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.

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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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Something new: BETA student creation of VR Google Expeditions

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 8.05.52 PMUsually, when I have applied to be a part of a new Beta program, the response is that it is only available for residents of the USA (like when I applied to be part of Google AR[Augmented Reality]). Not this time! After bringing Google Expedition experiences to over nine hundred students in the past four months in Prairie Rose School Division, I was quite surprised when we were essentially “short-listed”, instead of the “thanks but you’re not from the USA” response. I had planted some feelers with Mr. Duchsherer’s Social 7 video conference class of Schuler and Jenner students in the off chance that this became real — good thing!

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30 VR Viewers inside MAX

 

So now we have a lot of planning to do. The big goal is to provide some Canadian content for Google Expeditions. Every time that a Social Studies teacher contacts me to do VR with their class, I hope that they are not teaching a year that is predominantly Canadian content! There are bits and pieces, but not many great fits for our Alberta Social Studies curriculum.

Some early ideas include historical and cultural sites within a three hour drive: NWMP Forts MacLeod, Whoop-up, Walsh; Medicine Hat teepee; Writing on Stone; Cypress Hills; Empress elevator; teepee rings. Perhaps we even do a Prairie farm and Ranch topic?

Lots of decisions and planning ahead!

Be sure to “Follow”this blog to follow along on this exciting journey!

Implementing VR #4: YouTube Playlist

Touring our PRSD8 Google Expedition Virtual Reality set around our vast school division has been quite delightful. The first reactions of the students from K-12 to the virtual world brings a smile to my face every time–as does the grinning teacher,  watching the first reactions of his or her students.   Yet, there is so much more to discover in the virtual reality world than Google Expeditions, especially since it (Expeditions) is so American based in content.

So it was with great excitement that we were able to successfully launch our first YouTube 360 playlist. A school in Oyen wanted to use VR “to do Olympic events” for an Olympic-themed day that they were having. Since nothing of the sort currently exists in Google Expeditions, I knew this was the opportunity that I had been looking for to push myself to try and create a YouTube playlist and use it with a class of students.

It turned out to be a great success, as over 10 groups of 10-13 students filed through our ‘viewing parlor’, took a comfy seat, and launched into our Olympic events playlist: bobsled, ski jump, luge, skeleton, downhill skiing, snowboard cross.  A few teachers even made it through the whole experience!

Watch below as the grade 1 students in Mrs. Roberston’s class experience the thrill of the ski jump!

This particular playlist worked very well for the small groups of students that we had a one time. A downfall to using YouTube is that you have to click quite a few spots to get to the playlist AND get the viewer into “Google Cardboard” mode. Cathy and I clicked all of the buttons each time for each student, as one wrong click, and it takes much longer to get back to the correct place.

A key element to using the playlist was to have a distinct acronym in the title (PRSD8VR). This playlist was the only thing that came up when searching YouTube, which then made it easy to select and save to the “Library”. Once we had put the playlist in the Library of every viewer, it made it much more convenient to launch the playlist quickly.

The Olympic theme certainly made the YouTube playlist a great place for a trial run. Thanks Oyen Public for helping push problem solving!

Implementing VR #3: At a Hutterite Colony!

Classes in our school division have had access to Virtual Reality for 3 school weeks now.  Cathy and I , our PRSD8 Instructional Coaches, have done lots of learning and discovery as we have transported the VR viewers and run VR in seven of our schools so far, and we will be visiting another two schools new to VR this week.  This week I will be posting a few times about our learning curve in this exciting new project.

We had been looking forward to this ground-breaking day since before Christmas. Susan Martin, the teacher/principal of Jenner Colony School had gotten permission from the 20180112_110046_001883888399.jpgschool’s German teacher, Ron, to let the student’s experience the Virtual Reality viewers.  For those not familiar with Hutterite Colony schools, many do not allow any form of technology; that means the teacher cannot even have a computer at the school, and there is no internet or even television. So you can see why we were very excited to bring Virtual Reality to Susan’s colony!  The virtual reality experience would be a spring board for a writer’s workshop for grades 1-3 students on using exciting verbs and adverbs, and a grade 4-6 newspaper writing lesson.

20180112_131127424448441.jpgWe also learned some valuable lessons this day.  In our excitement to bring VR to a colony, it failed to register that a Google Expedition VR experience requires a lot of internet — and we were going to a place without internet.  So it is plain embarrassing to admit that we did not have this epiphany until we were actually in the school building and unpacking the viewers!

As a result of our incredibly embarrassing oversight, we learned a few valuable things:

  • It IS possible to run Google Expedition over a hot spot. (Thanks goodness!)
  • A hot spot can host up to 5 devices at once. With this, we were able to connect the “Leader” tablet and then 4 VR viewers. (Fortunately, this was a very small group of students, so we were able to accommodate all the students, the teacher assistant, the German teacher and 2 additional kindergarten students in 3 sittings)
  • Having two students share a single device is manageable
  • It is actually a really different – and nice – experience to just sit among 3 or 4 students and lead an Expedition

Thanks to Mrs. Martin and her lovely class for such a fun day. We can’t wait to come back – and not just because we got to wear slippers all day! Hopefully we will get to hear what is happening to Dorothy and her adventures in OZ!

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Implementing VR #2: Google Street View

Classes in our school division have had access to Virtual Reality for 3 school weeks now.  Cathy and I, our division Instructional Coaches, have done lots of learning and discovery as we have transported the VR viewers and run VR in seven of our schools so far; we will be visiting another two schools new to VR this week.  This week I will be posting a few times about our learning curve in this exciting new project.

At EBHS this past week, we tried Google Street view for the first time with our new set of VR Viewers. Mr. Wadman wanted his high school art students to get to explore New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and there were no Google Expeditions available.  It turned out that the only way to MoMA was by trying something new!  Google is so great because not only have they mapped streets, but also the inside of museums and tourist attractions–but when the building is empty! If you use an “identified” StreetView upload, (as opposed to a citizen upload), there are no other people standing around–you have the whole museum to yourself!

We started by installing the Google Street View app on all 30 viewers and then making the icon available in Kid’s mode. The high school students were a good starting audience for this experiment as they had to follow instructions very carefully to get to the right Street View gallery. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to “favourite” or identify the desired version of StreetView for something like MoMA that has dozens of uploaded options. Fortunately, the art class followed instructions well, and we all got to the same gallery room relatively smoothly.

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EBHS Art students visit New York’s MoMA – Museum of Modern Art , as Mr. Wadman captures yearbook photos

Mr. Wadman created a scavenger hunt for students once they were in the museum; this gave them a sense of purpose as they explored the many different rooms in the museum.

What we have learned:

  • We will be recommending StreetView for junior high and higher. Unlike Google Expedition where the silver button is not a factor, students need to use the button to “walk” or advance their way through hallways and doorways. This takes some time to get used to and would be difficult for younger adventurers
  • A class should start with a Google Expedition BEFORE taking on Google StreetView
  • So far, if a teacher wants to do a StreetView tour, we are advising that they create a scavenger hunt or similar task to help keep students focused and moving through the space — this may change the more we experiment with StreetView

Implementing VR #1: Early Lessons

Classes in our school division have had access to a class set of 30 Virtual Reality viewers for 3 school weeks now.  Cathy and I have done lots of learning and discovery as we have transported the VR viewers and run VR in seven of our schools so far; we will be visiting another two schools new to VR this week.  This week I will be posting a few times about our learning curve in this exciting new project.

Things that we have learned:

  • Google Expedition is a great way to start sharing VR with whole classes; the teacher/leader guides and all students experience the same thing at the same time
  • It is important to tell students ahead of time that they should pull the glasses down and take a break if they are feeling dizzy
  • We have quickly made the rule that students have to stay seated — bottoms in your seats!
  • It is important to give all instructions BEFORE students take their first peek! The first moments when students start to explore is priceless to listen to, and they are so excited. It is not worth trying to interrupt this moment of discovery with any information!
  • Students always want to know what the silver button on the top of the viewer does.  In Google Expedition, it does NOTHING. I tell them to go ahead and push it all they want!

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    30 VR Viewers inside MAX

  • VR eats battery life! We cannot do a full day of Google Expedition with a different class every period – the battery is done after about three sessions of approximately 30 minutes. It even seems we have one or two units that have difficulty keeping a charge — we are trying to pin point them.
  • As teachers search for Google Expeditions to run with their class, it is VERY important to actually download the tour, and then click on each tab to see the images that are available. Often, what sounds like the perfect title, is a boring museum or monument tour.
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First ever Virtual Reality viewing session at Prairie Rose School Division – at Parkside School. Thanks Mrs. Heidinger!

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VR at Senator Gershaw in Bow Island.

Trying Something New: Breakout EDU

My colleagues Heather and Janay and I have been eager and excited and planning to try Breakout EDU boxes in our classes for almost year. But of course, like introducing anything new and exciting, finding the time to do the research and the set up in order to implement is always a barrier.  When I was hired by our school division as an Instructional Coach halfway through first semester, I quickly realized that helping bring this Breakout EDU box experience to reality would be one way to help out and get into high school classes.

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Maiden voyage for #PRSD8 Breakout EDU boxes

Although we had initially considered making our own Breakout kits by sourcing all of the components ourselves, we soon realized that a) the variety of locks needed (colours, letters, shapes, etc) were not readily available at local stores and b) locks are expensive. So, in the end, I ordered a ‘class set’ of 6 Breakout EDU boxes directly from the Breakout EDU online store. The price didn’t look quite as good after USD exchange and hefty out of country shipping costs, but the boxes finally arrived.  In my new position, I actually had time to properly unpack, inventory and colour code all of the various components for each box, especially considered that these will ultimately be used by classrooms of differing age levels across our school division.

Earlier in December, I spent a morning with Heather and Janay and we chose a pre-made game from the Breakout EDU store. Janay was looking for an English Literature review game – in the end, we chose a poetry review game. Together we printed the game resources, I then laminated and cut out the pieces, and organized them into envelopes for what I hope is a good, re-useable system. (I had to promise that I would not use this game with any of the EBHS feeder schools. Eventually, we will try our hand at making a complete game from scratch — Janay is an expert at riddles and puzzles!)

Like with anything new, there is a learning curve: how to reset and organize the locks, how to best sort, collect and manage the locks and ‘game resources’.

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A great way to get the attention of high school boys – locks and boxes!

Heather’s Learning Strategies class did a test run of the game a few days before the full class experience. After a few minor alterations, we ran the first PRSD8 Breakout game the day before Christmas break. We invited a few adults to share the experience and help out in each group; this was a good strategy for helping students get past the inevitable points of frustration.

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In the end, this was an awesome success.

  • Students and adults alike had fun.
  • Janay is already plotting ways to create her own original games — I figure this could be a great retirement project in a few years!
  • There were 1 or 2 minor glitches with the materials and locks –things that would make the game-play better for next time.  But as this was a learning experience for all, this makes sense–there is always room to learn and improve in anything that we do.

As anticipated, there is a bright future for the Breakout EDU experience in Prairie Rose School Division:

  • Janay is already planning a Shakespeare/Romeo & Juliet Breakout experience for her academic Grade 10 English course next semester.
  • I am hoping to take this Poetry Breakout to Angie in Foremost and Matt in Burdett after Christmas.
  • I’ve got a Breakout “Staff Experience” prepared that Cathy and I will take to Oyen with us in February for the School Improvement Day
  • Jason in Schuler is interested in a Breakout experience for his Junior High Phys Ed class in Schuler….

Trying Something new: VR & Google Expedition

Google Expedition 1Check out this grand adventure!  This is way beyond Google Cardboard that I wrote about previously! This picture shows 24 of our 30 new Google Expedition viewers waiting to be fully formatted and set up so that we (the new PRRD8 Instructional Coaches) can get them into the hands of eager teachers and students around our division!

There has been lots to do to get this set-up ready to ‘hit the road’.

  • The tech guys have been formatting and securing the phones that go into each of the viewers.
  • Cathy and I have been doing lots of experimenting and app testing to get used to how they work and to decide on some of the basic apps, in addition to Google Expedition, that would be useful for classrooms.
  • We’ve had to buy a smaller wheeled-storage / carrying device to transport them in; the set-up in the picture takes two grown ups to load into a vehicle, and it won’t fit into the trunk of our cars!
  • We’ve also been stretching the limits of our YouTube channel and playlist knowledge as we come up with an expedient way to get additional content to all student in a timely manner when we are not use the actual Google Expedition app.

So, steep learning curve, yes, but a very exciting one! Can’t wait to update with ‘stories from the classroom’ once we are able to hit the road with this set-up!