Star Wars Guide to Google Classroom

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I started using Google Classroom for students this year.  After my initial excitement, a cold fear infested my heart.  I hopped on the virtual Millennium Falcon and left the Dark Side behind.

Like the force that it is however, it kept drawing me back. After a few bumps on the inter-galactic highway, we are now fully immersed in it and loving it.

By the way, I teach second graders. 

Google Classroom in Primary GradesStar Wars Guide to Google Classroom

When I was first introduced to Google Classroom I really didn't think it would work well for a bunch of squirrely seven and eight year olds.  They can't even type yet.  

Or spell their name correctly sometimes.  Even logging in to a computer with Gmail is an exercise in patience.

But it has worked.  It just takes time, patience and wine.  Or whine.  Not by the kids but by me.

And since I have now engaged in using the Empire to further my students education, I thought I would share with you my tips for using this technology tool for education with the little ones.

7 Google Classroom Tips from the Dark Side

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1.  Do not try to log in the entire class in one lesson.

"Do or do not.  There is no try."

This may seem obvious to all of you, but my students have been logging in to their Chromebooks all year.  We were using the same Gmail addresses, passwords...everything.

I didn't realize it would be so difficult for the kids to find the apps icon and hover without clicking.  Then they had to move between screens to find the Classroom icon. Of course, that meant that all the other apps that had been pushed out to the school were there and everybody wanted to try making a mind map for some reason.

Second grade logic - the icon is pretty so it must be fun.

Also, there were some kiddos who could not log on because we overloaded the server.

Laptops were being picked up and carried across the room instead of waiting patiently...tears were flowing...computers must be dog lost a tooth this morning (I'm not kidding - that's where one conversation went which erupted into whose dog just had puppies and one child cried because her pet rat just died).

This can all be avoided by pulling small groups back to the guided reading table until proficiency with simply logging in is achieved.  

2.  Create a student login for yourself.

"The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the force."
~Darth Vader

This cannot be stressed enough.  Make a test email with the same domain for yourself to teach from.  

You will have to show the little ones each step in the process and trying to just use words will not work.  Ever.  

Your entire lesson will be derailed next to the power of little kids needing your attention because they cannot follow your directions.

It is not intuitive where to go and what to do.  Yes, they will pick up easily enough on it once they are in, but trying to join a classroom with a code, finding the right lesson, clicking on it and figuring out how to hit the submit/turn in button is a full day's work. 

Just try doing it without setting up a test email to work from.  I did.  It wasn't pretty.  

Destroying the world would have been easier that day.

3.  Start small - set up one classroom and make the assignment dead simple.

"I'm standing here in pieces and you have delusions of grandeur!" ~C3PO

I set up two classrooms and put related assignments in them.  Neither were hard, but it was far too much for the students to be successful with.  

I quickly changed my lesson to be to type a message to me on a blank Google doc. All it had to say was, "Hi Mrs. Dipple."  

A note on this - be sure you create the Google doc in your Drive first and attach it.  All that mine said was:

  1. Type your name here:  
  2. Write me a note that says "Hello Mrs. Dipple":
  3. Turn in your assignment.

I walked them through each step (you do know many kids don't know how to type a capital letter, right?  So I had to show them how to use the shift key).

We learned how to place the cursor at the end of the line to type, not at the beginning.

I learned that the students will erase the questions unintentionally.  Hence learning where and how to place the cursor.

We all turned it in together.  Nothing was left to chance.  No delusions of grandeur.

The second lesson was to find an image for a biography report.

4.  Search the Internet Safely

"I hope so for your sake.  The emperor is not as forgiving as I am."
~Darth Vader

Our second lesson was to find an image and save it into our Drive.  

When you are looking for images, there are many dark forces out there that may slip through your safe filters.  

I prefer to put links in my assignment details for the kids to use.  Some of these may not make it through your filters, depending on how strict the settings are.

Safe Search for Kids

  • Primary School ICT - nice and clean with easy navigation
  • - not my favorite as there as far too many ads
  • KidzSearch - easy to use
  • KidsClick - awesome search site for kids
  • SweetSearch - 5 different engines for different needs; all results have pre-approval by teachers, librarians, etc.
  • MyMunka - set as individual homepages and is great for ESL learners
  • KidRex - this is a great site that includes more kid related results than others.  I quickly searched the keyword "pirates" and was given some nice clean results that are safe for kids:
safe search image for kidsKidRex Safe Search Results for Keyword "Pirate"

Note:  Powered by Google does not mean it is from Google.  Any website can have a search function.  Check these links out first for yourself to see if they are suitable for your kids.

Good news - if your school network administrators have upgraded to the latest protocol, all https/ssl searches will be secure and they can force all searching to automatically go through Google safe search.

However, what is safe for high schoolers and what is safe for elementary students are two different things.  So I would still recommend where and how to search to reduce the chances of seeing unwanted images even more.

Even so, I had a student call me over to look at a "bad picture" that popped up.  

It was a picture of a woman walking her dog.  She was fully clothed.  But the picture showed her from the back, so you could see her butt.  Clothed.  

That is what many of my little students consider a bad picture!  Although it wasn't (and I explained that) I want to safeguard their little eyes as much as possible so they retain their innocence a bit longer.  The Empire is not a safe place for them to search alone.

5.  Research - this was a nice surprise!

"Don't everyone thank me at once." 
~Hans Solo

The tools feature that allowed the students to research - while working on their documents - was something I was not aware of.

tools feature in google docsTools feature in Google Docs

Confession:  I usually work in Pages as I adore Apple and live and breathe my iMac and MacBook Air.  So I don't use Google Docs for much except work.  Even then, I create many things at home and just email them to myself.

Ok, so that is why i didn't realize the Research tool was available in Google Docs.  But once I knew I had the kids start to use it.

Disaster.  Nobody knew how to scroll down.  Seriously.

But once we got that sorted out it is a tool that is great for on the fly image addition or quick fact checking.

filter images using Google research toolFilter images by license

After hitting Tools, click on Research in the drop down menu.

Then click on the Usage Rights arrow.

Have your students choose Free to use, share or modify, even commercially.

This is a great opportunity to talk to the students about how images on the Web are not simply free to use as they wish.

Scroll to show results using Google research toolScroll for different types of results

If you are showing them how to quickly check a fact or they are looking for additional information, be sure to tell them to scroll.

Little kids simply don't know that they can scroll down for more results.

They will look at what is showing on the screen and say that they can't find anything.

Realize too that this is often not as filtered as some results may be, so keep a close eye on it.

Another tip:  show them how to do this in a small group.  You will be exhausted and have a massive headache if you show them this as a whole class.

6.  Teach them how to refresh their screen

"You may dispense with the pleasantries, commander.  I am
here to put you back on schedule."
~Darth Vader

This little tip is a life saver.  When you have a full class working in the classroom it is bound to lag, as I mentioned in #1.  

The great thing about working in Google Drive is that it saves automatically (you are having them do their work in Drive, right?).  So when your kids yell out that their screen is frozen, which will happen, a simple refresh most likely will take care of things.

7.  Cut the Streaming (or not)

"I am altering the deal...pray I do not alter it any further."
~Darth Vader

This is what my students were most excited about - they could chat with each other in each Google Classroom.  

streaming in Google ClassroomControl Streaming in Google Classroom

This is not a feature that I have seen discussed in many training videos (which are few and far between).  

I can see it being really great for older students asking for help or wanting to collaborate.

For now I have left the stream turned on in each classroom because the kids aren't abusing it.  But we had quite a discussion beforehand about it.

  • Mrs. Dipple can see everything
  • You cannot actually erase anything - I will see it
  • It is for school use, not for making weekend plans
  • Etc.  - whatever questions the kids came up with (usually a repeat of something I already answered plus a story about losing a tooth)

So far most of my students have posted comments to me when they turn in an assignment.  Most of those comments center around having erased questions or telling me something is hard.  

If a student posts something inappropriate, then I will alter the deal at that time.  

That's my preferred way of managing my classroom - allow as much as possible after setting ground rules until they blow it.  


8. Spot check turned in assignments as quickly as you can

"Impressive.  Most impressive..."
~Darth Vader

You cannot count on your little guys and gals to get it right the first, second, tenth - even the fiftieth time.  They try but things happen.

They also cry easily when frustrated.  And this is a frustrating process for many of them.  So when things go wrong or they realize something was forgotten, they will cry.

It is also not fair, in my opinion, to mark them down for forgetting to answer a question when the return key was hit so many times it moved it to another page.  Or when they forgot to actually attach an image to their paper (they found one and put it in their Drive but neglected to actually insert it).

The thing is, the kids cannot edit a document or presentation once it is submitted to you.  So a quick check for completion by the teacher can allow for time to return it to the student with a note about what to do.

If these tips for using Google Classroom are helpful to you, how about sharing it with your friends?  Please comment below with any additional tips for using educational technology in the classroom.

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