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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.

Review: “Making Makers” by AnnMarie Thomas December 20, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Books, Makerspace!, Reflections, Reviews.
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Mrs. J in the Library's Reviews | A Wrinkle in Tech

After reading “Invent to Learn” by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez, I learned about LOTS of great makers and the kits they make/sell to encourage students to create and to learn.  One of those kits is AnnMarie Thomas’s Squishy Circuits kit that uses salt dough (like Play-Doh™) for electronic wires.  Last year, I bought a Squishy Circuits kit to try out, and though I don’t find suitable for our library’s makerspace, my young niece and nephew (ages 4 and 7) got endless enjoyment from it as they “made a party” on my living room tableSo when I saw Dr. Thomas’s new book, “Making Makers,” about how to introduce the children in my life, whether they are my students or my relatives, to the maker movement, I was excited to read it.

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

Mrs. J in the Library Reviews "Making Makers" by AnnMarie Thomas | Mrs. J in the Library

Mrs. J in the Library reviews “Making Makers” by AnnMarie Thomas (affiliate link)

“Making Makers” is a slim book, only 145 pages.  Each chapter focuses on a certain aspect of makers and the maker movement; that aspect is then demonstrated with anecdotes of funny, often dangerous, childhood escapades of prominent makers.  As a primer to the larger maker movement, I think this book is an excellent place to start, and for educators, “Making Makers” may be a way to introduce faculty to the maker movement before reading “Invent to Learn.”

Dr. Thomas uses a narrative, laid-back style to tell the story of how the maker movement’s participants grew up.  She has interviewed over 35 makers and engineers in addition to reflecting on her own experiences as a maker and a mother of 2 daughters.  The result is a thorough, albeit not comprehensive, roll call of the “movers and shakers” of the maker movement.  What I found most refreshing and completely AWESOME, however, is that her interviewees represent a wide variety of racial, ethnic, and social backgrounds.  There is also a balanced number of male and female makers, though I didn’t count as I read.  This fact is especially noteworthy after the recent discussion of diversity (or the lack thereof) in children’s and YA literature, and Leah Beuchley’s poignant speech at the Eyeo conference on how the de facto “voice” of the maker movement, MAKE:™ magazine, isn’t really as diverse as they and their Maker Education Initiative claim to be.

In light of Dr. Beuchley’s speech and the related school library discussion of diversity, it was nice to read a book published by Maker Media (MAKE:™ magazine’s parent company) that represented makers and people from so many different backgrounds and life experiences.  We need more of those stories told, and I hope “Making Makers” is the start of a trend towards greater diversity in Maker Media’s products.  I also hope this book begins to broaden the definition of “making” to replace the current perception that it only includes electronics, programming, and 3D printing.

Finally, I appreciated the constant tension that Dr. Thomas talks about in her reflections on raising 2 daughters to be makers. The line between performing dangerous stunt experiments with foolish risks, and excited engagement in a learning activity with acceptable risks is often a precarious line to walk.  And it’s even more precarious for teachers.  Parents have a large amount of control over the amount of risk they introduce to their child.  As a teacher with 22-30 students in my care and potential lawsuits weighing on my mind, my comfort level with student risk-taking drops significantly. 

Still, I get the sense from reading that it’s perfectly normal to feel the tension between those two places.  Learning can, and should, be exciting and a little risky.  When did we stop teaching like that, anyway?  I’m just not sure our current education system and the wider society has caught up with those ideas yet.  Still, Dr. Thomas’s empowering message to parents and teachers is this:

We don’t get to pick our children’s interests, but we do get to influence how broad an array of experiences they are exposed to….[And] we get to choose how we encourage the endeavors and interests that they choose for themselves. ~Dr. AnnMarie Thomas in Making Makers

All in all, if you’re a teacher or librarian interested in the maker movement, I think “Making Makers” is required reading, and well worth adding to your professional literature collection.  If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments. 

Merry Christmas, and to my teacher readers, I hope you have a restful break!

TL Blogging Challenge #19 – Glows, Grows, and Professional Journals July 3, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Books, PSLA, Reflections.
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TL Blogging Challenge #19 – What is one thing you wish you were better at.  Just one!  Why?  What could you do to improve in this area?

GlowsandGrowsAs part of my reflection process, I have a section in my lesson plans for “Glows and Grows.”  My favorite professor at Messiah College, Dr. Anita Voelker, taught me that phrase, and I use it to focus on both the positive things that happened in a lesson, the glows, and the things that I need to work on next time, the grows.

Professionally, one of my all-the-time “grows” is keeping up with professional reviews for collection development.  I’m a bit embarrassed to say I am 4-5 months behind in reading School Library Journal, the one professional journal I subscribe to in print, and I rarely read others like Library Media Connection, Teacher Librarian or PSLA‘s Learning and Media Online.  It’s just not a very high priority on my ever-lengthening to-do list; there are too many other things that I feel are more important than reading reviews.  Plus, sometimes, I think the print journals often mirror what I’ve already read in my Feedly RSS reader.  (See the PLN links on the right to see who I follow by RSS.)

When I first met my New York Giants-loving husband, I often used football games to read SLJ.  I could read the articles and all the reviews in a single issue in the span of one football game, and it was always nice to curl up on the couch with my hubby while catching the main highlights of the game.  I’m not a huge football fan, so this worked well for me.  This past year, though, the Giants had such a terrible season that it wasn’t even fun to watch.  So my SLJ-reading time didn’t happen a whole lot, and I never really caught up since then.  I’m now in the middle of reading the March 2014 issue, and I haven’t gotten the July one yet.

My dream solution would be to have online reading options as well as integration with the major school library distributors like Follett and Mackin.  I want to read SLJ‘s articles and reviews on a computer or tablet, and when I like a review enough to add it to a buying wish list, I could just “check” it somehow within a SLJ digital edition (or app) and it would automatically add that title to the list on my Follett Titlewave account (or Mackin account).  Right now I just circle a review of a book I think our library should have, or I might mark it “maybe.”  When I look up the book in Follett’s Titlewave collection development tool, I read the other reviews of the book within Titlewave, and then decide if it should stay on the buying list, or if it gets cut.  My materials-reviewing time could be cut in half with digital integration like the above idea. 

Still, barring that dream of seamless tech integration, my plan for next year is to try again with the football-watching-SLJ-reading time.  Additionally, I might try reading SLJ at school, during my lunch hour or any spare moments of my day.  I don’t know what to take “off my plate” to make time to do that, but it’s a possibility if I (hopefully) have the same semi-fixed schedule as last year.

The blogging challenge is from Cybrarian Jen at Where Books and Technology Meet.  I’m going to try it out, but instead of daily posts, I’m going to try for 1-2 posts a week.  Follow and learn with us!  The participating blogs are listed in the comments of her post.

littleBits in the Library: Base Kit and Premium Kit Reviews May 8, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in How to Be Brave, Library Space, Makerspace!, Reviews.
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littleBits Base Kit & Premium Kit Reviews | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

In case you haven’t been following my library makerspace adventures, I purchased a “Student Set” of littleBits™ this past fall to start a makerspace.  (UPDATE 2017: The Student Set is now discontinued.  Try the STEAM Student Set or Gizmos and Gadgets Kit, 2nd ed. instead). I had very few ideas about what an elementary school makerspace might look like, but I had done my research about all the available products on the market.  LittleBits™ was the product that I could imagine integrating the most seamlessly into the “centers” structure of library classes that I was moving towards for grades 3-5. 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item after clicking on a link, I will receive a small commission.  Nevertheless, I am giving my honest opinion, and my recommendation is based on my own use of littleBits™.   See Disclosures & Disclaimers for more information.

The littleBits Classroom Set comes with a Base Kit, a Premium Kit, and 2 extra Power Bits/battery cables.

The littleBits (TM) Student Set comes with a Base Kit, a Premium Kit, and 2 extra Power Bits/battery cables.

My hunch was that littleBits™ could give students the chance to create something they cared about.  We know from educational research that when students are interested in a subject and feel that it is relevant, there are golden opportunities for engaged learning that public schools so often miss (or worse, crush).  After several months of observation and class use, I’m convinced that my hunch was right.

Let’s start with the PROS of using littleBits™ in your library or school makerspace:

  • Students can’t get enough of them!  The littleBits™ makerspace center has continually been one of the most popular centers in the library, to the point that it’s difficult to get students to complete other information and media literacy centers.
  • Despite using electricity, batteries, motors, and LED lights, there is NO way to electrocute or even shock yourself using littleBits™.  The magnets keep you from creating a short circuit by accident.  Of course, if a student is likely to put them in their mouth, they are not mature enough to use littleBits™.  Swallowing them is the only danger and probably the reason they are recommended for ages 8 and up.
  • There is no soldering, and no heat danger like there is when working with raw electronic materials like wires, breadboards, and LED lights.
  • The littleBits™ website has LOTS of great project ideas, and if you create an account, your students can also publish their own project how-to’s online.  What a great way to make their learning relevant and accountable!
  • You don’t have to re-invent the wheel for instruction.  I made a FREE set of 12 littleBits™ 101 task cards that introduces students to each Bit in the Classroom Set.  Though completing all 12 cards isn’t strictly necessary to start creating, it does give a great introduction and allows students to discover the full capabilities of the littleBits™.

Now onto the CONS:

  • Higher Cost – The littleBits™ kits and individual modules are pretty expensive.  With a lot of research and electronics know-how you could potentially make your own for much cheaper, but my guess is most librarians would rather just write a grant if funding is an issue.  Make sure to sign up for their Educator Discount too!  I recommend starting with 1 Student Set, and a few extra coin battery BitsI have 7 total Power Bits, because the number of Power Bits will control how many students can share the littleBits™ sets simultaneously.  I’m hoping to buy about $500 of more littleBits™ kits and other modules through an education foundation grant so we can expand our collection. *fingers crossed*
  • The buzzer – It will give you a headache, no doubt about it.  I don’t want to stifle students’ creativity and discovery, so when it gets to be too much, I just remind them to, “Go easy on the buzzer!”  I’ve taken it away only once for excessive use.
  • Fragile Parts – Some Bits just break too easily.  The roller switch was the first to break, though I now have it stuck together with hot glue.  It limits the movement, but I don’t lose the little metal arm anymore.  I’ve also replaced the fan, the pressure sensor, and the vibration motor too.  I have to say, however, that if a book got used as much as these littleBits™ do, I think it would need to be repaired/replaced just as often.  We’ve used them 2 to 3 times a day all year so consider your book repair budget before nixing a littleBits™ project for this reason.

When compared to other makerspace kits such as Snap Circuits® and Squishy Circuits (both of which I’ve tried), I think littleBits™ are the best fit for starting a library makerspace.  So have you tried littleBits™ or another makerspace kit?  What do you think about their educational viability?

Image credit: Student Set from http://littlebits.cc/bundles/classroom-set

Nexus 7 Android Tablet Review for School Libraries November 29, 2013

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Reviews, Tablets & Apps.
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Mrs. J in the Library's Reviews | A Wrinkle in Tech

The Google Nexus 7 tablet is the Android tablet schools have been waiting for.  Plain and simple.  I like the Nexus 10 tablets for their screen real estate and larger hard drive for media storage, but the Nexus 7’s are, hands down, what make the most sense for nexus7use in an elementary school library.  So just like in my Nexus 10 review, here are my top 5 reasons why you should ditch your library computers and get Nexus 7 tablets instead.

Disclaimer: I did not make any money from this review, and I received no compensation for writing it.  There are also no affiliate links in this post.  See Disclosures & Disclaimers for more information.

  1. Many library services are web-based. – Until this year, we had 4 dedicated desktop computers just for searching the catalog.  This was an incredible waste of tech resources, because all they were used for is web access.  For the same price as one of those catalog desktops, you can get 2 or 3 tablets, AND students can carry them around as they search (read: No more call number slips! Hooray!)
  2. Syncing mobile bookmarks for LibGuides, World Book Online, and other digital resources! – As I mentioned in my Nexus 10 review blurb, the beauty of Android’s Chrome is that anything you bookmark on one tablet can be instantly synced!
  3. Reasonable price – Of course, the price tag is probably the most convincing argument in this age of slashed budgets.  For $229 (and during Cyber Week 2013, you get a $25 Play Credit too), you get a sweet, awesome tablet that in my opinion works just as well as the education-favored iPad or iPad mini.
  4. Handheld size is just right for small-ish elementary hands. – Carrying around the 10″ tablets looks a bit bulky as I watch students using them in the library.  A 7″ tablet is easier to carry and handle for searching for materials, researching information online, and general information literacy coolness.
  5. Updates pushed out immediately – Since the Nexus tablets are made by Google, they get updates to the operating system immediately.  Our 12 Nexus tablets just got the Android 4.4 KitKat (formerly called Key Lime Pie) update, and it’s beautiful!  We even got a free app out of it, QuickOffice, though I have no idea if it’s any good.  When my only-a-year-old HTC smartphone is still stuck with 2 versions ago, “Ice Cream Sandwich,” I appreciate the update speed of a Google-native device.

So all in all, I think Android is ready for mass school implementation, and either the Nexus 7’s or 10’s (especially with a rumored new 10″ tablet coming soon) would meet students’ educational needs quite well.  Schools looking to implement a 1:1 initiative for their students would be wise to consider the Nexus tablets, and I highly recommend the Nexus 7 specifically for elementary school libraries.

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