Saturday, April 12, 2014

Passwords and Students

Strong passwords chart
Strong Passwords Chart
This week I found myself talking to my students about passwords, specifically the need to change them, make them strong and avoid repeating them.

I posted this chart to Twitter yesterday and got a lot of retweets along with a lot of reaction.

1. People wanted to complain about passwords, how many they need, how hard it is to remember them etc.

2. People wanted to tell me how to create even stronger passwords or use other password systems or even apps to help you generate and remember passwords.

3. People wanted to thank me for talking about this with students. (I like those people the most.)

Clearly, passwords are an issue that lots of people have really strong feelings about. They are the weakest link in our human/machine interface and lots of people have developed nearly superstitious behaviors about them.

The truth is that passwords are a lousy way of proving who you are.  Anyone who really wants to get into your online life will find a way, just like a thief determined to burgle your house will find a way in. You take precautions, lock your doors and avoid hiding keys in obvious places, or you start building an underground fortress in an undisclosed location.

Talking to Students about Passwords
I am really hoping that 10 years from now my students look back on the conversations we had this week and think, "Wow, remember when our English teacher had to explain how to make strong passwords? Can you believe that's how we used to handle our online security?" In the meantime my educational objectives are to get them to stop using the same password for everything, stop telling their friends their passwords and start creating stronger passwords. Along the way we are learning things like how to recover a forgotten password, the beauty of two step verification, and the importance of a recovery email.

Tiered Passwords
One approach I have taken with students is to encourage them to have a tiered password system.

Level 1: Sites that are super important to you, they carry sensitive personal or financial data. These sites each get a dedicated password that is complex. You only use that password for that site. mDiB&Fu33y

Level 2: Sites that carry personal data, but don't have connections to your economic life. These sites would get an easy to type and remember password that still has unique characteristics and adds a site specific keyword.  s0cia1-twitter567

Level 3: Sites you don't care about much, hardly ever use and only occasionally need to access. (Delete these accounts?) Go ahead and use a generic password but consider adding something specific to it.  generic#23

Level 4: Sites that seem sketchy. Never give them a password you use anywhere else important. Have a special root password for sites you don't trust.  MyDogsName43

Password Tip for Parents:
One of the best things we did when our kids were little was give them a password to access our home computer. They didn't need that password as a security precaution, we used it as a teaching tool. We made our phone number the password. The kids learned the number very quickly and I know that they always know how to call me.

More Password Resources
I've had an interest in passwords for a long time.  They are supposed to help us validate that we are who we say we are when we interface with the machine, except they don't. If this week has sparked a geeky interest in passwords for you too, I offer the following recommended readings.

Kill The Password
Choosing a Secure Password
Create a Stronger Password

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Google Scholar: Add a Library For Easier Access To Research

Google Scholar SettingsGoogle Scholar can help you search for research articles, but it can also help you get them if you have access to a local university library. This is particularly helpful for teachers working on advanced degrees. 

Adding a university library to your Google Scholar is quick and easy.
1. Go to
2. Click the settings icon on the upper right side.
3. Choose Library Links
4. Type in the name of the university where you have privileges.
5. Check the box for your university and hit save.

Add a library to Google scholar
Now try searching for your topic and you'll notice that to the right of many of the results you will see a link that says "Get this at -your library-".

Without adding your university library most articles will only give you an abstract and then ask you to pay for the full text.  Because your university has already paid for access to those texts it can save you time and money to add your university library to your Google Scholar Settings.

A huge thank you to Eric Cross @sdteaching who demonstrated this great trick in his first ever screencast. Eric was a graduate student in my class last semester. I'm glad I get to keep learning from him.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Chrome Extensions For Teachers

I know there are hundreds of great chrome extensions, and for a more exhaustive list check out my friend JR Ginex-Orinion and his Chromando Training Site. These are five I use all the time.

Awesome Screenshot: 
Awesome screenshot icon
In the posts below this one you might notice I have some really long screenshots of google forms and my classroom charts blog. I got those with Awesome Screenshot because you can capture an entire web page. You can also blur out personal information, and annotate the screenshots with arrows. You can save them directly to Google Drive too. Get Awesome Screenshot

Clipboard History:
This extension saves a copy of the last ten things you copied. This comes in handy if you do a lot of moving information around. Mine is full of URL's, email addresses and, even a form letter I was sending to groups of my graduate students. The sample below gives you an idea. Just click the eyeball next to a clip to see it again and recopy it. Get Clipboard History
I often need to email links or share them with students. I like to use to make them shorter, but ShortenMe makes the process much faster. Instead of copying the URL, going to, pasting it in and clicking shorten; I just hit the shorten me icon in my browser and it automatically makes a short link for the page I am on and copies it to my clipboard. (Which also puts it in my clipboard history.) All I have to do is paste it into the email or blog post I am writing. Also, because it uses I can always visit the page to see how many times the short link has been used. Get ShortenMe

Like many teachers, I find lots of things online for my students to read, but some of that text comes with a lot of distractions. Also, a lot of the time I want to move the text into a Google Doc to combine it with a graphic organizer and share it with my students privately. Clearly removes the distractions and even lets me easily save the article to Evernote. Plus the icon is so cute. 
Color Picker:
I like it when things match. You probably didn't notice, but the dark blue of the title box on this blog matches the dark blue of the mountains in the picture. That did not happen by accident. I used color picker to quickly grab the code number for the color blue I wanted and then customized the blog header
to match. It also comes in handy for making colors coordinate in presentations. And I used to to make the colors of my classroom blog match our school colors.

And More:
I'm sure I've probably left off your favorite extension. The best part of writing this post is you will all probably tell me about cool extensions I may want to try. Add them in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My Classroom Charts Blog: How to make your own
Storing paper charts is far from ideal. They take up space and they are hard to organize, so when I needed that cool figurative language chart with the umbrella I had to dig till I found it. Not the best use of my time.

So in August I started taking pictures of the charts I knew I would want to use again. The problem is I'm not good about organizing my photos either and scrolling through my camera roll was almost as bad as digging through old charts.

The Answer: Classroom Charts Blog
I created a new blog with Blogger. I called it (I was amazed it was available.) I went into the settings of my new blog and added a secret word email address. To add pictures to the blog I just email them to that new address and they appear as posts.

Once I had sent one picture using the secret word email address for my blog, my phone remembered that address and made it super easy to send more pictures.  From my camera roll I pick the chart I want to send, I usually edit it to crop out edges and the auto enhance makes it look a bit better. Then I send the photo by email with the title of the chart as the subject line. Voila, a few moments later the chart posts to my classroom charts blog and I can find it again easily later.

To make your own you'll first need to create a blog. If you've never done that before there is probably a "create blog" button in the upper right corner of this blog you are reading right now. There is a pretty good tutorial here.  Then you'll need to adjust your blog settings to accept email submissions. The screen shot below will help.
Publish to a blog by email
Click this picture to see it larger.
Because the charts blog is all photos I chose a dynamic page layout and I use the flipcard version. This makes it easier for me to see as many charts as possible at once on my screen. Most of the charts I post come from my own classroom, but when I see something great in another classroom I snap a quick picture and ask my colleague if I can post it on the blog.

Added Bonuses
  1. My students and colleagues can easily access all of the charts.
  2. If I want to include a chart in a blog post I am writing for my class I can get a URL for it from the charts blog and add it quickly.
  3. When I work with other teachers and they have a question about something I do it is easy to pull up the charts blog and show them an example.
Make your own
I hope you will start a charts blog for yourself.  If you are an English teacher there may be charts on my blog you want to duplicate for your own classroom. 

Marker Tip: I've tried a lot of markers, but I find the scented ones from Mr. Sketch are the best for me. Their colors stay bright for the longest. Other more popular brands fade fast and make charts look old quickly.