Friday, September 19, 2014

Our First Week Using Google Classroom

When we got word this summer that Google Classroom would debut in the fall, we, like others, were excited at the opportunity to use a learning management system that would be integrated into the suite of Google apps. Many teachers in my building applied to be early adopters, wanting to get their hands on the beta version to see how we could use this tool in class. Would it be as good as Edmodo? Would the learning curve be big? Will it actually be a good tool, allowing us to work without it getting in the way? Well, we started using Classroom on Monday after kids got their Chromebooks last Friday (we just went 1:1). Here are some observations.

The interface is clean and easy to navigate. Adding classes was a breeze and having kids join my classes was a snap as well. We chose to do it by having the kids join a class with the class code. It took about ten minutes to get all of the kids in class up to speed.

The navigation for creating assignments and loading files and links into the assignment for the kids to use is also very intuitive. Click a button, load an assignment or link, and you're done. From the kids' perspective, they see all of their classes with the assignments for each of those classes in the little class box. They get a snapshot view of upcoming assignments. When they click on the assignment, they can get right to work; everything is right there for them.

Some things were tricky. We learned this week that students can create docs, presentations and spreadsheets right inside the assignment and, when they do, the assignment is named for them (their name and the name of the assignment appears at the top as the file name) and I, the teacher, automatically have permission to view the doc. One problem we ran into was that sometimes I had a student create a file in Drive and, since it was not created in Classroom, it was not automatically giving me permission to view. Only the files created IN classroom (Docs, Presentations, etc) automatically give the teacher accessibility. Otherwise, we must change permission on the file or link, just like before. This was an inconvenience but an easy fix.

A view of Google Classroom from inside one of my classes.

The way I decided to use the grading scale is as follows: if a kid has turned in the assignment, I put a 1/1 as the score. That tells them to go to the grade book (we use SIS) and see what their grade is. If a 0/1 appears as their score, it means that they have not turned it in or I could not open the file. This system saves me time by only having to enter grades in one place. Some kids had a problem finding, within the assignment box, where the 1/1 or 0/1 was. I looked around on my computer and didn't see it. As the impatience grew and a bit of whining ensued, I said, "Instead of waiting for me to figure it out, let's see which one of you can figure it out first!" Immediately, Claire's hand shot into the air. "I know how," she said. "Okay, everyone. Claire knows how. Claire, come up here and show everyone where to look." She took over the media stand (where my old compute sits attached to a projector and speakers) and proceeded to show the kiddos where to look. Then, she worked her way around the room pointing it out individually. As soon as she showed one kiddo, that student had to get up and show another student, etc. It went on like that for about five minutes until everyone knew.

We decided at the beginning of the week that Google Classroom is going to be the tool that we use. It's just too well-integrated and easy-to-use not to. We also decided, as classes, that there will be glitches along the way and that we would, as a group, solve them. I no longer am the answer-guy in class. I may be the one that directs the show, but that direction usually means matching kids up to learn together or, as in Claire's case, asking the kids to solve our real-life problems and then having them teach the others. It's a way of learning that is sometimes noisy and sometimes frustrating but always effective because the kids are actually figuring out relevant problems themselves or in collaboration with others. That's just how we roll!

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