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Do you spend ages fiddling around with a paper/journal-style planner? Help is at hand with Planbook - the digital solution

At the beginning of each year I probably spend a whole day trying to put my year schedule together. This usually involves inputting important dates, holidays, classes and lessons into a landscape-orientated A4 Word document which spans about 30-odd pages.

As we progress through the term, I have to print out pages for my co-teachers each week to keep everyone up-to-date with my planning. This is one double-sided page per teacher which adds up to about 15 pages when printed - not exactly environmentally-friendly. Even worse, if there are lesson changes where I have to adjust a lesson backwards or forwards, it means painstakingly amending my schedule and re-printing it yet again!

The time spent doing this every year has been a real pain, cutting into my preparation time where I could be doing something more worthwhile than playing with paper. So this year I thought, "There MUST be an easier way". And there is .... It's like an oasis in the desert... there's digital planning software out there!

My foray into planning software hasn't been easy. First of all I tried Google Calendar, which worked up to a point but I couldn't do things other planning software could do. So I tried Planboard which looked good and was very intuitive. However, when it came to sharing my schedule with other teachers (an essential) it wasn't great, producing an ugly CSV version unless teachers signed up to it.. Then I came across Planbook and PlanbookEdu.

Confused? Yes, so was I. After reading a few forums, both Planbook and PlanbookEdu had their own avid supporters (like devotees of yoga and Pilates; never the twain shall meet), so it was hard to decide which to go for. In the end I decided to plump for the simpler which has been around for a while in the US. After setting up my Planbook, I later discovered yet another one with a similar name: PlanbookPlus(!). I haven't investigated that. One Planbook a day is enough for anyone...

And what a breeze Planbook is! There's a free 2-week trial and then it costs US$15 a year or US$27 for two years. I opted for the latter plan and it cost HKD220 which is pretty good for the amount of time it's going to save me. Here are some screenshots with some basic instructions;

1. Dates and Classes

First of all, I set up my school year and events which was straightforward enough. Although my school year finishes on the 13th July 2020, I finish teaching around 29th May 2020, so I put that date in when I was setting up my classes (see below). Also for events like exams, I classed them as 'No School Day(s)' so lessons wouldn't be scheduled at all.

When it came to 'Class Color', a tip is not to use light colours as the text is white which doesn't show up very well.

To collaborate with teacher colleagues, they would need to access as well, which they could do. However, there is no need for them to sign up if they don't want to, they can view your schedule (or 'Plan') through a separate email link (see later under Sharing).

As you can see, my classes are 35 minutes long, but the times are easily adjustable. Now here is a basic Plan for the week (see below):

Basic Lesson View

2. Adding Lessons

As my lessons are repeated four times a week for each of the ABCD classes in Primary 1, Primary 2, Primary 3, I have a lot of lessons I need to duplicate. You can set up templates, but for now I'll just outline the basics and I'll explain how to copy content further down below.

To start adding lesson content, select a lesson from the Plan view and this window will pop up (see right). Type in a lesson title and add some content if you wish. For this example, I've kept it simple and just given the three titles for our reading lessons.

You could align your work with the US standards using the handy 'Standards' tab, but you don't have to.. Notes can be added in the 'Notes' tab too. Everything can be seen in the Plan or you can choose different views, eg. not to see the Standards (see below).

On an iPad, everything functions very well, except for attachments. Weirdly, you can open and view them from the Plan window but not from within the lesson window - a strange bug there.

3. Copying Lesson Content

First, I created lesson content for my 'A' classes in my three different year groups (1A, 2A, 3A). To copy content from an 'A' class to the BCD classes in each year group for replica lessons, select 'Copy' from the main Plan window and the window below will pop up. Be careful to ensure your dates are spanning the same range and double-check the Plan afterwards.

Now your Plan should look fuller. If it's looking too busy, you can select your view (as below).

Changing View

4. Adjusting Lessons

Now this is a golden tool and the main reason why I'm using this software. It seamlessly moves lessons around without having to screw up your eyes and re-type a whole plan. A quick flick of a button and ... Boom! - shuffled, sorted!

5. Sharing

Now this I found a bit tricky at first, but then I cracked it! As I said earlier, it's possible for your colleagues to sign up for Planbook and then they can view, collaborate and edit Plan contents if you've set it up that way. However, if they only want to view and don't want to sign up with Planbook then they can get an email link to your up-to-date Plan.

The easiest thing to do is to use the 'View - Substitutes' and select the email link. The download button will also give you links but I found it easier to have the email so I wouldn't lose it on different laptops.

You'll then get an email and you can forward it to your colleagues, asking them to bookmark the link onto their own browsers. Whenever you update your schedule, they will be able to see the most current version.

Email view with download links

With the email, you can also send links for individual classes to your colleagues if they don't want to see the whole Plan, which can get busy and confusing I'm sure.

So that's my overview of Planbook. There are lots of things I didn't cover as I have yet to get to grips with them myself. These include unit planning, assignments, assessments, strategies, class seating and templates. So if you'd like more information, check out this webinar provided by Planbook.

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