Sunday, July 5, 2015

Considering Google Classroom - part1

So you're considering Google Classroom?  Great!

What it is: The best way to explain this thing is that it's an organizing system for GMail communication in a classroom setting. It has tools that make the process of sending out assignments and collecting assignments, from all of the students, multiple classes, multiple artifacts per student, much easier. 

It is NOT an online classroom where each student gets to work at his/her own pace. That would be Moodle ... if you want a totally differentiated system that does the teaching and each kid is at a different place, then Classroom isn't going to work well for you.

Type of class it's best for:
My colleagues in the English and History departments are the most satisfied with Classroom because their myriad assignments are typically written paragraphs that could easily overwhelm your in-box if you were to try and have the students just send them to you ... to the tune of 1000 emails a week, or more.

(update: "Ducks to Water - Google Classroom" details the experience of a New Zealand English teacher's use of Classroom)

It's tough for math, however.  Symbols are limited. There is Greek Delta for triangle, but you have to use < for angle. Complex notes are impossible - handwritten still works best for taking notes, then scan and send from the school copier.  Algebra is possible for me since I'm writing one equation for a problem but the students can't show their work easily. Pre-Caclulus and Calculus are basically a no-go in GDocs.  There's easy integration of Desmos and Geogebra, but you have to let go of the need to show work or steps.

The exceptions: Probability and Statistics, and portfolio/explanation/extended answer questions. P/S using Sheets works great. You can send out data ("Make a copy for each student") and the kids each create a presentation with graphs from it.  Similarly, "portfolio" problems or the new Common Core explanation-required problems work fairly well because there's more writing and verbiage than math equations.

Bottom line: If your students are using Google Docs to do their work, then Classroom is perfect. I gave the Stats class work that they generated spreadsheets and graphics for: Sheets and Slides came back, sorted, tagged with name, a nice little interface that collects all of the artifacts that are submitted with the assignment (also renames them with assignment name and student name, e.g., "6.2 Histogram - John Smitty 2018").

Bonus: If your students have more than one class using Classroom, then they get a dashboard with assignments and such. They LIKE having everything there.

  • Ease of use.
  • Every assignment goes to every kid at the same time. Email notification and bright red "Assignment Due" in the interface.
  • The assignments that are submitted are definitely submitted.
  • Kids appreciate it when multiple teachers use it.
  • You can grade right in the list of students' submissions. Open the kid's submitted files, add comments right in the margins, "Return" it if you want improvements, choose a grade.

  • Typing Algebra. 
  • Drawing graphs. (Desmos and Geogebra integrate well, but DRAWING is cumbersome)
  • Every assignment goes to every kid at the same time. Email notification and bright red "Assignment Due" in the interface. No differentiation.
  • No quizzes (yet. They claim to be working on it)
  • You can't have a class prepped too far out, certainly not a full course. 
  • Gradebook is limited and does not integrate with your gradebook program.

Here's a sample assignment:

It's got a title and a due date. I included a picture for them to look at (student can view), a spreadsheet will the data that each student will work on and submit later (Make a copy for each student) and an another spreadsheet that all students can edit together. The "Make a copy for each" option allows each student to have their own to work on while the "Students can edit" option lets us all contribute data to the same file. It could be raw data, a GDoc that you're using for class notes, etc.

The paperclip icons at the bottom allow you to attach a file from your computer (uploaded), attach a google doc (doc, sheets, drawing, etc.), a YouTube video link, and a general link.

When you student has completed his work, he goes back to this page and hits the SUBMIT button.  Any file that was "Make a copy for Each" is automatically attached, but the student can attach other files, evidence, artifacts, and then submit.

It all gets neatly organized in your GDrive, in a folder creatively called "Classroom", but you will never need to look in there for them.
Nope, don't care.
What you'll do is look in your assignment "stream":

Note: The blue rectangles are just to obscure the students' names for publishing here. The green one covers a student's name as part of the new automatically created filename. Each student's entry can be expanded as I did here to see and open any submitted files. Everything is in my Drive, but I can get to it all here.

Also, to answer the other question asked on Twitter, I feel it's not that difficult to create the same assignment more than once for different sections and this gives me the flexibility of having classes at different points during the year. Not only that, but announcements can be posted to more than one group and can contain PDFs, links, images, etc.

Note: I don't grade them here because I don't want dual-gradebook confusion. I do write comments (ctrl-alt-M) in the documents themselves.

If this works for you, you owe me a beer someday.

There will be a part 2.