Friday, February 24, 2017

Using Google+ for Professional Development

Temple ISD became a G-Suite for Education District in 2013. We started by concentrating on six base apps - Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, Draw, Slides, and Gmail. The five instructional technologists and I became Google Certified Trainers and then proceeded to provide a base of knowledge to teachers through content and grade level targeted two-day trainings. Once we got comfortable using G-Suite core apps, we were ready to take the next step. Staff from various campuses (or even different hallways) have a hard time connecting with each other. We wanted to create a social media platform that would connect Temple ISD teachers.

Google+ has some great application as a professional social community. Because we manage the Google accounts, teachers already had a Google+ account. That provides consistency and sets the account apart as a professional account. We did some very targeted training on creating a professional profile. That included appropriate headshots (not pictures of children or dogs!) and school related profile information. You can see our Google+ Basics document here. There are a couple of hurdles to get over when using Google+, and setting up the profile is one of them. Some teachers don’t use much social media and may be a little intimidated by it. We found it is best to set up profiles in a face-to-face environment where teachers could get immediate support.

So, we got the accounts set up, but we then had trouble getting teachers to use the accounts. We tried setting up some like-minded communities and sharing in PLC’s, but we got limited traction. One day I happened to be visiting with my dear friend, Debbie Boyer, who was the Director of Instructional Technology for Canyon ISD at that time, and she shared with me a contest that she did with her teachers to encourage great teaching practices and collaboration through social media. Debbie used themes like “Top Chef” and “Game On” to create contests where teachers showcase great learning in their classrooms through Twitter. She got local businesses to donate prizes for the weekly drawings.

Using Debbie’s genius idea (with her permission, of course!), we created “Survivor TISD”. Based on the show Survivor, we created a place where “instead of being voted off an island, you will be voted ON to this island of learning!” We got our Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction dress up like Jeff Probst to set the stage. You can find our 2016 contest and 2017 contest on the Temple ISD Instruction YouTube channel.

Last year, we used 6 Instructional Strategies from Lead4ward each week as the Challenges. Teachers would pick a strategy, use it in their classroom, and then post a picture or video and description of the activity on Google+. We used a Google+ Collection, Instructional Strategies, to house the directions for using the Lead4ward strategies. We even added a technology twist for each strategy. We used hashtags (#survivortisd, #week1, etc.) to help organize and count the posts. Be sure and have your teachers make their posts available only within your domain. That helps promote and focus your school’s community post responses.

We also got over 40 local businesses to donate a prize (valued at at least $100) for the contest. I worked with our Business Office to make sure I had the proper donor forms. In turn, we promote the sponsors through our website, Twitter, Facebook, local news avenues, and of course, Google+! Temple is a great community and is very supportive of its teachers.

Now, in our second year of Survivor TISD, we made a couple of changes. We decided to concentrate apps that we found teachers find useful in the classroom. We developed 6 themes:
  • Now You See It: Teachers chose from these digital organizers - Sutori, MindMup2, Padlet, Piktochart, Symbaloo, or Thinglink.
  • Game On!: Teachers used the online games Kahoot!, Quizizz, Quizlet Live, Socrative, or Go Formative in this challenge.
  • We Love Google: The challenge fell during Valentine’s Day week. Teachers chose any Google app for their post.
  • Lights, Camera, Action!: Temple ISD uses WeVideo for video editing, so teachers will use WeVideo to create a short flipped learning lesson to share.
  • Get Reel: In the “Get Reel” challenge, teachers can use EdPuzzle, PixiClip, MySimpleShow, Powtoon, or Playposit to create, manage or grade a video.
  • Survivor Smorgasbord: In the final week of the contest, teachers can choose any app from the previous weeks’ lists - or any they want to show off!
We created “tribes” this year to promote Google+ Communities. Teachers could create groups of 8-12 teachers in their community. In order to get points as a tribe, at least 75% of the members had to post for the week. Tribes earn extra points by responding to posts. In order to get started, we created a Google Form that was completed by the “tribe leader”. The Instructional Technology Specialists then helped the “tribe leaders” get the Google+ Communities set up.  

Also, instead of weekly videos and emails, we set up the challenges on our Teacher Intranet so that teachers could plan ahead more easily.

Is it worth it? I got an email from a teacher at the start of the contest this year that confirmed it for me:

“I am not sure who's idea Survivor was but I told my principal last year that it was the best Professional Development tactic of the year. I learned more participating and tried more new strategies from Survivor that I still incorporate into my classroom routines. It is a keeper! Thanks for doing it again this year. I have already begun extending my teaching toolkit again. Plus it is so much more fun than "sitting and getting". We get to see real life, effective examples without having to work out the bugs, BONUS!” - Alisa Stewart, 4th grade teacher

Luann Hughes
Technology Director
Temple Independent School District
Temple, Texas

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