Saturday, November 3, 2012

Collaborating Using Shared Google Doc

Testing the pH of an acid.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to observe Scott MacClintic and Naomi Appel, two teachers at Loomis Chaffee School, teach their flipped classroom.  I visited their school as part of the Flipped Learning Network Open House Event.  Teachers across the country opened their classrooms to visitors who wanted to see the flipped classroom model in action.  I enjoyed watching Naomi and Chris team teach their microbiology classes.  Not only did I get to watch, but I also peppered them with questions about their flipped classes.

Writing the lab report together.
One of the many ideas I got that day was to use shared Google documents for student collaborative work.  Naomi showed me a few examples of student projects from last year that used shared documents.  A nice feature of the shared document is that I can see who has typed what and when on the project.  While Naomi was showing me how to check the edits, she discovered that one of her students from last year had made changes to a group project this September, and may have used it as a paper for a college course.  We were both left wondering if the student gave her lab partners credit for the work the second time around!

This week I decided to pilot the shared doc concept with a classic chemistry lab.  We conducted an experiment in class to determine the pH of common household products using red cabbage juice, a universal pH indicator, and electronic pH probes.  This fun experiment is a great introduction to acids and bases and a nice technique lab.  My students tested many different products such as bleach, shampoo, saline solution, vinegar, aspirin, toothpaste, oranges, and laundry detergent.  After each group had tested several of the items, we compiled all the class data to look for patterns in the pH of household products.
No one is watching their partner write.

After the class discussion of the lab results, I introduced the Google doc lab report concept.  One member from each lab group created the file and then shared it with his/her partner and with me.  Using the shared file, the lab partners worked together and contributed simultaneously to the report.  The collaboration between the students was more interactive with the shared document because they could both contribute to the work at any time.  I didn't see anyone looking over the shoulder of his/her lab partner watching as the work was completed.  The twenty minutes of class work on this collaborative lab report seemed more productive and interactive than my previous experiments with group lab report writing.

Red cabbage juice is a great pH indicator.
Another aspect to the flipped classroom is the use of class time to do what used to be considered homework.  I decided to have the lab groups write their reports during class rather than as their weekend homework.  What resulted was a series of productive conversations about how to write a purpose statement, what information is most importation in a conclusion, and how to condense a whole lab report into a concise abstract.   Rather than sending them away to complete this lab report in their dorm rooms, and then making comments on their work that many students never read, my students learned in "real time" how to make their technical writing more accurate.
Collaborating on the lab report.

This acids and bases lab reinforced for me that the flipped classroom is so much more than instructional videos.  Talking to Scott and Naomi, who have three years experience with the model, really opened my eyes to the huge range of possibilities for active learning experiences in my classes.  I am looking forward to meeting more teachers next week at the Flipped Classroom Workshop in Hartford, CT.