homeschool, organization, organizing, planning

What All Home Educators Need: Remote Digital Backups (guest post)

Using an electronic device such as a laptop, tablet, even a smartphone to help store lesson plans as well as archive other important school-related documents like graded assignments and projects is definitely the more green approach. More importantly, it’s also great for organizational purposes— you can create digital folders with appropriate titles and dates for easy retrieval. But as you’ve probably already learned, technology isn’t always “reliable.”
Sometimes computers crash and files on your hard drive are lost. Sometimes your USB flash drive won’t work and you can’t access your important documents (which can pretty inconvenient if you’re trying to give a lesson away from home).Sometimes your tablet can run out of power at the worst time. Sometimes your email is temporarily shut down. Whatever the case, it’s important that you backup everything on to a remote cloud device so that you have access to everything you need from any device at any time.
That said, below are some of the more popular remote storage -cloud devices to choose from. And the best part? They’re all free! 
DropBox
Wanting remote access to important documents without having to constantly email themselves or save their files on a flash drive, two MIT graduates created DropBox in 2007. Today, more than 100 million people around the world uses the free service to store college papers, photos, and other documents they don’t want to get lost.  Windows, Mac, Linux, and Mobile users start off with 2GB of free storage but can potentially earn up to 18GB of free storage by completing various tasks, such as inviting your friends to become members. 
Google Drive
If you already have a Gmail account, then using GoogleDriveto store documents and share texts and spreadsheets with your student is probably the easiest way to go since everything is already built in.  You’ll also have access to Google Docs. Google Docs can be used as a “tracker”—you can create lists and keep track of daily lesson plans, assignments completed or volunteer hours. You can also collaborate with more than one person on documents at the same time since you can see live edits.  Users get 5GB of free storage and must pay a subscription for more. 
Microsoft SkyDrive
Last but certainly not least is SkyDrive. SkyDrive works relatively the same as the other devices since you can store and share documents, but there is one nifty exception:  Windows 8, Windows 7, or Vista, and Mac OS X Lion computer users can automatically sync their files. This way, you automatically create a backup without having to think twice about it.  SkyDrive offers its users 7GB of free storage.
Aniya Wells is a freelance education and tech writer. She mostly contributes to OnlineDegreePrograms.com, a site that specializes in alternative online learning. She welcomes your questions and comments.  

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Organize Those e-Books

bookshelfsqA while ago, I wrote blog posts on organizing computer files, organizing digital photographs, and organizing website bookmarks. Those posts were so popular that I’ve been asked how to organize e-books and other downloads.

For starters, organizing your e-books and other downloads is somewhat like organizing your computer files: set up broad categories for the types of sites you usually want to return to. For instance, my categories run along the lines of homeschool subjects, encouragement, health, writing and publishing, and business. You need to choose the labels that will best suit your e-book and downloading habits; choose labels that make sense to you.

After the general labels are set up, you may need to add some subfolders/categories. For instance, my homeschool category is way too broad, so I have a subcategory for each subject plus ones for homeschool encouragement and general homeschool information/support/forms. I like to alphabetize my e-books within those categories to make it easier to find what I’m looking for.

As you’re filtering through your e-books and adding them to the folders/categories, make sure that you’re still interested in keeping each one. Sometimes, I will download an e-book just because it’s free and/or it looks interesting, but I later decide that it doesn’t need to be taking up real estate on my hard drive. This is also a good time to check for duplicates. Yes, that is all to easy to do!

I can already hear the questions about running out of space on the hard drive and computers crashing. So, I’ve got several suggestions for these dilemmas. The first solution is to purchase an external hard drive. It’s a good idea to back up all of your computer documents and programs anyway, not just your e-books. We’ve all heard the horror stories about lost essays and crashed dissertations, so why not act preemptively? I purchased my external hard drive for less than $100; I think it was about $75. It’s money well spent for peace of mind! Also, all of the computers in the house can be backed up to the same external hard drive, so you just have to purchase one no matter how many computers you have in your house (we have four laptops, plus my husband’s work computer!). You can set up your same e-book categories on the external drive as you would on a computer hard drive.

Another, less expensive option, is to purchase one or more thumb/portable drives. These are small devices, about the size of a pink school eraser (or smaller) that hold anywhere from 1 to 4 or more gigs of memory. No, I don’t know what that means other than they will hold a fair number of e-books. The more gigs a thumb drive has, the more stuff it will hold. If you have a ton of e-books, you may wish/need to purchase more than one portable drive. I would suggest putting different topics/categories on different drives and labeling them with a sharpie. You can also subdivide the thumb drives into categories. The more specific your categories, the more easily the e-books can be located. The other thing about these small, portable drives is that they can be plugged into any computer so it’s much easier to share the e-books if you’re viewing them on the computer screen.

My new, favorite way to store and view e-books is to put them on my Kindle. No, I’m not being paid to say that, I just really love my Kindle! It’s so much easier to read from than a computer screen; it’s easy to hold; easy to take places (like the doctor’s waiting room); and easy to use. Plus, there are a ton of free books available from many places online. I set up my collections (their word for categories/topics) the same way I did on my computer.

Looking for an e-book? First scan your categories, then your subcategories. If it’s not where you think it should be, check another category. If you remember the exact title, you can also do a search (computer, external drive, or thumb drive). If you get really ambitious, you can make a spreadsheet listing all of your titles and categories. You can then sort them by title, author, category, or whatever other information you put on the spreadsheet. I haven’t gotten that far yet, but I’m usually able to locate what I need since my e-books are sorted into categories.

Another categorization option is a free download called Calibre. It will import e-books from your hard drive so you can label them. It will also put them on your reading device (Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc).

I’ve just addressed e-books in this post, but the principles are applicable for any other downloads you might have.

The most important things to remember are to be as specific as possible when you’re making your labels/categories and to be selective when downloading e-books.

Are you ready? On your mark, get set, go organize your e-books!

Bethany

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Bookmarks Aren’t Just for Books

A while ago, I wrote blog posts on organizing computer files and organizing digital photographs. Those posts were so popular that I’ve been asked to write an article on how to organize computer bookmarks.

Now, here’s my true confession for this post: those are old labels and my bookmarks are a huge mess. Ssshhhh, don’t tell anyone! But, I’m going to follow my own advice and get them cleaned up now while I describe the process so that you can do the same thing.

To read what I did and how I did it, hop on over to Whatever State I Am, where I’m guest posting for Lea Ann!

Coming soon to a blog near you . . . how to organize your e-books and other downloads. Don’t miss it!

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Organize Computer Files

Now that we’ve tackled organizing our digital pictures, let’s organize our computer documents. It may seem like a daunting task, but I promise that it is entirely doable and that it will be worth it in the long run.

I love folders! I love paper folders, I love cutesy folders, I love labeled folders, and I love computer folders! Using computer folders to organize my documents has made my life so much simpler.

When we got our first computer years ago (13-15 years??), I had 1 folder in my documents called “Bethany” and there was 1 folder called “Bill” (for my hubby). And that was sufficient for my Christmas card list and a copy of the complaint letter I wrote to the insurance company. It was actually sufficient for quite a few years.

Then I started teaching at a private school. Then I started writing. Then I got my own laptop computer. Then it wasn’t enough.

Out of habit, I created a “Bethany” folder on my new laptop and proceeded to dump into it all of my teaching files, all of my writing files, all of my homeschool files, and all of my miscellaneous files. Then I tried to find a particular file. Yikes!

Time for a new approach. So, I created a filing system within my documents that helps me to organize all of my files for the different parts of my life (teaching, learning, homeschooling, writing, editing, etc.) and to find any given document easily.

*Disclaimer* The exact steps that I’m going to outline are for PC users who have a Windows operating system. I know nothing about Macs or other operating systems, but you can still use the folder principle.

Here’s how to set up folders for documents on a PC (I have Vista, but it’s roughly the same for any Windows operating system). Go to “Start,” then “Documents.” A new window will pop up with all of your document files. Click on “File” (upper left button), then “New,” the “Folder.”

You’ll be able to name the new file. I suggest making a separate file folder for each type or topic of document that you can see in your general “Documents” folder. For instance, some of my folder titles include different companies for which I write or edit, “writing ideas,” “e-books,” “homeschool,” one for each of my children, “health,” and “genealogy.” There are more, of course, but you get the idea. If you need more help for how to decide what kinds of categories you need, see this post on setting up a filing system. Basically, set up your folders in a way that makes sense to you.

After make some new folders and label them, it’s time to start moving the individual files to their new folders. Decide which category makes the most sense for each file, then simply click and drag it to that folder. That’s it! Once you get going on clicking and dragging, you’ll have so much fun that it won’t take much time at all to make sense of the dozens of uncategorized files in your “Documents” folder :-).

That’s it! Next time you save a document, be sure to save it into the proper folder. Next time you need to retrieve a document, you’ll be able to find it in a snap instead of wasting valuable time looking for it.

Please let me know how it works for you!

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Organize Your Digital Photographs

Digital photography has done wonders. In addition to being able to zip photos of little Johnny’s first steps around the world in seconds and being able to safely store a large number of high-quality pictures in a small amount of space (CDs, etc.), we also have the problem of thousands of uncategorized pictures cluttering our computer hard drives.

So, what’s the most efficient way to deal with this plethora of picture? Why, it’s to organize them, of course! And I’m not talking about downloading them into the “Pictures” folder on your computer, although that is a start, of course. The first step is to make a folder (within the pictures folder) for each year of pictures you have stored on your hard drive. The next step is to make monthly folders within each of those yearly folders. Then, you can transfer your pictures into the correct yearly and monthly folders. Remember that digital cameras automatically provide date information, even if it’s not displayed on the actual photographs (you should be able to access this info. by hovering the mouse above each picture).

Within each monthly folder, you can add additional folders, if need be. For instance, I would probably put my Christmas pictures in a separate folder from my December birthday pictures.

Many computers allow you to add tags as you upload each set of pictures from your camera. In addition to the date, which is added automatically, I add a brief description of the event in order to help me locate pictures quickly.

This may be a job you could farm out to a tech-savvy teen or preteen, if it sounds too time consuming for you to do. It also doesn’t have to be done all at once; just do 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there, and before you know it, all of your pictures will be neatly categorized!

After you have all of your pictures put into the proper folders, it will be much easier to upload them to Facebook or Flickr or whatever and to decide which ones you want to print for your scrapbooks. Also, I suggest making a CD of all of your pictures by year for 2 reasons. 1) You’ve got a condensed, secure way to store your memories that can be put into a fire-proof box. 2) You can then delete previous years of pictures off of your hard drive to create more space since picture files are quite memory-intensive.

This system is easy to maintain once you have it going. At the beginning of each month, just create a new folder for pictures, upload your pictures immediately (not every six months!), and make sure you put the pictures in the right folder.

Those are my best tips for organizing your digital photographs. What are yours? Did I miss something vital?

Picture Source.

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10 Reasons to Go Digital

If you’re reading this post, you have access to a computer and the Internet. If you have access to a computer and the Internet, you have access to a tremendous array of digital calendars and organizers–many of them for free. So, why aren’t you taking advantage of them?

Let me help you out here by detailing some of the benefits of going digital, at least with your calendar.

1. You’re less likely to lose your calendar than you are to lose a small planner.
2. You don’t need whiteout or an eraser to update a computer calendar
3. Most cell phones (even without an Internet connection) have calendars so you always have it with you
4. Google, Yahoo, and other calendars will sync with your smart phone so you always have access to your events and on multiple computers
5. You update once, automatically change all of your digital calendars AND never rewrite birthdays again
6. You can print out daily, weekly, and/or monthly calendars with your events already added
7. You can color code most computer calendars for different family members or types of appointments
8. You can share your online calendar with your family members
9. Digital calendars can remind you of appointments and to-do items
10. Catch up with the rest of the digitized population 🙂

My favorite computer calendar is with Google, in case any of y’all were wondering. And yes, I do sync it with my smartphone and check it regularly and before making any commitments.

Q4U: What are your top reasons or tips for going digital with your calendar?

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PG Key (review)

 The Internet is a scary place for kids and teens. Worry no more about where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing! PGKey’s Safe Key is a small USB device that you plug directly into the computer you want to monitor. It features a Time Lock, Safe Search, Alerts (sent directly to your email or cell phone), and an encryptor. Best of all, it records up to 60 hours of computer activity that you can view at your leisure, either on the computer being monitored, or on a different computer (just transfer the PGKey over).

No key = no computer access. It really is that simple! I have to say that my daughter hates it and threw a fit when I installed it on her laptop; however, she has not liked the other monitoring software that we’ve tried either. Oh well. It’s not her call, and I love knowing that I can see where she’s been, who she’s been chatting with (and what she’s been saying!), and what times she’s been online. I would highly recommend PGKey’s Safe Key for every family with kids living at home who use the Internet. It’s definitely not just for homeschoolers.
All I did was plug it into my daughter’s computer and set a password. That’s it! I signed up for online access to block websites and set permissions as well. The only problem I encountered was when I tried to plug the key into my own laptop to review my daughter’s activities. I got an error message (more than once), so I emailed PGKey’s customer support. They got back to me within minutes (on a weekend, no less!), but their suggestion was simply to view the video on her computer instead of on mine, a workable but not preferable option.
Check out all the great features and purchase your own Safe Key here. Each one costs $49.99 plus s/h, but there are no annual fees and no updates required. If you lose the key, it’s only $10 from the Parent Portal. It also includes ongoing access to block particular websites and change your settings.
For more opinions and reviews, check out the official TOS Review Crew blog @ http://homeschoolblogger.com/homeschoolcrew/783233/

Disclosure: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Computers and Our Homeschool

CurrClick has a new blog! And, they’ve announced that Mondays are great for blog hopping and this Monday is great for giveaways! Since I’m all about giveaways, I’m entering their blog hop. Besides, since CurrClick carries my line of e-books (check them out!), I figured I’d advertise their new blog.

So, this week’s prompt is how we use computers in our homeschool. I’ll start by saying that we own FOUR laptops–1 for each person in our family! My high schooler uses hers pretty much non-stop, while my 7th grader uses hers a few times throughout the day. I’m on mine pretty much all day as the teacher, as an MA student (English, from ECU in a few years), and as an editor (freelance–my other job). Computers are both a blessing and a bane, depending on how well they’re behaving :-).

Q4U: How do you use computers in your homeschool?

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Hey Kids, Learn How to Make Your OWN Web Page!

Do you wish you could afford to enroll your kids in a computer class? Are your kids begging to explore the Internet and build their own Web pages? Do you know what HTML is? Now you don’t have to be a computer expert or shell out big bucks for a class in order for your kids to learn how to make a Web page.

Motherboard Books’ e-book Let’s Make a Web Page! uses the Coffee Cup drag-and-drop software (a free trial is available). It takes kids step-by-step through the process of creating a Web page using HTML (hyper text markup language). It’s written so kids can work on their own (we love independent learning at our house!) at their own pace. It can be used over and over again, so if you’ve got a budding computer programmer, she can make multiple Web pages. If you’re worried about your kids surfing through the unprotected waters of the Internet, you can download the Coffee Cup software yourself and have your kids do all their work on your computer without being connected to the Internet. They can do all the work but not actually publish the page to the Web if that is an issue for you. If the Web page does get published, no personal information has to be floating out on public waters.

It’s geared for ages eight through twelve, although it’s appropriate for older kids, too. My thirteen year old had a blast making her own Web page. My ten year old got frustrated quickly, but the extent of her Internet interest is Webkinz. I think I’m going to make her try again when we have more time to devote to it (or when her big sister is feeling in a helpful mood . . .).

The 60-page How to Make a Web Page e-book costs $19.99, which is a special introductory price (will be $29.99). It includes a 30-day money-back guarantee. Included in your purchase is a FREE Internet scavenger hunt. What a great way for kids to learn how to build a Web page and navigate safely around the Internet!

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File Your Files

Did you know that computers can be as messy or more messy than desks? Computers need to be organized regularly, just like desks. You know all those nifty Web sites you bookmarked to look at later? Remember the cool, free e-books you downloaded to read when you had more time? What happened to them? Are they lost in the dark hole of “My Documents” or “My Favorites?” That’s what I thought! That’s why I love folders. Computer folders are a great organizational tool; you can have folders in “My Documents” on your desktop and folders in your favorites online. That way, when you go to look for that great Web site or the short story your seventh grader wrote, you’ll know right where to look. The best way to set up folders is to look at the documents and/or Web sites you need to organize. Decide on several main categories to start with, then start filing. As you file, you may decide you need more folders; that’s fine. I hesitate to suggest a list of specific titles since everyone’s needs are very different and the kinds of files you save are probably different from the kinds of files I save.

Are you ready for your assignment? Your assignment is to organize your files into folders on your computer. Start by organizing your desktop (hint: it should have as few icons on it as possible). Then organize your “My Documents.” If you’re prone to adding a lot of Web sites to your favorites, finish up by adding folders there. Lastly, come back and leave me a comment to let me know how you did! Doesn’t it feel good to be organized and not to spend a lot of time looking for just the right file or Web site?