Planbook Educational Software

Many schools foot the bill to get good Macs into their teachers’ hands. Mac developers know this and there are many different educational apps that teachers and students can use to make learning better. Pass this review along to your educator friends and let them taste a little bit of the good life.

Overview

The tagline for Planbook is “Making one part of your day a little bit easier…” Planbook by Jeff Hellman is a digital planbook, and a little more.

Useful Features

One of the best uses of this program is a digital file folder. I do so much on the computer because it the only part of my life that is organized. Below is a screenshot of the main interface. You can click it to see a bigger picture.

It is very easy to add lesson plans. You just click on the day, and a drawer opens that allows you to enter in plans, homework, public/student information, and upload files or attach web addresses. You can divide it up by class. Many teachers don’t make actual lesson plans, but this program makes it so easy and useful, why wouldn’t you?

The demo version allows you to make up to 20 lesson plans; everything else is fully functional. I did that for a little, deleting the first lesson to make another, etc., but then, after a while, I realized that it would be better to just pay the $30 to buy it. It is very intuitve, easy to use, and responsive. It doesn’t bog the computer down, either.

Some other features include the ability to run weekly and lesson reports that you can give to your administrators, students, students’ parents, or just to post on the wall. You can also add as many files and links as you want so you don’t have to worry about all your filing cabinets overflowing.

The best feature though, is that you can use publish your files to FTP, .Mac (which I don’t have), or to a local folder. The really great thing about this is that I can publish all the lesson plans to my website and then I just direct kids there when they are absent or lost a paper. It is a great tool for teachers because the calls from parents, complaints from kids, or anything that slows down the teaching process gets really annoying. I know there are a lot of other systems out there, that teachers use to keep their makeup work process easy and accessible, but this system works the best of the four I have tried. When kids leave on vacation, and I don’t have the lesson plans ready, I can just tell them to check the website while on vacation (like their going to do any work anyway!) and then it is their and their parents’ responsibility.

This is also especially useful for when a teacher needs a substitute. All you need to do is call in for your sub and have the secretary print out the directions for class that day.

Below is a picture of what it looks like on the web:

I love that all the handouts are on there. You can also change the themes so that it looks different. You can even make your own theme, if you know CSS.

Speaking of handouts, you can print a list of all the handouts you have given throughout the year and sort it by class, name of handout, whether or not it was published, the description, and the link address. In addition, you can tag each lesson plan so that you can link each plan to a standard that the kids must know. When they don’t learn something they should, you can find lesson plans that will help them learn certain standards.

Opinion

It is pretty apparent what my opinion of this software is. I love it. I do have a few suggestions, though, that would make it better. But first, I digress: Apple has the Apple Design Awards but I don’t think that they have anything for exceptional customer service or excellent tech support for developers who go above and beyond. If they did, this developer should win that award.

Jeff Hellman is a teacher. He does this in his spare time. Earlier this year, when I first bought it, I had a hard time publishing the lesson plans to the web. It was really frustrating, and I emailed Jeff, and he helped me out within a couple hours. It was the fastest customer service I have ever received. On his website, he mentions that people lost data when they upgraded to Leopard. He says

As a teacher/developer, my goal is to save my users’ time. If your planbook file loses its data, I’m not saving you time and I’m probably making you miserable. Data integrity is my number one priority and this is why the data loss bug that several users reported on Leopard was so disconcerting to me.

He runs a Yahoo Group that discusses problems, and you can tell that he reads every single post that someone puts on there. Each time I have had a question or concern, he has responded.

Jeff really cares about making a quality product, and that is a great thing.

Here are my meager suggestions:

  1. An RSS feed for the new updates so parents (or administrators, if they are like that) can see what needs to be done each day. Or, it would be neat if the program could email some information on each day’s lesson plans to the parents so they wouldn’t have to check the site every day. The email would also help teachers who don’t have a domain name or a .mac account.
  2. The dialog box for uploading files should go to the last folder used. When you attach a file, the dialog box opens up to your home folder every time. This can get kind of annoying since I have a folder that contains all my handouts. If I add more than one file to a lesson plan, it is inconvenient to go through all my folder hierarchy to get to that one file I need.

These two additions are really the only things that I have been bothered by since using this program. Everything else has been resolved so fast by Jeff Hellman, that I don’t remember the problems.

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