GAFE in action - reflections on two years with GAFE at Macgregor Primary

The year six team at Macgregor Primary School has been using Google Apps for Education for a wide range of classroom activities since early 2015. This has given them plenty of time to test a range of activities with their students, and collect some good data for reflection and improvement.

Towards the end of their first year with Google Apps for Education, Nicole and Renee conducted some action research related to their class. There were four focus questions. Today, we’ll explore their results and see where they are up to now.

Question 1: Can GAFE increase student engagement?

Engagement is hard to measure quantitatively, but a teacher tends to know when their students are engaged and when they are not. Renee and Nicole have seen plenty of evidence over the last two years of increased student engagement.

One of the really cool things that Nicole and Renee found was that their use of Google Apps for Education in the classroom made learning possible again for some of the more reluctant students (the definition of engagement!). Take Braydon for example:

Braydon hated writing, especially by hand, and struggled to produce a passable piece of work in three 45 minute lessons. Once Braydon (and the other students) started using Google Apps for Education, the writing process became a lot easier for him. Having immediate and formative feedback gave him direction, and apps like Read&Write helped remove some of the cognitive load around getting accurately spelled words onto the page. Braydon’s writing progressed, and he was soon writing well-structured exposition texts within one 45 minute lesson.

Braydon’s story was such an exciting example of the power of these technologies that his story was included in a case study written by Google.

Another thing that indicated just how engaged the students were is high proportion of students that logged into Google Classroom or their Docs when they were not at school. Students that were away sick were logging on to make sure they didn’t miss anything.

A big question that a few people have for Renee and Nicole (and any teacher using technology) is what happens if the students go off task? What if they’re playing games on their computers instead of working? Their response is “what would you do for any other off-task behaviour?”. Nicole and Renee know that exciting as it is, technology is still only a tool, and if the tool’s not being used in a way that engages students in learning, then they’re likely to be off-task.

Question 2: How can we use technology to utilise individual learning?

Catering learning to individual needs is crucial in a classroom, especially in a year 6 classroom when there are often children at many different levels. As a result of the use of Google Apps for Education, Renee and Nicole noticed an increase in their students’ results across many areas over the course of a year.

For example, the data collected through a pre- and post- test related to fractions knowledge showed enormous growth for almost every student in the group, with one student going from a pre-test score of 10 to a post-test score of 41. All results in the class showed a similarly big jump.

Nicole and Renee think that using Google Apps for Education for feedback and reflection was a big part of this, with students and teachers using shared tools to record assessment and reflection. This gives the students greater visibility over their learning, which in turn supports differentiation.
Students use various tools for self-assessment
Providing additional resources for students using Google Classroom made it much easier for students to progress at a level that suited them, and access individual help when they needed it. They also provided links to online tools like Reading Eggs and the Khan Academy so that students could find additional support or extend themselves if needed.

In a recent TED talk, Salman Khan discusses the enormous potential the technologies provide for supporting students as they master content at their own pace. Nicole and Renee are already seeing this realised in their classroom.

Question 3: How can technology be used to improve the feedback process?

In a previous post, we talked a little bit about some of the ways Renee and Nicole used Google Apps for feedback. One of the things they liked the most was how they could easily provide different kinds of feedback. This included the immediate feedback they gave directly to students on their work, from detailed proofreading to general comments and suggestions to voice feedback and links to additional resources for further development.

Question 4: How does using GAFE impact on the planning/preparation process?

Because Google Apps allow for collaborative work in a document, Renee and Nicole were able to do a lot of their planning and resource preparation together, whether they were together in the room or in completely separate locations. This dramatically reduced their workload, and ensured that all documents had good version control. It also made it easier to prepare individualised learning activities for the students that needed them.

Using templates and online resources also meant that they didn’t have to keep creating similar resources. They could adapt to suit a particular student or group and everything could be used again.

Marking and assessment data was easier to handle too, with the use of apps like Doctopus and Goobric. A little bit of ‘setup’ at the beginning paid off when some tasks could be automatically marked and returned to students for reflection. This has been a theme in their use of Google Apps: a little bit of setup for a big, ongoing payoff in relation to workload.

They also noticed their colleague, year five teacher Donna, using functionality like conditional formatting and formulas in Google Sheets. She was gathering lots of information and representing it visually, giving her an instant overview of how her class was doing. Renee and Nicole tapped into her expertise and started using similar methods to collect lots of useable data about their students.

A ‘digital classroom’ also meant Renee and Nicole spent far less of their day in the photocopy room (good for the environment too!) Their resources were uploaded to Classroom or student drives and were easily accessed from anywhere.

It’s important for us to remember that there is still preparation involved in all of this - that’s what good teaching is about - but there is much less duplication and busy work.

The best thing is that it’s actually making it easier for Renee and Nicole to have a better work-life balance. Nicole said “I feel like we’re doing more work but less work. I feel like we’re doing more for our students: more individualised learning, better data collection, more targeted stuff, but not doing more work.”

How are things at the moment?

Because they’ve been using it so long, we thought it would be good to ask Nicole and Renee where they’re at now. And from what we can tell, they’re going from strength to strength:

“We continue to explore and experiment with various aspects of GAFE. We are moving closer to towards a ‘Flip Classroom’ model. We feel we are utilising the tools to have a positive impact on individual students. The ongoing positive student results continue to encourage us to further or use of GAFE in the classroom.

We are now using Google Sites to present our unit’s content and resources; allowing students to see the ‘big’ picture and have a one stop shop for everything they need. In our current History unit students have been completing assigned Docs in Google Classroom, doing Exit Passes through Forms, and collaboratively working together to create resources using My Maps and Slides. For their final Rich Task in this unit students had the freedom to present their research in any form of their choice. This has been a great learning experience for Renee and I as they are showing us all these awesome tools available. It has become a common practice in our classroom, by both us and our students, to eagerly explore various avenues of learning. It is really exciting.

After 2 years, we wouldn’t change a thing. We started off small and moved at our own pace. Each step of this journey has taught as so much and it is only during these times of reflection we realise how far we have come.

Our advice to anyone interested, or even hesitant, is to just start! “
If you’re interested in learning more about Nicole and Renee’s use of GAFE in the classroom, why not get in touch via Google+?