Google Classroom? Not Yet.

I have taken time to get acquainted with Google Classroom. It is a solid base to start from, but it lacks some needed features already present in other Course Management Systems (CMS).

Google Classroom is, not surprisingly, tightly integrated with Google Docs, Google Drive, and Gmail. An assignment can be saved in the teacher’s Google Drive and automatically saved in the correct class folder of the student’s Google Drive. A student may opt-in for emails about assignments or announcements. Students use Google Docs to complete assignments and then submit them back to Google Classroom to be graded by the teacher. The teacher can offer feedback on the assignment and include a grade. There are APIs already available for 3rd party apps. These are all solid features.

There is, however, plenty of room to grow. Google Calendar is oddly missing. There is an option to integrate YouTube videos, however many districts block YouTube. There is no way to test students, which is a huge drawback comparative to other CMS. The timing could have been a little sooner to give teachers some time to ready their Google Classroom before school started.

All in all, Google Classroom is a good start. With the power of Google behind Google Classroom, it will get better. I think it is a good entry point for teachers who are comfortable with the Google universe and are looking to get their feet wet with a paperless classroom. Teachers looking to for more will quickly outgrow Google Classroom.

If you are really looking to get started with a paperless classroom, look elsewhere for now.

I Hate Grading, Don’t You?

I’ll say it again.  I really hate grading.  I end up with a huge stack of papers at the end of the day that is taller than the ceiling.  Papers get lost.  Students don’t hand them in on time.  I am not as good as I should be about returning student work so they don’t get the feedback they need.  I just can’t get excited about grading.  I am always on the lookout for a way that technology can make this easier for me and better for my students.

In that vein, I signed up to try Classroom IQ.  It is an, “Open-Response Grading Platform.”  Here is how it works.  First you must get the students’ work into digital form.  This is probably the most difficult part.  I chose to use the school copiers and save the output onto a thumb drive.  I realize that not all of you will have that feature on your copiers, but many copiers can email or send files via ftp.  Setting up your copier is beyond the scope of this article, so please read the user’s manual on your copier for more information.  Of course you can have your students email the assignment or save in a shared Dropbox folder, but there are easier methods for grading than Classroom IQ if your students are electronically submitting homework.Uploading Files

Assignments are uploaded to ClassroomIQ via the web interface.  This is pretty easy once you have your documents in electronic format.  Note that files must be either .jpg or .pdf format.  It also helps if students put their name on both sides of the paper if you have double-sided assignments.

It takes a while for Classroom IQ to parse the file and do the magic behind the curtain.  The assignments I have uploaded so far have taken around one to two hours before they were ready to be graded.

Before the first assignment is uploaded it is helpful, but not necessary, to have the class roster setup.  You can do it while grading, but I found that it was easier to have names setup before uploading the assignments.

ClassroomIQ2While grading you are presented with one slice of the assignment at a time.  I clicked the Mark All as Correct button and then just clicked on the questions that were incorrect.

You then just scroll down to keep on grading.  An arrow button allows you to grade the next question.

I found that some questions were not sliced appropriately, but I was able to count those questions for 2 points instead of 1.

Comments are allowed, although I can’t find where the student actually has access to the feedback given by the teacher.  The website also advertises the ability to mark questions with Common Core tracking or State Standards, but I could not find that feature.ClassroomIQ Gradebook

The gradebook was well laid out, giving the information expected.  I like that it is color coded so that I can see at a quick glance what students are struggling with and I can also quickly see what questions are giving students the hardest time.

All in all I found this a great start to a great project.  It is still in its infancy and there are a few features that I would require before implementing it full time in my classroom.

The following are my suggestions for increased usability.  These are only my opinions.

  • Ability to delete/rename classes
  • Ability to sort classes on the left-hand menu
  • Ability to run an entire day’s worth of one assignment and have classroomiq sort out students in the correct class
  • Ability to delete assignments
  • Ability to sort assignments by grading period
  • Ability to sort students by Last Name, First Name, or score on assignment
  • Highlight assignments with no name, or ones that the system does not recognize
  • Have the option to report points earned, or percent correct on assignment
  • Ability to export results to a .csv for import into a standard gradebook program
  • Ability for students/parents to login to see the assignments with teacher comments
  • parents/students able to opt-in for email notifications after grading has been completed
  • download assignment with comments
  • In lieu of a student/parent login, it would be nice to be able to download a separate pdf for each student that was graded, possibly in a .zip file of the whole class with the teacher comments on the documents.
  • Ability to scan assignments that were handed in late and merge them into an assignment that was already graded.
  • Integration into Edmodo, Schoology, and Moodle

Have you found any tools that work great for grading?  Please share, I’d love to know.  This is the area of teaching that I need the greatest amount of help.

Easier Collaboration Within Teams

We teachers have to collaborate with different groups of people every day.  I have a team of  teachers teaching other core subjects.

groupiful

I also collaborate with my fellow 8th Grade Science teachers on campus.that mostly have the same students as I do.

Emails can get lost or buried within all of the other emails we have to deal with.  To-do apps are not synced within our teams and a dozen different calendars are used.

Groupiful can help with all of this.  You can create a Group for each team you are involved in.

The Dashboard has a convenient layout of Assigned Tasks, Recent Notes, Events (Calendar), a place to share Files, and a place for Posts.  Think of Assigned Tasks as a To-Do list that is assigned to a person in the group.  You may choose to keep your Meeting Minutes in the Notes section.  The Events is much like any other Calendar with an Agenda view.  Files is a place to share files, much like DropBox.

Groupiful has a Starter plan that is free for 10 users and 100 MB of storage.  Paid plans range from $60/yr for 25 users and 500 MB storage all the way up to $360/yr for 100 users and 5GB storage.  It is not clear whether the storage is per user or per group.

How does your team keep track of everything?  Is it supplied by your school?  What do you like or dislike about your current system?  Let us know in the comments.

Mr. Kubala and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

We all have them.  I had a doozy of one a few weeks ago.  Myself and, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

It all started off when I decided to use the iPads in my classroom for the first time.  I did not have a system for handing them out efficiently so there was chaos in getting the iPads to students.  I also opted to forego the day’s Warm-Up so we could get to the fun Review Activity I had planned for the day – more chaos.  That day a parent decided she was going to sit next to her student during that class which helped with that one student, but all other students were off the wall.  One more change to the regular routine I would guess.

Students were unfocused, not following my directions and I had to, dare I say, raise my voice to get the students’ attention.  To top it all off, my Principal decided she would be in my room to make Mom more comfortable and make sure that everything was going well.

Although I have been teaching a number of years, I am new to this campus and this was the first time my new Principal saw me in action.  Not good.  I am embarrassed by what she saw.  The only good thing I can say is that after the students were settled, they got into the review game I had planned.  Everything else, unfortunately, was a loss.

Lessons I had forgotten:

  • Students need to have the expectations set out BEFORE the equipment is handed out.
  • It is easier to start class with control and keep it than to gain control back later in the class.  (The same can be said for the school-year)
  • Do not deviate from routines – they are there to keep order in class.  Students need to know what to expect in your class.
  • It’s okay to say, “No.”  I knew that my day was not going well, I should not have allowed the parent in my classroom on that particular day.  Any other day, OK, with more than one minute notice.
  • Invite your Supervisor, whoever that may be, to your class well before they have a chance to see you at your worst.  I’ve had plenty of other days that would have been a better representation of what kind of teacher I am.

I have my formal evaluation this week and with a little luck, and a lot of planning, I am hoping that my Principal has a better opportunity to see me in action.  I am also going to have to work extra hard to get out of the hole that I am now in because of the first impression she has of my teaching.

What about you?  Have you ever had a similar experience?  What did you do?  How did your Supervisor respond?

Automatic Classroom Seating Chart Maker – Updated

A seating chart is one of the most important tools in a teacher’s arsenal in classroom management.  Happy Class makes this an easy task and potentially saves hours and hours of work.

HappyClassLogo

First you setup your classroom with the seats arranged they are in your classroom.  Next you input the names of your students.  Much like any other seating chart app, Happy Class automatically arranges all of the students in a random order.  The power comes in teaching Happy Class the relationships of the students.

Happy Class allows you to teach it which students work well next to each other and which students should not sit next to each other.  This is an awesome power to have!  I have used it for one class so far and it helped me tremendously.  I projected the seating chart onto the screen and had the students find their new seats.  I was able to easily tweak the new seating chart on the fly by dragging the names of students to the corresponding seats.

Overall, Happy Class worked really well.  I was very impressed with the interface and ease of use.  It is free to use for one classroom and one roster of students.  In my opinion the price of $15/yr  is steep for the Pro account.  The Pro account does allow an unlimited number of students, unlimited number of classrooms, and unlimited number of class rosters.

Again, for one teacher this seems overly expensive, however if you work in a team of teachers the $15 could be divided by the number of teachers on your team.  My only concern would be as the number of teachers using the same account increase so do the chances that someone will accidentally mess up another teacher’s classroom.

Happy Class is a very cool concept and worth a look.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

http://happyclassapp.com

Update:

I have since run into problems using Happy Class.  I have contacted tech support several times and alerted them via Twitter also.  My problems have not been resolved.    In a large class with many relationships, it is freezing on Achieving Happiness.  This has been a huge frustration.

Nearpod

I’ve been using Nearpod in my classroom the past few weeks to enhance the old boring PowerPoint and get some engagement at the same time.  Nearpod is an app for IOS or Android but you have to upload your content first using the Web Interface at http://www.nearpod.com

nearpod1

It is free to use with a limited amount of space to upload or create your own NPPs as they are called in Nearpod-ese.  There are also many NPPs available to use for free that have been shared by other users.  Some sets cost additional money, for example Time for Kids costs $14.95 for the set at the time of this writing.

I used Nearpod to check students’ understanding when introduce coefficients and subscripts for chemical formulas for chemistry.  I had the original PowerPoint on my screen at the front of class while I created an NPP with, “draw it” slides where students could write and submit answers.

It worked well.  I ran into two problems.  The first one was that Nearpod kept complaining that I had over 50 students connected when in fact my largest class has 32 students in it.  The second problem I had is when I shared out student answers.  Some students just got a blank screen instead of the shared student screen.

Overall I think that it is an app I will use again.  It does require some prep to use before class, but I think it can be worth the student engagement and results that I am able to get from the teacher app.

Classroom Economy

A few weeks ago I introduced my classes to a classroom economy.  For those of you unfamiliar with a classroom economy, it is a system setup for classroom management and introduces students to how an economy works.

The system can be as simple or complex as you like.  I am using the system available for free at http://www.myclassroomeconomy.org/

Everything you need is on the website, or if you don’t have access to a printer, they will mail you everything you need for free.  I am mostly using the resources available for Grades 7-8 since I teach 8th grade science.  I modified some of the jobs and added a few that are specific just to my classroom.  For example I have an Entrance Door Monitor and an Exit Door Monitor.  The Entrance Door Monitor makes sure students coming into the classroom get their daily warm-up.

The gist of a classroom economy is that every student has a job that they get paid for in classroom dollars.  They are responsible for paying for rent of their desks and/or chairs.  Most of the jobs pay around $150/week while rent costs $800/month.  Students get paid extra for high scores on tests or participation in extra-curricular activities.

One thing that was keeping from trying this sooner was keeping track of what I called, “Kubala Dolla’s.”  After much searching, I found an online bank created for this particular purpose.  You can setup a free account at http://www.mykidsbank.org/  You will have to setup accounts for all of your students, but I find that this is much easier than keeping up with all of that paper.

One of the best things about mykidsbank.org is that you can print your own money in denominations of your choosing.  Each bill you print will have its’ own unique code so students just can’t go and make copies of them.  They will have to enter the code whenever they deposit their cash into the bank.

Since I use mykidsbank.org, the Banker’s job is a little different than what is described on myclassroomeconomy.org.  My bankers are responsible for taking fines out of students’ accounts issued by the Police Officer.  Bankers also make transfers when a student writes a check.  I made my own check template which you can download from:  https://www.dropbox.com/s/gjaqjbrf62416rk/Checks_template.docx

This upcoming week will be the first time students have to pay rent, so we will see how many students have saved enough money.  I am still formulating a plan for those students who do not have enough money for rent.

I will post more about the success and challenges that I face with this system in the future.

 

Backup! Backup! Backup!

 

My computer crashed last week.  Without going into too much detail, I was disconnected from the digital world except for my cell phone until my new computer arrived.  I was never worried about the data on the computer because I backup all of my data automatically and continuously.

CrashPlanLogo

There are many ways to backup your data.  I am not going to go into all of them.  I am just going to let you in on the simplest way to backup your data and the way I prefer to do it.

I use CrashPlan.  This is the best way to backup because it is off-site and is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  It doesn’t matter if your computer is stolen, if it catches on fire, or if your computer just decides that it doesn’t want to work anymore.  You just download your data that was backed up and your off to the races once again.

CrashPlan is free if you backup your data to a friend’s computer and your data is all encrypted so no one can see your files.  Alternatively, you can backup to CrashPlan’s servers for a fee.  Plans start at $2/month and go up depending on how much data you have to backup and how many computers you want on your plan.

There are many ways to backup your data.  It doesn’t matter how you do it, be sure to backup your data NOW!

Online Interactive Notebooks

I have already showed you how I use Google Sites to keep track of my own personal learning in Notetaking in Professional Development.  Now I’d like to share how last school year I started using Google Sites as a replacement for Interactive Notebooks.  I worked in a Disciplinary Alternative Education Placement (DAEP) campus.  I had the luxury of a 1 to 1 classroom and students were enrolled in my classroom for a maximum of 18 weeks.  Teachers at the student’s home campus usually did not send the student’s Interactive Notebook with them when they were enrolled at the DAEP, so I started using Google Sites.  As a bonus, when the students went back to their home campus, all of their work was online and accessible by them and their teachers.

Here is a link to the template I use for my 8th Grade Science students.   https://sites.google.com/a/mesquiteisd.org/8th-grade-science/home

I have my students use this as a template for their own Google Site.  You can see that it is also an outline of everything they will be learning this school year.  Each unit represents a six-weeks grading period.  Students like this because it lets them know where we will be going this year.  Parents love it because they know exactly what their students are working on in class and can check on their student’s Google Site to see what they have done in class.

Please leave comments:

How have you used Google Sites with your students?  Do the students like it?  What about the parents?  How do you keep up with all of the student sites?

The Many Uses of Animoto

I like free.  I especially like free when it involves a cool tool like Animoto.  You can sign up for a free Animoto Plus Account at  http://animoto.com/education/classroom  Be sure to use your school e-mail address to sign up for a new account.  An educator account will allow you to create Plus accounts for students and also gives you a Plus account to use.  You will need to apply for the educator account every six months, but it is definitely worth it.  I can’t explain what Animoto does, so here is an Animoto of one of my class rocket launches:

There are 47, “Styles” to choose from which are basically what is playing behind your pictures.  You add the pictures that you have downloaded from the Internet or that you have taken with a digital camera.  Finally add music and then publish it.  Voila!

Students LOVE to use animoto!  One of my favorite thing to do is have them find appropriate pictures for vocabulary words.  One unit this works particularly well in  is when we talk about Biomes.  I have students find pictures representing the climate, plans and animals that live in that particular biome and a map of where that biome is.  The students have fun, and share their project on their own Google Site.

Have you had the opportunity to use Animoto in your classroom?  If so, how did you use it?  If not, how do you see yourself using it in a lesson?  Let us know in the comments.