Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Rhws Primary Online - Google Apps for Education Pt2

In Pt1 I briefly explained how I began shaping my ideas of how Google Apps for Education could be used in a primary school. After explaining my thoughts and showing her 'models' I'd created, my wife who is currently acting head teacher at Rhws Primary School wondered whether these tools and services delivered by Google, could help to improve communication between the staff in her school? But it was clear when we started to discuss this further that it wasn't just communication between staff that we were trying to improve, it was many of the administrative practices that teachers had to carry out that could be improved too.

I think it's important to bare in mind here that the school began this process before the Hwb+ national platform arrived for schools in Wales. However, I believe that most of the approaches that I'll describe below are as relevant to all Welsh primary schools about to launch with Hwb+ or any other learning platform. For instance the new version of Microsoft Office 365 (which is included in the Hwb+ platform) has many of the same features as Google Apps for Education (email, calendar, document collaboration) and from what I've seen of the Hwb+ platform, it too lends itself perfectly to the ways of working I describe below.

Rhws Teachers Online landing page

The platform 'Rhws Teachers Online' was constructed using Google Sites. Once a member of staff had logged in they would have easy access to a variety of shared documents and school calendar, alongside tools and services such as email and their own Google Drive. This would be the first time that the school would have its own unique email address for all staff (@rhwsprimaryonline.co.uk), removing the need for them to use their own personal email addresses for work related communication. Each user has 25GB of Gmail storage and 5GB of Google Drive storage. Another positive reason to work in 'the cloud' is that it should be no longer necessary for staff to carry USB drives around with them. Upload your file from home to Google Drive and download and use at school.

Introducing the Platform to Teaching Staff

Toward the end of September 2012 the acting head teacher introduced the platform to teachers. During an after school meeting teachers were given their usernames and passwords and initially taken through the login process. They were taken on a quick tour of the platform and shown how to access their Gmail account and then left to 'play'. A couple of weeks later the teachers were shown how to upload documents to the planning area and how to use Google Drive to create and store documents. The majority of teaching staff picked up the necessary skills very quickly and by January 2013 all staff were using the site on a regular basis, uploading their planning files and reading and sending emails.

The Login Process

Users could either login to their account via the Google search page or via a link on the school website.
It was recommended to staff to login via the school website as this directs the them to the Rhws Teachers Online landing page. I'll take you through a couple of the sections found on that site.

School Calendar

School staff calendar

From my own experiences of teaching in a primary school I felt that there was a strong need for an online calendar that was shared with all staff. In many primary schools the school diary tends to reside in the secretary's office or with the head teacher. Therefore it could be only viewed while in school. The only other source of information is often a dry wipe whiteboard in the staffroom where the week ahead is written out for everyone. Google Calendar has been embedded into the page and is regularly updated by the acting head teacher. Several members of staff now access this calendar along with their school email account via their smartphones.

Planning Area

Spring planning area for Yr.5 teachers

Prior to the Rhws Teachers Online area being built, staff would store their lesson planning documents on the school network. The school felt that it would be advantageous to move all their planning to the platform allowing:

  • all staff to have access to their planning from the web wherever, whenever 
  • 'job share' and peer year group staff to collaborate on planning templates (Google Docs)
Much of the planning at present is in the form of previous planning being uploaded as Word documents. However, the intention is to slowly migrate completely to Google Docs. This would allow for easy collaboration between staff on planning (sharing the workload) and allow for much easier updating of the planning in the following academic year. There would be no need to upload new documents, just amend the existing.

A good example of one of the benefits to moving the planning area to 'the cloud' was when a member of staff was unable to come into work due to illness on the first day after the two week Christmas break. "Don't worry" she said, "all the planning has been uploaded." It was easy for a member of staff to login and print off the relevant pieces of planning for the supply teacher that day.

Quite a useful feature is the 'subscribe to changes' option that's available on many of the site's pages. By clicking this option you get an email sent to you every time someone uploads or makes a change on that particular page. A useful way for SMT to quickly monitor who has uploaded their planning or any other document. 

Minutes of Meetings

Minutes of Meetings page

All meeting minutes are now written up using Google Docs and almost immediately after the meeting shared with all the staff. The acting head teacher feels that the positive impact of this is that all LSAs and admin staff are able to easily access information from meetings that they are unable to attend.

Staff Administration

Staff Administration page

Various types of document are held here, such as school prospectus, results from parental questionnaires and policies. A very useful function of this area was in its use for the school Christmas concert. Music backing tracks, lyrics, cast lists, scenery list, etc. was uploaded for each of the relevant classes to access.

Report Writing

As I write this blog the teaching staff are currently using Google Apps to write their annual pupil reports to parents! This can be quite a stressful time for teachers, so it was a pretty big decision that the school made, and I personally know of no other school that has attempted this approach to report writing. Previously the school used a Word document template and the teachers wrote into this for each child. This year report templates were created in Google Docs for both Foundation Phase and KS2. During an after school meeting the teaching staff were shown how to access the relevant template from Rhws Teachers Online, create a folder in their Google Drive and save templates for each of the children in their class. The next step however is the clever bit, and shows the power in working on shared documents. Each report template was shared with various teachers who needed to input into an individual pupil's report;

  • teachers job sharing 
  • where children are 'streamed' for maths and English
  • specialist PE teacher
  • PPA teacher - Welsh, RE, music
  • the acting head teacher for proof reading and adding her own comments

All these groups now have access to the same document - therefore there's "one version of the truth". No need to print off reports that might have to be amended and reprinted, or digital files being emailed or transferred to others on an USB drive with the worry that they might be deleted, corrupted or which file is the latest version.  So far, so good, and I'll post a blog about this approach to report writing once all the reports have been completed.

In Pt3 I'll look at how pupils started to use Google Apps and some thoughts about how the school sees the various tools and services, including Hwb+, being effectively used for learning and teaching from September 2013.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Rhws Primary Online - Google Apps for Education Pt1

For many years I have been a user of a variety of Google apps, everything from email account, calendar and contacts, to saving and sharing documents in Google Drive and creating websites with Google Sites. So it should come as no surprise that I started thinking about how a school could effectively use these tools. About 18 months ago I started experimenting by building 'mock' school websites, modelling what could possibly be done with the tools I had available. These sites were constructed using my own personal Google account, but aware that what was really needed was access to the freely available to schools Google Apps for Education in order to get a full understanding of what it could offer a school.

I browsed through case studies about how schools have implemented Google Apps for Education into their schools, and also read the 'techy' stuff showing how you can set it up for your school. All I now needed was a school willing to go with the vision I was developing.

Luckily my better half is the deputy head teacher of Rhws Primary School, and after me showing her some of the ideas I had, she threw down the challenge of setting up Google Apps for Education up in her school. The challenge she presented me with was initially an organisational one - how can we improve communication between the whole staff? In September of 2012 she was going to become acting head of the school, so was in prime postion to implement the necessary changes. Over my summer holiday break in 2012 I began the process, and there was plenty of material on the web by people who had been through this process and also lots of information provided by Google that helped me get the 'techy' backend stuff done. When this was completed, with relatively little pain, we were able to spend those long sunny rainy summer days planning out what she wanted to achieve and how we were going to do it.

Link page to Rhws Primary Online from school website

The school already had an active school website which they didn't want to lose, so the name Rhws Primary Online was chosen to separate the school website from the new online teachers area. This was built using Google Sites and would be the private staff area for the school. From an early stage we felt that it would be important that the school staff got used to working and communicating together in a new way, before bringing the pupils into the project. We believed that the pupils would pick up the necessary skills quickly but wanted to make sure that the staff could gain the confidence, skills and understanding in how to use the tools before engaging in learning and teaching with the pupils in the online environment. We also felt that it was important that this way of working became embedded in the working practices of the school. I had heard about too many school online platforms 'dying' because only the ICT enthusiasts in the school used the platform - the platform never being seen as an integral part in role of a teacher. We certainly didn't want the technology to be seen as a bolt-on, technology was going to be used to help to change the way the whole school organisation worked.

In the next blog I will look at the reasons why the school wanted to change some of the administrative practices and how they went about it.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Thinkquest - The End Of An Era

Over the weekend I received an email from Oracle informing me that they are finally "sunsetting the Thinkquest program" in June. For my colleagues and I this is certainly an end of an era. For over 6 years Think.com, as it was formally known, was an integral part of our online elearning strategy in Newport alongside Moodle. It gave our primary schools the ability to extend opportunities for learning for pupils away from the classroom. Pupils and schools could communicate and collaborate together on their own projects, sharing ideas and thoughts. For two years we had one school working with a school in Belgium comparing and contrasting their localities. It was truly a worldwide tool allowing all schools in the Thinkquest community (which was huge) to contact one another and work together. I've yet to find another platform that does this so simply as Thinkquest did. I don't think Oracle really understood what they had and with a little bit of updating it could have been a truly wonderful online collaborative platform. I'll certainly be sad to see it go.

Here's a link to one of my previous blog posts and video about Thinkquest.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Google Play for Education and Nexus Tablets

It was only a matter of time but it's nice to see Google about to enter the Apple iPad dominated handheld education market with its own offering.

Have a read here and register your interest...