Sunday 24 September 2017

Why Going Google is good for everyones health and the schools wealth!

As I said to my Year 13 L3 this week, If you look great, feel great, think great then you'll probably be great.  Google for education allows you to access all four and very quickly.  Confidence in all of us be us a waiter, a carpenter, a surgeon or teacher is underpinned fundamentally by skills and knowledge.  Teachers have generally mastered the skills of pedagogy and are experts in their subject knowledge.  But are they missing a trick by not tapping into the technology?

I still remember Tony, one of my first mentors during my NQT year saying “know your subject matter, know your students and communicate that knowledge confidently and the rest of the education industry babble can be safely ignored” when he reminded me of it again last week when I text him to ask if he was fit and well.  So Ill ask you how much effective learning  can you really cram into one lesson and are you the weakest link in the classroom?  When I started teaching I came to the conclusion that I thought that some of the learners were but I quickly realised that it was me as they were a lot quicker and more mentally resilient as they were often waiting for me to catch up. How very kind they are to use to let us bore them and bumble on 25 times a week!

That coupled unfortunately with the simple fact that not every learner is ready to learn when they find themselves in front of you and like most teachers  I’ve had many classes with disengaged, unexcitable, lazy,customers with low self esteem and on a few occasions all in the class would fit that character reference at the start of the academic year or mid term if they were a new class given to me.. That said I have also had classes full of the opposite too.  The challenge is to excite and inspire them all but it gets tough when you have to do it always for everyone.  So enter the wonderful world of Google, Google Apps and Google Classroom the latter I still need to teach myself and get my head around but it’s only week four after all next week and the academic year is young and I was to some extent an early adopter in principal with one foot in the Google sea of education and the technology it has made available to everyone in schools free today and these last eight years.

Eight years ago when I started teaching,  it was in a school that spoke 57 languages so I was looking for my own USP to hook in some of those young learners that i described above.  Fortunately my NQT mentor GC was like a Harry Potter wizard and we somehow spent half of every conversation reflecting on how to change our pedagogy and save time as well as our physical health and mental state of mind.  It was a tough school in National Challenge bur we had some technology if a little old and out dated in three classrooms to play with. He build a wiki webpage and has now moved across to Google sites and I started a blog using Google blogger.

At the time I was also amazed how little teachers shared or wanted to share resources both in the school and outside of it.  Surely an outwardly looking approach was beneficial to all to see so as I still do today if and when I am  lucky enough to come by one for free but then it was often either on a paper format but the odd one was electronic but you still had to find a way to keep them both safe and make them better each year to use again so I decided to try and go paper free.   It didnt work in this first school because the learners were not allowed their phones in lessons and not every classroom was  a PC or wifi enabled suite.  It didnt work in the next either because the network blocked external methods of storage such as Google Docs plus my line management didn't see the benefit of the blog and to some extent it was found upon so you can imagine my excitement after interview on the pre-start induction day when I found that the school that I had now landed in had a G- Suite!  Since then Ive always come to the conclusion that if people and organisations don't see the benefit of something or someone they don't deserve to keep it or them, but people only know what they know so I often make allowances for that before I eventually move on.

So being a little rusty and out of practice and not realising what a G-Suite actually was I found a training provider and a marketing company to see if I could get a free 40 minute online lesson in the summer holidays which I did so booked into a Google Hangout call and having secured a free trial on a Google Chromebook to Christmas I started to re-teach myself some of what I had already learnt eight years ago.  Although my intention was to be component after the summer holiday in reality there was lots more equally fun DIY stuff, pond building and allotment chores to do so in reality I actually started to force myself to do so in real time this term and live in front of the kids so that initial lesson I had booked way back in the summer had become a distant memory.  What it had made me realise as my wife was going Google at work was how easy Google had made learning this stuff and what I had been doing eight years ago was principally the same today.  I just needed to find the time to connect it all up through the free Google Classroom as I felt that I was still missing a few sneaky tricks.

And then this week the report by the PISA boss for education landed and the headline quickly published by TES read that Teaching in England is not ‘Interesting’ enough so its available to read here  if you missed it.   Well I thought Google for Education can easily sort  and change all of that.  A separate exclusive article in the same weekly edition was all about teachers spending hundreds of pounds a year on classroom resources was also no surprise to me but you can also read that here too.  I have too but very rarely and only when I need to create or save a dozen hours of time with something that has been dumped on me to do because Google saves you all that expense and worry too.

In fact as that’s a significant part of the title of this weeks edit why don't we address that now too. Most schools PAY for a learning platform and they are often very clonkey.  My first experience was with Fronter as it rewarded learners with an opportunity to play games which I felt was a little odd.  The next was Frog and I am sure now like then these cost schools many thousands to buy the license, and maintain the contract but why they pay for all this when a G-Suite is free.  I am not promoting Google as people already have issues with its scale and size but to be fair its good at promoting and developing its own brand but I am always impressed with individuals and corporations that choose to give more than a little back.  Google for Education is free for Education but that's not its biggest USP.  What I like about it is that it increases productivity.  Whereas a business would pay on average between £3 - £5 per employee per month Goolge have created their very clever offer to schools who can develop World Ready learners and workers for free I guess in the hope that they stick with it whole of life.

This last fortnight I have dedicated a part of each and every lesson to teach some skills and convert across the most part of 13 classes as well as teach them the content of the syllabus or course.  Year 7 Computing  are working working on two extended projects.  One article for a local rag to secure their learning and one a homework project on writing a business plan.  Year 8’s are already blogging. Year 10 BTEC are still taking notes in their books as they have a finance exam just after Christmas and I didn't want them not to do well in that but class activities are now all driven through Google Docs.  Year 10 GCSE see all their lessons on a blog page before and after the lesson if they please.  This menu has three starters, three mains and a pudding plus homework but the slides for all are in Google Slides and I can now run the entire lesson from the blog page and they can look at it all or any particular bit again and afgain for free.  However so can I after each and every lesson and tweek the running order content and anything I want to capture before I lock it away safe for next year.  Year 11 BTEC are starting a customer service unit and have already had a virtual tour to a local hotel Gravetye Manor.  Year 12 L2 are a slightly different priority as they are all there for the same reason for not having a very good Year 11 but they have taken to Going Google like a frog to a new pond’ and use it in conjunction with shared resources and my blog.  It encourages them to work quicker and smarter and underpins their confidence, office skills and become independent learners and create a better quality of work.  It has also very quickly put them under pressure to adjust their attitude to learning but more importantly allows them to hit deadlines very effectively as what they need to do is always on one page.  Year 11 GCSE are in their final year and I get the impression that the previous year  wasn't too exciting so every double that I see them I write them a menu for them to feed their learning too with even more starters, ten mains and two puddings which they generally get through most if not all of that.  Their lesson take no more than half an hour to plan as its a course I havent delivered before. The only thing not on the blog page is generally the theory slides on the student shared drive.  My instruction to them wasnt to pick a dish from all three courses but to decisde what order they would eat it all.  What fascinated me oboit their lesson wasnt the fact that they did devour it all but the fact that most of the learning was by doing engaged the disengaged boys.  We all know that the girls are great at writing but not as competitive in the classroom as the boys but by exciting them all to get involved was easy and that still left room for them to be tested, reflect on the previous weeks learning and secure the knowledge on this weeks but the speed at which some were thinking and the excitement on their face allowed me to watch and learn from them as much if not more as they were learning that lesson from me and that had nothing to with the content or skills that the lesson demanded but a shift in the planning of it.  I remembered saying to them as we came to the end of the lesson “did I really physically teach you anything today or did I focus on facilitating an experience for you to learn in” It was clear on what they had all learn and you can see it here. But it also felt like that was the start of their understadning when they walked out of the lesson and not the end of it!   Year 13 L3 are working on the Purpose of Accountancy so its easy to feed that as I put the theory on their shared drive and bring it to life through Google Docs.  Last thurday in less than 20 minutes I wrote an interim 50m topic test and posted it to their blog page for them to download into their own google docs.  They completed it in the hour and shared the link for me to view (and edit by changing their permissions before pressing send) so it was there for me to see how well they had done and mark it without printing it off.  Although I will mark it by next lesson they will have done the same before then as whilst they were sitting the exam in front of me I was writing the answers in a copy on an Google Docs App on my smartphone and when I had their submission I posted that revised Google doc answer sheet to the same Blog page so that they could see how well they had done and mark their own whci they did and now have it to keep.  My feedback to them wasnt written but they were ready for it and heard it very clear when they had all recieved it and when I asked for their feedack to me I was rather shocked to hear that they thought it was the best  but they had received in 7 years and you can hear their podcast here.
So by now you would be correct in thinking that Google Docs is their version of Microsoft Word. Google Sheets is virtually identical to Excel and Google Slides well you can guess that.  You might not however have realised that everything automatically backs up and saves on a cloud and you need no memory on a hard drive or a corruptible or losable data stick as its easy to stored it all in folders if you choose to do all the above it sits in Google Drive.  So whenever you need to plan a lesson all the resources are in one place or if you need to share a document, spread sheet or file you just open up your chrome book connect to a wifi or hotspot on your phone click the big blue share button in the top right hand corner and change the settings from ‘Private to only me’ to ‘View’ or ‘Edit’ before getting the shareable link to send.  I think I only scrambled the minds for one minute of the BTEC Year 10’s when I posted a document to their blog page of a class activity and changed settings to ‘edit by all’ and they were amazed that they were all working on the same document all together although some thought it fun to deleate bits and in the end it was all gone but they were quick to realise the merit of working collaboratively on a business plan on the next unit of study after Christmas as their edits were all in a different coloured online pen but it was easy after the lesson to reset the the settings of the document and attach a new link to the blog page so that they all had the original document again and because they had had som much fun in the lesson they were happy to work on it at home and one memeber of the class took great deloght in explaining how by going into file and clicking version history could reset it all to that.

So Going Google I would say is the chalice of all learning because its fun builds skills and engages the learner so they are happy to both learn and work harder in front of you and even more at home, Infact one lad in that BTEC class on Friday had done all the classwork, his homework four days early and thought that he had nothing to do but Id found five minures in the lesson to edit an extension task from last year and personlised it to the content of his course.  Quickjly wrote another headline on the blog page saying Next step and posted the link and when he thought that he had finished I showed him it to make him think. We both know that he will have done it by next lesson because it was a challnege that he had seen and if he ends up with a DIstinction for BTEC Business thats because he stretched himself both in and outside and not just for me.

So dont be daunted or beat yourself up about creating an outstnafing lesson, reliably competent has always sufficed for me but let Google take the strain and help create that positive relationships quickly and you concentrate on the praise and talent spotting for all to see.  The time you save before, during the lesson will make it easier to enthuse not just your passion for the subject but for you to plan the next step and the next and impart more strentch and challenge from your expert subject knowledge.  You will find how quicjkly students are engaged in their learning and how wonderful it is to see them think.  Not just about your topic but the tools they are using today.  Because if you free their mind from the dull routine and let the software take the strain, chaos and carnage and streamkines all the litle things that can absorb too much mental capacity it frees up the mind to work and focus on the bigger picture or the important things.  Well we are no different to them.  If your free like them to amaze, inspire and motivte, enthuse and excite and really teach them how to learn they will do far more than get a distinction or A* they will establish a hunger that they can now feed themselves or light a psssion that will never go out.  They wont just change their world but the world in which one day will be theres to look after, care for protect and evolve in.

I had time in my last lesson last friday, like i do in most these days, to look at the blog page and reflect so I quickly re-ordered the layout of the skills they needed for a PASS, MERIT and DISTINCTION so they all knew in seconds what tey had to do to get theirpartuular target grade that they were challenged with.  It was very easier to make evident to the whole class their shared learning intentions and show how they were differentiated on outcome of the skills that they were learning that day and the brightest and the best clocked in seconds what that menat to them.

Its also easy to adapt lesson plans or should I say the lesson on the blog page.  If a class just doesnt get it you just edit another task or challenge in.  Last week I taught the same topic to two year 10s and a year 12 classes so the investment for one went to all three but the year 12 L2 group struggeled so we rewound and added an additional step to their learning which unhooked them from their struggle but that series of lesson on one blog page is now better for wekaer learners and more importanlty waiting for me to deliver next year but I very quickly responded to the needs of Year 12 L2 so they could progress as quickly as Year 10 abd Year 10 ultimately benefoted from securing their knowledge using what Id done for them,

I am not sure if students need to be in planned groupings as it quickly becomes apprant whos working with what and the kids if you let them are happy to help and callobiarate and share their ideas and their learning and will antutrally default to that.

So if you have a problem getting your students to create quality work, develop a positive attitude to learning and work independnently and want them to persevere inside and as they walk out of your lesson give them a variety of tasks to do and let tehm choose the order that they would like to do them. I would say Google Docs is for you.

My teaching today is still focussed on what I learnt at the start of my teaching career.  The best lessons are planned around the questions that you use skillfully to target not just subject knolwedge but practical skills and meta cognition to identify and challenge any misconceptions which is now easier for me now I am free from the mundane reputition of telling 20 + kids the same thing. The outcome of this new practice is easy to measure does their progress exceed their target grade.  Well every class I have met so far has not just a target but a flightpath and an aspirational grade.  My bet is that most if not all will meet their new challenge because they love the platform that they are now working on and the tools that I have shared but if they only achieve their target grade well guess what they are still World Class Ready with tools for work that I have now shared..  Its easy to put the icing on the cake by incuding elelments of new softawe and social media tools to surprise.  That may or may not be on my blog page infact on most occassions I spot it in a coner of the room but its still as impactful if you make a big fuss of it or just quietly whisper in someones ear and share it at leastwith them or all.  All I will promise you is this.  If your still looking for the teaching and learning chalice or a way to inspire the learners in your class to continue learning beyond the classroom you owe it to yourself to give it a go because Going Google is easy, they made it so for a reason,its also free for schools to use.  The apps that you can access are too and I could spend ages talking about some of them but like the rewst of this edit all I will do is share the top ones that I have used this last three weeks and a few that I am excited to use.  I know that I went Google eight years ago and left it too long on a shelf but I always had one foot in the Google water and ive now started to dip the other toes in.  I know that I am still in the shallow end but Im not scared of going a little deeper.  Ive set myself targets for half term, christmas and Easter but by next summer I think Ill be swimming.  The benefit for a shift in your thinking and give it a go as well, is the time, energy and stress that yousave every hour that you can use doing more fun stuff instread but I will never take for granted that I am in a school that had technicians with the forsight not just to build systems and procedures into their intrenet to automate lots of daly tasks but more importantly a network with two platforms, Microsoft for the applications schools that a school needs to run and capture data on but have cleverly hidden a Google Chrome login for people like me and those that I teach to have more a greater learning experience and dare I say much more fun with in lessons so thatnk you chaps and chapesses for that.

I am not a super hero but if I had a super power that I could actually share with you I would say going Google makes ytou productive and gives that extra hour of PPA time each day.
I hope that you are tempted to dip your toe in the water yourself to discover what you can find and save but be warned like most things that are easy to do it becomes addictive too especially once you see for yourself what you can do and I also hope that one day you will be enjoying it as much as me and those that I teach.  

I've come a long way since my first school in Special Measures but this weeks blog I have to say is Inspired by the IT chap and the G-Suit that I discovered last July on my pre-start induction day at this truly special place.

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