Today was the first official day back from Winter Vacation for my school. Coming back after any long break is a chance for rebirth. For the students to focus and get grades up (especially with the end of the semester coming up) and for teachers to tighten up anything that got loose in classroom practice before the break. It’s also an opportunity to start new classroom practices that you want to test out – I find that nobody has time in August and September to try out anything new, so coming back from a break is a great time to know what your students need and want isn’t working as well as you want it to in the classroom.
Full confession, I’m a spreadsheet guy, my father is and along with is favorite vegetable (corn) he passed it onto me. If you aren’t afraid of the big bad excel, spreadsheets can be your best friend, and should be if you are a teacher today.
January 4th – Google Sheets
I’m making the assumption that you know a little bit about Google Docs and Google Drive (if not, bookmark this because I’m sure i’ll loop around to those – this was just on my mind). Technology is changing the classroom with instant sharing and collaboration and Google was on the forefront with its Google Docs. They’ve changed dramatically through the years, but it’s power still lies in its ability to share and collaborate at the same time and also access from anywhere. Google Sheets is a very powerful ally in the high school classroom for management, even if your school doesn’t use google products, you’ve probably shared an email back and forth. September challenge: collect students emails on the first day via notecards or a Google Form and use a powerful Add-On like autoCrat to do a mail merge and send students information – automatically! Switching schools I needed to learn a whole new online gradebook system. My previous school was always on and visible – which caused some issues (panicked students), but the positive was I was very transparent as a teacher. This school is a little more reserved and the students are responsible (gasp!) for knowing their grades (it’s amazing, you should try it sometime). However, old habits die hard and I spent the better part of two weeks asking them to check the gradebook for missing assignments with very little followup – then I realized they couldn’t see them. In came autoCrat and I created a spreadsheet with the assignments and grades, comments for each assignment and then ran autoCrat (a kind of mail merge) which sent an updated grade report out to them. Viola! Problem fixed, I’m transparent again and students are able to see what they do and do not have turned in.
***Note: I accept late work only on the grounds that they’ve gone above and beyond. As a CS teacher I feel that everything is in Beta and can always be improved upon, therefore I can’t NOT accept work that students have been making constant adjustments to. This is big for our Scratch unit as students are able to share their work over the Scratch network and other people can comment, like, favorite and remix their work.