Thursday, November 26, 2015

S2S Blog Connect

Blogging is a great way to get kids writing. If you haven’t tried it yet, there are a number of great platforms you can use with your students. If you are a Google Apps for Education school or district, I think Blogger is a great place to start.

When used in the classroom, by its very nature blog writing is specific and purpose-driven. Ideally, blogs have an audience and, when our students are ready, our blog authors enter into an analytical collaboration with their audience through the comment and response portion of blog writing. This is what takes it beyond simply journal writing. This is made all the more powerful by the fact that the audience is more than the typical student writing audience--The Teacher.

When we first start our students on blogs, we naturally want to get that audience for them as fast as we can. The easiest way, once we have faith in our students ability to comment and response like good digital citizens and with constructive feedback to give, is to have them read and comment on their classmates work. This is safe, quick, and often comforting for students if this is their first blog experience. However, this grows stale for the students and doesn’t really leverage the real audience they could be reaching, namely, the whole world.

This presents another challenge, though.

One of my fellow teachers, Stacie Ryan, and I kept having this happen:

Once kids were excited about blogging and wrote awesome blog entries, and the only thing missing was another set of students to read and comment on our students' work. But we had a hard time finding partner classes. It was turning out to be hard to find another class to blog with. We had no blog buddies.

So we came up with Student to Student Blog Connect (#S2SBC) as a simple tool to be a resource to give teachers with blogging students a place to find each other. We're just getting it going (almost up to 20 participants), so the more teachers spread the word and sign up, the more we'll all benefit.

The purpose of this Google form is to act as a collection & connection point for K-12 teachers who use blogging in their classrooms and want blog-pen-pals, a genuine audience, blog buddies, etc. for their class or students' blogs.

After you fill out the form and click submit, you will see the link to the results Sheet. On that sheet you'll find contact info for like-minded teachers who would also like to participate.   Please use their contact info respectfully.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Using Calendar to Give Parents a Peek into Google Classroom

Google Classroom has really made it easy for teachers and student to dive deep into Google Apps For Education; among the teachers I support it has been the gateway into moving away from a dependence on paper and towards more student creativity.  Although Google has been awesome at listening to teachers and updating and improving this product, there has been one persistent question from some teachers: What about the parents?

Google recently added Google Calendar integration to Classroom and it gives us an easy way to let parents see what's going on in Classroom without letting them in.

Before I get into how to do that, however, I want to make a pitch for the other side of this.  I'm going to get on my soapbox for a moment to say why I think its a good thing that parents don't have direct access.  If you aren't interested in that, skip the bullets below and scroll down to the picture.

Soapbox: Why it's just fine that parents cannot get into Google Classroom

  • No direct parent access means that parents and students have to sit down together and actually have a conversation.  One of my objections to LMS and SIS that allow parents to directly get into assignments or grades is that it allows parent to go leave their own kids out of the conversation--not all of them do this, but enough do that plenty of these conversations don't happen until a teacher asks "Did you ask your daughter/son about that?"  The other part of this is the parent taking letting kids off the hook to stay on top of school work and organization.
    One of the things I like about Google Classroom is that parent and child have to sit down together, the child logs in, and they talk about the students work and learning together.
  • Security - The fact that you have to have a GAFE account to even access classroom as a platform means that means that whole swaths of the internet not only don't have the keys to the kingdom, but they cannot even see it.  You can't hack what you can't see.  Second, since the domains are like bubbles, simply having a GAFE account in one domain doesn't mean you have access to any others.  The moment this is changed, even if it was just for regular Gmail accounts, that security is irrevocably compromised. 
  • Since it's strictly for educational use, and not published to the wider world, there is stronger fair-use protection.  As teachers and educators...we are borrowers and thieves.  This is not a criticism nor a condemnation, Igor Stravinsky is reported to have said, “A good composer does not imitate; he steals.”  As much as we should be teaching our students not to, we are ourselves guilty of stealing & borrowing freely from each other, the internet, books, etc.  How we get away with this, largely, is that we do not publish to the wider world, do not profit by our pilferage, are covered by the educational-use tenet of the legal argument known as fair-use.  Anything we put in Google Classroom is covered under this argument, because it's a closed loop.  If the loop is opened, even to "just parents," any protection afforded to our borrowing by fair-use is highly diminished.

Stepping off my soapbox...

With the new Calendar integration, each Google Classroom course you set up gets it's own integrated Google Calendar.  As the teacher, you can find these in your Google Calendar under the "My Calendars" section on the left of the page once you have turned it on in Classroom.  Students will find these in the "Other Calendars" section.  Any assignment or question you put into Google Classroom is automatically added to the calendar.  If you do not add a time to your due dates, they appear as all-day events--the top of the screen in the screencap below.

It looks great on mobile too:

Now all you have to do is make the Calendar public, and everyone can see what assignments and questions have been put into each course.  If you are embedding the calendar into your website, use the customization feature in Calendar's embed tool, and you can add all your Classroom Calendar to one place.  

ALSO, and kind of best of all, anything you add to the course calendars directly through Google Calendar is also visible to students and parents, so you can go beyond assignments and questions. In the example above, I added some multi-day events to note when units begin and end.  You could use that to let parents and student know when picture day is coming, when the big fundraiser is happening, what the dates of the field trips are, really anything.  

And this finally gives us a genuine purpose to teach our student how to use a digital calendar, a pretty necessary college and career skill, and the associated organization skills that go with it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Students In Google Classroom: Using the Add & Create Buttons

Google classroom is a great tool for teacher and students.  Although it is pretty intuitive, both teachers and students can get stuck in use-habits and overlook useful features. I have noticed that some of the teacher I work with are in the habit of always using an attachment when they post assignments in classroom, and since most of use don't see the Student Side of Google Classroom, they're not clear on what they're student do when there isn't an attachment.

This is a quick tutorial for teacher and students on using the ADD and CREATE buttons in Google Classroom.  Sometimes teachers using Google Classroom forget they do not have to attach a template or that they can start an assignment in class, maybe on the fly, but go back after students have started creating and add a Google Classroom assignment afterwards that students can still use as a turn in point that will still organize in Google Drive for the teacher.