Step aside, VLEs. Google Classroom is here, and it’s free.

Hanh originally posted this on her own blog as part of a New Year’s resolution to blog more, and has kindly allowed us to publish this separately! You can read Hanh’s original blog post here.

By Hanh Doan

I’ve always enjoyed giving students an online option to resources used in the classroom and making homework tasks and deadlines as clear as possible. In 2008 I set up the Beaumont Music Department Blog which is still going strong.  Curriculum and extra-curricular information and resources are posted here, and students understand that they need to check here before coming to ask me an “unquality question.” My school has made some attempts into VLEs, and both times I have jumped on board and tried to use them.  However, the downsides (as many will agree) to Serco (I think it was called this) and Frog were too many to overcome and too many to name here. Students didn’t love it and quite frankly, neither did I.  But I tried, and the students tried but only because I persuaded them to, not because they wanted to.

Eventually, along with my colleague and now boss, Dave Guinane, we have been using the blog, Evernote, and a very cool app which Dave designed to manage students’ work.  Of course, at KS4 and KS5 they still hand in work on paper, and that’s fine too.  We have always known that it hasn’t been the perfect system, but it’s been close. There is a link to KS3 recordings from lessons on the blog, and feedback and “dialogue” (groan) all on the end of each recording. Boom. At KS4 and 5 however, I still found myself with a huge folder of stuff. Most of it is written or harmony work which needs marking which is fine, but then there are countless bits of paper with information like names of pieces for solo and ensemble performances, or music which needs to be scanned in for submission to examiners.  It was manageable, but you know how life is, the fear of losing something really important was always there, and occasionally it happened.

This year, the school has started to trial Google Classroom.  The word “Google” made me think that this was always going to be a winner and I signed up immediately to be on Andy Gray’s team of teachers who would pilot it. Andy is a 2nd year teacher and a member of the school’s T&L team, he knows loads of stuff about technology and more importantly has the personality to work with teachers to show them how to implement relevant technology into their current practice. But here’s the thing, after he set up my classlists (the school needs to sign up to a domain for Google Classroom, you can’t just do it as an individual teacher) and gave me and a test class (or 3) our passwords, we didn’t need any training. It’s so intuitive and easy to use. Like any other Google app. What’s more, the students love it too, because they are logging onto something that they all use every day. Google Classroom is also FREE unlike most VLEs. As well as being fantastic, each member of staff and student gets UNLIMITED STORAGE on Google Drive. Unbelievable.

Google Classroom is basically a virtual classroom. You can securely share comments, files and all sorts with your students, as well as have a dialogue with them about their work. The Google Classroom app is available for Apple and Android devices, and again, it’s free. Students who have downloaded the app receive notifications when the teacher posts assignments, returns work, or comments on their work. Here’s how we have used it so far:

Homepage: 4 classes so far (the UCAS one is something separate):

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You can post an assignment, announcement, question or reuse a post:

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Assignments:

Creating and assignment means you can set work and attach files or Google docs/slides and assign them to everyone in the class:

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Students can then return with a private message and you can discuss amendments either on the document or in private message (please note this is from a Year 8 German class I teach):

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Here’s an example of an interaction with a student:

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And here is an excerpt from the document:

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So you might be now thinking, well that’s fine for written work, but what about other types of work? When assigning a task, you can attach a link a sound file or even a YouTube video along with questions on a document as well:

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Announcements

These are brilliant for just posting up quick bits of information, resources, or useful links. You can upload from Google Drive, your own computer, or weblinks:

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Students can also post comments on the classroom. Whilst you may fear that they might take advantage, I have found that giving clear boundaries with clear sanctions for inappropriate comments deals with this issue. Students have posted questions for me or classmates.

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The most recent paper and time saver, however, was actually the question function.  I asked “What are you doing for your ensemble piece?”

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Their answers are all private (you can set them to be public as well) and all in one place! No random bits of paper everywhere or emails clogging up your inbox:

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Genius!

This is only the story so far and there’s huge scope for students uploading recordings at KS3 in particular. On a whole school level, we are working on Google Classroom reading our MIS and fingers crossed, we will be good to go on a wider basis. We have no intentions to get rid of our blog or twitter accounts; they are still essential in the running of our department, but they will probably focus more on extra-curricular activities and celebrating students’ work and achievements. I do think that in terms of a virtual classroom, Google has everything you need.  I’m pretty sure I haven’t done it justice here, but happy to discuss on Twitter.


 

As Hanh mentions above, Andy Gray will be leading on piloting Google Classrooms at Beaumont, so you can expect to see more this in the future! If you have been inspired in the meantime, speak to Hanh or Andy for more information.

 

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Let’s bring an end to boring INSET

By Sue Lutz

After a buzzing MFL Teachmeet on Wednesday 3rd June, I headed home to relieve my babysitter, a friend who is also a teacher. On hearing that I had run a twilight training session, he started to sympathise because, at his school, there was a lot of negativity regarding INSET sessions. He described “death by powerpoint” and irrelevant training sessions, which I had to tell him just don’t happen at Beaumont. It is a real privilege to work in a school where there is such a positive culture surrounding development of teaching and learning. The twilight Teaching and Learning INSET sessions are relaxed and enjoyable, being in a small group format and mixing staff from a variety of departments so that you can get a real range of ideas. Far from the grumbling described by my friend, my Teaching and Learning group was characterised by laughter. It is a shame that too many teachers still experience training where they are simply lectured at, an approach they would never countenance with their own classes, when there is so much more to be gained by having a chance to talk about teaching with as wide a range of colleagues as possible. Let’s hope that the Beaumont T&L model of show and tell sessions, Teachmeets and generating enthusiasm in all sorts of ways will be spread across as many schools as possible, bringing an end to boring INSET.

Beaumont MFL TeachMeet

By Kirsty Wrightson

mfl TM2 (1)On Wednesday 3rd June, Beaumont MFL department was delighted to welcome 45 delegates from 15 centres in the area to its second annual MFL Teachmeet.

After coffee, cake and a little conversation, the presentations began.  On the agenda were topics as diverse as “Starting an Exchange from Scratch”, “Collaborative Learning Structures”, “Keep Fit French”, “Life Beyond Levels” and many more.  Top of the bill was guest speaker from Routes into Languages, Sarah Schechter, who provided yet more fresh ideas, resources and networking opportunities. Mfl TM2

After the event, conversations continued in the more informal surroundings of The Speckled Hen.  A T&L hub followed by pub grub – we’re looking forward to the next instalment already.

Learning to learn again

By Heather Duckworth (Languages)

mandarin symbolsIt’s been almost 7 years since my PGCE, so it’s been a while since I was in the position of being a learner, therefore it was with excitement and no small degree of trepidation that I signed up for the Mandarin evening class this autumn. As a language teacher I have got used to being the ‘expert’ in the room and I know that at times in the past I have lost patience with students who require an explanation of grammar rules again, or still can’t remember that vital piece of vocabulary.

The past 8 weeks have reminded me of what it is like to be lost in a sea of sound.  As a Mandarin learner I have had to come to terms with a wide variety of ‘initials’ and ‘finals’ which make up the pinyin system used to teach Mandarin using the roman alphabet.  A great many of these sounds are noises that have never come out of my mouth before, despite having mastered the delight of French multiple vowels!  After our first 2 hour lesson our faces ached and I dutifully spent the next week practising all my ‘initials and finals’ – delighting in the novelty of something new to learn.

Then life, children and work got in the way and I didn’t manage to get as much practice in as I would have liked. I missed a lesson due to illness and sat there a week later totally lost as the rest of the class happily chanted the numbers one to ten, and recognised the characters! The feeling of being ‘stupid and rubbish’ was horrendous and I felt like an idiot in front of the other adults and my Head of Department! This reminded me how much repetition and consolidation is required to enable things to stick and how hard it must be for students who have barriers to their learning, or have been absent.  We are fortunate at Beaumont that we can teach language lessons in 45 minute chunks and not mammoth two hour sessions. By 9 pm on a Tuesday I am washed out with the effort of listening and trying to copy an unfamiliar writing system, without even mentioning the tonal system which means I have to carefully look at which letter is being stressed and remember which symbol to use.

The experience of learning to learn again is having a very positive impact upon my teaching; my patience with differentiation and students who are struggling is increasing.  When I plan my activities I am able to refer back to my recent experiences and my sympathies are definitely with my students!