There are lots of ways teachers can upgrade to more 21st century, digitally-relevant classrooms and lessons. Here are 10 that just about any teacher with Google Apps and even limited tech skills can do.
1. Publish work online. Students work harder and produce more quality work when they are creating with a world audience in mind. Publishing written work, websites, or even pictures of projects is fairy easy and not terribly time consuming. Make use of your class website to create links to a shared folder, or shared document created in Google Drive to share with the outside world.
2. Grade less. If you hesitate to assign larger projects due to the labor involved in grading them fairly and efficiently, make use of simple applications such as Google Forms to have students both self-grade and peer-grade projects. It produces far more authentic feedback, and takes less time to manage than doing the grading yourself. Even if you are not comfortable ceding that responsibility to the students, make use of forms or other digital applications to easily whip through your rubric and give accurate, speedy, and detailed feedback.
3. Make your materials available online. With Google Sites or Google Classroom, you may never need to chase make-up work packets again. Train students to look online for what they missed in their absence, even if it is right there in your room (assuming you have at least one student device). Use your school’s scanner to make digital copies, even if your classroom materials aren’t. After all, you are probably already at the copier making copies, right? If possible, make yourself a digital copy while you are there!
4. Offer a backchannel. During movies, labs, or any activity that might call for some quiet reflection, use todaysmeet.com, Twitter, or the discussion board attached to Edmodo, Moodle, or Schoology to open a background discussion about what is going on. You may need to discuss etiquette and expectations, but it can be a way to get even the quiet ones into the game!
5. Foster collaboration. Use shared documents, spreadsheets, or slideshows to allow several students to create at once. Live-time collaboration is a real-world skills. Get kids involved early on. Why should 32 kids each write their own essay, when groups of three can discuss the topic, and use higher-level thinking skills to decide what the most relevant information is to be added, and then practice teaming skills as they create something together.
6. Upgrade traditional materials. Why use paper maps when Google Maps is considerably more educational? Why use traditional timelines when digital ones can use videos and images? Why make a poster when they can make a website. If the devices are available, there is little reason to use obsolete materials.
7. Get connected. There is so much to learn from colleagues outside our district. Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are just a few ways to connect with thousands of other educators that teach just what you teach. Connect with them and save a step on that new unit, or get a great idea to upgrade your next lesson!
8. Trust the students as learners. Want to try that new tool in your class, but no time to learn it? Who said you have to? Great teachers are fearless, and are willing to say, “ok, gang. Today we are going to try to see how PowToon works. Let’s see what it does!” Students are fine with this. They love being involved in the investigation and experiment process. Have them show you when they figure things out, and then share with everyone. I’ve taught entire courses this way.
9. Ask for help. Chances are, your district has specialists, coaches, or peers who would be more than happy to help facilitate something new. However, they can’t read your mind. Share what your learning goals are, and see who can help. If no one can, see #7 or #8 above.
10. Work smarter. Try to remind yourself that the technology way might be a bit more work on the front end, but almost always pays double on the back end. Sure setting your classes up on Google Classroom takes a bit of time, but once students are submitting work online, and you are able to manage it efficiently and from anywhere, the dividends pay. Setting up your site might take time, but you can use it over and over again for a long time. Invest in the front end and reap the benefits.
Bonus tip: When in doubt, ask Google. Ask the question directly in the search bar: “How do I add pictures to a Prezi” or “how do I set up a Google Form?” You will get videos and written help.