How to be Amazing at Tearing Down Classroom Walls Using Google Classroom
And Other Great Tips
By June Weissman
This year I am piloting an adventure in empowering students. I am breaking down classroom walls to make learning engaging, personally meaningful, and relevant. Third to fifth grade students across my gifted and talented program in Wyckoff, New Jersey chose one of seven different academies I created on Google Classroom: Oh Say Can You See (vision), EEK! Venomous Animals, The Fantastic Art of Marc Chagall, The Weird World Below Water, Boomerang! The History of Australia’s Aboriginal Peoples, Jupiter’s Amazing Aurora, and Beware Wild Weather. Participants helped build these academies by suggesting fascinating subtopics, commenting on a wealth of video and print resources, and adding their own. Their comments invited others to share information in the hopes of finding those with similar passions.
Here’s an example of what students experience in an academy. Each one is divided into sections that begin with an overview and then delves more deeply into focused subsections that students help build according to their interests.
For example, Jupiter’s Amazing Aurora begins with an introduction to the topic and a plethora of supporting videos and articles:
- You will be exploring the planet Jupiter and its amazing auroras. What are aurora? How do they form? What do they do? Where else can they be found? Why do they occur on Jupiter? What other remarkable features can be found on this giant planet? Please let us know what you know about auroras, about Jupiter, and why you want to explore this exciting topic.”
Every week or so, another subtopic is introduced. In this case, they included the following sections:
- Before we zoom in on auroras, we should learn about the giant gas planet. Here’s an overview of the startling planet, Jupiter.
- What are aurora? How are they formed? Where are they found on Earth? Are they ever seen over Wyckoff? After using the resources below, you might like to use an art medium to create your own vision of an aurora. Perhaps you can write a story, poem, or origin legend about an aurora. Use metaphors, similes and other imagery to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. You might want to create an illustrated guide to aurora so that others can appreciate their beauty and significance. Here’s your chance to shine!
- We are finally ready to experience Jupiter’s aurora. Learn about this incredible phenomenon with the following resources. Can you write a poem from the point of view of a NASA scientist upon Voyager’s discovery, create a work of art (consider mosaics), or some other product to celebrate their beauty?
- Aurora on Other Planets: What is Juno? What role does it play in teaching us about aurora on other planets? Imagine you are traveling on Juno. Where will you go? What do you see? Can you describe it to us using some form of creative expression?
- Jupiter’s Other Amazing Features: Can you imagine looking into the night sky and seeing over sixty moons? Or withstanding a storm that’s lasted almost 400 years? That’s what you’d see on Jupiter! What else is there that would amaze you? Does Jupiter have seasons? Do the other planets? Can you write a story, create a painting, or sing a song about the incredible experience?
Each of these sections includes relevant, timely, carefully curated videos and articles. Students can react to them in the comment section of each subtopic. They are also encouraged to add links resources they find, and to discuss them with others. They have access to all the students in their academies, regardless of grade or school.
Students have the ability to access academies at home by logging into their district-domain Google Classroom accounts. The next step is determining a creative way to engage others through a project that pinpoints and expands upon one aspect of their field.
Students process and reflect on their work at regular intervals. They are invited to add their own subsections. In the case of Jupiter’s aurora, students designed more focused sections on Jupiter’s moons, how aurora formation on Jupiter differs from on Earth, magnetic fields, and Jupiter’s storms.
At present, students are planning creative ways to engage others through a project that pinpoints and expands upon one aspect of their field. They have been given a list of possible projects, including original fiction based on their research, experiments, art portfolios, plays, animations, video and 3D adventure games, but they can also determine their own unique mode of presentation. In a further nod to the power of technology, students can employ the shared Google platform to organize and plan their final products.
Student excitement is contagious. I am anxious to see and share the results of this new endeavor. Student efforts will be presented to a large audience at our Curiosity Convention in June.
Other Ways to Break Classroom Walls:
Curated daily newsletters:
Paper.li is an online content curation tool that creates customized digital daily newspapers based on chosen topics. It will find and publish engaging articles and videos from across the web. The “owner” has the option to edit the newsletter to promote or remove content. The service is free, although there is also an inexpensive service that allows more options including analytics. The paper can be embedded onto a website so that followers can see the changing content each day.
Paper.li is a monitoring tool to keep abreast of areas of interest and to network with others of like interest to increase your reach. It also provides a platform to help parents and other educators keep abreast of your areas of specialty and interest. Hashtags can be added so that the owner can track Twitter lists of other pages and blog feeds.
When shared on your social media accounts, Paper.li serves as a networking tool by promoting authors of articles you have selected. This often leads to Twitter followers with like interests and greatly expands your reach and your access to related articles of interest. It can direct you to chats and blogs on your topics of interest. New networking opportunities and relations may result. To follow my paper, Weissman’s Wonders, please go to https://paper.li/jweissman3/1441308582.
Flyers emailed to a select audience:
SMORE is an attractive, user friendly online flyer service that allows immediate communication with parents, teachers and other interested parties. It can also be used to showcase student work. Students can be given ownership of its production.
The platform supports pictures, text, Youtube videos, Microsoft files and other links and can be embedded onto a webpage and emailed to contacts. With the pro version, custom fonts, and your own .jpg files can be used to create personalized backgrounds for your beautiful newsletter. The product is easily revised and there is no limit to the number of publications. An added plus is the interesting analytics and badge system to encourage involvement. The site maintains your mailing list, so your flyers can be sent at the click of a button. There is a reduced educator rate for advanced features. Here’s a sample edition of Weissman’s Window, my flyer: https://www.smore.com/nu50g.
Inviting experts into the classroom is a great way to engage students, especially when visits are honed to individual interests. Some wonderful host sites are Nepris for visits from industry leaders and science and engineering experts, Skype for author visits, Code.org for leaders in the computer science industry, and Digital Explorer for interesting scientific outposts. My students’ guests have included such distinguished visitors as volcanologists, cosmologists, astrophysicists, arctic explorers, oceanographers, writers, and the engineers behind BB-8 and Makey Makey. It is also possible to invite experts by direct contact. These services are free and personalize the learning. Students can ask their own questions and have them answered in real time. Their excitement during these visits is palpable.
I have been hosting TED-Ed Clubs for the last four years. Through them, students age 8 through high school can research and present TED Talks which may then be shared globally. The platform provides a wealth of resources and guided lessons. Students enjoy watching TED-ED videos and learn a great deal about what makes an idea worth spreading, how to grow their idea, and presentation techniques. An added bonus is the chance for student to talk to students all over the world in real time through TED Connect Weeks. Team leaders must attend an instructional webinar as part of the application process.
Tearing down classroom walls personalizes, empowers and authenticates student experience. If you’d like to discuss any of the ideas presented above, feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @jweissman3 for more information.