The Google+ Experiment – Where to From Here?

Cooking Chemistry

I teach IB Chemistry and the course is both long and challenging.  It can be a very frustrating job at times.  The course is content heavy, so just getting through it is in itself, a challenge.  In two years I need to get through 13 topics with my standard level students and 22 with higher level.

This often leads me to using a very traditional teaching style.  I spend far more time standing up at the board, lecturing, than I would like.  And this is purely because I need to get through large amounts of content fast.  Of course I’m sacrificing student understanding so this has been an area I wanted to improve in my teaching this year.

Ferris Bueller’s Economics Teacher

Just as there is a shift in my teaching from MYP to DP, the students also seem to shift their expectations of the classroom.  All of a sudden, I go from someone who is learning right alongside the students in science, where none of them expect me to know everything, to the Goddess of Chemistry – an omnipotent being who is all-seeing and all-knowing of things chemical.  I’m not questioned as the students believe I know what will be in the exam.  And that is all that matters to them.

I feel like Ferris Bueller’s economics teacher.  The interaction is often one-way.  And the reality is that I can easily be replaced by a series of Youtube videos.

After completing the first three courses of COETAIL, I realised how much more I could be doing to help my students, not only understand the chemistry more thoroughly, but also to improve as learners in a general sense.

The Google+ Experiment

I wanted a tool that I could use to share resources with my students but I wanted them to have a place that they could also add to these, comment on them and discuss problems and issues.  I wanted a forum that could involve students from outside our school and increase our learning environment beyond the bounds of my classroom walls.

After some discussion and exploration, Google+ seemed ideal for this.  It was better than my existing classroom blog which doesn’t allow students to add their own resources.  After questioning my students, I knew they were already active in the evenings on Skype, but Google Hangouts, accessible through our Google+ community, has a lot more functionality and they can work on documents or view videos together while chatting live, face-to-face.

With this tool, I could effectively share resources and encourage students to continue their learning outside our class time, thereby freeing up time for richer and deeper learning experiences inside the classroom.

Problem solved!  Or so I thought.

Using the Tool

Google PlusI set up two communities on the Google+.  One for grade 12 and another for grade 11.  I spent a double lesson introducing the tool.  I was surprised to find out that very few of the students had used it before or even activated their accounts.  We had a lot of fun exploring the features and everything looked like it was going to go well.  The only downside was that I discovered that I couldn’t record the Google Hangouts as there is an age restriction on that.

Over the next few weeks, I deliberately set the students assignments that involved posting to the community in order to get them into the groove.  I stopped emailing them resources and posted everything to the community.  Over all they liked this method of communication because it meant that resources I’d shared with them a long time ago, were still easy to find.

The Results

Recently I surveyed the students and interviewed a number of them, to see how they have been using the Google+ communities.  In general the students use a number of tools and most of them did mention the Google+ community.

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 9.46.45 AM

As a method of sharing resources either from me or between each other, the students preferred the Google+ community.  A significant number of them also listed email as their preference.  Since you can set your notifications from Google+ to send you an email when there is a new post, this can be combined.  Most students seem to have their email notifications turned off for Google+ and aren’t aware that they could change that setting.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 8.58.17 PM

As a tool for live, face-to-face communication between each other, it was never used.  The students prefer the tools they are already familiar with which included Skype and Facebook.  They study in a very individualised manner and have no contact with other students outside YIS.

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 9.48.26 AM

They have continued to rely extremely heavily upon me as their single or main source of information.  This puts a huge burden upon me and although I do know my subject very well, it limits them as learners.  I want them to be able to learn independently of a single expert.  Everything they need to be successful in IB chemistry is available to them through the internet.  The only thing they really should be looking to me for is guidance on where to look for stuff and the internal assessment component of the course (actual hands-on experiments in the lab.)

Another year, another group of IB students

Next year I have a grade 10 science class instead of grade 11 chemistry.  Although I haven’t given up entirely with my current grade 11’s, I realise now that I almost need to give my students a mini-COETAIL course directly at the beginning of the subject.  I also need to cut their reliance on me by taking myself out of the equation more and forcing them to find the answers their seeking independently of me.  I have to let go a bit more.

I’m looking forward to taking grade 10 next year and really concentrating on developing them as independent learners.  We will use a Google+ community as our forum but I’m going to actively encourage them to explore science outside of the classroom and get in touch with other students and experts around the world.

I need to shift their culture from using social media almost entirely for interacting with their friends and showing them how to harness the power of these tools for learning.  It is going to be a great year!

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” – John Wooden


Image Credits:

First day of chemistry class
Anyone anyone?
Google+ cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Widjaya Ivan

8 thoughts on “The Google+ Experiment – Where to From Here?

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  3. Ange Molony

    Such a timely post for me! Thanks for sharing this experience. I am looking at doing this with my Junior Maths HL class but perhaps things aren’t going to work out so well. I was actually thinking of delivering the entire probability unit this way, to see if they can direct themselves through the unit objectives. I’ve got a group of students who are really quick to catch on to concepts but prefer to sit quietly and work through problems from the textbook. Not only is it boring (for me) it really isn’t pushing them in their thinking at all. But I am concerned that the Google+ community will become a tutoring space (extra work for me) and not a space for exploration and sharing of ideas/thinking (which is the reason I am doing this in the first place). I got the ball rolling this week and some students have started to post interesting articles and some links to probability games but how do I avoid the “How do I solve this practice problem” type posts? Or are these OK?

    1. Merilyn Winslade Post author

      I think they’re ok. The trick is to get the students to answer those questions themselves. When I was setting this up, Dan Slaughter gave me some good advice. If you see an answer that a student has give that is right, just +1 it. If students know that is your signal, then it makes a quick and easy way of you checking them whilst not having to answer their questions themselves.

      I really wanted my students to be doing this but I failed at getting them into that culture. I just kind of thought they would just start using it without too much pushing from me but I was wrong. Next year, I am going to be a lot more direct at the beginning of the year to get them into it and teach them the value of using the internet for communications for their studies. Not just trolling FB! 🙂

  4. Kim Cofino

    Absolutely love this project! It’s great to see that the risks you took really paid off, and even though not everything worked exactly as you planned, you have lots of great ideas for how to implement more successfully in the future. I get the notifications for the group in my mailbox, and I know that students (and you) are sharing new learning every day. Well done Merilyn!


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