Apps and Accessories for at Home Work & Play

Education, Fitness, how to, journal, Organization, productivity, Technology, tips and tricks, Uncategorized, writing

So…honestly, didn’t see this coming. Social distancing. Distance learning. I notice a theme here. And, as more people move to self quarantine status here are a few apps and accessories I’ve found to help.

Apps

Zoom: Video Conferencing

Looks like Zoom is going to take the top spot for online discourse. Zoom is offering free upgrades to teachers with their employee email address. I met with my students yesterday online for the first time and it went well. Easy to see everyone, the ability to show your screen (very helpful for my yearbook meeting), and record your session.

Libby by OverDrive

Libby is the official library app. Think of Netflix for books and audiobooks, only free. You use your library card to sign up and you have unlimited books at your fingertips. Read right within the app or send to your Kindle device.

Scribed

A little pricey (roughly $100 a year) but the books and audiobooks are new releases. Best sellers. Honestly, one of the best investments I’ve ever made. If you’re a book person, you need this service and, it’s less expensive than Kindle Unlimited which has a more limited number of contemporary texts. You can try the service out for, I believe 30 days, free of charge. It’s worth checking out.

Journal App: Day One or Dyrii

Both Day One and Dyrii offer on the go digital journaling. Why digital journals? I believe the biggest benefit to a digital journal during this time in history is the ability to add photos and link news reports. Also, they claim people won’t be able to read cursive handwriting in the future, although both offer handwritten pages using your iPad and an Apple Pencil. Day One backs up an encrypted version of your data on their own servers while Dyrii uses your Apple account to sync entrees (in case that makes a difference to you).

Workout App of Your Choice

Fitness is still important. Just because the pool is closed doesn’t mean I’m ok with losing my bikini body. Besides, cardiovascular health is important for everyone. Daily Burn and Beachbody have both opened their digital library and YouTube has some great options as well (I’d recommend anything from Tracy Anderson). I, personally, hate, hate, hate, Beachbody videos, they make me cringe, but they offer the most variety. Daily Burn isn’t quite so bad. If anyone is interested, I could put together a list of good videos for people who are looking to maintain their fitness (no beginner stuff) with videos which aren’t too cheesy (You can do this! You’re a superhero! 🤢 🤮 I just can’t. Clearly, I’m NOT a superhero).

Bear Notes

I know, I just wrote about them, but it’s worth another mention. Right now, I simply need a way to dump thoughts, write out the agenda for all my classes, etc. Calendar apps aren’t really working for that at the moment. I love the fact that I can add more than one tag to notes. I can find notes easily through the tagging system. I enjoy the multiple themes and different header options. Maybe I’ve just tweaked it into what I need it to be, but it’s still worth a look, especially since so many people are working from home.

ACCESSORIES

Otter + Pop

The Otterbox PopSockets duo. Normally, I’m not down with large phone cases, but since all the Apple Stores are closed I can’t exactly afford to have my phone damaged. Otterbox continues to be one of the (if not THE most) protective case on the market. And, to give them credit, they’ve slimmed down their cases over the years. It’s still my largest case, but not as bad as the Otterboxs of years ago. PopSockets, that’s a no brainer. With all the video chats, streaming workouts, and books you’ll be reading it’s nice to have a grip on your phone. One of the things I really like about the PopSocket on this case is that it’s slightly recessed, making it lay a bit more flush with the back of the case and it’s still an interchangeable pop grip. Right now I’m sporting an interesting combo of a case featuring lemons and a tortoise shell PopSocket. It works.

AirPods

Seriously, you need AirPods. I use them for workouts, video chats, regular phone calls. Everything. These things make life easier. I find myself recording my phone screen a lot for my students, they work with the MAC as well. I’m not a music person (and my Dad is a musician, personal rebellion, I guess) as in, I don’t walk around listening to music. I’m a story girl. I always have an audiobook or podcast ready to go. Pretty sure if you’re a music person, these are even more important. If, for no other reason, these allow me to walk around my house hands free. Meaning I can talk to my parents about their latest computer problem while getting my daughter her chocolate milk, banana, paper, marker, doll, dress, stuffed animal, hair tie…she’s four. I get a lot of things.

Ring Light

There’s a reason movie studios have so many lights, we just look better a little flushed out. I know some people are sporting pajamas all day and going without makeup, but that is not me. Getting dressed, wearing makeup, creating a sense of normalcy helps me, I do these things for myself. The ring light? Ok, that might be a vanity thing, but seriously, you don’t want to look a mess on all those Zoom chats. Again, I can not be one of those people who uses an avatar in place of a real person.

Apple Pencil

If you have an iPad, Apple Pencil is a must. Sometimes I feel the need to write things down. I can do that, within Bear Notes, with an Apple Pencil. The best native writing experience comes with the Noteshelf2 app. I have found myself writing in Noteshelf and then adding those notes to Bear. Again, it’s a weird walk around which works for me despite the fact those notes are editable once they’ve been deposited into my Bear note. I very rarely, if ever, edit a handwritten note.

UBeesize Tripod

Under $20 on Amazon, the UBeesize works with both cell phones and cameras. Not that anyone if vlogging during all of this. Please tell me no on is vlogging during all of this. The best thing about this tripod is that the feet bend. You an even wrap it around furniture so you’re finding at the perfect height. The only downside is that it doesn’t really work with the Otterbox case.

#blogpost

Three Reasons to Try Things 3

family, mom life, Organization, productivity, Technology, to do list

I’m not the most organized person. To look at me you’d never guess it, but I am a disorganized mess. So when something comes along which helps me categorize my life and prioritize my responsibilities it deserves a bit of praise. Enter Things 3.

Things has been around for awhile. I’m assuming somewhere along the way there was a Things 1 & 2 although I couldn’t swear to it. Things 3 is a task manager. Ok, it’s a to do list but it’s like the Chanel of to do lists: Elegant in its classic features, useful, and dependable. Here are the top three reasons I think you should check out Things 3 (three reasons, Things 3, get it?)

1. You Can Turn Emails Into Actions:

This is a must for me. You can take items from your inbox and send them to your Things list, add tags, give them due dates and even add sub tasks. This is probably the feature which is most important to me. For example my SAG-AFTRA dues are up for renewal. I know I have to take care of that this weekend but in the event that it was going to slip my mind, I’ll get a friendly reminder along with the original email and all the information I need to take care of that online. My Dad sent an email weeks ago regarding his Christmas card order (can’t be too early with that) which I safely filed away for a more reasonable date in November.

2. Calendar Integration:

I’m obsessed with planners. I have one app I use for my monthly view and one I use for a daily agenda and a paper agenda. It’s extra. But seeing my schedule one more place doesn’t hurt.

3. Project Completion Circle:

Ok, not sure that’s the technical term, but that’s pretty much what it is. You can create a project with a sub list. As you complete each step necessary to achieve your overall goal, a part of the circle closes. I can’t tell you how much this motivates me.

A Few Issues:

  • Things 3 does come at a cost, so if you’re only into free apps, this one isn’t recommended. Try Wunderlist.

You also have to purchase apps for each of your devices. Apple devices specifically, Androids you’re out of luck. In my defense, I did call this the Chanel of apps, and Chanel does not come cheap and it is not for everyone.

  • Things 3 can’t support photos. Sometimes I need to take a photo, usually a handout from a staff meeting (yeah, they still use paper). Or, I’d like to attach a screenshot for reference. I recently picked up three freelance jobs (well, two, one ended before it started and was one of the oddest experiences) and screenshots would’ve helped.

If you’re serious about managing your time and you’re willing to spend some money to make your life easier, try Things 3.

The iPad is on Life Support…

Education, Organization, productivity, Technology, writing

and the Apple Pencil is the only thing keeping it alive.

I’m one of the recent adopters of the iPhone xs Max. No, I don’t find the screen size sexist (how can you even suggest that with a straight face?) and I’m probably one of the smallest women you’ll ever meet. There’s nothing better than a tiny person with a giant phone. So the phone is larger than my face, that’s what AirPods are for. I love the screen size since I do the majority of my work on my phone.

The thing is, my employer provides me with an iPad Pro and, of course, I had to go out and get the Apple Pencil. I try to use my iPad at work and it is handy to grade papers on. Honestly, both Schoology and Turnitin have greater functionality on handheld devices than they do from the desktop because they know teachers live in a tumultuous world and not tethered to their desks as movies continually portray them (I also dress better than any fictional teacher, but I’ll save that rant for another time). The other day I was giving a presentation on the power of a good thesis statement when my iPad made the executive decision to stop playing keynote. It was my last class and I couldn’t break my stride so I unplugged the iPad and quickly plugged in the iPhone Max. Ironically, I created the presentation on my new phone because I find it more convenient to type on a phone than an iPad without a keyboard any day.

The Max worked perfectly. And, since it is smaller than the iPad I found it easier to walk around while holding the device (yes, a Bluetooth clicker would solve this). The thing is: I created the presentation on the phone, I ended up giving the presentation on the phone, I compose email on the phone, create YouTube videos, even write this. So what do I need an iPad for? The only functionality the iPad has over the device in my hands is the Apple Pencil. The ability to write on my slides as I speak, the ability to annotate texts and grade essays with handwritten comments. That’s it.

Therefore, is the Apple Pencil the only thing keeping the iPad alive? If Apple did release an update to allow for the use of the Apple Pencil on the iPhone Max, would anyone have a use for iPads anymore? How do you use your iPad? Perhaps there’s something I’m missing or should we prepare a eulogy and clear a space in the junk drawer next to our Palm Pilots?

Resistance is Futile: Tech is Coming Into Your Classroom 

Education, Technology

   The biggest hurtle in the adoption of technology in the classroom isn’t lack of devices or teacher training. The biggest thing holding back the advancement of technology, or more specifically BYOD, are the teachers who refuse to allow students to use said technology in their classrooms. Now I’m not advocating forcing teachers to do anything in their classrooms, I believe every teacher has the right and responsibility to choose curriculum wisely, create rules to promote equality, and to establish guidelines which they feel comfortable with but I do have a few things I wish my colleagues would consider before completely banning smartphones and other tech from their domain. 
Argument #1: Students are Distracted by Technology:

Yes. Yes they are. Students are distracted by a lot of things. Students are distracted by their peers, their hormones, independent reading books, lined paper to draw on, sports, what happened at lunch…squirrel!!!! Allowing students to use cell phones does pose yet another avenue of distraction but it isn’t like the technology is going anywhere. In the past five years, in addition to teaching, I’ve worked as an actor, a fitness model, a fitness instructor, photo double, and freelance writer. I also finished my Master’s of Education. In every situation having a cell phone, let me be more specific, having a smartphone (an iPhone to be REALLY honest in some situations) was mandatory. And, it has never happened (not once), that an employer has taken away my phone. Why? Because real life doesn’t work that way. No one comes into your classroom, your cubicle, the courtroom, and takes away your phone because you’re texting. They just fire your ass. If you can’t do your job because your iPhone is distracting you, if your work doesn’t get done, you get fired. You lose your job and when you lose your job you lose your paycheck. No more paycheck and you can’t pay your rent, your car payment, or buy food. Now you’re homeless and hungry…and then you die (Bit too dramatic? Ok. Maybe a little. But it could happen). All because you couldn’t keep your hands off your cell phone. That’s “the real world”. Wouldn’t it be better if we taught our students how to be responsible with their technology in a controlled environment? The novelty of having a cell phone out in class wears off pretty quickly but if they have to learn a lesson about responsible use and consequences I’d rather have them fail Language Arts 10 than fail life. 
Argument #2: BYOD is “Unfair” Because Not Every Student Has Access to a Device:

Yes. Again. It is unfair. Life is unfair. I know this because my parents reminded me of it every time I wanted something my friends had and my parents said I couldn’t have. The thing is, it’s true, life isn’t fair and that’s…ok. Equality isn’t always giving everyone the same thing, it’s giving everyone what they need to achieve the same results. Should I have petitioned the school board to get rid of football scholarships because as a 5’2”, 88 pound girl I wasn’t eligible? Or, should I have looked at my own talents to find the scholarships which I was eligible for based on my specific abilities? For every assignment I’ve offered this past year which incorporated BYOD there was a corresponding assignment in retro style (pen and paper). Some of the students who had devices elected to go old school hipster on me and use pen and paper anyway. To each his own. My job is to give students the opportunity and present them with options but I firmly believe that since technology is here to stay, it should be offered as an option. 
Argument #3: Students Need to “Think for Themselves” Not Rely on Technology: 

Oh how my math teacher loved to expound on this when I was in high school. I clearly remember his argument “what if the cash register goes down…” It was, in 1994, not such a bad argument but in 2015 it doesn’t stand up so well. What if the case register goes down? Then I’ll pull out my cell phone. What if my battery is dead or I forgot my phone in the car or I have no wifi? In 2015 if you don’t have your cell phone one of your coworkers will. Or, the guy who you’re ringing up or the guy behind the guy you’re ringing up. The fry cook, the janitor, the six-year-old waiting in line for a Happy Meal. Someone has a calculator! It isn’t that students in 2015 have it “easier” they have it differently. The world has changed. I used to be able to use the excuse “I was absent” if I missed a test or a due date for homework. My students need to check online, submit their work to turnitin.com, or email me. Students can check for their homework online when they are absent and their parents can see up to the minute grades. I could tell my parents that I got lost if I was late coming home, these kids have GPS. I couldn’t call because I couldn’t find a pay phone and even if I had, I didn’t have a quarter. Cell phones killed that excuse. Do you know that you can find your child using Find My iPhone? Think for themselves? Any kid who can still come up with a reasonable excuse for missing curfew has my vote for creativity. We don’t just want our students to think for themselves though, we want them to think critically. Having access to the Internet doesn’t change the skill. I had to evaluate the credibility of a source in the library and my students have to do it on line. At least in the library you could rest assured that someone felt the content was publication worthy eliminating some credibility issues. Now anyone can publish their ramblings…you’re reading some right now. So can we really argue that technology has taken away a student’s ability to think critically or has it just changed the landscape the way streaming music and Netflix have changed entertainment? 
   The use of technology is still a very personal choice for teachers but for teachers who are a part of an ecosystem adopting common core, the transition will be inevitable. As the poster children for BYOD personified will tell you “Resistance is Futile” we have the power to teach the next generation how to use technology responsibility. 

Vine in the Classroom? 

Education, Technology

I try to incorporate as many forms of technology into my classroom as possible. I have a Vine, not that I use it often, but I’ve never used it for educational purposes although I know some of my students have seen my vines. Vine isn’t as popular as with students as it used to be. In case you’d like to give Vine a try here and some ideas about how to use the service to promote activities in your classroom Vine in the Classroom