Posted in G-Suite for Education

Google Sites – Creating Accessibility for Students and Parents

In my previous post, I waxed poetic about how it is imperative for teachers to make their materials easily accessible to their students. (Read that post here) As a quick summary, I stated that if a teacher is going to give assignments that must be completed outside of the school day, students should be able to access those materials digitally. For those teachers that aren’t ready to make the foray into creating a digital space, I suggested that they allow students to take pictures of the assignments with their cell phones, creating instant access for kids like mine that just can’t seem to get paper items all the way home from school. However, this doesn’t really help students that don’t have their own cell phones or elementary students who still rely heavily on parental support when organizing their lives.

This is where the new Google Sites can come in handy! This is a great way for you to share assignments, announcements, hand outs, and even a calendar of events quickly and easily with students and parents. All you need to create a Site is a Google account and materials stored in Google Drive. Set-up for Sites is easy and quick, and you don’t have to be a tech guru to make an amazing looking classroom site in just a few minutes. It is also easy to quickly update and add materials to your site, limiting the amount of time you have to spend managing your digital portal.

To create a Site for yourself, go to http://www.sites.google.com. You will arrive at a landing page that gives you the option of creating a site or navigating to the new Google Sites platform. Make sure you go to “New Google Sites” since the old platform will cease to exist in the future.

Google Sites - Creating Accessibility for Students and Parents

Once there, simply click on the red and white plus sign Plus.JPGand you are on your way!

Google will create a blank site for you, and you simply need to click and type to make the classroom web portal of your dreams! The beauty of Google Sites is that it is a “what you see is what you get” creation tool. As you add elements, you can see how they will look live on your page, and you can easily add or remove elements by clicking on them. There are six themes to choose from, and while some people may find this limiting, I find it allows me to spend less time agonizing over my design and more time just getting stuff done!

Your blank site will look like this when you begin:

Blank Site.JPG

You will use the creation and navigation tools on the right side to create your site. The first decisions you will need to make are:

  • Site and page name (it might be a good idea to use your last name)
  • Theme and color scheme
  • If you want all content to be on one page or if you want multiple pages

My recommendation when you begin is to go easy on yourself and go with a few elements until the school year is underway and you decide if you need more or if you need to alter what you can realistically manage time wise. A good beginning would be to have “Announcements,” “Homework,” and if you are calendar savvy, a Google calendar with all important events like quizzes, tests, field trips, and project due dates listed. You can have all of these elements on one page. Simply use the “Divider” component to create a break or place a line between each of these elements. Of, if you are all about layout, put each on its own page.

Google Sites - Creating Accessibility for Students and Parents (1)

In less than 20 minutes, I was able to create a site to share my announcements, embed the materials for the assignments for the week, and add a calendar for students and parents to quickly find important dates. It was easy to grab the materials that were already in my Google Drive (creating the Form on the fly). Each day or week, I will just need to retype my announcements and change the materials I want students to access.

classroom of awesomeness.JPG

For the full site: https://sites.google.com/view/classroomofawesomeness/home

What I created was a very basic site for which I can share the link via email or on my school’s external web page. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles and some web designers might not love my sparse/bare bones set-up, but it gets the job done! It is a great start at accessibility, and as the school year goes on, I might find that I want to use multiple pages, add additional elements, include video links, etc. The point is that I now have a place my students can go to find the materials and information they need.

The limitation of Sites is that it is more like a repository of material, with very little two-way interaction between you and your audience. If you are looking for a robust way to interact with your students, you should investigate other options like Google Classroom or a learning management system like Schoology. I will cover these options in future posts, so stay tuned!

If you would like more information on how to create and use Google Sites, feel free to contact me through the Contact link on this blog. If you are a member of the Lebanon City Schools staff and would like to schedule a one-on-one session for training, email me via district email.

 

Posted in Creating Accessibility

Creating Accessibility for Students and Parents

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See that handsome kid? That is my son Jack. The light of my life! The joy of my day! The biggest pain in my ass…

You see, Jack appears to be physically incapable of keeping track of his homework, projects, and general schoolwork. His current method involves crumpling up any worksheets into a ball and either stuffing them in his backpack or his pockets. Our evenings usually include frantic backpack dumps, texts to friends and trash dives as we search for whatever worksheet or project materials he “misplaced” between the time it was assigned and the time he arrived home from school.

Now, I have been a teacher for over twenty years and I have a pretty deep bag of tricks that I can pull from. Can I tell you, friends, that not a single teacher trick works to get my son organized? He scoffs at my suggestions of assignment notebooks, color coded folders, paper clips or just an old-fashioned request to “write the freaking assignment down!” The struggle is real, ya’ll.

But, it was when our discussion turned to digital means to get himself organized that I became most perplexed. My first suggestion was for Jack to get out his cell phone, take a picture of whatever worksheet or assignment was given and then immediately add an event to his Google calendar. That was shot down with a quick, “But, we aren’t allowed to have our cell phones in class, not even if we are using it for school stuff.”

Ummm, ok…

My next suggestion was for Jack to access his materials, especially his math practice, from the online textbook. Jack calmly explained to me that he has no idea how to get to the online version of his math book. When I reached out to his teacher to ask her for a URL, her response was to explain that she knew there was an online version of their textbook out there, but she had no idea how to get to it. She recommended that Jack just Google the name of his textbook and hopefully he could find it and get to it at home.

Wait, what?

As a parent, both of these discussions had me banging my head against a wall. As an educator, these discussions made me decide to extend a call to action. WE MUST MAKE OUR MATERIALS EASILY ACCESSIBLE TO STUDENTS! When we are doing everything in our power to ensure that our students can be successful inside the four walls of our classrooms, we should also make sure that when they are outside of our classrooms they still have accessibility to the materials they need for this success!

We live in a world of 24/7 accessibility. As adults, we can find almost anything that we need at any given hour of the day or night. Why aren’t we also providing this type of accessibility for our students? Stop keeping your materials only in the physical world and start sharing them in the digital world so that your students can access what they need when they need it! By sharing your materials and assignments digitally, you are empowering your students to take control of their own learning. Not only do they now have access to critical assignments, they can also revisit previous material or see content they missed due to absence. If you are requiring students to turn something in, they should be able to access the assignment or the directions digitally. Believe me, your students and parents will thank you!

There are many different avenues that teachers can take to share their materials with students. Check out this list of tools that will make material sharing a breeze. The list is organized from the least amount of teacher effort to the most amount of teacher effort. I will explore some of these options in greater detail in future posts.

  • Allow your students to use their cell phones to take pictures of assignments or add assignments to calendar or homework apps.
  • Student/Parent email groups – Go “old-school” and create email groups for your students and their parents. Send out daily emails and attach any documents that are important for the assignments. This option works better for parents than students since most of our 21st-century darlings don’t use email.
  • Classroom website – Google Sites, WordPress, Weebly, Blogger – the list goes on and on! Any teacher can easily create a classroom website where class materials are posted. My personal preference would be for Google Sites due to ease of creation, direct link to your Google Drive, and drag and drop building tools.
  • Google Classroom – Google classroom (classroom.google.com) is a tool that is free for all educators. Enroll your students, give access to your parents and either create assignments right in the Classroom feed or pull materials from your Google Drive. Any assignment with a due date that is created through Classroom is automatically added to your students’ Google calendars. There are many amazing features in Google Classroom that will blow your mind! Stay tuned for more on this amazing tool!
  • Learning Management Systems like Schoology, and Edmodo (Blackboard also falls into this category, but I don’t believe they have a free option). At the most basic, these LMS tools can be used for information and assignment sharing. If you dig deeper, these LMS tools can change your life! My personal favorite is Schoology, and I will be sharing more on that soon.

You don’t have to be a tech guru to make your classroom more accessible to students; you just need to take a few extra steps to ensure that your students can find what they need when they need it. My challenge to you this summer is to begin thinking of ways that you can help kids like Jack (and frazzled parents like me) successfully navigate to assignments once they leave the well-organized design of the four walls of your classroom.

If you are interested in getting a jump start on figuring all this out and would like my ideas or guidance, please use the “Contact” button at the top of my blog or leave a comment at the end of this post below. I promise I won’t let Jack convince you that the “paper wad” method is the way to go!