Tuesday, September 29, 2009

True Life: Google Saved My Life

I want to start this post off by saying that before May 2009, I had no clue that Google had a documents side, or even an application side. I thought Google was a search engine and a place for me to check my email, that's it. In five short months, I have been saved by Google thanks to @ejulez. She showed me the light.

I wanted to dedicate this post to how Google saved my life and what applications I use on a (somewhat) daily basis in my classroom. Some of the following topics are things I have not actually implemented, but either have seen it work or plan on making it work.

Gmail: Students in one of my classes (read: it's about slow integration) are required to have a Gmail account. I don't use it so much for the email aspect, but I do believe every student should have an appropriate email account (something that includes their name in it, etc) as they prepare to apply for jobs and colleges, so I require them to have one in order to communicate. Personally, I have four Gmail accounts - my personal, my school, my swim team and my BETA club. I can sort them and keep them separate.

Google Calendar: Embedded in my wiki is a Google Calendar. Each day, I update it with their homework assignment(s) and sections covered for the day. This way, they have no excuse for not knowing what we covered that day because it's always on the calendar.

Google Sites: I have created a Google site for my SAT Prep Course. It has become their SAT Study Guide. On the days before tests, we go into the lab and they edit their study guide. They transfer their notes into the wiki for them to study from and enhance understanding. Through this, they have learned how to type math and communicate their notes via typing. It's been a struggle, but beneficial. My big goal was to have a final place for them to visit when they prepare for the actual SAT. I plan on having one for my PreCal class as their main class webpage (instead of my wiki on Wikispaces above). Google Sites can be made private or public which keeps your students protected.

Google Photos/Picasa: Picasa offers you a place to store all photos. While you may just want this on a personal basis, it does have collaborative effort to it, where multiple people can share an album and upload to the album. Students could upload images or work to Picasa for your viewing and so they would have it at school for use. Just like facebook, you can tag photos. You can also create collages and slideshows.

Google Reader: I use Google Reader, not so much in my classroom, but as a professional development use. It tracks blogs that I follow and other RSS feeds in a one-stop shop.

Google Groups:
I have not used Google Groups, however, I have sat in on a training (by @ejulez) about Google Groups and think they have lots of potential. You can make them public or private to keep students protected. Students can have pages to themselves, you can post assignments. There is a discussion board. You can send out mass emails via a group. You can post homework answers, collect homework answers. It's a great common meeting place. And, because it emails out for every update, it's easy to monitor from a teacher standpoint.

Google Talk:
You could use GChat in a variety of ways. I use it for professional development to discuss and bounce ideas off other educators. You could also create a back channel for students to talk and discuss projects, homework, anything. It allows an easy way to ask questions and get answers from anywhere. I hope that perhaps I can stay logged into GChat in the evenings to help students with homework questions.

Google Books:
It is completely shocking (and amazing) to me that Google has all these full texts (for free) in Google Books. Check out this SAT Workbook, for example. It is a full text SAT help guide. FOR FREE! Students can search through this and find books they can't get in libraries, look for help with a research paper or just find a good book or magazine to read. Teachers can use this as a professional development guide.

We talk about all the applications, but we sometimes forget about great Google is. You can search for images, videos, maps, news, and so much more. What an amazing resource for your students to have at their finger tips. Yes, they may search inappropriately. Yes, they may find inappropriate stuff. But, as a teacher, let them know your expectations and how to handle inappropriate stuff. It'll be OKAY! Allow your students to use its wealth of knowledge. And, you, as a teacher, can benefit it. I have found some great lesson plans, worksheets and project ideas by googling ideas. Do it. I dare you.

Google Earth:
What another great resource to have at your fingertips. Allowing students to see a map, satellite or terrain view of anywhere in the Earth (and Mars!) is unbelievable. Allow them to plan a trip. Teach them to use the scale. Calculate gas mileage. Calculate proportions. Research longitude and latitude. Research locations and landmarks. Research terrain. The possibilities are endless.

Google Documents: Okay, google docs are my baby. I use them and abuse them and they have made my life so much easier. If my students had laptops, I would be a paperless classroom due to google documents. I started off the year by collecting student information via a google doc form (Students & Parents). The information goes directly into a spreadsheet (I'd link to it, but there is a lot of personal info there, I'll show one later) for your access via web. Nice, easy, spreadsheet. Each weekend, my Algebra II students have a weekend assignment (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5). Their answers go into a spreadsheet. I color code incorrect answers and grade accordingly. I also collect results from students via a google doc form. Two weeks ago, they were working on the iPods, so they submitted their results here. The results looks like this. I am also using a google doc form to collect service hours for my BETA Club. Why both having a paper log, when you can do this? Also, in my classroom, I use a similar form to collect embed codes so I can embed their review projects onto the wiki. Back to my BETA Club stuff. I have a google spreadsheet (I can't share b/c of the personal names of students), where I can keep track of who has turned in what and store email addresses and t-shirt sizes. The best part of this is that I can share the document with my co-sponsor and we can both edit it and have up-to-date copies without emailing back and forth. Not to mention, I don't have to have my thumb drive to edit it! I use the google document (read: Microsoft Word in Google) to write out instructions for projects. I will be using this document on Thursday (if you are reading this Tuesday or Wednesday, the document is there, but not complete). All I have to do it share the document with the students, they can open it up and read the directions. No copies necessary! Lastly, a colleguge and myself wanted to create a presentation to express the importance of community service. We don't have a lot of physical time to meet, so we did it via Google Docs. We created a presentation, shared it with each other and edited it simultaneously. I could watch her type and see what she was changing and adding. Also, you can directly embed YouTube videos into these presentations and play them directly in the presentation without having to travel to the YouTube website! Here is an example of a spreadsheet used by all educators on Twitter. They have stored their information, so you can find great people to follow. And, lastly, yes, I have even tested via a google form. Head over to documents.google.com and watch the Love Letter video. Not only is it hilarious, you will see the POWER of collaboration via Google Docs.

Are you intrigued? Open up your Gmail and in the top menu bar, click More, then Even More to see all that Google has to offer!

Don't know where to start? Ask me! I would LOVE to show you how to do it!

Friday, September 11, 2009


I am now in year #4 of teaching. It feels like just yesterday that it was year #1. Crazy how times flies, right? Well, as I move through a flawless year #4 currently (more on that later), I can't help but think of where I've been.

Via twitter, @misscalcul8 and @samjshah have put me in a reflective mood tonight, so I thought I would take a moment to reflect.

Year #1 - I moved to Concord NC with my best friend and we got to teach at the same school in classrooms beside each other. I thought life was going to rock. I had Foundations of Algebra (Algebra IA) and Algebra II, first semester and Geometry and Tech Math II, second semester. What? I can't teach Algebra IB and PreCal like I student taught? What? I have to create everything new in my first year? I have no help? Geesh. But, I walked in with my head held high determined not to be a doormat, determined to be the best teacher ever and determined to share math love.

I'll never forget September 15th, 2006. It was a Friday. It was first period. We were taking a test on Matrices. Here's how it went down:

Student #1: Ms Gregson, I really need to go to the office. I really need to talk to someone.
Student #1 goes to the office for about 10 minutes, returns, takes a seat, works on her test.
Knock. Knock. On the door. It's the school resource officer and an assistant principal.
SRO/AP: We need to see Student #2.
They escort her down to the office. I'm just a low first year teacher. I didn't think much of it. I kept monitoring the test. Nothing new, nothing fancy.
The door opens, it's Student #2.
Ms Gregson: Oh great! Glad you're back! Go ahead and get working on your test!
Student #2 doesn't respond.
Instead, she walks over to her desk, instead of sitting down in her seat, she starts being the you know what out of Student #1. Student #1 is pinned in her desk and is getting nailed left and right. Hair is being pulled (you know, girl cat fight). I had that moment --- "Do I go call the office? Do I yell for help? Do I break it up?" I yelled and went to break it up. Yep, I know, they tell you not too ... but I tell you. It's instinctive. It's your gut. It's what I felt, so I did it. I pulled Student #2 back. By this time, I had four teachers in my room, two male teachers (thank goodness), each took one of the girls into the hall way in opposite ways. By this time, when my best friend (in the classroom beside me) heard me scream, her reaction? Ann doesn't scream! Something must be wrong! I'm going to call the office. She saved me. Administration was already up there. I walked out in the hall to take a breath and I started BAWLING. A fight? My third week of school? In my classroom? All before 8:15am? Why? How? What? I eventually calmed down, I mean, I had two more classes to teach that day! The day wasn't the same, but I made it through.

Now, you want the back story, right? When Student #1 went to the office, she informed them that Student #2 had drugs on her. So, they came and got her. They did find some on her, so the adminstrators went into another office to discuss punishment. Well, Student #2 SNUCK out of the office, ran up to my room and beat the ever living daylights out of the girl. Yep. That's what happened.

After I got over my shock and scaredness, I began to reflect. Was there something I could have done to prevent it? Was it my fault? What went wrong? And, well, I eventually realized that there was no way for ME to prevent it. There was no other way I would have dealt with it. It happened, we dealt and we overcame. Now, that being said, I did learn one lesson ... LOCK YOUR CLASSROOM DOOR. Had my door been locked, she wouldn't have gotten in. Well, until I let her in, but whatever. :)

For the remainder of my first year, I worked my tail off. I reflected. I learned. I re-did. I changed. There were many days where what I planned completely and utterly didn't work. There were days when things rocked and my kids learned. I learned that you have to analyze what you do and admit to your wrongdoings. It's okay to be wrong. It's okay to fail. It's okay to make mistakes. The kids appreciate you MORE if you admit to them. I had discipline issues and had to try atleast four different ways of managing my classroom. I changed my rules time after time (and now as I look back, I realize that probably was my problem).

Year #2 - Hands down my worst teaching year ever. I taught Foundations of Algebra and Algebra I all school year long in addition to a section to SAT Prep. Even though I had taught Foundations before, I was still redoing my lessons because I wasn't content with my first year lessons. I had freshman all day every day and I wasn't happy. I went home every night crying. I wanted to quit. I thought I wasn't meant to be a teacher. I wanted to call in sick all the time. I hated it. I dreaded it. It was one of the lowest years of my life. I reflected, but I couldn't find any good in what I was doing. I had discipline issues every day (atleast 2 - 5 write-ups a day), I had curriculum issues, you name it, I had it. I thought I couldn't do it. At the end of the school year, I told them that if I ever had to teach freshman again, I would leave, walk out and never come back.

Year #3 - I came into my third year skeptical, scared and worried. After the year I had had, I wasn't ready for this, I wasn't confident, I wasn't interested. But, I came back anyways, looking for a fresh start. Let's see, first semester, I had Precal, Algebra II, SAT Prep. And, second semester, I had Honors ALgebra II, Algebra II and SAT Prep. Note: no freshman (except for the extremely smart ones taking Alg II). My precal students revived my love of teaching. They wanted to be there, they wanted to learn, they opened up to me. They inspired me to be a better teacher. They challenged me. They were my shining light. My other classes were great. I had finally gotten a handle on discipline. I had finally gotten a handle on grading, time management, lesson plans, etc. I knew what I was doing. It felt good. I wanted to go home and grade papers (to see how they did) and I wanted to go home and do lesson plans to inspire and reflect. I had a great year. I had a new found love for teaching and math and I was rejuvenated. Now, don't get me wrong, I still had a few issues here and there. I still did fail at some lessons (especially in PreCal!). They still bombed tests. But, we regrouped and moved on. It was a great year. I was ready for year #4.

Year #4 - Now, we're here. It's present day. I walked into my classroom on the first day, not nervous. Totally chill. I was laid back. I wasn't scared. It was the most calming feeling ever. It was like I was home. It was like I was supposed to be there. I don't panic anymore. If I need another day to teach something, it's okay. I'll make it up later. They bomb a test? Reflect ... was it me or them or just hard material? We re-evaluate and recharge.

One major thing I learned in my last two years is that everything doesn't work for everyone. Just because it works for another teacher in their classroom, doesn't mean it's going to work for you. Sometimes you have to take others ideas with a grain of salt, adapt and change it to fit YOU, YOUR classroom and YOUR students. You can't trust that because it worked for someone else, it will work for you. Every single classroom is different. Therefore every single classroom should have a different lesson delivery. And, it is with this comfort and feeling of home that I feel ready to incorporate technology into my classroom, try different things (and admit when they don't work) and try a more discovery-based, problem-based learning activities. I have also learned that I do love my SMARTBoard, document camera, etc. But, sometimes, paper and pencil is the best way to do math. There are some topics that you can't make fun. You can't make a game out of it. You just have to teach it. No matter how boring it is, you just teach it. And, yes, they just work problems. It doesn't have to be ALL fun and games. We are preparing them for college. Did you play games in your college math class? I didn't think so. Sometimes, notes and book problems rock my socks off.

Moral of the Story? Don't panic. Don't worry. Don't freak out. They will get the material. They will understand it. They will fail. They will learn lessons. Don't let them out easy. Make them work hard. Be mean. Be sarcastic. Be fun. Build relationships. Get to know your students. Find balance. Find balance in your classroom. Find balance in your homelife. Don't work 24/7. Take breaks. Breathe.

It WILL get better. Now, that's not to say it won't get worse before it gets better. But, it will get better. You will succeed. You will be the best teacher you can be. You will inspire your students. They will come back and visit you. They will beg for you to be their teacher in the future. They like you, even though they'll never admit it now.

Stick with it. Don't quit. Live your passion.