Tag Archives: tech tips

2017 Reading Challenge and Using Goodreads to Keep It Fun

My 2017 Reading Challenge and Using Goodreads to Keep it Fun

Every year I set at least one goal/resolution for myself.  Big surprise, it’s to read more — or at least read!  Each year since before I can remember, I have set a reading goal for myself, and while in the beginning when I was still in school, it was very low and only included pleasure reading (even if some of my history texts were pleasurable), I have incrementally increased my goal every year since.  This year I’ve set a goal of reading 115 full length books, up from 2016’s goal of 110, a goal I feel that I barely eked out, thanks to lots of life events that prevented me reading as much as I would have liked.

Back in the dark ages, I used to keep my lists by hand, and track the titles, authors, pages, etc. of all my books each year, but would end up inevitably losing or misplacing my notepad and having to try to guess and try to reconstruct my list or just plain make something up.   That’s when I found Goodreads.  Now, I am sure most of you are familiar with Goodreads as it’s been the most popular social network for readers and books for years, and even more so now that it has been acquired by Amazon, so I won’t get into the details.  Just what I like about a feature I surprisingly did not know about until recently to help me decide what to read next since that’s always a problem for me!


So if you’re like me, you are always on the lookout for new books and something new to read and always seem to have a never-ending pile or backlog of books on your “Want to Read” list.  I can’t resist bookstores or the free and reduced e-book lists out there for Kindle.  My favorites right now are BookGorilla (an email subscription for free and reduced books based on your genre preferences) and AtoZWire (scroll their list for the daily free Kindle deals).  Unfortunately(?) this has left me with a “to read” list of over 1450 books!!

My biggest problem was trying to remember what I had, and then deciding what to read next.  I know there are always some books I will gravitate to, like superhero graphic novels (MARVEL!) or Star Wars books, but after reading something great, I struggle to find something new, or just in general I might want something new and different.  This is where I found a neat trick to keep myself guessing.


One of the great things about the merging of Goodreads with Amazon (though I miss Shelfari a little bit) is the ability to add your Amazon purchases to your Goodreads account. It is also very simple, if you know where to look.  After logging into Goodreads, click on the “My Books” link on the top banner.  Mine is set to show me my “To Read” list, but it doesn’t matter what yours shows, you can still find the “Tools” on the left hand side of your screen.  Make sure you scroll down the list to the bottom and you’ll see the link to “Add Amazon book purchases.” Click on that link and give the next page a little time to load and you’ll see all the book (print and Kindle) purchases you have made!  Under each, there’s a button and you can automatically add these to your “Want to Read” list!  Don’t want to add something?? there’s an option for that too! This comes in handy at the next step in your surprise reading…



Now the fun can begin…  Jump to your “To Read” list and scroll all the way to the bottom.  There you will see a spot where you can sort your newly padded list.  The default from Goodreads is to show you 20 titles sorted by Date Added in descending order.  So in other words, the newest book will be added to the top of the list and everything else bumped down one. (but you knew that.)  All you need to do to give yourself a surprise next-to-read is click on the “sort” and choose “Random” like so:

Ascending and descending order doesn’t matter here and you can display as many titles as you like.  Now, each time you refresh, you will have a totally different list each time!  Here’s what I got for my test list for this post:


When I ran it a second time (F5 or refresh), I got this:


Two completely different lists!  SURPRISE!!  Now, you can pick and choose what you like from this first page, or what I have chosen to do is just take the top book on the list when I am ready.  So, I’ll finish Inferno, which I’m currently reading, and unless there is something I need to read, I will jump to my “To Read” list and take what Goodreads gives me!

I find this to be a big help, since I end up finding that I can’t stick to other reading suggestions or challenges that ask you to read certain books from certain categories, like the 52 book challenges you can find online.  Even though my personal goal is nearly double that, I can’t force myself to read something I am not interested in, there’s too much I am interested in out there, and I will always fall short on those.

Hopefully this little trick can help you find, or rediscover some of those “lost books” in your kindle or on your shelf that you forgot you were once interested in.  I know that since I found this out myself, I have read some very fun books (and some not so fun ones), but always something I know that I wanted to read — even if it was three years ago!

Let me know your challenge for yourself, if you have one!  If you would like to follow along with my reading on Goodreads, you can find my profile here.  Please feel free to follow me or send a friend request.

If you’re interested in my past reading goals and summaries:






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Posted by on January 3, 2017 in Blogs, Tips & Tricks, Websites


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What Happens in an Internet Minute? – Infographic

Just One Minute…

My three year old son is great for the phrase “just one more minute” when he’s trying to buy a little extra time playing with his trains or trying to avoid bedtime.  It’s amazing how that minute can seem like an eternity to a toddler, but nothing at all to us.  Just how much can really happen in a minute though?  Today’s infographic from Intel takes some recent data and re-examines just how much happens on the Internet every 60 seconds. [VIA]

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Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Infographics


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Two Free Photo Editing Apps for School

Free Photo Editing Apps

Lots of our students want to create presentations and projects, or just fun things with their iPads, iPhones, or iPods while in class.  Sometimes they need a little help with this, especially if they need to touchup, crop, or edit photos they’ve taken in anyway.  Today, two free apps that can let them do just that!

Photo Editor by Aviary

This app is a very simple one for editing photos quickly.  Aviary has a very similar interface and feels very much like Instagram.  Students can choose from an Enhance menu where they can adjust the color and lighting in the photo, Effects where they can choose different tones and blurs, frames, stickers, and text.  Aviary also supports basic photo editing like red-eye reduction, whitening, blemish removal, brightness, saturation, and sharpness adjustments, as well as simple cropping.  Aviary is available for both the iPhone and iPad.

Adobe Photoshop Express

Similar to the full version, Adobe Photoshop Express offers hundreds of photo enhancement, effects, and adjustments options for students.  From a simple auto adjustment by clicking on a want icon to choosing from the hundreds of effects and borders Photoshop Express offers a great deal of choice in adjusting photos.  Also included are the basic editing tools, including brightness and contrast, hue and saturation, tint, sharpening tools, noise reduction, and red-eye reduction.  The interface is not as graphically appealing as some other editors, as Photoshop Express chooses to allow the photograph to maximize the real estate on the screen, rather than its menus.  Photoshop Express is available for both iPhone and iPad.


Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Apps, Tips & Tricks


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Free Unit Conversion Apps

Conversion Apps

If you’re looking for a convenient app to help you convert units of measure, temperature, or even currency, why not give one of these a try – all free in the App Store.



Units has a very simple, text-based interface and can handle, according to iTunes, “over 800 units across 43 different categories… including Speed, Time, Length, Volume, Area, Power, Temperature, Fuel Consumption, Clothing & Shoe Sizes and loads more!” Units is also able to convert over 88 currencies with up to the minute rates.  You can pick and choose the most common, or needed, units you will use to help avoid cluttering the app.  Units also included a built in ruler for quick measurements (up to the size of your screen).

Convert Any Unit

Convert Any Unit is another simple interface where you can enter a value, then type in the unit you would like to convert from and then to.  As you type, the most likely unites will populate in a list that you can choose from – and only the first letter or two are needed, to help avoid spelling errors.  There is a list option available to find the units you need, and you can save and organize favorites of your most commonly used conversions.

Convert Units Free

Convert Units Free is a little more graphic oriented than the first two apps today.  You use a dial to select the units you want to convert from (on the left) and to (on the right). In the center of the app is a button that allows you to choose from 14 different categories to convert.  Convert Units Free even allows for you to customize units and conversions, making this a very versatile app.

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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Apps, Tips & Tricks


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Free Large File Transfers — DropSend

DropSend: Large File Transfers

I was asked this morning by a teacher about the ability to have students share a large video file that they were turning in for a project.  Unfortunately no one in the student group had a flash drive and it was too large a file to pass through our e-mail filters.   I recommended DropSend as a great free site to use for these transfers.

The interface is simple as the only thing you need is your own e-mail, the e-mail address of your recipient, and the file location.  Simply enter this information into DropSend, type the verification code they provide and click submit!  The recipient will receive an e-mail with a link to the file stored with DropSend and can download it up to 10 times within a week of it being sent.

DropSend is a very simple, and (more importantly) free way to send large files up to 2 GB via e-mail.  A 2 GB threshold is probably much larger than anything your students might create, but helps alleviate the pesky problem of those project files that may too big for a student’s flash drive – if they have one – or too large to have them e-mail or submit the file electronically another way.  One more tool for your belt! J  Happy First Friday!

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Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Tips & Tricks


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How Strong Is Your Password? (Infographic)

How Strong Is Your Password?

As we move more and more into a web-based, cloud computing world there is a greater need to secure our information, both personal and professional.  How do you create a strong password while still making sure it is one that you will remember?  This is one of the conundrums that face us because more online data and information storage invites more people seeking to get to that information in unsavory ways.

Today’s infographic details examples of good and bad (strong and weak) passwords and some common passwords to avoid at all costs — is one of them yours?


Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Infographics


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Paper Rater — Free Writing Analysis & Plaigarism Checker

Paper Rater

This is a nifty little tool that you can use yourself, but make sure to share it with your students as well.  Paper Rater is a free online service that will check your work for not only grammar and spelling – sometimes picking up things that the built in checkers in Word or Pages miss – but also for plagiarism, readability, and originality.

All you need to do is visit Paper Rater and then copy and paste the body of your work into the analysis box.  You must give it a title!  As an option, Paper Rater can check your sources if you provide them.  Select the education level of the author (from 6th grade to a Doctoral student) and the type of paper you have written (essay, report, letter, review, etc) then click on “Get Report”.

Once complete, Paper Rater will generate a report of the writing in the text submitted:

Students can click on the options above to see the specific suggestions about word choice, style, vocabulary use and mote.  Within these suggestions, Paper Rater will list items such as how sentences are started, the use of transitions, over use of clichés or certain phrases.  Paper Rater will even assign the paper a “grade” if it’s more scholarly writing, or the readability and creativity if that is more meaningful to the student.

While this is a help to students writing papers, Paper Rater could also help teachers in grading, if you have an electronic copy of students work and want to check sources of for plagiarism quickly.  Creative writers and beginning authors could also benefit from a quick analysis once in a while to check readability and phrasing, especially as Paper Rater offers some writing suggestions based on its analysis, and not just numbers!

Best of all, unlike other programs that offer similar services, Paper Rater is fully functional, user friendly and free!

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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Tips & Tricks, Websites


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Citrify — Free Online Photo Editing


As students become more involved in creating digital media projects, the greater the need to have a quick and easy way to edit the photos they want to use in these projects.  While there are many paid or downloadable options available, sometimes it’s easier and quicker to have an online option and Citrify is a prime example of a great, easy photo editor that works in any web browser.

All you need to do is open the Citrify website and then click on the “start editing” button.  A new window will open that contains the photo editor:

Citrify will walk you through the editing of your photos, from simple resizing and  the removal of red-eye and freckles all the way to more involved color saturations and glare adjustments.  Citrify works on a very simple point and click interface and each option contains a slider with easy to follow labels for all edits.  Once the photo is how they want it, students can click on “save” and the new image will now be available for their projects!

While lots of the options that would be available to users in a more involved editing program such as Photoshop are not available in Citrify, the simple edits that most students would need are.  This is a very viable option that you would want to share in all classes with students to allow them to edit, adjust, or enhance photos as they find them and save a step in their work.

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Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Tips & Tricks, Websites


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PrintFriendly — Make Any Website Printer Friendly


You found a great site with information that you want to use in your class as a reading, a news article, perhaps, but there is no print friendly option!  Those ads and sidebar items are everywhere and don’t even get me started on the 15 pages worth of comments! – What to do??  Try to grab just what you need.

This site is extremely easy to use and can help you cu the clutter that otherwise would appear in a hard copy of a website, or even in a PDF version.  Simply copy and past the URL of the site you want to print into PrintFriendly and be taken instantly to a printer friendly version of the text – no sidebars, no ads, no comments – only the core text!  Are there pieces of the text you would rather not see?  Simply hover your mouse over them and click to delete.  This also works well with pictures that might be unnecessary to you. (I use this site all the time to print out recipes with step-by-step photo instructions and delete those to converse paper.)  There is also the option to save your print friendly version as a PDF or to email it for future use.

If you have the capability, download their extension or hotlink button for your web browser and have PrintFriendly options available with one click.  We’re all being asked to find ways to cut back and save money where possible.  While it’s only pennies per page, an option like this can still help you to do your part to save some funds within your district for more vital materials down the line.

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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Tips & Tricks, Websites


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Getting the Most Out of Google


While perusing the Internet this weekend, I came across a fantastic infographic from  Most of our students when they research, if not taught to or told to use the library database and search engine, immediately head off to Google.  Too many times they simply type in a couple words and his search, or as I have seen too many times they type in verbatim from the assignment the question they need to answer or they will type a question as though they were asking a friend for an answer.

Because of Google’s algorithm, the results with these types of searches can often yield a great deal of irrelevant information and sometimes information from disreputable or questionable sources.  How do you avoid this?

Did you know that you can:

  • Search only specific sources?  (use site:)
  • Search for related terms (i.e. college, university, higher education) at the same time? (use a ~)
  • Find only specific file types, such as a .pdf? (use filetype:)
  • Get results from only specific years or dates?  (set up a range search)
  • ONLY search scholarly, peer-reviewed journals? (use Google Scholar)

These tips and many more can be found in the infographic below.  Either print as a poster or pull what you need  for an instruction sheet or cheat sheet for students.  Don’t forget to include the additional search tools you can use right from the Google search bar like:

  1. Define
  2. Calculator
  3. Time & Unit Conversion
  4. Translator

Also included are keyboard shortcuts that are valuable when navigating searches or various tabs and windows and for taking screenshots for trouble shooting or displaying search results of screens for presentations later.

Just make sure that if you do use this graphic later, please please please follow their Creative Commons copyright requests!

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Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Infographics, Tips & Tricks


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