Monthly Archives: March 2014

Single-Use Google Site

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What we did

Long story short: our class made a Google Site that we only intended to use as a place to display some formative work for one or two days.

Our Grade 6 English unit on “The Press” involves having students write imaginary news articles (the only limitation on their content was that they had to describe something happening at school). This was really just daily work, not a major project, but at the end of class I decided to quickly create a Google Site to post their stories on.

Why we did it

At the end of a period of students’ writing fake news articles, I realized I didn’t know how best to share and discuss them. Their articles, from what I’d seen as they worked on them, were hilarious and well-written, involving all sorts of mayhem and shenanigans ranging from a teacher being murdered to a student getting sucked down into a toilet. I wanted to celebrate this work somehow, but wasn’t sure what to do.

Reading each group’s articles one at a time in front of the class would be fun but could easily take an hour, while having them simply turn in their work to me seemed far too anti-climactic.

After a few minutes’ thought, I realized that most of our research into news articles had involved looking at newspaper or news channels’ websites, like the New York Times, CNN and BBC. Therefore, to celebrate the students’ work, the most authentic thing to do would be to make a pretend news site of our own.

What happened

I think it went really well. The students immediately liked the idea that their stories were going to be part of the PNN (Pretend News Network)’s site, and they seemed excited about posting and formatting their work, as well as clicking on and reading through everyone else’s stories.

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One surprising (and fun) thing that happened is that even though photos were not part of the assignment, students quickly got VERY involved in staging photos for their stories, for example:

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What I learned

Pros – This experiment worked out very well, in my opinion, and I plan to throw together more one-off sites for displaying student work like this in the future. It took only a minute to create the site, and the students figured out how to navigate the editing quickly.

I think there were three reasons for this: 1) The Google Site options are pretty minimal, in a good way – the only meaningful choices are “add page” and “edit page”, 2) The Google Site interface is almost identical to the Google Documents one, which helped students immediately tackle it with no problems, 3) our 6th graders are pretty fearless in terms of tackling new technology interfaces, as well as at helping each other, so the articles were uploaded within 5 or 10 minutes of my creating the site with no stress on anyone’s part.

Another advantage to throwing up this site was that it allowed stories from both of my Grade 6 English class sections to be posted in the same place, so that both classes could get ideas from each other and share the fun of reading their ridiculous news stories. I really like the fact that the site sort of parallels the sites we’d been researching – 20 years ago a similar sort of “authentic” sharing format would have been to have the class work together on a pretend newspaper, and I think this was a pretty good modern analogue to that, while also not being very time-consuming or even requiring the students to go much out of their way to upload their work.

Cons – Google Sites, in spite of a lot of superficial interface resemblances, are not Google Documents, and we quickly found that only one person can edit any particular page at any one time. To get around this, each group of students decided to write their articles collaboratively in Docs and paste them into the Google Site only after they were finished writing. This worked fine, but did represent a small extra step.

Aside from that, I don’t feel like any drawbacks to creating this “disposable” site have emerged. I feel it was a very quick, easy and positive way to share the students’ work, overall. I am, however, a tiny bit concerned by how quickly several of the groups independently came up with stories that involved teachers being murdered (!)

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Filed under Education, English, Literacy, New Literacies, PGP

Truncated Pecha Kucha

What we did

Another short post just to share something which I thought was unexpectedly successful: I had G7 Humanities students present short reports on inventions from the Industrial Revolution in the form of a half Pecha Kucha, that is, 10 slides which they discussed for only 20 seconds each.

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Why we did it

I was feeling a bit behind in this particular class due to some missed time after a snow day and some assemblies, so I wanted students to learn about inventions and share what they learned, but I didn’t want to take more than two days in class doing it. So I assigned them the research and slide-making on one day, then spent the entire two periods sharing their work on the second day.

The idea to limit the format of the presentations came from the fact that the last time we’d tried to present student work in a single period, it ended up taking three times as long as I’d expected and spilling over into the next week.

The biggest time waste always seems to be the transitions – switching between student files or computers, the seemingly eternal wait time when opening up PowerPoint, etc., so I told everyone to dump their 10 slides into a single shared Google Documents Presentation, and set the timer to advance the slides every 20 seconds. The transitions would thus be obliterated.

What happened

The format worked perfectly. The reports were reasonably detailed and interesting, the 10 slides each student had assembled seemed to be a good amount of space for them to share what they’d discovered and answer the prompt questions I’d given them, and it took exactly 2 class periods for 16 students to present 10 slides each, with no pauses (I think I had to keep them 1 minute after the bell rang for the final student to finish). No one’s slides were cluttered or filled with walls of text, and everyone rose to the challenge of springing from their seat and launching into their presentation when the slide advanced.

What I learned

Pros – A potentially boring and straightforward research report seemed to become a bit more interesting when I added the time and slide constraints, and we finally solved the problem of not being able to hear presentations from every single student in a single block of class time. I thought it worked extremely well and will try to use this presentation format in the future.  One key to the success of the technique might have been the list of prompt questions I gave the students, including “Why wasn’t this invention made earlier?” and “Do we still use this invention today?”, which made it difficult for the reports to be a straightforward info dump of facts cribbed from Wikipedia.

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Cons – I think I had to “hack” Google Documents Presentation’s slideshow mode to get a delay of 20 seconds. It involved publishing the slideshow publicly, then monkeying with some digits in the URL. A Google Docs presentation with ~160 slides gets pretty slow to load, as well. Aside from those two minor technical issues, I think everything worked very well.


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Filed under Literacy, New Literacies, PGP