Utilizing a Superior Google Site to Enhance Engagement and Organization.
During the pandemic, my school was fortunate to be mostly present in person, although there were months when we were completely remote. Some of my fifth-grade math students would suddenly be remote when we were “live” while they were quarantined or when their families changed their minds about attending school in person. When you don’t know exactly who will be in a classroom on any given day, how do you make plans for it?
I needed to make the experience as consistent as could be expected — to have the in-school insight and the far off one be as near equivalent to I could make them. However, in order for the system to function properly, I required a uniform method by which students could access information, regardless of whether they were at school or at home. My solution was to create a straightforward Google Site to organize all of our class activities. For their lessons, students at home used the same location as students in school. No one had to learn anything new if they switched from school to remote learning or the other way around.
AN EASY TOOL FOR ORGANIZATION
My “Weekly,” as we referred to it, was really minimal. There was a page for each day, as well as a calendar listing the week’s objectives. The objectives for that class, the schedule of activities, the homework, and any useful links, including the slides for that day, were all on the “day” page.
I would use the website to direct the class for the students in the classroom. We would begin by going over the weekly objectives and tasks. There might be a link to an activity or some homework posted there, depending on what we were doing that day. Sometimes it was just the introduction to something that looked like more typical classwork, like a discussion or even a test. Other times, it was just that. No matter what, we always started with the Weekly. Students who live far away would access the same website from home. Special instructions or a modified plan just for them may have appeared from time to time, but they were always posted in the same location.
I have to admit that I had no idea this strategy would work, but it was surprisingly successful in keeping everyone together. It didn’t take long to make because we used the same template and kept the site very simple. Additionally, there were advantages I had not anticipated. My planning was impacted, not surprisingly, by having to create the website. Although I have always prepared well for lessons, I have rarely been required to publicly declare my goals like I did last year. When I changed the slides or erased my board, the goals did not vanish. We looked at how we did at the end of each week. I was extremely motivated to convince everyone that we had accomplished the objectives.
There were other, less obvious advantages. Utilizing the same location for both class-attending and non-attending students necessitated some repetition. When I wanted everyone to have the same experience with something, I sometimes used a flipped classroom approach. However, I frequently ended up creating additional slides that only the asynchronous, remote students would use because I did not want to sacrifice the lesson’s interactivity for those who could be present. I taught the class twice, once live and once on video when I did that. Making the video made me think about the lesson much more deeply than I normally would have because I did it before I taught the class. In essence, it forced me to practice the lesson before I presented it to the class. Although my videos lacked polish, they were still of use to the students who were at home. Additionally, the practice greatly improved the live lessons.
A rise in student involvement.
The fact that students had to visit the website on a regular basis was the second unanticipated benefit; consequently, it was an excellent location to post content that I wanted students to see. A thing we called a “noticing wall” was located at the bottom of each cover page of my Weekly. The name and concept are taken from a Lifehacker article by Michelle Woo about parenting a preschooler. I would casually mention it when reviewing our week’s objectives, such as by saying, “Check out the noticing wall.” The substance went from kid’s shows to short news stories to an inquiry I saw as fascinating.
Links frequently led to interactive content. Numerous appearances were made by Vihart and Numberphile videos. It was not required that students examine it. Nothing had to be turned in by them. It was just a place where I could post something that they would have to visit frequently. Students also examined it. They desired to discuss it. They must be informed they couldn’t invest energy on it during class. They would return to their preferred locations. On a class website, that space under the calendar became a highlight of the year. I’ve tried a lot of different platforms to share what I think students will find interesting about math, but this one was the first one that worked because it put the information where students would see it.
I don’t think anyone could have persuaded me to create a weekly Google Site for a class I was actually in. I never would have thought that putting the information there rather than simply putting it on a slide or handout would be beneficial. I only started using it because I couldn’t find a better solution to a problem. However, I intend to create one each week even if the majority of my students will be in class with me this year.