Forky – A review

Yes it is 🙂

I like mind mapping tools. I use it every now and again to brainstorm solutions to complex issues. It helps get a good view of everything I need to consider and to prioritize which areas to focus on and how.

Forky.io is another in a long line of online options out there for mind mapping. The idea behind this is that it is a simple and collaborative tool that keeps the mind map front and center. No clunky windows, not a lot of unnecessary menus – just your mind map.

Here is the example mind map when you start.

As you can see it is as I described it. So let’s take a deeper look into this tool and see if it is worthy of your classroom.

Signing up & the dashboard

Pretty straight forward. You can sign up with your Google account, your GitHub account or sign up by typing in your email address.

The dashboard has your Diagrams (or mind maps) that you’ve created or one’s that have been shared with you.

Also, you can create a new mind map here and you have an ability to organize it with folders. I do like that. Too many services just list these (chronologically or alphabetically) in your dashboard and leaves it up to you to sort through them all. Nice work people!

There is also an option to change different themes. Rather than just a light or dark theme you have some other colors you can use if you like. It’s a nice little touch but nothing that makes a huge difference for me.

Making a Diagram (mind map)

When you create a new one it immediately makes you name it. THANK YOU! I don’t how many Untitled documents I have floating around out there.

Once you get into the diagram it is all pretty straight forward. There is a very helpful Getting Started menu that you can bring up at anytime and it goes over the basics for you.

The title of the Diagram is center node. To zoom in and you use your scroll wheel on your mouse or use two fingers on the trackpad. Click anywhere on the background to move around the document.

At the bottom in the center is the color wheel.

To use, select a node and then make the adjustment on the color sun and it will reflect that change. It’s as simple as that.

The canvas appears to be nearly limitless, but don’t worry. If you ever get “lost” in the document, there is a zoom control in the bottom right hand corner. There is a little cross-hair icon. Just click that and it will center and zoom you in.

To make a new node just select a node you want it to branch from and hit the Tab key on your keyboard. Once it has been made you can drag it anywhere you want, change the color, etc. When you have a node selected it will have a dotted line around it. The color of the line will be that of the parent node and unless you change the parent node color you cannot change the color of any of the lines.

One thing I cannot figure out how to do is to make a dotted line between nodes. In the example that is presented, it can be done, I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. This is most likely coming soon.

If you want to make a stand alone node just double click on the background and you’ve got your node! Again, this sounds simple, but other websites in the past try to keep you locked into one central node that everything branches off of.

Something that I find is really neat is the ability to take a screenshot. If you click on Diagram in the top left hand corner, you get some basic options as you can see below.

One of the options is Screenshot. When you select that a PNG file will immediately download with your Diagram on it. Nothing else will be there. No color wheel, no menu items, just the mind map. This is nice, especially when you want to update people of a brainstorming session.

Collaboration

You can add collaborators. What is weird though is that you cannot see who you have invited to the Diagram. You hit the Collaborators button at the top of the Diagram, type in their email address and they get an email adding them to the Diagram. Once they accept the invitation, their email address will show up under this tab.

When people are actively collaborating on your diagram you won’t be able to see what they are doing until they have done it. So the magic of watching someone type or move something around isn’t there. Though they say that being able to see where other people are working is coming soon.

Issues/Wants

Forky works very smoothly and getting the hang of what it can do is pretty easy. That being said, it’s pretty easy because Forky can’t do a ton at the moment. There is no way to add images, no active hyperlinks and limited line types (though more options are coming soon).

An issue I’ve seen in my short time is you can’t edit nodes. Well you can, but it is weird, let me explain. You cannot edit the text inside of a node. For example, I typed Check out my post on Fork.io. What I really wanted to type was Check out my post about Forky.io. There is no way for me to change out that one word. I had to delete all the text and retype it all.

Another issue is that there is no undo/redo option (at least at the time of writing this). Students are playful souls and I can see someone deleting someone else’s work as a joke and then undoing that deletion. That is not an option here. When you delete it, it is gone.

Maybe this is a conscience design choice.

Conclusion

I like the minimalist feel of Forky and I like the ease of use. It is all about ideas and collaboration (if you want to collaborate). I like the customization of colors and even though it is limited, that is not always a bad thing. It gets out of your way and let’s you keep your ideas front and center. That being said there are some issues and real concerns.

Here is the big question: should you use it in your classroom? Maybe. If your students are older (high school or above) and you are using this as a place to brainstorm freely without having to deal with teaching them how to do everything. Then, this could work.

I still would recommend people using Coggle.it or LucidSpark instead of Forky.io, but if high school students want to use Forky.io I wouldn’t get in their way.

If middle or elementary school students wanted to use it, I would certainly not allow them due to its limitations at the time. I just know it would create more issues than ideas and that is not what a teacher wants of its digital tools. The lack of undoing is a serious concern and younger students like images and hyperlinks as do their teachers (in most cases.)

It is one to keep your eye on, but unless you are dead set on using it, I would find other options right now.

mote for Gmail

Not too long ago I wrote a review about mote. To sum it up, it is a Chrome extension that will allow you add voice comments to Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Classroom. I like it, it works well. When giving feedback to students sometimes a voice is better than a short comment. It allows you to really emphasis what you liked or to give criticism. It works well, it’s easy to install and easy to use.

Continue reading “mote for Gmail”

Fun April Fools’ Day

I’m a little bummed. The last few years my school has had spring break over April Fools’ Day (April 1). I’m not a huge prankster at all, but it can be kind of fun to have a little harmless fun with the staff and students on this day. Sure, it’ll be a distraction so give a heads up to the admin team and maybe even the teachers as well.

Continue reading “Fun April Fools’ Day”

Episode 188 – Safe Search

It’s been a while but we finally made it back behind the mic. Tony and I talk a long while about a great number of issues. Check out the talking notes below and as always please subscribe to us on Apple Music or your favorite podcasting app.

  1. We’re back!
    1. Tony
      Has it been a month!!! 
    2. Amplified IT purchased by CDW
    3. Streamlined Classroom AV
  2. Tony – No more SAT/ACT – GPAs- No Grades – and What you need to do if you want to do this…
    1. Amazon QuickSight – https://aws.amazon.com/quicksight/
  3. Safe search, firewall, etc.
    1. OnCampus
      1. Cisco Umbrella
      2. DNS Restrictions
      3. GoGuardian
      4. Websense
      5. 6th Gen Firewall
      6. Google Admin Reports
      7. Cisco Meraki Reports
    2. OffCampus
      1. GoGuardian 
      2. Google Admin Reports 
      3. Umbrella 
      4. New training videos for parents, but they won’t watch them (we had a parent engagement webinar)
    3. COPPA – Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule 
      1. Must adhere to qualify for eRate
      2. https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/childrens-online-privacy-protection-rule
  4. Podcasting news!
    1. New Zoom products – I bought it!
      Zoom PodTrak P8 Portable Multitrack Podcast Recorder
    2. Anchor.fm + WordPress = Podcast

You can alwasy download this episode HERE

Listen to it below

WordPress.com – Damn it

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

My last three posts have been screwed up by my blogging platform. WordPress.com published my last three posts (Whiteboard.fi – A review, WordPress + Anchor.fm = Podcast? and A/V in our classrooms) as earlier versions than the final version. Basically it was publishing drafts of my posts which explains why they appear to be unfinished.

Damn it.

Luckily WordPress.com keeps versions of all your posts and I was able to find the finished version and publish those versions in place of the drafts.

Here is what I think happened. WordPress.com has two post editors. One is called the “Classic Editor” and it is rock solid. The other version is the called the “Block Editor” which is a little buggy but clearly the future of what WordPress.com wants its users to use. In all three of those posts I used both editors thinking that the content would have updated regardless of editor but I guess not.

I’ve learned and will keep a more watchful eye on those posts going forward.

A/V in our classrooms

This post will give you a rundown of what we currently use for our A/V solution and what we are going to be switching to. I will be using specific names of products (and current prices if I can find them), but that is in no way IT Babble promoting those items. IT Babble receives no ad revenue or any financial compensation for mentioning them. This is just what my school is doing and what works for us. This set up may be complete overkill for some schools or completely not appropriate for others.

If you have questions, leave them in the comments. We moderate all comments so it will post when Tony or myself approve it and then I will respond. Continue reading “A/V in our classrooms”

WordPress + Anchor.fm = Podcast?

OK – I am skeptical about this. Apparently you can turn all of your WordPress.com articles into a podcast on Anchor.fm. I like Anchor and I am still worried that Spotify has purchased it and others that could share that same space (looking at you Soundtrap.com).

So I thought I’d give it a try. I mean we have over 700 articles on IT Babble so let’s connect the two and see what happens.

Dear GOD!!!! So I created an Anchor.fm account and there was nothing to connect my blog. I like Anchor because it is so straightforward and simple. So I did some research and found this video. It’s a short video and they give an email link at the 6 second mark. The narrator says a URL. The address she is saying is “anchor.fm/wordpress.com” or so I thought.

Continue reading “WordPress + Anchor.fm = Podcast?”

Whiteboard.fi – A review

I was reading Techcrunch and saw that Kahoot! had purchased a small company called Whiteboard.fi. The fi stands for Finland in case you were wondering. So, I loaded up the website, tried it out and within five minutes knew this was a very good product. Read on below to get the whole skinny.

Pricing

There is a very robust free version (what I’ll be reviewing here) and there are two more tiers that charge $4.99/teacher/month and a full featured $12.99/teacher/month. Schools and districts are invited to contact them for bulk discounts if they want to sign up their school or whole district.

The biggest issues with the free version I can see is:

  • No PDF upload
  • No co-teachers
  • No feedback
  • Not able to join a student session

Despite all that I still believe this has tremendous value. 

Signing up

YOU DON”T! Ha!! 

If you don’t have a paid account, you don’t really sign up or sign in and the same is true for your students. To get started click the +New button near the top right hand side of the screen.

When you click that a new screen will open. Here you need to give your “Class” a name. With the free account and even with the first tier, this changes every time. There is no permanent URL or web address you give your students. It will change every single time. This may seem like a bummer, but when it comes to security it is an elegant solution. The chances that someone will “stumble” upon your class is 

There are two other features. One is for a waiting room lobby. This is just what it sounds like. Students who try to join the class must wait here until the teacher admits them into the class. You should certainly use this – especially if you have some kids who love to give themselves nicknames like. That way you can know who is who. You want this on.

The other option is to enable manual saving. By default this website works like Google Docs. It saves itself automatically from time to time. Of course this uses more Internet resources and if you are working with slower speeds, this can cause problems and big delays with students working. So you could enable this if you have slower Internet to allow students less downtime. A nice touch for schools with slower Internet speeds.

When you click + CREATE NEW CLASS at the bottom a new window appear with the URL to your class whiteboards and you can even pop up a QR code (I imagine for students with tablets/smartphones). In my school’s case, I would copy the URL and paste it into our LMS for students to access.

Using it

To get to Whiteboard click on TOGGLE MY WHITEBOARD button above this. I do wish this looked a little more like a button than it actually did, but I ‘m really nitpicking here. You can always hit this button to get the URL again or show the QR code at anytime you want. This is very nice. I see a lot of online services that show this right away and then bury once you’re in the site.

Since I turned on the waiting room, students are not admitted immediately. They are stuck in the “Lobby” You can find this below your whiteboard. You have the option to Accept or Kick them from the class. Pretty straightforward. 

Once you’ve accepted there are a few more settings you can play with. In the top right hand corner of the screen you will see the gear -click that to see what else you can do.

As you can see you can turn on/off the Lobby (in case you forgot during the creation of the class). You can also lock the room. This will keep unwanted hooligans out of your Lobby or class. 

Now, onto the good stuff – what can it do. At the bottom of your (the teacher) whiteboard. You can add more than one workspace and you can decide which workspace will be visible to your students. You cannot hide all of your workspaces, one has to be visible for students so keep that in mind. To hide/show a workspace, just click on the eye next to students. If it turns green, the students can see it. If it is white with a line through the eye, then it is hidden.

Obviously every student has their own whiteboard that they can work on. You can see what they are working on. This will update every few seconds so it is not a live view of what is happening but it refreshes often enough that you shouldn’t be caught off guard. 

While you can see every student’s whiteboard, they cannot see each others at all. This is a good thing. Every year, I’ve had those super talkative students who are inseparable. These students look for anyway to communicate with one another in a class – so I’m glad there isn’t an option here for that to happen.

But Patrick, what if a student does something incredible and you want to share it with the class?

Why that’s a good point! The good people at Digital Teaching Tools Finland have thought of that. From the teacher side, if you click on a student whiteboard you will see it in detail and if you click the ACTIONS button neat the bottom, you then have a bunch of options. One of those is to Copy to teacher whiteboard. This will copy all the contents of that student’s whiteboard. Once there, if the teacher has that particular whiteboard visible to students, then everyone will see it! Nice. 

Some other great options are that you can save the whiteboard as an image, you can erase a whiteboard or you can push your whiteboard to everyone. Of course you can kick a student out as well. 

Another great feature is the ability for the teacher to push out their whiteboard to all students. This is a great option when doing individual problems or maybe writing prompts, etc. From your whiteboard there is a button called PUSH on the far right hand side just above the whiteboard.

When you click that button you are given three options:

  1. Push all of your pages to all students
  2. Push your current page to all students
  3. Push your current page to all students as a background (they cannot edit this)

Just know that when you push something out (even if you’re pushing a student page to your teacher whiteboard) it will erase everything on that whiteboard.

If you push out a question and everyone answers it, you may want to save everyone’s work as a PDF. To do this go back to the settings area (you remember that gear icon in the top right hand corner) and select Save all whiteboards as PDF. 

It will download it as a PDF, each student is clearly labeled and you can even download your own whiteboard if you’d like. It will only download the currently active whiteboard though. For the teacher, it will only download what is currently visible for your students, so keep that in mind as well. 

Annoyances

I have to dig deep to find these and I can only find three. The first is that if you want to modify text it is a little too difficult to be worth your time. Rather than have those tools available in the toolbar, you have to click on the text, then click on a toolbar button to see the text options. Instead of sizes, you have a slider which can be a bit of a pain to get the size you want. It just seems a little silly to have it this way.

The other thing that is annoying is on the student side. If they are inactive for five minutes they get this Connection Paused screen. I like that it pauses their screen and that it notifies the student, but it just screams at the student. If you’re in the middle of a good discussion and five minutes pass, I guarantee students will look down, click on their device and click to reconnect. It just breaks becomes a distraction. Maybe setting this to ten or fifteen minutes before splashing this on their screen.

The final one, and again, this isn’t a deal breaker, is that all the feedback tools are locked into the paid versions. Again, there are ways around this, but it would be nice to have something available for teachers in the free version.

Again, these are just tiny annoyances and not deal breakers in anyway

In conclusion

Use this tool! It is appropriate for just about any grade level, it has enough features that you could use it with higher education or a third grade class. It is simple and easy to learn, no login hassle and boy does it work well. I even tried it on my Pixel 4a and no problems at all. This is a great tool and I can see why there are a lot of teachers out there using. If you have devices that allow touch input, this would be great. If your device doesn’t have touch input, this is still really good. iPad? No problem. Samsung Tab? No problem, MacBook Pro? No problem. This thing just works.

One thing to be aware of is this is not a collaborative tool like LucidSpark. This is more of an individual tool that should be led by a teacher. 

So if you’re looking for a way for students to work individually and for you to monitor this work then check out whiteboard.fi.

Snow days – are they gone?

Growing up in Ohio there were the occasional day when the snow or ice was too much and the school district closed. Those joyous occasions are snow days! It was a free day for students. No homework or tests; everything just paused.

As a student, those days are golden. As a teacher those days are nice. Time is as valuable as diamonds for a teacher and anytime you can get a little more unexpected time injected into your day is a good thing.

As a parent, they can be troublesome because it effects your work. You may have to take some time off to be with your child, or that could be something that you absolutely don’t mind doing from time to time. I guess it is all up to your perspective. Continue reading “Snow days – are they gone?”

Newish Zoom Recorders

Just to be clear. I am not talking about Zoom, the video conference tool. I am talking about Zoom, the audio/visual recording hardware company. For long time readers of IT Babble, you may know that I have a sweet spot for Zoom.

I own a Zoom H6 for about 8 years and absolutely love it. The Zoom has never, never failed me in all that time. The build quality is rock solid. If I happened to drop it I certainly wouldn’t worry too much and it can run on a variety of power sources:

  • AA Batteries
  • USB power bank
  • Computer power
  • A plug in brick adapter with a USB input

There is more, in fact I could easily write a whole post just about my H6 and how it is a great podcasting machine, but folks, I am here to bring news of Zoom’s most recent endeavors and how awesome they are. Continue reading “Newish Zoom Recorders”