Getting Geeky with Google

The winter term at school has been a crazy one. Between teaching, grading, reports, coaching, and all of the other things that tend to accumulate as the year goes on, I was literally counting the seconds until my March Break began. And no, I was not headed off to some warm, exotic destination to sip piña coladas on a beach. Nope, I was staying close to home with my pooches, catching up on some much-needed sleep, and tackling some long-overdue projects at home. One item on my massive To Do list is to write a blog post and to reflect on my action plan so far. Another is to complete Level 2 of the Google Educator program. And this is what brings me here now.

My March Break has consisted of lots of quality walks with the dogs, including this one. Despite not going somewhere tropical for the break, there's lots to appreciate about staying home and getting stuff done!

My March Break has consisted of lots of quality walks with the dogs, including this one, this morning. Despite not going somewhere tropical for the break, there’s a lot to appreciate about staying home and getting stuff done!

 

I’ve spent the past couple of mornings working through the Google Educator Level 2 lessons. My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy for spending my days off doing “school work”, but I love learning new things, and it’s a bonus if the things I’m learning can help me to improve my teaching practice or my efficiency in my work life. I truly hope that my desire to continue learning every day will also inspire my students (or even just one of them!) to recognize the importance of being a lifelong learner, and to realize that learning for its own sake– and not for getting “A’s”– is the key to loving the process.

I highly recommend the Google Certified Educator program to anyone who wants to improve their practice. Level 1 I found quite simple, but even though I was already a fairly accomplished user of GAFE (Google Apps for Education) tools, I certainly learned a few new things. The program is consistently focused not just on learning how to use tools effectively, but how to use them in order to improve your pedagogy and your efficiency. The lessons underline the collaborative and interactive possibilities with many of the tools, and they recognize the importance of helping educators stay organized and on top of their grading and feedback cycles.

Here are a few of the key ideas that I’ve gleaned from the Level 2 training:

Add-ons for Google Docs, Sheets, and Forms:

  • Thanks to the genius of Leslie McBeth’s GAFE summit presentations, I’d already been introduced to the world of Add-ons and how they can make the feedback cycle more authentic, timely, and efficient. I’ve been using DocAppender (a Forms add-on) in my class this year, and every student has a Doc that contains all of their feedback, from general observations to test scores, from peer assessments to full rubrics. It changed my life and allowed me to give FAR more feedback than I’d ever been able to provide to students, and it keeps it all in one place for students.
  • There are so many more add-ons available than I’ll ever be able to master. But I’ve explored a few of them, and here are some of my favourites: autoCrat (for making custom Docs or PDFs out of form responses), Flubaroo (for auto-grading quizzes), Yet Another Mail Merge (for creating custom replies for technology booking requests sent to the library), Form Notifications (for getting notified every time a form is submitted), and FormPublisher (similar to autoCrat). Staying on top of the add-ons and extensions available and how to use them could be a full-time job, but I’m keeping it as a priority for my professional development time, as they’ve probably made the biggest difference in my teaching, assessment, and workflow than any other tool I’ve encountered.

The endless possibilities for personalizing learning (a huge component of my action plan) through Google tools:

  • Docs: creating  interactive documents for guiding students on a personalized learning journey; using Tables of Contents, Bookmarks, and internal and external hyperlinks to help students navigate the Doc.
  • Forms: self-assessment, peer-assessment, and teacher-assessment forms; using forms for quick understanding checks (autograded using Flubaroo); using “choose your own adventure” features on Forms to help ensure understanding; using Forms to auto-fill and customize rubrics using Form Publisher or autoCrat add-ons.
  • YouTube: using annotations and cards to make my flipped lesson videos more interactive and useful for all learners.
  • Sites & Blogs: using Sites and/or blogs to create digital portfolios for students to display, reflect on, and share their learning journey throughout the year.

The continuous learning that I need to engage in:

The lessons on using Google Sheets for data analysis were way above my level of comprehension. Although they linked to pages with explanations, even those were too complex for my non-mathematical brain to understand. I’ve added a course on using Google Sheets to my lynda.com playlist so that I can continue to learn and challenge myself to understand the tool more thoroughly and leverage it more effectively for my data tracking.

"All this learning is hard work! I thought we were on vacation!"

“All this learning is hard work! I thought we were on vacation!”

In all, working through this training has reminded me once again of the importance of staying current with technology to ensure that a) I’m providing my students with the best and most personalized learning experience possible, b) I’m giving effective and timely feedback, and c) I’m modeling the value of self-directed and passion-based learning. There are SO many amazing tools available to us, and taking the time to learn about them, practice them, and try them out in my practice is so fun and rewarding.

And reading Leslie’s recent blog posts about her experiences with the Google Certified Innovator program have helped me to set my next goals for my own professional development! Happy March Break, everyone! I hope you’re finding it restful and re-energizing – I know that I am!