Google Classrooms

<edit 18/01/2015> So, I can’t help but wonder if Google have been reading my blog – I think that all of the issues I had with Google Classroom have now been corrected in the October update </edit>

About two or three years ago I managed to persuade our network manager to set us up with Google Apps for Education (with the bribe that I would manage the accounts if he did the initial setup). Over the last two years we have successfully integrated the use of email across KS2 (in fact, today I have been inundated with emails from Year 3 who are just getting to grips with sending mail to class groups). As a school, most of the staff and children really appreciate the fact that you can send an email to someone which is safe and secure, in a closed network, but you can discuss something that you might not be confident enough to talk about in person. So far, we’ve only had two or three bullying issues and they were very quickly dealt with by the simple means of checking inboxes, outboxes and deleted items (it is amazing how terrifying it can be to a 9 year old to realise that a teacher can see their emails). We have also used google drive with varying success, which has proven to be popular with upper KS2, in particular the idea of having a multi-authored document goes down really well.

So, this term we decided to try the new google classrooms setup, to coincide with a new BYOD (bring your own device) arrangement in Year 5.

The school had made the decision to use myHomework as a way of communicating with parents as it allows simple communication between staff and anyone who signs up to the ‘class’, but we also decided not to share work via this platform since the children were taught in sets for maths and English and, since anyone can sign up to any class, we didn’t want them to be comparing work. This meant there wasn’t a simple way of distributing e-copies of homework except for by emailing them out and so, along with one of the literacy teachers, I decided to give Google Classrooms a go.

My first impression was that it was a nice looking interface – setting up classes was easy to do and you could only invite children from your own domain, which is a nice touch, but meant I couldn’t use my personal account as a test and instead had to create a test user in our Google Apps domain- no big deal of course, but useful to note.

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The next step was to populate the class, which can be done by searching through all of the users in the domain – I had already sorted all of the children into class ‘groups’ in the admin panel of google apps so I was disappointed not to be able to bulk import a whole class or group at a time, instead having to add them all individually.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 17.33.19  Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 17.33.32Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 17.34.15You will see from the above picture that until a child accepts their invite they are shown as ‘invited’ and greyed out so you can see if your class are members of the classroom or not.

I assumed that each child would receive an email inviting to join the classroom, but that was not the case and instead I had to send them all a link to join Google Classrooms at which point they were informed that they could join my class – this seems a little roundabout and it would be a significant improvement if a link could be sent out as soon as a child is added to a class, without the need for them to separately log in to Google Classrooms.

So when a child is invited to a Google Classroom and then log in to their classrooms account they will see the following:

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When your class is all set up and the children have added themselves you can then start to set them assignments – for my maths classes, generally this is just a case of uploading a worksheet that they can download a copy of if they need to, but there are two other ways of uploading documents too. The first is that you upload a document and ‘make a copy for each student’

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Which is a rather clever idea, especially as it is fully integrated with Google Drive. What it means is that in the teacher’s Drive, a folder is created called “Classroom” with sub folders for each class, when an assignment is uploaded it is placed in the appropriate folder. What is particularly nice about the ‘make a copy for each student’ option is that it creates a copy in the students Google Drive and when they submit it, you get a copy of their version in your drive with their name appended; THEN, even better, you can make some adjustments or highlight some changes or just add a few comments and then send it back to them for further corrections. You can also grade the paper or give it a mark out of whatever you choose before returning it. One of our literacy teachers used this to great effect as a starter for a lesson – he sent the children an un-punctuated piece of text, asked them to quickly alter it on their iPads and submit it to him there and then. He then sent it back with a few comments and adjustments and asked them to make these as homework. Instant, constructive feedback for him and for the children.

So, when the teacher creates an assignment, the pupils get a message in their screen (one of my children described it as being a bit like Facebook for homework). The pupil then accesses the document, makes their changes and submits it to the teacher.

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The teacher can see on their live feed how many children have submitted their work or not.

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If they then access the submitted files they can grade and comment on the work:

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 17.41.44 Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 17.42.33

You will see that I have changed the out of grade to twenty and given a score of 3 out of 20 as well as writing a private comment. I can then return the work with feedback:

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Here is what the pupil then receives (you will notice there is an option to add a comment and resubmit the work):

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I’ve also included some shots of my Drive so you can see how the files appear in your drive:

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Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 09.25.15         Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 09.25.32

You will see in the third picture that the submitted file is in the teacher’s folder with their name both in the ‘created by’ column and on the end of the title of the document.

So, overall I am really impressed with Google Classrooms, it’s proven itself to be a useful classroom tool for a range of subjects – I could imagine it being used in literacy lessons and I know that one of our teachers has used it to do some Geography work using Google Sheets. The children really like using it because it is a bit like Facebook and they can write comments in the stream. It is also an attractive and free way to store e-copies of worksheets so that you can eliminate the classic homework excuse “I left my homework in my desk” and, more importantly, I really love the integration with drive that means that work is effortlessly stored and saved.

Considering the ease of use and the fact that so many schools already use Google Apps for Education instead of a VLE, this project is a natural progression and I would definitely recommend using it.

Museum of London Computing/History Consultation Evening

On Wednesday evening I visited the Museum of London after seeing an advert in my weekly CAS email offering a £40 amazon voucher to spend two hours looking at a new educational resource. They specifically requested history and/or computing teachers and were hoping for a range of both primary and secondary teachers. From what I could see, they ended up with mostly primary teachers, but it was interesting nevertheless.

First we were asked to blindly try out the software which showed us an artefact and asked us to slot it into a historical period and then decide on a category in to which it fitted e.g. Painting or money. Rather rapidly we got frustrated with lack of feedback (were we right or wrong) and were confused about the purpose of the ‘game’.

It was only after testing it that we were told what the purpose of the activity was, you see the museum has over 9000 artefacts which have been arbitrarily labelled and catalogued on paper, but needed to be properly organised for the modern world. Their idea was to crowd source the data and specifically get schools involved. They wanted us to think about the educational purpose and value of the software and ways to improve it before they create a working version for schools. Most of the objects had information about the date an object was made, but that wouldn’t necessarily automatically sort it into the historical period e.g. Roman or Victorian. The system would work by ‘verifying’ data after a certain amount of people had all agreed on the period and the type of object.

There were a few aesthetic tweaks we would make, but the key focus was on its value to the primary curriculum. A good idea would be to use it as a starter for a topic so the children would maybe categorise 20 items then the teacher would be able to focus in on the ones that refer to a specific historical period and discuss those items in context. A lot of teachers wanted to be able to only select objects from a certain period, but due to the nature of the project that just wouldn’t be possible and would defeat the object of the whole project. I like the idea of it being a quick history topic, but what was more interesting to me was when one of the computing teachers in the room mentioned its value towards teaching databases in upper KS2.

Now, I can honestly say that I hate teaching databases and have been seriously considering dropping it by the wayside, but it is part of the new curriculum and so needs to be thought about. My big issue with databases are that they are quite an abstract concept for your average 9 year old to understand. Even in the context of ‘solving a crime’ using the Whodunnit? app, it all seems very false and needless, however, the more I thought about the Museum of London’s project, the more I began to realise it’s usefulness for teaching this topic. Not only would children contribute to a real life database in a meaningful way, if the museum then implemented a search function which linked to their data, they could see exactly how a database works and how they have helped.

There is still a lot of work to be done before this becomes a useful tool, but as I left the museum on Wednesday I realised just how much I was looking forward to this being a working project and, in particular, using it to help teach the purpose of databases. They are hoping to create a video to explain the topic and a rewards system depending on how many objects you have submitted that have been verified and it all sounds very interesting.

I really look forward to seeing where they take this project as I genuinely think it has value for teaching the databases part of the new computing curriculum as well as being an interesting tool to use in history lessons.

Testing…testing…1…2…3

So, with the start of the new term, I’ve been able to try out some of the resources I’ve mentioned with the children I teach.

I’ll start with ActiveLit, the text based adventure writing programme I discovered via Twitter. Using the game I’d created over the summer, I set the Year 6 children the task of solving my game. The first lesson was full of frustrated and grumpy children who couldn’t understand how to get past the first room, however, as soon as they realised that you had to use very basic vocabulary, you could almost see the light bulb switching on in each child and by the time the lesson was over they were buzzing with excitement. In the second lesson, I let the children finish my game and look at another, as well as make some notes on the sort of language they needed and the basic structure of the game. By this point they were really excited and so I encouraged the class to begin planning their first room. I’ve only had one further lesson and I am pleased to say that all of the children, either individually or in pairs, have begun to code their first room in their adventures and they are all really excited to share each other’s ideas. One of my least confident children enthusiastically asked me if he could carry on his game at home.

In my Code Club last week I thought it would be a good idea to try out the CamJam EduKit resources and unfortunately was not as successful – I think I expected too much as I handed the children the booklet and asked them to work through, but I was also a little disappointed that neither of the two groups I set trialling it even managed to read the instruction for how to log in to the Pi. The overwhelming sentiments was that there were too many words on the page for them, which I hadn’t noticed when I trialled the sheets myself, but I’d like to try them again, this time with a bit more input and with my more able students giving it a go.

I’ve also been taking a look at Sonic Pi, another Raspberry Pi resource created by Sam Aaron to teach children how to create music using code. I’m so horribly unmusical that I haven’t been able to write a full review, but the newest version comes with a simple tutorial and I hope to look at it properly soon. Sonic Pi is available on both Mac and Raspberry Pi and there are a few lovely worksheets popping up – I found one on CAS (sorry that I don’t have a link), which I’ve proposed to be taught in Year 4 as part of a digital music module instead of just making loops in Garageband and the non specialist teacher who is meant to be teaching it was really enthusiastic. On our current scheme of work, that won’t be until Spring term so watch this space to see how it goes.

Pycon UK 2014

Apologies for the lack of blog – as always, the new term has been somewhat busy.

This weekend I headed to Coventry for Pycon UK, a convention for users of Python. The lovely Nicholas Tollervay organised a two day education track; one day for teachers, one day for children. I was lucky enough to attend and found it to be a great opportunity for both teaching ideas and networking.

The key point from my perspective was how to introduce Python, as a text based coding language, to the primary school curriculum and whether it is necessary to move on from Scratch before secondary school.

The new computing guideline recommends that you start to look at a secondary coding language beyond Scratch in KS3 and the obvious choice is Python as it is a fairly user friendly and accessible language. It was generally felt that the most able children in upper KS2 could definitely handle Python, but more importantly, that Python could be used to introduce some more complex computational thinking to all children in KS2.

So how can we introduce a language that many of us don’t understand to children?

The first point is that it is important that you get yourself a basic knowledge of Python as a language – looking at the CamJam EduKit sheets or working through Codecademy is a great place to start. I’m only on about 30%, but I feel like I have a good enough working understanding to begin teaching it.

The key skills we felt were important for the children to understand were basic vocabulary and debugging. The concept of debugging was a popular one since the children need to be wary of capital letters, punctuation errors and spelling mistakes, much the same as in any other subject. Suggestions for teaching this involved writing a line of code incorrectly in both Python and/or Scratch and then asking the children to identify why it doesn’t work or else playing a game created by Alan O’Donohoe (techno teacher, podcaster and founder of Raspberry Jams) called Sabotage, whereby children write their lines of code then deliberately put errors in for their opponents to find.

In terms of vocabulary their was a feeling that children need to understand the following terms:

Variables

Control Structures

Functions/Procedures

Loops

I don’t know about you, but I’m already confused – fortunately the clever people at Cambridge University have been developing a Raspberry Pi based game called Pyland that they hope will help introduce Python to children aged 10-12 and so would be a perfect bridge between Year 6 and 7. They are hoping that it will be ready to beta test in schools early next year and if you’re interested it’s worth tweeting lead developer Alex Bradbury who will add you to his list of testers.

Another lovely idea was to present a piece of code in Scratch and then compare it to the same function written in Python, a number of people have said these resources are available on CAS so I guess I need to get hunting, but I’ve been unsuccessful so far.

So, what else did I learn from Pycon? I was reminded that Raspberry Pi have a great selection of resources readily available on their website, I met some lovely coders and developers and had the opportunity to make some great contacts that were willing to help and offer advice to help me teacher coding as best as I can.

All round a lovely weekend and I would definitely recommend that you go if you get the opportunity (and I haven’t even talked about the dancing Nao robots).