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Helping elementary learners build digital skills with G Suite and Hāpara

Helping elementary learners build digital skills with G Suite and Hapara

The world is changing. Kids are privy to technology as soon as their fine motor skills are developed enough to “tap” an app on a tablet or iPad. As educators, it is our duty to leverage digital skills in a manner that supports student success and confidence.

As a Grade 2 and 4 French Teacher in Ottawa, Ontario, I am passionate about all of the ways I can differentiate instruction with the use of Google Suite, Teacher Dashboard and Workspace. What once seemed like an uphill battle – logging kids onto Chromebooks and typing on a Doc – is now a life changing and integral part of many lessons in my classroom.

Getting Started with Digital Skills

Going through the motions of “training” kids on how to log on to their devices may seem like a daunting task, but the fun and satisfaction that comes out of the process is worth it. You’ll soon see learners’ confidence soar when using things like speech-to-text software, Google Read and Write, WeVideo and so much more. In a French as a Second Language Environment, I am able to put these kids’ tech-savviness to good use, and instead of streaming Netflix or watching YouTube videos, I make it a priority for them to use technology as a strategy and resource to facilitate and expand learning.

How is this done, you ask!? It’s no walk in the park, but it is certainly possible! Every September, I take two weeks (one block a day) to teach kids to log in to their Chromebooks. Yes, it’s messy, yes, they need redirection, and yes, they have a hard time with “CapsLock” and where the letters are. However, with practice, I see great success! Students are so eager to get their hands on Chromebooks. I can honestly say that their enthusiasm and determination alone makes this feat so much easier.

Jumping into G Suite

Once students understand the fundamentals of logging in, the fun really starts. I introduce Google Drive to the kids, and refer to it as their “backpack.” I got this idea from a colleague of mine, and it makes total sense to the kids! When the kids refer to their “backpack,” they can then open it and see all of their folders, or, as I taught them, “duotangs.” This simple lingo helps kids familiarize themselves with the concept of Google Drive. From there, we colour code each “duotang” within their “backpack.” So, for example, when I want kids to open their social studies assignments, I tell them to open their green folders and look for the specific Doc that I pushed out using Hapara.

The kids become fluent in this lingo of “backpack,” “duotang,” and colour coded folders. By week two, they are capable of logging in, opening their Google Drive, and accessing particular folders to complete online work. Sure, setting up this process might take some time out of the curriculum you need to cover, but you get your time and effort back in GOLD! And as a bonus – you now have tech-savvy elementary learners who have the digital skills they need to log in to a Chromebook and use Google Drive.

Going Further with Hapara Workspace

The fun doesn’t end with Google Drive. I like to start with the Drive because it’s a fundamental tool that kids in the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) need to understand. That being said, Hapara Workspace plays an even greater role in supporting learner agency.

OCSB students are set up with a Portal in which they can quickly access applications, websites, software and many other tools. Hapara Workspace is one of the links included in the Student Portal. By navigating through Workspace instead of their Google Drives, learners receive instant personalization and differentiation.

While it’s beneficial for kids to understand how to use their Google Drive, Workspace gives kids an entire learning platform to themselves that is designed and personalized to meet their specific needs. In Workspace, they can work on a Google Doc, and can also easily click into helpful resources, success criteria, and web-links, etc. The platform is meant for beginning-to-end unit design, but there are so many unique ways to use it that there is literally no wrong way to go about it! 

The saying goes, “if it’s not broken – don’t fix it”. But, having tools in Google and Hapara that permit student voice and choice enables you to go far beyond what a paper and pencil task can achieve. Elementary kids need multiple entry points to sink their teeth into when building digital skills! Students also need to SEE themselves in the task at hand. As someone who grew up in an era where Chromebooks were yet to be invented and was given “times table” sheets to memorize in math class, I am a huge advocate for this new batch of 21st century learners. I encourage them to direct their own learning journey, instead of me orchestrating it. After all, I am certainly aware that I’m not the “gatekeeper” of all knowledge.

Finding Success with your digital skills

I’ve seen the elated faces of six and seven year old students who are able to exercise their ideas, opinions, and talents using many different features in Google Suite. I’ve seen kids who LOVE recording themselves while reading. Conversely, I’ve seen kids who have trouble pronouncing words (whether they be in English or in French), but with Google Read and Write at their fingertips, feel more confident and capable practicing reading and pronunciation.

Building the digital skills needed to use G Suite and Hapara Workspace in the elementary classroom certainly takes time and patience. But putting in the effort to get started has truly changed my pedagogy and my students’ experiences entirely. Little 7 year olds are logging into Workspace, choosing an activity that interests them, and using online tools/resources to complete tasks. In this changing world, it is our job to prepare students, meet them where they are, and give them the digital skills they need to be successful in the future.

Learn what to focus on when building a culture of digital citizenship, including conversation starters for learners and educators!

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