Hip With The Technologies: Google Classroom

A Disclaimer

I am currently teaching three sections of integrated science/social studies, two with third grade and one with fourth, and I am very fortunate to work in an environment where instructional risks are both encouraged and supported. Our school is small– one teacher shy of two-round (but that’s a whole different story). We are not 1:1, but we do have a Learning Lab equipped with close to forty full-size laptops and several minis on carts that usually work, if you cross your fingers, toes, and prepare a human sacrifice. Additionally, I’ve begged, borrowed, and splurged to equip my classroom with enough devices for nine students at a time.

It’s really important to me that my students are prepared to participate in our technology-driven society. That being said, the tools I spend my time learning and incorporating are used because they facilitate what we do– they themselves are not the focus. I would need at least 58 more limbs to count all of the times I’ve planned to do something on the computers and they’re not charged or the wifi is down or aliens have sabotaged them, so having paper, pencils, and Plans B-Z lined up are a necessity if you’re at all interested in maintaining your sanity.

I am not an expert, just a teacher trying to stay hip with the technologies. If you are too, I hope this helps! In the immortal words of High School Musical, we’re all in this together– so please, please, triple please share how you stay hip with the technologies, too!

Google Classroom

I’ve played around with Google Classroom (GC) before, but this is the first year I’m implementing it, full steam ahead. There are about a million things you could do with it, and I’m just beginning to discover maybe the first ten. Here are some highlights on how it’s working for me so far:

Questions The questions feature is how I piloted GC for the first time with each of my classes. I used Google Drive a lot with my fourth graders when I had them last year, so that made my life a BAZILLION times easier because they were all fairly comfortable with accessing their accounts. The third graders will get there 🙂  Here’s what it looks like when you’ve posted a question to the class stream:

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In my view, I can see who has/hasn’t submitted an answer the the question. Students can’t see this. You can choose whether/not you want students to see each other’s answers, which I often do because I like using Questions as a springboard for discussion. It’s also great for reciprocal teaching! Last week, I asked my fourth graders to post one thing they wondered following a map investigation we did in small groups, and then students were asked to try to answer each other’s “wonders.” This was a quick thing to post, and spoke VOLUMES about what students understood about the content we were working on.

Questions are also perfect for introducing what can be an overwhelming tool to the little nuggets in your life (e.g. third graders). Just navigating the web and logging into our classroom page is a cumbersome task at the beginning of the year, so I think it’s a good call to keep it simple for now. MAJOR props to my primary counterparts and media specialist for laying the groundwork here, or we’d be riding the Hot Mess Express for sure!

Assignments Assignments are one of the beefier options in Classroom, and it’s what we’re working on in fourth grade.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 9.09.33 PM

It’s really helping us to go paperless, because I’m able to compile resources I want them to check out in a Google Doc and share it with them rather than printing them all out. I can send students a digital copy of an assignment to submit using the resources I’ve shared, but for now I’m still printing this component and having them complete a paper copy, like the one below that goes with our Interpreting Maps assignment:

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 9.14.04 PM

This week, we’ll be test-driving Assignments to facilitate a smarter-not-harder approach to collaborating for small group research projects. I created a template for note-taking and project expectations in Google Slides, and through Assignments I’m able to share a copy of the template with each group so that they can edit it together:

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.58.09 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.58.29 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.59.03 PM

Major Pros

 1 // Everything is so organized and streamlined. It’s a cake walk to track student performance/progress and communicate it with parents.

2 // SO MUCH LESS JUNK. My fourth grade class currently has 34 students, so the fact that GC can house all of their work rather than being up to my eyeballs in papers is pretty awesome.

3 // It’s a great tool for formative assessment. A lot of our class time is structured so that the class is split into thirds– one third meeting with me for direct instruction, one third working on GC, and the remaining third doing some kind of extension activity connected to our content. I can post videos, pictures, or links to texts for students to read and respond to, as a way to reinforce whatever we’re working on in small group so that I can take a pulse of their understanding.

4 // It’s so easy for me to access and showcase exemplar work. I love pulling great work the kids are doing and sharing it before we dive into the day, because it gives other students something to aspire to and keeps them all on their a-game 😉

5 // COLLABORATION! I love that it can act as a format for student discussions. All of the Google tools are great for that, really– collaborative projects are so much easier to manage because students can co-edit the same document from different devices as they gather notes or work on their products. If you’re looking for your #1 fan, Google, look no further.

Things to Consider

1 // Everything falls apart if serious routines and expectations aren’t established first. I’m only on year three of teaching and I think I’ve gotten a lot better at this, but it’s definitely going to be something I’ll be tweaking forever. There’s no way I can run three rotations– with two being independent– if I’m doubling as Big Brother. On that note..

2 // LOTS OF MODELING. The first few times we accessed GC, we did it as a whole class so they could see my screen as we navigated through how to use it. Use this opportunity to identify a few “expert students” who can help to troubleshoot when you are working with others. It also helps to give students some “What If” directives (as in, “What happens if I can’t log in/edit my answer/aliens sabotage my computer?”) so they know what to do if you are unavailable and buddies can’t help.

3 // I made a point to address the chat feature immediately with a zero-tolerance policy. When students are working on something you’ve assigned through Google Docs/Slides, they have the option of chatting with the other students viewing the file. Ain’t nobody got time to monitor chat conversations, so any “chatting” that needs to happen about their work has to be done via the “Comments” tool.

4 // Digital citizenship should be addressed and re-addressed over and over again. The great thing about Google– and I make sure to share this with the kids– is that just about everything you do can be recovered in the revision history. Every. Single. Keystroke. This really comes in handy for those kiddos who accidentally delete things or edit over someone else’s work, and it’s also good for double-checking that everyone is making productive, school-appropriate choices.

What are some creative ways you’ve used Google Classroom with your little people? The school year is just beginning and I’m so excited to learn more about how to use it to its full potential! Here’s to working smarter, not harder, and staying hip with the technologies 🙂


Author: Erica the Great

Wife, momma, teacher, and a twenty-something for a little while longer. Every day, I'm a lot of things for a lot of people. This space? It's just for me.

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