Monday, August 29, 2016

10 Projects Every Google Apps Classroom Should Try

It was my first year teaching when a parent asked me what projects the kids would be doing that year. I was embarrassed because I did not have an answer. Actually, in the back of my mind I was thinking that we don't have time for projects.

After teaching for a while, I know that we don't have time to not do projects. Here are some of the ideas that I've been developing over the last few years working with Google Apps.


1. Collaborative Notes

If the smartest person in the room is the room, then a collaborative set of notes is the way to go. Think about the processing the brain does when copying notes versus listening, reading, thinking, and comparing one another's contributions. It's far more powerful to learn socially than learners simply working on their own notes in isolation.

Use Google Docs – or other apps – to make a space that everyone can use to make great learning resources.

Tip: It's all about doing something with the notes. Have your students summarize the notes in a variety of ways throughout the year. My favorite is a three- to five-sentence paragraph on a Google Classroom question. It's easy to grade and provide timely feedback.


2. Selecting Slides

As Alan November puts it, "the world has enough PowerPoints." Do we really need to spend time making more?

Sometimes we need to make one that doesn't already exist, of course, but it doesn't have to be completely from scratch. Check Slideshare and even Google images. Since slideshow sites have provided ways to clip images, Google searches are include many of these clips. 

Alan November suggests having students find PPTs on the Web and piecing together the best slides. This provides teachable moments for content, digital citizenship, cooperative learning, and more.

Tip: Turn PPTs downloaded from the Web into Google Slides. Copy single slides by selecting them in the slide sorter on the left (or whatever that's called), and paste them into the final document.

3. Graphic Organizers

We have so many good tools that help us make graphic organizers. I especially like graphicorganizer.net because of the variety of samples and the ability to customize a GO and download it as a PDF. 

But learners need to make them from scratch. Better yet, they need to identify what type of GO they need without adults giving them so many patterns. 

Tip: Use Google Drawing to make interactive GO that can be embedded into a class website or eportfolio.

4. Inquiry-Based Forms

In this time of what seems to be extreme changes, we need to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. Questioning, for example, was used by Socrates and is still used in most classrooms. 

Collecting questions with Google Forms gives the class an opportunity to do something with everyone's work while learning a surveying concept that could help them in their post-secondary challenges.

Tip: If it's time for a break from the "glowing boxes" or students to collaborate more, give each student three slips of paper to write a single question each. Collect about 12 slips in each basket (or whatever) and give them to a random group of four. Have students decide which four or five questions are the best and have them submit them with a Google Form. 

5. YouTube Playlists

If we're going to teach decision-making, making playlists on music and video platforms are a fun place to practice.

Make playlists. Share them. Discuss. It's as easy as that.

6. Current Events

Google News is a great place to find news from a variety of sources and countries. Just add the top-level domain country code to news.google.___, and you'll take a closer look at what other countries are searching.


Make a map of the coverage of one event or issue from different countries. Students can summarize the reports and plot the locations. This can be done by making an interactive map or a Google My Map (see below).

Publish the resource to the Web, and the wastebasket work will be zero for this project.

7. Vlog Post

Make it a public, link only, or private video. YouTube is one of the greatest tools of our time, and it's getting easier and easier to record, upload, and edit videos.

Like a blog (short for Web log), a vlog is simply video instead of written words. For some students, this opportunity will enable them to grow their literacy and engage using a medium that compliments their learning style and preferred performance. They may find their element, as Sir Ken Robinson says.

Your students will greatly benefit from learning the power of making short, informative videos. Most importantly, they will get the chance to try it over and over until their performance is up to the standard they can accept.

8. Google My Maps

Here's a post from last year that explains My Maps and how it supports literacy in different subjects.


9. Interactive Review

I was starting to think that my students were feeling swamped with content and unmotivated to study for unit exams. That's when I split up the topics and used Forms and Sheets to make interactive reviews.

10. Photo Essay Reflection

This is one of my favorite activities in which almost every student participates. It's a simple crowdsourcing activity that uses Google images to reflect and relate new learning to prior knowledge.

Here are the steps using the Google Drive app.

Thanks for reading! Tell us about your projects in the comments below.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Google Classroom | Organize Your Stream With Topics

I've been asking Google for a way to organize stream posts since the first month Classroom was released. Students complained about the lack of organization and even suggested a hashtag system. I immediately thought about labels in Gmail and began explaining the issue whenever Google asked for feedback.

It's finally here. Check out the short video (below) to see how it works.



google classroom, google for edu, google for education, GAFE




For more information and other Google Classroom updates, check out the Google For Education Blog or Google Support.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

20 Assignments For This Year's Homework Menu

Homework sucks. Kids have too much. There comes a point at which adults have to be honest with themselves. Some educators realize that homework is helpful for some students, not all. Others realize that some homework, not hours, is helpful each night.

homework, education, edtech

The problem with most homework research is that it provides little to no evidence that homework leads to achievement gains. However, providing practice does lead to achievement gains. Practice, in it's most common worksheet / textbook form, doesn't have to be done at home. Then what should be done at home, if anything?

I want my students doing assignments that engage them, not to increase the workload as to give the impression that standards are high. That's nonsense. High standards come from other places.

Try some of these items on the homework menu, and come up with new ones. Share your ideas in the comments. I love learning about new assignments and activities.

  1. blog post 150-300 words
  2. Twitter video 30 secs #HistoryIn30
  3. online journal in ePortfolio
  4. Make a YouTube playlist of 10 videos on a topic (write description / annotations)
  5. Current events on Today's Meet
  6. Response to essential question on Classroom
  7. Study / practice Quizlet
  8. Skim a section in the textbook, outline for 15 minutes (Docs)
  9. Make a map (Google My Maps, Drawing, or other)
  10. Timetoast
  11. Historical thinking skills -- write questions that are comparative, CCOT, periodization, causation
  12. Verso App discussion
  13. Crossword Puzzles / Word Searches
  14. Comic strip
  15. Photo essay (5 images, write captions)
  16. I used to think ... Now I think ...
  17. Classroom connections (find other classes, what do they do)
  18. Write questions (5 questions that you raise about the content)
  19. Keep a vlog of reflections on what you're learning (post description, too)
  20. DocsTeach activity

You may have noticed that a few of these go well with several others on the list. Try new things. Make new connections. Think differently about the world because of the work you do.

Monday, August 8, 2016

10 Google Ways to Show What You Know

Going beyond replicating analogue tools in a digital world is not a new approach. Long before the SAMR model, Microsoft's Encarta (1993) was marketed as multimedia – it was more than a digital print encyclopedia. It had videos and audio recordings embedded in the text, if my memory serves me.


These days, kids can make their own Encarta with Google Apps. Most of my students, however, don't wake up in the morning ready to make the next great interactive exhibit for an online museum. But they would prefer to do something meaningful, as opposed to taking notes and regurgitating the information on the next assessment.  

Keeping with the approach of choosing the technology for the learning, and not the other way around, the following list is conceptual. Although more specific examples are included in the bullets, don't hesitate to match an example to a different concept.

As always, share your ideas in the comments to add to the discussion.

1. Slide Presentations

Google Slides is one of the most versatile tools in the box. Coming from experience with Adobe Creative Suite, my need to layout books, posters, and reports is well satisfied. Make PDFs, traditional slideshows, or website content with the formatting options and integration with other tools.
  • Traditional images and text
  • Photo essay
  • Choose your own adventure
  • Game 
2. Posters

Here's another set of products that I would make using Google Slides. More importantly, these kinds of projects are real. At some point in almost every student's life, they'll have to promote something by presenting the information visually. Take this project to the next level by promoting a cause or organization that your class is supporting.
  • Top 10 list
  • Advertisement
  • Charity promotion
  • Public service announcement 
3. Screencasts

The most knowledge building and retention of information happens when we teach. Turn your students into teachers and they'll be personally invested in the outcome (engagement).

YouTube has so many tools to make videos and slideshows, but don't be afraid to try some of the Chrome extensions, too. I like Snagit and Screencastify.
  • Instructional video
  • Show and tell
  • How-To 
  • Slideshow w/ annotations 
4. eBooks

Guess which tool. My favorite – Google Slides. So many people are using Slides to make ebooks, newsletters, magazines, and so much more. The layout is wide open, like a blank slate. I would encourage students to search Google Images for reports and magazine design concepts to get inspiration.
  • Children's book
  • Textbook section
  • Short story
5. Drawing

I'm used to Adobe Illustrator, so Google Drawing was not high on my list. That was until I realized that most of what I was doing with Adobe could be done with Google, only much faster. Furthermore, having a medium-powered drawing app in the suite of tools makes it easy to format your images just the way you want them. Give a shot. It's not just a paint accessory.
  • Comic strips
  • Graphic organizers
  • Stickers or T-shirt designs
6. Collages

Remember that the reason we use Google Apps is to go beyond what's possible otherwise. I love a paper print collage. I also love clicking on images and seeing videos that relate to the media in meaningful ways, like a slide of the artist's process.
  • Scrapbooking 
  • Mosaics (try this by cropping w/ shapes)
  • Interactive video collages
7. Survey

Google Forms is one of my go-to apps for so many reasons. The best work my students do is their own. Think about the kinds of problems your students can respond to with data that they've collected and refined critical analysis.

It gets me excited when a student makes a survey. Asking questions is still the inroad to learning. That will never change. Try thinking about anything with questions. They're crucial.
  • Collect data on interests
  • Sample a population for a social problem
  • Make news with real data
8. Blog or Newsletter

Smore looks great. It's probably time for me to get a subscription so my emails to parents about the week's activities look more professional. I'll probably get more clicks and reads.

Our students, on the other hand, don't need to send professional newsletters, for the most part. They can make an announcements page on their Google site (the new Sites looks great), or they could use Blogger. Either way, the experience of writing something that will be published for the world to read creates a different force driving the effort. 
  • Technical instructions
  • Share a refelction on learning
  • Advice column
  • Collect Tweets and annotate
9. Museum Exhibit

It doesn't have to be for a museum. It could be a multimedia feature for a video or a slideshow embedded on a website, to name a couple more examples.

The power of the possibilities lies in the choice of the museum (natural history, art, ancient history, etc.) and the opportunity for students to work with evidence to organize a response to a problem.

10. Video

Is there anything more popular than video? Let's look beyond the multitude of tools and uploading to YouTube so we can focus on the learning outcomes. 

Let's imagine students who are more aware of how they sound, more confident to respond in the moment, and believers in the importance of organizing ideas coherently. That's what making videos does for learners.
  • Newscast
  • Documentary
  • Skit (satire)
  • Discussion panel
BONUS: App Smash

Consider the app smash concept. Why limit the students to one app. Much of what is produced in our economy requires multiple tools. For example, a poster made on Slides may need visuals created with Drawing. It can all be taken a step further when the kids collaborate on a documentary that includes promotions by news, posters, and YouTube trailers. Making the branding assets with Drawing will allow the students to use the same file on the poster and video.

I think that you'll find (if you haven't already) that kids will find what they are good at and want to contribute their work for the better of the group. It's my goal to provide my students with the opportunities to learn about their strengths and interests. Although I'm still in the process of eliminating wastebasket work and shifting control to my students, I can see moments of what our classroom will one day become. It takes time, so I'm glad that I have some.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

5 Reasons Why the New Google Sites Works

The new Google Sites is here. Well, almost. I've been previewing it through my GAFE account and it's growing on me. I'll admit that I was not too fond of it, at first – a little hesitant to invest time into something that'll likely change. But then I realized that if it's ready to go for this school year, delivering content will be slick.

google sites, google apps for education

I think some will like it. Some will use Sites for the first time because of the new platform. And others won't care because it's easy. Here are some more reasons why I think people will like the new Google Sites.

1. It's easy to use.

You don't need to know HTML. Everything is click and choose. There's no site manager versus edit site layout to find settings in two different places. Confusing, I know. The intuitive design is exactly what my students need, as well as my novice tech-using colleagues.


2. Layouts automatically adjust for devices.

The preview button takes you to a screen in which you can choose among mobile phone view, tablet view, or monitor view. This is nice because no matter what is changed on the site editor, the content will adjust for the device being used to access it. One less thing we have to check and manually adjust (not that it was ever too difficult). The image below shows the mobile view and the options (black background).


3. Drive integration provides options.

This is most important feature of the new Sites. You can add the contents of a folder, like a window into your Drive, or a folder itself. The old sites could do this after jumping through a few hoops, but it never looked and worked as slick as the new Sites.

The ability to add individual drive files and embed calendars and YouTube with only a few clicks is another feature that makes this version worth your time. Although this is not totally different than the old version, it's a lot easier. Adding a video without calculating aspect ratios is enough to make me happy.


4. The flat design looks professional.

Websites are about ease of use. The ornate style of some of the old Sites templates can be a bit much. Maybe once upon a time those notebook back drops or full red brick walls were the way to go. Not anymore. We want it simple and clean. That's why the content needs to be good. That's what it's all about, once the look is easy enough to draw in the user.

5. More is still to come.

In typical Google fashion, the new Sites app will have more updates. New features will probably come by way of feedback submitted by users and will require all of us to be patient. Think about how far Docs has come in the last two years. Give Sites some time, and it will be your go-to for fronting your content. I promise.

Here's a video of me messing around, making an intranet site for a social studies department. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

10 Graphic Organizers With Google Drawing

I was hesitant to provide the copy links to these Google Drawings because it's important, to me, that people learn to make their own. This is not to be selfish. I'll give anyone almost anything. I just don't want to take away from the learning that happens when we make things.

Sometimes learners, however, need drawing templates to avoid an unwanted cognitive load. Or not – kids of all ages surprise me. The goal is for learners to make it on their own or with very little help.   


Regardless of how much time is given to the student, using Google Drawing to make graphic organizers opens many doors to what's possible. Add images, links, and stuff I have yet to learn about. This kind of work will not end in the wastebasket.

The drawings can be inserted into other Google Docs or downloaded in the most common file formats, making it easier to share. What more could you ask for? (Seriously – comment!)

The following examples focus on a variety of subject area possibilities. The templates are a nice start, but even the description (in red) encourages individual interpretation. 

1. Before and After

Don't underestimate the power of a simple T-chart to organize the before and after. With GAFE, you can add pics of the experimental / control conditions before and after. Add notes to bring the results into context and add links to research to complete a great beginning to an interactive lab report.  


2. Venn Diagrams

These were never my favorite to show similarities and differences because it's hard predetermine how much writing space you'll need. This is not a problem with Drawings.


3. Inverted Triangle 

Focusing your writing is a hard skill that everyone needs to practice. The inverted triangle can be used a couple different ways. The first way would be to use it like a news report structure with the most crucial details earlier in the story, making it easy to chop the bottom to accommodate space on the newspaper.

Another way is to use the graphic organizer to list the most general details while moving down to the more particular. This is another skill that everyone needs to practice.


4. Labeling Images

Learners could label parts of a cell, explain a picture of a medieval manor, make maps with links to other resources, or label the math of building a house, to name a handful.


5. Seating Plan

You're probably thinking desks, right? How about seating the characters of a novel for a special dinner event. Learners could add blurbs about each character and summarize the kinds of convos that may transpire throughout the meal.


6. Network Tree

The network tree can be used to classify species, show military or political office leadership, or to show how a story unfolds. Try using the network tree as a concept map. For example, the vowel concept can be followed by the vowels, which can be followed by words with those vowels.

This kind of mapping helps with writing organization and other skills needed for planning and semantic work, like writing code and making software.


7. Problem / Solutions

This problem-solution graphic organizer should look different almost every time. For more complicated problems, choose different shapes and arrows to best visually represent the main issues and the potential path(s) to solution. Likewise, the solution may be a cloud like shown below or something else that depicts a bit of the essence of the solution or problem solving process.


8. K | W | L Chart

Reflecting on knowledge, making predictions, and reflecting on learning are three key exercises that make any lesson more powerful. K-W-L is a great way to organize these thought processes.


9. Options Diamond

This is perhaps one of the most useful problem solving strategies because it allows learners to consider more than one option and work with those options in different ways.


10. Timeline

The purpose of a timeline is to see when things happen in relation to one another. They are crucial for history courses, and can be just as important for ELA, math, or science. 

The nice thing about using Drawing to make timelines is the freedom to try different orientations, add images, link resources to text boxes, and add color to enhance the analytical points learners may need to make. Most of this can be done with paper, but not as easily.



If you have any ideas about how Drawing can be used in other ways, subject-specific or not, please share in the comments below.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

7 Beliefs About Grades for a Growth Mindset

I had a great time learning from other educators yesterday at #edcampldrma. Among the breakouts was a well-attended session on going gradeless. Most of the conversation was about implementation of innovative grading practices and standards-based grading, but it got me thinking about where my former district started when it went through the tough process of culture change – because that's essentially what has to happen.

We read books about grading, books about change, and, of course, Mindset. We started with what we believed about learning and grading to establish a foundation that we could all build upon. That's where the messy part started. Making district policy that threw out practices as American as baseball and jazz got a lot of push back, which is why we had to unpack the arguments of our adversaries while presenting our own.

Looking for Purpose

Grades are a powerful way to motivate your students, right? Perhaps it can promote compliance, but we have to question what we want kids to be motivated to do. Motivation to learn is not the same as the will to stay out of trouble. There is a missing piece that reminds me of the five monkeys experiment. Here's a minute and a half explanation (please reflect on it, take it in).



Are you a monkey about grades?

If you think it's time to rethink grading, understanding your specific beliefs about grading is a great place to start.

standards based grading

1. Everyone can learn.

"It worked for those kids. It's not my problem if these others can't get it the way we do it."

Fixed Mindset: We are born with a certain level of intelligence.
Growth Mindset: We are born with many intelligences to be discovered and developed over a lifetime.

Building relationships with students is a non-negotiable when it comes to successful learning. Teachers who know their students not only believe that they can learn, they can speak to the kinds of conditions under which their students thrive.

A fixed mindset may confuse a slower learner for one that can't learn, while a growth mindset does not believe in the latter and makes time for whatever pace the learner needs.  

2. People learn at different rates and at different times.

"It's unfair to the students who get it right the first time." Who said? 

Fixed Mindset: The curriculum dictates a schedule that will be followed whether you learn it or not.
Growth Mindset: Mastery can be demonstrated at anytime within a reasonable timeframe or to accommodate learners with extenuating circumstances. 

This is not a rule I've ever read. It may exist in a reassessment policy somewhere, but I guarantee you that such a place is not making much progress or working with a diverse population, one that reflects the challenges we're preparing our youth to overcome.

Reassessment can be hard on teachers if they believe that their reporting deadlines are a higher priority than facilitating learning. I've let kids reassess on something several weeks after report cards were issued. A change of grade form only takes 30 seconds. 

"They'll want to reassess everything. They won't study because why should they?" I can say with confidence that a teacher with a wide open reassessment policy has never said this. Like any policy, fine tuning is required, especially to make it work for individual professionals. 

Growth mindset teachers say things like, "Sure, you can reassess once we've reviewed your results and you complete an action plan that details which standards you'll complete that require more practice." 

In other words, just because the grading cycle is over, doesn't mean the development of the knowledge skills should be, too. 

3. Grades communicate student achievement.

Fixed Mindset: The kids get zeroes – again and again – but I keep giving zeroes because it's what we've always done and it works.
Growth Mindset: Grades summarize student achievement relative to the coursework, which is based on a common curriculum. It's hard (sometimes impossible) to report achievement without evidence. 

Grades don't manage behavior. You may think so, but consider the amount of repeat offenders you encounter under that assumption.

4. Accuracy is vital to reporting grades.

Fixed Mindset: If you want to boost your grade, do some extra credit. 
Growth Mindset: Taking points off for late work or adding points for extra credit takes away from the grade assigned for achievement on an assessment.  

To give an achievement score at the end, the criteria must be clear from the beginning. Both standards-based grading has helped me report more accurate grades. 

The two implications to standards-based grading are (1) Using most recent evidence and  (2) Grades must be relative to standards.

Using the most recent evidence to report achievement relative to standards tells the stakeholders the story of achievement that averaging a bunch of (sometimes unrelated) scores to slap a letter on a kid's academic record. 

"You don't have to be mean."


Inflating and deflating grades are out, too. This ties to the second implication listed above. That means, no more extra credit points or taking points off for late work. 

If we want our students to develop a growth mindset, we need to give them a chance and let go of using fixed measures to coerce compliance.

5. Feedback – not arbitrary grades – is an inroad to achievement.

Fixed Mindset: Making comments on all of those essays will take forever. And they don't read them.
Growth Mindset: Actionable feedback, not scores, shows learners where and how they need to improve. 

This one is simple. When students see a number, it consumes their attention. When they see only comments, the focus on what they need to do to improve. When they see both, the number takes all. Ken O'Connor talks about this in his workshops and presentations, and I've lived it as a classroom teacher. 

6. Zeros do not work.

Fixed Mindset: It's what we've always done.
Growth Mindset: Work assigned is work to be completed as part of a set of evidence that informs a teacher on the achievement level to be reported on transcripts.

They don't. Sure, no one wants a zero, so we do our work. But it also implies that you can still get credit without doing all of the work. Try that for college and career readiness. 

Don't forget the five monkeys experiment. Don't do it because it was done to you. 

7. Grades, when they are accurate, promote confidence in the learning process.    

Fixed Mindset: Grades group and rank kids to decide who gets what.
Growth Mindset: When learners know their achievement as it relates to what it needs to be, they gain confidence when the path feels plausible.

We like to know if we're good at something or not. Grades tell students their strengths and weaknesses. 

I'm thinking we gain a lot of our confidence from receiving feedback on our progress from someone we trust and achieving a higher level than when we do well out of the gate. I believe this because it's we are emotional beings. When we struggle and succeed, it sticks. We can only know our struggles of we have something to compare.

No one ever said maintaining a growth mindset was easy, but you get better at it if you try.