Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Best Grading App for Teachers - ZipGrade

Students are sometimes taken back when I tell them that they can use pen on their bubble sheets. Many of them insist on using a #2 pencil because they still don’t trust me. It’s exciting to see the students in the room who light up over the “rule” they get to break.

Those same kids who get excited about the #2 pencil rule being broken are often the same kids who wondered why teachers made them use a pencil in the first place. The answer I always got in my 1980’s education was that the bubble sheet reader could only scan a #2 pencil, not blue or black ink. I’ve never even heard of a #1 or #3 pencil. Enlighten me in the comments below if you have.


Grading apps are about $10-$15 for a good one. The convenience of printing your own sheets and scanning them in your classroom or at home beats having to visit the machine. Too often these machines are in closets with no windows, and I can’t help but think that the door will shut and lock me in the one place in the building without cell phone reception.

That’s the real reason I like ZipGrade. Maybe you have different reasons. Tell us about it in the comments below. I’d love to learn more about how you benefit or struggle from using technology. It’s the best way for me to learn how I can help.

Bottom Line: What’s Really Wrong With Scantrons?

With today’s technology, Scantrons are done. Okay … not really. Teachers who have been doing things a certain way for 25 years don’t necessarily want to change. They don’t have to, but, as a department leader, I don’t have to fix the machine when a less expensive alternative is available.

Not only is there a less expensive alternative, it provides more access to the data. Grading apps like ZipGrade store the results of the assessments, provide breakdowns of the question results, and allow users to organize classes for pennies on the dollar.


Aside from the extreme cost of Scantron sheets, the expense of the machine, the cost of fixing the machine, the time on the phone with technicians because you ran out of money for the repair service, and time waiting to use the machine while the new teacher unjams the machine before finishing the 120 scans, there’s nothing wrong with Scantrons. I’m for ‘em -- just take care of the laundry list of nonsense I just mentioned.

The Tutorial



1. Install the App

Before you install the app, it’s a good idea to make an account on the ZipGrade website. The website is easy to navigate and provides all of the information you need to use the app.

Go to the App Store for iOS users or Google Play for Android (click here and scroll down for the link). You can scan 100 quizzes per month under the free plan. For $6.99 per year, you scan unlimited papers. I paid about $14 four years ago for a lifetime of unlimited scans, but, to my knowledge, this offer is no longer available.

If you are purchasing apps for multiple users, perhaps for a department or school, you can buy codes that users can input into their apps to gain unlimited scans each year.


2. Make a Class

Classes can be made on a full browser (laptop / desktop) or on a mobile device. I recommend setting up classes and adding students on the full browser because you can upload a CSV (spreadsheet). If you don’t have an online gradebook or don’t use Google Classroom, make a Google form to collect student email addresses for uploading to ZipGrade.

Open the side navigation by selecting the three horizontal lines in the upper left of your mobile device screen. This opens the menu with classes and students, among other tabs.

Select “New” in the upper right. This opens a page that allows you to add the class information. You’ll also see any quizzes that you have assigned to the class. For new classes, there shouldn’t be anything here, of course.

The benefit of adding students is the code that you can provide them to protect their identity. Also, the data will be easier to analyze with your students added. You can edit your student list by selecting “Students” in the side navigation. Like I said above, I don’t recommend using the app to add all of your students -- it can get tedious.


3. Make a Quiz

Quizzes are easily made on the app. If you are not already on the quiz dashboard, touch the quiz icon at the bottom right of your screen. Once you are on the quiz dashboard, touch “New” in the upper right of your screen. This opens the quiz information settings where you can add a title, among other options.

It’s important to notice the “Select Form” option. This allows you to choose which size answer sheet you will need for the quiz. See the next step for more info on answer sheets.

Once the quiz is made, you can edit the answer key. Touch “Edit Key” to open the bubble sheet on your screen. Select the correct response bubbles for each question. This saves automatically. Touch “Quiz Menu” to return to the quiz.

If you want to enter some advanced settings, like changing the amount of points awarded for a correct response, you have two options in the “Edit Key” screen. The first option is to select the settings icon in the upper right. This screen shows options that apply to all of the questions. The other option is to select the information icon on the far right of each question in the “Edit Key” screen. This allows you to change the options for an individual question. 


4. Print the Answer Sheet Online

Answer sheets can be printed from the full browser site or they can be emailed to you through the app. They come in PDF format, so there are few to no issues viewing or printing from your inbox.

The answer sheets are available in 20-, 50-, and 100-question sheets. I use the the 20-question answer sheet most often, so I made a Google doc with four 20-question sheets on it. I keep a stack of copies ready to go on a moment’s notice.

Click here for a copy of my 20-question template. This link will open a copy screen. Click the “Make a copy” button in the lower middle of the screen to have your own copy. If you don’t have Google Drive and need help, ask us in the comments below.

For more templates from Zahner History, click this link for 15 FREE Google docs templates.


5. Scan the Answer Sheets

Students can use anything to make their selections on the bubble sheet. The app will even pick up messy marks in the bubbles. I don’t tell the students that because it's still easier for the teacher if the bubbles are darkened neatly.

Touch “Scan Papers” on the “Quiz Menu” screen, and hold your device over the bubble sheet. Line up the solid boxes on the answer sheet with the boxes on the app screen. The paper will scan automatically. 


The scan takes a picture of the student name, so you will be reading their name to determine the owner of the answer sheet. You can access the scanned papers by touching “Review Papers” in the “Quiz Menu” screen.

7. Analyze the Data

The “Item Analysis” will show you the breakdown of each question on the quiz represented. It includes raw data, percentages, and graphs. The data can be downloaded from the website as a PDF or CSV for records or sharing.

When you initially open the analysis screen for a quiz, the data shows all of the questions in a list. Touch one of the questions to isolate the data for that question. For a list of students who chose a certain option on a question, touch the option and a dropdown of the student handwritten names will appear. 

8. Export the Data - PDF or CSV

The data can be exported from the website. Click or touch on quizzes, and select the quiz from the list. This opens an analysis dashboard that is easy to view and find whatever you are likely to need. 


Final Thoughts

I could never afford to go back to Scantron. The fact that the data is keep on my device (without taking up much space) is reason enough. It does the item analysis I’m look for and provides options to have full control over the process of each student, quiz, or item. I still use Google Forms for a lot of multiple choice quizzes, but not every assessment is, or should be, paperless.

The balance of technology use will persistence because many students require paper for the material connection and alternative experience, so I’m sticking with ZipGrade for paper-based selected-response assessment.

Please leave any thoughts, helpfuls, questions, or concerns in the comments below. Thanks for reading. If this article helped you, help us by sharing it with someone who may also benefit from it.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

9 Ways to Provide Feedback Through Google Classroom

Typing feedback is much faster than handwriting it. Although some teachers swear by handwritten marking and scoring, it’s hard to believe that they have given the options on Google Classroom much of a chance.


Google Classroom has the potential for a variety of assessments within the platform and even more ways to provide feedback to students. The following shares what I’ve learned using this workflow over the last four years, including some of the new features on the most recent update at the beginning of the 2018 school year.



1. Question Comments

When a student responds to a question in paragraph form, for example, it gives teachers an opportunity to provide feedback. I look at this opportunity has the best chance to be a specific as possible when communicating achievement to a student. This is also a great opportunity to clarify a reinforced expectations, as well.

If a students does not meet the expectations, I often have them reply to my comment with a corrected version of the paragraph. This allows the critique and revision process to stay in one place, which is often more efficient.


2. Returning Comments

How many times do you grade a whole class of assignments and realize that most of the students made the same mistake? When you return assignments to multiple students, you’re able to provide one comment that every student who receives that returned assignment can see.

Usually at the beginning of the course, I have to write a lot of comments that reinforce writing expectations, such as what counts as acceptable evidence in support of claims. Students often start out the year writing rather vague statements to respond to questions, and it’s only after they receive specific feedback that points to the area that needs improvement that we start to see better results.

Telling the whole class about a particular issue – or a select group of students that need a specific comment – saves teachers time from writing the same thing over and over.


3. Comment on an Assignment

The sidebar on the assignment view screen includes a space to write a comment for the overall assignment. This comment is specific to the student work that you are currently viewing in that window but not tied to a highlighted area of the work.

This comment option is especially nice if you have a general comment about the student's work. It’s also a useful space if, for example, you want the student to focus on one priority over another as opposed to perhaps all of the other comments that might be within the student work (see item 5 below).

I like this comment tool because students will see it before they see the specific feedback within their work. This sort of general feedback is helpful when priming the student for receiving the specific feedback tied to areas within the assignment.


4. Use the Comment Bank

The comment bank is also on the right side bar of the student work preview screen for assignments. It comes with some default comments that, although they can be useful, I have found them to be too general.

To copy a comment, select the three vertical dots on the right side of the comments. A prompt to copy the comment should appear for you to click. This means the comment is in your clipboard and ready to paste wherever you want it.

The best feature of the sidebar comment tool is the ability to add custom comments. I usually reserve these types of comments for the more general course expectations that I would expect all of my students to meet.


5. Add a Comment in the Doc

So far on this list I’ve talked about some more general comments about the overall student work. Teachers can use the comment tool that's already in Google Docs to add feedback to very specific parts of the student work.

This feature is fully available in the student preview screen for grading in classroom and works the same way as if it were being commented on outside of Classroom and within Google Docs.

As a rule, I like to take this opportunity to ask questions about certain word choices to probe students to get closer to stronger work. It’s also a good opportunity to comment specifically on progress they’ve made with regard to a specific skill or content. Perhaps referencing a student learning goal or curriculum standard is appropriate at times.

6. Use the CheckMark Extension

Since much of the feedback that students need on their work is very common, the CheckMark extension by Ed Tech team is the easiest way to provide it. The Google Chrome extension comes with preloaded comments that are common for many subjects, and users can customize the common palette.

The whole process of using the comment palette is as simple as highlighting the area upon which you wish to comment and clicking the comment shortcut on the palette. The comment appears in the right margin – like any comment would – and users can move onto the next chunk of student work for further feedback.

The check mark extension is different then the common bank on the right sidebar because users only have to click the item in the palette to make the comment. The comment bank built-in to the classroom student work previewer is different because it requires you to take the extra step of copying the comments to then paste where you want to place it in the document.


7. Post a Quiz Via Google Form

Making a quiz with Google forms is one of the easiest ways to provide feedback to students. The feedback comes in both the simple form of indicating which questions they got right or wrong for selected response as well as the more in depth form of automated feedback based on their response.

When a student answers the question, the form can provide predetermined feedback depending on whether they got the question right or wrong. The feedback is written by the teacher and can include links to resources to help the student better understand the content or dig a little deeper.

I post Google form quizzes directly on the Classroom stream. This workflow works best for my students and I because I’m able to delete the post after the quiz is done. If a student misses the quiz or needs to retake it, I post it on the stream so that it is viewable only to the students who need to take it.

8. Comment on the Stream

The stream is a good place to provide general feedback to the entire class. Every post on the Stream can include comments to which students can then reply. Student replies could include clarifying questions, answers to questions posted by the teacher or other students, or just general comments about an assignment or other activity on the stream.

This kind of feedback is especially helpful because of its public nature in the classroom. Students know that other students will see the comments, so there's an sense of audience that builds community. Likewise, students may ask questions that other students could also have but didn’t even know it or felt unsure about asking.

Although the stream is, by default, a whole-class communications space, individual students can receive posts from the teacher. If a student is absent for an extended period of time, for example, this may be the best place to communicate make up work or other issues. This way, neither the student nor the teacher needs to go to a different place for the work or the communication.

9. Score Questions and Assignments

The nice thing about scoring a question or scoring in assignment is that the students get the results as soon as you click the return button. If the teacher scores the assignment in the afternoon, students don’t have to wait for the next day to know how they did.

The ability to download a comma separated variables format for a Google sheet or Excel spreadsheet is also a nice feature when it comes to managing the data. Some online grade books allow you to upload entries via CSV file, making up dating grade books outside of Google classroom a more streamlined process.


Bottom line: 

Although grading on a computer can take some time getting used to, the benefits are worth the effort of transitioning to a new workflow. The time saved managing the materials of student work and repeat feedback statements, in the long run, far outweigh handwriting everything on paper.

Some teachers will never agree with my conclusions, so I challenge them to deliver the amount of consistent and timely feedback through analogue means.

Monday, October 22, 2018

11 Ways to Use Crowdsourcing For Student-Centered Learning

“The smartest person in the room is the room,” according to David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know, published in 2012. I heard this quote somewhere in the ether and have thought about it before every lesson I teach and presentation I make.


Placing every student’s knowledge and effort at the center of the lesson is ultimately the goal with student-centered learning. Learners, by design, will spend most of the time using content they chose to answer their own need-to-know questions. The teacher plays moderator, facilitator, and coach, which is a departure from the “sage on the stage” approach that many traditional teachers still perpetuate.

The questions that drive my thought process are: 
(1) What do I want the audience to know that it knows? And,
(2) How will I collect the information from the audience and visualize it in the moment?
It’s important to think about the concept, not the tool. The concept may be collecting written work, images, or a poll, to name a few. Depending on the nature of the activity, you can choose a tool or a series of tools to facilitate the crowdsourcing process. 


I tend to choose tools that allow students to provide the content and continue to work with it. This often means that students can see their peers’ work, so it’s important to be sensitive, as needed, and to capitalize on the cooperative learning experience whenever possible.


This list of crowdsourcing ideas below is based on making thinking visible and other strategies that work well on paper, too. Each one is explained with the hopes of opening new doors through connected classroom technology. The tools are important, but they are not as important as the reasons for using them.

One of the biggest reasons I use connected tools is how it takes making thinking visible to a new dimension. When students use the tool and provide their response, their work, or whatever it is that I’m gathering, they can see each other’s work and learn from peer contributions.

These strategies and use of tools also support expanding every learner’s audience, which is the most critical piece of student voice that we should not forget. Students who perform for more than the teacher, perform for themselves and their closest communities, such as their peer group in the classroom.

1. Image Summary

Google Drive folders can be shared via link or through a direct share. This allows students to add content for the lesson, which, in and of itself, is a critical lesson activity filled with opportunity to learn and practice technology and content-related skills. Most importantly, placing the specific content artifacts in the hands of the students supports choice, giving them a voice in the content they will study. 














Students share images that summarize all or a part of a problem, essential question response, or an enduring understanding, for example.

The teacher can see their progress and either begin to rename the images, or the next step can be a whole class discussion – led by the teacher or a student – about how the images should be labeled.

To take a closer look, students can be assigned an image to then select and write about the specific evidence that could be used to support a response to the problem. They can use the commenting tools in Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive to facilitate this part of the activity.

Team Drive has been a huge time saver for my classroom. The only thing students cannot do in our Team Drive settings is move files out of a folder. This means they can make the files in the folder, and everyone has access to edit anything in the folder. It’s a huge step toward flattening the classroom walls, especially those that exist from one student to another. It also saves the teacher a lot of time not having to share so many folders or documents.

Let’s say you want to do more with the images than simply add comments in the cloud storage. Drive Slides is an extension made by Alice Keeler that takes the images from a Google Drive folder and automatically places each one on a separate slide. This could set up the class to add their paragraph summary to the speaker notes and use the print settings to make a quick set of wall hangers for a gallery walk activity.




Whether you use Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, the strategy and steps of the activity are the same. Both tools can share folders to students who can then upload content and make comments on each file in the folder. My school uses Google, but if it told everyone tomorrow that next year we are Microsoft, my lessons would still hold up.

This activity would still work if I gave kids scissors, a pile of old National Geographics, and several pieces of chart paper around the room. It would just take longer and it would be harder to manage the record of the project. But, to balance tech use, the paper-based approach works, especially of you take photos of the work and drop the photos in the cloud for further study or presentation.

2. Collecting Questions

The importance of Need to Know Questions cannot be overstated. They are the most fundamental way to make thinking visible and drive inquiry on both the individual and classroom levels. 


Forms and survey tools are a great way to collect questions. When it comes to choosing one tool over another, it’s important to consider what you will do with the responses.

If the response is it just to be used for a class discussion facilitated by the teacher, tools like Poll Everywhere, Mentimeter, and Padlet work great.

If students will be looking for patterns in the responses, sharing a sheet with the responses from a Google form will facilitate that process much better than the previous tools mentioned. Here's a post that explains how I collect and share responses for students to use for an inquiry foundation.

Lastly, if the goal is to provide actionable feedback to students, I would suggest a question tool on Google classroom, for example

Students contribute these questions to the group to move learning toward formulating responses and solutions to problems. Moreover, these questions are the inroad to making new connections and the basis of learning, regardless of whether it’s student-centered or teacher-centered.

3. Prior Knowledge Reflection 

Vocabulary lessons are a great way to build background. The problem is that we often have more words to teach than time with our students, and not every lesson can be about building background through vocabulary.

The problem isn’t really the amount of time we have to teach new terms and concepts. It’s the struggling through a lesson based on a lot of guessing. Pretesting can provide teachers with the information that informs the planning process, so how can technology facilitate this formative process? How can the pretest become an important part of the learning process for the students?

Tools like Poll Everywhere and Mentimeter have word cloud generators built into to their presentation view options of the audience responses. I take a simple sorting strategy – words I know, words I think I know, words I don’t know – to figure out the the pressing need of the class. Students complete sort on an individual Google doc and paste the “don’t know” words into a poll that generates a word cloud.




The lesson then becomes about the largest words in the word cloud because those words are the most concerning for the class. And the assessment is driven by student reflection that ultimately determines how the teacher will allocate time. This is as student-centered as anything. The only more student-centered would be if the words originated from the students and their own sources they found to help respond to a problem they chose.

4. Interest Inventory

We often hear that choice is something that students should experience in their education, but it’s less often that you see what it looks like. I try to give students several opportunities to make choices when they do projects, and I’ve found that letting them choose organically is not always the best for them.

I call this Google Form an interest inventory because it helps students move from their interests to topics while deciding what to focus on for their project. Students select the checkboxes that apply to their interests before choosing the topic and the format to present. Here’s an example of this form in action.




Like I said, I’ve given students opportunities to choose whatever they want, given a set of criteria to keep it relevant to the unit or lesson, and they often struggle. Providing lists of potential topics is part of establishing choice in student-centered learning. The best thing about the interest inventory is that it allows students to focus on how they connect to the lesson, which is a central aspect of student-centered learning.

5. Text Analysis 

Crowdsourcing doesn’t need to include everyone’s response, but it’s great whenever possible because then it acts more like a formative assessment. When it comes to text analysis, we often use Google Docs for shared notes or the comment tool in Drive if it’s a PDF. But those tools cannot visualize the group’s decisions.

Prism is a tool developed by the University of Virginia Scholar’s lab. It allows you to crowdsource interpretation of a document. In one of the visualization modes, for example, the text becomes larger the more people highlight a word, similar to how a word cloud works.




6. Reading Comprehension

This is another activity that uses the Google Drive PDF preview comment tool. It can facilitate reading comprehension strategies like, questioning, predicting, summarization, and using text evidence to support claims.

For prediction, I like to use an activity called first lines. Learners read the first line of each paragraph and make a prediction about the main idea of the paragraph. The comment tool can be used to write the predictions so all of the students can see everyone’s work. As students work in groups on a class shared reading, the teacher can monitor their comment posts and move around the room to support students as needed.




Shared reading activities also work well when students are assigned roles. Such roles include, for example, reader, note taker, question recorder, and curriculum reviewer. As the reader reads aloud, the other student roles can document their work with the preview comment tool.

7. Image Analysis

The Google Drive preview comment tool also works on image files. I often ask students to find images based on the lesson topic and upload them to a shared Google Drive folder where they can use the comment tool to add comments.




Since the tool is used to select areas of an image, it facilitates analysis strategies that require students to find significant parts of an image, illustration, or cartoon. Students can then explain the significance of the part of the image.

This type of activity works well as a rotation. Set the timer for 30 seconds and have them rotate from their previously assigned image. Half way through the rotation, change up the activity to move toward replying to the comments left by their peers.

8. Formulating Arguments

Making an emotionally safe space to learn is not easy. We want kids to take risks and learn from their mistakes, but they often feel judged and rated based on the content-based outcomes. These conditions make it especially hard to teach kids to be more constructive with their argumentative responses – a scary space filled with many potential correct answers.

Verso App is a tool that protects student anonymity while providing teachers with the names of respondents. It’s perfect for allowing students to focus on the ideas and the elements of the argument instead of the person.

Teachers and students can add comments, click the like button, or flag responses or comments if they are unacademic. The progress report gives students engagement data, which is based on how many likes they receive on their comments. The idea is to reward constructive discussion.

9. Q&A

The Q&A tool is becoming standard for presentations. Google Slides has an audience participation tool, Poll Everywhere has a Q&A, and Mentimeter also has tool for receiving questions from the audience.

These tools often have other features that allow audience members to up vote or like a comment or question. This sort of feature adds another level of participation from students because it engages them in the questions of the room, often their peers, and allows them to share their input when they may not have the confidence to be detailed about their concerns.

I like Poll Everywhere for Google Slides because it integrates well via an extension. This allows users to access their polls and make them a slide in a presentation without leaving Slides. Mentimeter integrates well with Microsoft Powerpoint, so I would definitely use it if I were not a G Suite user. Both of these tools have comparable features and get the job done well.

10. Making Slides

Alan November says,“The world has enough PowerPoints.” Once upon a time, students needed to learn how to make slide presentations and the lesson stopped at that product. They had peer and teacher examples, but that’s about it. They didn’t have the vastness of the Internet that we experience today.

Looking at how other people make presentations is a good way to learn how make better slides. Students (and many adults) need learn the conventions, and they can do so by browsing google images for clips from slides that are published on sites like SlideShare or SlidePlayer.

Making new slides from slide clips on Google Images saves valuable time, exposes students to what other people are doing outside their school, and lets them compare different slide designs and content choices. You can make it a whole class activity by using the shared folder image upload explained in previous items on this list.

Students can also rework old PowerPoints — we all a few hanging around, of course. This is a great activity to help teachers use what they have to make the lesson more student-centered.

  • Make a copy of the file.
  • Share it with students. 
  • Instruct them to move the text in the slide to the speaker notes.
  • Students can find images that best go with slide.
These lessons become more about the choices the students are making — the process — and less about producing a product that doesn’t hold the same value it once did, like PPT presentations for a grade.

Check out this article for more ideas on how rethink the way you use cloud presentation apps like Google Slides.

11. Interactive Maps and Timelines 

The process of making a slide presentation, map, or timeline, to name a few examples, teaches you far more than being an audience to one. So, why wouldn’t we just have students make this products and assess the learning via the process and presentation of the product? It saves time, and students are more engaged.

Knight Labs has the best tools for making timelines, story maps, and other products with Google Apps. The Lab provides you with a Google Sheets template as well a the way to process it into a professional product for free. Try it out. The directions on the website are very straightforward.

Here’s an example of a Knight lab timeline my students made. This article also includes some explanation as to how we made it.

I’ve also see much success with Google My Maps. It’s a bit easier to use than the Knight Lab process, and the possibilities with mapping are limited by time and imagination. Try it with your math or science classes. I’m sure that mapping provides several opportunities to pull real data for the formulas and concepts you need to teach.

Continue the Discussion

If you have anything to offer about the strategies presented above, please share in the comments below. Also, please share questions, too. I will do my best to answer them, and sometimes your questions lead me to writing the next article.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Convert PDFs to Google Docs - and 5 Other Tools for Learning

My father called me to ask if there was a way to turn a JPEG into a PDF. I told him that there were a few ways we can do it and that I should just come over and see what he’s trying to accomplish. It’s the best way to coach someone on technology issues.

When he told me that he needed to scan receipts to share via Google Drive, I suggested that we install the new Adobe Scan app on his phone. This worked perfectly and cut out about two steps and a piece of hardware for my father who doesn’t need extra headaches over hardware and software. Who does?


Helping my father sort out his issue with converting to PDF got me thinking about how far these tools have come. It also got me thinking about how many tools we actually do not need to accomplish some of the tasks we face as teachers in connected classrooms.

My favorite PDF conversion trick is to open a Google doc in drive by right clicking on the file and selecting open with Google Docs. Most files that were originally created in word or Google docs and then converted to PDF will convert to a doc file rather easily. But this wasn’t always the case because I can remember when Google Drive could barely convert a word doc without severely messing up the formatting.

This way of converting PDFs to Google Docs is a sort of a hack. If you open the PDF and then select open with in the upper toolbar, you don’t get the same option. You get whatever apps are pre-installed in your Google Drive or whatever apps you’ve installed to convert PDFs. But after trying several of them, right clicking within Google drive and selecting to open with Google docs has been the cleanest way to do it.


Some of these PDF tools, however, could be very helpful for classroom teachers. Let’s look at five tools I do not want to live without in the 21st-century connected classroom.

1. Print to PDF

If you’re looking for a way to print content from a website, look no further. Print friendly and PDF is a Google Chrome extension that will make any website ready to print with one click. And if you don’t want to print it, you can download a PDF instead.

When you click the extension while visiting the web page you want to print or save to PDF, a window opens that allows you to edit the images and delete the elements of the page that you don’t want. This feature is nice because sometimes you don’t want all of the links that go in a post, or perhaps you don’t want all of the images or text. Most chunks of content can be deleted to clean up the document.


Maybe you want the images but you want them to be a smaller size. You can adjust the size of all the images at once by selecting a different scale percentage in the toolbar across the top of the window. The same goes for the size of the text.

One of the nicer features of this extension is how the title of the page and the URL are at the very top of the first page and can’t be deleted. I like this feature because sometimes I have to add the URL so my students can refer back to the site from which we got the content. It’s also just good modeling to show my students that we include the back link when we use someone’s content. This could be better than giving them credit because it’s giving them a direct link back to their site – a drop of link juice for their site's authority. When was the last time a works cited page had the authors source material on speed dial for client referrals?

If you need to email the PDF, there’s an email button built in to the toolbar, as well. I haven’t needed to use this feature much with students, but it’s very easy to see how this could be helpful for someone who lives by the email workflow.

2. Dochub

I’ll admit that Dochub was a little buggy in the beginning, but I saw that it was a small company with a good idea and lots of potential. Wow, am I glad that I stuck with it for the past four years because it’s now my go-to for editing PDFs.

Dochub is great for adding or removing pages from a PDF document. It’s can also facilitate adding or removing content from a PDF. There’s no need to print something, tape a piece of paper over the part you don’t want, and recopy the document. Dochub allows you to do it digitally and save the edited file to Google Drive.


I like to add questions and comments in the margins of readings that I pull from the web. This also includes adding symbols or icons like a pencil on paper to various parts of documents where students may need a cue to make a note of something or to refer to their skills packets.


And this is just the free version. If you needed more features like signing documents securely, the paid versions of Dochub do that, too.

3. Google Drive Previewer

The new PDF preview features in Google Drive are perfect. I know this has nothing to do with converting PDFs, but it has a lot to do with using PDFs in a new way for learning activities. Let me explain.

Remember the content I pulled off the Internet with the Print Friendly and PDF Chrome extension? Picture this .. it’s in a Team Drive folder that students can access. They are assigned sections of the reading (or whatever the content may be) and you ask them to use the comment tool to write “need to know” questions about anything in their assigned section of the content. The teacher can watch the students work and reply to comments as they are posted.


It’s amazing how much teaching and learning can happen when students are charged with asking questions. Now, the lesson is about uncovering the content instead of covering it. We can all see the questions, responses, discussion, and the connection between the text and the need to know information.

The comment tool in the Drive preview also works for image files. This opens new doors for establishing thinking routines, making thinking visible, and learning with others because the decisions of each learn are clear and available to their peers.


In effect, the expectations are better reinforced when students see an example from their classmate that passed my examination versus an exemplar provided by the teacher. If you teach teenagers, like I do, then you know that an idea from a peer is far more “sticky” than one from me.

4. Adobe Mobile App

This is the app I showed my father. The best two things about it is how hard it works to scan a clean image and the ability to share via almost whatever app you want. For my students, and my Dad, this means sharing via Google Drive.

The app uses your device’s camera to scan the document. It recognizes the document and automatically locates the edges before taking the pic. Then, the app will recognize the text and adjust the tracking of the document to straighten it out.

If you want to scan several pages, it will recognize one page after another and not make the PDF until you touch the “Save PDF” button in the upper right. It’s easy to crop, delete pages, change the order of the scans for a multi-page PDF, or edit the color or orientation. I think you get the point.

5. Make PDFs With Google Slides

Let’s think beyond a slideshow app and use Google Slides as a publishing platform. It doesn’t matter whether you need to publish digital or print media, Google Slides is the best free app that gives you a clean slate for your students’ work. In my toolbox, it’s only second to Adobe InDesign, but I don’t need powerful apps like Adobe CC for my history students.

Slides can be used to make ebooks. In fact, I’m using it to make my first ebook about learning strategy templates with Google apps. I changed the page to 8.5 by 11 inches and made a design template for the content. This particular ebook shares 30 templates on Google Slides, Docs, and Drawing – all based on learning strategies that work. 


What else can we do with PDFs?

I’ve already written about using Slides in different ways, so I won’t get too deep. But I want to mention that individual slides can be downloaded as PDFs, and the print options open doors for rethinking how to use Slides.

Consider instructing students to use the slide for drawing or images and the speaker notes for the text. In the print settings, choose the settings that allow you to print the speaker notes and one slide per page. This becomes a great way to print all of the student work at once. More in-depth directions can be found in this article.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

17 Reasons to Use Google Keep in Your Classroom

The virtual world is upon us whether we like it or not. That means we have to take the good with the bad – students are not easily focused on what traditional classrooms put in front of them. Their attention is increasingly being robbed from classwork by notifications and apps that offer more engagement.


I know these issues because I suffer, too. We're all wondering what people are doing all of the world, and it's great to learn from interacting with our friends online, watching YouTube videos, or listening to podcasts on the way to work. The trouble comes when this increase in information processing shifts our abilities away from staying on task and being responsible for our commitments.

Apps like Google Keep offer solutions to some of the problems faced by both students and teachers in the classroom. Here are some of the ways Keep can be used to alleviate the stress created by fast-paced schedules and online access to instructional materials.

1. Reminders (Time Management)

This one is my favorite. I use reminders on a regular basis for anything necessary. From remembering to bring $20 for a gift to picking up my son at school, I set reminders for whatever I cannot stand to miss.

Let's say your students need to reflect on their weekly work every Thursday night to prepare for a class meeting on Friday. They can choose the best time of day to receive the reminder and click the link to go directly to the Google form, doc, etc, so they can complete the task right away.


Students can benefit by setting reminders to work on assignments, bring in certain materials, or to attend tutorials. Sure, many of us can write these things down on a calendar, but the reminder feature on Keep can appear as a notification on your phone or pop up based on a GPS location. Plus, the reminder can contain the file the student needs to work on.

I mentioned above that we are dealing with media that are constantly robbing our students' attention. This goes both ways, too. We are dealing with trading time. The time in a day can be spent on different activities that add value to our lives. Reminders help keep me making the right choices in the long term, especially when I'd rather be doing something else.

2. Make Lists

It seems that many people run their days on to-do lists. Making a list in Google Keep includes check boxes and a strike-through when you check the box. The best part is the ability to archive the list or reuse it for routine tasks.

Students could use a list made from the directions for a project. Simply select the text you want to send to Keep, and right click to bring up the menu from which you can choose “Save to Keep.” There may be some work that needs to be done to format the note, but most of the job is done automatically.


3. Organizing Notes

I still remember the excitement of getting a new Trapper Keeper at the back-to-school sale. It was a binder with a simple wraparound piece to keep it closed. We kept notebooks, paper, folders, and a pencil bag inside. It had everything I needed inside.

This same childhood feeling came back to me after I started using Keep to organize my projects, ideas, notes, and websites I may need to reference routinely. It was just so easy to color code notes and write tags to filter the notes with one click.


If you’ve ever seen a student take a photo of your slide projected on the screen. This can be a very efficient way to collect the information, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t find it later or don’t spend much time processing it. By taking a photo (or screenshot) and labeling it, you’ve thought about bigger ideas that relate to the information. This is already a step ahead of most note-taking practices, especially those practices that are more on the side of recording information than distilling it into a note.

4. Setting Goals

We all talk about goal setting at one point or another. It’s the only way we learn how to manage all of our tasks and make progress on our aspirations. But how many times have you taught kids how to leverage tools like the reminder feature to avoid procrastination.

Sometimes it’s not the right time to do a task. Perhaps it doesn’t fit with our schedule or we are not emotionally fit to initiate and persist. This is exactly the organizational skills our students need to learn. When is the best time to complete a set of tasks for an assignment?

The best time to complete the task depends on the individual. The best time to schedule your time to complete all or some of an assignment is when the assignment is assigned. If I am assigned something on Tuesday to be completed by Thursday, I know that Tuesday night is the best time for me to complete some or all of the tasks. I can set a reminder to complete it at 7:30 p.m. and include a link to the materials in the Google Keep note. When it pops up on my phone, I’ll be at the right place and ready to work.

As students practice setting work completion goals in this way, they can begin to calibrate their time management. Essentially, using Keep in this way becomes a way to dial in the accuracy of their assumptions on their work habits.

5. Collaboration

Keeping people on the same page has never been so easy. The ability to collaborate is a standard of cloud computing and ultimately the best use of these platforms. For students working on group projects or cooperative learning activities, the ability to share notes is crucial to their work flow.

Google Keep allows you to share notes with other Google account holders. Simply select the collaboration icon at the bottom of the note. The owner of the note with be in parenthesis and account icons are visible for easy identification of collaborators.



I even collaborate with myself if it’s a reminder I don’t want to miss. Perhaps you have a Google account for school (or work) and a personal account, shared notes between accounts will ensure that you get reminders on your app. The app only shows one account at a time, so switching between accounts can affect your reminder visibility via the app.


6. Character Recognition

The text from an image is recognizable by Google Keep. If you upload an image to a note, click the three horizontal dots for more options. One of the options is to “Grab image text.” This tool places the image text in the note.

Grabbing image text can be helpful if you need to transcribe the image text or if you take a photo of a slide during a presentation and want the text in your note. The note text can then be used to add information to a Google Doc or Slides presentation (keep reading for more on this).


7. Bullets to slides

Let’s say you have to prepare for a presentation and you organize your ideas and materials in Google Keep. You can make a slide presentation from the information in a Keep note. The Keep icon is on the right sidebar of the Slides app waiting to be clicked. It opens your notes within Slides, allowing you to click the three vertical dots and add information to a slide.


This doesn’t just go for Slides, either. You can access your notes and add information to a Google doc, too. Perhaps you’re working on a lesson and you want to bring together ideas you’ve been collecting for an upcoming project. The information is ready when you are, including images and links.

8. Sketches

Drawings are great for sketching ideas and putting a more personal touch on a note. They can be made on both the browser and mobile apps. Although the drawing options are limited, it does include changes to the pen size, color, and backgrounds – grid, lines, dots, and none.



The drawings can be sent via email or text message. If you need to illustrate the directions or collect a sketch from someone, sometimes text messages are the easiest way to do it. The drawing is sent as a file, not a link to the Google Keep post.

If your class uses Google Drive, try sharing drawings to a folder in Team Drive to collect your students’ work. The folder in Drive can be viewed as a slideshow for discussion. This workflow would be good for a variety activities. For example, have one student face the screen and describe to a student facing away from the screen what to draw and where. Activities like this help students develop team skills, technology proficiency, and more detailed descriptions.

9. Drawings on Images

Google images is full of slides from slide presentations used by teachers and professors from all over the world. These slides are easy to save in Keep where annotations can be made with the drawing tools. Just like making a note with a drawing, you can draw or write on an image, like adding a star or check mark next to the points on a slide clipping that you want to focus your attention.


10. Reuse Comments

Making comments on student work is often a matter writing similar statements in different places. I store the rubric level descriptors in Google Keep notes so I can copy and paste into Google Doc comments. This saves time and establishes a routine with the students to refer to the rubric. As long as the level descriptors are specific enough, the feedback will be actionable.


11. Vocabulary

Quizlet is awesome. I love it for so many reasons, and Keep can be a more integrated way to organize vocabulary study. If students transfer the word list to a note, they can have the words to quickly reference as well as the link to a Quizlet deck in the same note.

Users can then label the note with the subject and the unit to further organize their study materials. Over the course of a few years, they may amass quite a few notes with lots of key information. Considering most of the learning materials traditional approaches would use get recycled or otherwise left behind, this is a game changer for long term resource organization.

12. Note Cards

This would have been perfect in grad school. I can’t tell you how many times I had to use the same research on different papers. If could have done a keyword search on my own term paper notecards, that would have been amazing.

Plus, paper note cards don’t have clickable links to resources. Sure, the tactile nature of paper cards is important to people. Take a photo of the paper note card and add it to a note in Google Keep. Then add the links and label accordingly or title it so you can search for it later. If you handwriting is neat enough, you could transcribe the note card to the Keep note and optimize the searchability of your notes.

13. Journaling

Writing in a journal is different than note-taking. It’s challenges the writer to make deeper connections with new information and prior knowledge to strengthen their understandings. It’s best used for concepts and big ideas, which is perfect for Google Keep.

In use #3 on this list, I suggest using color to organize notes. The colors could relate to themes. One of the powerful effects of journaling is the organization and reorganization of information into new and old groupings.

14. Curate Web Resources

If you have the Keep Google Chrome browser extension, you’ll be able to open Keep and save the URL without leaving the website you’re currently using. It lets you write a Keep note and label the note to organize it among your other notes. 


Students don’t do themselves any favors when they come across useful resources and close out of the tabs on their browser when they’ve found what they need. The process of finding what you need puts us in front of several useful resources. When you find one that looks good for a future question, save it with a relevant label and continue your search.

15. Transcribe Voice Recordings

The mobile app allows you to make a voice recording note. The note can be transcribed automatically, but you’ll still need to edit the note to fix the spelling and punctuation issues. But this shouldn’t stop you, especially if the spoken word flows better for you.

Students should be encouraged to write with voice recordings and transcription tools if they are not good typers or loose ideas because they write too slowly. I type really fast but still use the voice tools because it’s a different approach that maintains words on the page when my brain-to-hands connection is a little tired or uninspired.

16. Access Notes on All Devices

In the Mobile Age of the Internet, not much is more important than WiFi and access to our tools whenever and wherever we need to be productive. For many people, this means accessing information on different devices, depending on when and where we are working.

My students use Chromebooks during class and their phones for most of their connected productivity elsewhere. If they use Google Keep on their Chromebook to set a reminder for a homework assignment, for example, they can receive the reminder on their phone if the Keep app is installed and they are logged into the right Google account on the app.

17. Search Your Notes With Keywords

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been trying to train my father to use the search tool in Google Drive to find documents. He sees how quickly I find things, especially when they’re not labeled well or in the proper folders. The problem is that he’s in his sixties and it takes a lot of rewiring to get him to embrace the search tool as a primary means of finding files.


Our kids are more prepared to embrace the value in developing effective search skills. Like Google searches, Keep will search titles and the note content to serve you results that relate to your keywords. This means, using good keywords in the notes as well as meaningful titles is crucial to making highly searchable notes.

Why Google Keep?

The best part about using Keep with my students is the amount of connected learning skills they get to develop through productivity suites like G Suite Edu. It essentially does not matter if they take what they’ve learned and apply it to a Microsoft platform because the concepts about search engines and keywords are still the same. Plus, most of these tools do the same thing with slight variations or added features.

Google Keep is sticky notes for the mobile connected worker or learner. Evernote has more features and acts more like a notebook with editing tools, and OneNote is very much like a digital binder. These tools are great, but the integration Keep has with other apps is ideal for G Suite users. I guess if I worked for a company or school that used Microsoft, this list would be about OneNote. But I think the reasons would be very similar, if not the same.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Classroom Websites With the Student User Experience in Mind


Three clicks to content is the rule, or so they say. I learned this after searching about how many clicks deep users will often go to access content online. Why was I searching this? I’ll explain.

When I first started teaching, I tried to put everything my students needed on the Web. But only about 3 to 5 percent of them took advantage. The rest acted confused or struggled to remember the assignments -- or at least where to find them.

Will I ever solve this problem?

I couldn’t relate to this at all. Content on the Web would have been a dream for many of us who went to high school before schools had Internet in every classroom.

Regardless of what I thought, all that mattered was my students’ experience and that what I was doing for them was not working. It was back to the drawing board, literally -- I drew out the click pathways a student had to take to complete an assignment. It wasn't hard, but it wasn't as easy as they were used to.

Think Like a Web Designer

The next phase of in this project focused on the layout and design of the websites I was visiting. What were they doing that brought me to their site? What did I see first? Did I want to stay? Why? These questions and more led me to a few understandings.

Web designers aim to make sites that provide users the information they seek without making the experience confusing or tedious. Although the three-click rule is not necessarily true in the sense that it applies to every user and site, it provides me as a non-designer a metric as I developed my classroom website.

I wasn’t creating an experience for students that made it intuitive to meet my expectations. The URL was hard to remember. The site layout did not guide users toward the content I wanted them to access. And there was no clear incentive for them to spend time getting used to the Web site design for their success in the course.

Students prefer to access information online using smart phones, tablets, computers, and perhaps something else that's been developed and become popular since the publish of this post. What they don't want is to work too hard to get there. Who does?

First Steps Toward a Solution

As I scratched my head and tried new things for another year, I had the bright idea to just ask the students what they wanted. What were they willing to do to access the information online? Their response inspired me and guided my mission to provide quick and easy access.

After quite a bit of discussion, it came down to the simple fact that the students could choose to find the information on my site or choose to go on social media or watch a YouTube video. This was the first time I realize that I was competing for their attention

I shared with them what I had learned about the three quick rule. Most of them agreed that there was some truth to the rule, but they also said that if they really wanted to see something online, they were willing to click as many times as it takes.
The students agreed that they would use the classroom website, or almost any site, if the content is no more than three clicks away.

Culling the EdTech Tool List

During the discussion I had with my students, one student said, “We just have too many logins and passwords to remember.” Although I wanted to disagree, it didn’t matter what I thought. This whole inquiry was about the student user experience.

Luckily for everyone this was also around the same time when a lot of new online tools were excepting the one click Google login and account set up. I looked through all the different tools that we used and started prioritizing based on how often we use the tool and how easy it was to log in, which meant whether not you could log in with Google.

Quizlet was the first app to get the gold star on my new quest. It had an app, you could log in with google, and it was (and still is) very useful for both students and teachers. Google Drive and remind followed Quizlet on the list for the same reasons.

As tools were dropped from my list, I found other ways to do learning activities. This was often just a matter of rethinking the way I used the Google apps suite. Slides was then used to make posters and photo essays. Docs was then used to do card sorting activities, which simply meant inserting tables and having students color code or copy and paste text.

Taking apps off the list of tools we used was good for my focus, and it certainly alleviated some of the confusion that students had experienced in our nearly paperless classroom.

Setting Up My Course Sites

My students needed a place to land, so I showed them how to bookmark my website or save it on their home screens. One student even said that since she sees the shortcut on her home screen, she thinks about the class more often.This may seem like a superficial observation, but it speaks to the impact of our kids increasingly virtual world.

Next, I made an assignment blog with BlogSpot and embedded a feed on the homepage of my website. For those of you who are familiar with Google classroom, I had basically made a Google Classroom two years before it was released. Teachers using Moodle thought I was wasting my time. Most of them now use Google Classroom to support their students who all have Google accounts and often Chromebooks, too.

Like Google classroom, I used the assignment blog to communicate various information with students including links to Google Drive folders to which they needed to turn in their work. If you’re keeping count, that’s three clicks to not just content but actually turning in the work, as well.

I made separate content sites for each course that I taught and linked them in the horizontal navigation of this landing site. This still kept them three clicks to content.
  1. First click on their device to the landing site.
  2. Second click to choose the course that they are taking.
  3. Third click to choose the unit and lessen their currently studying.
At this point the only thing bogging down our BYOD classroom was app updates, device specific problems, and students confusing there apps with too many different Google accounts. Luckily for all of us, Google was about to come out with a solution they called Classroom.

Along Came Google Classroom

My explanation of how I built my sites and drove student traffic to them may have seemed like it was all very ideal and went smoothly all the time. It did not.

Sharing documents and managing document permissions with Google Drive was not easy before Google classroom. Almost every other day I had to teach a student how to make a copy of a document from my website. Little did I know, I could’ve put copy links on my website by replacing the word “view” at the end of the URL with the word “copy.” I’ve learned a few hacks since then.

With Classroom, I was able to eliminate the lesson blog and a landing site. I kept the course sites because students still needed those sites for the content, but I’ve since adjusted how I train them to access the course sites.

Instead of the students bookmarking the landing site, I encourage them to install the Google Classroom app and bookmark the course content site. This may seem like a small change from the previous routine, but it matched what a lot of other teachers were doing.

The best part about using Classroom and the Google apps suite is the familiarity that students in 2018 bring to my course. I’ve made changes in my routines to match what they have done with other teachers because it cuts down on learning tech, making more time for learning social studies.

Does the three-click rule matter?

The rule was useful because I needed something to focus the user experience on my sites. Making the adjustments with my students helped me consider their experience 100 percent of the time.

Three-clicks to content became a promise to not make sites that suck to use. After all, they can choose my site or a few clicks to social media. Whether it's right or wrong, we are in an attention economy and need to design educational resources accordingly. 

Currently, I us bit.ly to shorten links and provide more memorable URLs -- or at least shorter ones to type. We start on classroom and branch out to Team Drive or content site resources, depending on the nature of the lesson activity.

I like to design learning activities the way organic traffic flows as opposed to the social media driven approach. This way, the routine of typing URLs in the Omnibox becomes a bit more second nature, which is means that my students are more likely to find the answer to their questions initially on their own. Then, the conversation is about questioning the answers and sources in lieu of using the teacher is an encyclopedia.

I hope this process and history has helped. I truly believe that classroom website design should be looking at the user experience to develop healthy opportunities for our children.

Please comment below about anything, especially what you've learned from student user experience.