Google Drive: A Powerful Tool for Your Classroom.

I love using Google Drive with my students.   Drive allows them to create and share a document so they can collaborate on-line on an assignment or project.  It’s virtual group work.  Even better, the teacher gets to be part of the group, and you can observe their on-line conversation, and nudge them in different directions if need be.  Let me give you some examples:

Right now, my Pre-IB class is reading John Knowles’ A Separate Peace.  They have all read the novel, but we have not yet discussed it as a class.  Instead of doing the traditional novel study, they have been divided into groups, and each group will “teach” two chapters to the rest of the class.  I modeled what I want them to do with chapter one, and now they are planning their own presentations.

sp chat oneSo, for example, group one is looking at chapters two and three.  One person in their group started a document on Google Drive and shared it with the rest of the group, as well as with me.  Once everyone opens the document, they can engage in a chat to the right side of the document.  There, they can throw out ideas, and make plans before they put the information that they want to save on the document.  Once they get their ideas down, they can go back to focus and organize it.  Everything gets saved on each person’s files.

Meanwhile, while all this chatting is going on, the teacher can be part of the group, either as a silent observer or as an active participant.  I take turns dropping into each group’s discussion and add suggestions if they need them, or nudge them if the discussion is taking off in the wrong direction.  Once the students are satisfied with the discussion of their chapters, they will use the document to plan their presentation to the rest of the class.

sp chat twosp chat three


It takes some time and coordination, but it has been, by far, the most powerful tool for collaboration I have ever used.  Because you can “see” each student on-line, you are very aware of who is contributing and who is not.  And, because they are aware of this, they are more likely to participate.  Also, because you can scroll back and look at what they have on the document, you are more aware of what has transpired than you are if you are going from group to group in your classroom.  The notes that you leave on the document are also there for the students to refer to, whereas a comment in class might not get remembered.

So, if you want to use Drive, your students will all need a gmail account so they can access the program.  If you are lucky enough to have access to a lab that runs the program, you can begin this process in school, and have them finish it up at home.  If you don’t have access at school, it could be solely a take home assignment.  If the students are doing the work at home, they will need to decide on a time to “meet” and share that time with you, so you can pop by and see what they are up to!  Give it a try.



I would love to take the leap

I am not by nature a risk taker.  In fact, I’m pretty conservative when it comes to most things.  In my mind, however, I fight a daily struggle between traditional me and  my more radical side.  For example, when it comes to education there are many things I think should change, , but alas, I am a rule follower and that side of me often over-powers the part that wants to break out and do something different.

I have been working on breaking out more, and I have made some changes to my teaching; I am far less “traditional” than I used to be.  But there are things I’d really like to try that I haven’t been brave enough to do yet.  One of those things is “Twenty Percent Time”, inquiry-driven time when students work on what they want to work on.  It is an idea suggested in Drive, an awesome read by Dan Pink.  If you haven’t read, or heard about it, check out his Ted Talk.  In it he refers to companies like Google and Atlassian that give employees time to work on their own projects–and they have come up with some amazing results.  Pink suggests that teachers allow students to do the same.

AJ Juliani is a strong proponent of twenty percent time in schools.  He has some great information on his blog, where he debunks some of the myths and provides lots of great links.  Check it out if you’d like more information, or like me, convincing.

I’ll be here, trying to work up the courage to make that leap.

What to do with Johnny…

I have this guy in my non-academic English class.  Let’s call him Johnny.  It took him three tries to get to me, but his very determined grade eleven teacher was there for him and helped him get over the hurdles he needed to finally pass.  She also got him a used bed when his father kicked him out of the house after he turned eighteen and was no longer eligible for the government check that came every month.  She delivered it, and some second hand sheets and towels, to the grungy one-room apartment that he lives in by himself.  The bed is one of the very few pieces of furniture in the room and he was over the moon to receive it.  His story breaks my heart.

He is one of the students in the class that I am team-teaching.  My partner and I have been having a great time with the students, and have spent a good part of the first weeks of the semester on relationship building, mixed in with lots of critical thinking exercises.  Johnny comes every day and does minimal written work.  He has a hard time sitting still and often looks for attention.  But he is highly engaged in the class. He participates fully in every discussion, and is the first to volunteer when we ask for one.  In short, he likes to be there and he is learning lots.  We can work on the written work as time goes on.

So.  Johnny has a sad back story.  Johnny has had a hard time at school.   Johnny has been coming every day and is participating in class.  However…there’s always a however.  Johnny had a girlfriend named…let’s  call her Julie.  Julie was upset with him one of those reasons that often cause DRAMA.   She and her friend decide to jump Johnny at lunch one day and he fought back.  End of the story is that he was kicked out of school for a week.

Here’s my question: is that the right way to handle his behavior?  On the one hand, he used violence to solve his problem and, as we all know, violence is never the answer, and it’s certainly not an answer we can condone in school.  However,  this kid  has little guidance in his life.  He does not go home to Mom and Dad who teach him valuable life lessons and who provide consequences for bad behavior.  He goes home to that grungy apartment with a bed and some used sheets.  He had been attending regularly; he was enjoying school.  Is it possibly the right answer to remove him from the one place where he could get some guidance?

It’s not an easy question to answer, but I think there must be some better solutions out there.  If anyone’s listening and you have some ideas, I’d love to hear them.