I have decided to finally learn about Google Classroom. I have been using google drive in a self-taught way for the past year. I’ve been swimming around in familiar terminology like Google Apps for Education, google docs, google slides, google, sheets, google Drive, Google Classroom, never fully understanding how they all relate to each other and what comprises a “Google Classroom”. First I did some searching around for a tutorial. I found one from August 2015 but, after creating some classrooms, I realized that the features shown in the video (for creating assignments, etc) were not the same in the current Classroom I was creating. After much searching around for an “everything in one place” set of current video tutorials (took much longer than I thought necessary, so I was frustrated), I landed on Vicki Davis’s 100+ GREAT GOOGLE CLASSROOM RESOURCES FOR EDUCATORS website, but it was more of a hodgepodge of sites rather than one that would take me from beginner and then move on to the next most useful ‘practices” and so on. I looked at a few of her suggestions and settled on this recommendation because Vicki referred to Alice Keeler as one of the experts.:
I’ve selected this blog post to start with: 10 Things to Start with in Google Classroom What I like about it already, only having read the first few steps, is that she provides instructional tips/suggestions for using the Classroom apps with students, such as “I highly recommend you number all of your Google Classroom assignments. Start EACH assignment with a number such as #001, #002, etc… This makes is really easy to refer students to the correct spot in Google Classroom. This is also helpful since you are unable to reorder assignments and announcements in the stream“. Steps 1-9 took me from creating a class to posting an assignment and an assignment with a link and how I might manage the assignment with students. Alice’s suggestion to start with an announcement that lets the students “get all their silliness out” (since it’s probably the first time they’ve used Google Classroom also) prompted me to begin with “Welcome to our 6th grade library class Google Classroom! Let’s start out by posting a message from yourself to the rest of the class. What would you like to say?”. At first it seems like an invitation for disaster, leaving the field wide open for inappropriate or attention-grabbing statements. But, I was encouraged by Alice’s followup suggestion to have the next announcement be “a friendly reminder of what types of comments are helpful to everyone in the class and when comments should be made or not made.” I’m still not sure if I’ll begin with this, because I’m not sure how I can avoid embarrassing certain students. However, her suggestion for having students introduce themselves for the first assignment, helped me recall a kind of “About me” activity I did round-robin style in the classroom. So for the 1st assignment in Google Sites, I adapted it to also give (me and) the students experience with an embedded, editable slide that would become a collaborative slideshow. Here are my first-draft instructions:
#001 “Once Upon a Time” slideshow: Is there a memorable book in your life, one that brings back a good memory?
Open a new slide in the attached slideshow and do the following: 1. Name the book (if you can’t remember the exact title, just try your best), 2. Give a brief description of what the story was about (just a few sentences) and, MOST IMPORTANT, 3. What is your good memory about this book? If possible, insert an image of the cover of the book and/or an image having to do with the book.
- I began the assignment with a number as suggested in the tutorial since, according to Alice, since we’re unable to reorder the assignments and announcements in the stream.
- I’m thinking I will follow up the lesson, which most likely involved students copy & pasting a google image of their book’s cover, with a lesson on image usage-rights and how to credit an image source.
Step 10 of Alice Keeler’s article, below, brings me exactly to the point where I question how I will use Google Classroom when I want my informational focus (by my students) to be my library website and the resources I’ve made available there.
10. Develop this Mantra – All Things Start in Google Classroom
Do not use Google Classroom sometimes, use it for EVERYTHING. Getting students into the habit that they go to Google Classroom first for everything creates a very smooth workflow with your students.
I am thinking that I might rather, have my students access my Classroom from the Pathfinder section of my (OPALS software) library website. I just finished my first year in the middle school and have begun building grade-level pathfinders where I can post resources for content-area classes who are using library resources. In the Grade 6 section, I already have a link to Grade 6 Library Class. Yet, I wonder if, as I’m beginning to understand Google Classroom and how it is accessed by students, I’m thinking that it might be better to have a Google Classroom icon/link on my home page alongside my other shortcuts, such as our single-login database page. In this way, my library homepage is an alternative portal to all the middle school Google Classrooms our students have access to. What I could do, and what I’ve been wanting to do, is move away from the OPALS software Pathfinders page, which is a bit “old fashioned” and, in creating resource guides for content area classrooms, use one of the curation tools I learned about in Thing 5 and make that link available within their own classroom. To tie the resource content to the library, I could name the link Library Resources. Just thinking…
Next I chose a related blog post Google Classroom: What do Kids do First? and knew right away I found a practical tutorial when Alice began with this sentence: “I was asked on Twitter what the very first activity 6th graders might do when introducing Google Classroom. There is no “right” answer to this question. Here is my suggestion: We do not teach tech, we teach content with tech. While I would structure the first activities to acclimate the students to the Google Classroom environment, I would not do it solely for the purpose of learning the tech. Think of the educational learning objectives and create a simple activity around that.” Again, her suggestion to use the first activity to “get the silliness out” (even for adult students) appeared, based on her experience. This time she suggests having students use the + sign at the bottom of the Stream to post “something appropriate for school”. Following up with a brief digital citizenship discussion focuses on this being a collaborative learning space and the kinds of comments (or questions) that can be helpful or help us as a class grow.
I have to stop here to state how thankful I am that I found a Google Classroom tutorial/blog that offers tips and practical techniques for using the features in Google Classroom instructionally in addition to the steps needed for using a particular feature.
When I consider all the other tutorials I viewed and almost settled on (and my sense of frustration with the amount of time I was taking with nothing to show for it), I am so glad that I persevered.
As I continued reading other Alice Keeler posts on the blog I realized that I could use the About section of my Practice Class to build a resource list of my favorite articles/posts to keep on hand as I begin to use Classroom in the fall. I especially liked Google Classroom: LMS or NOT? which, while comparing and contrasting LMS and CMS with GC, I learned more specifically the value of each and developed a much better understanding for how GC relates to google Drive. The next most valuable post was how to use side by side windows (and about the Classroom Split Chrome extension) which enables students to view assignment instructions while at the same time working on the assignment. A burning question of mine regarding the arduous task of recreating a Class for each section (class period) I would be teaching was answered in 5 Potential Mistakes in Google Classroom where Alice Keeler examines the original article by J. Sowash (link is within Keeler’s article) and offers workarounds/alternatives to some of the limitations (things to avoid) J. Sowash warns against, such as creating more than one class for each class: one Classroom that combines all sections (for assignments, submissions, and grading) and then each section’s individual classroom where discussions take place relevant to the lesson and the assignments. Since I haven’t used GC yet, I’m not sure whether or not this idea is workable for me. I also explored the Collaborative Notes article and strategies and Using a Writing Journal (thinking of my ELA teachers and wondering if they know about this idea). One thing I didn’t find or learn how to do is seeing my Classrooms from the student side. Alice Keeler’s article Use This Image for Students Turning in Work explained that the thumbnail teachers see when they attachment a document to an assignment isn’t seen on the students end. Therefore, she has created 2 thumbnail images to attach when we attach an assignment document (image: “Remember to Click Open and Tutn In”) or, when there is not an attachment with the assignment (image: “Remember to Click Open and Mark as Done”). Keeler has made both of these available as PNG images to download, however I had trouble testing them out in my Practice classroom because I kept getting the message that I didn’t have the rights to post the images. I tried various ways of saving the images but haven’t solved the problem yet. But when I get the ability to use the thumbnail images, I won’t have the ability to see the benefits of using the thumbnails or not until I find out how to view the assignment from the student side.
Overall, I am so glad I chose Google Classroom for the DIY Thing. Now, as my mind often wanders to instructional ideas for the coming year, I have a schemata in which to visualize instructional possibilities and ways to engage students more directly as they work individually or collaboratively.