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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What am I doing with GAFE?

Photo Credit: Valentyna Sagan
via Wikimedia Commons (license)
If you are now teaching with Google Apps for Education you need to get yourself familiar with the products and how you might be able to use them to enhance your teaching and student learning.

DON'T BE FOOLED! These apps may have a similar look, feel, and uses as the Microsoft Office products most educators have come to know and use, but GAFE goes way beyond in terms of functionality and versatility in the classroom. 

So, after teaching for one semester using GAFE, here is what I'm doing with Google Apps for Education in my classroom:


Let me make this clear, everything, EVERYTHING I do in my classroom funnels through Google Classroom. 

I make all my assignments in Google Classroom. Yes, even the ones that still require paper and pencil, because students can click "Mark As Done" and I can see in real time who is or isn't finished. 

The most important reason why or how I use Google Classroom is how easy it is to share digital resources or other GAFE files to students (think digital copier) and manage their work. 

When you create a class in Classroom you automatically get a folder in your Drive. In that folder is a folder the same name as the class. If you make an assignment - a folder is made with the name of that assignment and all student work linked to that assignment AUTOMATICALLY goes in that folder. Oh yeah, the same occurs for the students too. 

The results so far have been fantastic! If you are unsure about how to get started in Google Classroom, I highly recommend you check out the multiple blog posts by Alice Keeler and invest in her book 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom. It is well worth it.  


Sure, Docs is a great word processor, but don't think that is all they are good for. 

I do have my students write and type narratives and expository pieces, but Docs takes the writing process to a whole other level with that little blue share button in the top right corner. 

With that, students are able to share with one another their writing pieces and peer edit them using the commenting feature. After a little practice, my students have become pros at this and seem to thoroughly enjoy this part of the writing process. Not to mention it is having a positive impact on the quality of their writing. 

Also, if the Doc was created in Google Classroom, you have access to view and comment on students work at anytime. What's better than giving students real time feedback?

Ok, so my favorite way of how I'm using Google Docs is to create HyperDocs. I first discovered HyperDocs this past summer during a #DitchBook Twitter Chat. Curious as to what this was, I began to do some research and what I discovered almost made my head explode!!! I knew this was going to change the way I teach. 

HypderDocs was created by Lisa Highfill, Sarah Landis, and Kelly Hilton. I really don't think I can do HyperDocs justice in explaining them, but for me the reason I love them is because it helps teachers be a facilitator or guide in the learning process and the students become creators. Just take my word for it watch this video, check out the website here, or search #hyperdoc on twitter. You won't be disappointed! Also, here is one that made and used in class to teach the design process to my 4th graders. Feel Free to Make a Copy if you'd like! (Template came from @KarlyMoura).


The least effective way to use Slides is to treat it as an equal to PowerPoint and only create slides of bulleted lists of information. BORING! (Sorry, but that is what your students think as well.) Luckily now that you have Google Slides can do so much more. Here is one of many ways I'm using Slides in my classroom. 

I like using Google Slides as a means for student collaboration and reflection. You might have seen this was one of the steps in my design process HyperDoc. As students are working on a HyperDoc or maybe after they have watched a video lesson, I give students an opportunity to share and reflect what they have just learned and share that with their fellow classmates. 

I simply create a new Slides presentation, put the directions on the first one or two slides, then share it with the class via Google Classroom or HyperDoc. A bonus to doing this is that it becomes a quick formative assessment for me so I know which students are understanding and good to go and those that could use a little extra help. Here is an example of one my students did after watching a video lesson on multiples.

What to know more about what you and your students can do with Google Slides? Matt Miller from Ditch That TextBook wrote a fantastic blog post that I refer to often. Here is 10 Google Slides Activities to Add Awesome to Classes.


There are a lot of possibilities for the use of Drawings in a classroom. If you are unfamiliar with Drawings, I equate it to a blank digital poster or drawing paper, hence the name. I have used Drawings in a variety of ways and students especially like it because it allows them to be creative.

Ways that I have used Google Drawings includes: 

  • creating digital graphic organizers
  • digital poster or anchor charts
  • a student choice to demonstrate their learning
  • download images created and insert into a Doc or a Slides presentation.

This doesn't seem like much, but I am still learning and many times after giving a lesson or using some tech I'll realize I could have used Drawings to make the task easier. 

Again Matt Miller's blog, Ditch That TextBook has two great posts on how to incorporate Google Drawings: 10 Engaging Google Drawing Activities for Classes & 15 FREE Google Drawings graphic organizers

If Google Drawings is new to your students, here is an activity that I created to help introduce Drawings to my 4th graders at the beginning of the year. It was a great success!


This app is a teacher's best friend. With Google Forms a teacher can create endless types of assessments for any subject area. Outside of some for math, almost all of my assessments are done using Forms. Whether it be exit tickets or formal quizzes and tests, Google Forms can do it all!

A plus to using Google Forms is that it is helping my students prepare for the technology enhanced questions that they will see on standardized testing in the spring. The different type of questions you can choose for students to answer include multiple choice, check boxes, short or paragraph text and gridded response.

Other ways I have seen or have used Google Forms used include:
  • classroom library checkout system
  • class party signups
  • Parent/Teacher Conference forms
  • Rubrics for grading
  • Even choose your own adventure stories!
Possibilities are endless and it is really easy to begin. Go for it and give it a try! If you need help getting started, Kasey Bell from shakeuplearning.com has a great Google Forms Cheat Sheet for teachers.


I will have to admit something right off the bat...I really haven't used Sheets that much yet outside of it being the place where your responses from a Google Form goes. 

With that, the add-on Google Sheet Flubaroo is a must! It is the reason why Google Forms will be your best friend. 

For example, after giving my spelling test via Forms, I go to the corresponding Sheet that is automatically created. Enable the Flubaroo add-on. Then after a few clicks of my mouse, all student responses are graded and their scores are emailed back to them. 

I have seen other ways to Google Sheets too but haven't used any to know how it has worked out. Again, still learning. Maybe you have a way you use Google Sheets and can share with me. 

Well, that is all I have for now. I hope that if you are new to GAFE (or even if you are not) this will help you embrace the change and see the many possibilities both teachers and students have when using these apps in the classroom.

I'd really like to hear what ways you use GAFE in your classroom. Leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter @SEANJFAHEY.

Friday, November 27, 2015

4 months in the making...What I've learned So Far.

Ok, this is happening about 4 months later than I wanted, but here is my first official blog post as a teacher of a classroom that is now 1:1.

So since I have almost 4 months of experience under my belt, I'd thought I'd share with you some reflections of what I've learned so far. 

Have simple, yet precise policies and procedures. 
I teach 4th grade and to most of my students, the technology they received at the beginning of the year (Chromebooks) was very different and new to them.
I made a mistake by assuming my students knew more than what they actually did. So when I gave what I thought was simple directions to follow, all of a sudden the room turned into a mess of unorganized students not knowing what to do. 
I quickly learned to give short and direct directions and set up a very specific set of policies and procedures for my students to follow. After doing this, it didn't take it long for my students to be conditioned & moving right along with me and their devices. 

Let the students play!
What I don't mean is allow students to freely play whatever games they want on their devices. It was actually a real struggle at the beginning to get students to realize that the Chromebooks they just received are not gaming devices and the purpose wasn't to be used like their XBox, Play Stations, or Nintendo they have at home.
What I'm referring to with this statement is that you have to give some freedom to the students and allow them to explore, learn and share with each other as they get used to this new technology that is now at their fingertips. One of the best ways to learn is to "play" with something new. 
My wife laughs at me because I'm always pushing buttons, especially in our new vehicle. But to my defense the only way, I'll know what that button does is to push it, "play" with it and therefore, learn what it does so I can use that feature correctly when it's time. 
It's the same thing for students and their tech devices. Give them plenty of time to explore and play at the beginning and then share with each other. You'll be glad that you did because then they will be much better users. 

Introduce Things Slowly
I was so PUMPED to begin this school year. Especially after attending some local edtech conferences and reading Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller (@jmattmiller), I was ready to totally revolutionize my teaching and classroom. 
BUT, I knew my students were not going to be ready. My students didn't have the knowledge of the Chromebook and applications like I did, so before having them use the Google Apps for Education tools and use them effectively, I had to teach and introduce them SLOWLY!
What I choose to do was introduce a new application, program, or skill that I would want the students to be able to use some time at the beginning of the week. I did so using creating a screencast "explainer" video using the chrome extension Screencastify and then sharing it with my students via Google Classroom. After watching the video, students were given time to "play" and get familiar.
It was then later in the week or even the next week that I would then use the application, program or skill that I introduced.

Well, there it is. A little snippet from my experience so far. I hope to continue to provide more as the year goes on.

If you would like to connect with me on twitter follow me at @SEANJFAHEY.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Authentic Assessment

Raise your hand if you like standardize testing! Ok, just kidding. One of the things I can't hardly stand giving are traditional summative test to my students. I try to give as little tests as possible. Students get bored getting test after test and I can't stand grading stack after stack of them. So then I just heard about Authentic Assessments and it sounds like a possible solution to my problem. Check out the video to introduce yourself to this type of assessment. 

Authentic assessments remind me a lot of "performance tasks". This was a big point of emphasis last year when I taught at NAFCS. Both involve personal, real world experiences. The difference I feel is that performance tasks rely on students taking what they have already learned and mastered and apply in a new way; while authentic assessments can still be used as an assessment to measure mastery of a topic. 
One way I try to incorporate authentic assessment in to my classroom is by bringing real life situations into the classroom. One piece of technology that helps me to do this is my smartphone. I don't have the facts, but I'm pretty sure the majority of you that will read this has one. If so, they are a wonderful tool that can help in education and not just for social media.
No matter if it is math, science, social studies, or reading, I try to be observant of the things around me when I'm out and about that my students can connect to with our topic of study. Whenever I see something useful, I capture it with my phone, either by pictures or video, and through technology share it with the students. I then normally pose some questions to see if they can relate what they have learned with a real world example.

For example when studying weathering, erosion, and deposition, I was traveling when I saw a great example of this.
I showed the photo and shared some minor details of it to the class for clarification and simply asked to write an explanation of what was happening. In their explanation they were to use the terms of weathering, erosion and deposition.

After doing this and further study of the topic, we came back to the photo a couple days later,and had a quick discussion so everyone had a clear understanding of the photo. Next, students were to search and discover an example of weathering, erosion, and deposition of their own, take a photo or draw a picture of it and describe how it is an example of weathering, erosion, and deposition.

What made this assessment authentic was the fact students had to go out in the real world and apply their knowledge. Students had fun sharing and it was great to see all the different examples they discovered and how applied their knowledge.

I encourage all teachers out there to see how they can start adding in more authentic assessments into your classes.

Having Technology is NOT Enough

Do you have a piece of popular technology that you use in your classroom? In my short teaching career, I have had some. But what us teachers need to understand is just having the technology or even using it doesn't even mean it will improve students the excitement for learning. Consider the Following quote:

"Popular classroom tools...don't excite kids." -Bill Ferriter

My first reaction to this was "Duh!" But after some thinking, I am going to agree and disagree with this statement. 

I disagree because last year when teaching in New Albany, I received a brand new SmartBoard in my classroom. As soon as the students walked into the room they were excited! All students wanted to be in the room and couldn't wait to interact with it. So just having this popular tool the students were excited because it was NEW.

I agree with this statement because it is not the popular tools, but the new way of learning that students are able to experience with these tools brings out true excitement in students. Once getting the SmartBoard, the way student where interacting with each other and the content of study began to change the way they learned into a more interactive and interesting way, therefore the students were excited to learn.

Ultimately teachers need to remember is that students get excited when learning is real and personal to them and technology is just only a tool that can help achieve this, but isn't always required.

New Tool = New Rules?

There is no doubt in my mind, with the continued implementation of technology, it is changing the traditional classroom and school career for our students that is currently in place. Just check out this Edutopia video about An Introduction to Technology Integration.

In the video you heard of many opinions regarding technology, one of them was this:
"We have a set amount of time to learn something, and then there's an exam. You get a B; I get a C. Even though the exam identified that you have some basic weaknesses, I have even more weaknesses, we'll then move on to the next concept. So instead of doing that traditional, everyone move together in lock-step model, with technology, you have the potential to everyone learn at their own pace, and master concepts before they move on. Have the teacher get real-time dashboards to see who's stuck on what." (Sal Khan, Creator of Khan of Academy)

I don't know about you, but a classroom like this seems like it will lead to a very different education for future generations of students. 
I'm wondering if/when these changes start to happen, are we (those of us in the field of education), parents, students, community members willing to change the traditional setup of a classroom and how students progress through the system?

Can we abandon the traditional A-F grading system for more of a standards based report card? What about having students stay with the same teacher for more that one year? Letting that student/teacher relationship develop further and progressing those students able to work ahead to the next grade level or having more time to master concepts without the rush the "end" of the school year and moving to the next grade level and new teacher.

I see students that are ready to move on and excel in their learning really benefiting from this style of classroom. Could we end up seeing those students graduating high school at age 15 or 16 or the very least graduating with dual college credits? What about those students who struggle with some concepts. If they need more time and learn at their own pace, will it be accepted if they don't graduate until age 19 or 20?

However technology changes the future of our schools and classrooms, as long as it is for the betterment of the students, we (teachers, administrators, unions, parents, and policy makers) should be supportive of these new rules that will come along with our new tools. 

Introducing technology in the classroom

Dr. Ruben Puentedura has created the SAMR model, which is a four-level approach to selecting, using, and evaluating technology in education.  His presentation is available on iTunes and is well worth viewing.  The acronym is expanded below.

Some teachers are willing to use technology in their classrooms as long as they don't need to change their teaching strategies. So, iPads may become digital worksheet machines while laptops function as PowerPoint creators or word processors. But with technology in our classrooms, there are so many more options that can be done with today's ever changing technology.

So the question arises, Is it wise to allow teachers to take "baby steps" initially by only implementing technology at the lower levels of SAMR, or should peers and administrators insist that educators examine and adapt their teaching methods to include more engaging uses for technology, too? 

Well, here are my thoughts...

Like all humans, teachers are creatures of habit and for teachers established in this profession for 5 or 10+ years, I would assume it would be very difficult for most teachers to "flip the switch" and immediately begin using technology and teaching at the redefinition level. Especially those teachers that have filing cabinets full of lessons and worksheets that have been used year and year with fidelity. If this is the case, I would believe the best way is to use baby steps for some teachers. Nevertheless, the goal of baby steps is to allow teachers to examine lessons and methods so in the future all teachers are able to include engaging uses of technology.

However, I believe with the baby steps approach, we can't be content or put limitations on ourselves or our students (I have a feeling students are going to be jumping right it.) Once we get Chromebooks next Fall, I know some teachers are going to be able to jump right in, while some will be taking baby steps. 

Why do you assign homework?

In the article, “Are You Down With or Done With Homework?” it quotes a publication that is on the U.S. Department of Education website titled Homework Tips for Parents. This publication states, "Homework can help students develop study skills that will be of value even after they leave school.” It then gives examples like: learning happens anywhere, independence, responsibility, and time management. I disagree with this statement because this should not be the goal and reason for assigning students homework.

During my junior high and high school years of education, when I was assigned homework, I did not immediately think “Oh great, I get to practice how to be responsible and manage time!” I thought what’s the point of this stupid worksheet. In my classroom I try to make sure homework is purposeful and meaningful to the students. I try to make it an extension of the learning that takes place in the classroom. This article states what homework should be in the perfect world, “Ideally homework should be about taking something home, spending a few curious and interesting moments in which children might engage with parents, and then getting that project back to school — an organizational triumph.” This is what I try to achieve if I assign any homework, but I know this doesn't happen with every student because the organization it is referring to, the parent, student, teacher organization is fractured because of the different viewpoints on homework. 

From their own experiences parents see homework as a task that just needs to be completed and not part of the learning process. Teachers give worksheet of rote practice because they feel students need it. While students get home, have to deal whatever circumstances are there and the last thing on their mind is homework.

Now in hindsight, I believe some students will look back and see how homework might have helped develop important skills that are useful after they leave school (probably more from high school experiences than in the elementary setting). But I don’t believe in the argument of homework or no homework that "Homework can help students develop study skills that will be of value even after they leave school” is a very good or valid point for assigning homework.