21 May

Virtual Classrooms

When I was working an an educational technology non-profit, I was given the opportunity to get certified in online teaching through another well-respected non-profit for free.  So I took it, because who wouldn’t want that skill and the ability to add another certification to the ol’ resume.  But in truth, I haven’t really used what I learned.  The classes I took were all about how to use a specific software (moodle) and how to supervise a class that is exclusively online.

I don’t have much of a desire to use this specific software or teach classes that are exclusively online.  But I don’t want to say the experience was completely useless.  Because, well, it wasn’t.  And there are lots of ways to integrate an online classroom with a real-life classroom.  Especially in an age of google classroom.

I know I might seem like a bit of a google fanboy.  And in a lot of ways, I probably am.  But hang in there with me for a moment.

Google classroom is part of google apps for education.  From what I can gather, it’s free to non-profit educational institutes.  My district adopted it, so I just log in with my regular school login.

I understand that many teachers probably do not have access.  But I’m learning something about advocacy within schools.  It’s our job to find what would be good for children and tell our administrators (even at the district level) what those things are.  And even though there is often a lot of enmity between administrators and teachers, at the end of the day, we all joined this field to help children learn.

So don’t tune me out just yet.  Because if it’s good for children, it’s probably not as hard as you think to make it happen.  And I’m about to tell you about how it’s great for children.  Let’s get started…

Here’s a screenshot of my Google Classroom.

Google Classroom

You can see the latest assignments, as well as how easy it is to add new assignments.  I’ve got documents my kids are working on as well as links I added to help them with their research (explained more below).

1.  You can seamlessly integrate google drive which fosters collaborative work.

Google Drive, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is basically like Microsoft Office Suite.  You can create presentations (called slides), documents, and spreadsheets (called sheets).  They’ve got added functionality like forms and drawings, but those are other conversations for other days.  The main reason why Google Drive is so amazing is that multiple people can edit a document at the same time.  You can see the changes they’re making in real time.  You can access the documents from any computer with internet access.

My students have used Google Drive to research and summarize their findings for both a Science Fair and a Multicultural Fair at our school.  You’d be absolutely amazed at how engaged they all were.  In fact, the only times I had to critique their behavior at all was to ask them to be a little quieter.  Not a single student was off task.  For an hour.  Whoa.  They love working together!  I’ve never seen kids so excited to research and summarize.  You can see their board for the Multicultural Fair.

Multicultural Fair

Our assignment was Vietnam. The kids chose to add a thatched roof, and we featured a student who was from Vietnam in the middle.

2.  It allows the teacher to curate resources for students.

I absolutely believe in open-ended research for kids, even kids in elementary school.  But there’s a time and a place for it.  And kids have to be prepared to know how to use that freedom responsibly (not just from the perspective of appropriateness, but also in how to find good resources).  To be perfectly frank, my kids aren’t there, yet.  It’s something I have done an awful job at teaching them.  So we’re taking baby steps.  One is World Book for Kids, which our district has a subscription (Yay Durham Public Schools!).  The other is my selecting websites for my kids to research on topics that they want to know more about.  I just add the link to the assignment, and bam!  My kids can use the link to complete the assignment.

3.  It allows children to upload assignments for grading.

I like for my kids to get plenty of time to write on the computer.  It is, after all, how most of us write nowadays, anyway.  We also have a subscription to NCWrite* (again, thanks, Durham Public Schools!), which assigns students lessons based on their weak points in writing.  Even without this, though, it’s important for kids to type what they’re writing and use basic word processing to edit and revise, since this is a commonplace tool.  When the kids are done, they submit their product to me via Google Classroom.  Classroom will tell me who has/hasn’t submitted yet, and I can download all their documents from there.  This is especially cool since students in my school don’t have printing privileges.

4.  It allows for digital interaction between students and teacher.

For some kids, this is a game changer.  Introverted kids, I’m learning, have a lot of trouble in today’s highly collaborative classroom.  Everything is groups and numbered heads.  And kids who don’t do well in that environment often don’t do well in school.  Digital interactions can be a lot easier for these kids and move at the pace that the student is comfortable.  The student can answer the question when they’re ready, and the teacher can still get their response.  They can ask questions without having to speak in front of the whole class, and the teacher can address any misconceptions.

5.  It creates a landing spot for students.

I don’t know about you, but getting third graders to accurately type in a url is basically impossible.  Instead, I just pop the link onto Classroom.  It took a little while for my kids to learn their usernames and passwords, but once they did, they don’t have to learn any more website urls.  They type in the one for Classroom, and then we’re rolling.

6.  Students can access it from home.

Because they’re going to want to work on stuff from home.  I know.  This is super weird.  But some of the most unmotivated students will come up to me and ask if they can keep working on it from home.  Not every kid has internet access, but it’s still really exciting for the ones who do.  A lot of times, they’re so proud of what they did that they’re excited to show it to their parents at home.

*NCWrite does have a pretty neat submission feature which allows teachers to make comments on student work, and while I love it, I also recognize that their formatting options are extremely limited.  So when it comes time to publish our writing, I give the kids about 15 minutes to copy and paste their work into a word processor and edit the formatting.

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