Monday, July 24, 2017

Earning Google Certification

The first time I heard about Google Certified Educators, I was intrigued. What could Google offer to teachers? Why would having a Google Certificate make any difference?

Becoming a Google Certified Educator means knowing how to effectively use the G Suite for Educators in the classroom. It means using the Google tools as actual tools and not gimmicks. It's really easy to say "Oh yes, I use technology to enhance education because I show youtube videos in class." or "I use technology because I have a class website."

Google Certified Educators take technology beyond a once in a while event and use it to help themselves and their students.

I was first introduced to the idea of becoming Google Certified last school year. The school where I was teaching was moving to Chromebooks for the 1:1 tech. I planned to get my certification over the summer and was very happy to find that I had to earn a "microcredential" as part of one of my graduate classes.

Last year I had taken my classroom as paperless as I could using Google Drive and Classroom. Some of my students did better with paper. It made my life as a teacher so much easier. Google Forms was wonderful for worksheets, exit tickets, and assessments. I was able to post videos for students who were absent, and give them copies of all assignments. The biggest problem was actually with students pressing the button to submit assignments! I thought missing assignments would disappear, but it was still difficult to get students to push the button.

Thanks to the experience I had using G Suites for Education, the actual process of Google Certification was a review of skills I already had. There are three modules and 13 units total. The training process is interactive with videos, scenarios, and mini-quizzes. If you feel confident in one area, you can skip the lesson and go straight to the quiz. However, I wouldn't recommend doing this because there's just so much extra information and little "hacks" to make life easier.

One Google site I didn't know about was Google Keep. It's now one of my favorites! It's basically a list keeper. I like lists. As soon as I finished the training on Google Keep, I made five lists of all my state standards. When I teach a standard, I can check it off the list. I'd like to be able to add a date and time, or multiple checks if I do it more than once. I'm not sure if that's possible. If it's not, I'll probably add the standard multiple times. Or maybe create a checklist for each nine weeks. These Keep lists are shareable, so it would be great for planning purposes within departments.

The test for certification takes about two hours. I test quickly in most instances. I don't usually need the full two hours. This exam really does need the full amount of time it says. I can't disclose what is on the test and how it is formatted, except that you need two hours and a webcam.

The big downside for me with this certification is that this next school year, I will not be at a school with 1:1 technology. Some of my new students don't have computers or internet at home, not because they can't afford it, but because there simply isn't the infrastructure where they live. As in, there's no internet service provider. The only tech I have in my classroom is my teacher laptop, a PC, and a ceiling mounted projector.

This is presenting a big challenge for me in how to integrate 21st century skills into a classroom without the latest gadgets. Right now, I plan on using Google Classroom for big projects like papers and presentations. I won't be able to use it for quizzes and daily work like I was before. I still plan on posting digital copies of worksheets and assignments in case  for when students lose work. Another idea is to provide students with a daily summary on Google Classroom of what we did in class. This way, students will have a way to double check they have all they need.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Teacher Coaching Cycle

My first year of teaching was a real challenge. Not only was I commuting 84 miles one way and changing time zones, I was teaching at a STEM school with 1:1 technology. All my students had iPads. It sounded great in theory, but for many of the students, the iPad was pretty much a really cool toy they got to play with at school. It was my job as a teacher to pull them away from youtube (why it wasn't blocked was beyond me) and sorting their playlists in order to focus on what we were actually supposed to be doing in class.

Our technology coach said there was no better usage monitor than 2-2. That is two eyes and two feet. I disagreed. We needed 2-2-filter! What was left out of our coaching was that 2-2 required set up in the form of strategic seating (certain seating arrangements made it a lot easier to monitor) and frequent bug checks (students were constantly trying to find ways to cheat the system).

The other big challenge I faced was that my comfort level with technology was completely different than several of the other teachers in the building. I was ready to go with using Google Classroom for formative assessments, going nearly completely paperless, podcasts when I was out of the classroom for the day so students didn't fall get the ideas. However, the training we were receiving was very much geared towards people who were not as comfortable with the tech.

I really wish our technology coach was able to provide us with more one on one coaching instead of the one-size coaching that was being done. 

Coaching Cycle

Right off the bat, I would have been able to get coaching specific to my needs. For example, how can I get my students to use the feedback I leave for them on assignments in order to improve their writing? There are some students who think writing an essay is a "one and done" sort of thing--I wrote something, now I'm done. I'd leave feedback and the students would turn in the exact same essay without any changes. Or, I'd have students actually include my handwritten notes and questions! 

Once I started using Google Docs, I thought it would all be sunshine and rainbows. Instead of actually fixing the errors, the students would mark my comments as resolved and not change anything. Despite many explanations, they thought all they had to do was read what I wanted changed OR that clicking the resolved button, meant some sort of magical auto-correct would take place.

I started to wonder if the problem was with how I was explaining things. Was I not clear enough? What was I doing wrong that my students weren't using their feedback?

Ideally, a coach would have come into my room and watched how I was using Docs and with my interaction with the students. I would have received some feedback like maybe transitioning a little more slowly to digital feedback. Have the students give feedback to each other first on paper and save the digital feedback for final drafts. 

When I asked other teachers what they were doing, they either weren't or their students didn't have the same issues because our student populations were on opposite ends of the spectrum.

So I was pretty much left to "self-coach" and reflect on what worked and what didn't and how I'd do it in the future. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

standards and professional learning

After reviewing the Alabama Quality Teaching Standards and the Standards for Professional Learning from Learning Forward, what are the most important aspects of designing professional learning activities that are meaningful to the teachers but also aligned to standards?

I've heard the horror stories of professional development: hours at boring meetings that have no point or are not at all applicable to your students or the worst, when it feels like a sales pitch for a new and improved  product where the only parts that are new and improved are the addition of the words "new and improved."

The there are the memes:

One of the first things that jump out about professional learning, is that teachers do not find them meaningful. Teachers loathe when students ask "Why do we have to learn this?" yet when it comes to training, teachers turn around and ask administrators the same thing! If the teacher doesn't find the training relevant, then the teacher, just like his or her student, tunes out.

This is where the standards come in, just like it does with our students. As adult learners, we are goal oriented. As teachers, our goal should be to help our students. We help our students by continuing to learn. Students change every year. Technology changes. It isn't realistic for teachers to think they can stop learning just because they've finished a degree or have a certain number of years in the classroom.

It is also important to recognize teaching doesn't take place in a vacuum. Teachers are part of large and small communities with a variety of experiences. One of the best training sessions I attended was with all teachers in my content area who taught grades 6, 7, and 8 (all grade 8 students attended a separate school from grades 6 and 7). The purpose was to show how the standards built upon each other and transitioned between grade levels. It allowed us to discuss why certain skills were critical as they were key to mastering later standards. We were also able to have a frank discussion about what skills we didn't prioritize and how that impacted future success on the standards. This professional development experience showed us our "collective responsibility," in addition to extending our support network.

This could have easily been a session where everyone pointed the finger at another grade level for not teaching, but instead it was used to show the teachers how we could better build upon each other. It also encouraged us to look at the 9th grade standards to make sure we knew what we had to prepare the students to do.

When teachers know and understand why we have to attend the meetings and what benefit those meetings are to ourselves and our students, we become invested. We give our students standards and goals to increase their investment  in their education. As teachers, we expect the same.