We Already Have Google Classroom. Why Do We Need Seesaw?

These two learning management systems are a match made in LMS heaven.

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Photo by airfocus on Unsplash

My history with Google Classroom

I’ve been using Google Classroom since 2016. I’ve taught in a total of three Google-hosted schools in the years since I first started using it, so I’ve had plenty of time to build competence and confidence with this learning management system.

For the uninitiated, Google Classroom is a platform that utilizes the storage and sharing powers of Google Drive. It’s not especially powerful and doesn’t offer the nicest user experience. But it’s clean, efficient, and does most of what teachers, students, and parents need it to do.

I remain a big fan of Google Classroom and respect the ways this (still free) platform has iterated over time to improve its management of teacher instruction and student learning.

My history with Seesaw

This is now my third year using Seesaw as an eighth grade teacher. When I was first introduced to this learning management system in 2018, I was skeptical.

What was the point of Seesaw when we already used Classroom? Wasn’t it a little redundant? Wouldn’t parents be annoyed by yet another point of contact?

It didn’t take me too long to become a Seesaw believer, however. It was slow at first, but over time — with more risk-taking and experimentation — things started to click. I began to recognize what sets Seesaw apart, and how it could play a powerful role in the learning process for my students.

Experiencing both platforms from the parent perspective

With my own middle schooler also plugged into both platforms, I was able to experience Google Classroom and Seesaw from the parent side as well. It was a great experience.

From Google Classroom, I received daily automated emails informing me of class announcements, learning activities that were due soon for submission, and any assignments that were missing or overdue.

From Seesaw, I received notifications that let me know when my son (or his teacher) had posted photos, videos, or other products of student learning. I was able to view, like, and comment on his work in real time.

From Google Classroom, I received raw information and dates about my son’s learning. From Seesaw, I could see it and hear it in practice.

It was a great tandem.

Why should teachers, schools, and districts use Google Classroom?

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Let’s start at the beginning of the learning management conversation. Why should schools use Google Classroom at all?

In my view, there are lots of reasons. Here are some of them:

  • It’s free.
  • It’s completely cloud-based, allowing students to use Chromebooks as their primary device for learning (significant cost savings for schools and districts).
  • Smooth integration with Google Drive allows teachers to create learning activities in the G Suite and share them with ease.
  • Google Drive education accounts offer unlimited storage. Also for free.
  • The Google Classroom to-do list allows students to track all of their outstanding work in one place.
  • The ‘Make a Copy for Every Student’ option allows teachers to drop into student work (on Docs, Slides, Sheets, Drawings, Jamboard, etc.) and offer feedback in real time. Amazing!
  • It also tracks assignment submissions in real time, so teachers can see at a glance how many assignments are outstanding and who the holdouts are.
  • Its integration with Google Meet allows a convenient and secure way to meet virtually with remote learners. Google admins can disable student creation of Google Meets, making the link in Classroom 100% secure.
  • It allows teachers to design numberless rubrics based entirely on curricular competencies and proficiencies.
  • Integration with Google Forms allows teachers to post formative assessments that score themselves (if you’re into that) and give students instant feedback.
  • Private comments on every posted assignment allow for efficient teacher-student communication, feedback, and support.
  • Tight integration with Google Calendar means that Classroom due dates appear automatically in teacher and student calendars.
  • Countless third party apps and platforms allow quick importing of class lists or quick exporting of learning activities (from the app to Google Classroom). EdPuzzle and Khan Academy are two well-known examples.
  • The ‘Guardian Updates’ feature automatically does the important work that teachers have done manually for decades: they let parents know which learning activities are due soon for submission, and which learning products are missing or overdue.
  • It allows for quick and convenient email communication with selected guardians.

Okay, so you’re sold on Google Classroom. If you’re reading this post at all, perhaps you already were. Let’s move to the question that brought you to this post in the first place.

Why should teachers, schools, and districts use Seesaw?

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If Google Classroom already does so much, why should we use Seesaw as well?

Here are some of the reasons why schools and districts should also use Seesaw (and to be clear — this is NOT a paid promotion).

  • It’s more mobile-friendly than Google Classroom. There’s a designated app for parents that optimizes beautifully on mobile devices.
  • It’s powerful but simple enough to allow students of all ages to construct, share, and reflect on their learning.
  • It makes the learning journey more visible for all parties: for students, parents, and teachers. Google Classroom never shows learning activities to parents, and it can’t track work effectively over more than one school year.
  • It’s built for engagement, interaction, authentic audiences, and shared ownership. By allowing parents to view images, videos, and content, and then like and comment on those artifacts from their child’s learning, we’re letting them into the process. We’re also letting students know that their learning matters and that it happens in community. It expands the audience from the narrow vertical experience of teacher-student and student-teacher.
  • It allows in-app screencasting, allowing students to discuss their learning while typing, writing, or manipulating a stylus (without leaving the app). Thanks to Seesaw, I can watch and listen to every one of my 25 eighth grade Math students narrate their process as they provide solutions to given problems. That’s the kind of magic that is difficult to pull off on Google Classroom without a lot more clicks and the use of third party applications.
  • It allows teachers to easily add audio instructions and feedback.
  • It redefines teaching and learning for all stakeholders. Seesaw helped me evolve in my thinking about the nature of the learning process itself. Sure, I was already using learning targets to plan my lessons before Seesaw, but my teaching practice on this platform has only clarified my vision around purpose. Every time I share a photo or video of student work or students in action, the rationale should be more than just assembling a scrapbook of moments. These artifacts should show learning in motion toward clearly defined goals. And that’s a critical paradigm.
  • Seesaw allows us to build a more complete picture of a student’s learning. A child’s Seesaw journal is a record of all of their learning artifacts and reflections, viewable in a single stream or filtered by skill or subject folder. These pieces of learning don’t need to represent perfection — instead, they should show learning happening over time.
  • Seesaw allows schools to build longitudinal records of student learning over multiple years. Although I’ve never seen this in person, schools should be able to track a single student’s learning over 13 years in a single place. To track a student’s journey of growth for even a portion of that time — say, a student’s middle school learning journey — would be incredibly powerful.
  • Seesaw makes student-led conferences more impactful and interesting. It promotes agency, ownership, and student voice by allowing students to walk parents and teachers through their learning journey in a user-friendly format — basically impossible to pull off in Google Classroom.

A shorthand way to think of the two platforms

In short, Google Classroom remains the place where students DO most of their learning. Seesaw should be the place where they SHOW it.

That isn’t a perfect way to understand the partnership between the two platforms, but I think it’s a good summary.

Won’t students and parents be overwhelmed by two learning management systems?

That’s a fair question, but it hasn’t matched my experience.

Helping students understand how to manage both platforms has been fairly simple. What it comes down to is maintaining Google Classroom as the primary place for students to track learning activities. By posting any Seesaw activities on Google Classroom, students are reminded to complete it simply by checking their Google Classroom to-do list.

I’ve been on the parent side of both platforms at the same time, and it was far from overwhelming. But for any parents concerned about a perceived blizzard of communications and notices coming from multiple directions, my advice is to make their inbox their one-stop-shop.

Google Classroom and Seesaw both utilize email, so parents should feel no need or obligation to visit either platform without an emailed notification (they actually can’t visit Google Classroom, anyway).

My recommendation: centralizing teacher communication

Schools and districts who live in Google Classroom and Seesaw will want to talk about how and where teachers communicate with parents. Yes, both apps generate a fair number of automated notifications, but that’s not what I’m thinking of here.

I’m talking about particular messages, updates, or information that teachers need to share with parents. Things like class newsletters, field trip forms, or important announcements. Which app should teachers use?

There is no right or wrong answer. Both Classroom and Seesaw can be used to communicate quickly and easily with parents. In my context, our school is asking teachers to use a school app to share and access news, reporting, and class communication. Whether your school decides to communicate through Classroom, Seesaw, or a third option, the key will be consistency.

The learning business is now the change business

This year I have the challenge of helping to introduce Seesaw to teachers who have been using Google Classroom for years. As teachers, it can be frustrating to get the sense that we’re being asked to make another fundamental change to our practice every time we turn around. I completely get that.

Educators should never be asked to give up our capacity to think critically. We’re fighters, and I’d be less concerned as an administrator if I heard strong and sensible pushback to a policy versus hearing nothing at all.

But I also want to remind educators that we are in the learning business. And because it’s the twenty-first century, we are also in the change business. Our profession was turned upside down by COVID-19, but we’ve been in flux for a long time before the pandemic.

Ten years ago I used an overhead projector in my classroom and carried a monstrous stacks of papers to and from school each day. A lot has changed in the years since.

Adapting to change is going to be a part of our profession from here on out, and it’s a necessary part of our growth and improvement as learning leaders. Whether it’s Seesaw, another LMS, or another fundamental change to our assessment practices, it won’t be the last change we’ll make.

Adopting a positive mindset that embraces growth will be essential. And as we model that lifestyle of learning, our students will recognize it and benefit.

Our ultimate filter

When it comes to curriculum, instruction, and assessment of learning, our decision-making should always come down to two questions.

Is this good for kids?

Is this good for learning?

When it comes to these two platforms, I believe the answers are yes and yes.

Roundtable: Meet the Human Restoration Project

In this edition of the Teachers on Fire Roundtable, I chat with three of the four members of the Human Restoration Project team: Nick Covington, Chris McNutt, and Thomas White.

Questions That Guided Our Discussion

  • 1:12 – Who are you and what is your current context in education?
  • 3:10 – What is the history of Human Restoration Project? Where did it begin, and what is your mission and vision?
  • 4:54 – What are some of the systems and mindsets that need to change in education today?
  • 5:33 – How does your work express itself?
  • 8:03 – Where else does Human Restoration Project show up online?
  • 10:37 – What is your vision for assessment, and what does it have to do with restoring humanity to education?
  • 16:28 – How have traditional assessment models suppressed humanity?
  • 18:28 – If we remove grades from assessment, won’t students lose their motivation to learn?
  • 21:26 – In what kind of education system would students not want to cheat, where they are actually interested in their own learning and growth?
  • 24:58 – From viewer Sybil Priebe: What do you say to those teachers who martyr themselves with all the grading they take on?
  • 35:29 – How can we restore humanity to education in the distance/hybrid learning spaces?
  • 44:01 – How are you finding self-care during these times of stress and uncertainty?
  • 50:10 – What are the best ways to connect with you and your learning?

Guests Featured in This Roundtable

Looking to learn more? Visit the Human Restoration Project.

Thanks to These Audience Members for Adding to Our Discussion

Catch the Next Teachers on Fire Roundtable LIVE

As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!

Why I Podcast

“Podcasting is the new blogging.” — Seth Godin

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Image credit: @Farber on Unsplash

I just hit 171.

One hundred and seventy-one episodes of the Teachers on Fire podcast.

149,900 plays.

It feels great, because creative projects of this sort don’t typically enjoy a long lifespan. I’ve read that the average amateur podcaster lasts less than seven episodes before the novelty wears off, the shine is gone, and the grind of the work required to sustain it begins to wear.

Most quit.

Ditto for bloggers, vloggers, authors, artists, and an army of other dreamers and would-be content creators whose enthusiasm for publishing falls victim to the steady onslaught of life.

Consistent creation is never easy, but it’s complicated even further in education — a field that demands hours of professional work before and after the start and finish of each day during the school year.

To be an educator and also a consistent content creator can be a daunting challenge. Fortunately, my professional learning network is filled with edu-creatives who inspire me by managing this feat. Pernille Ripp and Annick Rauch are just two examples of full-time teachers who blog with astounding consistency. And oh yes — they’re both mothers of four.

So consistent content creation is possible for basically everyone, but make no mistake: it requires discipline and sacrifice. It has to be more than a passing interest — it demands concerted commitment and passion.

To make it work, to sustain it over time, you have to think of content creation as a job. A job that you absolutely love, sure, but a job.

There’s no other way.

Reviewing My Mission and Vision

So why do I do it? What propels me to invest the hours of scheduling, recording, publishing, and promotion each week?

As Justin Belt once wrote, “Our why is both the battery within and the force around us. It keeps us going while also pushing us forward.”

I’ve written a little bit on my website about why I podcast, but this question could use a little more exploration. A little more digging.

My WHY

1. Podcasts share best practices for teaching and learning.

“How do we make great learning go viral?” asks George Couros. Podcasts are one answer to that question.

With simultaneous syndication, instant delivery, and universal access, podcasts are consumed by large audiences. Though 73% of Teachers on Fire listeners hail from the United States, educators from over 100 countries tune in. That’s learning gone global.

There are other ways to share inspiring ideas, of course. But the podcasting medium does so in a uniquely compelling and intimate way that other mediums can’t match. Since the consumption of audio content doesn’t require stopping other activities, listeners will often listen to episodes in their entirety while driving, exercising, walking the dog, or doing household chores.

Though they’re each powerful in their own right, blogs and YouTube videos struggle to match the kind of sustained attention that people will gladly give podcasts.

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Image credit: @Henry_Be on Unsplash

2. Podcasts amplify the voices of inspiring educators.

There are so many amazing educators out there whose practices should be shared and whose views should be heard, but they aren’t being heard because no (metaphorical) microphone is available. They don’t have a platform to speak from.

You know the type I’m talking about: what is happening in their classroom is jaw-dropping, and they’re excited to share their ideas, but they’re just not sure where to start or how to go about it. Maybe they’ve never engaged on social media, and few outside their own building know who they are.

Podcasts bring their voices and ideas to the world.

3. Podcasting continues my own professional growth and learning.

Every interview I conduct for the Teachers on Fire podcast puts my mind back in a place of professional learning. Every conversation forces me to engage with important ideas, grapple with challenging problems, and interact with fresh perspectives from other agents of transformation in education.

The podcast continuously encourages me to consume more professional content in my discretionary time and pushes me to constantly re-evaluate my own professional practice.

The effect is like scheduling a coffee session with incredible coaches, mentors, and leaders in education once a week. It leaves little room for stagnancy in my thinking.

4. Podcasts connect me with other leading practitioners.

Thanks to Teachers on Fire, I enjoy daily interactions with incredible education leaders across North America and the world. Through Voxer, Twitter, and other platforms, I’m inspired, encouraged, supported, and cheered on in my work.

I’m finding my tribe, my people: educators who share my passions, my goals, my dreams for my learners and visions for future directions in education.

Some of these connections have led to real life meetings, and I know more will materialize in the months and years to come. The podcast functions as my press pass, enabling me to build relationships with people I would never meet or have the opportunity to engage with otherwise. And for that I am grateful.

5. Podcasts allow me to build a platform and find my voice.

I’m no star in the education world — I’m just an 8th grade homeroom teacher and rookie assistant principal who is trying and failing and growing and learning to improve my practice one humble step at a time.

Back in early 2018, my teacher account on Twitter was inactive and invisible. I had yet to grasp the incredible power of professional connectivity.

But thanks to Teachers on Fire, I’m learning to share my voice with increasing confidence and I’m building new professional relationships every single day.

Building more professional connections and adding more listeners isn’t about padding my ego. It’s about developing the opportunities to increase my learning, hear from more voices, and build life-giving relationships.

People will listen to those that they know, like, and trust. The podcast gives people a way to get to know me, like me, and trust me. It means that when I get around to other fun content creation projects like speaking at conferences or publishing a book, some people may actually listen.

6. Podcasts are highly valued by listeners.

In May of 2019 I surveyed listeners of the Teachers on Fire podcast regarding the impact my content — and the podcast medium in general — was having on their professional thinking and practice. I was blown away by the enthusiasm and passion of the responses. Here are two samples:

“Right now podcasts are my most significant and consistent source of professional growth, because I listen to podcasts while I drive to and from work (approx. two hours per day). If it weren’t for podcasts I wouldn’t be able to expose my thinking to new ideas or find kindred spirits and critical friends while I am also driving. It is a way for me to ‘stack’ my life and helps me feel more positive about being able to accelerate my pedagogy more quickly than would otherwise be possible.

I think it’s really good for my health because I feel less stressed while driving, plus I feel engaged in life in general because I am learning and feeling optimistic about my growth. I feel excited about ideas and touched by the stories of struggle. If I had to wait to read a book months might go by, but podcasts allow me to actively engage in learning every single day with next to zero extra effort. I can spend the time I might be reading exercising instead. It’s a win-win!”

You can podcast, too.

This piece reaffirms my why: my mission, purpose, and vision for Teachers on Fire. I love the podcast, the process, and the results, and I’m going to continue this journey for as long as I can.

But what about you?

“Everyone should have a podcast,” claimed Adam Welcome in episode 77. And I think he’s right. You have a voice, you have ideas, you have the means, and the barrier to entry is lower than ever.

So share your voice, and make great learning go viral.

Start podcasting today.

Roundtable: STEAM Learning in the COVID Era

In this edition of the Teachers on Fire Roundtable, I chatted with three STEAM educators based in the great state of California: Renee Wells, Jesus Huerta, and Paul Gordon.

Questions That Guided Our Discussion

  • 0:54 – Who are you and what is your current educational context?
  • 2:55 – What are your thoughts on F2F, hybrid, and distance learning?
  • 12:13 – Which learning management system or online platforms are you relying on to serve your learners?
  • 27:04 – What’s been a big win of STEAM learning in the distance (or remote) environment?
  • 51:03 – What are your go-to sources for STEAM teaching inspiration?
  • 57:49 – How can viewers connect with you?

Guests Featured in the Roundtable

Catch the Next Teachers on Fire Roundtable LIVE.

As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!

Roundtable: CodeBreaker Authors

*Not a paid endorsement of CodeBreaker EDU.

In this edition of the Teachers on Fire Roundtable, I chatted with CodeBreaker authors and educators. This is NOT some form of paid endorsement – this event is just an expression of my interest in getting to know these educators and hearing more from their learning journeys.

Questions That Guided Our Discussion

  • 0:56 – First, what is CodeBreaker EDU?
  • 1:36 – What does your current educational context look like?
  • 9:12 – What is the mission and vision behind your book?
  • 22:05 – Tell us about your journey to the book. Why did you decide to write, and how did you get there?
  • 43:27 – What does your next goal or project look like? And how can we connect with you and follow your future learning?

Guests Featured in the Roundtable

  • Dr. Brandon Beck @BrandonBeckEDU, author of Unlocking Limited Potential
  • Daphne McMenemy @McMenemyTweets, author of Gracie: An Innovator Doesn’t Complain About The Problem. She Solves It! and editor for CodeBreaker EDU
  • Chris Woods @DailySTEM, author of Daily STEM: How to Create a STEM Culture in Your Classrooms & Communities
  • Dr. Darrin M. Peppard @DarrinMPeppard, author of Road To Awesome: Empower, Lead, Change The Game

Catch the Next Teachers on Fire Roundtable LIVE.

As of Sunday, October 11, 2020, I’m appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!