Organization: Digital Lesson Planning with Evernote

This school year I am trying to make the final transition to entirely digital planning and organization. I have always been a promoter of technology use in the art room, and I have always used the computer to maintain my scope and sequence, but I have been holding onto my physical teacher binder filled with paper plans. Since the beginning of this year, I have been working to organize my lesson plans digitally in an effort to finally transition from my teacher binder to a well organized digital filing system where all lesson plans, power points, example images and lesson notes are easy to access from my computer.

After reading a post on The Teaching Palette, I decided to give Evernote a try. I like that Evernote can be arranged in notebooks, which is a similar style to how I have been organizing lessons in binders ever since I started teaching. In the past I have always had a binder for each grade level, and as I have updated or created new art lessons over the years I have printed each revised lesson and replaced the old copy with the new one in my binder. The grade level binders includes the lesson plans in our county’s format, post-it notes with ideas for adaptations or alternate art media, as well as any handouts, planning matrices, reflection documents, rubrics, or example images. I have a large portfolio drawer system where I store teacher examples of completed artworks for each project, as well as any posters I might have made for display during the project. Digitally I kept the lesson plans, powerpoints, handouts & other documents grouped in grade level files on my computer and stored them in my Dropbox, so that I could edit and reprint them as needed.

Over the summer I started thinking about how to better organize my digital files so that the most updated versions of each file were easier to find. Over the past 5 years I have accumulated so many different versions of my lesson plans, and have remade powerpoints each year as I have found better ways to present info, new artist exemplars to display, and refined my techniques for each lesson.  Even the transition from powerpoint files to SMART Notebook files for use with my smartboard has dramatically increased the number of files I have stored in my Dropbox.

This year I have started using Evernote to organize my grade level binders and files. I started by creating an Evernote notebook for each grade level I teach. I also included one for general info, such as my daily schedule, scope and sequence, weekly planner, lesson plan template file, program of studies and seating chart templates. Additionally I created notebooks for art advocacy ideas, contemporary artists, and art room ideas.

Each grade level notebook includes a note page for each unit that I cover for that grade level during the year, as well as units that I have used in the past that I want to save for future use. The note page is labeled with the lesson title as well as the number of class periods I expect the unit to take. The note page includes a photo example of a completed student art work, Simplified notes on the daily lesson steps for each day of the unit, the official lesson plan with full details, the SMART Notebook file or PowerPoint file that includes images for class discussion, and the handouts, planning matrices and reflection documents for that unit. Essentially, I am transforming my paperwork binders into a digital master binder that stores all of the information in one place. When I update a lesson plan or file, I delete the file link in Evernote and insert the updated file or document. In the morning when I arrive to prepare for the day, I set up my computer, open the Evernote program and when a class arrives I simply click on the file that I need to use during that class period. The file opens directly from the Evernote note page, without me having to hunt it down in a long list of files and documents on my computer.

This system has made it very easy to share all of my information with my student teacher and my mentee, the new part-time art teacher at my school. I have shared all of my teacher related notebooks with them and we are all synched digitally so that any time I update a note or notebook, all three of us have the most updated version. My student teacher quickly got on board and has used Evernote to create her own notebook and shares that notebook with me, so that I also have her most up-to-date files. I also shared my notebooks with my best friend who is an art teacher at a different school in the same county as me- since we frequently plan our year together over the summer, this was an easy way to share information with each other.

Since all of my work files are stored on the cloud via Dropbox, I have Dropbox and Evernote installed and synched to my work laptop, home laptop, iPhone and iPad. Now I have access to all of my files and my organization system wherever I am. This has made planning from home and preparing for emergency sub plans so much easier this year. I don’t have to lug my lesson binder or work laptop home at all anymore.

My goal is to have my entire collection of lessons, handouts, documents, and images organized using this new Evernote system by the end of this school year. I will probably still keep a basic planner on my desk, in case of observations or emergencies (such as power outage or internet system woes), but I have rarely refer to it for my own needs this year.

Organization: Lesson Planbook

I’m refraining from adding “of doom” to the title of this post, but know that I REALLY thought about it.

When I started teaching, it was hard for me to figure out how to organize the information in my planner. I was unsure what I needed to include or how to arrange everything in a useful way. Over the past couple of years I have found a system that works for me, and I thought I would share it here. This is not the only way to organize a lesson planbook, but it is one way, and if you are a brand new teacher this might help you figure out some of the ingredients to help you get started.

First- the book itself: I chose a 2 1/2 inch 3-ring binder. I almost need a 3 inch- but I have decided that would be going overboard. As you can see 2 1/2 inches just barely contains everything I include.

Inspiration/Motivation: I think it is essential to have inspirational artwork included at the very front of the planner, in times of great trial and tribulation, I like to imagine I am in the artwork below- happily raising my arms in the air with triumph while I relax at the beach.

 Quick View Items: In the front pocket of my binder I include a few more inspirational items- thank you notes from my students. I also use this pocket to store my art room wish list, in case anyone decides to give me some money to spend on my art room.

Important Files & Folders: Next I like to include the folders that I need access to throughout the year. I used to keep these in my filing cabinet, but I found that I use them so frequently that it is more useful to have them included in my planner- here I have my supply order file, my lead elementary art teacher folder and my square 1 art fundraiser folder.

The Art Teacher Bible AKA Program of Studies: Also tucked into the front of my planner is the spiral bound copy of our county’s elementary art program of studies. Whenever I am developing a new lesson plan I like to check the good word just to make sure I am not forgetting anything important.

Pacing Guide: After that my binder is set up with tabs for different info. I start with my pacing guide for the quarter- I created my pacing guide in excel then uploaded it to google docs so that I could share it with the other art teacher at my school. It looks like this:

Daily Schedule: My pacing guide is stored in a clear page protector. ON the other side of this page is my color coded daily schedule of classes:

Weekly Planning Calendar: After that I have a section for my weekly plans, which helps me stay organized for the week. I can see my entire week at a glance, which helps me figure out what materials and display items to prep and when. I try to highlight anything that is not a typical weekly item using a bright color or a bubble. I also put anything I need to be thinking about that week on a boldly colored post it note in the upper corner of my weekly plans.

Records- Documentation: Next I include a section for any written records such as anecdotal notes about classroom participation or behavior- it is really important to keep these notes on hand, in case of parent conference meetings or questions from the general classroom teacher.

Grade Level Lesson Plans: After that I have each grade level separated by a tab. Behind each grade level divider tab are the detailed lesson plans that are currently being covered or will be covered within the next month. My theory on how many lesson plans to include is based on the following imagined scenario: If I was in a tragic accident/had an emergency operation/was kidnapped by aliens what would the emergency long term substitute need to attempt to do my job? I decided that one month of prepwork and my weekly lesson plans would get the sub started- after that they are on their own. Here you can see that my detailed lesson plans contain the lesson plan iteself, any notes about materials or possible changes to the typed plan, as well as printed copies of handouts and the powerpoint or smart notebook file I would use to present the lesson.

I have digital copies of all of this information stored and updated in my Dropbox so that I can access it at work or at home on my laptop, as well as from my iphone in case I am ever sick or stranded somewhere. This makes it easy for my to prepare for any last minute subs- except in the case of alien kidnapping or tragic accident- I doubt I would have my phone handy in either of those situations.

Lesson Plan Crate: All other printed info is stored on separate binders by grade level in a crate on the counter beside my desk. When I need to update my planner I take out the lesson we just completed, store them in the binder on the counter and take out the next lesson. This way it is easy for my to keep my plans up to date, and I only have to print lessons if I am doing something new or if a lesson plan changes dramatically.

Post-It Note Planner: The last detail of how I organize my planner is more of a tip- not really included in the binder itself. I- like most art teachers- teach many different grade levels and many different lessons. In order to make sure I dont forget anything important, I try to distill the essential steps of my lesson into one post-it note worth of info. I stick the post-its for the days lesson onto my laptop where I can see them while I am teaching. This saves me running back to my desk to reread a lesson if I forget something in the moment. Here you can see the first day of my kindergaten landscape painting lesson distilled into one post-it note. I started doing this as a student teacher and it really helps me stay on track. I try to keep the post it notes stuck with the original detailed lesson plans, but it is easy to make a new one if the post it gets lost.

Hopefully this will be helpful for someone as they prepare for teaching art. No one ever showed me this before I started student teaching, and it even helped one of my coworkers with getting organized, so I think it is valuable information. Happy planning!