For anyone working as an educator in a school district that uses Google Apps for Education in any capacity, I highly recommend becoming a Google Certified Educator. I am currently a first grade teacher and will be moving to a third grade classroom, unfamiliar territory for me. As teachers, we never stop learning and Google offers free, online training for fundamental and advanced use of Google in the classroom. After completing the training courses, you will have an opportunity to take Level 1 and Level 2 exams to get certified, be recognized for your hard work and newly acquired skills, and share your knowledge by supporting fellow educators in their technology-enhanced classroom environments.
Or, if free online training and Google exams aren’t for you, then simply continue reading to find out what I have learned and how I will apply it in my third grade classroom. Hopefully you can gain something useful from my experience working through the Fundamentals Training and becoming a Level 1 Google Certified Educator!
First and foremost, it is extremely important to understand the benefits of Google in the classroom. Integrating technology into the classroom doesn’t happen overnight–it requires a great deal of planning and figuring out what works best for your instruction. Understanding what tools are available is also an important first step. The best place to begin is with a bit of reflection to identify:
- What am I doing well? What is working in my classroom?
- How can technology help support what I’m already doing?
One of the greatest misconceptions about technology in education is that it’s an extra thing to learn or an added set of curriculum that there isn’t enough time for. That simply isn’t true. Technology is a tool that can be used to enhance your everyday activities. For example:
- Cloud computing is nothing more than finding a more efficient way to collaborate with students and staff.
- Content management systems are nothing more than finding a more efficient way to communicate with students and parents.
- Personal learning networks are nothing more than finding a more efficient way to find and share resources.
- Behavior management software is nothing more than finding a more efficient way to give formative feedback of soft skills and track student behavior.
- Flipped classrooms are nothing more than finding a more efficient way to deliver direct content.
- Electronic portfolios and digital quizzes are nothing more than finding a more efficient way to assess student knowledge.
One of the first steps in preparing to establish a technology-rich classroom is to explore and select an appropriate LMS (Learning Management System) to keep things organized and efficient. More often than not, this decision is highly impacted by which resource your school district endorses. My district is fortunate enough to have options. Take a look at my comparison of two common systems used at the elementary level, Hapara and LanSchool, in my blog post, Which LMS is Best? Another highly effective management system is Canvas, which is recommended for use at the secondary level. In my third grade classroom for the upcoming school year, I have decided to use Hapara as we are a G Suite for Education district. In my comparison of the two systems, I determined that Hapara is the most Google-friendly. My main use of Hapara in the classroom will be to monitor student activity on their devices.
The Google tool best fit for assigning and collecting student work, communication, and providing frequent, consistent feedback in a technology enhanced classroom in my district is Google Classroom.
Parent communication is another element of teaching that can be greatly improved using technology. Google Groups is an easy-to-use application that acts as a discussion board and mailing list to reach large groups of people. Participants in a Google Group can create, post, and respond to discussions and questions by web interface and email. Using Google Groups is an effective way of creating a mailing list to reach all parents to share newsletters and important reminders in a paperless, hassle-free way. You can also create groups for various committees or teams among staff and students. All members of a Group can be contacted and organized under a single unique email address. Learn more about how to create a Google Group here.
Another way to connect with families is by creating a classroom website. Many districts have their own domain and require that we do not deviate from that source. If there is flexibility in that, however, Google Sites is a free resource that offers a variety of features to improve communication, collaboration, and productivity for your students. In the upcoming school year, I plan on utilizing Google Sites to create a shared grade-level site rather than my individual classroom. As the ‘owner’ and Site creator, you can allow your colleagues to edit or view the Site so that the two of you can share and display resources in one place, and build a stronger curriculum for your learners. See a sample grade level website here.
Organization and Planning
Teachers can get even more organized with Google Calendar, which coordinates seamlessly with Sites, Groups, and Classroom. Create separate calendars for personal use, classroom events, and staff meetings. When deciding to use Google Calendar for your website, turning on the Public share setting is most useful. My school district recently switched from Microsoft Outlook to Google Calendar and Gmail, so my colleagues are familiar with basic functions of Calendar, but there are many benefits of using this tool to stay organized.
Google users have probably discovered that Gmail prompts you to add events to a calendar when it recognizes a date in an email. Google Tasks goes a bit further and allows you to take the content of a mail message and send it to your Google Calendar with all of the information included. This eliminates the tedious task of copying and pasting information: with just a few clicks, it bridges the gap between what we need to do and when we need to do it. You can also create multiple task lists for different projects you’re working on! In my teaching position for the upcoming school year, I plan on using Tasks to stay on top of the multitude of requests I receive via Gmail from parents, administrators, and students.
The G Suite for Education will undoubtedly make my third grade classroom run more efficiently, and allow my students to create and communicate in ways that weren’t possible before these tools were developed and made accessible by Google. While this won’t be their first exposure to computers and educational technology, third graders need explicit and comprehensive instruction on digital citizenship. In addition to being certified as a Level 1 Google Educator, I have also earned my credentials as a Certified Digital Citizenship Educator by Common Sense Media. Common Sense offers an in-depth digital citizenship curriculum with ready-to-use lesson plans covering relevant content for grades K-12. These lessons are a crucial part of integrating more technology in the classroom setting.
Expectations when using technology devices must be crystal clear and consistent with the existing behavior protocol of the school community. My technology leadership team and I developed an expectations poster for technology and computer use, which aligns with our building’s code of conduct. Behavior violations online are treated in the same manner as the physical school environment.
In the upcoming school year, I will be transitioning from teaching first grade to third grade, which will create an abundance of new opportunities to utilize technology in more meaningful ways. My classroom will be 1:1 with Chromebooks and my students will come in with more background knowledge of basic tech skills. Furthermore, now that I am a Level 1 Google Certified Educator, my own understanding of Google tools and their capabilities in the classroom has expanded. I will continue to advance my knowledge by working towards Level 2 certification and attending training opportunities when available. I will continue posting on my blog as I discover new ways to utilize the G Suite for Education in the classroom. Check back soon!