I play with a lot of digital tools, including some that are not for use in my classroom but instead enhance my ability to stay organized and do my job better. Ever since I synched my first PDA, a Handspring Visor, in 1999, I have slowly begun to outsource my memory. Little by little, one appointment/contact/to-do item at a time, I have been utilizing the marvels of technology to take the place of actually remembering anything.
Some may argue that this move, which seems to be growing more common, will be the downfall of Homo sapiens. I disagree. I honestly feel happier and less tense knowing that I don’t have to remember to pick up bread after work or recall my mother’s telephone number. My peace of mind stems largely from the emergence of “cloud” storage that has allowed me to keep my information in numerous, highly accessible places that are secure.
My latest and most successful venture into Web 2.0 information management is the Evernote application and web service. It is a remarkable set of tools that essentially capture all the important things that I come across in an average day and render them accessible and searchable. Through the use of a web client, desktop application (Mac & PC), Windows Mobile program, and (best of all) iPhone app, I am able to store audio, photos, webpages, PDFs, text files, passwords, serial numbers, and countless other little bits. They are encrypted and kept synchronized between applications. There are dozens of ways that other people have been using it, but here are my five favorites:
- Capturing/storing notes from parents. When a parent sends in a note asking for a conference or a phone call, it is often put in the child’s agenda book and I can not easily make a copy. Now, I simply take a quick photo using my iPhone and store it in Evernote. Within minutes, the servers have grabbed a copy, recognized the handwritten text in the note (mindblowing!), and synched that info back to my iPhone. I can then search for the parent’s name or any other word in the note (or any tags that I gave it) to find it when I need it.
- Finding recipes and shopping for them. I come across a lot of interesting recipes on line, and I can store them in Evernote as PDF files or by simply dragging the URL onto the Evernote icon in my Dock on my MacBook. Then, in the grocery store, I can look up the ingredients that I need (and the quantities).
- Lesson ideas from everywhere. I set up notebooks in Evernote for each major unit that I teach, and then I dump every lesson idea that I find in there. This might be PDFs from other teachers or URLs from websites. If I can’t get a digital copy, I just snap a photo and then try to create it myself.
- Sharing with students. It is easy to create shared notebooks in Evernote that can be embedded on webpages. I share funny stuff with my students via a shared notebook. It includes photos from class, funny websites I come across, and even audio/photos of lessons that the can access from any internet-connected computer.
- Blog ideas. Let’s face it: ideas for blog posts often come when you are least prepared to write them. I store them in Evernote and then dip in there to find things to write about. It might be a photo of something interesting that I have seen or a webpage that made me think.
The best part is that a limited version of Evernote is available for free. There is a monthly upload limit that is probably sufficient for most casual users. That is, those of you who still use your biological brain for remembering things.