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NoteBookCast Online Whiteboard Review November 20, 2017

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Online Teaching, Reviews, Tech Tips.
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NoteBookCast Review by Mrs. J in the Library | A Wrinkle in Tech

As part of my sabbatical classes in Millersville University’s Online Teaching endorsement program, I’m reviewing NoteBookCast as a creative tool.

NoteBookCast is a completely web-based online whiteboard tool that allows two or more people to draw, write, and create on the same whiteboard space.  It doesn’t even require registration to use it, which makes it particularly ideal for elementary school students.  Registering for a free account does come with some extra features, however, that many teachers may find useful.  For instance, registered account holders can save a whiteboard for later, and create templates to quickly create similar boards.

Because it is completely web-based, students can use it without installing anything…a plus for 1:1 Chromebook programs like my district has.  A person “joins” a whiteboard by entering a unique alpha-numeric code, or by clicking a link that’s shared from the board creator.  Elementary school teachers could potentially create one class account and make a separate whiteboard for each student group.

NoteBookCast Review | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Features:

  • Freehand drawing with a pencil
  • Laser pointer that appears when you click
  • Text box tool
  • Board capture, which acts like a screenshot tool
  • Three (3) erasers – erase drawings, erase images, and erase the whole board
  • Three (3) shape tools – circle, square, and straight line
  • Four (4) paper types – blank, lined, and graph paper with small or large squares
  • Nine (9) colors for pencil and shapes tools, and three (3) line width options
  • Image upload tool to add photos and images
  • Online chat window for participant conversations

NoteBookCast Online Whiteboard tools are shown, including a pink circle, blue square, green straight line, a purple freehand-drawn squiggly line, and a chat box.

PROS:

  • No registration required to use all of the features.
  • FREE (for now…that may change)
  • Sharing and collaborating on whiteboards is simple enough for young elementary students.
  • Completely web-based; nothing to install on school computers
  • Chat conversations are recorded for accountability.
  • Claims to work on any device, and it even provides whiteboard sizes for iPad and Galaxy Note (2014) tablet screens.
    • It’s even compatible with my HTC 10 phone, though the small screen size was very difficult to work on.

CONS:

  • NoteBookCast is still in “beta,” meaning it could shut down at any time, and it’s expected that there are some bugs to work out…and there are clearly some bugs to work out as of this review!
    • Some of the drawing tools lagged to the point of not working.
    • I couldn’t get the hand tool, which I assume is for panning or moving objects, to work at all.
  • No “undo” button.  And it desperately needs one!  I’ve already contacted the creator to ask for this, and if you’re planning on using it, you should too.
  • Nothing can be moved, resized, or edited after it’s been “set” by clicking the green checkbox.
  • Erasing images is all or nothing.  A single image can’t be erased without removing all of them.

Best Uses and Final Thoughts:

I don’t see NoteBookCast being very useful for students creating a product or project, mostly because of the lack of an “undo” button.  That missing feature puts a lot of pressure on students to do it right the first time, and that’s not supportive of a learning culture.

Where NoteBookCast shines is in instant, easy collaboration.  I see this tool being very powerful for annotating an image, pooling ideas, and brainstorming with a partner or group.  The quick set-up of a board or template and no need to register to collaborate make NoteBookCast an excellent tool for shorter learning activities that don’t need to be saved or edited.

If you have a favorite online whiteboard or collaboration tool, please share it in the comments and why you like it.

Making Reading Accessible for Learners with Dyslexia June 22, 2017

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Ebooks, Online Teaching, Reflections, Tech Tips.
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Though my sabbatical classes are over for the semester, I still have a lot of information to process and apply to our library program.  I hope to post some of my presentations and other resources over the next couple months leading up to the back-to-school season.

Online Teaching Program, Spring 2017, Week 15 - Reflections, Thoughts, and Questions

My second class was called “Responding to Individual Learners,” and it was about personalizing online and face-to-face instruction for students, particularly students with special needs.  The culminating project was to choose a characteristic/disability/trait to study, write a paper on a peer-reviewed research article, and then present the research findings to the class.

I chose to research how different online reading experiences affect learners with dyslexia.  Through my research, I learned that it’s relatively easy and not very time-consuming to modify documents to make them easier to read.  Furthermore, offering modified reading materials can help not only students with dyslexia, but also students with other reading disabilities or challenges.

From my research and the many resources I came across, The British Dyslexia Association’s Style Guide and other resources for educators was especially helpful, and they are worth checking out.

You can read my paper on Google Docs, and view my screencasted video presentation on YouTube.  The Google Slides presentation is also embedded below.

One of my takeaways from the research article was that I think more teachers would take the time to modify their reading assignments to make them more readable if they had a template to use.  So I created one on Google Docs so teachers can copy and paste a text into it and share it with students as one reading option.  You get your own template by clicking the image below, going to “File” then “Make a copy” in the Google Docs menu.Dyslexia-friendly Google Doc | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Another takeaway from this project was that the technology we have today, even very simple PDF readers and ebook apps, often have some accessibility tools built-in.  For instance, the apps I highlighted in my presentation allow student to change the background and text color of reading documents.  As part of reading instruction at the beginning of the year, I think we should be teaching all students, not just our students with special needs, how to customize these tools to what works for them.  Knowing how to “hack” their tech tools empowers students to take a more active role in their own education.

If you have a tip for accommodating reading assignments for students, or if you have a recommended app or program for online reading, please share it with us in the comments!  And stay tuned for more research-based ideas and reflections from my Online Teaching classes.  Happy summer!

Library Centers Tracking with QR Code Check-in March 29, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Tablets & Apps, Tech Tips, What Worked.
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Building my PLN, or Professional Learning Network, has been one of the best decisions I’ve made since I started teaching!  Being connected with fabulous educators through blogs and Twitter means I have an excellent network of colleagues and resources to inspire me to improve my instruction.  And last week, I experienced a wonderful, problem-solving PLN win!

The challenge:

I spent WAY too much time tracking which library centers students were at, and not enough time facilitating the learning that was happening.  I kept a record of student center choices on a Google spreadsheet, and I also stamped each student’s center tracking booklet so that they can visualize their learning.

Ideally, I recorded where each students was (that “all-important” data), AND had time to encourage/scaffold students who were struggling, re-direct students who were off-task, and challenge students who were coasting.  In reality, the data collection took almost every second of my time during the 25-ish minutes of library centers.  I still “checked in” with students when I stamped their booklets, but only for about 5 seconds.

The solution!

In the past year, I had read this blog post on QR codes for tracking library visits by Ms. O Reads Books, and her follow-up blog posts explaining how to do it  Then, I remembered this blog post by Vicki Davis about using every last instructional moment.  I wanted to use every minute as efficiently as possible, and cram as much (fun) learning as possible into a 40-minute library class.

Even though those two posts don’t seem to relate, I had a magical flash of inspiration and found my solution: Library Center Check-in with QR codes!

How it works:

Ms. O’s idea of using QR codes to “sign in” at the library has been floating around my brain for months.  It takes some tech tricks to set up, but basically, several Google forms collect their responses in a single spreadsheet.

So I made a different Google Form for each library center and color-coded them according to their category:

  • RED = Reading Promotion – Independent Reading, Destiny Online Book Review Writing, and PA Young Readers’ Choice Voting.
  • BLUE = Research Skills – Question of the Week, Independent Research Choices, and the Ladybugs Observation & Research.
  • GREEN = Creation &  Tech (aka our makerspace) – littleBits™, Paper Circuits, Electric Sewing, Learning to Code, Goldie Blox™, and Puzzle Apps.

Library Centers Check-in and Tracking with Google Forms and QR Codes | Mrs. J in they Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Each form asks for the student’s name and teacher’s name.  Some forms have one additional question such as, “What are you working on today?” for the makerspace centers.  I tried to keep it very short, because one tablet is shared among several students. 

I created a QR code for each form, printed the codes on Avery QR stickers, and stuck the code onto the center signage with a large “Check in” sticker (printed on address labels/barcode labels).  The stickers hide some of the clipart on my center directions signs, but they are functional nonetheless.

I tried it with each class in grades 3-5, and it was a HUGE success!  I’m relying on students to report their center choice honestly, but I also have the “double-check” of the booklet stamps. I’m thrilled with the results because now I’m able to do more teaching/facilitating/scaffolding and less data collection during classes. 

As an added bonus, I showed one of our district tech coaches to get some feedback, and she liked the idea, too.  Yay for advocacy!!

Have you used QR codes in your library or classroom?  If so, please share your experience and any tech tricks you learned in the comments!

Makerspace Mishaps: Fixing and Replacing Broken Parts February 7, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!, Tech Tips.
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When you start a makerspace and begin letting students build things that move, light up, and generally do cool things, eventually something will go wrong.  Of course, because Murphy’s Law of Education is always in effect, that’s usually when an administrator walks in.

Makerspace Mishaps: Fixing and Replacing Broken Parts | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

When that happens, you just have to smile and ask students, “Now what did we learn from this?” and hope that the observing administrator will see the learning along with the so-called “failure” of the project.  Also, you should always have some bandages, gauze, and no-latex gloves on hand, just in case.  Thankfully, I have yet to use my stash of first-aid supplies for a makerspace accident.

If nothing else, parts will occasionally need to be replaced, and that’s something I’ve learned the hard way that you need to include in your budget.  If you can buy a gift card with your budget funds, it comes in really handy for replacing parts as needed.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item after clicking the link, I will receive a small commission.  See Disclosures & Disclaimers for more information.

For instance, since starting our makerspace with about 100 littleBits™, these parts have broken:

  • 2 fans (a wire broke in both cases) – Both replaced.
  • 1 roller switch (repaired 3x with varying levels of success) – Too fragile to replace if/when it breaks for good
  • 1 vibration motor (temporarily fixed with solder) – Replaced
  • 1 wire Bit – Still looking for a replacement wire to fix it (the Bit parts are fine)
  • 1 pressure sensor – Not replaced; we have extras
  • 1 bend sensor (probably from bending the wrong way) – Not replaced, too fragile
  • Every single battery cable that connects the 9-volt batteries to the power Bits – Replaced with these from Adafruit; no problems since then.

To be clear, most of these parts are already fragile, and I think littleBits™ generally makes high quality products.  Wires snap pretty easily, but occasionally can be soldered back together.  I still haven’t learned to solder yet, but fortunately my husband has saved a Bit or two this way.

Besides learning to solder yourself, Super Glue® or any other plastic glue is a great material for fixing.  I’ve also heard of, but haven’t yet tried, using Sugru™, a non-conductive putty that hardens into rubber.  Since I have very limited instructional time with students, I usually end up doing repairs myself, but older students could certainly learn to fix parts too.  Especially if you are lucky enough to have a flexible schedule with time for a Maker Club.

It might seem like a lot of budget funds to allocate for your makerspace, and you might be thinking it’s not worth it with tight budgets.  For comparison, track the cost and amount of print books replaced simply because the binding wears out, the cover falls off, or it’s worn beyond circulation.

When I did this, I found that I spend WAY more on replacing damaged and worn out books than I do on replacing makerspace materials and fixes.  My professional opinion is that if we want to move forward and provide ALL of the types of resources students need to be successful today, we need to invest some of our budget in new programs and ideas, like a makerspace.

If you have a makerspace, I’d love to hear how you fix your components, and how often you need to replace parts.  Do you know any tips or tricks?  Share them in the comments!

Welcoming New Students to the Library Mid-Year January 17, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in PSLA, Tech Tips, What Worked.
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Welcome to Our Library: Introducing New Students to the Library Mid-Year | Mrs. J in the Library at A Wrinkle in TechFor many students, January brings not only a new year, but also a new teacher and a new school.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to teach just-moved-in students about our library procedures without interrupting the routine and momentum of the rest of the class.  What I came up with is an Orientation Welcome Center that new students complete before choosing other library centers.

The inspiration for this center came from Judy Moreillon‘s presentation at PSLA 2013.  She suggested that to “flip” the library in a way that is effective and feasible, librarians should create video tutorials that are available 24/7 for students, parents, and community members on the library website.  Of course, video creation and editing is *INCREDIBLY* time-consuming, but once you have a good-quality tutorial, it hopefully won’t need to be updated for a couple of years.

With that idea in mind, I made an orientation video on one of the library Nexus 10 tablets.  It took about 10-12 takes, but I finally managed to create a coherent video touring the library, explaining library policies, and demonstrating how to find books and check out.  One of my next goals is to make a second video showing how to search Destiny Quest, but that will have to wait.

Once I had the video done, it was pretty simple.  I uploaded the video to the library Dropbox account that syncs with the tablets and made the link into a QR code on Kaywa.  At this center, students use a library tablet to watch the video on the Dropbox app or scan a QR code to watch it online via Dropbox or YouTube. If you’d like to make your own orientation center, you can download the free Microsoft Word file below and create your own video for students to get acquainted with the library (or your classroom).

Welcome move-in students to your library or classroom with a video tour to introduce routines | Mrs. J in the Library at A Wrinkle in Tech

Right-click the image and click “Save Link As” to download this FREE center for your library or classroom!

Do you have a technique for introducing move-in students to the library?  Share it in the comments!

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