Ducks to Water – Google Classroom

At the start of the this term,  I set up Google classroom for each of my classes. They took to it like ducks to water, and other than asking them to use a bookmark for quick reference, I haven’t had to explain a thing. (All classes at our school are 1:1 laptops, and I know how lucky I am to be able to easily go all in.)

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What can we do using Google classroom?

My Year 13 English class are working with the theme of ‘people in the margins of society’ and our current text is the fictional story of a Nigerian refugee. I link news articles and short clips I happen upon which show the horrendous realities of refugees, our fellow humans, around the world today. The girls have started to share them back.

Or my IB class read lofty texts and a lot of them and Google Classroom is where I share the things I enjoy to help them step out from under the weight of our course for a while. A few weeks ago it was an article about Kris Jenner and her Kardashian daughters published in the New York Times. It is in no way connected to our course, but it was well written and I wanted to share with them my love of long form articles.

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Or, in my drive I have a folder called Handy Dandy files. These are the resources that are not particular to a unit, or a year level. For example, a list of useful connectives, or a sheet about rules for embedding quotations from poems in written responses. These go on to the classroom ‘stream’ as and when they are needed by each class.

In fact, links to any digital format – videos, news article, word documents, jpegs, MP3s and MP4s, PDFs, urls, google drive files etc etc – can be added to the stream. And at any time, when a student has time or has a need, they can come back to the one place, scroll the time and date stamps,  and look at a file.  No more requests for the links to be sent out again.

And sometimes the announcement is just a reminder about work due or a heads up about what we will be doing in the next class. In a busy school, this communication tool has proven very useful. I don’t always remember to tell them everything I need to as they take off out the door.  I don’t always know what I need to tell them as they take off out the door.

In term 1 I began using Hapara Teacher Dashboard which alleviated some of the Google Drive management issues the students and I were having. They no longer had to email me links or share folders so long as they worked in the allocated folder.  However, with Classroom it is even easier, as it generates a folder for them when they enrol in the class. This is where all documents and files shared as assignments are automatically placed.

And here is the real selling point for me; while it was good to be able to see into a student’s folder via Teacher Dashboard, I prefer the Classroom approach which creates a folder for each task or activity set. I would rather have a folder where I know Lucy’s essay is, than go to Lucy’s folder and search for her essay among other files.

Through the ‘assignments’ function I can send out documents, sheets or slides – to view, to edit, or each student receives own copy.  The day, and time, that work is due is set for all to see.  When completed they click the ‘turn in’ button. My senior girls keep telling me they love doing that. Maybe it is the satisfaction of being ahead of the deadline, who knows.

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With Google Classroom the seniors tell me they ‘get it’ now. I guess they can see continuity in the teaching and learning steps and know where to go to look back on something they might need at a later date. They can see the order I shared files, and know from this if they have gaps to cover. This must also mean there is less pressure on them to manage the files themselves, and more opportunity for them to focus on the learning.

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Other advantages I have found:
RELIEF: In week 2 I had to stay home with my child who was unwell. In the past that may have meant a very early trip into school to hang out at the photocopier, or a mad scramble with the home printer and trust put in the spouse to drop off the ‘busy work’ sheets to the right place.

With classroom, I was able to push the day’s work out directly to the students and follow up with an email of instructions to share with the reliever. Happily, this also meant that the work was an adaptation of what we would have been doing anyway rather than busy work.

ABSENT STUDENTS: And it works the other way too. Students who are absent can see the work on classroom and catch up when they are ready. No more trying to remember what the heck we did when that earnest hardworking child asks the question!

PUBLISHING TO THE CLASS: And often our work takes place outside of Google, on eMaze or Prezi or Kahoot or YouTube or PowToon. When this happens I have students add links themselves to the classroom stream. Easier for me to find without trawling back through my inbox for sunken emails, and they get the benefit of sharing work with their peers.

But Google Classroom has hardly any functions?!
Somehow, jumping in early on a product doesn’t seem as risky when you know it has the weight of the Google development team behind it.  If teachers are using the product, and feeding back its potential and shortfalls to developers, then the product ought to increase its functionality quickly. My feedback has been to ask for capacity to share a course overview, and topic pages for the class, as we might on Ultranet, or Moodle, or OneNote, or a Google Site or any other Learning Management System in use around the world.

To help ensure we don’t corral students to screens and keyboards at all times, I’ve asked to be able to override the late or incomplete records of students.  It may be that, true to blended learning, I sent them assignment instructions through the classroom so they have a record, but we might complete the task in any of a myriad of non-digital ways.

Please never let us see a time come when we stop doing any of our learning away from a screen. But for when it works best to use computers, Google classroom seems to work well for me and my classes.



Planner Progress

My last blog post was written during the last school holiday soon after setting up a site in place of the traditional teacher planner. I shared screenshots of the early, quite crudely built, stages. Five weeks into the term and things have evolved somewhat.

To recap, when deciding to take lesson planning online I started with Planboard App and other ready built apps. Finding it cumbersome to move so far from my resources in Google Drive, and inspired by a colleague on #engchatnz, I then moved to Google sheets (with URL links to drive) at the beginning of this academic year. Sheets for five classes was messy and hard to maintain so during Easter I decided to use a google site to curate all my resources and links.

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The Challenges:

It is definitely an undertaking, which will take all of this academic year, and some of the next, to build the look and function I would like. As teachers we are always on the hoof, or the fly, and sometimes sitting down at a computer screen is not the most convenient way to create or record teaching steps. I have found myself back dating some entries – but, in the spirit of being realistic, it was like that with the old fashioned black book also.

Getting the look and feel just right takes work. I can’t tell you which version I am up to now, but I have tried several different themes, gadgets and layouts.  (Bonus, it is a good way to learn all about sites! – which are blimmin easy to use!)

The Advantages:

We are a GAFE school and using a Google site to collate and curate my planning documents makes perfect sense. Only returning to teaching less than 12 months ago I had the advantage of ‘green fields’ when it came to managing my resources. All in with Google, that’s me.

The ‘game plan’ is on any and every device that I am on. I don’t need to remember to carry my Teacher Planner home in the evenings.

Units of work, and lesson plans are ready for ‘another go round’ if course work is used again with future classes. And by the same token, alterations and additions are easily made when reflecting on the teaching and learning taking place.

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For now my online plan book includes:

  • My Google calendar, with a subscription to the official school fixtures and NCEA assessment dates (on home page)
  • Links to school email, weekly staff diary, internal relief requirements, Google Classroom, my YouTube channel
  • Course outlines
  • links to unit plans, lesson plans and embedded slide presentations by class, term and week
  • embedded mark book (using google sheets)
  • link to Kamar
  • link to class lists for quick printing

So, an online plan book using sites is still working for me, but there is still much to do! Not sure that I have hit the tipping point in terms of time saving, but suspect that will come very soon.