Planning-no more pencil and paper!

Over the last couple of years, I have been dabbling with doing my planning electronically. Year ago, I experimented with MS Word tables and Excel spreadsheets but to no avail. Later, I used iCal and Google Calendar but still found that I had to copy and paste individual classes because neither allowed for a rotating schedule (6 days). I found it cumbersome and difficult to keep my planning up to date from what was happening in my classroom and what I have planned. I also found it challenging when I was on different computers and didn’t have that particular file with me.

This year, I have tried out a new teacher planning software called Planbook and have been pleasantly surprised with the results (Full Disclosure: I am in no way affiliated with this site or getting any monetary compensation for this post). Let me tell you why…

Positives:

  • Very easy to add details and simply copying and pasting works well
  • Allows for a rotating schedule: This was a must for me!
  • Syncs with iCal and planbook connect (online version)
  • Easily print out monthly or weekly schedules
  • Ability to add standards/benchmarks or homework assignments to each day
  • Can easily bump lessons to the next day

Negatives:

  • You need to invest a little time in the beginning learning the software (watch the help video for this)
  • Moving away from a hard copy is difficult for many teacher
  • Sometimes difficulty to find formatting options as they are not so “instinctive” compare to other programs

For those of you that are still partial to having a hard copy in front of you to add notes or changes, you can print out nice weekly schedules in paper format, make changes and then amend those to the digital copy later.

I think this program is more suited for High School/Secondary teachers where you would have a number of different classes but it can still be adapted for elementary teachers as well. Just remember that “courses” are really ¬†subjects.

Here’s a screen shot of my planning this week:

How to Create an Effective Technology Lesson

All too often I see teachers who struggle to teach effective technology lessons. Really, an effective technology lesson should mirror an effective teaching lesson but with a few changes.

The Pre-Lesson:
Just like any lesson, you should start with the end in mind. What is the big ideas and smaller outcomes? Keep it specific and too the point. Make sure that it connects with the rest of the curriculum. Long gone are the days of teaching specific skills out of context such as how to format a paragraph (unless you are teaching it in a writing context). In other words, don’t teach technology skills in isolation. I usually think about a project that I want students to work on and then break it up into smaller mini-lessons that will key on some specific skills. For example, one project I did last year with the Grade 3s was designing a Favorite Author poster using Comic Life. I knew that most students hadn’t used this program before. So first I created a sample product on my own. I can’t stress how important this step is. By creating a project of your own, it allows you to see all the steps involved, work out any bugs or potential issues, and see it from a kid’s point of view. If you have already done this before, then no need to do it again unless there have been some significant updates to the program. This step is also important because you want to give a sample that students can work towards. This obviously motivates them and gives them a clear end in mind.

Here is the sample project I gave the kids:

Screen shot 2010-08-12 at 11.38.23 AM

The Lesson (10 minutes max):

You need to hook students in somehow. Start with a story like, “I was reading this book the other day by Lemony Snicket and I realized how much I enjoyed all his books. I decided that I wanted to create a poster to show other people why I like him and promote his books”. Make sure you have a good visual on your SMART board or projector at this point. Then give the challenge to students. Explain the goal and why they are doing the project. Do a “walk-through” of how to create a new one, breaking them down into no more than 5 steps. Review the steps (or have students tell the steps back to you). Sometimes if it isn’t the first time, I let the students who can tell me or show me the steps back go first to the computer as a bit of a reward (just make sure they still listen to the remaining steps). I also like to show a couple of advanced tools and say, “Hmmm…I wonder what this tool does. That would be really cool if someone could discover what it does” This allows for a bit of differentiation and motivates students for extension. I usually go over a checklist or assessment rubric just before they go as well.
Here is an example one I did for a podcast:

Podcast Assessment

Post Lesson:

I like to spend 3-5 minutes at the end of the lesson to wrap it up. This actually is an often overlooked step but essential for meta-cognition processing. Allowing a few minutes to share what they made (show their work if possible) or explain some discoveries of some new features is very important. Always try and make time for this.

So that’s it in a nut-shell. It really just comes down to good teaching practices. It really is a special blend of art and science. The art is in the delivery and the science is the formula and preparation. But if you are unfamiliar with a program or project, you really need to explore it yourself first. Test all electronics out before the kids are there (projectors, cables, etc) so that you don’t have any technical problems along the way. Good Luck!

Google Apps in Education

This week has been one of the smoothest starts to the year technology-wise that I have ever had. It’s really hard to believe considering all the changes that have happened over the last few months too. For starters, we switched over to Snow Leopard Server, had 30 SMARTboards installed in teacher classrooms (with very little teacher training), brand new Macbooks for all teachers, switched our entire communication system over to Google Apps and now a class set of iPod Touches on the way. And we’ve barely heard a peep from the normal parade of complaints coming from teachers and students during the time. The Tech Gods must be smiling down on us from cyberspace.

One of the most important changes that has happened is the move over from First Class (Boo!) to Google Apps (Yay!). When I first arrived at this school 2 years ago, I can’t tell you how frustrated I was. I was coming from a leading IT school where we were 1:1 and had cutting edge learning for students. Taking a few steps backwards, I was so frustrated at how difficult it was to communicate with my colleagues and find information. I had to go through a minimum of 14 sub folders to even find the curriculum! Now, with Google Apps, it just oozes collaboration and efficiency. Now, and if you use gmail you will know that emails are threaded conversations and much easier to follow. Google Docs allows for everyone to work off one document and efficiently collaborate together. Students now have Google Sites as their digital porfolios and the learning never stops just because the school bell has rung.

If you are at a school and frustrated with archaic communication systems, I highly recommend that you take a look into Google Apps. Of course, there are plenty of other worthwhile options but Google Apps is free and you have (almost) unlimited storage!

Here’s a quick video of Google Docs for those of you that aren’t familiar: