Monday, November 25, 2013

Misconceptions of a 1:1 Classroom

Photo Credit: Kai Schreiber 

Maybe I should have a sign that hangs outside my door: "These aren't the droids you're looking for."

In my school, I am the only one who teaches with 1:1 devices in an academic content area, and it has come to my attention that some believe my students must sit in front of their screens all period, typing away at their keyboards in silence and never talking to each other.

Perhaps this is my fault.  After all, I shared that I don't subscribe to the "sage on the stage" philosophy, that I'm a facilitator of learning, and that my students work hard every day to create content, not just consume it.  I told them that my students use their Chromebooks every day in my class.  Intensely.

To them, it means that my students are zombies, sitting in invisible cubicles, deprived of their ability to practice their social skills.

To me, it means that my classroom is a vibrant, noisy place where students are analyzing text (loudly), leading their own discussions (verbally and online), and constructing meaning among themselves (animatedly).

My students write to explain, deconstruct, reflect, and argue their viewpoints.  They use web 2.0 tools to collaborate on projects and create multimedia presentations.  They present in front of the class to share their findings.  They stand by their Chromebooks at their team tables, showcasing their Google slides while other students circulate around the room listening to their poster-style presentations.

My students blog with the world, and they're building their ePortfolios using Google Sites.  While they work, they are far from quiet, as they are regularly asked to view each other's work, give each other feedback, and compete against each other in teams.  Peer editing and peer nominations are encouraged and required in my classroom.

My students are prolific writers, intellectual thinkers, and inquisitive learners.  No, they are not droids, and using technology in my class will never turn them into robots.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Google-Powered Classroom

Students in my class working on their Chromebooks
Copyright 2013 Alice Chen
This year we deployed Google Apps for Education for all staff and students in my district, and I was given the opportunity to pilot 1:1 Chromebooks in my classroom.  To say that I am ecstatic is to put it mildly.

Why? Because Google Apps and Chromebooks are truly a winning combination.  First of all, Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is entirely free for schools and districts.  Secondly, Chromebooks are inexpensive and with the Management Console, very easy to manage.  Paired together, it is a good solution for schools on a tight budget.  For me, it gave me the means to put a device into the hands of all my students and the ability to bring my classroom into the 21st Century.

Yes, I understand that Chromebooks are largely Internet-dependent and are not laptop equivalents.  At the same time, everything I need my students to create in an English language arts classroom could be accomplished with web applications - and the 10 seconds it takes to boot up these devices are probably less time than how long it usually takes for students to unpack their backpacks and take out their learning materials.

We've only been using Chromebooks for a couple of months, but here are some ways in which Google Apps have made my classroom more efficient, collaborative, and rigorously demanding.

My students use Google Docs to...

  • Work on a project together - Its real-time, group collaboration capability is fantastic.  Students love seeing their contributions fly across the page alongside their peers.
  • Brainstorm and organize ideas together - Students use one document to build on each other's ideas and knowledge.
  • Peer edit each other's work - Students invite their peers into their documents, and these extra pairs of eyes are extremely helpful in pinpointing simple grammatical and mechanical errors.
  • Collaboratively annotate a text together - Students read short texts in groups and insert comments as they read, asking each other for clarification and posting analytical questions to scaffold each other's understanding.
  • Motivate each other - All my students' work are "public" within my classroom.  By expanding beyond a one-teacher readership, my students have learned to step up their game.  I regularly ask for peer nominations on assignments, and students love to be nominated and recognized in this way.
My students are using Google Slides and Google Drawings to...
  • Create multimedia presentations
  • Design their own computer graphics for projects
  • Publish digital books
  • Generate mind maps and organize information
  • Create flow charts and understand organizational structure
My students are building Google Sites to...
  • Showcase their work and share it with their friends and families
  • Write to an authentic audience
  • Embed multimedia on webpages
  • Learn digital citizenship and create a web persona

With Google Apps, my students are far more prolific than those from previous years.  It is very motivating for students to produce work for a larger audience.  The collaborative nature of Google Apps is what sets this suite of web tools apart from the competition.  It's only been a couple of months, but my students and I are having a great time.   And this is just the beginning.