Trialling Google Classroom

Google Classroom: a streamlined easy experience
Google Classroom: a streamlined, easy experience

I mentioned early on in my Mathemateers posts that I would be using Google Classroom to help me ‘deliver content’. So a few words about Google Classroom.

It’s easy. Really easy.

As the teacher, I choose my students from the Google Apps for Education users (we have Years 2-6 set up as individual users). The children receive an email to ‘accept’ the invite, or they can enter a code to join the new class that has set up. From there I can do one of two things:

  1. Make an announcement.
  2. Set an assignment.

The only difference in functionality between the two is that the children don’t have to respond to announcements. With assignments I write a title, write a sentence or two of description, set a due date and then I can attach ‘content’ in various ways:

  • as an uploaded attachment,
  • as a Google Drive file (docs, slides, sheets or drawings),
  • as a Youtube video,
  • as a URL.
The assignment screen on Google Classroom
The assignment screen on Google Classroom

It’s over to the students then. Each of my students has a touchscreen Chromebook – this may seem extravagant, but at less than £170 per device I think it is well worth the investment.

I’ve added Google Classroom to the screen of their Chromebooks via the Google Apps admin console, so it’s right there whenever they log on to their device. They can open it and quickly see which assignments they have done, or are yet to do, or (occasionally) are late at handing in.

Like the teacher, they can attach work to their ‘turn in’ comment. So far this has range from Google Drawings to screenshots of other work they have done online. This takes a bit of training, but once they’ve been through the routine a couple of times they soon have the hang of what to do when they have finished their assignment.

So far I’ve mainly used it for homework – it’s so satisfying to know that students are doing meaningful work without sending them home with polypockets full of photocopied worksheets.

It’s early days so far – I’ve only been using it with children for four weeks, but I can’t wait to get it going with the whole school. It may just revolutionise the way we do homework…

Developing Digital Literacies. #4: have a safe place to experiment.

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

4. Have a safe area to experiment.

Schools are safe places to make mistakes. As the behaviour co-ordinator, I have several incidents throughout the year were children make mistakes and then I try to teach them ways to avoid the making that mistake again. Examples include: using an angry tone of voice; responding violently or aggressively to a stressful incident; using inappropriate language. If an eight year old can be taught to respond to stress without using violence, then that will help them immensely when they are older – the violence a 14 year old or a twenty year old could perpetrate is potentially a lot more harmful than that of an eight year old.

Surely the same is true of online communication.

When children at my school email each other insults, it gives me a chance to talk to them about losing their temper online. We use Google Apps at my school and the system is set so that children can only contact other members of the school – any mistakes are kept within the school online environment, just as mistakes on the playground are kept within the school. This means I can educate children about the dangers of losing their temper when their fingers are near a keyboard; or taking a playground grudge online – such things are recorded. I would far rather children make these mistakes using Google Drive and Gmail within the protection my school’s domain than when they’re older on Facebook and Twitter, or indeed on a public Google Drive or Gmail account.

There are many other alternative safe places to Google Apps that schools can use – Edmodo, Frog and J2E are just some examples that I have flirted with in the past.

Using Google Calendars to organise my school

One of the things that I found a real bind when I became a deputy headteacher was organising the school’s rotas and timetables. No school can operate in chaos – several spaces have to be shared (despite my negativity towards shared spaces) – and so timetables have to exist to make sure that we don’t get two classes turning up to the same hall all togged up in their PE kits, and then one class having to turn back.

For a couple of years now I’ve been using Google Calendars to help me organise the school. It look like this.

The main calendars for our school – PPA, Main Hall, Small Hall, PPA, Visits and Vistors

Now that might look like a big mess, but what is important is that none of the colours overlap. That means no two classes are in the same place at the same time. There: chaos averted.

It starts by me sharing a Google Doc with all the staff to ask them when they want to use their various spaces. I then place their classes on the various calendars to give them their best wishes as much as possible. Where classes occur, I normally talk to the teacher to find a second best option. Once all that’s done, the calendars are ready to be checked – no overlaps means perfection – no clashes.

I’m aware that computer screens are not everyone’s first choice for reading information, so I then print out the calendars (how dreadfully old-fashioned!). Despite the advances in recent iterations of Google Docs, I still prefer Microsoft Word for the print medium…

The “Main Hall” Calendar

…so I use Jing to cut and paste each calendar into a Microsoft Word document. I can then display the calendars on a noticeboard in the staffroom.

But it is not over there. Oh No. As you’ll notice from the “Main Hall” calendar, there are many times during the week when the Main Hall is used. And it just might be that some teacher wants to use the Main Hall for an additional session. Can they do this without asking me directly? Yes! Because I have setup each of these calendars as a ‘resource calendar’. This means that when you add an event to your own calendar, you see a list of ‘rooms’ that you can do that event in. If the room is already booked then it won’t appear on the list – so teachers when planning their week know instantly if they can use the room they want to or if they have to make other arrangements.