Elementary Google Apps EDU

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Apple iPhone Screen Shot of email using Google Apps for Education

Back in December I wrote about our Google Apps EDU rollout with elementary students. As I mentioned in that post Iwas initially bit unsure as to how much these kids really needed Google Accounts  and wondered if they could even remember their passwords. However, as I wrote the kids really surprised me and I found that not only were they way more adept than I thought they would be, the accounts are helping us provide opportunities for technology equity, student voice, and real-world digital citizenship.

Observing the students over the past three months I am even more convinced we made the right decision. Beyond what I shared in the earlier post, I’m learning that these accounts are not only changing the kids, but they are changing us. Contrary to what many of us (me included) might think, our elementary students definitely know how to use their accounts (yes, there are the occasional forgotten passwords) and see the learning potential that comes by being connected learners. The screen shot above is a perfect example. Jessica (not the student’s real name), a 2nd grader, was struggling with her homework. So what did she do? Wait until the next morning and ask for help? Of course not! Instead she emailed her teacher and asked for a math video. Jessica’s teacher has started creating math videos (short screencasts) and posting them to her website. This particular evening the teacher had not posted one, but Jessica (at 7 years old) already knows that these tools help her learn and has  agency for her own learning, so she is willing to request one.

Just let that sink in for a second…

This same group of children is also organizing a magic club via email (they invited me to join, so I am on all of the messages). One of these students asked if he could create a screencast showing his class how to add their ancestor projects to a collaborative Google Map, so of course we did!

With the roll out of Google accounts we’ve also introduced 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders to blogging. Thanks to excellent blogging role models, like Linda Yollis and the school’s principal, Jennifer Kloczko, the drive to produce, publish, and comment has taken hold with our students. Last month was Family Blogging Month where the school encouraged students to contribute pieces to each classroom’s blog that were read and commented on by families, friends, and readers from all over the world. It only took one or two posts followed by a few comments for the students to understand the power and excitement of publishing for a global audience. Now students (from all grade levels) are submitting posts on their own accord via email or Google Docs for their teachers to publish. The principal, Jennifer, shared last week that when she was greeting students as they arrived at school one of them came up to her and said, “Mrs. Kloczko I have so many things I want to write about for my class blog. Today I think I am going with a list!”

If you have a few minutes click here to check out some of their posts. They truly are amazing, especially when you consider most of the posts were independently generated (i.e NOT an assignment) by writers ranging from 6-8 years old.

When I share these stories with middle and high school teachers their eyes momentarily pop out. The world is changing and these students are going to force us to recognize those changes. We have a group of connected elementary students who innately understand the role technology can play in their learning through online collaboration and communication. They are a different generation than our current middle and high school students and we will need to change how we teach to meet their needs. I can already see that blended learning will be natural and expected by these kids. “What do you mean you don’t have a video so I can figure this out at home?” They’re not going to need our current 6th grade technology elective where we have historically introduced typing, Google Apps, and other online tools. Publishing for a global audience will be natural and nothing new. Finally, they will expect connected learning environments – email, text, social media.

Every Thursday I read (paper books) to most of these students and learning from them has become one of my most favorite parts of the week. They are teaching me what it really means to chart the long-term vision of a technology department and as the first rule in their computer lab states, “No freaking out!”

Joe

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