Friday, December 28, 2018

Google Classroom or Google Sites: Which Should I Use?

Maybe as you rev up for 2019, you have considered creating a digital classroom to support your physical classroom. Or maybe you would like a way to stop answering so many questions about materials and due dates. Or maybe you have just been wondering about Google Sites and/or Classroom. Allow me to offer some thoughts on why you might choose one over another.

Google Classroom

Wikipedia describes Google Classroom as a "free web service developed by Google for schools that aim to simplify creating, distributing and grading assignments in a paperless way." Can't trust Wikipedia? GSuiteEDU Expert Team Member Laurah Jurca explains that "Google Classroom is designed as a document management system. The primary purpose of classroom is to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students. It is not an LMS like Moodle." With Google Classroom, you can:
  • Assign work to students within a class.
  • Assign certain work to certain students within a class.
  • Grade assignments paperlessly and record grades in a Classroom gradebook.
  • Make announcements to your class.
  • Schedule assignments and announcements.
  • Make every students his/her own copy of assignments.
  • Take a quick poll or ask a quick question of your class.
Put simply, if you are sharing digital resources with your students, grading things paperlessly, perhaps even struggling to keep your Google Drive organized while you do these things, Google Classroom could be a huge help. If you want to use technology to differentiate assignments, Google Classroom is a great way to get started. If you're tired of using class time to chant out the directions for making a copy of a Google Doc template for students, Google Classroom will do this for you!

Using Google Classroom does have a few drawbacks. First, if you are using it in a K-12 GSuiteEDU domain (aka you teach in a K-12 school), only other members of your domain can join your Classroom unless the domain administrator provides access. This means that your Google Classroom may only include students or staff members at your school. A Google workaround is that parents can be invited to get email updates from the Classroom. Unfortunately, the email updates are about assignments; if teachers are not using the assignments feature, the email updates would be blank. Remember that Google Classroom is designed to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students, so if files are not created to be assignments, it can be difficult for parents to participate. Second, you can do a little customizing of a Google Classroom (header image, name of class), but you don't get many options for how your Classroom will look. As an example, once you add materials to your Classroom, you can't reorder them easily. You also can't add pages beyond what Google Classroom wants you to have.

Google Sites

If file sharing and grading isn't your focus, but you like the idea of having a digital repository of resources that you can share with your students, Google Sites might be the tool for you. The tool is exactly what you imagine it to be based on the name, a handy way to make a website. With Google Sites you can:
  • Embed your class Google Calendar to class happenings and due dates.
  • Add images and videos to create a visual record of your classes.
  • Choose from set layouts and colors for a just right number of options.
  • Create one page or many pages depending on your needs.
  • Stockpile Google Drive resources for your students.
  • Co-edit the website with other teachers or students.
  • Connect your site to a Google Analytics account to see how often people visit.
  • Make your site available to the world or just the people you choose.
In short, if you aren't looking for a digital way to manage the files you share with students, consider creating a Google Site. If you haven't looked at Google Sites in the last couple of years, it's definitely worth a revisit. Where several years ago Google Sites offered endless (often confusing!) options and things to click, the new version of this tool is pared down to very popular choices and has a drag-and-drop ease to making a beautiful set of pages.

Like Google Classroom, there are some things I wish were different. First, there are only six themes to choose from. Each theme has several color and font choices to increase variety, but there are still design limits in place here. Second, old Google Sites allowed for page-level permissions so that the author of the site could decide which people could see and/or edit which pages of a website. That feature has not yet been added to the new version. Fingers crossed that it will be added someday soon.

The Last Word

If you are regularly sharing files with students and grading them digitally, start using Google Classroom. It can really help you and your students stay organized. When you get started, create announcements and assignments and invite guardians to receive updates. If, instead, you need a place to stockpile resources and document what is happening in your classroom for anyone to see, use Google Sites. You will have more design options and won't be limited to including just the people who attend your school. Parents will thank you for creating a way for them to support your work at home.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Tatsulok Puzzle Template

Several years ago I bought a bunch of science games from a company called Scienterrific Games. One of them was a puzzle called Tatsulok. Tatsulok is a Filipino word meaning triangle. In the puzzle you match question and answer sides of triangles in order to form a giant triangle. Scienterrific Games sells five versions of Tatsulok puzzles.

Just before the semester ended, I needed a couple of review activities for my reactions unit. Some students were struggling with the content and I needed to spend some time to remediate. Meanwhile, I wanted to provide activities for the rest of the students to practice a skill and get instant feedback. Puzzles are great for this, so I used the Balancing Equations Tatsulok that I purchased from Scienterrific Games ($13.95 for two copies). It took most students, working in pairs, about 15 minutes to solve the puzzle. Each side of a triangle had an unbalanced chemical equation or a set of coefficients that would balance an equation. Match them all up to form the big triangle. Most students seemed to enjoy the puzzle and worked independently while I provided extra help to those who needed it.

When I finished the lesson, I started thinking about creating a template for this puzzle. I love puzzles and have made several that I use in my classroom. I decided to try making the template as a Google Drawing. It is available here and looks like this:

The text boxes can all be edited to create a puzzle with 18 questions and answers (or some can be eliminated for a puzzle with fewer questions and answers).  The dimensions of the Google Drawing are 11" x 8.5" so you should be able to print it on a regular sheet of paper as a landscape document. I hope that you can use it to make something fun for your classroom. I'd love to hear what you do with this template!