Thursday, January 19, 2017

Harness the Power of a Summit

I was very fortunate that my school system last week hosted a special EdTechTeam conference for all teachers and staff. For the first session, I chose to attend a presentation by Jay Atwood, whose description exhorted attendees to not be be afraid of data.

Now, I remember years ago a fellow student teacher having to create a spreadsheet of how every student scored on every test item, every week or two. I was intrigued because I craved that sort of true understanding of my students’ learning, but it seemed overwhelming. Assessment has always been a challenge for me; quantifying things just doesn’t come naturally. As I’ve grown as a teacher, I’ve developed some strategies, but I wanted to do better, and struggled with how to implement that desire. High-quality, timely, and useful assessment seemed not so much an unscalable mountain, but one that was threatening to topple in an avalanche over me.

Opening his presentation, Jay asked if any of us were scared of spreadsheets. Maybe I was distracted by setting up my laptop, but I honestly raised my hand. (Hey, I’m an English teacher for a reason!) A moment later Jay asked if any of us had learned spreadsheets in our teaching training; again I raised my hand. He was bemused that the scared one was the only one that had had training, but I think the issue was I had too much training, or training in the wrong things. I recalled complicated formulas and a jumble of letters and numbers, and a general sense of dread that had kept me away from spreadsheets ever since. Jay’s straightforward class fixed all that!

Step by step and quickly, Jay walked us through how to use Google Sheets with examples directly demonstrating their usefulness to teachers. When I saw the reading log example, I sat up straight in my seat. I thought about all the records I keep, of student reading, writing projects, independent study choices... I could use Google Forms to create a handy, neat, manipulable record in Sheets? I learned all sorts of tricks and techniques for managing data in Sheets, mostly by clicking on buttons (or copy-pasting simple formulas).

Then in Ben Friesen’s session I learned how in Forms I could create not just general records but actual quizzes that Google would then score and put into a Sheet. Suddenly I was seeing how easy it would be to get formative and summative snapshots of my students’ understanding and learning. Google Forms and Sheets provide a powerful tool for finally conquering that scary data mountain! I could use a Form an an exit slip to check understanding at any time. I could use a Google quiz for the assessments I’m required to upload to students’ digital folders. No more scanning in hundreds of paper forms!

I learned about all kinds of tools that easily integrate to support my work and students’ learning. Screencasting can help me be there for my students and explain things (especially for those who always seem to benefit from hearing instructions again, and visual or aural learners) even if I’m out of class or during homework or home study days (every Friday in my school).

The new Google Sites is super-intuitive and allows teachers to tap into videos and pictures from online, as well as Docs, Sheets, or anything from their drive with a simple click.

There are other applications that can help me manage and track individual student engagement during class discussions and again funnel that into a record in Sheets.

As I left the conference, my mind was full of ways to use what I had learned to simplify my teaching life and to harness these powerful tools to be more effective at connecting with each student. As Michael Wacker, the Keynote Speaker, said, that connection is the most important tool we have as teachers. There’s a piece of art at the school site where we held the conference that includes the words, “Until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea how far you can fly.” It made me think how, more than teaching me every technical step for using different Google tools, the conference showed me what was possible. I don’t feel afraid anymore, but empowered!

Leanne Schwartz
Humanities Teacher

Empower your teaching at an EdTechTeam Summit near you!

You can now take online courses at your own pace for Google Sites and Google Forms! And look more into a custom summit for your school here.

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