27 February 2014

Homework Help

Hopefully by now your kids (and you) have settled into the new school year.  Helping my boys with their homework is my least favourite thing about school, and while one of my sons now needs very little help, the other needs a bit more guidance (read yelling and bribery) to get it done.  I know I'm not alone here and if you haven’t been at school for as long as I have you’ll be wondering how it all could have changed so much – especially maths!  I mean – how can they completely change how you multiply numbers?  And always get confused with which shape is which (I'm sure there weren't as many different shapes when I was at school!)

To tackle the daily homework battle I've gathered together some resources to help your child, and to help you to help them.


Schools A to Z 

This is my favourite website to go to when my boys ask for help with their homework.  Schools A to Z was created by the NSW government, with maths and english A to Z lists of definitions and examples, subject help sheets, assignment starters and lots of tips to help you help your child.  There is also a corresponding app which I reviewed last year – you can read about it here.  

Behind the News (BTN)

This ABC show is a fun way for upper primary and secondary students to learn about current issues and events.  Your kids may already be watching this at school.  You can view videos and news stories back to 2005.


Australian government site with resources gathered from different government departments regarding common assignment topics – especially about government and law in Australia

Aussie Educator

The Homework Helpers page on this site features a great list of links to help find answers to almost any homework topic you could think of; as well as links to articles for parents regarding homework and helping your kids.

Primary Homework Help

This UK site is devoted to primary school homework and assignments, with basic information and general facts and figures on most assignment topics – a great place to start gathering information.

Kid-safe search engines

You can safely let your kids research their homework topics on these search engines:

Safe Search Kids

Brought to you by Google – this search engine has Google safe search set to the highest level of security for safe browsing.


A US site designed for kids by librarians, with kid-friendly results


GoGooligans is a safe educational/academic search engine for children and teenagers. 

Homework planners

Sometimes the biggest problem with homework is not the actual work, but finding the time to get it all done.  A dedicated homework planner might help:

Schools A to Z homework planners

This is a basic calendar you can print out and then you fill in the homework tasks on the dates yourself - click here to download.

There’s also a weekly schedule template you can print out, or open in Word and edit yourself - here

Microsoft Office

If you have Microsoft Office you can download free homework planner templates.
View and download templates for different versions of Word and Excel here

Or maybe you’d prefer a digital version:

My Homework

My Homework is a student planner, available for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, computers and online and on the Kindle.  With this app all homework, assignments, and exams can be added; and they’ll receive reminders when they are due.  If you really want to make full use of this app you can also add your child’s class schedule, so with a quick look at their phone they can see what classes they have on that day and where.   I would recommend that you sign in to My Homework on a computer and add classes there, then it will sync to your child’s phone or tablet.  It’s a lot easier to add all their classes on a computer than on a tiny keyboard with your finger.  The biggest benefit with My Homework is that it can sync across all devices, so your child’s homework and class schedule is accessible on their phone, the home computer, and online at the My Homework website from any device.
Take a look here 


Similar to MyHomework, you can add class schedules and homework – this app is just for Android - read more here

The Homework App

For iPhone and iPad – free
This app is just for managing homework - read more here 

Do you have any sites or apps you rely on for homework help?  Please share them in the comments below.

18 February 2014

Need a new email address - create an alias

Have you ever had to create a second account on a website, but you've only got one email address?  I know I've had this problem when I've needed to create accounts for my sons (who aren't yet using their own email addresses). 

There’s a way around this.  Most web-based mail services allow you to create email aliases.   When you use these email aliases any mail to that address is still delivered to your normal email address.


For Gmail addresses, you can add a +suffix to your email address.  Only the characters up until the first plus sign are used to determine where the mail is delivered.  For instance, emails sent to myemail@gmail.com and myemail+suffix@gmail.com will both go to myemail@gmail.com.  If doesn't matter what the suffix is – +childsname, +shopping etc. 

There is nothing you need to do to set up one of these alias email addresses - just type it when you need it.  You can keep using it or not - and there's nothing to delete either.

Outlook.com (replaced Hotmail)

Open the options screen and click Create an Outlook alias.  Email sent to the alias will appear in your normal Outlook.com email inbox.  You can keep this address and use it or delete the alias later to prevent further emails from arriving.

The Outlook.com alias feature is even more useful than the Gmail option, because you can create a completely different email address, which you can use to send and receive emails.  For example, a primary account of initialsurname@outlook.com could also have aliases of firstnamesurname@outlook.com, firstname.surname@outlook.com, or any other variation (as long as that email address hasn't already been taken).  Or, how about creating different addresses for different purposes: johnsmith.personal@outlook.com, johnsmith.accounts@outlook.com.

Can you think of an instance where a second (third, fourth...) email address could have been useful to you?

14 February 2014

Make your own robot

This is one fun app!  Tiny Robot Maker from Sydney based, Tiny Twiga Studios is a new app (released on 5 Feb), where you can create your own fun robots. 

How does it work?  You create your robot by combining different parts – head, body, antennae (hair), arms, legs, face, body decorations etc.  Each part is selected in turn by swiping it onto the screen and you can swap parts around as you are creating.  With all the different options you could easily come up with 1000s of different robot combinations.

Once your robot is finished it is saved in the Robot Gallery, which holds your 50 most recent robots.  From the Robot Gallery you have the option of printing it as an A4 full colour picture; a black and white colour-in picture; turning it into a birthday party invitation, a birthday card or a blank card.

Tiny Robot Maker is aimed at 3 to 6 year olds.  Although I think I’d stretch that a bit – on the day I downloaded it my 12 year old was home sick.  When I got home from work that afternoon his first words were “Mum, I found the robot app – it’s really fun!”.  He then gave me a tour of the app, which was interrupted by his 10 year old brother snatching the iPad so he could also have a go.  Of course, they then wanted me to try it - and it really is fun!  So don’t be surprised if you find older family members creating funny robots too.

Tiny Robot Maker is available for iPad and iPhone from the App Store for $2.99.  Also, good news – there’s no advertising and no in-app purchases.  

11 February 2014

Safer Internet Day 2014

Today is Safer Internet Day with the theme for 2014 of 'Let's create a better internet together'.  The focus for 2014 is on building better relationships between parents/carers and their children. 

A very lovely friend – Sonia from Life, Love and Hiccups – has written the perfect post to introduce Safer Internet Day, so pop over here and have a read.

I've put together a list of resources for parents to keep them current with cyber safety and to help them communicate with their children about the digital world.  I will be updating this list whenever I find anything else that should be included, and you can add to it too - just head over to Listly here

10 February 2014

Another way to access new technology – rent a laptop

This post is sponsored by Flexirent

So you’re in the market for a new laptop!  Your faithful old machine is starting to slow down, it takes ages to boot and you’re getting sick of waiting five minutes before you see your emails.  Or maybe you or your child is starting university next month and a laptop is needed to take to lectures?  Those shiny new models in the catalogues are looking very attractive, except for the price!

It's great to have the latest tech gadget, but it can be expensive and often your budget just can't stretch to such a large amount at once. There is another option - renting. Rather than paying the entire amount for your new laptop up front, you can rent it and pay a monthly amount instead. 

Flexirent is a market leader in flexible and secure rental options for technology customers in Australia and New Zealand, and they work with some of the major technology retailers.

How does renting your new tech work? 

Your first step is to go shopping – either online or at one of the retailers Flexirent works with (like Harvey Norman, Domayne, and Apple premium resellers).  You choose the brand and model you want, which means you can take advantage of any special deals available at the time.

Once you've made your choice you give Flexirent a call for preapproval of the amount you need (you can even do that at the store).  You'll be asked some questions to check your credit rating and given approval to buy.  Once that’s done you can pick up your lovely new laptop and bring it home that day.  All the paperwork is finalised at the store.

One of the decisions you need to make is how long you want the rental agreement to last – 12, 24, or 36 months, and that will determine the monthly amount you pay.  If there’s other equipment you need it can all be bundled together.  You might get approval to spend $2000, but that could be $1000 for your laptop, $300 for a printer, $500 for an iPad and $200 for software. 

Yes, renting is going to cost you more than buying the laptop outright, and it definitely won’t suit everyone’s circumstances - but there are benefits to renting that you might not have considered:

Because you rent, rather than own, your laptop, if something goes wrong it’s Flexirent that takes care of it – not you.  If your laptop needs repairing you’ll be given the loan of another laptop until yours is fixed - delivered to you the next business day.    If your laptop is lost, stolen or accidentally damaged it will be replaced.  That’s especially important if the laptop is going to school or university every day.  Of course, the main benefit of a laptop is portability, so there’s no restriction on where you take your laptop – as long as it’s within Australia. 

At the end of your rental period you have the option of swapping your laptop for the latest model, continuing your agreement, returning or even buying your laptop. 

Flexirent also offers their customers up to 50% discount on mobile broadband plans with Blink.

You need to consider your individual circumstances when deciding whether renting is a viable option for you.  Those that benefit the most from renting are those who need a laptop for work, or have their own business.  If your laptop is even partly for business use it is tax deductible – 100% if it is solely for work.  If you wanted a laptop worth $900 your monthly rental payment would be around $60 on a 24 month agreement, but if that laptop is for work, depending on your tax bracket, it could work out to be around $36 (or less) a month.

If you’re a business owner your monthly rental payments are classed as an operating expense that you run through your profit and loss statement, rather than a depreciable asset.  It doesn't appear on your balance sheet as a debt or loan.

As with any financial undertaking, make sure you read all the terms and conditions first and understand the agreement before you commit to it. 

You can find out more about renting with Flexirent here.

06 February 2014

What can you do with an old smart phone?

From what I’ve been reading on Facebook lately there seems to be an epidemic of unwanted smartphones at the moment.  Everyone seems to be upgrading – maybe it’s just the time of year when contracts expire, or the new models that are appearing are just too attractive; but whatever it is, there are a lot of old smartphones going into drawers and forgotten about.  But there are so many uses for old phones, and you don’t need a SIM card for your phone to work:

A first phone for your child

Does your child need a phone yet?  Your child’s first phone will probably be a basic one – just for emergency calls – or when they start getting the bus home from school on their own?  Could your old phone do the trick? 

Even if it’s a smartphone, you can dumb it down a bit:
·       only sign up for a phone plan that does not have data – so it can only be used for phone calls and SMS
·       uninstall all the unnecessary apps and remove any personal accounts and data
·       turn off Wi-Fi so that the battery isn’t being drained constantly looking for a signal.  Try not to show your child how to access Wi-Fi because you don’t want them to be able to connect to Wi-Fi at their friend’s homes.  If you have Wi-Fi at home the phone will still be able to connect for updates, just make sure you do it.

Game player

Load the phone up with your child’s favourite games.  I’ve written before about how I gave my boys their Android ‘iPods’ – you can read it here.

A camera

The camera in some smartphones rivals, and in some cases is better than, a basic digital camera – and a lot smaller too.  You can download any photos by connecting the phone to your computer, or wirelessly with an appropriate app – like Dropbox.

A music player

You can load it up with your favourite songs and videos and you’ll have an FM radio as well.  How do you get the music onto the phone? Either by connecting the phone to your computer if you've got your music on it, or download them when the phone is connected to your home Wi-Fi.

A dedicated alarm clock 

You could just use the basic alarm function of the phone, or download something really fun

For reviews of some for your iPhone - click here
For Android - click here

Make sure you turn off all other notifications if you’re still using your phone for other things – you don’t want to be constantly woken by other sounds.

Keep it in the kitchen

Load the phone up with your favourite recipes and foodie apps.  You could even attach it with double-sided tape to a convenient spot (make sure you can charge it) so that you can see it while you’re cooking.  You can get cheap phone holders for cars that could easily be ‘adapted’ to hold the phone in the kitchen.

Use it as a phone – sort of

Download the Skype app or WhatsApp and use your phone for video calls and messaging when you’re connected to Wi-Fi at home.

A security camera at home

Download the AtHome Video Streamer app from Google Play or the App Store and set up your phone to keep an eye on your baby, the pets, the nanny – anything – while you’re away.  The instructions you need are here  

These are just some ideas of what you could do with your unwanted smartphone.  You can probably think of some more, and I’d love to hear your ideas, so please leave me a comment below.

03 February 2014

App Review: Stocard

It’s not often that I can say that an app has changed my life!  Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I love this app!  A few weeks ago I discovered Stocard – an app that lets you get rid of all your reward and membership cards out of your wallet or handbag and onto your phone. 

I had a lot of cards, which I used to keep either in my wallet or in a business card flip wallet in my handbag.  Every time I wanted to find a card I used to have to try to find it amongst all the others, and half the time I’d give up and not bother, which meant I was missing out of loyalty points. 

Now my wallet and handbag have lost a lot of weight and I can find the card I want instantly!

It took about 10 minutes to load all my loyalty and membership cards onto my phone – it’s a very easy process
  • Select the retailer from the list shown.  If you have a card that isn’t shown, select Other Card, and type in the name.
  • Scan the barcode on the back of your card using Stocard’s built-in scanner.  If it doesn’t scan (I only had one that wouldn’t) just press your back button and type in the number.
  • You’re done!

When you’re in a store you just open the Stocard app on your phone, tap the card you want and hand your phone to the assistant to scan.  If it won’t scan they can type in the number.  Usually the only reason they won’t scan is due to the age of the shop’s scanner.  I’ve been using Stocard for a few weeks now and I’ve only had one shop that had to type it in – that was my FlyBuys card at a smaller Coles supermarket.  I had no trouble using my Woolworths Everyday Rewards card at Caltex; FlyBuys at Kmart; Ikea Family Card; Fusion Card buying my sons’ school shoes at Mathers, and a few more. 

Stocard is available for free for both iOS and Android.  If you’re downloading for iOS you need to select the Stocard app to suit your region.  Stocard on Android is optimised for Australia, UK and Canada, and once loaded you select your region.   Both have over 200 preset cards for Australia with more being added all the time.

Download your copy of the Review sheet here