03 October 2013

Geeking Out with Google Apps

I love teaching and learning at a PYP school. Inquiry-based, conceptually-driven learning matches impeccably well with my constructionist philosophy and pedagogy. The chaos is inspiring and the triumphs and failures are motivating. The most relevant learning occurs when we provide the time, tools, and independence for each learner to build their understandings in their own ways, whether with their hands, computers, pencils, blocks, paint, sounds, etc.

My shift toward increasingly individualized education has been supported by technology. I would like to share a few of the tools I've developed with Google Apps which are intended to place the learner at the center of learning documentation and provide a transparent medium for reporting to parents.

Tracking progress along the Scope & Sequence

During inquiry, learners naturally apply and practice an astounding array of skills. However, unlike traditional assessments, aka tests, the assessment products are varied and often unique to each learner. In order to document learning outcome progress, I created Scope & Sequence Documents for Language in Google Drive. Each student has their own set which is shared with their parents to view and comment on. When a learner demonstrates increasing fluency related to one of the learning outcomes, I type the date and change the shade of that box closer to white. If there is an artifact to scan, photograph, or link to, I create a hyperlink to it so that evidence of that learning can be instantly accessed. When a learning outcome has been demonstrated three times, and at least one artifact has been recorded, the box is changed to white and considered 'mastered'.

When I introduced this to parents during their orientation session, they were very excited. If you would like to view an example for writing, please follow this link. Since this experiment is only in its first few weeks, I've only documented a couple of artifacts, but I expect to include many more as our first unit wraps up.

Tracking the basics

Before the school year began, I spoke with the parents of my students about their perception of school and in particular, inquiry-based learning. Overwhelmingly, they like it. They enjoy seeing their children learning autonomously, following their interests, and utilizing many tools to do so. However, they are concerned that their children aren't learning 'everything they need', and their concern is valid. They want their children to read with understanding, write with correct spelling and grammar, be able to perform mathematical calculations accurately, and develop a strong work ethic. To this end, I sought to develop rigorous and efficient routines for reading comprehension, spelling, mathematics, and homework, and to leverage Google Drive to automate the system of reporting to parents.

What ensued was an epic 'geek out'. First, I created a sheet to record scores in each of the four categories. The data for each student is automatically transferred to a student sheet which is published as a website, like this. Each student has a unique page which parents can bookmark and review whenever they like, just like the Scope & Sequence documents. They update automatically every time data is entered. Each item, whether a quiz or homework task, takes only five to ten minutes yet provides regular formal formative assessment data. That leaves plenty of time for inquiry, collaboration, and the fun of learning.

Independent Inquiry

Finally, I use a Google Form for my students to reflect on their Independent Inquiries. Please visit my Independent Inquiry wiki for details about that project. I embedded the reflection form in our class wiki in a widget, and the published responses in another widget. The result is a self-contained page on which you can complete your reflection and read your peers' reflections instantly. Go ahead, reflect on your current independent inquiry! We would love to have some guest inquirers! You can even click the 'analytics' link to see cool graphs of our data.

The next 'geek-out'

Well, hope you enjoyed reading about my geeking as much as I enjoyed doing it. For my next project, I plan to create tutorial videos for each of these tools, so please stay tuned!

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