Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Final Reflection for Google Certified Teacher requirements

Diane Main, Computer Technology Lead Teacher
Milpitas Christian School
3435 Birchwood Lane
San Jose, California 95132
dianemain at gmail dot com

I offered a series of three courses, spread out over three months. Each was held on a Wednesday after school, for two hours per session. Teachers who attended all six hours were able to earn a CEU for free. About eighteen educators signed up, including two from our school’s preschool and three or four from another private Christian school several cities away. (Kings Academy in Sunnyvale) As it turned out, the people from our preschool and all but one of the people from Kings had to cancel due to other commitments. There were 13, 11, and 10 people in attendance at the three sessions, respectively. The sessions were Google Earth (January 24), Google Tools and Information Literacy (February 28), and Google Docs & Spreadsheets (March 21).

In the Google Earth session, I talked about what Google Earth is, and I demonstrated the program on the large screen via projector hooked to my laptop. Several attendees had brought their laptops and installed the program while we held the discussion. We brainstormed how teachers thought they could use Google Earth for their classes and with their students. I had downloaded several files from the Keyhole BBS in advance of the class, and the teachers enjoyed seeing how others had already created Google Earth activities. Some were created by teachers and some by students. I shared Google LitTrips and Postcards from the Past, both created by fellow Google Certified Teachers I had met at the Google Teacher Academy only a few months earlier. One fourth grade teacher, who had a student moving back to China two days later, spent some time the day after this session “flying over” the Earth from San Jose to this child’s village in China, showing the kids in her class where their classmate would be traveling the following day. The teacher showed an enthusiasm I had never seen in her before, and I was impressed with her willingness to dive right in with Google Earth.

In the Google Tools and Information Literacy session, we logged in to the PCs in my lab and I had each participant select a tool from “Even More” just to experiment with. As teachers began looking over one another’s shoulders, some found tools they planned to start using, either personally or professionally. But the excitement really started when we began to discuss the concept of information literacy. My co-teacher and I shared our experiences so far that year with having our students use Citation Machine to cite their sources of information. I also showed a short movie I had made for teaching my students how to cite sources of both information and images. Some of the teachers were relieved to know that we were helping kids understand why we cite sources and how to do it correctly. One of the teachers brought up Wikipedia and asked for my opinion about this well-known and much-maligned online resource. The conversation caused some participants to consider things they had never even thought about before, and I think it turned out to be a very good session, even though it veered strongly from my original plan. I think one thing that surprised a lot of people is when I told them we had found several errors in our Encarta CD-ROM Encyclopedia, and that other sources along with Wikipedia were correct and helped us to verify our information.

In the Google Docs & Spreadsheets session, it took no time at all to get the attendees hooked on collaborating. I had made sure each participant had been invited to gmail in advance of this final session, and that each one had set up their account so I could invite them all to collaborate on a document right before their eyes. Again, they logged in on lab computers, though some worked from their laptops instead, and we created a very silly document together. One teacher got the idea to have some of her sharper students begin collaborating on writing articles for the school’s newsletter, which gets sent home with all the students in our entire school. We had a great discussion about how teachers could use D&S with their students and we tentatively formulated a plan for getting kids set up with Google accounts next year. (I have since discovered that there is now a way to tie in Google Apps For Your Domain with Gaggle.net accounts, which our school has in grades three through eight, so I am pursuing that this summer.) In demonstrating the Spreadsheets section (before they added charting capability), I exported a spreadsheet from Google D&S into Excel and then used Chart Wizard to graph the data. This got the fourth grade teachers especially excited, as they had science projects coming up. This gave me a chance to show off the project their students were working on at that time, which involved graphing data about an assigned state (population change through history, ten most populated cities, and percentages of ethnic groups). The unexpected benefit here was that I suddenly got extreme buy-in for integration projects with these teachers, who had been reluctant before because they thought it would be more work and too hard to make happen, I think. By the end of the school year, we had a lot more participation by those teachers in signing up to bring their students to the open lab, AND we changed our curriculum to enable their students to complete several tasks related to the science project . . . including graphing their data in many cases . . . in our class when they came to us. This was done in Excel, but I would like to see it done with Google D&S in the future.

Most of the educators in attendance were very excited about the possibilities these tools presented. After each session, several teachers experimented with the tools and some began using them with their students, as I have already mentioned. We are also looking forward to expanding our use of these tools in our lab classes to support teacher use of the tools and to encourage more collaborative work by students.

Two challenges I faced in presenting these sessions were as follows. One or two attendees were seriously behind the rest in basic computing skills, and it meant that the entire session could sometimes get held up over a minor technical glitch that had to be overcome here or there. The person visiting us from another school was an art teacher, and while she felt she got a lot out of the sessions, I felt I could not tailor my presentation to meet her needs enough. When discussions were specific to what we do at our school, she kept herself very busy exploring Google Images, which she had not used much before that time, so at least she got something out of it.

I think my own personal growth was impacted in several ways. First, I had been struggling all year up to this point to really connect with certain teachers and to encourage better communication regarding technology integration between their classrooms and the computer lab classes I teach. Once we took the time to hypothetically discuss the uses for some of these tools, a lot of things became clearer as to how we could collaborate better on projects the kids could do to meet both our technology standards and the state’s curriculum content standards. In addition, I got more practice presenting to groups, and since a lot of things came up that I had not anticipated, I got the chance to both improve my “thinking on my feet” skills and to share my passion for technology in education. I think my enthusiasm alone during these workshops helped bridge some gaps that had been gaping a bit too widely before this point.

As for the future, my plan is to investigate the tie-in with Google Apps For Your Domain and Gaggle.net and make full use of these in my classes next year. I already anticipate a better success rate with technology integration projects, as the administration at my school has promised to be stronger in encouraging classroom teachers to fully take advantage of what we’re trying to accomplish in our lab. I hope to reach more educators in the coming year by having some of the teachers from my school co-present with me, perhaps having their students present their own work as well, in an effort to not only share what we do but to also encourage other teachers to want to learn more about the applications I shared this past winter.

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