From Smart Notebook to Chromebooks

Like many of my colleagues in our school district, I use Smart Notebook with my Smart Board. All day, every day.  The lessons for just about half of my career have been developed in Smart Notebook, representing hundreds of hours of planning. But now we are getting more and more student devices in our district (some iPads and now lots of Chromebooks), so many of our classes can be operated in a one to one type of environment.

Notebook_10_icon_with_SMART_Logo

Smart Notebook software

Being a Smart Notebook geek, I get asked the same question very often: how do we make our Smart Notebook lessons work in a Chromebook environment? As a result, I will offer several options here, but there is a bigger issue at hand.  I don’t think that simply moving content from one platform to another is really the answer. When we first got our Smart Boards,  all eyes were on the Smart Board, and the only computers were in labs, or laptops/netbooks on carts that took 15 mintues to log into. But now that students each have a Chromebook, iPad or phone that they can access in a matter of seconds, it is time to design our lessons differently to take advantage of this opportunity for each individual student to have a voice and an answer.

First of all, let’s be very clear on one thing. There is no product that does all of the things like Smart Notebook does, such as save your written notes, allow you and students to rearrange objects on the screen with a simple drag, seamlessly insert screen captures with a single click, or even create new content with such ease. So if you are looking for an alternative, to some extent you will have to choose which Notebook-type features you are most interested in recreating or retaining, as that will influence your choice.

Here are several ways forward as we move to a more cloud-based environment.

  1. If you mostly use Smart Notebook as a glorified Powerpoint and show slide after informational slide with little interactivity and rarely write in the Notebook, then switching straight across to Google Slides is probably a fine option.  If you are like some of my colleagues and have been painstakingly copying and pasting the content from your Smart Notebook slide by slide to Google slides, there is a more efficient option.  From your open Notebook lesson, Export to Powerpoint, and save as a Powerpoint (this works best if you have not extended your Notebook slides beyond their default page size). Then open a new Google Slide deck, and Import from Powerpoint. You can choose “All” toward the top right, or select only certain slides. Your Slides will NOT be perfectly pretty and will lose animation from Smart, but web links should still work and most text and images should be individually editable. At any rate, this should beat the physical monotony of copying and pasting hundreds of Notebook Slides.

2. If you teach in a situation where you still have a desktop computer (with a recent version of Smart Notebook installed) connected to a projector, keep using Notebook! There are many ways that you can incorporate students and their Chromebooks from this set up.

a. Use Smart Lab activities. Starting in Smart Notebook 16, you can use the puzzle, monster or checkmark icons in the toolbar to have students connect with your Smart Notebook lesson from their devices.  When using these feature the first time, you may be prompted to make an account, which creates a “classroom” for you. If your school division has Smart Notebook licensing (such as Prairie Rose), simply use your division email to be recognized for an account.  This account will allow you to save game content across and between lessons. Now, using Student Response 2 (checkmark icon) or Smart Lab games (Monster icon) that have a phone device icon (such as Shout it Out) you can have students instantly send responses (text or photos) from their device to your lesson page.

b. Keep using Smart Notebook to display your content, and use a learning management system such as Google Classroom to push student activities to the Chromebooks.  You can do polling and feedback from within Classroom. Students can work independently or collaboratively in Google Docs or Slides or Drawings.  To take individualization a step further, you can take the video and website links from your Notebook slides and put them into Google Classroom assignments or announcements. Unfortunately, with Classroom, you can’t include much of the context and individualized instruction that might be included in Notebook, unless you insert each link as an individual assignment.

3. Use www.suite.smarttech.com Upload your current Smart Notebook lessons to the cloud with Smart’s attempt to go cloud-based.  Here lies one of the best solutions to the Smart meets Chromebook issue, but the technology is still very much in a growing phase.  You will be prompted to log in or create an account (see 2a) and then you can use the green + to upload existing Notebook lessons, PowerPoint, or PDF content.  These lessons now have a web link which you can send to students via Google Classroom, or students can go to HelloSmart.com and use a code to get to your lesson by joining your Classroom. Multiple students can then use their Chromebooks or iPad or other devices to navigate through your lesson at their own pace by moving objects, writing on the screen, pressing links. So for example, you could have 3 iPads at a center in your grade 2 classroom, and each student could be going through several slides of Smart Notebook activities at their own pace.

Over the summer, Smart will be adding the ability to actually view and save the students’ individual work by adding “Activity Pages” to your lesson.  When I first learned about this online portal about a year ago, I thought that this was the perfect solution to taking Notebook to the cloud, but there are some drawbacks. The biggest down-side is that currently, students can only view and/or interact with lessons that are open on a teacher device.  That means that if you put the link in Google Classroom, students cannot access any Notebook lesson of their choice at home, because it isn’t open from the teacher account.  Smart technicians do say they are working on this solution any time I have asked, but it does seem that the ability for any student to access any Smart Notebook from your Classroom/library at any time is a ways off yet.  Nonetheless, this is the most obvious solution to respecting the hundreds of hours you have spent developing Smart Notebook lessons!

4. If you realize that you might have to change a bit with the times, despite your love for Smart Notebook, there are some great solutions that take advantage of the digital access that our students have on a regular basis in our classes.  Products like peardeck.com or nearpod.com allow teachers to guide students through lessons giving all students a voice, all the time.  With these types of products, students join a classroom and participate in activities as the teacher pushes through the lesson. Activities could include typing an answer, answering a multiple choice question or poll,  drawing or identifying parts of a picture, or my favourite, put their opinion or position along a spectrum or agree/ disagree graphic.  The teacher can then choose to show all student responses anonymously on the screen in real time. The teacher also has a separate dashboard (open on a separate device like an iPad or in a separate brower window) where they can see each student’s responses.  The downside is that both of these options are quite expensive for the individual teacher, with Nearpod.com coming in at $120-$349 USD per teacher/year and Peardeck at $149/year. They do offer some free content, but only enough to explore a few lessons.  Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 10.37.38 AMAbout a year ago, Peardeck came through with a real game changer when they offered a free “Add-on” to Google Slides.  The functionality is a bit less than the Premium version, but it is robust enough that you could use it do design all of your lessons. Check out a demo video.

So there you have it! Several different pathways to move – at your pace – from Smart Notebook all day, every day, to an environment that takes advantage of the growing number of in-class devices that our students have access to.

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