Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dealing With All That Student Work

This is the 11th part in a series detailing the progress of our 5th grade musicians as they use Edmodo and Google Apps for Education to research composers and create Sites about them.

This project took about 2 months to prepare (January-March).  A LOT of time was spent becoming a wanna-be expert at Edmodo and Google Sites, finding and uploading content for our Edmodo library, learning from the tech staff about our new Google Apps domain, creating permission slips for students, making lesson plans to be sure everything would roll out in a logical order, etc.  This was the first student Google Apps project in our district - we figured it would work, but there was a lot of unknown territory.  

Once we started the project, the first month actually took less prep time.  Most of the prep work at this point involved creating screencasts to post in Edmodo, keeping track of who posted and replied in Edmodo, and working with our tech team resolving issues as we moved into student Google Apps.

Now, classes of collaboration in Edmodo and creating Sites and Docs have now given way to the clearer skies and smoother sailing of student worktime.

But that means all of that student work is now ending up in my lap(top).  Or more correctly, all that student work has now been shared to my teacher Google Account.  I am making sure everyone has a Site created correctly, making sure everyone has shared biography Docs to my account, commenting on student biographies, and helping students who were absent or had missteps along the way.  One of the most challenging parts of a research project with students is helping students who are struggling readers.  Research is one of the most reading-intensive projects we teach.  It does not matter if the project is tech-focused or if it is pencil and paper, struggling readers will end up days behind the rest of the class without support.    

I could have been an English teacher or a math teacher - I like those areas.  Come to think of it, I really like science, too.  Especially chemistry and physics.  I think my students are surprised (and sadly, some teachers) when they realize a music teacher knows how to teach these other areas.  Music teachers are incredibly picky, especially when working with ensembles.  I think students are surprised to see the high level of quality I expect of their essays.

A few things I have learned about student work online:
• Be sure you have students name Docs they share to you in a specific format.  All of my students named their essay "Biography [composer name] S12" where S refers to the homeroom teacher's name and 12 refers to 2012.  It hearkens back to our Site creation in which we also used S12 or D12 to denote homeroom/year.  It makes finding the Docs in your teacher account much easier.  I know there are fancier ways to get students to share to a collection, but face it - it's just not going to happen with 5th grade students.  I am lucky they all shared to me and not some other teacher in a different building that also starts with "S".
• The commenting feature in Google Docs is great.  When students open their Doc, all of my comments appear, telling each student what needs to be improved.  Of course, this needs to be done to 50 Docs outside of class time.  But, I can do it from anywhere without taking piles of student work.
• 5th grade students will spell the word "Biography" in so many different ways, making it nearly impossible to find their Doc in your account ... But since the teacher is an editor, I just fixed it quickly.
• Google Apps usually does a great job of letting you know who owns a Doc, but not such a great job of letting you know who owns a Site.  I constantly refer to printouts to find out which Site goes with each student.  It was suggested by a member of our tech team that students put their first name in the description of their Site, thus attaching a name to a Site.  Don't know if we'll get to that this year, but next year, I would do that.
• To make matters more confusing, some students created two Sites on their own because the first Site did not work correctly.  Taking the time to do some Google "housecleaning" and making sure every student has only one Site and one biography before moving ahead is a good idea.  I am lucky, because these students are just starting Google Apps, meaning their account is relatively empty.
• Teachers automatically become editors/collaborators of student Sites, but not co-owners, meaning that there are parts of student Sites that a teacher cannot change.  You have to log in as the student to do this (for instance, if the student created two Sites, the teacher must log in as the student to delete the defunct Site).
• In a paperless research project, it is hard to know where each student is in the process.  When I had piles of papers in my room, I could just go through the pile and sort it quickly.  Not so anymore.  Does Johnny have 5 facts collected or 25?  Does Susie have 3 sentences of an essay written or 3 paragraphs?  During our worktime, I get through the room about once every 10 minutes to be sure everyone is making progress.  Perhaps I could have a poster on the wall where students could report this information to me quickly as they leave the lab. Asking for a response in Edmodo would probably work, too.
• The advanced students are getting to the point where essays are already being finished up.  One of my next projects is to put together a list for finishing the basic requirements of the Site and then a list of extension activities that can be embedded into their Site.  I want those high-flying students to take their Site as far as they can go with it.
• When I did this project in my room with file folders of biographies and paper/pencil fact sheets, it was a struggle to get 15 facts out of each group of two students.  Now, students are easily getting to 25+ facts on their own.  I also showed students how to sort their fact spreadsheet today so their facts would be roughly in the order of their essay.  There was audible "oohing" and "aahing" in the computer lab.

Going Google for this project has increased the workload 10 times.  The next time I do this project, it will be MUCH easier.  But every minute has been well worth it for the students and myself so far.  I just hope we can get it all accomplished as the year starts to draw to a close.

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