software

First term in a new school

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Above: Buddy Day at ACMI. Photo: Warrick

It’s hard to believe that I’m about to finish term 1 in my new school, and I haven’t blogged about it yet.

Perhaps it’s still too new, and certainly too busy, to reflect properly on the excitement, the challenges and the possibilities of a new place.

In terms of teaching; I’m teaching Year 9 for the first time in a long time, and no Year 12. The conversations are very different but I’ve enjoyed the shift in lots of ways, and have always thought that you can make a big difference in a Middle School classroom.

In terms of technology, it’s a mixed place. There are IWBs that no-one uses much, Windows laptops for staff, a BYOD program 10-12 and an iPad program 7-9.

So, I’m teaching with iPads for the first time, supplemented by Jacaranda+ texts and some good old paper. I’ve been using OneNote in my own teaching (of course) but am itching to get Office 365 going in the school, and to get OneNote notebooks up and running.

I’ll reserve the iPads for a separate post sometime. They work well: reliable, great battery, portable, app-friendly. The students like them, and don’t mind typing on them (I bought a Brydge keyboard for mine as I don’t like typing on the screen) Of course, the problem remains switching between writing and reading so the need for paper as well, which I don’t like. I bring my heavy Windows HP notebook to most classes, mainly because I can’t plug an iPad into the IWB and the Apple TV solution hasn’t worked well. There’s room for some improvement there.

Otherwise, everything is new. It’s a smaller school so you’re across multiple roles more, some of which are pretty new to me. Being in a new school reminds you how students must feel going into new classrooms with new teachers every year. It’s been refreshing, but I hope to be able to blog more regularly from now on.

Below: Getting started, note Brydge iPad keyboard. Photo: Warrick

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OneNote Ninjaism

Anyone who’s been following this blog for any time knows that I’m a big fan of OneNote as a teaching and organisation tool. And it got a lot better this year, with Office 365 integration and especially OneNote Shared Notebooks, which for me has been the most important classroom technology tool I’ve seen for a long time.

We’re intending to roll out shared noteobooks to all teachers and secondary students; meanwhile we’re working on skilling up our teachers, some of whom are OneNote Ninjas already. And what is it about that ninja thing? Coding ninjas? OneNote ninjas? Maybe it points to the somewhat ‘driven’ need for those of who love OneNote to try to share just what this product can do.

365 Ninja offers a range of videos to help you learn Office 365, including a range on OneNote. Here’s one I learned something from today. Spoiler alert: the Mac version of OneNote is improving, but lacks lots of features, including the insert Excel spreadsheet functionality.

OneNote Notebook Creator

So, I finally got my hands on OneNote Notebook creator as part of the trial group at my school, thanks to the support from the computer team who’v set it up. They set the Sharepoint site up and I ran the Notebook creator tool, setting up three distinct spaces in the OneNote notebook as outlined below.  I set up the student private notebooks with tabs for the key texts (Amadeus, Antony and Cleopatra etc…) a content library, which is the resources I’ve been sharing so far by email, and the collaborative space,which I’m probably most excited about.

Each Class Notebook is organized into three areas:

Student Notebooks
A private notebook shared between the teacher and each individual student.
Teachers can read and write to all student notebooks
Students cannot see other private section groups outside their own

Content Library
A read-only notebook where teachers can share handouts with students.
Students can only read — i.e. pull from — the Content Library. They cannot edit.
Teachers can read and write to the Content Library

Collaboration Space
A notebook for everyone in your class to share, organize, and collaborate.
Everyone can read and write to the Collaboration Space

I’ve been using OneNote as a teaching tool for years now, and this is the biggest break-through yet I think. As one teacher, from the USA, I was speaking to yesterday said, this is a ‘game changer’.

I’ll be sharing what happens. Meanwhile, here’s a video overview:

Planbook as a lesson planning tool

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Last year I got pretty interested in the application of what Vic Zbar called ‘highly effective micro-teaching strategies’, particularly in the area of feedback and formative assessment and particularly related to the Hattie research and applications emerging from all that. Things like: ‘wait time’, ‘no hands up’, the icy pole stick questioning and the ‘pounce and bounce’ strategies, some of which I blogged about last year, and most of which are firmly analog. It’s hard to imagine something more low-tech than an icy-pole stick, even one decorated lovingly with texta and fineliner pen.

I enjoyed that thinking and aim to continue lots of those approaches this year.

One new thing I’ve want to explore is some of the work around ‘explicit teaching’ and particularly the lesson stages approaches that move from things like a ‘hook’ or intention to instruction, guided practice, group work and individual practice, concluded by revision, review and next steps. These are largely American ideas, but have been interested in how they’ve developed from there. Every lesson must have impact, every lesson should have a coherent learner-centric structure.

Sort of makes sense, but it also seems daunting to do that for every class every time.

So, I was interested to see whether there are lesson planning apps that might help, and came across Planbook. Planbook has been a Mac app for a while and I know nothing about that except that it’s about $36 and I’m not sure how well it syncs with the iPad version, which I bought for $9.99. Don’t be confused; there’s several Planbooks out there. I’m talking about the one from Hellmansoft.

What I like about Planbook is its ability to cope with a variety of timetables including our ten day rotation but the ability to customise the fields are the big winners for me.

The fields I included were based on Hattie’s extensions to work around the explicit teaching model.  There’s six customisable fields, so here’s what I chose for each field:

1. Topic/Content/Part of course

– What’s this topic
– Standards
– Stage in the learning

2. Beginning of lesson

– Learning Intention
– Activate
– Review
– The HOOK

3. Presentation

– Teach the concept
– Teach the skill
– Check for understanding

4. Guided Practice

– Development and engagement
– Feedback and individual support

5. Independent Practice

– Applying the concept or skill

6. Review

– Clarify, conclude
Homework/Assignments
– What should be done between lessons

Below, you can see the editing view of Planbook on the iPad. It’s not the prettiest setup in the world, and it would be easier on the Mac I’m sure, but it works well, syncs with Dropbox and is pretty user friendly. On the left hand side you can see the fields I’ve set up for each component of the lesson.

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Below, you can see the weekly view. I’ve got three lessons this week (in green) and you can see the subject name, times and the lesson plan there.

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Below, you can see the single lesson view (not in edit mode) I’ve been using this as my lesson planner, having the iPad on my desk as the planner, and the computer plugged into the data projector showing the students the lesson content or activities.

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It is a bit daunting to plan every lesson in this detail, and to be honest some of the year 12 lessons don’t go exactly this way. But, it has really sharpened my planning and I’m going to persist with this and give it a decent trial. I was considering using Evernote as the lesson planning tool (setting up a blank note with the six fields and simply copying that to a new lesson), but this more purpose-built app has some advantages over that approach, particularly its integration with your timetable schedule. If it really did sync well with the Mac version, it would be even more powerful.

Watch a screencast of the basics of Planbook below; it’s the Mac version, but the basics are the same.

First look at Apple’s new take on textbooks

I’ve embedded the Apple announcement on text books below. I’ve already heard some negative reactions in the twittiverse arguing that this is another examples of Apple’s ‘walled garden’ approach, and that locking schools and districts into Apple systems entirely is not a good move. It seems there’s other questions too about whether these textbooks will be available on other platforms (unlikely) or available in other formats (very unlikely).

Nevertheless, I’m quite excited about it, particularly from a writer’s perspective. Could I write my textbook and have it on the Apple bookstore without the intermediary of the publisher? Like musicians do now?  Could we break down the systems and empower good teachers and good teacher/authors and share their expertise more widely? And I’m definitely going to download the publication software.

But I have reservations, and they are more around the idea of the textbook in the first place. Maybe the textbook thing is bigger in the United States than here, or maybe because I’m an English teacher there isn’t generally the reliance on a textbook beyond the set novels and plays.

The video says they are going to change ‘one of the cornerstones of education: the textbook’. But is the textbook really that critical? How does this change learning? Or teaching? And, will replacing the traditional textbook with a ‘bells and whistles’ version change the classroom experience? Where are the collaborative tools, the feedback, the personalisation, the differentiation, the user-created textbook that we’ve talked about for some time.

There’s no doubt it will look pretty, it will save a lot of printing and heavy schoolbags for kids with iPads (oh yeah, how many is that right now?), they can be updated easily and they will be more engaging.  But every time I hear ‘engagement’ as an argument for new software and hardware I cringe a little. There’s got to be better reasons than that. We shall see!

Getting myself organised

I written a few times over the last couple of years about the Getting Things Done system as developed by David Allen. It’s a great system for sorting out the multitude of ‘stuff’ that comes into your life, from emails to the shopping lists. Along with the GTD system I’ve been tinkering for a while with the best software to support GTD. I’ve tried using add-ons to Outlook, like the Jello Dashboard and last year moved to Thinking Rock, an Australian software tool based around GTD. This year I’m trying GTD-Free, a free and open source piece of software that looks plain, but promising.

I’ll let you know hot it goes. Meanwhile, as schools begins to warm up and wind up I heartily recommend the GTD system for teachers.

My Favourite Software for 2008

I thought I’d end the year not with anything deeply philosophical, but with that thing all bloggers love: a list! In this case, a list of my favourite software finds for 2008, for your downloading enjoyment. Happy New Year everyone. All the software in this list is free or open source.

1. Evernote

Evernote upped the ante this year with a completely new version that sits on your computer, or phone or pda and syncs effortlessly with the web. Consider it a giant endless roll of notepaper that you can categorise, tag and search to your heart’s content.  Ideal for capturing the setup instructions for your modem, that list of Christmas presents you were meant to buy, screenshots or anything. I have notebooks of recipes, travel ideas, cycling news and lifehacks, but invent your own.

2. ThinkingRock

Only for GTD geeks, this Australian based software uses the ‘Getting Things Done’ system to help create workflows from idea collection, to managing multiple projects. The best GTD software I’ve seen yet.

3. Nexus File Manager


We all know Windows Explorer is no way to manoeuver around files and folders so it must be replaced! For a while this year I used Free Commander and a very nice tool it is. But Nexus File Manager, besides looking all black and green and retro, is a powerful file manage software that can do a host of functions from multiple renaming to moving, pasting, copying, including dual window panes. And it’s all pretty much driven by keyboard shortcuts. So, put the mouse away and never open Windows Explorer again.

4. Quick Media Converter

This converts most media to other media types; simply and quickly. The other day I wanted to extract some audio from a youtube video and this did it with ease.

5. Net Usage Extension for Firefox


In Australia broadband accounts are generally capped, usuallyon a monthly basis, with plans like this.  So, to survive this heinous situation I found a Firefox Extension which keeps a tab on yur broadband usage, literally. It sits in the menu bar and gives a percentage figure on how the allocated amount is going.