Teaching With Evernote 2/2 The Software of Everything

If you already use Evernote and can already see how it might be useful in teaching, read on. If you’re less familiar, it means you didn’t read my previous post. Go now, I’ll wait.

Is everybody sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin

Evernote is a great way to organise resources and commentary on them. The note can include your thoughts about the lesson, while attached files contain a formal plan, printable resources, presentations, even audio files. What I find powerful is that everything for the lesson is in one place, and stays there. If – or more accurately, when – the specification changes again, you simply put a new contents page together, with links to your new running order of lessons.

Like so much in life, you get more out if you put more in. In the case of Evernote, this is literal; the more information you add to your notebooks, the more useful links you can make and the more material you have access to. I use it as an external memory for my brain, and these are some of the approaches which have helped me to make it work.

A note can have lots of Tags, and the tags can be put in ‘families’. So aqa has subtags P1, P2, ISA and so on. I could tag relevant lessons with the appropriate unit for another exam board too, and probably will in the future.

It’s really only recently that I’ve made the most of being able to have distinct Notebooks. A note can only be in one at a time, but you can move them freely. So a note might get moved from freelance to old projects when I finish a piece of work. I find that tags for lessons work better than notebooks, because the same resources might be helpful with two year groups.

You can set up custom searching very easily and saving these searches will make it easy to find what you need. This might be for recent notes, or a combination of tags, or either of two tags in a particular notebook. Along with creating your own contents pages (one of several ideas in this Lifehacker post) this means information is where you expect it to be with a minimum of fuss.

One Place For Everything…

I try to use bits and pieces of David Allen’s Getting Things Done; this is practically a religion in some parts of the internet, mainly those that spell colour without the u. (A simplified version is explained by ZenHabits here.) Some aspects aren’t useful for me, but I really like the idea of ubiquitous capture. Put simply, this means that if you’ll need something, anything,  later then you record it in one place. It might be a notebook – I’m a Moleskine fan myself, I must admit – but for many online things you need an electronic destination.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly by recording ideas and jobs as they come to mind you can stop worrying about them. Reducing those background thoughts reduces stress. Secondly, it means you can spend time going through everything in one go, when it’s convenient. Each item then gets deleted, finished, added to your jobs list, saved for later, turned into a reminder on your calendar… you get the idea.

A lot of notes will be saved for reference – addresses and dates for example. You won’t need them on a regular basis and you don’t need to do anything with them. But many of the others will need to be tagged #action, or merged with other notes as jobs lists for individual projects. How fast you make progress on these will be, if you’re anything like me, highly variable.

Churchill: "Action This Day"
Churchill: “Action This Day” from Lateral Works

 

…And Everything in Its Place

To make this easier I’m slowly turning everything I do into a ‘funnel’ for Evernote. Sometimes it’s as simple as making a note on my phone, or snapping a picture. If in doubt, these go to the default folder, Inbox. (This is actually _Inbox for me so it shows up at the top of the list, as explained in this productivity post.)

There are several ways to link with your browser so you can share directly, adjusting tags and destination notebook as you prefer. Often you can choose whether the whole page, a selection or just the address is saved. You will need admin rights so unfortunately this may not be practical on work machines.

evernote tips

Download the above flowchart as a .pdf

I use Gmail which means I can use labels and filters. These are rules which act, for example, on any email I label as ‘work’ by forwarding it to another account. Your Evernote account comes with a dedicated email address which leads to your notes.

For mailing lists which I know will produce work items, I can use a dedicated alias (eg yourname+work@gmail.com) which your filters can be set to recognise and forward without you ever seeing it. When you move workplace, the filter gets changed but you don’t have a dozen mailing lists to alter.

A final powerful tool is IFTTT (If This Then That) which links different online tools. A trigger in one account will cause a response leading to another. So if I add a star to one of the blog items in my RSS reader, IFTTT notices this and sends a copy to my Evernote. Because the categories are matched with my notebooks, it arrives already organised.

Actually Doing Stuff

Of course, organising everything is a waste of time if nothing happens. Going through the Inbox is when I finish small jobs, or start the bigger ones. Sometimes it’s about ticking off the next step in a process. My earlier post talked about how I’m using Evernote to save all the resources for each individual lesson. The lesson itself is planned back to front, starting with how I’ll evaluate the kids’ understanding of the ideas, then thinking how to engage them, then considering ways for us to explore the concepts. Regular readers will recognise these as shuffled steps in the 5/7Es process. Of course your own planning process will vary but can easily be converted into a template for comprehensive notes.

Fine Print
  1. All the above links for Evernote are referrals, which means if you use them to start your own account I get a free month of Premium access and extra upload space (as do you, FWIW). It doesn’t cost you anything extra but if you’d prefer not to, follow this unaffiliated link instead.
  2. As usual, if this post has helped your professional practice I’d appreciate a brief comment via this GoogleForm; you do not need to leave your name and there is no chance of a cash reward, but it’s good karma.

 

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Teaching With Evernote 1/2 Getting Started

Then
I was really pleased with myself. Then it all went horribly wrong.
Those paired statements could apply to many aspects of my life, but most of them wouldn’t interest you. The time I’m thinking of, however, is definitely teaching related – and it sets the scene for today’s post.It was the summer term and we were putting the finishing touches on a new scheme of work, for the (then) latest GCSE science specification. The resources were done, possible homework was listed, everything. And so I decided to make life just a little easier for myself and colleagues by hotlinking the files to our master scheme in Publisher. One click, I reasoned, and everything we needed would appear as if by magic.

As If By Magic...
As If By Magic…

Original artwork by David McKee, from Aubergine Art&Framing

It took several hours, and for about a week it worked beautifully. Then our IT support migrated curriculum data between servers and every single link stopped working. Fortunately, I discovered this first thing in the morning so there were no students around to hear my frustration turning the air blue.

 

Now

I still think that writing a good scheme of work is only half the battle. You need to be able to find everything the next day, week or year. The way I organise my resources – and in fact my whole life – is Evernote, and it seems to me that it’s a good time to tell you about it (again – a lot of this will be developed from ideas in a previous post, the eighth E). Because right now in schools everywhere colleagues are looking at schemes of work knowing they need tidying up, but that as usual a new specification looming makes it feel like wasted time.

The Quick Version

  1. Sign up for Evernote.
  2. Type a few words about a lesson that’s part of your scheme.
  3. Add links to websites, YouTube etc.
  4. Attach lesson resources such as presentations, worksheets, homework, sample data…
  5. Add tags for the topic (eg P1heat) and year group (eg yr10).
  6. Repeat from step 1 as many times as you like.
What this makes is a huge dumping ground, in no particular order, of all the lessons you teach. The search bar checks in the notes as well as tags and titles, so finding what you’re looking for is easy. To be honest, if you’re not sure about what you’re reading I’d suggest trying this for a week then coming back to read the second half of this post.

Next Steps (in no particular order)
You can run Evernote from your web browser without too much hassle, but the real power of any cloud service is Sync. It won’t take long to install the desktop version, and there are mobile equivalents for each platform (although precise functions vary). All let you see your notes wherever you are, although you’ll need Premium access to open attached files when you’re offline.
You can create a ‘contents’ note with a numbered list. Right click on the first lesson in the topic, chose ‘copy note link to clipboard’ then paste it in to your list. Rinse and repeat. You can create as many of these as you like, linking to different mixtures of notes, and the links will keep working as long as that note exists. If the scheme changes, you don’t need to move files between directories – just create a new contents page, with a different order and any additional notes where needed.A note can have as many tags as you like. If you want to organise them in a non-overlapping way, create separate notebooks. I might use the tag blog on lots of different kinds of notes. Recipes, however, are all in one notebook of their own, away from Ed-research and Schemes.You can share a note – or a whole notebook – with a colleague – they don’t need to be using Evernote themselves. This is a really nice way to create a portfolio of lessons to show off. Alternatively, have your students set up their own accounts and save their work to notes that are shared with you. You have easy access to their portfolio, but for them nothing extra needs to happen once set up. They simply add completed pieces to their Ready for sharing notebook, which you can see.
I use the tag action to remind me that there something in a tag I need to change, fix or act on. I’ve saved a link to all notes with this tag: instant to do list. If you want to add a specific date, you can turn a note into a Reminder eg for exam dates or report deadlines.
Creating a Templates notebook might be a good way to keep ‘blank’ copies, effectively starting points, of all the things you know you’ll be producing. Most teachers have a preferred format for lesson planning (or their school does), meeting minutes, seating plans and so on. Put each of these in their own note, along with letterheads, an empty Powerpoint presentation with your preferred colours and fonts etc.
Summary
I find using Evernote this way helps me to keep my resources, lesson plans and everything else organised and available. Because the notes are editable, I’ll add any thoughts during the lesson so each plan is constantly evolving. If I need to change the attached resources, I’ll just add my thoughts and the action tag, then come back later. Over time it’s become part of how I organise pretty much everything, for work and home, and I’ll be blogging details of this in the vague near future. Please add comments or questions below and I’ll try and address them in that later post.
Fine Print
  1. All the above links for Evernote are referrals, which means if you use them to start your own account I get a free month of Premium access and extra upload space (as do you, FWIW). It doesn’t cost you anything extra but if you’d prefer not to, follow this unaffiliated link instead.
  2. As usual, if this post has helped your professional practice I’d appreciate a brief comment via this GoogleForm; you do not need to leave your name and there is no chance of a cash reward, but it’s good karma.

CPD Tracker v0.4

So, I’m looking at qualifying for RSci/CSciTeach. Which means I had to look at the CPD I’ve done over the past few years. Which is lots:

  • stuff in school
  • two teachmeets
  • 2012 ASE Conference
  • #SciTeachJC (often)
  • #asechat (sometimes)
  • #ukedchat (occasionally)
  • AQA stakeholder meeting
  • watching/listening to science stuff (Thank you, iPlayer)
  • reading science books
  • reading teaching books
  • and, you know, writing this blog.

The problem is, I’m not particular organised about it. I mean, I do it. I take notes on it, usually on Evernote. But I don’t keep track of it very well. So I started to think, why not use a spreadsheet?

  1. It’s boring.
  2. It’s slow.
  3. Running it out of the cloud is a pain at work.
  4. It’s not easily mobile.

Which is where Google Forms come in. This links quick questions to an automatically updated spreadsheet. Answer the questions in a tea break, and like magic, the CPD is listed. You can then edit the entry to add details, notes, or links to further information.

So here’s a draft version, tweaked after some suggestions from work colleagues and @ViciaScience (thanks, Richard!). I’ve put in a couple of sample lines, to show how it works. You can see the form here, and the spreadsheet here. I’m quite pleased with the standards section; simply tick the standards this CPD is relevant to and they’ll show up, colourcoded in the spreadsheet. (There’s a second sheet with a list of the standards.)

If you want to copy it, feel free – obviously you’ll need to have a Google account. It would be easy to produce a similar spreadsheet in Excel or whatever, but it wouldn’t have the form option.

To do:

  • it would be nice if the timestamp date was automatically added to the ‘date’ column’ if the question isn’t answered.
  • the comments don’t show when you print – should I have the data copied to another sheet for more detailed evidence?
  • It’s not properly formatted to print on A4.
  • A communal version, with a column for identifier (email address? staff code?) could be used to collate and share CPD ideas, with relevant links and reflection, between any chosen group of teachers, locally or virtually.
  • I’m playing with an NQT version, to show how they are collecting evidence to meet the standards – this will be blogged sooner rather than later. If there’s interest.

What else have I missed?

Life Online

I’m finding it harder and harder to keep track of things online. At the time of writing/typing, I’m running six email accounts, two blogs (this one and the ‘in-progress’ studenttoolkit.co.uk, two twitter accounts and one facebook page.

That’s crazy.

To try and keep myself organised, I’m experimenting with several tools. The hard bit is making sure that whatever I’m doing and wherever I am, I’ve got access to the information I need for any of the above ‘identities’. I’ve had an android tablet for a year and have been very pleased with it, especially using it with three applications which link with web-based versions:

  • Evernote is great for ideas and notes, the tags making it easy to keep work and personal thoughts categorised.
  • Pocket (aka ReadItLater) means I can save information from websites to, well, read it later.
  • Astrid works well as a to-do list, especially when linked to projects stored as plans on Evernote.

I’ve now also given in and bought an android phone, which is more portable and has 3G as well as Wi-Fi. This has been particularly important as my school has still not sorted guest access for staff to use their own devices. It means that between the two I can now access meeting notes, lesson plan ideas and so on wherever I am. Not to mention books, websites, media, my music collection and some games that are far too addictive. But enough – this wasn’t intended to be about the joys of android.

It’s about Twitter.

I’m now making a deliberate effort to ‘favourite’ tweets with useful ideas or links in them, and most are about work. It can be news articles, resources, quotes, teaching ideas, all sorts of things. Some aren’t about teaching at all, as much to my students’ surprise I’m a real person who has a life and hobbies. Like, umm, blogging about teaching. Anyway.

Using favourites on Twitter is quick, automatically synchronised, doesn’t depend on anything being installed (difficult on work computers), and avoids issues with blogs and so on which are often blocked at work. When I get the chance, I read through the favourited tweets, check out the links and think about the ideas. But this kind of reflection is something I could do more formally, and the whole point of my blog is to share reflective practice and see what colleagues think, so here we are. My plan is to, weekly or fortnightly, blog a list of (most of) my favourited tweets. It will include a fast review, what I thought of the links and how I applied the ideas in the classroom. I suppose it’s the same kind of idea as Ed Yong’s ‘missing links‘ posts. But not as good, or as well researched, or as useful. And probably not as regular either.

Starting this weekend. Don’t get too excited.