully) impactful lessons all on my own or I could start socializing and let my online community help me out.

Socializing professionally is not like chatting with folks over the holidays. The goal here is to decrease work wile at the same time increasing student performance. Here are some tips on how to use the online community to reduce your workload and improve your teaching. There are three main ways to go social on the internet. First, you can get in with a group and just wait to see what goodies show up. That's what most teachers do. Second, you could interact with some of the people in your group by answering some questions or making a comment here or there. The third and most time consuming activity is to actually share some of your ideas, ask some questions or publish some lesson plans.

Consuming content

Like I said earlier, the majority of us use the internet as a sort of treasure box filled with goodies. We go in, find some wonderful ideas for a class we're doing and move on to our grading or call some parents. I personally like to get ideas over email. As a member of NSTA, I get to be on a listserve for biology, chemistry and technology teachers. For anyone not familier with the term, a listserve is an email service which lets you send and receive email to and from a group. I never read new emails. Instead, I treat it as an idea bank. When I need a new idea for an upcoming lesson, I go into the folder I've stored them in and just perform a key word search.  
Using Gmail, I can easily find what I need.
For example, when I would need advice on how to teach respiration, I'd go to that folder and search for all emails containing the word "respiration". I'd always find some great advice or a worksheet someone was willing to share. Since it all came from teachers who actually used the material in the classroom, I could have confidence in the material.

Reacting to content

The next most common way teachers use the internet is to interact with others online. This means going to sites to get the answer to a question you have or perhaps to comment on what someone has written in a blog or post. These sorts of sites about and include Yahoo Answers, Linkedin, or one of the many other sites found here. Perhaps my favorite place to interact with teachers is Edumodo.

This is a free, secure online social network designed to look and feel just like Facebook. However, it has several security features built in to make it teacher and student friendly. For example, the site does not have the ability for students to communicate with the outside world (except for their own parents). Instead, they can only hear from and write to their teacher and classmates. Really the only people interested in joining Edmodo are teachers and their students. That makes this site the perfect place to go when you have a burning question or an issue you'd like some advice on. Oh ya, did I mention you don't HAVE to put in your actual name? Use a pseudonym if you want some extra privacy and don't plan on using it for your students.
Creating content

By far the most rewarding thing that you can do online is create content. This means publishing your ideas, writing articles and advising other teachers. Of course, this is going to be the most time consuming and will require far more effort on your part. The benefits are huge, though.  Giving over your ideas will tend to prompt others to give you their stuff. It becomes a virtuous circle. If you are going to be sharing your ideas, I would use Blogger, Diigo or Edmodo.

I've already spoken about Edmodo. Diigo is a social bookmarking site, allowing you to save and share websites you find interesting with groups of people. Blogger is, of course, where you can set up and write a blog. Any of these would be a fine choice. Really, whether you are just looking in and getting good ideas or helping others get advice for their classroom, try going social this year. You wont regret it. 
Really, whether you're just looking in and getting good ideas or helping others get advice for their own classroom, try going social this semester. You'll love the results!


Gmail equals productivity

     One of the best ways to keep contact with parents, administration and parents is with email. That way, there is an indelible, time-stamped communication log to fall back on should there be any misunderstandings. Whenever possible, I always recommend using email as one of your primary communication tools.
     Unfortunately, email can be a hassle. I can get a few dozen per day myself. There are important one, interesting ones that you don't really need to read and the emails that are just kind of dead weight. It can be a hassle sorting through this constant electronic drizzle. Once you do sort through the emails you get, it can be difficult to find an email when you need it later on. Worse yet, if you store your email on a your computer, you could loose precious information. If you keep a copy of your emails on the local server, you run the risk going over your email quota.
     Gmail can solve all of these problems. You can have all of your email sent to Gmail (yes, any and all of your email accounts can easily be routed through Google) where it will be stored for free. You won't have to worry that you could loose important emails just because your laptop crashed. You also don't have to worry about going over your limit. I have 12,598 emails and my account is only 27% full (using 2078 MB of my allotted 7656 MB). That's huge! I don't have to take the time to sort through old emails, trying to decide if an email is worth keeping or not. With Gmail, I keep everything, knowing that I'll have an email if I ever need it again.
     Of course, that begs the question of search. In my sea of 13,000 emails, how could I possibly hope to find what I need in a timely mannor? Like most Google products (Google calendar being the most notable exception), search in Gmail is excellent. I can find most emails I need within 30 seconds. Obscure emails take a few minutes. However, I have never failed to find what I need.
     Want more information on how Gmail can improve your productivity? Tweet or email me.


PDF's change. This is how.

PDF's are a great way to get your material out into the world. These files are relatively small and readable on nearly every divice from PCs to smart phones. They are also the go to format if you want to publish something that you don't want modified. While certain aspects of a PDF are a bit tricky to change, its no longer the case that they're immutable.

Apple has changed the PDF legacy for good. Take the program Preview. Unless a file is protected, you can add text or simple shapes as well as highlight or underline important sections of a file. You can also add notes which is nice if you are reviewing an article. Preview is also pretty good at character recognition, so you can copy sections of a document and past them elsewhere. 

Pages, Apple's word processor, is an even more powerful way change up a PDF. It takes far more work, but the results are proportionately more aesthetically pleasing. With this program, you first must open a blank canvas from the template chooser. You can find this option under Page Layout (see the picture below). 

Make sure that you have several blank pages ready before you start. Its easier to delete extra pages than to create a few new blank ones. 

Next, just click, drag and drop a page from your PDF onto one of the blank pages you've just prepared. It will appear small and off center, but that's easy to fix as I'll explain in a moment. 

The PDF will be outlined in blue and have small handlebars (little white boxes) surrounding it. That shows that it's selected and you can work with it. Now open inspector. In the illustration below, it is labeled with the numer 1. 

Once inspector opens, click on the Metrics option (#2). For Size, type in a width of 8.5".  As long as the Constrain proportions box is checked, the PDF will grow to a hight of 11". With that, your PDF is the proper size (#3).

Now you just need to change the position. Don't try to do this manually. By default, it's put into the background, so you can't grab and move the thing. Instead, use the Position indicators to  adjust the placement (#4)

What you're left with is essentially a blank word processing document that has the original PDF in the background. Now you can make all sorts of useful changes. Cover up unwanted content with white squares. Fill in blanks using text boxes. Add pictures or other art. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity. 

If you want to keep the PDF format, no problem. Just hit print. Apple gives you the option to save anything as a PDF that you would be able to send to a printer.


Browsers do matter

A browser is a program that allows you to use the internet. Familiar browsers include Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome. Not much thought goes into choosing a specific browser most of the time for most people. They all bring you to the same internet, right? Well, if you use a wide variety of websites for your class or yourself, you know that some sites work better in one browser rather than another. The trick is to learn which browser to choose for a given site. Often, this is just trial and error. There's also a very good chance that your students will be able to tell you which browser will work best for what you want to do. Before asking students to do any work online, of course it's always wise to try out a couple of browsers in case one doesn't work well.

Something that many teachers often forget about is the fact that browsers offer different services. For example, Chrome provides simple youtube video downloads. Safari on the other hand works best with Apple products. For example, you can send pictures directly to iPhoto from most websites just by right clicking. Firefox has a reputation for being one of the most secure browsers out there. It also has a video downloading extension, but it's a bit more cumbersome than what you get with Chrome.

With all browsers there is the option to save bookmarks and settings in a place other than your computer. Chrome gives you the option to store your information online. Safari keeps everything in iCloud. You can store bookmarks for Firefox and I.E. as well with special add-ons.

Even if you've found a browser that you love, consider trying some of the others out there. You may be pleasantly surprised.


Google knows best?

It is assumed that young people simply "know" how to use technology well. While it is true that children are growing up with the technology, most are unaware of how to use it effectively. A perfect analogy is the book. A kid who has grown up reading fantasy does not automatically know how to use a text book.

Students need to be shown how to identify and use appropriate technology. One of the most basic skills is how to search for valid information online.  One study found that students trust Google to tell them which sites are most trustworthy rather than depending on their own judgement. With the internet generating astronomical amounts of media, students face an increasing threat of deception.

There are some simple things that we can do as teachers. We can regularly ask students to consider the source of any information they get. We can ask students to question what they are told (even when it comes from us). Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to regularly insist on analysis. Of course this is just good all around teaching. In our new online world though, this takes on new importance. When students get in the habit of thinking about what they are told, they will be less likely to be swayed what they see online.