Saturday, July 9, 2011

Technology Conference Week: Lesson Plans

So one of the sessions that disappointed me at the Tech Conference was one called "Lesson Plans in 20 minutes or Less."  I expected to go in and learn some good resources and shortcuts for trimming down the planning time.  I got some good resources, but I did not learn and tricks and shortcuts.  So, here is what I would have done!

First tip - Use a computer! Make a template and actually type your lesson plans into it. 
So many teachers at my school do the first step - make a template. Then they print it and hand write on it! Yikes! It frustrates me to see them taking the time to re-write the same things every week - because I've been teaching long enough to know there WILL BE some repetition in weekly plans.  It just comes with running a classroom. 

If you type into your template, you need to learn how to quickly copy and paste text from one spot to another.  I've seen districts/schools/teachers who have included drop-down menus in their plans, so they merely have to click-click-click to select standards, activities, assessments.  I tried to develop this last year but just got bogged down.

Second tip - Consider using a software program, other than Microsoft Word for your lesson plans.
This is a big one for me - I only recently found a good program that would do this for me easily.  Prior to this, I was chained to my flash drive (I still love my flash drives, but not for lesson plans any longer.)  Here are 2 programs that look good for lesson planning.

4 out of 5 stars
I LOVE Evernote.  I discovered it over at Educational Technology Guy's blog. (He's got TONS of great ideas, by the way.) I began using it after EOG testing, as my planning needs got much simpler.  I simply copied my plans from Word and pasted them into a new note in Evernote.  You can organize individual notes into Notebooks. I really like the functionality of this program.  I can make a notebook for lesson plans, faculty meetings, grade level meetings, and even personal stuff.  This makes a lot of sense to me. 

Evernote is accessible from the web and also from a downloadable desktop program.  The desktop program syncs to the online site so your data is always up-to-date.  It was really fun to share this program with my colleagues.  I had my laptop and the school desktop computers logged in. (I was able to install this on my school computer without any issues, you'll have to find out if you are allowed to do that.) I typed into my laptop and seconds later the desktop updated and my changes were reflected.  I loved that this would really allow my lesson plans to feel "up-to-the-minute" in terms of what I planned and then what was actually accomplished.  Instead of printing my plans at the beginning of the week, I'm planning to print at the END of the week. I haven't explored it yet, but there is a "Share" option. You can share by email, Facebook, and Twitter. So that might be an option for some of the more tech-savvy teachers and administrators to use. There are different versions of Evernote, including options to access it from your smartphone.

3 out of 5 stars

I just discovered this option on Thursday, 7/7 on Twitter! (Thanks to @thenerdyteacher aka Nicholas Provenzano for the link.)  There is a free option and a yearly subscription option.  The big reason this gets 3 stars is because it appears you can only print from here with the paid, yearly subscription.  This is a big deal for me, as I must have printed plans at least once per week (and at the moment, I don't have the money to pay for anything extra).  However, it does have some features that balance that.

First, PlanbookEdu is a web-only service. Nothing to download, accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection. For some, this will be an advantage. Second, the Common Core standards are ALREADY IN PlanbookEdu.  You just click and there they are.  A bonus is you can add your state standards (which only took me about 15 minutes to put in all of math and most of reading.)  This will be handy this year as NC begins to make the transition from our Standard Course of Study to the Common Core. I'll be able to put both sets of standards in my plans without giving myself a headache.

I liked how easy it was to set up a template. You can choose to have something show up for a single day, repeat daily, weekly, etc.  I was quickly able to plug in the required elements for our lesson plans (Essential Question, Bloom's Verbs, Activities, Assessments) and have them show up in every segment for the entire year. You can completely customize what your template looks like (mine is already set up). It does seem to lean toward block scheduling, but should be easily tweaked with to make it work for you.

Like I mentioned before, there are a few drawbacks.  The biggest for me is that it looks like you can only print through a paid account.  Also, you can only have multiple plan books with a paid account. You can share your planbook and it does look like they are fairly responsive to issues that arise.

I'm fiddling with PlanbookEdu so I can share it with colleagues.  However, I really think, for now, I'll be going with Evernote.  I really can't decide! I like the ease of adding standards in PlanbookEdu but I like the flexibility of Evernote.

What are your thoughts?  What do you do to make lesson planning as quick and as painless as possible?

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