Enjoy the Silence (while it lasts)

Golden

Creative Commons License Alexander Boden via Compfight

“I caught the darkness

Drinking from your cup

I said is this contagious?

You said just drink it up”

-Leonard Cohen

As I ponder the past and my experiences in education, I am reminded of the Leonard Cohen song, “The Darkness”. The opening lines are quite poignant as the bluesy singer recounts that he caught “the darkness” drinking from someone’s cup. He tried to protect himself by asking “Is this contagious?” and the response was to “Just drink it up”.   This is often a perfect analogy for what those in power in the education system wish for all teachers to do… “Just drink it up.”

This reminds me of the status quo that exists in education. The endless practices, policies, procedures that teachers carry on year after year without ever really questioning why. For example, assigning homework nightly seems to be an almost expected duty of the elementary school teacher. Yet, just about all credible empirical research demonstrates that there is no correlation between elementary homework and success (its found that there may even be negative consequences). Yet, we persist in doing what is “normal”. We persist in doing what is “comfortable”, simply because we grew up with these practices, teachers have been doing them for years, and parents expect them to be done (even if there is no evidence to back up the practices). We are expected to keep silent and just “do our jobs.” For that reason I have decided to label these antiquated practices “The Darkness”.

I remember being a young teacher and administrator and being told to basically “not rock the boat” another euphemism for embracing “The Darkness”. I watched colleague after colleague drink from the cup and become lost to that contagious darkness that educational leaders above me eschewed as “good practice”.   Yet there was never any concrete data to support the use of chalkboards, textbooks, rows of seats, etc. So I decided to challenge the darkness.

In challenging the darkness I implemented innovative solutions to issues facing the modern student and classroom. Chalkboards were removed and replaced with entire floor to ceiling dry-erase walls, one to one technology programs were implemented, no classroom was allowed to have rows of seats without special reasons for doing so, innovative seating made to engage students was implemented, IT networking infrastructure was upgraded from the ground up, paper communications were almost entirely eliminated, immediate 24/7 access to a student’s progress was implemented, and yet for all of these changes I was told by those above me that it was too much change too fast.   These zealots of the darkness wanted only silence because it was comfortable.

“Fools,” said I, “you do not know

Silence, like a cancer, grows.

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you.”

But my words like silent raindrops fell

And echoed in the wells of silence

-Simon & Garfunkel

Indeed, it seemed that despite hard data that showed dramatic improvements to student learning, increased enrollment for all populations (but especially for the populations most in need), and fiscal budgetary responsibility the people wanted only to do what they were comfortable with. They returned to the darkness of the times when they were taught in school, for parents this meant that the pedagogy and practices they wanted for their child were at least to be 20+ years behind the present day and for the education leaders above me decades more beyond that. So many people claimed they wanted change, and as a change agent, I was brought in. I did exactly as advertised. I rocked the boat, I made noise in the silence, I shined a light against the darkness and while I was there the things that needed changing most improved. Students learning, enrollment, monetary funding, donations, volunteers, etc. These all hit new highs, but the contagious darkness was always there waiting to strike. That is why despite improvements a small group held out until the darkness won. Or, so it thought.

I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord

And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, Oh Lord

Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord

-Phil Collins

I now know that there is a change coming. A new renaissance in education is to be born. I used that phrase once to describe what I was bringing to my classroom and to my school and it remained until I left. Until the darkness struck and won a round in the war. Then the warriors of darkness removed the new renaissance from all materials. How sad. It is a loss for them and for the children. And I almost swallowed the poisoned darkness and let it devour me from the inside out. Instead, I have grown stronger and more determined than ever to face that darkness. I know that my next classroom, my next school, my next community will be better off because I am willing to stand against the darkness and make the necessary changes that our children so desperately need and deserve. So to those acolytes of the darkness I say, your days are numbered. Like the dinosaurs your antediluvian practices will be washed away and the light will shine down as those purveyors of truth and justice, such as myself, fight to ensure that we do what is right for our students, for our teachers, our colleagues even if what is right is uncomfortable. We will not be cowards. We will not huddle in the corner while we watch our compatriots be taken down one by one. NO. We will stand with them and we will usher in the new era even if you are too afraid to allow the light into your darkened rooms. We are throwing the curtains open wide and we are ready to make the necessary sacrifices until you, the blind and lost, finally begin to see the light.

So have a toast and down the cup

And drink to bones that turn to dust (’cause)…

No one, no one, no one…

No one [not even the darkness] lives forever!

-Oingo Bingo

Step into the light my friends and be daring enough to sacrifice yourself for your students. Never let the dinosaurs who try to control the system sway you in your endeavor to prepare students for the world in which they will live as adults. Just because that 8th grade teacher never learned how to use a computer effectively, doesn’t mean that the students deserve comprehensive education including technology built into it every second of the school day. Make your choices, friends. The battle happens every day and you are on the front line.

For open eyes my dear

for open eyes

we will not drink to blindness dear

We’ll drink to open eyes!

-Oingo Boingo

 

Stepping into the Future (one change at a time)

Why does he leave Reality?
Photo Credit: Hartwig HKD via Compfight

I thought it would be a good idea to document some of the changes that we have implemented at my school over the last few months.  There’s one thing that I cannot stand in education, and that is the almost complacent attitude many educators have in keeping things as they have “always been.”  My faculty learned early on that the phrase “But we’ve always done it this way” carried little weight with me. As such, I love to challenge conventional thinking so that we may examine our practices with a  critical lens in order to help students learn.

Change your grade level – Change your worldview – Help students learn

One of the major shifts I implemented this year was that faculty members are expected to change the grade level they teach every 3-5 years.  I’m not so cruel as to make an 8th grade teacher suddenly teach kindergarten or vice versa. Some people are simply better at handling the younger or tween age groups.  However, I do ask that they be ready and willing to change within a 3 year window of grade levels. For example K-2, 3-5, 6-8.  The developmental stages are close enough that there should still be some familiarity and comfort with these students.  If a teacher wants a major change I’ll help them but it is at their request.

Benefits: This almost eliminates the practice where teachers atrophy into their usual routines e.g. “I’ve taught this lesson for the past 10 years so I’ll continue to do so.” It also has created an organic PLC as teachers have realized that their comrades are actually there to help them.

Homework is now Practice and even that is on the way out

I had a huge battle on my hands when I took this one on.  I raised the question of why we even have homework [personal note my dissertation is on the topic].  So I made the declaration that homework would be worth 0% of a student’s grade.  You would have thought I dropped a bomb in the faculty lounge.  Some argued that it was their right to grade as they saw fit, others that it was necessary.  I reminded them that a principal is there to helm the ship toward a goal and navigate in a particular direction. Otherwise the school would be disjointed.

It was only when I removed homework from their grades as an example and demonstrated to them how it was impacting grades.  I removed homework from the subject “Spelling” and suddenly a student went from an F to an A.  They hadn’t completed the homework but they aced every test… I asked “what are we really assessing here?”  On the other side of the coin, a student with a B suddenly went to a D when we took homework out of their subject.  It was only when I demonstrated this data analysis that they all began to understand the gross injustice that teachers have done to their students over the years.  So how does it work now?

Homework is worth 0% of a grade. Students do not have to complete homework (which we now call practice).  They take an assessment. If they fail the assessment they may re-take it after they have completed any missing practice.  Its a middle ground… but eventually I’d like to see it removed entirely especially because there are no studies that demonstrate that homework is beneficial in the elementary grades.

Benefit: we are actually measuring student learning rather than student compliance.

Faculty Uniforms

Okay, I thought I’d have a bigger push back on this but I really didn’t get one (outside of a few who thought that female Oxfords (shirts) weren’t flattering). But I stand with The Fresh Prince on this one “You go to school to learn, not for a fashion show.”  I work at a Catholic school so the students are already in uniforms.  The faculty uniforms help us to look professional while showing the students that teachers are not above the same rules that govern students. What do we say to our students when we place them under arbitrary dress rules and we don’t adhere to them ourselves?

Benefits: We look professional. Students bond with the teachers easier. We send a clear message that we are unified.

Ideapaint is the best

We put ideapaint in every classroom taking up one wall.  Nothing has been more transformative or amazing than having an entire wall surface as a creative whiteboard.  Students, teachers, and all other shareholders are always amazed when they see this in use. We will be adding this to every wall in the near future.

Benefit: Creativity. Students are not locked into a small dry erase board to let their ideas fly.

There are other major changes that I’ve implemented, but I want to keep this post short. I’ll write another post about other changes later.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these changes as well as any changes you see as being beneficial at your school.

I welcome your comments.

Ushering in the New Renaissance in Catholic Education

SJSA Grade Six -  The Year I Rebelled
Photo Credit: Michael 1952 via Compfight

Catholic education once stood as the bastion of Catholic faith formation and academic vigor. In 1965 there were approximately 12,000 Catholic schools serving nearly five million students. According to a recent NCEA report there are now 6,685 Catholic schools serving nearly two million students. If we liken this to historical events, I would argue that it is safe to say that Catholic education has been, and is continuing to go progress through its own “Dark Ages”. I believe that it will take a New Renaissance in Catholic education to bring our schools out of these dark times. What does this mean? First it will be important to identify just what makes this the “Dark Ages” for our current system.

Logically, the decline of enrollment and the closure of schools is the first indication that things are not well for our Catholic school systems. Like most large institutions the Catholic school system has been slow to change and to adapt to the modern world. Prior to Vatican II, Catholic education had a very easy way of being self-sustaining. The pastors would compel the parishioners to send their children to the parish Catholic school. Religious, keeping the costs of operating such schools to a minimum largely operated the school.

As the teaching and administrative positions in schools were filled by the laity, and parents were no longer compelled to send their children to Catholic schools, a natural decline in enrollment took place. Unfortunately, many administrators and teachers falsely believed that enrollment would hold steady or increase simply because it always had in the past. Despite decades of decline, I find that some still hold this perspective. This is a sure recipe for the complete collapse of the system. So what are we to do?

It is at times like these that we stand on a defining point. It is our perspective and willingness to take action that will determine if we fail or succeed.

If we take the traditional view, we will be doomed to failure. This view makes the point at which we stand a precipice that falls to a bottomless pit. Taking no action and simply expecting parents to show up will not work. Relying on strategies and implementations that have not yielded results over the last few decades with the expectation that they will somehow suddenly reverse the tide is foolhardy at best. In the words of St. Joan of Arc, “Act and God will act, work and he will work.” Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for bold action and bold change.

Rather than see our current status as a precipice, I see it as the base of a steep incline toward growth and rebirth. We have an opportunity to redefine Catholic education, while still holding strong to our faith, Catholic Values, and teachings. For so long, we have been complacent to teach using traditional pedagogical approaches. We have held fast to the rows of desks facing the front of the classroom and surprisingly…. we STILL have schools with the green slate boards and chalk! We have held onto antiquated designs and methods simply because it is the easiest road to take; it requires the least amount of work. Parents are less likely to argue if you keep the system the way it has always been, yet the system has been ill for quite some time. We, as professional educators and administrators, have a duty to become the penicillin for our ailing school system before it becomes terminal.

As we stand at the beginning of a climb to greatness, we must be bold and strategic. My motto has been, “Business as usual is not how we conduct business”. This means that there will be conflict. Teachers will be asked to work harder in ways that they have not worked for the last few decades. Administrators will need to acknowledge that some will resist these changes, even from those that have been their most ardent supporters. And in the words of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, sometimes, “Parents just don’t understand”. I am not saying that this road will be easy. On the contrary, those willing to take up the noble goal of breathing new life into Catholic education will often feel as though they are standing in an empty field taking on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It is important to remember in these times that our mission is to provide the best possible Catholic education to families who desire to receive this type of education.

Those who take up arms against this change do so largely from an innocent ignorance. It is important to remember that parents assume that their children will be taught in the same manner in which they were taught. Often, this means that parents came from a time before state standards, academic standardized testing, and differentiated instruction. The modern classroom is perceived as alien to many parents. Likewise, many seasoned administrators and teachers have similar perceptions. If we are to change the course of this ship, it will take bold action on the part of administrators and teachers. Some administrators will need to face a faculty and parent community that does not understand the change. Some educators will have to face administrators who do not see the benefits of implementing a new program that will cause dissonance among other faculty members and parents. Some parents may desire this change and face a school environment that is content to keep business as usual, as the faculty and administration watch enrollment ever decrease.

Ladies and gentlemen, whether you are a parent, administrator, or teacher, if you wish to ensure that Catholic education not only survives (something which many perceive as the goal) but THRIVES (what the real goal should be) then we must make the difficult decisions. We must admit that we need to work harder. We must join the current century and prepare children to enter the adult world prepared, not for the present, but for the future. You will face opposition. You will encounter resistance. The battle will not be easy. But the faith formation and academic preparedness of our students is of paramount importance. I challenge each of you to take on the goal of implementing at least one small change this year. Step by step we can usher in the New Renaissance of Catholic Education.  We can not only match the enrollment that occurred in the mid 1960s, but we can surpass it. Join me in this journey and let us walk together in prayer and thanksgiving for the success we are sure to experience with our faith in God and our hard work at his disposal.

Some ideas for change:

– Alternate classroom arrangements / environments

– Implementing a 1:1 technology program

– Changing grading practices (IE. Homework worth 0% of grade or elimination of HW)

– Removal of textbooks and other primary sources used in their place

– Strengthening the schools Charism throughout all programs

These are just a few ideas; I’d love to hear yours. Please leave a comment below and lets build a bright future for our students and Catholic schools!

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Keep Calm and Carry On: Being Prepared for a Presentation

Keep Calm and Carry On

 

Personal Experience for my first presentation at an education conference

This is just a short reflective piece about my rencent expereiences and the importance of being prepared…

I’ve always enjoyed attending education conferences.  However, after attending many of the presentations, classes, workshops, etc. I often walk away telling my wife (also an educator) that much of what I just sat through… well… I already knew. My common statement is “I could have taught that”. I may be wrong, but I think this might be a common problem with technology educators.  Many of the topics and courses are either well below our current skill set, or its old news to someone whose job it is to thrive on the cutting edge of technology integration.

This year, I finally decided to jump into the ring and offer my own presentation. The title was “Fostering Moral Development within Social Media”.  I was contacted by the chair of the doctoral studies department at my university and asked to co-present on this topic. I, along with the Chair and a fellow doctoral candidate pulled from recent, relevant, literature (2010-2011 studies) to help modern educators at the ACSI conference attempt to take on this challenging topic. If you missed this presentation we will be offering a slightly modified version for the California Education Research Association’s conference this week in Anaheim. However, what I want to write about most is the experience of presenting.

First, let me say that I wasn’t nervous. I’m not saying that to be pretentious, rather, I was excited. I knew the research and I know the topic.  I have performed before audiences and I treated this no differently than I would an actor preparing for a stage performance. As I arrived at the conference I knew that a large part of our presentation hinged upon our ability to have Internet access and securing this access became the paramount goal upon my arrival.

As I walked through the fourth floor lobby toward my room I encountered a hotel employee in charge of conference information.  I inquired about the availability of Internet access through a hardline or WiFi and was informed that they had it, however it was very expensive… her exact words “It’s like $700 a day”.  Hmmm…. “I call shenanigans” I thought to myself and simply thanked her and went on my way. Sitting down and opening my MacBook Pro I was able to find the hotel’s WiFi access which clearly stated it was available for $15 a day. I attempted to purchase this access but the authentication system did not recognize “Long Beach” as a valid city.  A quick call to the national help-line for the hotel confirmed there was a problem and, after locating my MAC address on the network, the tech assistant issued my Internet access at no cost for the trouble experienced. Talk about professionalism. I was very pleased with this event.  Yet, my adventures in preparedness were not yet over.

We were given 10 minutes to set up equipment (we had to bring our own projector and speakers). As I quickly went to work hooking up the necessary hardware I found that the electrical connection in the hotel for the equipment had zero electricity. Changing their surge protector did no good. Luckily, on the way out the door I had grabbed my 25’ extension cord.  I found an outlet and quickly hooked up the connector. Bingo! Electricity. With only one minute till presentation time a hotel employee entered and saw my work. I informed him of the problem and he quickly thanked me for fixing it myself and said someone would be in after our presentation to correct the error. Wow. Had I relied on the staff the presentation would not have happened on time (or possibly at all).

The presentation went very well. In total I counted roughly 30 educators present. We held an interactive presentation with questions and answers throughout the presentation and we had zero people walk out (I call that a success in any presentation).

It seems that the lesson I learned as a child in Boy Scouts paid off. “Be Prepared”.  I always strive to be prepared and for once, I was thankful that I could be prepared for all the monkey wrenches that were thrown my way.  It was a valuable lesson I plan on taking with me to any future conferences. I must always be prepared…

What about you?

Have you ever presented at a conference and found that there were major technical difficulties? Were you prepared?  How did you cope with the issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I may post a new blog article soon about several keys to being prepared for a conference.  I wish all of you great success in your presentations. Feel free to share your experiences, war stories, etc. by hitting the comment button below.

The only Slacker I want in my Classroom!

Slacker

Lunch period has just ended and my computer lab is about to be filled with 7th grade students. I fire up the classroom management software to lock down computer input controls and greet my class as they come in the door. By now, they know the routine.  Each person moves to their usual computer and waits for instruction.  Some fiddle with the keyboard before remembering that the computer will not respond until I unlock them. The entire class is full of energy; lunch seems to always have this effect on students. One of the boys raises his hand and asks, “are we going to have music today?”

While this may seem an odd question in a computer lab setting, my students have come to expect music during their learning sessions.  I have set up a system where the students know that if they are working on-task, I will stream music to the classroom.  They also know that if they are struggling or off-task that the music stops.  I have found that this is an excellent motivator for my class and that it helps to lower the students’ affective filter.  Even some of the most behavior challenging students seem to respond to this little addition to the classroom.  Now I’m not one to implement a pedagogical practice without research to support it.  For those of you interested I recommend reading the entire research article:The effects of background music on primary school pupils’ task performance by: Susan Hallman, John Price, and Georgia Katsarou.  They found that “ in schools, appropriately selected [background] music could be used to create an optimum environment for children to undertake individual work” (p. 120).  The key here is finding “appropriately selected music”.

Enter the Slacker

When it comes to music software I’m sure most are willing to jump right into iTunes and setup a playlist for use in their class.  I’ve used this method and it works rather well, however constantly monitoring and updating a playlist can be a lot of work.  As a teacher, my time is centered around planning lessons, giving instruction, and assessing students; extra time is a luxury that I believe should not be frivolously tossed aside to monitor playlists.  What then is a teacher to do? Enter the world of the slacker.

Now, when I was in High School I had a reputation for being a slacker. Basically, I had the talent and skill to accomplish academic goals, but I lacked the motivation.  I find it ironic that today I turn to a tool named “slacker radio” to help me motivate students within my classroom.  Slacker is a streaming radio broadcaster on the Internet. Slacker allows me to create radio stations based upon an artist, song, or genre of music. It also has a great feature that allows me to turn explicit content off.  This allows me to effectively filter the music that I stream to my classroom. The controls allow me to fine-tune a station by banning artist or songs and by making an artist or song a “favorite” this helps the station become better as time goes on.    One of the great things about using this method is that students quickly pick up that it is a radio station that the teacher cannot control.  After two class sessions, the usual question of “can you play this song, or that song” stops.  They know all I can do is click to a new song that is selected by the station itself.

I’ve had minimal downtime with Slacker and the selection of songs is always something interesting.  When the students are working really well and have a concept fully mastered I can play songs that are more pop related.  When they need to concentrate, I move to classical.  Sometimes I use blues and jazz to help bolster student mood while in the classroom.  I am always amazed when a student comes to me at the end of class and says “thank you” for exposing them to music they would not have otherwise listened to. The great thing about Slacker is that it is free (warning there will be commercials).  However, for a small subscription fee (which I gladly pay) you can get uninterrupted radio without commercials.

Thoughts?

So what are you waiting for? Stop being a slacker and start using Slacker. Its available here: slacker.com.  I’m interested in your thoughts and experiences using background music in the classroom. Have you found it to be helpful or distracting? What other streaming media have you found to be effective for use in the classroom? I know there’s Pandora and Sirius/XM radio, have you used these?  Please share your experiences.  Happy listening!

References: Hallam, S., Price, J., & Katsarou, G. (2002). The effects of background music on primary school pupils’ task performance. Educational Studies, 28(2).

Revolutionize your Lesson Plan Book

Planbook

Planbook
Have you ever wished for a perfect software solution that would help you create, manage, share, and maintain all of the lesson plans you currently keep in your paper lesson plan books?  If you’ve ever thought, I wish there was a better way to do this then your wish is about to come true.  The program Planbook from Hellmansoft is quite possibly one of the most advanced lesson plan books on the market.  It is available on Mac and PC platforms so that all can benefit from the glory that is Planbook.   First, a bit of disclosure, I am only familiar with the Macintosh version of this program so anything written from this point on is from that perspective.  I am sure the PC version is equally as good, however I would recommend you download the free trial version to see if it is something you would like to use.

The Claim

According to the Hellmansoft website:

Planbook is a lesson planning application developed by Jeff Hellman, a high school science teacher.

Planbook is designed to completely replace your paper plan book with an intuitive application that lets you harness the power of the computer to make your lesson planning time more productive.

You can enter the schedule that you teach (rotating and A/B schedule are easily handled), quickly enter lesson information, attach files to lessons, track standards, print hard copies of your plans and publish your plans to the web for students, parents and other education professionals and more.

Planbook is simple enough to use that you’ll get going in no time, but robust enough to deal with schedule changes, days with abnormal schedules and just about anything else that comes at you.

A wonderful Reality

While searching for a program that would help make my planbookmore interactive and powerful, I happened upon Planbook by Hellmansoft.  As stated above it boasted that it would completely replace my paper plan book.   I was skeptical. Yet, after installing the free (that’s right I said free) trial version I became so enamored with the product that I purchased it the same day.  Every single one of the claims listed above is absolutely true.  Planbook allows me to create my own schedule, change that schedule, and account for unexpected changes that occur on a regular basis in our education world.

I have been using Planbook for a little over a year (or around there) and have watched it grow and improve on a regular basis.  Jeff Hellman is a developer who is truly dedicated to his product and the updates have only served to improve the program over time.  It is also nice that a fellow teacher, rather than a software company wrote the program.  Only a teacher knows what it is like to live and work in the educational trenches and his experience helps to keep Planbook alive and viable.

Features

There are many features that I love about Planbook.  So many that I will not be able to touch upon all of them. Instead I will focus upon the features that have been the most useful to me.

  • Creating schedules (and changing them)
  • Searching for lessons & Attachments
  • Bumping / Pulling back lessons
  • Color Coding classes & Copying Lessons
  • Listing Standards
  • Multiple information fields

Creating Schedules (and changing them)

I teach Kindergaten through grade eight technology courses as well as middle school fine art courses.  Each of these courses is split into two classes.  Planbook is the first software solution that I have found that allowed me to easily create my schedule. It has the ability to create a schedule that repeats weekly or that repeats daily.  This is extremely invaluable to me.  Changing the schedule is as simple as editing the day and time associated with a course (this comes in handy during the beginning of a school year when minor schedule adjustments are necessary on a regular basis).

Searching for Lessons & Attachments

One of the greatest features of Planbook is the ability to type in any keyword in the search box to locate lessons that I may have written last week, last month, or even two years ago. Recently, I needed to locate a lesson that I taught last year on one point perspective.  I looked up the lesson by typing in the word “perspective” in my search box and every lesson that included that key word showed up.  Planbook also has the ability to keep attachments associated with lessons.  Worksheets, homework, tests, etc. can easily be associated with a lesson and retrieved at a later date.

Bumping / Pulling Back Lessons

As a specialty teacher, I cannot tell you the number of times that a homeroom teacher has needed to pull an entire class from my normal schedule for a special learning occasion.  In the old days of paper plan books, I would have had to cross out, tear out, or erase the lesson and rewrite it in a new week.  With Planbook its as simple as clicking a button and saying “Bump Lesson” this automatically pushes the lesson to the next scheduled time for that particular class.  If the teacher then tells me that their plans were cancelled… well I click on the lesson and pull it back to the previous time I teach that class…. Its that easy.

Color Coding Classes

Okay this might seem like it’s not that big of a deal, but I love being able to color code my classes in my digital Planbook.  This allows me to break up the page visually and I find it more appealing to look at. Because I teach the same lesson twice, copying lessons is as easy as clicking on the lesson and dragging it to the other class section I teach.  Its really intuitive, and I love this feature.  Oh, while we’re on the subject of visuals… let me just say that the ability to view my lesson plans in day, week, or month views is an outstanding feature.

Listing Standards

Alright, so I teach at a private school.  This means we don’t have the same requirements for listing standards as the public schools, however I strive to include standards in all my lessons.  Planbook allows me to include as many standards as I like, including the Student Learning Expectations standards set forth by my school.  The standards are customizable.  While this is a useful feature (and I do love it), it requires a bit of knowledge for creating CSV files.  This may be a little bit more hands-on than the average teacher wants to get with the program, however Hellmansoft does offer instructions for creating such files. While it is a bit of work, it is well worth completing. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of printing your Planbook for administrative review and having the standards listed with the lesson.  Also, there’s nothing quite like just clicking on a standard and having it appear with your lesson.  So, it might be a little bit of work, but its well worth the time.

Multiple Information Fields

You have the ability to write teacher information (basically your lesson plan) in one of the main fields available for your lesson planning.  There is also a Homework field which allows you to type the homework you assign in a place that is associated with your lesson without gumming up your actual lesson information. There is also a “public information” section for information that you would like to share with the public (oh, did I forget to mention that Planbook offers a method for sharing your lesson plans over the Internet?  Well it does and that’s another nice feature, though its one that I haven’t yet implemented).

Drawbacks

Okay, so it can’t be all that good can it?  While there are a few areas that could use improvement, I feel that this is one of the best programs on the market, and for only $30 (at the time of this posting) it’s a huge value.  Sometimes I have found that Planbook gets a little glitch and my schedule is a little off… in these instances I simply shut down the program and restart.  I also keep backups of the Planbook file so that I don’t lose any information. Some of the controls, when you are working with changing a schedule or special schedule for a day are a little less intuitive but these are features that were added and I can see them improving as time goes on.  The good news is that this program has an active developer who listens to his customers and changes that improve the program happen on a regular basis. While these are what I would consider minor annoyances, the benefits far outshine the drawbacks.

The Future is Good

Oh my, well I just purchased Planbook Touch for my iPad and have only begun to use that program. While Planbook Touch required an additional purchase, I have already fallen in love with its interface and am beginning to wonder how I ever managed without it.  At a later time I’ll review Planbook Touch, but, for now, I am very impressed and look forward to what the future holds for these great programs.

Thoughts?

Are you a Planbook user? What has been your experience? Have you found any other electronic plan book programs that you absolutely love?  What functionality are you looking for in an electronic plan book? Please share your comments or questions, I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit, JWick