Tweaking Mini Laptops for the Classroom

Posted on August 19, 2010

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I’ve just started my second year with a classroom set of  Asus eeePC’s.  I don’t know how I ever taught without them!

I spent some time this summer researching applications to install that would make them a better tool–particularly for literacy. I thought I’d share the list.

  1. Google Chrome: We used Internet Explorer all last year, but I, personally, have been using Firefox. So, why Chrome? As with all things Google, it’s clean, simple, and fast. With a few extensions added, I think it’s going to be powerful:
    • Bubble Translate:  Students can highlight text on a page, click one button in the toolbar, and produce a dialogue bubble above the highlighted text with translated text in a selected language, and there are many languages available. For our ESL kids, this will be powerful.
    • Google Translate: I added this language translator also because it allows you to translate an entire web page with one click. I’m hoping the combination of the two will work well.
    • WebNotes: This is the tool I spent the most time researching. I was looking for a simple note-taking tool that would basically allow students to harvest snippets from web sites, add their own annotations, and save them in an organized fashion–a replacement for the yesteryears of source cards and note cards. I played with Diigo and Delicious but settled on WebNotes. It’s simple. It allows students to create a free account and create folders where they can organize and share their notes. I’m envisioning mini-inquiry projects where students submit a WebNotes generated report of their notes.
    • Delicious:   I still love Delicious and wanted to make it available to students so that they can bookmark sites online rather than on the mini,  making them available from anywhere with an internet connection.
    • Awesome Screenshot: This handy tools allows students to capture a screenshot, add notes, and copy the image or save it to a site online where they can add the image to blog posts or elsewhere.  All without leaving their browser! I think this would be awesome for students creating portfolios: they could capture artifacts and reflect on their work. They could analyze ads or other texts. I was thinking of using this tool next week with my AP English students, having them annotate some poems, analyzing diction and tone.
    • FeedSquares: My students have been using Google Reader, and FeedSquares simply allows you to read your subscriptions in a more visually appealing format (sort of like a magazine) right from your browser.
    • Timer: This is a simple timer that allows students to set a countdown and track their time. I’ve been using Online Stopwatch, displaying it on the LCD projector in class. But, I sometimes need to flip through several screens, losing site of the timer. This timer is built in the browser, so no matter where they go, they see the countdown. I’m hoping this will be a great time management tool as we work in class.
    • SmoothScroll: This is one they’ll never see but will appreciate. Some kids have a hard time adjusting to the small keyboard and built-in mouse (whatever you call that black pad that replaces the mouse). It seems like scrolling down webpages  feels a bit jerkier on the mini, and some kids have trouble navigating sites. SmoothScroll eliminates the jerky scrolling.
  2. PhotoStory3: This is a free, and very simplistic, video-making software from Microsoft. I know there are online video making tools, but sometimes, to make the most of the little time we have in class, I just need a simple software that will work even when our internet connection won’t!

That’s it. There are thousands more extensions, but I wanted to keep it simple and add only a few that I thought would be most productive for my students. I’m sure I’ll discover more I want to add later. I’d love to hear any suggestions you might have for extensions or any other downloads you’d suggest.

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