Friday, March 9, 2012

Google Apps for Education - Prologue

Our district has started using Google Apps for Education.  So far, I am part of a group of early adopters.  Starting soon, more teachers are being trained, and in the next few weeks, Google Apps for Education will roll out to selected groups of students.  The 5th grade students in my building will be using Google Apps in music as well as with their homeroom teachers as we work on research projects.  I am excited to use this suite of apps with students and will try to blog my way through it.

How will we use Google Apps in music class?  For the past many years, I have done a 5th grade composer research project.  We take six weeks after the concert and go in depth about one composer.  Typical project:  poster, essay, listening component.  I had it down to a science after about seven years.  I have glorious looking posters and essays on the wall that we reference all year long.  Most kids look forward to doing the project for several years.  It dovetails nicely with the homeroom teachers, who are also embarking on their own research projects at this time of year.

But after many years of this, several problems emerged:
1.  Students only learned about one composer.  Sure, there are some famous composers (living and deceased, male and female, various nationalities, etc.), but how much does a student need to know in- depth just about Felix Mendelssohn in 5th grade?
2.  The projects remained in my room.  We use them all the time with all grade levels - they cover a 30' wall.  I always told the kids "It is your gift to us as you move on to the middle school.  If you want it back, you can come a year from now to get it."  I think only 2 or 3 over the years have come back for them.  But by leaving it at school, we take out a huge part of the educational equation - the parents!  
3.  Other than working with a partner, it was not inherently collaborative.  Reading each other's posters and answering questions does not count as collaborative.
4.  I never had the computer lab access in the past to really do the project justice.

This year, with the introduction of Google Apps, I arranged for lab access.  Each student will be making a website about a composer using Google Apps.  Along with Sites, we will use Docs (biographies), Forms (teacher created surveys), and Videos (safe content selected by teacher).  We will collaborate through Edmodo, including the parent component of Edmodo.  We sent out permission slips for the use of Edmodo.

By using Google Apps for Education, we are not just going to do the same project using technology, we are going to completely re-invent the purpose, the project, the audience, the collaboration - everything.  I have been working on the project for two months, and it's a little scary because this group of students might be the first student GAFE users in the district.  We're sure to have some student GAFE rollout bumps.

And what about those beautiful posters and essays on the wall?  They'll stay there.  But when you realize students care about what they create more than what people of the past created and put on your wall, new opportunities for learning emerge.

I hope this goes as well as I imagine ... thanks for joining me.


  1. I'm so glad I found this! My principal just mentioned using some donated money to get an iPad for the music classrooms, and this is a great resource! Thank you for sharing.

    Also, just this week we had a presentation on using Google Apps in the classroom, so I'm looking forward to using your suggestions.

    1. All the best! I absolutely love my iPad in the music classroom (both for teacher management and student use) and Google Apps has been a great adventure so far.