Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Shaking Hands with Google Tools in the Classroom

Google has become a ubiquitous part of life.  Even this blog is hosted by Blogger, which is also a part of Google.  Now the thing is, using Google can be a huge boon in terms of teacher organization.  It can help make it easier for students to contact you and for you to allot time throughout the day.   Here a few functions and how I've used them in my classroom in case you were interested.

Google Classroom

Let's start with the basic that most teachers have access to.  Thanks to recent updates through School Loop, another common grade system, it's way easier to connect between Google Classroom and School Loop.  For individual assignments, School Loop will actually update as you grade through Classroom. 

I have mostly used Google Classroom as a method to collect larger project write ups for the group and send out different materials for that project, but in the future, I think I'll have it more used for homework submission.  Initially, I would assign things on Classroom and then collect all of the word via Doctopus and attach Goobrics that way.  The plus side of this is you can compile the rubric scores in a spreadsheet which updates automatically as you fill in the rubric.  The interface is a little clunky, depending on how you format your rubric in Goobric, but it's still pretty easy to use.

As I started having more individual work, Classroom now allows you to send a copy of the file to each student.  Initially, students had to learn how to make a copy for themselves using the Google Doc, but now you can make a copy for each student, which allows easier use of online worksheets where students can fill in their work.  It also is much easier to post things from Drive to Classroom than onto School Loop.  Also, now I can post grades on Classroom faster and it's easier to keep track of things that I have graded.   This year, I mostly used the cross posting thing between Google Classroom and School Loop, but didn't necessarily have them submit everything on Classroom, which explains why it looks like a lot of students didn't finish things below.  It organizes by due date, class and things you've already done.  The done below is for how many students have finished that assignment.  They can even click "done" if they don't submit something, and many will in order to keep organized.  There's also a calendar reminder setting that I have yet to use, but may next year. 

My hope for the future is that eventually Classroom will allow for assigned groups.  As it is right now, students can tell me their groups or put their name on the document, but to have a space for groups to submit together and get the same grade would be perfect. 

Google Sites

This is a recent development.  The new settings for Google Sites are super intuitive and easy to use.  We used it this year to make a webquest for students to study for the final instead of a basic final exam study guide.  It walked them through different simulations and tutorial websites and it is one of the easiest web page designers I have ever used.  The best part is how easy it is to put Drive files into a website.  I think in the future, I will play around with the ability of Youtube embedding and have them get the documents from Classroom but access the sites from Google Sites as a way to curate an experience.  Something I want to focus on next year is having students use videos or readings as a source for evidence in writing.  Using Google Sites would be a perfect way to organize them in one place for students to access from home.

Another thing I'm using Sites for is the ability to put all my study resources and class info in one pretty place.  I had calendar events for meetings and a form for letters of recommendation, but students could never find these links.  Also, students would often ask me if I had any good website resources for studying for tests.  I decided to create a resource website that was easy to go through and find information.  It also has pages with easy ways to contact me and create appointments on my calendar and access the folders I created to share with the class that allow students to find lecture notes if they missed a day.  Truly, this is one of the most beautiful things I have ever made.  I just hope it works. 

Google Drive
I've mentioned Drive in both of the previous things and I haven't talked about what Drive is or how I use it.  Basically, we use drive as a cloud storage system for all of the curriculum and as a way to share curriculum between all teachers.  One previous issue I've had doing this is others changing formatting or content in my work, but no more!  Now, you can share so people can see your work (or you can only see other people's work) and only the author of the file can edit it.  Another good thing about this is you can download the material to your desktop so you don't have to download things every day or rely on what can be very spotty school internet.  If you do this for long enough, however, you can really fill up a hard drive.  Most schools have opted for (at this time, it may change in the future) unlimited storage capacity in the Drive.  What this means is you can put ANYTHING on there, and there will always be space and it does not cost you money.  HOWEVER, this stuff will be deleted the second you leave your current position if you don't back it up to your personal Google Drive.  How do I know?  Because that happened to me and I didn't get a chance to back it up, so that information is gone to where ever Google trash goes to die.  Now, that I can't fix but I can control how much gets synced (or downloaded) to my hard drive. 

Click on the little drive icon and then select "preferences" from the "…"

Put a check mark on the files you want downloaded.  Google will keep the unchecked stuff in the cloud, and everything else will be deleted from your computer.  I did this recently to delete everything from this school year from the computer and keep only the coming school year.  Really useful.

Google Docs/Sheets/Forms

I am a physicist, therefore I LOVE SPREADSHEETS.  There's also a lot of cool options, like calendars, to-do lists and other templates that are fun to play with.  I recommend just playing with them on your own.

So the thing that I will use more this coming year are forms.  There are some crazy easy to use new features to make it more like a quiz or just compile data.  The big way I'm going to use them this coming year is as questionnaires for various data that I really need to collect, like your basic beginning of the year stuff, submitting videos or other websites to add to the resource site and to collect information for letters of recommendation.  As a high school teacher, most of my fall weekends are taken up by writing letter upon letter of recommendation, and they can start to sound the exactly the same.  By collecting really in depth data from the students, you can write an even stronger letter.  Also, this will put all of the letter of recommendation information in one place.  Which is insanely useful.  I just started using forms, so hopefully I'll utilize them more this year.

Google Calendar

Make appointment slots.  Seriously, do it.  Why?  Because then if a student shows up at your door, you can tell them it's not a good time and to make an appointment.  It's also a fast way to tell students you are busy at a certain time and not to stop by.  It sends them reminders so they aren't late and they can tell you what they need in that appointment.  It's amazing.  Just make sure they can find the link.  Also, tell them they have to make the appointment a day before.  They'll do this thing where they'll make an appointment the day of.  It's very frustrating, but stand your ground.  It also gives students equal air time in 15 minute increments.  It's awesome. 

In Conclusion

Google is an incredibly powerful tool of organization, and I've only scratched the surface of what apps exist.  I went for the basic Google Apps for Education.  If you have any other cool tricks, let me know.  I always want to try more stuff out.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

When You Need a Break

It's May, we all have those days.  You have the mountain of grading staring you dead in the eye that needs to get done.  You are just feeling so unmotivated thanks to months of grinding through material.  Teacher fatigue happens to the best of us.  Now, what will you do about it?  One of the most important things to remember is teaching is mentally, physically and emotionally draining and self care is paramount.  Let's talk about lazy days.

Project Work Days
Here's the rub with this one:  while the day itself can often not be too mentally taxing, the lead up takes a lot of work.  The project needs to be rigorous enough that it makes sense to give the time.  Once you have that project though, turn on some music and turn them loose.  This one works well for me mentally and in terms of pedagogy.  I'm a constructivist for those who have read a lot of teacher academic writing.  I believe, especially in science, in letting students explore and make discoveries.  This allows the ideas to stick a lot stronger.  And project based learning is great for that. So pros: lots of independence.  Cons:  Lots of prep and planning.

Find Those Best Science (or Your Own Subject) Movies
For biology, I feel like you can't go wrong with Planet Earth or with the Disney line of movies.  Also, Bill Nye never goes out of style.  His new show has a lot that is applicable to current science classes, and I can see turning one of the episodes into a pretty in depth discussion.  In particular, the last episode in the Netflix series can be a great intro to scientific method and can help alleviate that beginning of the year exhaustion.

The ultimate for my physics people is definitely Neil Degrasse Tyson's Cosmos.  The information is great, visuals are good and is overall an enjoyable romp.  I'm a fan.  Plus, there are oodles of online resources in terms of worksheets to use for all the above.  Or, you could use the videos as some sort of evidence for a written assignment.  Also a good idea.

Another great way to bring in student voice is have them create videos as a project and then show them in class.  Less reading for you overall, and they love to see each other.  While they sometimes hate watching their own product, if a student is anxious, they can sit outside.  Also having strong presentation or video class norms is imperative.  This also makes grading crazy easy.  Just have the rubrics in front of you while the video is playing and there you go, all done.  Rubrics, I think, over anything else have allowed me to give timely feedback by grading quickly and having clear standards.  By no means do I think I write great rubrics, but I'm getting better at it through collaboration with colleagues.

The Post Test Day
My master teacher back in the day would always show a fun movie the day after the test.  Why?  To grade the damn test.  She would use that time for kids to compile their stuff from the unit to put into their portfolios and do the reflection.  I kind of wish I felt like I had the time to do this, and someday I might give the post test day its due.  As of right now, however, I kind of do this on the actual test day in some form.  However, it was a nice chunk of time to just crunch out the tests and allow students to organize themselves and reflect on what we learned that unit.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

End of My Third Year

There's this feeling in teaching that once you make it to your third year, you're really a teacher.  You've had your first two bumpy years to work things out, and now you have figured out your methods and voice as an educator.  That is, if you stay at the same school.

Between my second and third years, I switched schools.  Districts, in fact.  I went from teaching in the Bayview to the heart of Silicon Valley down the street from where I grew up.  While I am now teaching in my community, both where I currently live and where I am from, there are some challenges that come from changing schools, just like changing any job.  From discussing this with friends, it takes about 5 weeks to get the hang of a new company and feel secure.  In teaching, because things change so often throughout the year, you don't feel comfortable until the year is over.  And even then, you still feel like you have a lot to learn.  Plus, the next year, you get new kids.

With all of this, I think I still improved as a teacher.  I had better classroom management and organizing things as well as posting grades more consistently.  However, I feel like there are a lot of new tricks I want to steal from coworkers in terms of homework return and test and quiz retention.  It's all about figuring out what is expected at the school, and how much students actually want their work back and what is realistic for me to do.

I've already gone through and figured out some new organization methods for work return and classroom set up.  Something that hasn't changed is how messy students can be, so whatever I can do to minimize that (and keep myself organized), I will most certainly do.  I think my strength as a teacher is being reflective.  I look at how thing went (even as they are going) and think about how I can improve it.  I will never think I am perfect.  I don't think I will ever stop growing or learning as a teacher.

In the future, I hope to post more activities and ideas onto this blog, and less reflection of my practice as I move forward.  I am planning on reorganizing my classroom and recording that here to hopefully help other teachers like me, especially science teachers, to keep themselves sane.  Writing definitely helps, I can tell you that.
Tweets by @tomatopolish