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.

 

Meet the T&L Team – How you can get involved this year

Today, in a special Teaching and Learning briefing, the members of the Teaching and Learning Team introduced themselves and their roles for the year. Read on to find out more about the various foci of the team, and how Beaumont staff can get more involved with T&L.

Bring Your Own Device and New Technologies

Andy Gray

Role

To share and demonstrate ideas on how mobile devices and ‘new technologies’ can be used to enhance and extend Teaching and Learning at Beaumont.

Aims for 2015 – 2016

  1. Create a document/booklet containing examples of apps, websites and platforms, categorised according to the following key areas of Teaching and Learning: feedback, assessment, revision, differentiation and collaboration and communication. Ideas have been (and hopefully will continue to be) submitted by a wide range of Beaumont staff.
  2. Seek feedback from departments with regards to which apps, websites and platforms they wish to utilise/learn more about. Find time in department meetings and/or INSET to demonstrate and provided training.
  3. Explore the use of Google Apps for Education, including Google Classroom (with James Goddard). Google Classroom serves as a platform for teachers to create and organise assignments quickly, provide feedback efficiently and easily communicate with their classes. Works alongside Google’s popular suite of productivity and storage applications.
  4. Set up a working group to test and feedback on the effectiveness of Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom. This is currently in its early stages of testing – more details will follow on how and why to get involved.

New Ideas for Everyday Teaching

Nat Moody

Role

  1. To form a working party to experiment with new ideas, and then share their experience with colleagues and the wider teaching community. The group will draw on various resources e.g. T&L library, colleagues to get new ideas, and use them within lesson where appropriate once every term.
  2. Following the trial of the new ideas, members of staff will be asked to write a review (in which they should provide some context of the lesson and group) which can be shared via the T&L blog, Bring and Buys, resource board and possibly through Heads of Subject.

Higher-Level Thinking and Challenge 

Fiona Pinkerton

Role

Development and research of new strategies to encourage students’ higher-level thinking, and to challenge them in the classroom. To provide resources, ideas and support for Beaumont teachers to allow them to implement new strategies in the classroom and in lesson planning, with the main aim being to support students in gaining a better understanding of how they learn.

Aims for 2015-2016

  1. Meet with a group of teachers, across a range of subjects, to introduce ideas and feedback from students so far, with the aim for Beaumont teachers to then trial their preferred ideas in the classroom. Meeting: 5/10/15 in Lab 42.
  2. During the course of the year I will email those teachers who attended the above meeting with resources, new things to trial out and to check in and see how things are going.
  3. During the year there will be a following two meetings in the Spring term and Two in the summer term. This will provide an opportunity for the group to discuss and share successes and failures.
  4. There will also be opportunities during the year for the group to observe one another; this will allow teachers to see how strategies are implemented differently in different classrooms.
  5. I hope that collectively during the course of the year we will collate resources and ideas, and make improvements to these strategies in order to share them with the rest of the staff.

What students are saying so far

“When Miss Pinkerton showed us some of these learning methods it helped me to understand what is going on. It is not all in the teachers’ hands. It’s given me a sense of control over my own learning.” Niamh (Year 12 Chemist St Michaels Garston)

“Using the hexagons helped me to understand how to link the ideas together. It enabled me to answer the harder question and get full marks.” Will Mattin  (Year 10 Chemist Beaumont)

“The hardest questions in the exams are the ones that seem to have nothing to do with what we have learnt. When Miss used the cause and effect map to break down what I needed to put in my answer, I started to make the links and finally understood what the question wanted me to answer.” Amy Cowan (Year 9 Beaumont)


Smarter Marking and Assessment

Fiona Rosler

Role

To examine and apply various time-saving marking strategies to try and reduce workload of marking, whilst still providing enough feedback for students to progress.

Aims for 2015-2016

  1. Trial various marking and assessment strategies with my own classes to examine any advantages or disadvantages.
  2. Look at examples of marking from other departments to examine what works best for specific subjects. Departments will be contacted about this in the coming weeks.
  3. Provide ideas and advice at the November INSET to help staff to find a system that will work for them and which fits around their schedule.
  4. Collect feedback and opinions from a variety of staff and subjects to help advance these ideas throughout the year.

Developing Numeracy Skills

Fiona Rosler

Aims for 2015-2016

For all students to be able to understand and work with numbers in any subject. They should recognise when it is necessary or appropriate to use their numeracy skills and be able to apply these skills in various contexts outside of the Maths classroom.

This will be achieved by:

  1. Working initially with the Science, Geography and PE departments. Heads of Department have already been contacted.
  2. Looking at areas on SOWs which already involve numeracy and examining how/when these topics are taught – are they consistent with maths lessons?
  3. Attending department meetings for these subjects to discuss teaching methods and consistency with methods and keywords.
  4. Running Maths Week activities as last year.

To get involved, please speak to the member of the team responsible for each focus.

Become a Magpie!

By Sarah Hosegood

twitter image 2Following our Learning Lunch on getting to grips with technology, several staff decided to get signed in with a twitter account. When starting out in Twitter it is always good to have a few people to initially follow. Once you have followed them for a couple of weeks you can see who they follow and re-tweet and then start to branch out. The list below gives you some people who tweet general teaching and learning ideas which can be then adapted to lots of different subjects. It is also worth looking out for people who specialise in your subject.

@teachertoolkit – the most followed teacher in the UK. He also has a blog with lots of articles related to a wide range of teaching and learning www.teachertoolkit.me

@ASTSupportAAli – also look at his blog which has a lot of free teaching and learning ideas www.cheneyagilitytoolkit.blogspot.co.uk

@Tombrush1982 – a PE teacher who posts some good teaching and learning ideas which can be adapted to other subjects

@OTeaching – authors of the books Engaging Learning and Teaching Backwards. They also work in a lot of schools and post pictures of ideas they have seen

@Gemmaharvey73 – a Sandringham teacher who also has a blog with lots of teaching and learning ideas www.gemmaharvey73@blogspot.co.uk

@Wendy21brown – she attended our teachmeet and works in a variety of schools across the country. She posts lots of ideas she sees.

@hannahtyreman – is in charge of teaching and learning at Reading College

@ICTEvangelist – specialises in using technology and Google in the classroom

@rlj1981 – teaching and learning co-ordinator who also has an excellent website www.createinnovateexplore.com

@pedagoo – has an excellent website as well www.pedagoo.org and look out or the #pedagoofridays when hundreds of teachers share good ideas

@FullonLearning – a member of SLT at Clevedon School and in charge of the Clevedon Learning Hub

To search for these accounts use the magnifying icon on the top right when you click on ‘home’.

Learning Lunch – “Technology that’s not as hard as you think”

By Helen Wilson

Easy tech 1Today we held the first Learning Lunch of 2015 on “Easy IT”. I talked through some of the areas of technology which I have learnt how to use (from a “standing start” as those of you who know me or have read in one of my first blog posts – here) and which I find useful for both myself and my students. The powerpoint I used is here, or in the learning lunch resources menu on the home page. Staff were then given chance to choose one thing which they would like to have a go at using, and help was on hand from other teachers who had already become proficient in different areas. There were some new staff signed up to twitter; some informal training on blogging set up, and some introductions to the use of OneNote and Evernote – and being the start of a new year, many were keen to Be Persistent in trying to learn a new skill.

“I’ve come to talk to the IT expert!”

By Helen Wilson

Three years ago there were a number of words which were not in my vocabulary – upload, blog post, hashtag, app. There were also words which made me fearful enough to bring on a mild panic attack  – HDMI cable, computer room lesson, interactive whiteboard. I was, in all ways, a technophobe.

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I had been a full-time mum to my three children for more or less 13 years,  and there had not been much need to keep up with the revolution in technology whilst I was running toddler groups, building lego models and doing some very messy painting. When I left my job with a London Accountancy firm in 1996, we would often argue about who had to take the team’s laptop home from a client because it was so heavy and cumbersome.

finger painting

So three years ago, I decided to tackle my phobia head on,  not only to enable me to do my job effectively, but also so that my own children could have conversations with me that I would be able to understand.

To start with it was hard – my head of department went so far as to label wires on the back of computers with stickers and letters so that I would know what to attach to what; I had to be prepared to seek help from the IT support team and respond to their explanations with “you are saying a lot of words which I know exist but I have no idea what they mean”; and I had to make sure that every time someone explained to me how to do something , I wrote down in my own words what I needed to do, and then did it repeatedly in a short space of time so that I wouldn’t forget.

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For a year and a half, I battled. Then, slowly but surely, I gained confidence. I started to write my own smartnotebook files for lessons, building up my own bank of resources. I learnt how to use the technology in the room to have an impact on pupils’ learning, not just because it was there. I also learnt how to search effectively for resources and save myself time recreating what others had already done.

But the revolution for me happened when I discovered twitter. At first I was a tentative user, wanting to know what my children were getting involved in, so I followed a few newspaper columnists and some family and friends. But it wasn’t long before I discovered the massive presence of teachers (tweechers) on twitter and found that it was an incredible way to learn new skills, share ideas, find out what is happening on the ground in classrooms around the country and around the world.

Soon I was coming across ideas and resources just by scrolling down my twitter feed – ideas came to me and I didn’t need to go searching. How did I find ways of using display for learning? – twitter (thanks to @mrprcollins  amongst others); how did I discover new ways of engaging pupils with activities which allowed both collaboration and individual working? – twitter (thanks to @numberloving,  and others too numerous to mention); how did I become confident enough to trial what I call “pre-lesson-learning” with my classes? – yes, twitter; and there are so many other aspects of my teaching which I would never have had the confidence to try without the encouragement of the fantastic teachers on twitter.

But through twitter (and with the inspiration of @beaumontmusic, @beaumontdrama and @beaumontPE)  I also developed the confidence to create a blog for use by pupils in maths, http://mathsatbeaumontschool.blogspot.co.uk/ – with links to resources held together in a pearltree (more in a later blog post). I was starting to feel that maybe all things IT weren’t so scary after all.

At the end of last term, another teacher came in to the maths department and called out “I’ve come to talk to the IT expert” – I looked around for someone from the IT team before realising that they were looking at me! My IT consultant husband found it hard to believe that his technophobe wife had found a new label.

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My message, if there needs to be one, is that learning about new technologies is possible for everyone – if a 40 something technophobe can start a blog and find the confidence to suggest education apps to the head of IT – pretty much anyone can have a go at learning new ways of working, just by trying out and practising one or two things at a time.