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.

17 comments:

  1. Great post. Did you write a post about what management console you used in another post? I'm curious about your experience with that.

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  2. Hi Andy,

    Thank you for visiting my blog. In response to your question, I added a link to Google's management console to my post. It's a one-time price of $30 per device, but it's entirely worth it. With it, schools and districts are able to roll out hundreds of devices in one day.

    Alice

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  3. Enjoyed the post. I piloted Chromebooks with my fourth grade class and have been 1:1 for two years. I love it. Try Socrative available in the Play or iTunes Store awesome paired with Chromebooks for classroom response!

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    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post!

      I've been using Socrative for a few years now, too. I also like using Socrative when presenting at conferences. It's a great way to gauge the knowledge level of the participants while demonstrating its great features.

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  4. We are using GAFE as well and we are beginning to have great success with collaboration between students and teachers. Some of my reluctant teachers are even enjoying how they can communicate with students using an ongoing process. This basically allows them to assess the student documents and/or presentations as the students build them. My thoughts are that the end product for students will be much better because of the input they receive along the way. As a learner, I despise creating something and then going back and redoing or reviewing the entire document. Using GAFE, students can revise and edit in a "chunking" manner. So learning happens all through the process. BG City Schools

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    1. Thanks for the response and for sharing your success story. I agree that Google Docs are very powerful when it comes to the writing process. When we write essays, I like to pull up my students' Google Docs and calling them up for a 1:1 conference while they're writing an in-class essay. This helps steer them away from going down the wrong path before they finish their essays.

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  5. I love my Chormebooks!!! This is great post. The only thing I'm doing differently is using Weebly instead of Google Sites. I find Sites to be clunky and not intuitive. Weebly is truly a website creation tool. It's free for educators and students. Other than that, you are spot on with the worthiness of Chromebooks and Google Apps.

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    1. Knaus,

      Thank you for your comments! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

      I agree that Weebly is easier to use than Google Sites. I've build a few Weebly sites myself and am pleased with how beautiful they look.

      On the other hand, once I got over the learning curve (which I admit takes a bit of time), a Google Site is a powerful tool to use. It embeds everything Google seamlessly. If you customize the site instead of using the templates, a Google Site can be just as beautiful as a Weebly site. Also, some of the features of Weebly is only offered in their paid plans whereas you never have to pay for those features in a Google Site.

      Plus, I try to limit the number of accounts I ask my students to create.

      One thing I did is that I created a Google Site template with all the pages I think they'll need and published it. Then my students made a copy of the template so that they don't have to start from scratch. It's working out very well, and they aren't having trouble adding content to it at all.

      Alice

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  6. You must work with slightly older students than I...I Yeah 4 th and 5 th graders and have 1:1 chromebooks. I wish they could get in Google+ and participate and interact in a private community for writing and journal entries and to pay projects to share. Do you have any alternatives for me as Google doesn't allow students under the age of 13 to use Google+? (Other than setting up illegal accounts for them? )

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    1. Hi Amber,

      I teach 8th grade and Google+ isn't turned on in our GAFE accounts for any of our students, not even the high school kids.

      You can use Google Docs for writing journals, Google Slides for group presentations, and Google Moderator for online discussions.

      Alternatively, you can use a learning management system like Schoology to hold your online discussions, too. They integrate with Google Apps nicely. To read more about Schoology, look for my post "Why I Chose Schoology Over All the Rest" under my January 2013 blog archives.

      Hope this helps!

      Alice

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    2. Amber, Edmodo provides a nice newsfeed experience and integrates with Google Docs. Another LMS I have used that has great features is EDU2.0.org. However, if you watch closely there may be Google+ coming in the form of private communities which has launched recently. It's just not yet in the GAFE realm.
      Rock On,
      Charlie

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  7. Thanks Alice,
    I appreciate the specific lists and succinct style.
    We've been using GAFE for about 10 weeks and wow: what a ride. Communities and shared folders/files give us access to a paperless class (not there yet, but I see the light). Moving towards creating knowledge, not just distributing information.

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    1. Hi Mike,

      Thank you!

      I agree that it should be about content creation - especially in my English language arts classroom. I usually don't give more than 10 minutes of directed instruction because the rest of the period is spent practicing the skills I just went over. They are always trying to construct their own meaning out of what I just taught them. Or they scaffold each other's understanding because I've trained them on how to ask critical thinking questions. During online discussions, I don't ask the questions any more. My students do. And they answer each other's questions.

      Since I've gone 1:1, I have also gone entirely paperless. I don't go to the copy machine, and it's saved me so much time!

      When my students walk into my classroom, the first thing they do is open up the Chromebooks at their desk and go straight to my website. They do this even BEFORE the bell rings!

      I don't leave sub plans anymore. The sub I use knows that she just has to make sure my students are on task and to keep the Chromebooks safe when she leaves my classroom.

      I've always been a facilitator of learning, and Chromebooks have made that role even easier.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Alice

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  8. Hello Alice,
    Nice post...outlines very nicely how you utilize Chromebooks and GAFE in your classrooms. I teach in a grade 2 and 3 school computer lab. Our classrooms just began receiving Chromebooks. We're not 1:1, but we're getting those devices into the hands of students. I've been teaching with Google Apps for three years with grade 3 without Chromebooks in my lab. I'm now brainstorming to put together a proposal that will transform my computer class from pc's on tables to a more flexible work space using Chromebooks. I also want to recreate my curriculum so it is no longer "my curriculum". Rather, it would become a place that completely integrates with the classroom curriculum embracing the new focus on publishing in the CC writing standards. Your outline here is helpful even though it is for a higher grade level.

    Rock On,
    Charlie

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    1. Hi Charlie,

      Thank you for your response. I'm so glad that you feel my ideas are helpful for the lower grades as well.

      Good luck on that proposal!

      Alice

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  9. Hi Alice,
    I intend to take up my Phd at University of Auckland on Measuring the scopes and limitations of using GAFE in ESL classrooms in the Indian context. Your blog was very informative. If you could please help me by answering the following questions. How many students do you have in your classes and how did you go about implementing it? How long did it take you to educate your students to use GAFE?And what are the challenges that you faced.

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