Educators who have spent 3 or more years in the field know that programs come and go. I saw this to the greatest extent when I was working in Nashville, Tennessee at a school built for students who were too far behind to graduate on time. We were designed to be a smaller project based environment for these students who were disengaged with the education process, but wanted to try again and get a high school diploma. I and about 10 other educators came together to build this school. It was the pet project of someone in central office. The first year was good, but shaky as could be expected. We had a few of students who were able to catch up, leave us, and get their diploma. The second year we had four students graduate. There was an entire ceremony, families attended and it was one of the best moments I have ever had as a teacher. Year three never happened. The school was closed and a new program was implemented by the next person who took the previous individuals job.
This is somewhat the norm in education. Maybe not on this type of scale where an entire school was built and dismantled within two years, but teachers are used to seeing programs come and go. It's often a running joke (not a particularly funny one) when a district pays for a new initiative for everyone to say, "So how long will this last?"
As I was following the Google Fundamentals Training program again, I thought about the fact that this is another program that school districts have "bought into." Then I asked myself, is this one of those instances where we will just jump to something else in the near future? I don't think so.
But why? Why would this set of education materials have more staying power than some of the programs we have seen in the past?
1. Google Plays Well With Others
Every person who has more than one online account can understand the nightmare of forgetting a password. You come up with 5-6 variations of the same string of letters, numbers, and symbols, but darn it you cannot remember which variation you used. The fact that you can sign into Google and use your sign in to get into many, if not most, of the other types of applications you need is a beautiful thing. In fact, I have chosen one program over another specifically for that reason before.
2. Google Works Well Doing the Basics While Providing Choice to Educators
What I mean when I say this is that I can do just about anything within Google Apps for any specific content area or just for work in general. I can communicate via email, video chat, instant messages, voice, and I am sure in two or three other ways that I cannot think of right this second. Google focuses on the basics of what it takes to run a school, then you can have extensions and add-ons that provide the choice of how to run a classroom. Example; There is Google Classroom, but if you don't like that you can make a class website using Google Sites. Or you can do both and they will run seamlessly together along with your Drive, Calendar, and any add-ons you would like (A later blog post about how to run all these things together easily). In a world where teachers are losing more and more autonomy in the classroom, this is appreciated.
3. Google SAVES, SAVES, SAVES
I can change a document, slide, email, etc and it is saved. If I walk away from my computer, the power goes out while I am working, or I just forget to hit save before I click out of everything my material will be saved and ready for me when I return.
Google is just plain easy to use and it transcends all the barriers we usually see in education. It works for everyone from administration, to kindergarten teachers, and all the way to AP Chemistry teachers. It is just a good solid work flow management system.
One idea that is gaining traction in education is that teachers need to teach students that it is okay to make mistakes. This is how we learn some of our most important lessons in life, why not approach learning in this way. I agree whole heartedly in this idea like many do, but I think to truly make it work in the classroom we have to model that with our students. This is probably the hardest part. How do you as a teacher model making a mistake and then have the guts to own up to it?
Pick a topic, any topic and I bet you can find a blog about it. Blogs have become the way people share their personal, political, and professional thoughts with the world. This is what makes them so popular to read and write. Writers like the idea that their work could start a larger conversation while readers can find individuals with expertise or similar feelings on a topic.
Students are no different. They want to be heard. They want to know their opinions matter. They want to share their lives with the world. So why not allow them to do it as a writing medium in their class? I have seen some successful class blogs where teachers have created an environment where students share their ideas in a safe online environment. In my own classroom, I had an 8th grade class of students blogging every week. It was a positive experience overall. Students who didn't normally turn in work wrote on their blogs, advanced students were able to focus on topics that were outside the realm of their normal school day, and all the students were able to write in a safe environment.
I chose to have them use a site called Kidblog. I chose this site because I was able to choose if and when blogs were released to be seen by others and who had the ability to read student work. These settings helped me prevent a couple of inappropriate posts from being read by other students and kept my students safe online. The safety issue was the biggest selling point for me since I was teaching middle schoolers. The best part was the ability to teach students what was and what wasn't appropriate for public online posting.
Digital applications like blogs and other learning tools are still viewed by some as fluff that has little to no impact on student learning. The truth is that these technologies are here and students are using them. It is our responsibility to teach students how to behave online otherwise they will make big life changing mistakes. Like the kids who posted things online then lost their scholarships or acceptance to colleges. Blogs are a great way to introduce students to these technologies in a safe way.
Kidblog may not be right for every classroom, so here are a few other options:
I saw this on Twitter and got excited. The Department of Education has created a new law that will make things easier for those dealing with foster children in schools. I personally have had my share of issues that have come from school laws and foster care.
My foster son needed some testing completed. He was struggling with school and the teachers wanted to see if he qualified for an IEP. We got all the private testing we could, but the school wanted to test him. To do this we needed the legal guardian to sign off on the plan to test him. My husband and I could not sign off regardless of having the paperwork showing that he was in our care (this is pretty normal for a lot of things we have had to do for our foster kids). So we had to contact the social worker. We had a fantastic worker who was always ready and willing to help us get what we needed for our kids. Usually, the social worker can sign off on these types of issues but because both were government agencies we could not allow for that even. He went the whole year without being tested and we get to start all over again with it this year.
So when I hear that they are looking to make school rules and foster care rules play better with each other, I am cautiously excited. I say cautiously because I am sure there are still problems that will arise that will prevent children from getting what they need, but at least someone is working to make things easier for these kids. They have had it hard enough already!
Washington Post News Article