Saturday, March 5, 2016

Hey Mr. Stern, he just deleted my slide again!

Let me be clear up front: I'm a huge fan of Google Apps for Education and trying to use technology in my classroom in a way that gives students an experience they couldn't have had without it. That said, sometimes those experiences invite a lot of frustration for students and teachers alike. Thursday and Friday proved extremely challenging, but the experience taught me so much. Some key takeaways were:
  1. If I'm going to build 'grit' in my students, I have to show them my own.
  2. They have much to learn about problem-solving vs. problem givers.
  3. They need a lot more opportunity to learn how to recover from mistakes together.

Collaborative Slideshow

In my 9th Grade English class, my students are working on a research assignment in which they will describe one of their hopes or dreams and present a plan - using sources found online or in print - for how they'll help their hope or dream come true. 

During class on Thursday and Friday, I had a Google Slides document posted to Google Classroom for my students to edit. There were clear instructions, an example slide, and pre-formatted slides (screenshots follow) for students to document what their hope or dream is, what they need to learn about making their dream come true, and what sources they think they'll be able to use for their assignment.

Before they started their work, I led each class through a discussion about the rules and expectations of working on the Google Slides document. One of my rules was that students had permission to look at others' slides but not to make changes unless they asked that slide's owner first. Unfortunately, my students had a very hard time controlling themselves and their own ability to not mess with their classmates' slides. While my students were busy cussing each other out for moving, deleting, or otherwise changing others' slides I realized I had two choices to make. I believe these are the same two choices every teacher implementing technology in their class will have to face at some point. I could either...

  1. Scold the students, tell them to put their laptops away, and print off hard copies of the graphic organizer for students to fill in. -OR-
  2. Ask the students to partially close their laptops, take a couple of breaths, reiterate the rules, and let them try again.
While I did scold one young lady for her very inappropriate language, I chose not to give up on the online format of the assignment. I knew at that point that my students desperately needed a chance to redeem themselves with each other and start over. So I reiterated the expectations for the assignment and we all talked about how to solve problems rather than make or give problems. Last, I gave them a chance to start over - still using their laptops and not letting anyone switch to paper. 

The hidden curriculum of technology

The original intention of using a shared Google Slides document was to give my students the opportunity to see what their classmates were doing, ask each other questions, and share work with each other in a very simple way. It turned out that the activity was really a lesson in interpersonal relationships, perseverance, and simple procedure following. 

It all makes me wonder how the class period would have been different if I hadn't used technology. Would I have had to deal with a young lady dropping 4 f-bombs during class? Probably not. Would I have been able to save myself from a bunch of students having a temper tantrum because one of their classmates absent-mindedly deleted their slide? Yes, of course. Would I have saved myself from a headache that is a room full of complaining teenagers? Absolutely.

So why did I push through all of the drama for a simple task using a computer? In the midst of the chaos, I knew that I could not give up. If I did, it would have been a great lesson in how to give up, not a lesson about working together and solving problems. 

In the end, I'm satisfied with my choice to use a collaborative document. There was a struggle, lots of inappropriate language, and a ton of temptation to give up. But, the way I see it, that's also a great recipe for what is most important in a classroom: learning.

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