Going Digital? 3 Tips for a Successful Transition

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have noticed my blossoming love affair with all things Google. I was trying to explain it to a friend, and the best analogy I could come up with was that Google is a lot like sushi. I was reluctant to try it at first, but with each new taste, I found more things I liked.  

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I helped write a grant at school this year to get 10 laptop carts for classroom use and have been working with teachers on setting up Google Classroom and experimenting with the possibilities of digital learning. Overwhelmingly, the teachers are excited, but a little unsure of how they can to cover their content while engaging the students with meaningful technology-based lessons. As we venture into this new territory, I’m starting to learn some lessons that may help others who are making the switch. Here are a few of the most important lessons so far:

Have a Plan B and a Plan C

I kind of feel like a beginning teacher again when it comes to planning and Google Classroom. I remember those days of panic when my lesson ended eight minutes before the bell–what if an administrator comes in and sees them all talking? (Or worse yet, lined up at the door three minutes prior to the bell?) There are a lot of variables to account for in lesson planning in general, but throw technology into the mix and it gets even harder to predict the amount of time required to complete a lesson.  

It is common sense to always have a complete technology-free lesson planned as a backup just in case–that’s your Plan B.  Should the website crash or the internet go down, you’ve got a back-up plan. Simply be prepared to move on to the next technology-free day in your lesson plans and you should be fine.  

Your Plan C allows you to keep the kids on task who have finished the original assignment. The first fast finishers can help the other students, but as more and more kids finish up with time to spare, you need something for them to do or they’ll start playing games or looking at cars on AutoTrader–both of which are infinitely more interesting to the kid who hasn’t finished his work sitting next to them. Coming up with a Plan C that does not need to be graded, but could be, will keeps kids engaged in real learning. If it looks like it’s a real assignment, and it’s posted in the Google Classroom, they’ll do it.

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Need a Plan C? Check out these activities I’ve posted at TpT.

I’ve used exit tickets and Google Forms questionnaires to keep kids working, and I also created a poetry response activity that tied thematically to the lesson. Each time I’ve used these Plan C assignments, some students had time to do them and some didn’t. Some went home and did them for homework (without being asked!). We didn’t grade them, but I think if I were using Google Classroom full time in my classroom, I’d come up with some kind of participation grading system for these “filler” activities, so the students continue to buy into them.

Be Flexible with Your Goals

Twice I have worked with classes on a “reading” lesson that ended up becoming a “technology” lesson. In each case, we had one class period to accomplish a reading/writing exercise with a technology component, and the technology component ended up becoming the real “learning” experience.

My first Google Classroom lesson took place in a web design class. The students were going to read an article about the ethics of altering digital images, complete a graphic organizer, and write a paragraph response. As I watched the kids click back and forth from one window to another, I realized they did not know how to look at two windows at the same time. I called for a break and demonstrated how to separate tabs into different windows (drag the tab off to the right of your screen) and then right-click in the taskbar to “show windows side by side.”  They still completed the reading lesson, but the greater takeaway was definitely the ability to easily view multiple windows at once.    

On Day Two of a Romeo and Juliet lesson, the fake text-messaging website glitched.  Instead of allowing kids to download the complete phone screen, it was leaving blank space at the top and cutting off the bottom of their work. There was no way to recover the work the student had just typed, either.  When this happened to the first two or three students, we knew we needed a work-around, and decided to use the snipping tool to copy/paste the image into the slide. Some students knew the snipping tool; others had no idea it existed. So, we added a few new objectives to our lesson–using the snipping tool, keyboard shortcuts for copying/pasting, and flexibility…for us and them.

Trust the Kids

I like to think I’m pretty techy; however, more often than not, I’ve learned something from a student in the class that makes the lesson better. By letting them know that I’m open to their suggestions and that I need their help at times, they’re willing to share with me, which improves the experience for all. It’s also nice to see the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment the students get when they teach me (and their classmates) something.

One thing I’ve found is that my desktop computer performs differently than their laptops–whether it is a matter of permissions or wired vs. wireless or just computers, I don’t know.  Something that worked perfectly fine when I tested it (the text messaging activity, for example), doesn’t work in the classroom. It was a student who pointed it out to me and suggested the use of the snipping tool. He saved the lesson for me and nearly 100 other ninth graders!

Kids are also more willing to experiment. I ran into an issue when trying to teach a class to use Kami to mark up a .pdf text. For some students, it worked fine, for others, it wouldn’t open. I couldn’t find an easy solution and was ready to revert to Plan B (my printed copies and highlighters), but a student who just kept clicking around found the magic steps we needed to open it up for all. She talked the whole class through the steps, and everyone was able to complete the assignment as originally planned.

In addition to being digital natives, they have the benefit of learning tips and strategies from multiple teachers throughout their school days. I am largely self-taught and I can share some shortcuts and suggestions with them when they’re in my class, but they’re getting this kind of advice from teachers–some of whom have a lot of real training in technology–all the time. By letting the students share their own strategies and tips, we can improve the learning for all of us!

Have you started making the switch to a digital classroom? Please share any lessons you’ve learned or post questions about the transition in the comments! I’d love to hear how it’s going for other teachers in other schools.

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