A year ago I reflected on how I used Google Docs to coordinate year-end group projects for my 10th grade World History students. They used a spreadsheet to keep track of their work and typed up their notes and created their presentation in Moodle. It was a substitution, or perhaps an augmentation, of what they would have been able to do without Google Docs (now Drive). This year I thought about how I could make the experience not just easier in terms of workflow, but also in terms of learning. I accomplished this by focusing on feedback and motivation.
Working from the premise that the quality of work improves when 1) students get prompt feedback and 2) feel they are creating something for an audience other than their peers, I changed the structure of project to incorporate additional components:
A research skills component that required students to evaluate the credibility of the sources in another group’s bibliography and share their feedback with that group (next time I’ll have the kids leave this feedback as comments within the bibliography rather than a separate document so that it’s immediately apparent)
More rigorous feedback on my part, using comments within Google Drive to give praise and constructive criticism promptly and regularly
Regular showcase demonstrations of exemplary work to the class as we passed each checkpoint, which I could do since each group kept their work in a folder that was shared with me.
These three components required students to create for a peer audience and also gave them numerous opportunities, along with concrete examples, of how they could improve their work. Kids also appreciated being showcased and it created a real sense of camaraderie. There’s something really cool about having an entire class applaud someone’s work.
I felt I got closer to a redefinition this time around – not because leaving feedback is novel, but because giving intra-class peer feedback between 20+ students at a time is impractical to the point of impossibility. It’s just another way that Google Docs helps streamline the process of learning: it helps you get away from getting kids to DO things and lets you focus on getting them to LEARN things.
The final project for the COETAIL program is a <10 minute video documenting your experiences implementing technology in practice. Rather than opting for a screencast or digital story foramt, I chose to make an infomercial as a kind of tribute to Billy Mays:
I probably put too much work into it, and a lot of that was a function of my inexperience and lack of equipment. Here are a few lessons I learned:
Proper planning will save you editing time. I didn’t have a separate mic for my camcorder (and the built-in mic was too noisy), so I recorded sound separately using an iPhone headset mic with my Galaxy Note 2 phone. This resulted in a separate audio and video track that I had to sync up manually in Final Cut Pro X. It was time-consuming and a PITA. Had I planned ahead and borrowed a mic with fully charged batteries from Sound and Lights Club, I would have saved myself a lot of editing time.
Hardware counts. Entry-level hardware is fine for simple videos, but my Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro from 2009 struggled to keep up with scrolling and moving clips once I had multiple pictures, videos, and titles in the project – even with 8GB of RAM and an SSD. The 13″ screen wasn’t big enough for the FCPX interface, either. Consider reserving space in a lab with iMacs or other workstations.
Acting is hard. This should be apparent enough from my awkward performance. When people think of making a video they often think of shooting your own footage, but I would try to shy away from this. Without training (which I indeed lack) it results in lackluster results.
Clear your schedule. It took me hours and hours to do this – probably between 1.5 and 2 hours of work for every minute of video you see.
As a teacher in Kuwait, I always relish the opportunity to escape Kuwait whenever possible and spend the weekend drinking Belgian beer meet other like-minded teachers and learn practical applications of 21st century pedagogy. The selection and quality of the keynote speakers and keynotes at the UAE Google Apps for Education Summit at the American School of Dubai made this one of the best PDs I’ve done to date. A few highlights:
1) ASD Showcase
ASD hosted a showcase on the first day to highlight their students’ achievements using technology. They were predominantly examples of how technology had modified assessment: PSAs created in Final Cut Pro by the video production class, virtual posters made on Glogster by 5th graders, Lego programming with Scratch done by 4th graders, various presentations in Prezi and Google Presentations, and short history graphic novels designed using Comic Life. Other displays highlighted how technology had truly redefined instruction: a 1st grade class used Explain Everything and shared their work by miroring their displays to a projector with AirShow, while the PE classes used iPod touches to record video to peer-evaluate form and technique.
See how many students in ASD’s showcase used tools in the cloud made me reevaluate my stance on Google’s Chromebook line. I had previously thought that they were limited to surfing the web and doing Google Docs, since there are no local apps and everything is done through the browser. But hey, it turns out that you can edit videos in the cloud using YouTube and Animoto! Chromebooks still aren’t appropriate for heavy-duty digital media, but at a $200-$250 price point they don’t need to be. For schools on a budget who want to go 1 to 1 but don’t want to do a BYOD policy, I’d tentatively recommend them – specifically Samsung’s $250 model for a 7-hour battery life or HP’s version for a 14″ screen.
3) Hapara’s Teacher Dashboard
Hapara’s third-party addon for Google Docs gives teachers a dashboard where they can see all of their students’ recent work/emails/blog posts/blog comments at a glance. It’s $4/year/student, but it makes Google Drive’s interface a lot more manageable and injects a measure of accountability into the “wildly creative” and independent nature of collaborative learning.
4) Infrastructure tour
ASD has a university-quality network setup thanks to the planning of IT Director Grant Weaver. It’s been key to the success of their 1-to-1 program, which is just about having an internet connection for every student as it for having a device for each student. The highlights for me included:
PFSense boxes that aggregated 11 DSL lines into a single pool of bandwidth for the campus
An Aruba WiFi implementation that allows them to manage number of devices connecting, allowing students and faculty one laptop and one other mobile device (the Aruba controller can tell the type of device connecting to its hotspots)
Linux-based print controllers running PaperCut connecting to each shared laser printer, which require users to be physically present to release their print jobs and thus cuts down on paper wastage
Palo Alto application-based firewalls – this allows them to, say, restrict Facebook at all times except for lunch, or limit YouTube streaming to 1Mbps instead of cutting it off completely, or block torrent downloads during the day but not overnight.
I saw two ways of creating e-portfolios using Blogger and Google Sites. For a portfolio made for a single deadline, I’d recommend using Google Sites since it offers more control over the organization and layout of your site. Blogger is more oriented towards a chronological series of posts and makes it harder to control the layout and organization, but that same attribute means it’s good for capturing a students progress over time, such as over the three years of middle school
6) Haiku LMS
ASD decided to use Haiku as their Learning Managment System (LMS). Its featureset is pretty similar to Moodle, but the interface seems simpler and more polished, it offers Google Apps integration, and crucially it offers much more control over the appeaance and layout of individual courses. This makes it more useful for disseminating general information about a class. At ASD, the elementary school has one course set up for each grade level that functions as a portal for parents. This implementation is slowly replacing the previous internal community portal powered by Google Sites.
Five Sessions I Wish I Could Have Attended
I couldn’t fit all the sessions into my schedule, but if I could have then I would have added a few more:
20 Top Apps Workshop: this apparently was like a mini Google Slam, where 20 useful tools were demoed in about 3 minutes each.
Visual literacy workshop: I’d better get on board with this if I don’t want to miss out on the wave of the future. Farewell, print literacy!
Youtube workshops: I’ve always thought that iMovie was THE way to edit movies, but between YouTube and Animoto there are more and more ways for students to create multimedia stories. I’m assuming this is what you’d use to edit video on a Chromebook.
Digital Citizenship: I wish I did more in my classes to develop the children as individuals, not just as students. I attended two previous NESA conferences to get a Habits of Mind certificate, and this falls into the same vein.
Google Apps Mashups: Because anything I can do to make my planning and teaching workflow more like DJ Danger Mouse and Girl Talk must be a good thing. Also heard that this was a popular (and therefore overcrowded) session.
I was already familiar with many of the pedagogical concepts presented in the sessions and keynotes (a wild era of creativity, the necessity of collaboration, etc etc etc) but the showcase and infrastructure impressed one thing upon me as a classroom teacher and future IT coordinator: the technology needs to be a seamless part of the learning process; it must be transparent and effortless. Asking student to open their laptops and start writing a collaborative brainstorm is vastly different from explaining the task in class, having them gather materials, taking them to a lab, and then getting them set up again. Even mobile laptop carts don’t match the seamlessness of a 1:1 program – there’s still overhead in the setup and takedown process. Next year, as the IT Coordinator of a small school, I’ll look to implement this philosophy wherever I can.
At our last faculty meeting we read an article on how to give meaningful homework. It recommended that homework should check for understanding, provide opportunities for practice, and let students take ownership while avoiding “busywork” tasks.
This year I’ve incorporated these principles and leveraged technology to make collaborative homework a regular feature of my classes. For each new topic or chapter of the textbook my students complete an assignment that I’ve creatively named “History Circles.” They’re based off of Lit Circles done in many English classes, and are a way of giving students the opportunity to practice different skills through the content. The nice thing about History Circles is that they distribute responsibility, enable simultaneous workflows, and maintain accountability while reinforcing content and a diverse skillset. Continue reading Showcase: History Circles→