One of the most interesting articles I’ve come across since starting COETAIL is Nikhil Goyal’s piece on why learning should be messy. As a third grade teacher whose room is often in a state of disarray at the end of the day, this idea is reassuring. However, it also applies to the digital realm.

A few nights ago, after giving my class an assignment to collaborate together with google docs, I came home late to see this edmodo message in my inbox:

It was the first time to have the whole class collaborate on one document, and somebody accidently erased half the class’s work (more on how to fix this later). It was digitally messy. And that’s okay. As teachers try new things, experiment, and step outside their comfort zones, there are bound to be problems. Messiness. We should embrace it and keep moving forward.

When digital messiness happens, however, there are no helpful students or cleaning staff to tidy up, so that role may fall on you. So it’s time for today’s google drive tip. First, teach your students how to “undo.” There are three ways to do this. The easiest way is to press “⌘ Z.” You can also select Edit –> Undo. And finally, there is an “undo” button (curving arrow to the left, beside the “print” button).

That only works if the students realize they’ve made a mistake right away, however. Google documents has another function where you can clean up a document that has been made “messy.” Go to File –> See Revision History. You can see all changes that have been made and revert to older versions of the document. This is also a handy tool to see how students have been editing, revising, and digitally collaborating.

So as our students move forward with technology, don’t fear the messiness, embrace it.


Ideas from the Google Apps Summit

I’m just getting back from this weekend’s google apps summit at the American School in Japan.  To get ready for a big switchover to google apps, my school sent more than 20 teachers.  With eight workshops, two keynotes, one “demo slam,” and hundreds of side conversations, the information and ideas are overflowing.

Several people suggested grasping a few things that are cool and exciting and run with those (rather than trying every single idea you hear).  While the information is still fresh, here are the ideas and tools I want to try:

1. Taking google drive to the next level.  

My third grade class has already been introduced to google drive and even started collaborating on projects.  This week, however, the whole school will receive their own google account and  be thrown into the world of google apps. This is great news. Here is a partial list of ideas I want to explore:
  • More collaborative writing
  • Online homework 
  • Digital learning logs
  • Shared vocabulary lists
  • Player created playbooks for my basketball teams

This is only a beginning.  There are hundreds of possibilities, and I am ready to start experimenting.

2. Taking digital storytelling to the next level with youtube annotations.

In the fall my students wrote a choose your own adventure (CYOA) story where each scene branched in two different directions, leading to more than a dozen endings.  It was really cool, but after presenting it to some other students, we had no idea what to do with it.

In December, after I went to Jason Ohler‘s workshop, my class tried digital storytelling and published our work to youtube.  I briefly thought about how youtube might work as a medium for our CYOA story, but I had no idea how to do it. Then on Saturday, presenter Jim Sill showed us a way to create links in youtube editing that take you to other videos.  It’s not too complicated…once you upload your video, you go into editing, then annotations, and then you insert boxes with your links. 

He also had links to some examples of CYOA stories. If we could digitize our adventure story, this would be the perfect way to tell it. This is somewhat of an intimidating project, but I have a few students who, if taught the tools, would run with it (and probably do most of the project on their own time).   

3. Expanding my PLN (professional learning network)

One of the main reasons people go to conferences, in any profession, is for the connections. In two COETAIL sessions, I’ve already learned as much from my classmates as I have from the instructors. The google apps summit was another version of this. There were amazing presenters, but in the audience, sitting around me, I talked to interesting people doing interesting things. I’ve tweeted more in the last week than I have in the first three and a half years of having a twitter account, and this blog has helped me both clarify my thoughts connect with others. These two tools will be large sources of professional growth as I move forward. 

I’m feeling unusually energized for a Sunday evening. Will update soon on how well I’m implementing these new ideas.


Simple Student Collaboration on Google Docs

In my first post, I discussed an easy way to get your class started with google docs.  Once they get the hang of logging in and creating documents, the next step is to start collaborating on projects.

For example, my third grade class recently started a new unit on performing arts, and we wanted to kick it off with an assembly performance.   We decided to take that story of “Hansel and Gretel” and create an original script that would tell the story with acting, puppets, and kamishibai (a Japanese form of storytelling).

We only had a few days to get ready, however, so the script needed to be written quickly.  I gathered the class, turned on my computer’s projector, opened up our class google drive account, and created a document called “Hansel and Gretel script.”  After we mapped out the scenes, I modeled script writing for a few minutes and took volunteers to write each scene as homework that night.  At the end of the school day, the document looked like this:

Right after school I left to coach a basketball game.  I got back later that evening, and when I glanced at the document, it was a fully written five page script.

This is the script after a few more edits.

The best part, however, was when the students went home they had seen each other writing the different scenes on the doc.  Even the students who didn’t volunteer to write peeked to see what was going on.  The next morning, as soon as they came to school, everyone was talking about the script.  Some students had noticed inconsistencies between scenes.  Others had ideas about how to make parts better.  There were a few laptops lying around the classroom, and right away the students picked them up and started working together to make the script stronger.  We went through a few more edits with the main writers and were able to focus on preparing for the performance (which went well, thanks!).

I’ve been a fan of google docs for a long time, and even I was surprised how effective it was in getting students to collaborate together on writing.  I encourage all teachers to give it a try.



The simple guide to starting your elementary class with google docs (in less than 10 minutes)

To kick off my new blog, I will be writing a series of posts on how to start implementing google docs in an elementary classroom.  I teach third grade, but these ideas could easily be used for older or even younger grades.

The thought of one google account for every student in your class is overwhelming at first.  If you have 20 students, that’s 20 usernames, 20 passwords, and 20 kids who may not understand the nuances of creating and sharing documents with other people.  The key is  simplicity: in the beginning, use one google account for your entire class.  Here’s how you can get started in 10 minutes:

Step 1 – Create a google account for your class.  I used a dormant account from when I was teaching 2nd grade, so we are “seisen2b.”

Step 2 – Show your students how to log in with your class username and password at drive.google.com.

Step 3 – Teach your students how to create a new document.  (for those of you new to google docs, simply click the red “create” button and select “document”)

Step 4 – Have students use their own name in each of their document titles.  This will allow teachers and students to easily identify documents.

That’s it!  Your students can now work on their writing at home, in the computer lab, with laptops…anywhere they have internet access.  You’ve also made the editing and revising process much easier and reduced the amount of paper used.

In my next post, you will learn how to use google docs to get students collaborating on projects.