Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Top 5 Reasons to Implement GAFE with Primary Students

It feels like it was just yesterday that I introduced Google Apps for Education to my students. In reality, it has been about a year and a half since I started integrating GAFE in my classroom. Needless to say, it has been a huge success - for my students and for myself.

Part of the fun for me revolves around documenting and sharing our learning so that others can benefit from our experiences. I recently took some time to reflect on what I consider to be the major benefits of using GAFE with students, particularly primary students. Here are my top 5:

1. It's Empowering
There is nothing more exciting than taking a step back in your classroom to watch and listen to your students as they work on a given task/assignment. It is one thing to have a group of students engaged in a task but it is another to see that they are empowered. What started with engagement has moved to empowerment. The students have moved from being interested in what they are doing to using GAFE to express their interests. I first noticed this last year and thought that maybe it was an anomaly but the same thing is happening with my students this year. They have discovered that the tools allow them to express themselves in ways that they weren't aware of before using GAFE. They have quickly learned how to leverage the technology to create, collaborate, and express themselves and are doing so often. Feeling empowered is a game changer and my students are experiencing what it is like to be intrinsically motivated and to act on that motivation. 

2. Allows for Dynamic Feedback
My students are constantly sharing the work they are doing in their GAFE accounts with their friends, family, and myself. They want me (and others) to see what they are working on. They want to know what we think of their work and how they can make their work better. GAFE makes it easy for them to share their work anytime, anywhere, from almost any device and the people they have shared their work with can respond/provide feedback anytime, anywhere, from almost any device. This experience, the ability to gather feedback from whoever you want without having to hand your work over to them has been very beneficial to my students and myself. Here is a good example for you: while a student is actively working on a task in class they will provide their friends, parents, and teacher with commenting rights to their work. As they are actually working in their document, a classmate of two will jump into their work (document/drawing/slide), see what they are doing, and provide some feedback*. I might also get a chance during the day to check their work and leave a comment. I will make sure to check in again in the evening and see how they have (or have not) used my feedback and that of others to improve their work. Instead of physically handing their work to me or someone else, their work lives in one place where many people can offer suggestions for improvement. GAFE allows me to provide my students with feedback without having to take their work away from them and it allows them to gather feedback without interrupting their work flow.

3. Builds Capacity around Technological Literacy & Digital Citizenship
Our society is ever changing, more so today then when I was 7 years old. GAFE is helping my students build capacity around technological literacy and digital citizenship. They are learning how to effectively use technological tools to benefit their learning and their lives. They recognize that technology and cloud computing is constantly changing and that it can offer them fun and innovative ways to learn and create artifacts that are helpful to themselves and to others. They are also becoming more aware of their digital identities - how to protect them and how to interact with others. With the ease of sharing and interaction there is a responsibility to be good people and to make the right choices. GAFE provides my students with a relatively safe experience that they can build upon as new technologies arise. Their expertise and openness leaves them primed for the future - they are ready to harness what comes next in order to be successful. 

4. Allows for Natural Collaboration
My students don't do a lot of work in isolation, they generally want to work with their classmates. When working in their GAFE accounts, on what I would deem an "individual" task, I will see them calling each other over to take a look at what they are working on and I will hear them asking for suggestions, providing ideas to each other, and I will even see them editing each others work. Then I start to hear "I'm going to share this with you so you can work together when you are at home". I have seen all my students doing this - from the shy introverts to the loud extroverts. This is when things go to the next level, their time at home. The will work on slides or documents together! I asked a few of my students about working together - why they want to work with others and why they invite others to work with them. Their response was that "it is fun...you get better ideas when others help....and...sometimes people helping know more about how to do something thank I do". Wow. There are times when a student or two will be off in a corner working away on solving a problem on their own, but generally GAFE brings them together to work on tasks that I have assigned and tasks that they have initiated on their own.

5. Promotes Creativity & Innovation
Some of the things my students have created via GAFE have been mind blowing. It turns out that they had great ideas and just didn't know how to get those ideas out. For example, using the slides and drawing app they took their ideas and used the tools to bring their ideas to life. The students enjoy taking time to play around with the apps and experiment (technological literacy). Once they realize that they can do things using the technology that they couldn't do without it, they are off to the races. Combine this with the natural collaboration, dynamic feedback, and feelings of empowerment I referred to earlier and you have a recipe for innovation. Ideas start to flow more readily and students start to take more risks because they are comfortable doing so.

So, what do you think? Do you use GAFE in your classroom? I would love to hear your thoughts/questions. Fee free to leave a comment here, on Google +, Twitter, or email!


Friday, January 9, 2015

Integrating Google Docs and Drawings in the Primary Grades

Last year, after attending the ECOO13 conference, I returned to my students and we dove into using Google Documents to write our friendly letters. It ended up being a fantastic experience for everyone involved. The use of Google Docs provided us with many benefits:
  • I could make comments on their work in real time while they were working on them
  • students were focused and engaged
  • they were building capacity/confidence in using digital tools 
  • students with writing difficulties would much rather use a keyboard instead of a pencil because their work will end up looking like the work of all the other students
  • the ability to share their work instantly and provide others (e.g. parents) the ability to see their progress in real time and leave comments
As we learned to write our friendly letters this year the students followed a similar process but I decided, based on my learning and experience from last year, that using Google Documents would not be the end of their letter writing experience. This time around Google Docs was used for all of the amazing things I mentioned above but it was only one step towards preparing their digital letters to be moved into Google Drawings where they could add photos/videos to augment their text. 

They could add photos in their Google Document but it is not as dynamic as in Google Drawings. In Drawings, the text is the main focus, the photos/videos surround the text and add a rich dimension to their letters - I don't find it to be as smooth in Documents. Here is an example for you: the letter in Documents is a linear product whereas the letter in Drawings is front and center with some enhancing features on each side of it.








The students had fun meeting their learning goal and how to harness the tools to enhance their work. In Google Docs their focus was mainly on word processing and formatting, in Google Drawings their focus was on turning their letter into a media experience by connecting their text to appropriate images. 

The students learned how to write their friendly letters using paper and pencil first and then used digital tools using a Chromebook. When asked which they prefer, they almost always choose digital. They tell me that they like to be able to have options that they don't have using paper and pencil (e.g. online research tool, spell check, ability to share instantly with their friends, teacher, parents). They also commented that they like when I make comments (feedback) on their work. I thought that was interesting because I usually make comments on their paper work as well. When I asked them what the difference was, they said it was more exciting!

Having just used Google Drawings for their friendly letters I decided to have them use it again to create a visualization.   


After talking about what a visualization is, I read them "The Dark" by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen. It is a story about a boy who is afraid of the dark, something that many children can relate to as well as stir the emotions.

Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen's The Dark
Image found at http://www.redcapcards.com/posts/congratulations-jon-klassen-plus-dark?page=1
I didn't show the students the illustrations as I read the text. I wanted them to use the information on our chart to come up with their mental images as the story went on. Their task was to draw their most vivid mental image using Google Drawings. I also asked them to include some text with their drawing explaining their visualization. Here are a couple of the finished products:




I loved providing feedback on my students drawings. I wish you could be in the room to see how this activity played out. Imagine all the students at their desks working on their Chromebooks and talking about their work at the same time. Every now and then a student calls another student over to look at their work to discuss a particular aspect or ask for assistance/advice. While all of that is going on I am opening up their work (one of their first tasks was to share their work with me) and looking things over. I think about what they are doing well and what they need to work on - I leave a comment (and they start to tell each other that I have left them a comment) and then go on to the next drawing. I often don't stay quiet while I do this - I will get a student's attention and talk about what I see as I am providing the feedback. They get to hear it and see it and can work on my suggestions right away or at a later time. Sometimes the students comment back and sometimes they don't. The projector is on most of the time so the entire class can see the drawing I am looking at and commenting on. They get to see each others work which provides them with "grist for the mill" for their work and the opportunity to provide feedback to their classmates. It really is a wonderful experience where everyone tends to be focused on the task at hand.

When we created the Visualization chart I was leading my students onto the learning journey but when they were working on drawing their mental images I was on the sidelines as their coach. As they were feverishly making their thinking visible, they were teaching and supporting each other.

The integration of technology in our classroom is providing us with the tools and ability to discover new ways of doing things and creating artifacts of our learning. Activities like letter writing using Docs and Drawings and visualizing using Drawings get the creative juices flowing and excite children. I have seen it lead students to new heights and the attitude that anything is possible.

Isn't that what we want our students to believe? I do. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Innovate using Google Slides

My school now has a set of 20 Chromebooks and the teachers are excited to get their hands on them. The lunch and learn sessions I have been part of have been about the general use of Chromebooks and GAFE and they have been with teachers who are interested but not necessarily immersed in the use of the technology. Now that the technology is here I feel the need to go "deep" with some of the tools. The first tool I want to go deep with is Google Slides. Here is the presentation I have put together for our next learning session:



It will be fun to talk about my experience using Slides and provide my colleagues with ideas around the innovative use of the tool. I will also make sure to stress a few things.

1) Pedagogy comes first, technology comes second.

Pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator, and passion is the gas!

2) Google Slides is only ONE of many tools that can be used to offer students a creative/innovative way to meet a learning goal! As teachers become more comfortable with blended learning they will discover that there are many tools that can assist in meeting student needs/goals. Technology, like the Chromebook, can be likened to a Swiss Army Knife. It is a tool that can provide many options to get a job done and to do it right.


3) The best learning that happens is often messy. Plan things out but don't over plan. Take the time to figure things out and enjoy the learning moments!




Sunday, November 23, 2014

Demonstrating Understanding in Mathematics using Google Drawing

In Mathematics the students are learning about Time, Temperature, and Money. They recently worked on an activity where they were asked to share their understanding of the passage of time. The purpose of this particular activity was two fold - 1) I wanted the students to share their understanding of time (the basics), and 2) to continue to become familiar with the use of technology to access our D2L site, their Google Drive, and work on their research skills.

Using Google Drawing, I created a graphic organizer for them to use to show their understanding.


As you can see, the organizer isn't anything special. It simply allows the students to have a place to show their friends and I what they think they know about seconds, minutes, hours, and days. The link to this organizer was placed in our D2L site so that students could access it quickly. 



Once they accessed the "master copy", they made a copy of it, deleted my name from the title of the Drawing and added their name. They began adding text and searching the Internet to find pictures that would fit with their text. They also shared their work with me so I could make comments and actually edit the document (working side by side with the student) if needed. 




As they were working on their task I would check in on them and leave comments. I got to see them working on this task in real time, digitally and face to face, providing me with formative assessment of and for learning. Listening to their talk and watching them do the work provided me with great information about what they know/think they know and what I might need to do next to move them forward in their learning. Not a very difficult task, but a good one to gather information about their understanding and provide them with opportunities to use the technology efficiently to benefit their learning.  

Here are some examples of what the students created:




In combination with their graphic organizers, the students talked about their work and their thinking with their classmates and myself. It was a lot of fun watching the students do this activity. They were sufficiently challenged with all the little things they had to do (share their work, make a copy, use the research tool, etc) but at ease with the use of D2L and Google Drawing. When their work was projected for the other students to see they were proud and wanted to talk about what they were doing and why they were doing it. They looked forward to my feedback and were quite receptive to my comments. There were little issues here and there but most of the things that popped up were dealt with by the students themselves, which meant that my time was spent asking questions and providing feedback.

Have you tried anything like this with your students? 
What are your thoughts about the process my students engaged in to show their learning?

Would love to hear what you think. Feel free to leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter, Google +, or email.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Comfort with the Unknown

Over the last few days my students have been using the Chromebooks to explore their GAFE accounts. The only instruction I provided them with was how to create a new Google Drawing and that I wanted them to explore and experiment with Drawing.

As they dove into the task I provided them with, I backed out of sight and observed them. What I heard and saw was astounding. I watched my students log into their GAFE accounts without too much difficulty - and the ones that did struggle (usually a typo with all the numbers they have to input) got help from a classmate.

They all started by creating a new Google Drawing, as I instructed them to do. One student asked if he could share his drawing with me, I said yes. Then others wanted to share their work so he started showing them how to do it. It was exciting to see the students teaching each other - great examples of initiative, leadership, and independence. Then they started telling each other how to do certain things like naming their document, creating shapes, adding colour, using the research feature to embed pictures into their drawing, how to change fonts, and size of fonts, etc. Some students even decided to leave their drawing and create a Google Document! When one student asked another what they were doing, they replied by saying "I'm exploring!". 

With permission to explore, to make mistakes (and deal with them their way), and minimal parameters set for them, the students were in a natural state of inquiry and quite content. As I walked the room and talked to the students I could see and hear the learning that was happening. I could see them building the foundation that will provide them with the ability and confidence needed to take on tasks that will challenge them but ultimately help them build on their knowledge and skills. 

My experience tells me that the students need time to become comfortable with the tools they use to help them learn and demonstrate their learning. Although the students learn how to use engaging and interesting tools quite fast, they still need to familiarize themselves and learn how to troubleshoot. This means that they have to be somewhat comfortable with the unknown and be able to systematically work through obstacles that present themselves. 


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bringing the World to my Classroom

My students and I recently completed a great learning activity where they had to identify countries of personal or familial significance and locate them on a map, analyse information relevant
to their investigation, and communicate the results of their inquiry using appropriate vocabulary.

The students had to talk to their parents, grandparents, or other relatives who could provide them with information about a country or two that have personal significance to their family. Students were encouraged to get as much detailed information as possible. After gathering the relevant information the students and I used Google Maps Engine to "go to" the countries (and specific addresses) that were provided.

The time we spent working on our map was a wonderful experience. Here are some of the highlights:


  • each student got the opportunity to share their country of significance with the class - which allowed them to inform the class about how/why what they were sharing with us was significant
  • students got to see, up close and personal, some of the important places that are part of their classmates history
  • students were provided with a perspective of the world that they would not normally be provided with
  • students were engaged and interested in the activity which we completed over several days
  • students had a natural curiosity about the different world locations and analysed the visuals that were presented to them
  • students were open to, and encouraged each other, to share thoughts/ideas about what they were hearing and seeing
  • students got to learn how to use Maps Engine in a way that connects to their lives
  • the world was brought to them - into the classroom - and they were able to manipulate it to benefit their curiosity and learning
  • they loved being able to zoom in and out on the map so that they could see countries from a birds eye view and then zoom right in to a specific location
  • they wanted to play with the different features available on the map (e.g. style, data, labels)
  • they want to revisit the map as we continue to learn about the world and how it connects to our class. They know that they can create different coloured markers so that we can colour code our learning depending on what we are talking about
Please feel free to visit our Map and see the places around the world that mean something to us!






Saturday, October 4, 2014

It's About Progress, Not Perfection

My students learning how to use the Chromebook.

Yesterday my students finally got their hands on the Chromebooks. They were very excited, probably too excited!

Working with a small group, the students learned to do the following:

  • log on to the Chromebook using their GAFE account, 
  • choose a profile picture, 
  • use the Omni box to search for our D2L site
  • go to and bookmark our D2L site
  • zoom in and out to make objects/text on their screen larger and smaller
  • sign out and shut down
By the end of our session the students had accomplished a lot - and I was completely exhausted. Even in a small group situation, there are a lot of things going on and trouble shooting (with students on the computer and those assigned other tasks) always seems to be part of the equation. 

In the middle of what I would refer to as organized chaos, I recalled a quote I had heard earlier - it's about progress, not perfection. 

The beginning stages of preparing students to use the device to assist with critical thinking, creation, and collaboration  involves learning new user names and passwords and the intricacies of the device. The students need to feel comfortable with the tool and have knowledge of common issues that will arise in order to take the focus off of the technology and on to the learning. The comfort and fluency I am referring to comes with practice and experimentation. 

Working away at becoming familiar with the device.

My students last year accomplished many great things with respect to their leaning. It is not fair to compare where my new students are at to where my students last year ended up.

Start up that involves learning how to use a device that has never used before with young children is a tough task. It can be frustrating and discouraging but the key is to focus on practice and progress. Building capacity is never easy but staying the course will lead to amazing things. People who visit my classroom tend to see all the good things - the fruits of our labour, a labour that involves a lot time and emotion. For them to visit and see disarray and confusion would be beneficial to get a feel for what they might expect with a class of 7 year old  children but that isn't what 99% of people want to see and experience.

The purpose of this post is to acknowledge the many difficulties that come with progress and fluency. The pain is short term, the gain is long term. My class and I are in the middle of the "pain" component of our journey but I know that it won't last forever and that is a part of the process that will benefit my students and myself.