Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints – – Google Apps Part Deux

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic

So in last weeks HHH post, I kind of gave you a glimpse of how Google Apps could help increase productivity and organization in your homeschool. 

Today, I thought I would get a little more nitty gritty and outline some of the specific ways you can use Google Apps…

First off, you will need to sign up with a Google Account, if you haven’t already. You will also need to sign each of your homeschoolers up with an account. They are free, and relatively painless to register for. Here is the link to get started.  One Google registration is all you need to get signed up for ALL of Google’s many services, including Google Docs, Gmail, Google Talk IM, Google Calendar, and Google Sites. If you have a Blogger account, you are already covered.

One of the first things you will want to do is explore the Google Docs interface. Like I said last week, this is the keystone of the Google product line.

If you have worked with Microsoft Office at all, Google Docs will be a breeze, because it has most of the same capabilities – – word processor, spreadsheet, and presentations.  It will even upload and download in Office file extensions! For a full tutorial on how to use the Docs interface, go through this edutech lesson.

My favorite homeschool use of the program is as a lesson planner/calendar.  I create a spreadsheet grid that I use to keep track of the boys daily assignments.  The great thing is that once I share the sheet with their google accounts, they can access my spreadsheet from any computer, make changes to it, cross things off when they have completed them, etc.

(click to view in full screen)

google docs

The daily assignment sheet, in essence, becomes a collaborative effort.  Even if you are unschooling, and aren’t anally retentive like me, Google spreadsheets are still a great way to track what your kids are accomplishing, and a place for you to provide resources and suggestions for what they are currently interested in.  You can both access the spreadsheet in real time from two different computers, which is the true cool feature.

I have started having my boys submit all their written assignments in Google Docs as well.  There just isn’t a better way, in my opinion.  When they finish an essay, for instance, and share it with me, I don’t have to print it out, or worry about losing it, or anything.  I can just access it on my computer, make comments, notes, and highlight any areas that need more attention.  Then they go back in, see my notes and make their changes, and voila!  I file it in a subject-specific file and can keep it until infinity.  This is a great way to store items if you live in a state that requires portfolios of each student’s annual work.  Instant access from any computer, and you have saved several trees in the process. 

Next week, I will cover some of the even cooler, creative ways for using Google Apps in your homeschool.  Stay tuned…

To see all of my Friday’s Hardwired Hints posts, go to my HHH page!

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Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Organizational Tools

I think I’ve mentioned before once or twice (or twenty times) that I’m an extremely left brained person who lives in a state of continual chaos.  Left brained people don’t handle chaos all that well. So, I pick my battles. One of them is organization.  I can’t control much of the topsy-turvy roller coaster I call life, but I can find ways to keep certain areas whipped into shape.  I call them my Topsy-Techie Organizational Toolbox, and  – – because I like you – – I’ve decided to share some of my favorite tools in the box today…

  • LIBRARY ELF – This probably goes down as one of my all time faves in the toolbox.  Because we are big users of the public library, we couldn’t do without this email library reminder service.  By signing up with the free service, and entering each of your library cards into the database, Library Elf will take care of the rest.  It reminds you of due dates and holds on any type of media in the library, by sending a personalized reminder to your email.  You never have to deal with overdue fees again!
  • I WANT SANDY (Unfortunately, now offline as of 12/08) I am of the opinion that every homeschooling family needs a personal assistant.  With all the comings and goings, scheduling conflicts, and appointments, we could use a little help.  Introducing: Sandy – – your digital assistant.  No matter how big or small the detail, you can let Sandy remind you of it, by sending you messages to your email, Blackberry, Palm, iphone, or cell phone. You talk to Sandy in natural language, and she “gets it”, and makes it really feel like you have an assistant backing you up.
  • DONNA YOUNG NOTEBOOKING PAGES – There are quite a few good websites that catalog printable homeschool organizers. This just happens to be the one I go to most often.  The resources are free and plenteous, including lesson planners, attendance & grade trackers, checklists, curriculum shopping lists, notebooking templates, and homeschool group printables. The forms can be printed and saved in several formats, including RTF, DOC, and PDF.
  • EDU-TRACK HOME SCHOOL – If you are tired of all the paper trail, and especially if you are concerned with the environmental impact of all that paper, you might prefer to do a lot of your homeschool record keeping on the computer.  Edu-Track is a homeschool record keeping and lesson planning software that helps you create lesson plans, track progress reports, keep a teacher’s journal, track hours and attendance, organize assignments, create transcripts, organize unit studies, and many other things.  It isn’t a free program (it costs $59 for the PC version), but it can more than make up for the investment in time and paper-clutter savings.
  • HOMESCHOOL SKEDTRACK – Homeschool has a few less bells and whistles than Edu-Track, but it accomplishes many of the same tasks for free – – and your information is kept online, so that you can access it from any computer.
  • MEALS MATTER – This is a nutrititionally-focused online meal planner that helps you organize healthy meals for your family, and includes meal planning tools such as a meal-planner, cookbook, pantry list, and shopping list.
  • CABLE IN THE CLASSROOM – As you guys well know, we recently chucked our satellite subscription.  But before the DirecTV headed out the window, this was one of my favorite sites for finding and organizing upcoming educational programs.  Cable in the Classroom is a cooperative effort from Cable Television stations to create educational programming that is good for classrooms.  The resources at the website include a searchable index of upcoming educational shows by subject, and a monthly calendar of programming highlights.  There are also links to online video content (for folks like me who have said bye-bye to cable)

I hope you will find something in my Topsy-Techie toolbox that will make your homeschool schedule a little less topsy-turvy, and a little more manageable!  Have a great weekend!