I’m settling into a recipe for using Google Docs for my cooperative learning activities, and I wanted to share. I am very pleased with myself for all but eliminating paper for those activities, and am hopeful I can reduce the paper usage even more. Using Google Docs has also opened up interesting ways for the students to get engaged and collaborate, but as with anything, it introduces pitfalls too.
Pre-work: Before class, I create the cooperative activity just as I normally would have made a worksheet. I create it in Google Docs – sometimes as a document, sometimes as a spreadsheet, or whatever tool the activity calls for. I share it with my entire class with “view-only” permissions.
A: Log on and warm-up. Our class netbooks take some time to fire up. I give the kids their daily planner update / learning target / plan of the day, and then send them in small groups to get their netbooks and log on. While the netbooks are doing their thing, kids answer warmup questions in their math journals and demo at the board. We process the warmups.
B: Opening and mini-lesson. Kids are logged on at this point, and usually I have them lower the screen while we participate in the whole-class opening. Here we pose some introductory questions that have to do with the lesson, and I model the thinking that we will be doing that day.
C: Ready to work. All activities are posted on my Blackboard website and coded for the date. Inside the folder for today are these activities. I bring them up on the board and label them.
D: Work time. Kids click the link to open the Google Doc. One group member shares the document with their table group. A leader is selected and that student keeps the rest of the group on the same problem, together. My main role during this time is to question and guide their thinking. Often, this is encouraging them to not go with the quick answer, but to carefully break down the problem. Sometimes, of course, I police the teamwork. 🙂
In this case, I posted a little interactive activity to help them with the work. Part of the document had spinners, and I had little moving spinners they could test if they got stuck.
E: Reflection and summary. On my Blackboard site, I place a link to a Google Form. The forms are very easy to create, and all of the form responses go into a spreadsheet for easy access! The kids click File –> Share and copy the link that shows up. This link is pasted into the Google Form along with their reflections and any summary responses.
F: Summarize and wrap-up. We share any interesting answers and methods for solving the problems, and then log off the computers. If it’s not the last class of the day, students stack the netbooks on a shelf instead of trying to cram them into the cart. The last class of the day gets to put them into the cart.
G: My turn. I read through the work I get from the groups. I might decide to add feedback directly to the documents. I let their work guide me in what we’re doing the next day. I reflect on the mistakes and pitfalls and misconceptions and what could go better, and often there is quite a lot.
I’m still very, very new at doing cooperative learning in this way, so there are some problems that have come up, and also some incredible advantages.
Problems: Breaches of etiquette in using information technology come up often. When they started learning, I set (what I thought were) clear expectations, and then I reminded myself that they’re twelve and they think it’s funny to post “WAZZZZUP EVERY1” in the comments and highlight everything in red and add pictures of spiders. I’ll be giving the kids feedback for quite some time on how to collaborate properly – and reminding them that the computers, and all information that passes through them, do not belong to the kids and must be treated professionally. There are the usual problems of workload sharing, which are the same whether work is done on paper or electronically.
Advantages: Everyone gets to see everyone’s thinking laid bare right there in the document. No straining over each other’s shoulders, and no “what’d you get? What’s the answer?” Instead, the conversations turn to “how’d you get that?” and “It says explain. We should explain.” and “It’s not yellow, yellow. It’s yellow, green.” I loved this. The students also found it engaging and there really was less “policing” than usual. It could be that we have settled in as a community of learners a little more, and that almost certainly played a part. But the format made it much more possible for everyone to be part of the action.
Things to watch for: The type of work has to be conducive to the format. Hand computation isn’t a good fit. Drill / practice is better suited for other media, not collaborative documents. They have to be rich tasks that require a lot of thinking and writing and explaining.
You have to have a good opening to scaffold the thinking. You need to leave a lot of time at the end for summary and clean-up. I am still struggling with this, because I see the kids doing good work and I’m hesitant to stop them. But 8 minutes isn’t enough time to wrap up, reflect, summarize, and put everything away.
I plan to continue cooperative learning this way whenever I possibly can. I love it and go home with a clean conscience from my reduced paper usage. 🙂