Bitpaper.io – A review

The other day a student walked into the Tech office and politely asked if we could whitelist a site for him: bitpaper.io. He uses this site with a stylus and a touchscreen computer at home to do his homework. For a worksheet, he will upload it into bitpaper.io and then use the stylus to write his answers. Basically it is a digital way to do his homework. I thought it was pretty interesting so here is a review.

Continue reading “Bitpaper.io – A review”

Milanote – A review

In 2020 I wrote a review about LucidSpark and then made a quick tutorial video. If you’re not too familiar with it and want a quick summary of what LucidSpark does, it is a collaborative tool where people can share and organize their ideas on a near limitless canvas. It is simple and easy to use and I like it.

Then I saw this comment on the video.

Well, I have no loyalty to one product over another and so I thought I would check out Milanote and write a quick review.

Continue reading “Milanote – A review”

Bose VideoBar VB1 – Review

Image from Bose’s website – that is not my arm

We have a pretty nice conference room at my school and it gets a lot of use too. It has a great 80″ display, nice tables with power built into them and comfortable chairs. We also have integrated speakers in the ceiling, lots of natural light and easy connections to the display. There is one thing that it has always been missing and that is a good video conference option.

We have tried to bring in a VOIP phone but unless you were sitting right next to it, you couldn’t hear the person. We tried hooking up a smartphone to the speakers with an adapter, but that required someone to sit at the front and they would always have difficulty hearing people in the back of the room or if a group of people were talking it was difficult to hear any of them clearly, then we tried hooking up a computer and run a Zoom meeting. The problem was the camera was not a wide angle camera and so it only captured 65% of the room which usually means we sit a bit far from the camera or we reposition the tables. Then the microphone on the laptop was difficult to hear, even if there were only 8-10 feet away especially if they turned their head away from the mic.

We reached out to some vendors and one recommended we try out the Bose Videobar VB1 (that’s quite the name I know). We had a demo unit for two weeks and it worked very well.

Continue reading “Bose VideoBar VB1 – Review”

Brainstormer.online – A review

I was reading Freetech4teachers and saw a quick article about Brainstormer.online and thought it might be interesting to check it out. As you can guess from its unusual URL it is a brainstorming website that allows people to pose a question and a number of people brainstorm about that question and then vote on those ideas. That pretty much sums it up. It is easy for students to join and pretty straightforward. The question I am posing, is it worth your time? Let’s find out.

Continue reading “Brainstormer.online – A review”

Blackbird – A review

I’m always interested in websites that teach coding. I like the idea of learning new skills and testing oneself. Blackbird is one of those sites. The goal here is to teach people JavaScript which is pretty cool because JavaScript runs in browser making a bit easier for people to play around in it.

This website is geared for middle school students and up and unlike block programming (like the super popular Scratch) this has students working with actual code, but it does it with a lot of hand holding which I like. Just to be clear I am no programmer. I have dabbled here and there with mostly Python but with this review I was learning right along everyone else. Let’s see if it is worth using.

Continue reading “Blackbird – A review”

Teacheasyapp.com – A review

So I saw a comment on my TeacherMade review. It felt like a bit of advertising for Teacheasyapp which is fine. Apps and services have to get their name out there so I don’t mind too much. After taking a quick peak at it, I figured to do a full on review of it. It basically is a way for you to annotate and leave comments on PDF files that students share with you. It has some interesting features and I will be looking at the online app that you use with your computer and the Android app (it has an iOS app as well).

Continue reading “Teacheasyapp.com – A review”

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”

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.

CloudApp – A review

Do you ever have those apps that you like using. That you genuinely enjoy firing up and doing some work in it? Well CloudApp is one of those apps for me. I’ve been using for nearly a decade now and it just gets better and better.

What does it do?

In short, it performs four main functions.

  1. It can host images or media in the cloud
  2. It can take screenshots that you can crop, annotate
  3. It can take a video that you can quickly trim and add annotations to it
  4. You can upload files to quickly share (since I use Google Drive this isn’t such a big deal)

Not only can it do those things it has a nice web interface if you want to log into the website and use it. It has apps for Mac and Windows and even iOS so you can have all your content available on whatever platform you use. Heck they even have a Chrome Extension so it can work with Chromebooks. No Android app yet but I’m hopeful it will come soon.

There is a paid version but I think the free version would be more than enough for most people which is rare. Continue reading “CloudApp – A review”