Monday, 25 May 2015

Using Google Classroom for the first time

The new school year has just started here in Thailand, and one of the changes I am planning this year is to use Google Classroom. I have used various Google Apps in class previously, and found them to be very useful, particularly as collaborative tools. However, this will be the first time I have used Google Classroom itself. 

I will be piloting the use of Classroom with my Grade 10 students as part of their basic biology course. A key thing when integrating new technology is not to take on too much too soon, so I'm not rolling it out for my other courses as yet. For now I will also continue to use Moodle as an LMS for posting resources such as videos, links to useful websites and so on, but any productive work such as written assignments will be done via Classroom.

The school band playing as school opens for the year.

Pedagogical rationale

As with any EdTech integration it is important to think about pedagogy first and then see what technology may be suitable in achieving the pedagogical aims. 

In this case the rationale behind using Google Classroom includes the following:

  • To facilitate more collaborative learning
  • To make learning more visible, by allowing rapid feedback to learners, from both me and, just as importantly, from their peers
  • To clarify and consolidate links between topic areas within ecology
  • Following on from the previous point, to enable stronger links to be made between the classroom and the real world, by demonstrating more clearly how the different sub-topics relate to the overarching theme of the interdependence of living things with each other and their environment
  • To form the basis of a digital portfolio
I foresee a couple of potential hurdles with this approach. There may be technical issues, such as how to deal with group work assignments, although there are a few workarounds for this. Classroom is still a work in progress, so there may be other, unforeseen technical challenges. Also, there is a danger of 'Google fatique', if learners become tired of using the same platform repeatedly. Hopefully, however, this project will proceed smoothly and according to plan. Alternatively I may be pulling my hair out and spending a lot of time lurking on the Google+ Classroom community page!

Monday, 18 May 2015

What is the optimum class size?

How important is class size and how does it relate to learning opportunities? I started thinking about this after reading an interesting post on Patrick Watson's Montrose42 blog. Watson summarises some theories put forward by Malcom Gladwell, who suggests that a class size of 18-24 learners is considered to be an ideal number. Obviously, very large class sizes may lead to reduced learning opportunities. However, teachers also reported that very small class sizes can impact learning negatively, for example by a disruptive student having a proportionally greater effect on the classroom dynamics. 

I have taught classes ranging  in size from ten to fifty learners. Clearly, fifty 14-year olds in a classroom is a far from ideal learning environment! However, having just ten learners does present some issues of its own, for example small group presentations don't generate the same level of interactive engagement during the question and answer session following the presentations as a similar Q & A with a class of twenty. I have noticed that the energy level of a very small class is frequently lower than in a class of 25 learners. Obviously this is an anecdotal and not particularly objective finding but it is certainly a phenomenon that I and my colleagues I have discussed this with have experienced. 

The upside of a very small class is the opportunity for a teacher to spend more time with individual students. There is also greater opportunity to explore tangents that may arise from learners' questions. However, Gladwell notes that better learning outcomes are often not achieved in small classes because teachers don't adapt their teaching to meet the needs of a smaller class - they simply work less! I find this a bit surprising, because in my experience a lesson plan that is suitable for 25 learners won't necessarily work with a class of ten learners without at least some modification. 

I would be interested in hearing other teachers' opinions of what they think is the ideal class size. 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Planning for inquiry learning

With my new school year rapidly approaching, I have been thinking about ways to incorporate more inquiry-based learning into my classroom. I found a useful blog post by Kath Murdoch at with some great ideas around how to prepare learners for a more inquiry-oriented approach to their learning. 

One of the key points I feel is the idea of reframing learning intentions as questions. The Right Question Institute offers a range of free resources that provide teachers with ways to encourage learners to formulate their own questions and foster an inquiry approach to learning. 

An area where I am limited is in creating a physical space that enables learners to move around and find working configurations that suit them. The best that can be achieved is the rearrangement of desks or the creation of a slightly more informal seating arrangement. There are plenty of desktop PCs available, however, and most students have their own mobile devices, so this affords a little more flexibility in setting up the physical space. 

Enabling learners to understand their own learning strengths is something I have been focusing on for a while now, and this is again something that is highlighted as an important aspect of inquiry learning. I plan to continue to developing ways to enhance learners' metacognitive awareness, whcih will form part of the inquiry journey. 

Although my learners have frequent, regular summative exams as dictated by the curriculum, my hope is that by using a more inquiry-based approach, learners will achieve more than simply good grades in their exams.