Tag Archives: Google Docs

To Use or Not to Use, That is the Question

Screen shot 2011-03-26 at 7.46.13 AM

Teaching ELA in a computer lab is a dream come true but I feel that I must use these resources often. I inadvertently learned an important lesson from my daughter. Last summer I came across an idea to have the students make a faux Facebook page to share what they know about a particular character from literature.  Derrick Waddell was even kind enough to make and share a template on Google Docs. While visualizing how students could use Creative Commons photos to make their characters come alive, I demonstrated how to use the template. I pushed to the back of my mind how difficult it was to highlight the text box and input information and how limited the information that could be shared was. I had a new tool and I was going to use it!

The students had an equal if not more challenging time using the template. They spent too much time locating pictures. The information for the characters was concise, impersonal, or generic. I was disappointed.

A few weeks later, my daughter, who teaches the same subject at my school, decided to do the activity and asked for the template. Since she has limited access to computers, I found an MS Word template and emailed that to her. She ran it off, modeled. and met me at busses with some of the results. They were wonderful!!! With pencil and crayon, her students spent their time thoughtfully deciding what their character’s liked,  who their “friends” would be, and what their “friends” would post on the character’s wall.

While delighted for her, I realized what an utter failure my lesson had been. Why? Because I used technology when something less complicated would have been better. Since then I have reflected and decided to ask myself a couple of questions before I plan.

  • Why am I using the computers?
  • Does the effort equal the result?
  • Is there a simpler way to yield the results?

With these guiding questions I can then plan more successful instruction. Now what to do about Myfakewall??????

*A disclaimer – I am no expert on Google Docs and my experience using templates may be unique. I am in no way dissuading others from trying this method

In the Beginning

I am not sure what happens over the summer but I always forget that the new students in August are not as proficient as the previous year’s May group. This leads to impatience and frustration on both sides.

I was able to get all of my classes on Google Docs last week. After allowing two classes to sign up  themselves, I personally set up the third class, a process that took about two hours. Why? It seems it took almost that long to undo all of the mistakes of the first two classes. Middle school students do not realize that typing anything incorrect leads to problems. The most prevalent one was inputting the wrong email address, thereby never receiving an email to verify the account. The second problem, teachers who allow students to make up their own password. After the summer break, no one remembered them. As students (and teachers) become more comfortable with using this technology perhaps some of these problems will resolve themselves. In the mean time, I need to take three deep cleansing breaths and move on. The results are worth it. I have received two assignments this evening. They are graded and entered into my grade book. The convenience of it all equals the time spent.

I tried a new tool today. It is a virtual whiteboard sponsored by a French company, Edoboard. Over all I was pleased but it took some work to get to that point. Edoboard requires Flash Player and it seems that all of but one of my eMacs did not have the version required. So lunch was spent installing the plugin. I had to invite my students to participate. In each class, one invitation had an error and I had to re-invite. Students filled out log in information, verified and entered the classroom. The assignment was to compare Ponyboy and Soda, characters from “The Outsiders.” In my first block I allowed all of the students to input information at the same time. This involved some problem solving to share space and information. I wasn’t sure if that approach was successful so in the second block, I took volunteers of two and three students. The students experienced no space problems but some students opted to not volunteer. While the first block was chaotic, there were some very good observations. The second block was more controlled but the product was mediocre. I am going to have to reflect on how to best use Edoboard in the future.

I love how technology can make tasks easier, more productive, and motivating but to get to that end requires some set up time, patience, and time to allow the students to get used to learning in this way.