Tag Archives: Google

Does This Sound Like YOUR School?

This is the worst time of the school year for me.  

That’s because we are in the middle of the long slog to the End of Grade Exams — a series of high stakes tests that, at least here in North Carolina, are used to rate and evaluate everyone and everything connected with public education.

What’s crazy to me, though, is the VAST majority of the content assessed on our end of grade exams — particularly in social studies and science — is content that can be Googled.

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Slide - Taught In Schools

Need some examples?

My students will need to know the difference between intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks, the difference between longitudinal and transverse waves, and the impact that density has on both light and sound.  They’ll need to be able to name both the male and female parts of plants, explain the difference between atoms and elements, and identify chemical and physical properties of matter.

They’ll be asked about the reasons for the seasons, the reason for eclipses, and the reason for tides.  They’ll have to know the layers of the earth and the characteristics of habitable planets.  They’ll see questions about the focus and epicenter of earthquakes, the compressions and rarefactions in sound waves, and the lens and cornea in your eyes.

Should I keep going?

Now don’t get me wrong:  I understand the importance of having foundational knowledge about essential content.  It’s impossible to make new discoveries when you have no basic understanding of what’s happening in the world around you — and while it’s POSSIBLE to Google darn near everything in our required curriculum, it’s also incredibly inefficient and time consuming.  Fluency with core ideas matters.

But it’s also important to understand that by tying high stakes tests to mastery of basic facts, we are fundamentally changing what happens in the science classroom.

As a teacher, I’m forced into making a decision between spending class time on wondering and investigation and collaboration OR spending class time covering as many basic facts as possible.  Choose the former, and I’ll have students who are better prepared to be the kind of inquisitive scientists who make important discoveries that change the world.  Choose the latter and I’ll have students who are better prepared to pass our state’s standardized exams.

I know what you are thinking, y’all:  Why can’t you do both?  Why can’t you integrate inquiry into classrooms where students ALSO walk away with a solid understanding of basic facts?

The answer is you can — as long as the list of “basic facts” that kids are expected to know is manageable.  And at least now — in North Carolina — that’s not the case.  Our essential curriculum is massive and unmanageable.

That has to change.


Related Radical Reads:

Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Walking Moral Tightropes ISN’T a Reform Strategy

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year


Tool Review: Google’s Translate Feature Rules.

Over the last few months, I’ve jumped feet first into using Google Classroom with my students.

It’s something that I haven’t done much of before only because I work in a pretty tech limited environment.  Handing materials out and organizing my course in a digital space when my students rarely have widespread access to technology just felt pointless.

But over the last twelve months, I’ve bought, begged, borrowed and stolen a bunch of devices that I let my students use — and combined with the devices that they bring through our school’s BYOD program, I ALMOST have one device for every student.  At the very least, I have enough devices for every student who WANTS to work digitally.

One of the things that I did first was show the kids on my team how to use the Translate feature in Google Docs to convert all of my digital handouts into the language that they are most comfortable with.  

The process is pretty darn close to seamless.  As soon as a user chooses a language to translate the document into, Google creates a copy of the document in that language.  The only thing that I have to do as a teacher is remember to post every handout in my Google Classroom and remind students that they can translate anything as needed.  When they turn in an assignment written in a different language, all I need to do is follow the same process to translate the document back into English.

While the translations aren’t always perfect — I’ve had several Spanish speakers review the translations made by Google and they’ve told me that about 90-95% of the content has translated correctly and the rest is close enough to understand — they are WAY better than the English only handouts that I’ve been offering for my entire 20 year teaching career.

That’s been a HUGE relief for me this year:  I’ve got lots of students who aren’t comfortable working in English yet — and who have a wide range of language needs that I’ve never been all that good at meeting.  Given the fact that the content is most important to me, I don’t mind if they work in their primary languages.  What matters most to me is that they learn the concepts in my curriculum.

Another interesting side benefit of Google’s translation tool has been the impact that it has had on the parents of my bilingual students.

Often, the KIDS in our community are pretty fluent in English — so they didn’t really need a translated version of every document.  Their PARENTS, however, are often not fluent in English at all — which made it impossible to participate in conversations with their children about class assignments or stay current with the content that we were teaching in class.  One of the most heartfelt reactions I received after showing students how to translate documents was from a girl who said, “I can finally show my parents my schoolwork!”  It was really beautiful — and something I hadn’t ever considered before.

Long story short:  If you are working in a GAFE district and your bilingual students can access devices, providing translated resources has just gotten REALLY easy.



Related Radical Reads:

 Tool Review:  Quizlet Live

Tool Review:  Blendspace by TES Teach

Tool Review:  Edpuzzle