The other day, I sat down with my children to watch one of their favorite shows called “Stinky and Dirty.” The concept for the show is pretty simple, and pretty clever. A Garbage Truck named Stinky and a Backhoe named Dirty are best friends who, while on their many adventures, have to solve a problem by asking each other “What If…” By the end of each episode, the pair come up with a solution to not only get the job done, but a solution that involves collaboration and teamwork.
Today, I want to ask you to ask the simple question, “What If…?” This is not an easy question to ask at a teacher level, and even more difficult to ask at a school district level. This year, I am proud of the fact that my district also asked the question “What If…?”
“What If… we were to create an environment where it was safe and acceptable to create a learning environment based on both digital AND physical learning?” The results of asking ourselves this very question have been outstanding and in just a short time, we have seen a positive shift in teacher creativity in the classroom, and student achievement.
How Did This Happen?
This past summer, just as the ink on teacher schedules was drying, Westwood Regional School District was offered an opportunity to join the BETA program for the new Google Sites application. “NEW” Google Sites as it is sometimes referred, is a revolutionary new website creation app that allows teachers to quickly create an online website using other tools and applications found in G-Suite. Upon hearing the news, school Superintendent, Dr. Raymond Gonzalez asked, “What If … we harnessed the collaborative power of all the Google Apps and together with the new Google Sites, created a digital learning environment that not only would save teachers time, but provide a learning platform for students that is equally accessible by parents at home?”
To start off the year, teachers were invited to create a simple, one page, “Teacher Site” which would serve as a brochure to their classrooms. After only the first month of school, more than 250 teachers had quickly transitioned their syllabuses and daily calendars into online resource tools through the combination of Sites and Classroom. Once fully developed, these were invaluable tools when speaking with parents at events such as Back to School Night.
The second phase of our Google Sites roll out involved taking a look at their daily curriculum and creating online portals to supplement their daily lessons. Using a combination of Docs, Sheets, Slides, Images, and other Google goodies, teachers, over the course of this year, have created online learning spaces that have the potential to be “living curriculum” by the simple fact that these resources can be adjusted as the school year progresses. This also provides a long lasting resource that teachers can use and collaborate on in future years.
The third phase has been the implementation of Google Sites in student projects. Teachers in Westwood Regional School District are routinely using Google Sites as a “Vehicle for Learning” and sharing projects. Teaching students how to “publish” not just produce homework gives them the ability to take ownership of their work on a global scale, not just within the confines of a single classroom.
There are many advantages of using Google Sites as a curricular implementation tool. When used simply as a website, teachers can create a digital, online textbook that can be accessed by both students and parents both in and out of the classroom. When thought of as an extension of a teacher’s lesson, Google Sites can be used to harness the power of the flipped classroom model. One important recommendation is to identify ways to use all of the Google Apps together for classroom instruction. For example, Google Sites and Google Classroom when used individually are exceptional instructional tools, but when combined they create a seamless system that offers unlimited potential to both students, teachers, AND parents.
Real World Examples
Since the beginning of the school year, not only has Westwood Regional School District embraced Google Sites in the classroom, but we have also used them to create websites for our athletics, clubs, and our curricular departments.
- Art Teacher: https://sites.google.com/wwrsd.org/arielrudin
- Life Science Teacher: https://sites.google.com/wwrsd.org/rachellecampbell
- HS On-line Program of Studies: https://sites.google.com/wwrsd.org/programofstudies
- Yearbook Club: https://sites.google.com/prod/wwrsd.org/cardinalyearbook
Recommendations and Resources
There are several great resources that are available for teachers and school districts wishing to learn more about Google Sites. Here is just a short list of my favorite.
- TeachingForward.net: Google Sites Cheat Sheet
- TeacherCast.net: A Walkthrough of Google Sites
- ControlAltAchieve.com: An Intro to Google Sites
One of the best moves that our district has made in my short time as a Technology Integration Specialist is to say “What If …” and move forward with the District Wide implementation of Google Sites. Not only have we seen our use of digital technologies and web applications increase dramatically, but we have seen a positive increase in creative, interactive lessons throughout our district.
With all of the digital technology coming new to the educational marketplace each day, I would like to ask you and your district the same question we asked ourselves …. “What If…???”
Jeffrey Bradbury, author of Kidblog: An Introduction to Blogging With Your Students, is the creator of TeacherCast.net, TeacherCast University, and Educational Podcasting Today. He is an ASCD Emerging Leader, Google Certified Teacher, Google Education Trainer, PBS Learning Media Digital Innovator, Microsoft Innovative Educator, Microsoft Surface Expert, Evernote Community Leader, speaker, writer, podcaster, broadcaster, consultant, and educational media specialist. He is currently the Coordinator for Technology Integration for the Westwood Regional School District in New Jersey.