Just a fair warning, this may come across as an advertisement but I assure you that I am not receiving any funds for promoting these products. One can only wish right?
In my first post I spoke about the professional challenge I took this year fully implementing technology throughout my professional practice. To be completely honest, IT WAS TERRIFYING!! There was a huge learning curve involved and huge risks involved that could potentially create a huge mob of students, parents and teachers carrying pitchforks and wanting to burn me at the stake. Being the risk taker that I am, I fully embraced this change, fought the fights I had to and in the end I found that i did reach my goal for this change: student engagement and success increased and my professional efficiency went through the roof .
WHY AM I DOING THIS:
When taking on any challenge, I always needed to have an endpoint and start my planning backwards from there. Initially, I wanted to approach this challenge for one reason: I have a baby coming any day now and I need to find a way to be as efficient as I can as an educator and to make time to take on my priority role of being a father. My secondary goal was to find a platform that would promote student engagement, accountability and enhance learning in my courses.
I found that keeping these goals in mind really kept me on track when I began implimenting these changes and the challenges that came with them. I knew from the beginning that I had to really understand the WHY behind this huge challenge that I set ahead of me. Without the why it has a 90% chance of failure and I knew that the stakeholders in this experiement have zero expectations of failure.
HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS:
That was a question that took me all summer to research and plan for (and you guys thought I just travelled around playing slopitch all summer, fooled you!). There are a million-and-one online tools out there for educators and it is not an easy choice to commit to just one platform. When I was looking for just the right platform I had a few key qualities in mind:
- Ease of access to teachers, students and parents: For this to be sucsessful, all three of these groups needed to have ease of access. It had to be streamlined enough for students to effectivly use it to collaborate, be informed of their assessments and help keep them organized. Parents had to have easy access to this so that they were informed of what is going on and they could also support their children from home by having the required materials for those pesky lessons that students may struggle with. I also needed to be able to effectivly manage the platform so that it was organized (OCD here) and that it could be navigated effectivly by students no matter their experience with tech.
- Seemless use over multiple devices: My philosophy is that if you have it, use it. If a student has a smartphone, why not teach them that they can use it instead of enforcing an archaic rule that phones should not be in class. The platform that I needed had to be easily usable on any device that the student could bring into the classroom
- K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Silly): I think its rediculous when you have to login to an account, be redirected to another site, have to login with a different account and then use a different program or software to create a product. The simpler the platform, the easier it is for me to teach the students how to use it and we can move on to the actual learning
In the end, I made the decision to use Google Classroom and their suite of sweet apps and programs (Chrome, Docs, Sheets, Slides, ect). I will admit, there are some flaws with this platform but the benefits greatly outweigh its drawbacks!
- it can get really messy REALLY fast: With its “Facebook Timeline” style of structure it can easily communicate information but that information can easily get lost in a growing and never ending list of announcements, assignments and discussions. But it is easy to keep things organized in a growing list of chaos. There is a really neat feature where you can add topics to your classroom. These topics can be used to organize assessments, daily announcements and other items so that students can easily access the applicable material.
- if you are going to commit to it, you might as well commit all the way: Google works best with google and there are some hiccups with other products (like Keynote, Publisher, ect). Some students got hung up on using some of these programs and would submit work that was google classroom was not able to open. It took some time and procedures in place but slowly the students started to figure it out. All it took was a lot of patience and some support to help the process along!
- Multiple Platforms for Multiple Classes: this was an issue I did not see coming until I was in the middle of the semester and students started complaining about “I have to login to here for this class, login to there for this class and use this for this class”. Obviously out of one teachers control, but anyone can tell you that consistency is key for changes to take place and become common place practice. If you or your school is looking to explore the realm of going paperless, make sure that you all are using the same platform for the students sanity. We forget that they are just little adults and how much work they actually do have on their plate. Its suppose to make things easier, not more confusing.
In short, the juice was definitely worth the squeeze! When I started using the platform and had the students trained and educated on how to work the system I witnessed the quality of learning go through the roof!!
- student collaboration and accountability levels went through the roof: I’m a firm believer that if a teacher established clear structures of student accountability in their class, the quality of learning will drastically increase. Simply put, when they care about the subject manner and are given high/realistic expectations to meet, they will rise above and demonstrate their learning with pride. Using google classroom it easily made students accountable for submitting and completing their work. To avoid the “well I didn’t know” response I started to put my lesson plans and resources on a daily announcement called “What We Did in Class” and this ended that age old excuse. Students get notification right to their devices and emails when I make these announcements so unless they actually go out of their way to avoid the message, they are on page for what went on in my class (minus the lip syncing and dancing usually takes place). If students are actively avoiding the message, then that is a whole other conversation that provides a great opportunity to communicate to the student the value of these announcements
- Assessment FOR and AS Learning was given a home: this year I really wanted to make assessment for and as learning a physical presence in my classroom through formative assignments, concept work and discussion on google classroom. Linking all of this work to the “Assessments” tab gave the students clear access to what they need to complete to document their learning and development journey. In terms of using this in a Physical Education context, this is a great place for SPORTFOLIOS: a documentation of the journey to developing movement competency and development, understanding of physical activity contexts, developing the motivation to continue an active lifestyle and to document their understanding of the importance and value of physical education. This will be covered in a future post when I finalize this process so stay tuned!
- Did I mention that communication with students and parents is easy: students and parents now can easily know exactly what is going on in class, how they have done on their assessments, can get direct feedback on their formative assessments and can easily contact the teacher for feedback. This has made my life so much easier!!
- I have never been this efficient: I feel that my preparation time and instructional time is as efficient as it has ever been. There is no more taking time to hand out papers, kids just open up the links and away they go! Need to make a change to a document, you can do it live and the students have the newest edition just as soon as you have finished it! My ultimate goal was to be more efficient to spend more time with my new family and this has definitely happened!
So, now that you have read this and hear my story of going paperless I have a question for you: what is stopping you? Take it from me, it has been the best professional decision I have made for me and my students!
Until next time, take risks and stay active my friends!