Saturday, November 22, 2014

A program that is Worth more than Time: Ninite

As a self-proclaimed tech ninja I get stopped all the time for technology advice specifically oh my computer stopped working what do I do or I have a virus, how do I get rid of it. Most times I just do a clean install, but with that I have to spend hours reinstalling all the programs that I (more likely they) have on their computers. That was until I found a really cool tool that has saved me so much time over the years

With Ninite, you can install various free applications at once and best of all it's free. Just go to and mark the checkboxes for free applications you want to install on your computer. The catalog is diverse and includes must haves such as Google Chrome and VLC, but also less well know choices. According to they will only add popular user requested apps. No more do you have to wait for each program to download and go through the installer. Their website says they provide over 500,000 downloads a day and state that Ninite will
  • start working as soon as you run it 
  • not bother you with any choices or options 
  • install apps in their default location 
  • say no to toolbars or extra junk 
  • install 64-bit apps on 64-bit machines 
  • install apps in your PC's language or one you choose 
  • do all its work in the background 
  • install the latest stable version of an app 
  • skip up-to-date apps 
  • skip any reboot requests from installers 
  • use your proxy settings from Internet Explorer 
  • download apps from each publisher's official site 
  • verify digital signatures or hashes before running anything 
  • save you a lot of time!

All installations are standard, this means that they won’t install unwanted software like toolbars, junk or other add-ons and there is no spyware or any other type of malware in their installers or other applications.  Its a great tool.  Ninite is available for Windows or Linux, but not Mac.  They have a Pro edition which is meant to be used for up to 100 computers, which is available for $20 a month.  For those who want even more help, they have an updater that cost $10 a year and will keep your programs updated.

If you are setting up a new computer or have a bunch of apps to update check out Ninite and you will be happy that  you did.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Class Flow

I have found one of the most innovative exciting websites to come around in a while, but I haven't shared it will the teachers at my school yet.  All for the simple fact that I don't know if it will work if I do.  Let me start off by saying I love the idea of  I believe that it was created by Promethean and even though we are a SMART school, I love this idea.  First it's a free program, and if you know me, if its free its for me.  You set up your class, you are able to browse lessons or create your own.  And then you teach.  Ok well maybe its not that simple.  But what classflow is able to do is "With ClassFlow, teachers can build and access interactive lessons from any web browser, share lessons with other peers and collaborate using the latest mobile and student response technology. Not only will ClassFlow help teachers save time at the planning and setup stages of lesson development, but it can also facilitate a more connected classroom. 

ClassFlow allows teachers to foster student engagement by connecting all of the technology devices in the classroom, including tablets, laptops and teachers' surface systems. Once connected, teachers can share content, poll the class in real-time and exchange annotated lessons via mobile devices- all within the ClassFlow platform."

Now that might be overstating it a bit as it came straight from the classflow website, but the students have your lesson that you are teaching from right in front of them, it incorporates  a response system into the lesson, so you can have built in questions or ask them on the fly and if you change or add something it appears right on their device.   Its wonderful especially in a 1:1 classroom, however there is a dark side. is in Beta, and when they say that they really mean it.  I tried for over an hour yesterday to try to add a class, it would not let me, I log in today and ten seconds later I have a new class set up.  I tried to browse other lessons to see what was available ( not much)  and it wouldn't play any of the lessons.  
I love this idea and if I was in a 1:1 setting I would be all over this, despite the issues, but if they are able to get this to work how they have proposed it, it will be great.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fun with Instant Alpha

As I explore the possibilities of what Google apps has to offer and how using multiple programs and applications working together can achieve awesomeness, I discovered instant alpha.  Now to many of you this may not be anything new but for me and all the students I see day to day it was like gaining a super power. Basically what instant alpha does is enables you to delete backgrounds from images making the background transparent. I found the instant alpha tool on my Mac in the application called Preview.

After opening a picture in preview I can select areas of the picture that I want to make transparent. It will then convert the pic from JPG to PNG (alpha). This PNG picture can be layered in over another picture. The picture layering happens in the Google drawing application and it is an easy drag and drop. To teach this to my students I ask them, " If you could hold a moon or planet which one would you choose and why?" and then we explore the planets and moons of the solar system.  I then model the steps to produce the desired effect of the picture. (Oh and I almost forgot about Photo booth. We use this app to take pictures of ourselves holding out our hands.) Note that pictures that have solid backgrounds are easier to instant alpha than those that have multiple colors. Here are some examples of pictures I have done using this trick. 
I found this to be a great way to enhance student presentations and projects. You can do instant alpha with a picture of yourself also. To make it easier for kids I have them stand in front of a solid background or green screen (if you have one). This enables students to put themselves into historical images like maybe a meeting with Einstein.

 I know that there are many Photo shop type of apps out there that do the same and more, but I found this way to be an easy cheap alternative to pricey photo editing software.  Give it try and teach your students how to use this tool, you will be amazed at what they will create!