Common Core | Feature

How Google Apps for Education Can Help You Implement Common Core

Douglas BelkImagine giving more than 5,000 students an e-mail address, access to 30 GB of cloud storage and the ability to collaborate with each other. This is what the Pascagoula School District (MS) did during the 2013-2014 school year. When Mississippi adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010, Pascagoula saw that there would be a growing requirement for increased levels of student collaboration, and students and teachers would need to master technical skills such as keyboarding and online research. The district began preparing by adding thumb drives to the supply lists, but we needed a way for students to connect and collaborate with fellow students as well as teachers. Students also needed a way to share and store documents and class presentations. The solution was Google Apps for Education (GAFE).

Pascagoula began using GAFE during the summer of 2013. We provided teachers and administrators access to the applications and in-house training. The majority of Pascagoula’s teachers and administrators were familiar with Google itself, but we needed to train them in key ways to integrate the Google applications into the Common Core State Standards and make them part of every educator’s daily life. During those summer months, teachers were able to become fluent with the new tools and begin developing ways to integrate GAFE into the classroom. In August of 2013, students in third through twelfth grade were given school e-mail addresses and access to Google Drive.

Integrating Google Drive and CCSS

During the past year, two examples of using GAFE to help teach to the Common Core standards came from Trent Lott Academy, which houses approximately 600 fifth- and sixth-grade students. Julie Bass, a sixth-grade math teacher, used Google Drive to help students keep interactive math journals. Students collaborated with each other to create documents that included information, data and examples about the standards they discussed in class. According to Bass, each student was responsible for a portion of the document but could offer support throughout by providing additional information. Each student received a copy of every collaborative project for his or her math journal. The best part, said Bass, is that students in future math classes will be able to use the information, because it will always be in their Google Drive.

The second example from Trent Lott Academy comes from the teachers. The fifth- and sixth-grade math department, which consists of 10 regular education teachers and four special education teachers, wanted the ability to plan together — but schedules and prior engagements got in the way. They decided to give Google Drive a try. The teachers worked together to complete a lesson plan template with universal information such as the Common Core standards being taught and the district-provided resources being used. Next, each teacher would personalize the lesson plan template to fit his or her class with differentiated instruction activities, technology resources and small-group activities. The regular education teachers have been able to gain new resources and ideas through this collaborative planning, and the special ed teachers can keep up with what is being discussed in each classroom so that they can prepare to meet the needs of the special education students.

Now in our second year of being a GAFE district, Pascagoula has a total of 8,450 users, which includes students, staff and administrators. Google training over the summer of 2014 again focused on how to use the various Google applications, but also dove more in depth into what each application looked like in a Common Core classroom. The Common Core State Standards that the trainings focused on included Reading Informational Text #7, Writing Standard #6-8 and Speaking & Listening Standard #5.

After attending the district’s GAFE summer training, Central Elementary’s fourth-grade grade ELA teacher, Vernetta Jones, is incorporating more online activities into her classroom. In order to help prepare students for PARCC’s online assessments, Jones assigns writing assignments to her students through Google Drive. The students not only get real-life keyboarding practice, but can also receive one-on-one attention during the writing process with the use of comments within the document. Students also work collaboratively on assignments. One recent assignment in Google Drive focused on Reading: Literature Standard #3. The students worked in collaborative groups to develop dialogue between characters based on a reading passage. By using Google Drive, the students could collaborate and share their ideas in one document, and Jones could watch the learning process through her shared access to each project.

Beyond Google Drive 

According to Pascagoula’s technology integration specialists, teachers are using more than Google Drive in their daily classroom routines. The district is also using GAFE to do the following:

• survey teachers and students with Google Forms;
• use YouTube to store and share recorded student projects with parents;
• create a Google Calendar with school events;
• use Google Sites to create districtwide curriculum resource websites; and
• collaborate with other schools without leaving the building through Google Hangouts.

Schools are also finding ways that GAFE can make the school day run a little more smoothly. At Gautier Elementary, the administration wanted to find a way to get the lunch count to the office without students missing class time. The solution was a Google Form.  Each morning, the teachers fill out the shared form with the daily lunch totals, and the information is available to the lunch staff through the spreadsheet. Several elementary schools have since adopted this best practice.

What is in the future for the Pascagoula School District? The answer is Chromebooks and Google Classroom. Putting Chromebooks in the classroom this year is going to allow students and teachers better access and the ability integrate GAFE more often and in a more seamless manner. According to Pascagoula’s Information System Department, there are currently 1,750 Chromebooks in 66 Chromebook carts deployed across 17 of the district’s campuses. Meanwhile, the English department teachers at Pascagoula High School are focused on learning how the Google Classroom LMS can become a part of their daily routine.

Google’s efforts to provide free, Web-based services to educational institutions have played right into the hands of districts implementing CCSS and the online testing that goes with the new standards.  Douglas Belk, Pascagoula’s director of information systems (pictured above), said, “What better way to prepare our graduating students for the world of communication, collaboration and publishing — also CCS standards — and across multiple platforms than Google Drive? While our district has made much progress in adapting and beginning use of Drive, we’ve just only scratched the surface of its potential.  And with Google being an apparent partner in educational endeavors, it holds that enhancements to Google portals can do even greater good in promoting the educational welfare of our students in more ways than many of us in the educational technology field ever dreamed.”

About the Author

Eva Harvell has worked in education for 12 years, as an elementary teacher for seven years and a technology integration specialist for the last five years. You can follow Eva on Twitter @techie_teach.