We’re in a changing world. Kids are privy to technology as soon as their fine motor skills are well enough developed to “tap” an app on a tablet or iPad. As educators, it is our duty to leverage digital in a manner that supports student success and confidence.
As a Grade 2 and 4 French Teacher in Ottawa, Ontario, my passion has been guided by all of the ways differentiation can happen in a classroom with the use of Google Suite, combined with Hapara Dashboard and Workspace. What once might have seemed like an uphill battle - logging kids onto chromebooks and typing on a doc - is now a life changing and integral part of many lessons in my classroom.
Going through the motions of “training” kids how to log on to their devices may seem like a daunting task, but the fun and satisfaction that comes out of the process is worth it when you see learners’ confidence in using things like speech-to-text software; Google Read and Write; WeVideo; and so much more. In a French as a Second Language Environment, I have been able to put these kids’ tech-savviness to good use, and instead of streaming Netflix or watching YouTube videos, I’ve made it a priority for them to use technology as a strategy and resource to help them facilitate and expand on their learning.
How is this done, you ask!? It’s no walk in the park, but it is certainly possible! Every September, I take two weeks (one block a day) of getting the kids to log in to their Chromebooks. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, they need redirection. Yes, they have a hard time with “CapsLock” and where the letters are. However, with practice, I have seen great success! Students are so eager to get their hands on a Chromebook, and I can honestly say that their enthusiasm and determinations makes this feat alone so much easier.
Once they have the fundamentals of logging in, the fun really starts. I introduce Google Drive to the kids, and refer to it as their “backpack.” I got this idea from a colleague of mine, and it makes total sense to the kids! When the kids refer to their “backpack,” they can then open it and see all of their folders, or, as I taught them, “duotangs.” This simple lingo helps the kids better familiarize themselves with the whole concept of Google Drive. From that point, we colour code each “duotang” within their “backpack.” So, for example, when I want kids to open their social studies assignments, I tell them to open their green folders and look for the specific Doc that I pushed out to their folders using Hapara.
This lingo of “backpack,” “duotang,” and colour coded folders becomes fluent with the kids, and by week two, they are capable of logging in, opening their Google Drive, and accessing particular folders to complete online work. Sure, this process might take some time out of the curriculum you need to cover, but you get your time and effort back in GOLD! And as a bonus - you now have tech-savvy primary kids who are able to log in to a Chromebook and use their Google Drive!
Though I’ve just mentioned the ins and outs of how I get my kids started using Google Drive - the fun doesn’t end there. I like to start with the Drive as it’s a fundamental tool kids in the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) need to understand. That being said, Hapara Workspace plays an even greater role in learner agency.
OCSB students are set up with a Portal in which they can quickly access applications, websites, software and many other tools. One of the links included in the Student Portal is Hapara Workspace. The benefit of having kids navigate through Workspace instead of their Google Drive is the instant personalization and differentiation they receive.
Of course, it is beneficial for kids to understand how to use their Google Drive, but the essence of Workspace allows kids to have an entire learning platform to themselves that is designed and personalized to their specific needs. Not only can they work on a Google Doc, they can also easily click into helpful resources (all put in by the teacher creating the Workspace), success criteria, and web-links, etc. The platform is meant for beginning-to-end unit design, but there are so many unique ways to use it that there is literally no wrong way to go about it!
The saying goes, “if it’s not broken - don’t fix it” - but having tools within Google and Hapara that permit both student voice and student choice enables you to go far beyond what a paper and pencil task can achieve. Elementary kids need multiple entry points to sink their teeth into! Students also need to SEE themselves in the task at hand. Having grown up in an era where Chromebooks were yet to be invented and being given a “times table” sheet to memorize in math class, I can only advocate for this new batch of 21st century learners and encourage them to direct their own learning journey, instead of me orchestrating it. After all, I am certainly aware that I’m not the “gatekeeper” of all knowledge.
I’ve seen the elated faces of six and seven year old students who are able to exercise their ideas, opinions, and talents using many different features in Google Suite. I’ve seen kids who LOVE recording themselves while reading. Conversely, I’ve seen kids who have trouble pronouncing words (whether they be in English or in French), but with Google Read and Write at their fingertips, are able to practice reading and pronouncing words so that they feel more confident and capable of the activities in which they’re partaking.
Integrating G Suite and Hapara Workspace in the elementary classroom certainly takes time and patience, but after putting in the effort to get started, I can truly say that it has changed my pedagogy and my students’ experience entirely. Little 7 year olds are logging into Workspace, choosing an activity that interests them, and using online tools/resources to complete their tasks. In this changing world, I see it as our job to prepare students, meet them where they are, and give them the competencies they need to be successful in the future.