Why would I need to use Google Classroom in a Math class??
–Me (Last School Year)
Throughout the 9 years that I’ve taught math, I have prided myself on creating a “No Excuses” culture in my classroom. There are many methods that I use to foster this culture that I will not get into right now, but a key piece has always been posting all homework assignments online. This simple task ensures that there is no excuse whatsoever for a student not doing the homework.
In my early days at my first school in Chicago our school didn’t have their own website, so I created my own web page for students to use in my math class. I realized very quickly that just posting something online does not mean that anyone will use it! I probably have had the following interaction with my students 100,000 times in my career:
Me: Where is your homework?
Student: I forgot to write it down. (or forgot the paper.)
Me: Did you check the website?
Student: What website?
Me: <head explodes while angrily showing the class the website for the 74th time>
Even when I vigorously campaigned for my website at the beginning of the year with parents and students via tutorials, letters home, open houses, and parent conferences – I still wasn’t reaching all of the students all of the time.
Enter Google Classroom
I consider myself a tech-savvy teacher, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about Google Classroom. My first inclination was – “I put my homework assignments on the school website, why would I need to duplicate that same thing in Google Classroom?” It ends up I was half right and half wrong.
Why I was right:
- If all I was doing was posting homework in another place, I was really just duplicating my same efforts in two different places.
- If a student isn’t going to go to the school website to find my assignments, what makes Google Classroom so special that they would check that instead?
Why I was wrong:
- Google Classroom is much easier to use and has many more features than a traditional editable school web page.
- If students are not relying on a piece of technology regularly in my class, why would they use it outside of my class for emergencies only?
Then the plague hit the East Bay of Rhode Island. Last February, I easily had 4 to 5 students absent in each of my classes due to illness. The amount of time I was taking to catch up absent students on notes and class materials was ridiculous. Throwing caution to the wind, I started posting notes and homework assignments to Google Classroom. When a student asked what they missed upon return from the infirmary, I simply gave them one of my ten classroom laptops and said – Check Google Classroom. For the rest of last school year, my posts looked something like this:
One-to-One Chromebook Initiative
Starting last school year, our school started a 1-to-1 Chromebook initiative in 6th Grade. That meant this year that our incoming 7th Grade students would not only have Chromebooks, but they would know how to use them! Entering the school year, I had the following assumptions (delusions of grandeur):
- All of our classroom management problems would be solved because our students would be engaged with technology!
- We could cancel our school’s future orders of copy paper and get rid of the copy machines, because we could put EVERYTHING online!
- Students would ALWAYS do their homework if it was online, because they always had access to a device.
- Students would know how to use Google Classroom because they used it the year before.
Unfortunately, after the first few weeks of school, I realized the reality of the situation:
- Chromebooks have a lot of their own classroom management problems. Luckily a lot of these issues had been hammered out the year before, but the biggest issue was off-task behavior online. Additionally, just because students are doing math on the computer doesn’t mean that it is engaging or helping students grasp the material any easier.
- Math needs to be done on paper a lot of the time. Even if the original problem is online, students need to work the problems out on scratch paper. This brought up a whole slew of issues with how work is shown, submitted, and graded for online assignments.
- Students don’t do their homework for a lot more reasons than access and availability. Nothing here changed at all.
- Though the students used Google Classroom in the past, they didn’t use it in all of their classes, and especially not much in their math classes. This brought up something I mentioned before – if students were not relying on a piece of technology regularly in my class, why would they use it outside of my class for emergencies only?
Using Google Classroom in Math
After a lot of trial and error, I finally realized that if I am going to expect students to use Google Classroom as a resource in my classroom, then they need to rely upon it and use it in my class EVERY DAY. The daily agenda that I used to post on my classroom chalkboard is now only on Google Classroom. I project and review the agenda and attachments at the beginning of every class period – even if their assignments are paper and pencil. As the school year progressed, I started seeing the students checking the agenda on Google Classroom when they entered class, rather than asking me the typical annoying – “What are we doing today?” After a while, I refused to answer the equally annoying – “I’m done with this, what do I do now?”
As I move forward in the ongoing adventure to blend my math classroom, I can’t imagine a more useful tool than Google Classroom as a home base for all things technology AND paper and pencil. Who knew it could be useful even in a math classroom!