Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Google Docs makes a difference with a difficult class

How to begin to manage a difficult group of students.

This semester I have a 'less engaged" class of Year 10 students. Doing class work is the last thing on their mind. They would much rather listen to music or try and get each other in trouble.
My Year 10 Science class when I first met them - and yes, we do have blue uniforms!
(Source: Wikimedia )
I knew I had a battle on my hands but I did have a secret weapon - Google Docs!

Why Google Docs? Because one of the things that this class likes to do is pretend to do work and yet end up doing very little. They will blame problems with computers, being absent and not understanding the work.  They are pretty good at coming up with excuses.

Google Docs (along with Doctopus) allowed me to create documents for each student using a template and that I own.
As you can see, I am the owner of this file. Nobody can accidentally delete it - including students that I share it with.

This is important because I have control over the file and they cannot be deleted 'accidentally' by students.  This also means that I can add comments and know that, although they can be removed, I can 'resurrect' them when I need to.

How does this help?  Recently the class was working on a lengthy practical report. I had given them class time to do it and a number of them were using the class time well. Others were not.

So what I did was that I went onto their document and wrote a comment on the last thing that they wrote.  The comment was simply the  date.  This was so that I could see how much work they had done.

I also used the comment to indicate if the student was absent.  This would allow me to give them extra time if they needed it.

They don't like it!

Well the effect was electric.  Firstly the students who were not doing a lot of work, started writing comments in reply and then 'resolving' the comment - thinking that they were removing the reminder. Unfortunately for them, they did not realise that you can re-open comments and see what was written previously (just click on the "Comments" button the right and click on the tick to re-open).

After adding the date on the last bit of their work, this student was a little concerned. He later attempted to remove the comment.
Clearly they knew they were being monitored and they were concerned.

More work

One student who, in one lesson did around 50 words, did more than 800 words in the next lesson!  He has nearly finished!  The quality is not great BUT now that I have seen the near-finished product, I can say that to him and show him ways to improve.

Not much work done in this lesson!  After I put my two comments on the right, he increased his output by 400% in the next lesson!

When we have used Word in the past, a number of students: lose their work, cannot print it, mysteriously send it via email (it never appears) or blame technology in general.  No more.

We have not quite finished the reports but if some of them do not finish in time, I will contact parents and be able to show them how much work they have (or haven't) done for the report.

The number of excuses that students can give for not doing work is slowing being reduced...

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Using Google Presentation and Forms for Peer Collaboration and Assessment

Students in my Psychology class recently had to present one stage of Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development to the rest of their class.  The content is not important for this post but I did successfully use Google Presentations with the groups in the class and they were able to successfully collaborate in the construction of the presentation and even used the 'chat' feature to ask each other questions and clarify key ideas.

Since they had to share the file with me, getting access to the presentation on the day was easy and, even if other students were absent, the rest of the group could still do their presentation.  The "John did the Powerpoint, and he's away today so we can't do our presentation" excuse was no longer applicable.

I also asked students to be involved in assessing their peers using Google Forms.  It included a couple of compulsory questions like their name and the stage they were assessing.  I like to include names so that I don't get silly comments and votes.

The next part was pretty crucial.  Students then had to grade the presentation in four areas: Clarity, Confidence, Engagement and Understanding using a 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) rating scale.

This was pretty simple scheme and seemed to work well. I toyed with the idea of getting them to make comments but on reflection it would have taken too long - especially by the eighth presentation.

Finally, I could go to the 'responses' page for this form and use the 'average' formula (see results in red below) to get an overview of what students thought about their peers.  Hence the need to use the 1-5 rating scale.  Mostly the student rating was similar to my own (blue rating below) which was interesting.

This all depends on getting one-to-one access to computers but I would regard it as a very successful series of lessons which promoted collaboration and peer assessment to a high level.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Using Google Forms to help students work together to find resources

Today in my Psychology class I tried something a little different.

We were about to start a review of Jean Piaget and his theories of Cognitive Development.  I briefly explained some of the features of each of the key stages of development.

I divided the class into four groups (for the four stages of development) and then I asked students to do research on two questions:

  1. Find one example of a feature of that stage of development. For example, the development of the concept of Conservation at the  Concrete Operational stage.
  2. Find one way that researchers test to see if children have reached developed that concept.
I created a Google form (below) to collect data from students about the information they have found:

As you can see, students need to add the link, categorise it (a concrete operational skill!) and then give a brief summary of what the resource is about.

Within 15 minutes, students had submitted over 30 resources.

Some were not unique but I found that if I sorted according to website url, I could see the replicates and eventually ended up with 21 unique sources of information.

I will add these to a shared Google Docs file called "Links and Worthwhile Articles" so that all students can have a look at these resources.

At the end of the lesson, I chose four people at random to answer the questions - and they did a really good job.

Google Forms is so easy to use (it took me 10 minutes to mock this up) and it is a great way to gather information from students.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Revision with Senior Students

Using Google Docs for Revision - assuming that you have access to Google Drive in the classroom.

Here is something I tried today and it worked pretty well. 

Mid-year exams are coming up here in South Australia and it is always a little challenging to come up with ideas to get students to revise in an active way. 

So I shared an outline of the topics covered this semester in Google Drive and I asked students to quickly write as much as they could on a topic (in this case Social Influence in Psychology).

Here is a sample of what I mean:

Usually I only give viewing access to this kind of document. 

I put them under some pressure and most responded well. 

Then I shared another file with a list of questions related to the topic. 

They had to make a copy of the file and add their answers underneath the questions. 

Finally, I then shared some suggested answers and gave them commenting rights. 

Although I didn't do this you CAN create a folder, share it with students and by default given them commenting rights. 

I simply changed the setting in the file.

My thought was to allow them to clarify the answers given or suggest alternatives. 

Not everything went to plan and they lost the plot when this was finished but there was enough work done to count the lesson as 'productive'.

All this is possible because of the range of sharing options available in Google Drive.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

How to Use Google Docs Pt 2 - creating class templates

Now that there is a bit of a lull in my classes using Google Docs, I will move onto the second part of the "How to..." series.
In this episode we are going to go through the process of creating documents for your class.

Step 1: Import all your students and their emails into Contacts.
This assumes you have access to Gmail - although to use Google Docs, you don't need to use their email solution. But presuming you do use it, you will find it a lot easier.
Anyway, go to Gmail and click on the Contacts icon (given they change this so often, it is not worth me showing you how to do it).
As well as adding the details of the student, the current version of Gmail also has a 'Groups' icon. Use this to name your classes and put this student in your class.
Do the same for the rest of the students in your class (you can import them - but I will let you discover how to do it).

Step 2: Create a new document template.
Go to Google Docs and click on new and add whatever document type that you want the class to use. So far, for me, it has been a word processing document.
On this document, add any instructions that you want ALL students to see. This could be assignment details, website links and any marks scheme. I usually put a horizontal line underneath this.
Click on the file name and change it to [Whatever file name you want] template.

Step 3: Create a copy of the document for each student.
With the template open, click on File: Make a copy and a new window opens up.
It should say:
Copy Document
(comments will not be copied to the new document)
Also copy document collaborators

Do not tick the "Also copy document collaborators" at this stage.

It will then create a new document with the title "Copy of [Whatever file name you want] template."
Click on the title and change the name.
I like to add the students name in full and the title of the assignment/task so that it is easy to organise.

Step 4: Share the document with the student.
Here is where Step 1 comes in handy!
Click on the share button and you will get a list of all the people who currently get access to the document.
You will see that the owner is you! This is good. It means you have ultimate control over the document and it will never be deleted unless you delete it.
Further down you will see an empty space (below Add People) to put the student's email address.
When you click in there, a line which reads 'choose from contacts' also magically appears.
If you click on that, a list of people from your Contacts file will come up, and if you click on the appropriate class, you target student's email will come up.
Just click on it to add the student.
Almost there. Before you click on OK, note the options available for the student.
They can edit, view or comment on the document.
Of course you want them to edit it, but be aware of the other options.

Step 5: sit back and wait for the students to start using the document.
You can see this easily because on the Google Docs homepage, the file name becomes bold when some else uses or adds to the file.

The best thing at this stage is to try the process with a colleague and work on a document together.
The results are terrific - one central place for the document with access for the most important people - you and the student.

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Power of Google Docs

Recently I have been blogging about using Google Docs with my Year 11 class.
Yesterday was the due date - I even made the due time 11:59pm - one student managed to work on it right up to the last minute!
The power of any online method of writing assignments is the ability to give immediate and relevant feedback to students. So on the last day, as expected, many students wanted me to read it a final time. A lot was learnt - especially by me - in those dying hours. I think it was because students were very receptive to any ideas I had.
This gave me the opportunity to discuss paragraph structure, the importance of referencing, how to avoid the 'big statement' and what should be in a Conclusion. I been through this with the class but there is nothing like a deadline to improve the listening skills of students.
However, one big feature that Google Docs has is the ability to control access to any documents created.
Let me step back a bit.
I started the essay writing process by creating a Google Docs document for each student. A little tedious but there are two important reasons why I do this:

  1. The document cannot be erased unless I (as the 'owner') erase it. I can even decide to erase it to all the people it has been shared with.
    So no more excuses like: "My computer/USB drive crashed"; "I couldn't email because the Internets wasn't working";"It's was on my school drives someone hacked my account and deleted it".
  2. I can set a due date for editing the document and then on the due date change editing access to viewing access for all the people I have shared the document with - including the students. You can't do this unless you are the owner.
  3. I can give other interested adults (e.g. parents) viewing or even commenting access to the work of the students just to make sure the student understands that doing nothing is not an option. This can only be fully controlled if the teacher is the owner of the document.
So, at 11:59, I changed all student access to view only. I could stop access completely but I plan to grade it on-line and they need to be able to see their grades.
There is no question in my mind that this process has led to an increase in students ability to write an 800 word essay on a Science topic. Now to work on the quality of their response...

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Google Docs and Facebook

Another big day using Google Docs - the due date for the Year 11 essay is looming.
Unusually (!) students have left things to the last minute and a running around like headless chooks.
I have combined using the Docs with Facebook to help answer student questions about the essay.
This has worked really well as we have had a good discussion about Scientific essays and how to reference appropriately.
I have also been able to tell them when I have made comments on their documents - I hesitate to call them 'drafts' - more like 'essays in motion'.
No more excuses like: "I was sick", "My printer ink ran out", "My USB (with the only copy of the essay) is fritzed", "I left it home". With GD it's all on-line, un-losable, without a need to print or send me a copy. Bliss.
If I think that students aren't putting the work into the task, a quick email to parents usually fixes things.
It looks like everybody has submitted something!
The quality, however, is another issue...more info when I mark it!