Sending Text Messages Through Gmail

Hi everyone,
 Sorry to interrupt the series but I always want to try and help someone out that needs it. The series will continue right after this post.

On the Edutopia boards there was a question about contacting parents. Many suggested sending text messages through your phones since so many people have phones and are at them more frequently than their computer.

I agree 100%, but my only concerns would be:

  1. Taking the time to text each parent "Open House is at 7 pm" would take a long time.
  2. Sharing your personal phone number might not be something you wish to do with your students/parents.
  3. This could end up costing you in text message fees.
  4. This will tie up your phone and fill up its memory rather quickly.
So my suggestion was to use your Gmail account to send the text messages. My reasons for this are:
  1. You can cut and paste your text from one to another so repeating is easier.
  2. Your email address will be sent out and not your personal phone number.
  3. Any replies will come back to your Gmail account and not your phone which could save you a night on your phone.
  4. You are not charged for the texts from Gmail
  5. Gmail will store these texts in your history if you wish. This is useful if you ever need to recall or prove that you were in contact with parents.
In order to do this we are going to use our Gmail account and Google Labs. Don't let the name fool you, while they are still experimental in the sense that they are still fine tuning these add-ons, they are of high quality, reliable, and have all the same protections that Gmail offers.

Here's how you enable texting through Gmail:

1. Scroll to the bottom of your Gmail account and ensure that chat is enabled. You should see it say, "Turn Chat Off" which indicates that you chat is actually on.

2. Next look at the upper right for the green beaker. This is the button to access Google Labs.

3. Enable "SMS in Chat Gadget" and "Text Messaging (SMS) in Chat". In my opinion you should also enable  "Right Side Chat" as this saves you from having to scroll down to see your chat.

4. Scroll to the very bottom of the page and click "save changes"

You should now see on the left hand side of Gmail a section that says "Send SMS"

How to Send a Text Message in Gmail:

1. Type in the phone number you wish to send the text message to.
2. A pop up should appear that asks for the contact's name. Type in the name and click save.

You only need to do this step once for each number as it is just adding it to your chat list.

If you look at your chat window now you will see the normal green, orange, and red dots for those who are available, idle, or busy; but now you have an additional icon that looks like a tiny cell phone with the contact you just added.

3. To send the text message, click on the person's name as if you were going to have a regular Google Chat with them.

A new popup will appear just like Google Chat and you can type and hit enter to send the text.

Congratulations your text message has been sent! You can repeat the process of adding the contacts (which you only have to do once) and then just select the individual contacts for each text message.

As it mentions in the above picture. Keep in mind that each message you send will cost them the same as a regular text message (but not you) so choose your words carefully. Also to prevent spamming, you are only permitted a certain number of messages. Once they respond, that number is reset.

I hope this helps you, if you have any questions, comments, or would like help with another part of technology  and education please don't hesitate to leave a message in the comments!

Cory Doctorow is the voice of the Digital Generation - For The Win

We all know about the generation gap. How our parent's just don't understand, or that the hard core rock-and-roll of the 60's became the easy listening of today. The culture remains the same and while parents shake their heads, there was always a basic understanding of what and why their children did what they did.

Then in a flash, the computer became personal and the Internet went global. At one time kids would go down the street to play with their friends, now they log on and chat with their friends in Germany or Egypt. The adults look with disbelief at the teenager who was up till 2am "online" or "playing games". Any song ever written can be found, downloaded for $0.99, and stored on a device smaller than a man's wallet.

This is a world that magicians and prophets could never have imagined and yet we experience it as if it were normal.

The largest generation gap ever has been created, most educators were able to know a time before technology and information became so cheap and pervasive. Our students however, never knew a world without Apple and its iPhones, YouTube, text messaging, online gaming, and all of the other wonders of the digital age. For many of us this is cool technology; for our students this is their life.

Do you want a guidebook? We are all still humans, but it is a very different environment that we are in and if we wish to adapt and acclimate we need to know what the new world is like.

Cory Doctorow is willing to be your guide.

For years, Cory has created exciting and intelligent glimpses into our world and the strangeness within. Whether serving as a champion for openness of information at the Electronics Frontier Foundation, co-blogging the incredible Boingboing, and writing fascinating stories that share what our world has and could become.

A man who practices what he preaches, all of his works are available for free on his site He even takes it one step further with a Creative Commons licence allowing for derivative and reinterpretations of his stories. This means you can have your students freely (as in speech and pizza) rewrite their favorite stories, create plays, videos, and then post them for the world to see with Cory's blessing.

Here is my review of Cory's newest book:

For The Win - The economy hit bottom in a way that even the world's greatest minds could not wrap their heads around. It seemed like more than ever, the economy was just a game that we had forgotten the rules and slipped up. This game is made ever more clear and surreal in "For The Win" when the reader is thrown into the world of the MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Player Games, e.g. World of Warcraft).

We have seen the hours that Europeans and Americans will spend in those games, but how many of us understand what they are doing? The excitement of earning more gold, experience points, rare items fuels an  economy that mirrors that which we participate in everyday. Sadly, there are always those who are willing to exploit others to make money. Bosses run shops where children play the games day and night, taking gold and items to sell to the wealthier players.

The workers use the power of the Internet to find others with a similar plight, and the story takes us from the streets of India and Singapore, to the suburbia of Orange County, CA (think Disneyland). Videos and stories of the conditions reach critical mass and the need to organize for a fair deal emerges.

The story will show you how our economy became so precarious with explanations of Credit Default Swaps,  macro/microeconomics, unions, and modern indentured servitude. There are other books about the difficult conditions of the worker like Sinclair's The Jungle, but you will find your students unable to put down the book as every page teems with references to the world they know all too well.

I enjoy books that I can discuss with my students where I learn from them and vice versa and this is certainly one of those books. You will be amazed at how much your students will want to talk about issues that seemed so far away up until now and I hope that you will share those experiences with others in the comments below, on Cory's website, and anywhere else to get the word out about this all too important and exciting glimpse into our crazy world.

Download a free copy of Cory Doctorow's For The Win
Purchase a hard copy to read and share
Purchase an audio version for the plane, car, or beach.

Open Source and Education

I use the term Open Source when many of you might not know what it is referring to. So here are my thoughts on the matter.

What does open source mean? Software is a language for communicating between a human and computer. Computers and humans cannot use any of the languages we are used to like English, Spanish, or Japanese. Therefore we use programming code or source code to speak to computers and run programs. In a traditional business model, if I have code for very popular software, it behooves me to keep it locked up and proprietary so only I or my shareholders can profit from it. However, open sourced software is that which can be downloaded and run for no financial cost to the user. What further separates this from what is known as “freeware” is that the source code itself is also made public for others to use, improve, or modify for their own purposes.

Open Source is not a new movement, but a return to the original state of things. When software was first created, it was done in garages, basements, and dining rooms. Friends and colleagues would work together and share code to fit various tasks. In fact it was this paradigm that led to the Internet’s creation, along with many other parts of the modern information age. It would not have been possible without this philosophy of Openness.

Why should we switch to Open Sourced Software? The first and most obvious reason to switch is financial. Open Source software is by definition free. This means that it can be downloaded as often as necessary for educational organizations and students without ever paying one penny to a company. Many of the programs were created for a person or groups’ own personal use and were open sourced because of a belief that software much like biological life will evolve and become better suited to its environment if it is free to do so. 

Secondly, no two classrooms are the same and our software needs are varied as well. However, for much of the information age we have allowed a small group of developers to define what millions of user’s needs are. When typical software has “bugs” we must wait until the company decides to create an update. If our needs are different from those of the store bought product, well that is simply too bad. With Open Source, the software was created by a community of users. This means that artists have worked together to create graphic design programs. Educators have collaborated to make an entire Operating System much like Windows which have many programs which suit the learner. Internet users have worked to create a better, safer Internet browser.

Finally, this is the future of software development and usage. Open Source software means that no one with access to a computer and Internet connection will ever be at a socioeconomic disadvantage as far as software is concerned. Every major program necessary for education and work has an analogous Open Source Program. 

Of course with such a major switch, many questions arise. With an emphasis on software instead of marketing and profit, many excellent Open Source solutions go unnoticed or slandered. The following brief FAQ might clear up some of the outstanding questions that are lingering.

FAQ 1) If everyone can see the code, does that not mean that my information is not as safe or is open to malicious attack?

Response: No, in fact Open Source software has been proven time and time again to be safer and just as secure. The community of programmers and users at large has a common interest of privacy and safety and they ensure that any bugs and security loop holes are quickly fixed. In fact, while a typical company might take months or years to fix a problem, the Open Source community often takes days or weeks. With so many people looking at the code, as opposed to a few at a company, solutions are created more quickly.

FAQ 2) I have heard that ________ is too difficult to learn.

Response: Of course, but there is a learning curve with any new product.  Yet, Open Source products have numerous users of all ages and abilities. Many have found these programs to be even easier to use than traditional programs because they were created intuitively to suit users needs. The installation is incredibly easy and can be done in minutes. It would take as long as it takes for the IT department to install any other Windows/Apple program on many computers.

Additionally, Open Source adds a real world connection that closed source software cannot. Many students or educators who become strongly passionate or supportive of the software may wish to directly contribute themselves. Users can freely support the software they enjoy by programming, creating support documentation, answering questions in the user forums, beta testing, etc. Many of these require as little as noticing something that can be improved and emailing someone.

Teaching students Open Source software is wise for multiple reasons. The students can go home and immediately use it and become more proficient at it. Secondly, using an Open Source software is many times similar to using the proprietary alternative so there is no disadvantage, in fact there are often more options in the Open Sourced program because of such a large group of contributors to the software.

FAQ 3) With no financial incentive, these products will not be around forever.

Response: In these economic times, the same could easily be said for any software. However, the difference is that Open Sourced software is not controlled by one company which could crumble. It is in the hands of a community which it is much more difficult to derail. 

However it is unrealistic to think that these communities do not require any funding to stay afloat. While foundations and trusts have been created to keep the software going, much like other entities in the public domain (NPR, public education) it depends on its users support. With the thousands saved in software costs, surely we can send a strong message of public support for the commons by giving some of those recouped costs to the developers who made it possible.

FAQ 4) This sounds awesome but there is no Open Source equivalent for ________ program…

Response: This is very untrue. The most popular programs have open source counterparts but many obscure ones do as well.

Here are some helpful links:

Free Software Foundation - Helped ensure the Free and Open Source philosophy from early on. 

Open Source - An advocate for Open Source with an excellent definition of its meaning.

Sourceforge - A large repository of Open Source software

Alternative To and - Search for alternatives to the proprietary software

Creating More Patient Problem Solvers

This video is well worth the 12 minutes of your time. It is specifically referring to math but if you read between the lines, you will find that it is applicable to us all if we hope to facilitate the growth of our student's reasoning skills.

Ted Talk - Dan Meyer

Math-o-mir allows you to create math faster than ever before

As a teacher and a math geek I love to create math, play with it, share it with others. This is why I tell everyone I can find about Geogebra and Python for their classrooms. The difficulty is if I want to create a worksheet, project, or lesson involving math equations, I had three options for formatting:

  1. Paper/Pen (messy and not easily modified)
  2. LaTex (difficult and time consuming)
  3. Microsoft Word/Open Office Math (useful but felt like I was using a program, not "doing" math)
When I am doing math with my students I want them to have that same rush I feel every time I pick up a napkin and start doodling. I believe I have found that software with Math-o-mir. I am grateful to Sue and the MathFuture Google Group for directing my attention to this amazing piece of software. 

It takes a few minutes of playing with the software before you get the hang of it. But once you do you will find yourself making math as fast as you can type it. With so many built in math functions and symbols this will serve Elementary through University. The formatting is very flexible, you can position it as you need to, change the font, and change just about anything you want with just a couple of clicks.

I recommend that after you install the software you push "F1" and read the very well written tutorials/ documentation. My favorite is that it will allow you to draw a diagram or plot the equation in seconds!

Last and most important in my opinion, you can select which parts to copy and paste into your document or presentation as an image (I would like to see in the future it copied as a .png file so it is not blurry if you make it larger). However, the software was designed to be a "Math Notebook" so you and your students can use the program to do all of the work you need.

Yet another example of technology making our lives easier. My gratitude for Danijel Gorupec for creating such powerful software and releasing it to the world for free.

What is technology?

I probably should have made this post in the beginning...

a reprint from Edutopia

So often I hear people say that the only reason that I use technology is because I like technology (I'm the "geek"). The sad thing is that this keeps others from seeing that technology is not just about having gizmos in the classroom. 

Animals and humans have used technology to do what they could not do before. Reach bugs that are too deep, fly to the moon, communicate around the world. All impossible or supremely difficult tasks otherwise. 

So if we take this to be the definition of technology, what is it allowing us to do that we couldn't do otherwise? The sad thing is that the reason many classrooms have students falling asleep is because they are being asked to watch or listen to content that has no relevancy to them. How many hours could you sit quietly and do that? I could go to my favorite band or to the world funniest comedian and yet if I was asked to sit and watch for an hour a day everyday for a year, I would fall asleep or grow to hate it.

Technology is being used to keep students occupied. Why that might be could be an entire book. The most prominent educational technology, the projector, could just as easily be a white board if all it is doing is delivering content. Requires students to all focus on the screen and copy down word after word when the textbook already has everything in it. 

Computers more powerful than the Space Shuttle are being used to show slides just as film reels were 50 years ago.

Technology needs to involve students doing. Doing things they could never do otherwise. Expressing themselves as much  as in an art class, students not sleeping but making. 

Are your technologies allowing your students to do things they never could before?

Math, Science Engineering Resources

General Science:
The 100 Coolest Science Experiments on YouTube

  • Animations
  • APOD - NASA Astronomy Picture of The Day, this page will never cease to amaze and inspire.
  • Celestia - Free planetarium software
  • Galaxy Zoo - Classify planets for NASA to better map the Universe. while learning it yourself.
  • Google Earth - Don't be fooled by the name, in addition to the Earth you can also point your view into Space.
  • Google Moon
  • Impact Earth - Adjust the settings to determine whether or not our Earth would be hit from outer space.
  • NASA Images
  • Stellarium - Free planetarium software



  • Dr. Math - Homework help, explanations on all topics, puzzles, and simply fun math. Run through Drexel University.
  • Geogebra - This should be a must have in your math classroom and every student's home computer. Allows students to visually manipulate and "play" with math concepts.
  • Mathematics Illuminated - Interactive information about some of the most exciting parts of mathematics. 
  • Purple Math - Explains with the quality of textbook while still using accessible language for students. 
  • Wolfram Alpha (maker of Mathematica)
  • Wolfram Alpha Examples
  • The Math Playground
  • Video Tutorials:
    • Khan Academy - Highly recommended, great quality videos about a variety of math and non-math topics.
    • Your Math Gal/Website - Provides videos aligned to the math classroom.
    • - Watch the videos for free. With a paid subscription, you can gain access to online help and quizzes.  



Google Document Updates

Just a quick update, Google Documents received an update making it all the more useful in the classroom. Of most interest to Math and Science teachers is the ability to insert an equation.

Previously you could create an equation in Word or Open Office's Writer but when you uploaded the document to Google Docs the equation would turn into a blurry unreadable picture. That problem has been resolved.

Note: You will not notice these changes in your old documents, you must create a new one.

To use this feature:

  1. Open Google Documents
  2. Click on Create New
  3. Click on Document
  4. To add mathematical equations click on "Insert"
  5. Click on "Equation"
  6. You will then see new options for you to create fractions, mathematical/scientific symbols.


Student Video Tutorials

If you are curious whether or not your students will be interested in your video tutorials or if they would want to make their own, check out Hayden Parker a 17 year old who does Chemistry Lessons in his back yard and puts the videos up on YouTube.

Make Magazine Original Link
Hayden Parker's Chemistry Videos

And if you are interested in your own great and fun chemistry experiments that you can do in your backyard, basement, kitchen, this is a well written book that will take you step by step through labs amounting to a semester or two of high school chemistry.

BrokenAirplane is taking off!

I would like to welcome the Edutopia and Blogged communities for coming by and checking out the blog. In the last couple of days we have had a huge soar in readers and I am grateful for your time.

Keep the conversation going and leave those comments, there is so much excitement and interest around technology and education I am glad to be a part of your journey.

Creating Video Tutorials for your Class Part 2

Video tutorials are an incredible technology, but like any technology their power is only manifested in how they are used. I can only offer my own suggestions because every environment is different and like anything else you will need to adapt video tutorials to your needs and your students' resources.

After you have created your videos, you have a few options depending on your school's IT policy and your student populations' access to technology:
  1. Upload the videos to YouTube. This is best if your students have wide access to YouTube either through phones, home or school use. This will prevent you from having to convert the videos or have a place to host them.

  2. Share the videos through a Google site. Assuming this is your class site, you can add notes and other information to help your students.
  3. Email the videos or place them on a cd/flash drive. If you wish to do this then I would encourage you to convert them to a smaller file type like an FLV. The software I recommend for doing this is WinFF as it is free and versatile. I will do a more in depth tutorial on WinFF in the next post but for now all you need to know for now is:
    1. Install and then open WinFF
    2. Click "Add"
    3. Click on the "Convert to " drop-down menu and choose "Websites"
    4. Then on the "device preset" drop-down menu choose "FLV for fullscreen"
    5. Note the output folder and change it if you would like.
    6. Click convert
  4. If your students do not have the option to watch video readily available on their own, you might need to make computers available before/after school or lunch. If there are a lot of students who need this perhaps having it play on the projector at lunch.
In any case depending on how many videos you have for your students and the pace of your curriculum, I would stress how important it is to give your students a couple of days to watch it in case they need accommodations like choices 3 or 4.

Now you have shared your videos with your classroom (and the world)! So what will you do with your extra class time? I would stress how important it is to still have that dialog with your students about the content where you can answer questions and clarification. However, now your students have had a day or so to process the information and they will have more questions and perhaps you can go more in depth than you previously could have.

This is also a wonderful opportunity for you to introduce multiple learning styles into your classroom. With so much to cover this was always a struggle, but now think of all of the projects, labs, debates, plays, hands-on-activities, etc you can go through with the students (they could even make their own creative videos!). So often I never truly understood a concept until I was able to kinesthetically interact with it so I encourage you to be creative in all of the different ways you can cover a concept.

Please don't just continue on with the curriculum or try and cover more. One of the biggest criticisms of American Education is that it is a mile long and an inch deep. Your students need more than a day to develop an interest and understanding of the content. I always keep a chart of Bloom's taxonomy to help me determine how I should plan my lessons so that they increase in their depth of understanding as the week/month progresses.

Most importantly, we are liberated from lectures. While we still need to produce the video, it can be played over and over again and will allow us the freedom to spend more time going in depth with our students. 

Did you become a teacher so you could mindlessly talk for hours about the information that could be just as easily obtained from a textbook or website? Or did you do it because of your passion for the content and the magical moments with students, helping them understand and develop interest.

You are free to be the teacher you always wanted to be, this is technology properly utilized.

If you have any questions, concerns, suggestions, tips, please leave a comment.

Thanks as always for reading!

Creating Video Tutorials for your Class Part 1

Welcome back, in the last post, I referred to video tutorials as an incredible asset to your classroom and some of they benefits you would see from using them. I have taught with and without them and, I can truly say that this is worth your time.

Why should you consider making video tutorials:
If you were to ask educators what they consider the most time consuming and frustrating part of their classroom, I believe they would overwhelmingly say that it is the lecturing. The preparation and gathering of the facts, the creation of a delivery method (whiteboard, powerpoint, demonstration, etc), blank stares from students, repetition and hopes of retention, wear and tear on your voice and mind from repeating yourself 3-6 times a day, and the list continues. When I have surveyed teachers as to why they continue to lecture, they say it is the best way to deliver a large amount of content.

This is true, there is no faster way to deliver content. However, studies as well as my own classroom experience continually show that lecturing is one of the most difficult ways for students to learn content. Why is lecturing such a pervasive practice? Consider that up until the last few hundred years, content was very expensive or scarce. Either you had access to a book (which required the ability to read) or you heard a lecture from someone who knew what they were talking about. This practice has continued in all levels of education around the world even though the environment has changed.  Content (books/Internet) is so pervasive now that the time has come to rethink why and how we lecture.

With so little time in the school year do we really want to spend 50-75%  of our time doing that which the Internet or textbooks can do already? But I can hear the concerns, that there is so much poor or erroneous material out there and that there is no replacement for a discussion between teacher and students to go more in depth or clear up misconceptions. I agree 100% with both of these points and I believe video tutorials is not a replacement for the teacher in the classroom but a method of freeing up the educator to personalize and encourage more in depth understanding.

However, there is in my opinion, a right way and a wrong way to implement them into your classroom. This post will talk about how to create the tutorial and the next will describe my suggestions for how to use them.

How to create video tutorials:
Creating educational video tutorials has been around for as long as the medium has existed. Yet in the last couple of years, the cost of doing so has become practically free. Inspired by Patrick Yurick, Karl Fisch, and Don Herbert I began to create Video Tutorials for my classroom.

What you need:
You have two options for creating the video and it depends on how and what kind of content you are delivering. 

Screen Capture:
  1. Create a Powerpoint presentation with the content that you are going to deliver. I would encourage you to add animations that allow you to control when the content appears on the screen.
  2. Start Camstudio
  3. Start the presentation so it takes up the whole screen.
  4. Push F8 (the keyboard shortcut to start recording with Camstudio)
  5. Begin narrating through your presentation as if you were lecturing to your students, clicking through the presentation.
  6. If you need to start over, push F10 to cancel and start over from step 3.
  7. If you need to pause push F8 and again to unpause.
  8. When you are done push F9.
  9. Camstudio will then ask you to save, then it will take some time to process, and finally show you a preview. If you are happy with this then congratulations you have just completed your first video tutorial!


I appreciate all of you who have stopped by to check out this blog. Out of the entire Internet, for you to check out this site is very humbling. I hope you have found something helpful and I encourage you to let me know what can be done to make this blog helpful to you.

Thanks again and I look forward to the next milestone!