Occam's Razor for Teaching (And Oh Yeah, I Got To See Google Classroom)

By Sara Henschell

I hate dealing with paper. From making copies to handing back work, it is my least favorite thing about teaching. I need better methods of dealing with paper and turning in work. I love grading message boards, and turning things in via Google Drive is great except for all the emails. These ideas don’t scale well. So, when I saw Where’s My Stuff?: Managing Student Workflow with Google Apps, I was super pumped. It made the top of my ISTE2014 sessions to attend list. So, I went! And I am so happy I did. 

I need a tool and a method to help manage this process without needing to spend more of my time learning how to use a tool. Google has this je ne sais quoi of teacher solutions. Obviously, you need some basic skills to get started. Can you use Google? Good news.  But seriously, most teachers I know use email, apps and messaging through Google already and manage without extensive training. If they don’t, there are some great videos up on the presenter, Aaron Svoboda’s website.

The main take-away method for me was having a Google form for submitting work. Mr. Svoboda’s idea is that you create a form (a Google survey - forms are located in your Google Drive already) that has key information and directs students not to share their document with you, which generates a metric ton of email, but to make it editable by anyone with a link. This is not hard to figure out, the permissions are easy to find and easy to change again; see the website for more specific detail.

And, if you are trying to track something like multiple choice questions, you can go one step further and run a script in the spreadsheet you get from the submissions of your Google Form. I recommend Flubaroo.

Then… we got to see Google Classroom. We all got to log into it as students. This made my ticket worth the price. THE FUTURE IS NOW. ALL THE GOOGLE APS. I run screaming into the future via Google. I want this so hard, I can taste it. To me, at first glance, it seems like all the best parts of Wikispaces, Edmodo, and Blackboard all rolled into one awesome set of tools - you have a website, cloud space to organize content that is community curated, calendars, specific ways of turning in and recording grades for students that also emails the student their grade with a click.  Google has a video, if you need to see it, and you do.

Here's the thing, it is not Google’s apps that make me more effective; it is the way I use them and how easy they are for me to teach students to use. Good design is good for everyone.

People too often try and push really gimmicky and poorly designed things on teachers because they think we don’t know any better.

Here is Occam's Razor for Teaching: if it is hard to use and not making your life easier — don’t use it.

Stop using worthless tools. If you have to struggle with, fight with or can’t depend on a tool, either it is a crap tool, the wrong tool, or you need more training.

Very few times is the correct answer more training. Spend your training time improving your real work — helping kids learn.

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