Googlassroom: Google in the classroom?

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I write a lot about the iPad. This is because we’re an iPad school and I’m an eLearning leader. However, luckily, we’re also a Google school! Our school has signed up for the Google education suite years ago, and every staff member and student has a gmail account. Thank the heavens!

Google Apps for Education offer a very wide range of apps that can make the learning process more engaging, meaningful and interactive. I am a Google-addict and I encourage all teachers to integrate each of these Google products in their classroom, one way or another!

1- Google Docs: Wikipedia defines Google Docs as “a free, Web-based office suite and data storage service offered by Google within its Google Drive service. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users”. The applications of this service in the classroom are endless:

    • essay-writing tasks: if a student is asked to write an essay, they can set up a Google Document and share it with the teacher. The teacher can give feedback in real-time during the drafting process, and the student can invite another classmate to give peer feedback. This way of setting up the task emphasizes the PROCESS of writing the essay, and not just the final PRODUCT.
    • student presentations: if a group of students have a presentation together, they can set up a Google Presentation and collaborate in real-time to create it.
    • formative assessment: I am a huge fan of Google Forms, which allows you to easily create forms for anything. I have used it for collecting results of student brainstorms, for facilitating peer evaluation of drama performances, for allowing students to reflect on and evaluate their performances, and to collect feedback from students on my teaching and my units of work. It can also be used in many more ways like tests and quizzes, rubrics for assessment, keeping records etc… Refer to this link for more ways to use Google Forms in the classroom.

2- Google Drive: is Google’s file storage and synchronization service. Google Docs is now a part of Google Drive. This service allows sharing all sorts of files with the students, whether they are worksheets or handouts or templates etc… Students can also upload files to share with the teacher such as completed work to be graded/marked etc…

3- YouTube: is a video-sharing website that was recently acquired by Google. There are many teachers who bring YouTube videos into their classroom, whether to help explain a difficult concept or to illustrate with examples or to spark a debate. However, I believe 21st century teachers should now be pushing students to become content providers, and not just content recipients. A teacher can easily set up a class YouTube channel for students to upload the videos they created, whether they are filmed drama performances, or screencasts about educational topics. YouTube also offers a range of security options, so videos can be set to either public, or unlisted or private, and thus the students’ safety is not compromised. Here is a link explaining the many ways YouTube can be used in the classroom.

4- Google Sites: as defined by Wikipedia, Google Sites “is a structured wiki– and web page-creation tool offered by Google as part of the Google Apps Productivity suite”. A ‘wiki’ is a collaborative website in which users can add, edit or delete content via a web browser. There are many ways a teacher can use wikis in the classroom:

    • Student portfolios: a very common way I have observed of using Google Sites in the classroom. The teacher would set up a Google Site and give each student a page name where they upload and embed evidence of the learning process. Students can add video (embedded from YouTube), audio, pictures, text, hyperlinks and documents/files (embedded from Google Drive). Alternatively, each student could create their own Google Site as their portfolio and have a page for each learning objective for which they have to demonstrate evidence of learning.
    • Revision notes: I used a wiki last year to allow the students to collaborate in preparing revision notes for the final exam. Each group of students were given a chapter to summarise and collect/create revision material for, and a corresponding page on the class revision wiki.
    • Resources website: A teacher can set up a Google Site for a specific unit of work or theme that the students are interested in and the class can add educational content to build an educational resources website about that topic/unit/theme.

5- Google Blogger: is Google’s blog-publishing service. A ‘blog’ is essentially a journal of entries (or ‘posts’) that are displayed from most to least recent.  Blogs can be used for discussions, posting information for parents and/or students, student portfolios, collaborative projects and reflective journals. The teacher would have to set up the blogs for either individual students or groups of students, since Blogger has a minimum age requirement for setting up blogs. A blog can also be set up if the teacher wants to flip the classroom. I would normally post a video along with a discussion question and an embedded Google Form to help with my formative assessment and to check students’ understanding.

While these are not the only products Google offers as part of its educational apps, these are the ones that I love the most. These apps can be seamlessly integrated and combined together to create a classroom environment that encourages creation, collaboration and communication, while also allowing for the collection and collation of evidence of the learning process.

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iOrganized: How a teacher can use the iPad to stay organized?

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I bought my iPad about eighteen months ago. I have said it before, and will say it again: it has changed my life! As an eLearning leader, one of the most common complaints I receive from staff is that “it is really hard to stay organized with the iPad! Everything is all over the place!” I could not disagree more. I have developed an arsenal of strategies and apps to help me stay organized (in addition to the standard Calendar, Mail and Reminders apps):

1- Curriculum-design (unit-planning): I use Pages to help me stay on top of curriculum design. Once I import into Pages the blank template for the MYP Unit Planner, I just reproduce copies of it for every unit of work I need to plan. I also organize my Pages app into folders according to subject or year level or function.

2- Lesson-planning: I use Evernote to plan my lessons. I have set-up a notebook called ‘Work’ (not a very creative name I might add) and I have a ‘note’ in this notebook for every class. Since my drama lessons are weekly double-periods per class, I just write the week number and then write the learning objectives, learning activities, resources and assessment activities for the lesson/week. By the end of the term/semester, I end up having a journal of lesson-plans.

3- Documentation: I use Evernote to document evidence from my lessons. At the end of every class, I take a quick snapshot of the whiteboard and add it to my lesson-planning note for the class. If the students did brainstorms on poster paper, I would take photos and add them to the note as well. If students used some sort of Web 2.0 tool during the lesson, I would take screenshots of what they produced (for example: results from a Google Form, or a typewith.me document etc…) Other things that I can often document are photos of rehearsals, or short audio recordings of anecdotes from the lesson etc…

4- Reflection: I add a very short reflection to my Evernote lesson-planning after every lesson. The reflection I write highlights what we managed to finish during that lesson, what I need to keep in mind for the next lesson, what sort of behavior-infractions I observed and how I responded to them, and what sort of positive behaviors I have observed and praised/rewarded. Sometimes, when my reflection is too long to type, I just record it as an audio note through Evernote.

5- Attendance and Assessment records: I use Numbers to keep my attendance and assessment records. One thing I love about Numbers is the many different sorts of cell-formats you can have: checkboxes, pop-up menus, star-ratings, sliders, steppers etc… At the beginning of the year, I design a template that will include all the assessment columns with the appropriate format, as well as an attendance sheet. Then I would reproduce copies of that template for as many classes as I have and add the students’ names to the template. Once student names are added, you can view every student’s ‘form’ as just one card of all their assessment and attendance records, which can be very useful for quick data input of formative assessments in class while observing students. It’s fantastic!

6- File-sharing and printing: many teachers initially complained that the iPad does not have a USB port. I recommend Dropbox as a very easy solution to this. Just set it up, for free, on your desktop computer or laptop, and copy/paste all of the files you need into Dropbox. Then you can access them from your Dropbox iPad app. Dropbox also allows setting up shared folders between teachers and students (to exchange handouts/worksheets or submitting student work), or between collaborating teachers (to share resources). Read this post about Dropbox and how to make the most out of it. Many teachers also complained about the difficulty of printing from the iPad, especially because our school wifi network does not allow AirPrint. Initially, I used to remind them of the need to cut down on paper consumption and advise them to e-mail whatever they really need to print to their e-mail address and then print it from a laptop/computer. Now, with the iOS 6 update, it’s easy to just get a document from Pages/Numbers/Keynote and then open it in another app, e.g. Dropbox. I often export the document as a PDF to Dropbox, which then pops up directly on my laptop so I can print it from there.

7- Marking and grading: when the students send me work, I often ask to receive it as a PDF (most apps allow exporting as PDFs). Then I use Notability to add my annotations, comments and grade/mark their work. Notability also allows recording audio onto the document, which is a feature I use to give oral feedback on the work for every student.

To conclude, I must mention (and it goes without saying) that this list is not exhaustive and these apps are not the only ones suitable for these tasks. I am merely sharing what works for me and how I personally use my iPad to stay on top of lesson-planning, curriculum-design, attendance and assessment record-keeping, file-sharing, marking and grading, as well as reflecting on and documenting evidence from my lessons. Please feel free to recommend other apps and suggest different uses by leaving a comment below! Happy iOrganizing!

iLearned vs. iLearning: Differentiated portfolio assessment with the iPad?

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Differentiated learning is at the heart of my teaching philosophy. I believe teachers need to make a conscious effort to embrace all learning styles in their instruction, and to embed these learning styles in their assessments. I also believe the iPad makes doing so much easier, as it has for me. The iPad, and its enormous range of educational apps, offer multiple ways of teaching. Additionally, a very wide range of creation-apps means that students can create and produce content that suits and caters for their preferred learning style.

Differentiation needs to be equally embedded in assessment as it is in teaching. Students should be given opportunities to demonstrate their learning in a manner that suits their preferred learning style. Giving students tests under exam conditions is not always the ideal way for many students to demonstrate what they have learned. I have argued in an earlier post that teachers need to make more use of alternative assessments and achieve more of a balance between assessments for learning and assessments of learning (which appears to be a lot more prevalent to me). While my main timetabled subject is Drama, I also teach Humanities, English, ESL and the Business Studies. I would like to see more of the assessment practices used in drama in those non-drama classrooms. I have been making an effort to do so myself in my non-drama classes.

I am a big fan of portfolio assessment. The iPad allows the documentation of learning all throughout the learning process, not just the final product, which is exactly what portfolio assessment is about. In the drama classroom, my year 7 students can use their iPads in every stage of the drama process:

  • Planning : a huge variety of brainstorming and mind-mapping apps can be found in the App Store. My favourites are: iBrainstorm and Idea Sketch. Students collaborate in their groups called ‘theatre companies’ (which work very well for the people-smart/interpersonal learner) to brainstorm for their performance based on the prompt assigned or the task given, and then take screen-shots of their brainstorms to share so that each can document evidence of brainstorming in their portfolios (I use shared notebooks with every student through Evernote). This works perfectly for the more visual learners. However, some learners prefer to talk during their brainstorms and keep recorded audio clips on Evernote as evidence of brainstorming, or hyperlinks to an uploaded ShowMe where they screencast their brainstorms (works well for auditory/aural learners).
  • Preparing: the second stage of the drama process requires students to transform their ideas into writing a script or preparing a storyboard. Students can use Evernote or Pages for writing (if they are more word-smart, verbal or linguistic learners), or Storyboards app for preparing a storyboard (if they are more picture-smart or visual learners). ShowMe can also be used to prepare storyboards where students sketch-and-talk how they will go about their performance. Again, whatever is prepared has to be documented in their Evernote portfolio, whether as a note for their script or an embedded screen-shot for their storyboard, or hyperlink for their ShowMe.
  • Rehearsing: I believe the iPad has been most helpful in this stage. Students use the camera to take pictures during their rehearsals or to keep video footage. Watching video footage of their rehearsal allows them to see themselves (very useful for the visual learner) and facilitate reflection and evaluation (for the intrapersonal and reflective learner), so that they can brush up their performances before delivering them to a wider audience. Pictures can easily be embedded into their Evernote portfolio. If videos are kept, the students can upload them onto the class YouTube channel and add hyperlinks to their portfolios. Students can also choose to fill-in this Rehearsal Log and either screen-shot it or attach it to a note in their portfolio.
  • Performing: the students are expected to document their performances through taking video footage. These videos are taken primarily to facilitate student reflection, self-assessment and self-evaluation. Students also use these videos to evaluate their peers. Again, those videos can be uploaded on the class YouTube channel and hyperlinked in their portfolios.
  • Reflecting & Evaluating: students are expected to keep record of their reflections, either in written format (for the word-smart/verbal learner), or oral format (for the auditory/aural learner). Written reflections can automatically be typed in Evernote, and oral reflections can be recorded and embedded right through the Evernote iPad app. I also make sure there is some sort of structure or framework for reflection, so my students use the reflection help-sheet as their guide. Additionally there are many templates that I use for reflection and evaluation and I can easily share them with my classes through Evernote. The students can then take a screen-shot of the template and write over it in Skitch, which can then be embedded into their Evernote portfolio.

Additionally, there are multiple opportunities for students to create media-rich and authentic content in the classroom, whether they use iMovie to create trailers for their performances throughout the semester, or audio podcasts of tips for actors/directors/writers, or screencasts of theoretical material to teach other students and document their learning, or sound effects and background music using GarageBand, or photo collages of their group work, rehearsals and performances using iPhoto or FrameMagic.

While I have described my portfolio assessment practices in the drama classroom, along with my attempts to differentiate to cater for all learning styles, I believe such practices can be replicated in any other subject area. Whether it is video footage of experiments in Science class, audio podcasts of book reviews in English class, screencast videos to explain complex mathematical theories in Maths class, I believe the iPad can be used to differentiate assessment practices. All that needs to be done is to view learning more as a process, and not just the final product, then find ways to document evidence of as many steps of that process as possible.

To conclude, I believe the iPad can be used to teach across all levels of the Bloom’s Taxonomy, with a very wide range of opportunities to create (the highest level of thinking on the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy). Additionally, it can be used to differentiate teaching to cater for all learning styles. However, it is not enough to just use it to differentiate our teaching, our assessment practices need to also be differentiated and the iPad can facilitate this differentiation.

Update 25/05/2013

I delivered a presentation at the ICTEV 2013 conference about this, you can find the PowerPoint I used here.
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iClassroom iManagement – tips for managing an iPad classroom

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So, every school now is rolling out their own BYOD and 1-to-1 programs. Mobile learning (mLearning) is the new black! Whether it is just a fad or not, mobile devices change the way the class runs, and they change the way students learn. Many teachers, from my experience, cite too many problems with using iPads in their classroom, most of them related to classroom management. As an eLearning leader, I get a lot of questions like ‘how do I guarantee the students are on-task?’, or ‘how do I make sure they don’t play games?’, or ‘how do I make sure I can maintain their attention when I need it?’. Reality is, these devices can be very distracting to adults even, let alone school-aged kids and teens. I have gathered a bunch of tricks throughout my teaching experience that I would like to share:

1- Set clear expectations: a lot of classroom management challenges can easily be overcome by setting clear guidelines and expectations for iPad use. Regularly remind your students of the school’s mobile learning policies and ‘acceptable use’ policies. Communicate your expectations about iPad-use at the beginning of every task. Simply saying ‘I expect you to be working on this app until you submit the work and receive my feedback’ will keep most students on-task. Also, talk to them about trust and how you ‘trust’ that they know what they should be doing. I would also advise teaching a clear non-verbal signal that means ‘put your iPads down and give me your full attention’. Ringing a bell three times, for example, is the signal I use.

2- Let go of control: mobile devices can be distracting and they can empower students to do many things, and that challenges the traditional role of the teacher as the centre of the students’ attention and the main source of knowledge and information. Introducing personal learning devices like the iPad can make learning messier and noisier, but that does not mean that the learning is not happening. Fact is, education shouldn’t be about teacher-control anymore, teachers need to embrace their roles as ‘facilitators’ and ‘managers’ more.

3- Differentiate the task: if a student is disengaged from a task and seems to be easily distracted, ask them for reasons. It might be that he/she doesn’t want to type an essay using Pages, but rather prepare a screencast using ShowMe? It might be that they prefer using another app that accomplishes the same thing you requested, not the app you recommended? Give the students options and choices about how they can go about and demonstrate their learning.

4- Explore gaming: see how you can bring gaming into the classroom. Students often feel like school content can be very disconnected from their lives. Lots of teachers talk about gaming as just a waste of time, but fact is there is research that proves the value of bringing gaming into the classroom. Use different characters in games and their voices/body language to get students thinking about characterization in drama, and the elements of a narrative (as a lot of games are based on a story). Think about how ‘Angry Birds’ can be used to teach some concepts in physics. Use scrabble-like games in English classes. Whatever the subject, I’m sure you can find one or two games to relate. Additionally, those games need not take up the whole lesson, they could just be quick warm-ups or even rewards for students who finish early but still produce high-quality work (i.e. whose work is not just rushed so they can play games).

5- Assign group roles: the iPad is meant to encourage collaboration, and I am a big proponent of collaborative learning. When I run a lesson that requires the iPad, I design the task so that only one group member needs their iPad, then I would rotate that group member in consecutive tasks (so that other students also get to use their iPad). For example, in a brainstorm task, I would give the questions to the group and ask them to brainstorm on a poster paper (to be hung up in class) while one group member is responsible for reporting the group’s findings on a typewith.me pad or Google Form. Additionally, you can pick another group member to visualize the brainstorm on a mind-mapping app. It’s easier to manage an iPad classroom when only a few students are holding the iPad at a time, not the whole class.
See if you can design tasks where all group members can work on different stages using their iPads. For example, one group member brainstorms with the group using their iPad. The next group member is responsible for taking photos and documenting rehearsal. The following group member is responsible for shooting video of the performance and uploading it on the class YouTube channel, and so on. Each group member is also responsible for uploading or embedding the evidence they collect onto the group’s shared blog or Evernote shared notebook, or any other form of group portfolio, so that they can all have the same evidence to document their learning. Also, you can design the task so students each work on a part and pass one iPad around, while doing something else when they are not holding the iPad. I have found that it is easier to manage the class and ensure that they are on-task when I can only see five or six iPads around the room at a time (in a class of 25 students).

6- Circulate around the room: I have seen many teachers who like to teach from their desk. I personally believe this cannot be done with iPads in the classroom. I believe the teacher must walk around the classroom and circulate often when students are working individually. That gives the students the idea of ‘teacher-with-it-ness’ and encourages them to be on-task. Also, arrange the classroom in a way that allows all or most devices to be in view.

7- Prepare backup plans: last semester, I designed a really cool rubric using Numbers (the spreadsheet app). The students were to use this rubric to assess themselves. I uploaded the file on Edmodo, shared it with the class and thought everything was under control. However, many students couldn’t open it because it required the latest version of Numbers, which many of them didn’t have (students don’t always regularly update their apps and their iOS software either). Luckily, I had a few printed copies. Technology does let us down sometimes. The most important thing is: don’t panic in front of students and relax, show them that you control the technology, not the other way around.

8- Use games as an incentive: many teachers I meet disagree with this approach, but I still firmly believe in it. We have to teach our students that there is a time for work and and a time for play, and we need to model that in our classrooms. I always tell my students that they can have free-time to spend on their iPad when they finish their work and it is of ‘high quality’. That ‘high quality’ disclaimer is to encourage them not to rush to finish the task, and it reserves room for your judgment on the quality of their work. I often try to find one or two things they can do to improve their work first before allowing them that free time on the iPad, or even nicely asking the student who finished to help another struggling student for a few minutes first before getting free time.

9- Teach responsibility: ultimately, we need to teach students to be responsible for their own learning. Mobile devices empower the students with a lot of tools that can be useful for learning, but at the end of the day, they have to make the choice of learning or not. I constantly remind my students that ‘I’m responsible for my own teaching, you are responsible for your own learning’. Talk to them about making choices and the consequences of these choices. If they allow themselves to get distracted, ask them to give suggestions for helping them stay on-task, so they feel they have more responsibility over the situation.

10- Use ‘Guided Access’: I have never used ‘Guided Access’ in my class because it is the last resort in my arsenal of strategies. Basically, ‘Guided Access’ is a feature that came with the iOS 6 update where you can disable certain hardware buttons on the student’s iPad (like the home button and lock button for example), and also keep the student focused on one app or one part of the screen. I would advise that you only resort to this strategy when all else fails, and only with the most challenging student/s who just can not stay on-task (keep in mind that this strategy does not teach responsibility and trust). You can also disable the touch-screen through ‘Guided Access’ if you just want the student to focus on reading. Remember to always give a warning first to the student before you resort to ‘Guided Access’. A lot of students fear losing full control over their iPad when you warn them that you will resort to ‘Guided Access’ if they do not stay on-task. Here is a screencast explaining how to use ‘Guided Access’:

To conclude, managing a classroom that uses iPads or other mobile devices presents challenges that are different to traditional classroom challenges. I am constantly seeking suggestions, ideas, and practical tips from other teachers, so please feel free to leave a comment. Happy iPad-ing!