Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Google Calendar: A Geeky Teacher's Best Friend

I have said it before, and I'll say it again: I LOVE GOOGLE!  A few years ago, I had no idea that Google was anything more than a search engine but it really does so much more.

Google Calendar has completely changed the way I prepare for classes and organize my personal life.

As with all of their application, Google has an excellent selection of help articles online for those interested in trying Google Calendar.

I use one calendar for my personal life, one for school bell schedule and meetings, and one for each course I teach.  Events on each calendar can be made visible or hidden with one click.  It's been a few years now, and I don't think I'll ever go back to a pen-and-paper calendar!

Here are a few of my favourite features:

1) A calendar and daybook I can organize at home, at school, or on an iPhone
I wouldn't have admitted it publicly before, but I was ridiculously excited to receive my first "real teacher" coil daybook.  The excitement wore off, however, when I realized that I prefer to organize a month, not a week, at a glance.  I also realized that I would have to lug the large book back and forth each night if I wanted to prep at home.  Now, I use a different Google calendar for each course I teach.  I can enter a lesson "title" which is visible from the "month at a glance" link.  Notes, website links, etc. can be pasted into the "event details" section.  I love having the ability to see my personal and work commitments in one place.  It helps to reduce double-booking at school and at home.

2) The ability to "share" the calendar
This is ideal for teachers.  Last year, as I was able to share the calendar for one course with a colleague who had never taught the class before.  He was able to see what my class was doing each day, at a glance.  A calendar can also be made public and published on a school or class website.  For non-teachers, the ability to share is still beneficial.  At home, a Google calendar can be shared between spouses and with older children, allowing the entire family to know what is going on.  A large calendar in a kitchen at home or staff room at work is only useful if people are at home when making plans.  The beauty of this technology is it allows everybody to view events and changes instantly.

3) Easy changes with drag and drop events
My daybook was always a mess!  (I feel like this is turning into a script for an infomercial!  I should insert an image of a sad teacher with a daybook full of scribbles for added effect!)  A messy daybook really bugged me, though.  I would mark down an appointment, meeting, or lesson plan, only to change it later.  If a lesson took longer than expected, I found myself erasing and re-writing plans for a week or more.  I am really flexible with my planning and adjust lessons and activities often, based on the students' understanding, level of interest, and the time required.  It's really helpful for me to plan things out, then drag and drop as I adjust my plans.  I love seeing a visual layout of a month, term, or year as I adjust and drag plans to different dates!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Time Capsules

It is impossible to look back on my high school experience without reflecting on the changes which have occurred since then.  It still strikes me as hilarious that I was afraid to speak to my teachers in high school and now I have been teaching secondary school for nearly five years.  I love looking back at old photos but wish that I had included journal entries about favourite memories, favourite songs, friends, and family to really capture who I was during that time.

When I took Child Development 11 in high school, the teacher asked us to write letters to ourselves early in the fall.  She mailed them that summer.  I was not into mushy-gushy self reflection and didn't appreciate the value of the activity at the time.  Years later, I wish that I had that letter.  I have no idea what  I wrote to my "future self" but I think it would be great to reflect on the person I was then.  A lot has changed since I was in high school, and now I see the value of capturing a piece of my personality during specific phases of life.

In late May of 2009, I was wrapping up my first year teaching Family Studies and decided to have the students create time capsules.  I left the criteria a bit more open, encouraging students to write about favourite songs, clothes, and friends.  Some wrote letters while others created mind maps, made lists, and/or drew pictures.  I repeated this activity with my Family Studies classes in 2010 and 2011.  Last summer, I mailed off the capsules completed by students in 2009.  It was neat for me to remember the students in that quirky, sassy, awesome class as I sent them off.  I have another batch from last year's grads, which will be mailed to them this summer.

Last week, when I was introducing the activity, my smallest Family Studies class asked if we could make a class video that they would view in three years.  I was extremely enthusiastic about the idea and immediately set up a tripod and camera in the small recording room next door.  Students have such great ideas!  One group of three and one solo student went in to record videos that day.  Tomorrow, the rest of the students will continue to record their videos.  This reminded me of the "Video Yearbook" episode of Saved By The Bell.  I hope that one group does something like this!

I have had the opportunity to expand my love of time capsules, this year.  I am currently teaching Health and Career 8 in our "Explorations" rotation, which means I get to meet all of the grade eight students for 20-22 blocks before they move on to another class.  Each student has now created a "time capsule in an envelope."  These are stored in a box in my classroom which has been clearly marked "Do Not Open Until 2015!" These will be distributed at some point during their grade twelve year.  In addition to filling out a time capsule sheet with information about their favourite things, hopes and dreams, and thoughts about high school, many students asked friends to write notes to them, which they won't read until grade twelve.  I remember all of the hours my friends and I spent composing (and folding) notes in middle school, and wish that I had some of those today!  I think they'll have a good laugh when they see the notes and photos they chose to include!  I may have felt a coin in one envelope, as well.  It's never too early to begin saving, I suppose.

I have encouraged my students to store their time capsules inside their yearbooks when they receive them in the mail or upon graduation.  It will be fun for them to look back for many years to come.

A friend told me about "FutureMe," a website which allows users to compose e-mails to themselves for delivery at a future date.  I'm really intrigued by the concept and might try this out myself.  At this point, I haven't used it with the students, as I really think there is something fun about opening a letter and reading it.  I also wonder how many students will have the same e-mail address in 3-5 years.  I have gone through a number of e-mail addresses through the years, and expect that they will do the same.

I was thinking that it might be interesting to make a video of students as they enter elementary, middle, and/or secondary school then show it when they leave.  I would love to hear if any other schools do something like this or if you are involved with any other sort of "time capsule" experience for students.  Creating a group or video time capsule seems like a great way to build community as students enter and exit a new school.  Do you or your colleagues do anything like this?