Planboard: Time for a different plan

In this post Bev Novak takes a look at Planboard, an online planning tool that hopes to replace the iconic teachers’ chronicle. This post originally appeared on the NovaNews blog.

An email floated into my inbox not so long ago. It was the annual request by our school admin asking me to decide which kind of ‘teachers’ chronicle’ I would like to order for next year.

Ah… I think: Is it already time to start planning for next year?

My heart thumps furiously as I reflect on the many years of writing those course overviews, aims and objectives, semester plans, term blocks and weekly plans; not to mention of course the detailed day-to-day lesson plans. All that paperwork – the ‘essential’ adjunct to a teacher’s role.

But … hang on… it’s the twenty first century! Our world has shifted. Changed. We no longer do pen and paper do we? Nowadays it’s all on computer – no? Our lives are totally online – no? So, isn’t it time we changed the way we go about planning?

These were the thoughts that swirled around my head as I took a look at Planboard. It’s a neat, very easy to use program, allowing you to create your daily lesson plans in much the same way teachers always have. The big difference is that you do it online. Being able to work from anywhere, all that is needed is a computer, an internet connection, and a web browser. The lay out is straight forward and easy to navigate. Text can be formatted and links and videos added. There’s even a cute post-it-note to allow you to jot reminder notes to yourself. The completed plan can then be saved as a pdf and emailed on to anyone else. Nice!

With various options ranging from 100 lesson plans for free to a monthly cost, I can seriously see an online application such as Planboard taking over the traditional market. Check out the video here or have a read of this very comprehensive review.

While I’m sure this not the only ‘online chronicle’ it is certainly a reminder to us all that perhaps it is time for us to re-think the many routines that have for so long been associated with education.

Times have changed. Thinking has changed. We really do need to start doing things differently.

Thanks to Bev for sharing her post about Planboard. You can find Bev on Twitter and read her excellent NovaNews blog for updates on teaching and learning. 

Searching Google with your voice

Today’s guest post comes from Bev Novak. Bev takes a look at the new Google search app for IOS devices and tests out the voice search feature. 

Released a couple of days ago, I just discovered the latest Google search app and I must say it’s really cool!

Designed for both the iPhone and iPad, this latest update allows you to search just by asking a question! Simply select the microphone icon on the new Google search page to instantly find answers to absolutely anything.

I’ve just had fun asking some very basic questions and had graphic returns within seconds:

What year was Napoleon born?

What is 10 Euro in Australian dollars?

What’s the weather tomorrow?

And if you want to be really impressed, just sit back and relax after giving the command ‘Play the trailer for the new James Bond movie’.

By using Knowledge Graph in its search technology the app is able to answer questions about people and places, says Google. Referred to in some reviews as Google’s attempt to take on Siri at her own game, the competition is certainly heating up with this new release and the winners are most definitely the users!

My one disappointment though is that none of the responses to my questions have elicited audio responses as they do in this video released by Google. I must admit though that even without audio responses I’ve been very impressed with both the speed and accuracy of responses. My mind is abuzz with the many different ways this can be used in our classrooms.

Have a listen and be inspired!

Thanks to Bev for taking a look at this interesting new Google search feature. This post originally appeared on the NovaNews blog, where Bev has some wonderful thoughts about teaching and learning. You can also follow Bev on Twitter

Featured post: instaGrok

Today our featured post comes from Bev Novak, writer of the fantastic NovaNews blog. Bev’s post is about the new educational search site instaGrok, which looks like a very promising tool that includes elements of Google’s now defunct Wonderwheel.

instaGrok – a winner for those who loved Wonder Wheel!
The value of social networking is profound!   I’m sure that without it, it would have taken me a while to discover instaGrok
instaGrok – an interactive learning tool provides an expansive array of returns for each search.   Producing a spiral visual graph on the left pane, numerous links are simultaneously generated on the right hand panel and are neatly categorized under headings: key facts, websites, videos, images, quizzes and concepts.   With a tab to moderate the level of difficulty of results returned, this tool really has enourmous potential as a teaching tool. The ‘about’ tab on the homepage, also tell us that instGrok
  • finds age-appropriate educational content on any topic presented with interactive multimedia interfaces
  • generates quiz questions based on student’s research activity and skill level
  • supports creation of research journals and concept maps for learning assessment
Just take a look at this short video which appears on the instaGrok homepage:
For those of us who lamented the disappearance of Wonder Wheel – that great tool which simply vanished from the Google suite of tools about a year ago –instaGrok sure looks to be a winner!


You can find the original post here. Make sure you also have a look at Bev’s Book Blog, which features news and reflections on literature and books. Thank you Bev for sharing your work with us.


Any more good books, Miss?

Continuing from our previous guest post by Bev Novak: a list of great tools that help students find books to suit them.

A simple but terrific site is What should I read next? Start typing the title or the author of a book you like and select the link that comes up to see heaps of suggested titles to read next. By selecting the little book icon next to the book title, the screen flips to Amazon where it’s possible to read reviews of the book prior to purchasing or searching for the book in your favourite library.

Maybe students would prefer locking into a social networking site such as You are what you read? Find out what others are reading – celebrities, authors, educators or librarians – by creating and sharing a ‘bookprint’ based on your five favourite books. See which books have been listed and liked the most. Search by book titles or people’s names and see others who have similar reading interests as the reader you are browsing. Alternately select a book cover to read more about it and then identify it as one of your favourites.


I also came across whichbook – a tool which allows you to find that elusive book to suit your tastes. Have fun playing with descriptors which help narrow down a book that fits with your taste or mood. Select descriptors such as ‘happy or sad’, ‘funny or serious’, ‘easy or demanding’ , ‘optimistic or bleak’ and then move the indicator tab to reflect how happy or sad you want the book to be, select GO and voila, book recommendations flow onto the screen. Not interested in creating your own book list? No worries! Just select anyone of the catchy categories such as ‘Slapstick’, ‘Short and sweet’, ‘Laugh your pants off’, ‘Weird and wonderful’ to see prepared recommendation lists. You’re bound to find something that tickles your fancy!


Literature Map is another cool way to help put your hands on a next good read. To use, just type in the name of an author you enjoy reading and then watch a bunch of author names spiral onto the screen. The closer the names, the more similar the writers. It’s a great way to prod the memory for ‘like’ authors. And don’t be shy – add authors not already in the database so that the many quality Australian authors get recognized on this great website.

Use these websites and tools to entertain, impress, excite and entice students about the wealth of literature that is just waiting to be read. Answer students’ requests by not only recommending a good book that you’re pretty sure they’ll like, but by teaching them how to use these sites to find the next good book for themselves. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Currently working as a Teacher Librarian at Mentone Grammar, Bev Novak is former Head of Library of two other Independent Schools in Melbourne. You can read more of Bev’s posts about books and reading on BevsBookBlog.

What’s a good book to read, Miss?

This week, a two-part post on encouraging reading, by Bev Novak

How many times have you been asked for a good book recommendation?

I don’t know about you, but often times, I go blank and quickly dive for the nearest computer so that I can trawl through my lengthy book log – the one I started many years ago – to jog my memory of books I’ve read.

But nowadays I find I can respond to that request in a much more exciting way.   There’s a plethora of sites out there that are fun, colourful, appealing and current. Not only do students get a kick out of exploring these sites, but along the way, they can be enticed and inspired to read.

One that immediately springs to mind is BookFlavor which greets you with an array of book covers – lots and lots of them – just waiting to be browsed and explored.


By selecting a book cover, you will be taken to not only a summary, but also a host of reviews of the book – some of which are taken directly from GoodReads.

Know the name of a book?  Type it in and see what appears!   It’s amazing to see the range and number of book covers for the same title.  Don’t find anything enticing?  Just keep pulling the scroll bar down.  The more you scroll down, the more book covers load.

BookFlavor allows  you to search not only by title and author, but also by genre – science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller – you name it they are all there.   Try adding in the search term ‘Young Adult’ ahead of the genre.   You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you’re looking for something less flashy though, you may want to try Any new books?.  Simply register your email address, select from an extensive list of genres that interest you and enjoy receiving a list of new book titles emailed to you on a weekly basis.  How cool is that?


We’ll bring you more of Bev’s recommended reading tools later in the week.

Currently working as a Teacher Librarian at Mentone Grammar, Bev Novak is former Head of Library of two other Independent Schools in Melbourne.  You can read more of Bev’s posts about books and reading on BevsBookBlog.

Feature blog – Bev Novak’s NovaNews

Former Head of Library at The King David School, Bev Novak has been developing an interesting blog. Bev uses her blog as a forum for writing about, processing and sharing her learning with other educators. Bev generously shares her learning journey on her blog and here, for readers of Bright Ideas. I recently read that a tweet that said that “all teachers should blog”. Bev’s blog shows what can be achieved in a short amount of time and if you have not yet started your own blog, Bev’s newly found enthusiasm for blogging may well set you on your way!

Just on six months ago, I had absolutely no idea what a blog was, had never read one and certainly had no idea how to create one.  Life changed dramatically though  when I decided to enrol in the VicPLN program being run by SLAV in conjunction with SLV.  That first evening of peeking at the program content is forever seared into my memory.  The list of tasks to be completed was daunting to say the least!  But my heart froze when I realized that the very first task involved creating a blog.   “A what?!” I thought!!  A blog, I calmly said to myself.  Skimming down the tasks posed for that first week, I realized I had no choice.  Every task listed for the week involved writing a response on my blog.   “Ugh!!!  What have I gotten myself into?!”  was the next thought that passed through my mind.


Screen shot 2010-10-20 at 8.28.31 AM

Deciding that the best advice I could follow was that which I always give to nervous looking kids about to sit a test or exam, I took three deep breaths and began following the instructions set down.   It was, I recollect, a very long Saturday night!


But I did it! That feeling of seeing my words floating out into cyberspace really was fantastic.  An incredible sense of achievement and success, unlike any I had experienced in a long time, flooded through me!  While I admit that the early stages of creating the blog were akin to writing on a wall in Chinese without knowing if the paper was upside down or inside out, a certain familiarity soon set in.  The ‘dashboard’ and I soon became friends.   Because I was working in the warm comfy environs of the VicPLN, I often experienced the warm fuzzy feelings of others lending a hand, helping me figure out the seemingly impossible.   And of course, the warm guidance and encouragement of our wonderful mentor – Judith Way – was there, every step of the way.


It has only been at the completion of the VicPLN that I started to look back and consider the process I had worked through.  It was indeed a journey, a journey that had a recognizable path in which my blog moved from being a spot to record what I had read, played with and discovered over the previous week, to that of a personal storage spot for links and information I had gathered.   Along the way, as I recognized I had an audience, I accepted that I could also use my blog as a place to showcase my own achievements using a range of presentation tools to which I had been exposed through the program. The final stage of my journey has been understanding that blogging is a dynamic process, one in which readers can comment on the content of a blog or indeed on the comments posted by others, a process which, by its very nature, enables the interaction of people with similar interests to connect and share with each other.  In turn, for me, this has been a fantastic way to expland my Personal Learning Network.


Today, I am totally hooked on blogging.  Reading the blogs of others which incorporate thoughts, ideas and knowledge, has become an addictive occupation for me.  So too has the writing my own blog.  Feedback received in the form of comments on my blog or email or Twitter exchanges received over the week, feed my enthusiasm.   Sharing insights gleaned from various readings, experiences and knowledge acquired from a vast range of sources is currently the thrust of my blog.   Where it may head in the future however, I do not yet know.  But to know that I contribute to the growth of others in the same way that others contribute to my growth leaves me with a warm afterglow.  To those of you out there who’ve not yet discovered the blogosphere, I encourage you to spend the time exploring.  Come join the amazing journey.  While you have much to contribute you also have a great deal to learn.  And, after all, aren’t we all lifelong learners?

Thanks Bev for your unbridled enthusiasm for blogging and learning and for spreading the word via Bright Ideas!