A friend of mine recently asked me via Twitter if I would write a blog post about becoming a Google Apps school. I was not involved in the initial setup of the Google Apps for our school. Another teacher had signed the school up and started the initial process of the Google Apps at our school. What I am going to describe is our school’s evolution with Google Apps over the couse of the 2010-11 school year.
The initial purpose behind using Google Apps was to allow each teacher to create Google calendars for each class and insert his/her lesson plans in the calendar. In the first year that our school was open (2009-10), every teacher had posted lessons online either through personal Google accounts, Moodle, or uploaded PDF files via Dreamweaver. The lack of consistency in posting lessons and methods of posting lessons was troublesome to our administration and they had decided to have the staff use Google calendars. On the very first day back to work last year, I did a presentation on and helped every teacher sign-in to their accounts, create the calendars, enter events, and embed the calendars onto their class website.
The teacher who initially set up the Google Apps also set up accounts for the students in his program areas and my program areas which is about 180 students on a campus of just over 1000 students. I can only explain my (and a third teacher across the hall) progression through Google Apps. I started off small. I had every student login to their calendar and subscribe to the calendars of his/her other teachers. This allowed every student to see what was happening in all of their classes in one location. Since our school was also piloting a 1 to 1 program with the iPod Touch, my juniors also made sure they had access to their calendars on the iPod.
Once I got the calendars squared away, I moved into Google Docs. I started small here as well. My students initially typed assignments in Google Docs and when they finished they shared the document with me. I would provide feedback to the students in the document and allow them to make any changes if necessary. The students moved on to sharing documents with other students in the class. This was mostly creating group contracts and small presentations, but the students quickly learned that they could be more productive if four of them were working on a document simultaneously instead of watching one person type the entire document. In addition, I started making my deadlines due earlier to force simultaneous work and avoid having one person do all the work. Small group contract assignments eventually grew into large scale documents when my students created complex documents like a user guide for Maya and a game design document for their senior capstone project.
At first, I was content with just using the calendar and documents, but curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to see what else I could do. I moved to creating groups by graduation year. I mainly did this because I didn’t want to recreate groups this year and the graduation year of my students isn’t going to change. I started creating discussion questions that students would reply to at the beginning of class. Some of these posts were simple recall questions about the previous lectures, some were to provoke a debate, and some of the posts were designed to have my students write multiple choice questions about the material covered in class (some of which I used on tests).
The last big step in our school’s use of Google Apps came in a meeting about student portfolios. Our school is going to require that each student will complete a digital portfolio by the end of his/her senior year. We discussed several options and decided that using Google Sites was going to be our best option. This decision was made because using the school’s Google Apps account, we can control outside access to the portfolios and believed that every student, regardless of technical skills, would be able to complete a professional-looking portfolio.
At this time, only 10% of our student population had a Google Apps account. I was able to import the remainder of the student body using an Excel spreadsheet. The teacher across the hall and I taught the web design juniors how to create and modify a Google site and had them create some basic templates for other students to use. Once the web design juniors were proficient, we invited the other 10 program area juniors into our classrooms for a 30 minute lesson on setting up a portfolio. The other program area students logged into their accounts for the first time, selected a portfolio template, and had one-on-one time with another student to learn how to modify a Google site. While the juniors were getting lessons on the portfolios from their peers, the freshman were learning how to use Google Sites in their computer-based projects class. The only grade level that did not receive training last year was the sophomore class. This was mainly due to time constraints and that grade level will be trained at the beginning of this school year.
I realize that I have covered a lot in this post and I’m not positive that I got everything. One feature that we do not use is Gmail because the district has it’s own email system for students. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add them to this post, email me, or send me a message via Twitter.