Tuesday, September 29, 2015

10 Google Classroom Routines that Work

The school year is starting off more and more smoothly as my new groups of kids are more acclimated to apps for learning like Google Classroom. It's also nice to think about not having to learn an entire new platform – only the updates and added features.


Here are some routines we use in our Google Classroom.

1. Lesson Plans

Maybe save the three-page narrative for blogger, but Classroom is a great place to write lesson plans for a student audience. I write one post per week to avoid clutter on the stream and include essential questions, activities, materials, and homework assignments.

Google Apps for Lesson Plans

2. Stream Comments

Students can make comments on the stream. This is awesome because if they have a question, I get an email when the stream post is made, which means I can respond in a timely manner. The other benefit is that sometimes students have the same question and can see that it was asked and perhaps a response has already been posted.

3. Discussion Questions

It's important to be able to manage student responses and provide feedback in a timely manner. The Question tool is quick to use and allows teachers to comment and assign a score to each post. 

Discussion Ideas

4. PDF of Slide Notes

Providing the slides or notes can be very powerful. It's a great way to teach note taking skills like restatement and labeling groupings of details or ideas. Sometimes we take our work elsewhere to take in a new environment. 

5. Link to Drive Folder

One of the easiest ways to share documents among students or from the crowd to one place is a Google Drive folder. Set the permissions to "anyone with link the can edit," and you can receive rich content like images. Click the images and Drive will provide a slideshow. Who needs PowerPoint, right?

Corwdsource with the Drive App

6. Sub Plans

It's not the neatest way to do it, but it's quick and easy. Right click and print the stream. It will PDF or print whatever is loaded. I usually highlight the important parts and make notes to help the substitute understand the expectations. 

7. Share YouTube Playlists

Why share video after videos on the stream. Share a YouTube playlist in the "About" tab via link. I usually make a playlist for each unit. 

8. Share an "Auto-Copy"

The last chunk of text on a doc URL is "edit." Change "edit" to copy on the doc URL and share it if you want to ensure that the recipient makes a copy. When the "copy" link is clicked, users will be prompted to make a copy. 


Other Google Drive Hacks

9. Quizlet Decks Folder

Why share each deck separately on the stream? It clutters and causes confusion. Put a link to a Quizlet deck folder in the "About" tab. Now, students know exactly where to go to practice vocabulary and background information.

10. Email Blast

This one is self explanatory. Sure, I would prefer to send short messages through Remind, but Classroom sets me up to quickly email a group of students with a similar issue like missing work, for example. 

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

4 Questions My Students Can Answer

What's more important? That the teacher does everything "right," or that the students master the curriculum goals?


We're past the getting-to-know-you stage of the school year, and teachers are already writing their evaluation goals and self assessments. That's why I think it's time for me to be very clear about what I expect from myself professionally. 

Although I'm in a new school, in a new state, I won't let go of what I learned working in Denton, Texas. The most important of which was that it's about what the students are learning. Sure, the teacher's tasks play a crucial role, but it only matters if the students understand the expectations and are motivated to learn.

What Motivates?

We are often trying to figure out new ways to motivate students, and Dan Pink's autonomy, mastery, and purpose are widely accepted as the defining conditions. But the question still remains: How can we measure motivation?

I don't propose that the following questions measure motivation, but I think that they can measure our progress toward setting up the conditions for students to be motivated.   

Furthermore, students need to become self motivated. For this, a thinking routine is necessary to establish a culture of learning that allows students to develop intrinsic motivation. 

Here are four questions that I have restated from my experience collecting data on what students are learning. They were originally designed by Look2Learning and rephrased from the student's point of view. 

1. What am I doing?

No matter how many times we explain the expectations, there's always a student who needs clarification. Imagine a classroom in which the expectation is for students to be able to communicate what they are doing.

Make it routine that they come in and spend time observing and thinking about what it will take to complete a learning task before they ask clarifying questions. Another expectation that can support this one is to have students state one part that they understand about the task before asking a clarifying question. 

2. What am I learning by doing it?

It's too much to ask learners to complete tasks if they don't know what knowledge they should take from the experiences. Again, like all of these questions, teachers are doing their jobs when students can respond confidently and accurately to these questions.

If the teacher is sitting behind his desk, all of the students can answer these questions, and there's a way to collect evidence of learning, the teacher, in my opinion, is doing his job. Whoever said that teachers need to be up and moving all the time was pushing what works for them on the profession – not exactly differentiation, huh? 

3. How will I know when I'm successful?

This is often what kids are wondering when they ask about what they got on a test, right? Okay, probably a little too idealistic for most students. It's possible, however, that a classroom culture can value specific feedback in lieu of a number or letter that will point to nothing but perhaps a fleeting elation or a detrimental deflation of confidence.

Aside from training students to be able to reflect on this question, rubrics and clear expectations are a great place to start. The goal is to be able to answer this question before the work is turned in. 

4. How can I apply what I am learning?

Once students know what they are doing, understand the purpose, and feel confident that they can succeed, it's time for a life lesson. It may seem like there isn't enough time to take curriculum to the world beyond a math textbook, for example, but it's in the transfer of a concept from one context to another that the true value of education is realized. 

I will work hard to ensure my students can answer these four questions. I will also reflect on the results to make adjustments in instruction to increase achievement. I hope my daughter's teachers do the same. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

10 Ways Google Drive Supports Learning

I still remember the first time we used Google Docs to write an essay. After my students figured out how to share files, I was sold on the ability to provide feedback without halting the learning process.


That year, I tried several digital tools to communicate with students and provide them access to learning materials. It became frustrating for all of us when it seemed like every tool fell a little short of the efficiency we needed.

I learned that the most important question to ask when choosing instructional technology is about how it supports learning. When it comes to web-based platforms and apps, we need to ask the same. In particular, we need to know how many of the learning activities it can support.

What can we learn by using Google Drive?


1. Write

Docs offers tools to research and define words – supporting the writing process without have to leave the writing space. Other apps in the drive suite have these tools, as well.

2. Comment

The ability to make comments on student work is one of the most important things a teacher can do. Providing feedback without the learner losing possession of the document for much time (if at all) is priceless. Comments can receive replies and a history is kept for future access.

3. Share

Sharing learning materials is much easier with the release of Classroom. Without it, files could still be shared via link or direct share to an account. I still link files from Drive to my websites because I can edit the document in Drive without having to update the website link – all of which can be done with my phone

4. Present

Google Slides is one of my favorite tools. With Drive's useful features and the basic format of PowerPoint, it's as commonplace in a 21st century classroom as a whiteboard. And don't think it's all about projecting the lesson on a screen. It supports collaboration and creativity among our students. Here are 10 activities with Google Slides.


5. Make Images

Drawing is my go-to for editing photos and making images for sites, lessons, and this blog. Whether it's the cropping and shapes tools or the file formats for download, Drawing seems to provide the most efficient set of essential tools. It's not Adobe, but it's free, in the cloud, and supports collaboration. Check out these interactive maps my students make.

6. Organize 

In general, Drive is the best place to store and organize files because it's accessible wherever you have Internet access.

One of my favorite organizational features on Drive is the ability to share an entire folder via link. My classes use folder links as a drop box for instructional activities.

My other favorite feature is the folder color option. I color code my classes for ease of use. For example, Modern World History is red, so the Drive folder is red, the background image on Classroom is red, and the Sheets tabs at the bottom are red. 

7. Map 

Making maps is not just for social studies. Literature, math, and science – to name a few – deserve the opportunity to gain a spatial context for the works they study. If your GAFE account does not have My Maps as an option, type "mymaps.google.com" into the omnibox to access the tool.

Here are some resources for My Maps – getting started, reasons to use My Maps.


8. Survey

Whether you're polling the class for general information or administering a summative assessment, Forms is a versatile way to assess student knowledge and needs. Use add-ons like Flubaroo for automatic grading, and the time is once again saved for more student-teacher interaction. 

9. Connect 

I've said it several times in the previous list items. Drive supports collaboration. It easily allows us to connect our ideas on one document or share separate documents for feedback or compilation. I couldn't imagine doing projects efficiently without Drive. Most importantly, files can be shared with the world via link.

10. Search

The search tool allows you to research without leaving a Drive app. This is particular important when students are in the flow of writing and just need to check a fact quickly. Keeping them in the same work space reduces the urge to give in to distraction. 

Check out "6 Classroom Routines to Search Like a Ninja." 




Thanks for reading, and please share about how you use Drive for learning in the comments below.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Teacher Sites | To LMS or Not to LMS?

One of the suggestions I often get from techy teachers is to use an LMS. Well, I've done that, and it doesn't feel right. It's fine for some things, but it's not the way most of mys students stay connected to the world


We use apps outside of school. Our students use apps outside of school. Why wouldn't we just do the same in school?

Google Apps For Me

I've been a fan of Google Drive since I learned about it three years ago. Since then, I've watched the idea of collaborating on one document, for some schools, become the norm. And why wouldn't it?


Connecting with our students and their work as they produce it empowers them through feedback and increased audience. Isn't that always the goal? 

The frustration for me was in the sharing of documents with students and teaching them how to set up folders for the class. The concepts of file sharing and live files was hard for them, at first. We needed something else – something to manage the files for us.

That's when I turned to Edmodo and later Moodle when I realized Edmodo wasn't hearty enough for a high school history class.

Learning to Manage a System

It was my second year using Google Docs (which had just received the name change to Drive), and I was going all in with every class. Forms for quizzes, docs for essays, and slides for presentations. We had the tools to succeed, especially when I pushed it all through Moodle.


Moodle was a great platform for managing a course our administrator was good and the version was current. The only downside was the amount of time it took to initially setup a course and the technical skill it took to learn. This turned many teachers away and prevented some from ever moving away from using Moodle simply as a place to list links to materials. Google Sites (or even Docs) would have been fine for that.

Then, Google Classroom was released at the beginning of the last school year. Most of my prayers were answered. I like digital technology, but I don't want to spend too much time making it work for me and my students. Classroom was turn key and managed Drive and Gmail with students.

This year, Classroom has only gotten better. It's my choice over an LMS like Moodle for two reasons: (1) I teach face-to-face courses and Classroom can be updated with my phone as student needs are made clear, (2) Our school is GAFE, so why make it more complicated?

My New Adventure


I recently started working at a new school, in a new state. Things, for the most part, are the same. But one of things that is different is the use of Moodle. Many of the teachers have course pages. This was intimidating at first because only a few were using Classroom and teachers in my department were encouraging me to use Moodle.


I humored them and had course pages created, but I couldn't follow through. I had to stick with Classroom because it works better with a variety of apps, especially Google Drive. 

Initially, it was hard to openly go against the recommendations of my new colleagues, but I'm glad that I didn't compromise by switching back to Moodle. Plus, their Moodle was an earlier version than I had used in the past, and it didn't have all of the tools on which I was trained. 

How Do We Use Classroom?

Classroom is where I do lesson planning and material organization. Once I know the standards and essential questions, it's easy to add activities, homework, and instructions. 


The "About" tab works great for providing a link to content sites, Google Drive folders, Quizlet card deck folders, syllabus, and apps and sites we commonly use for instruction. 

My new favorite tool is the question. We can do a variety of discussions that are easy to set up in seconds. In fact, I've already done it a few times from my phone, which means I didn't have to go back to my computer, sit down, and type it out. That's huge when it comes to improvising and setting up technology. Once you sit behind the computer, you have five seconds before you start to lose the kids.

Would I Go Back to an LMS?

I would. It all depends on the version and type of course I'm teaching. Currently, I'm teaching a face-to-face classroom with lot's of potential for student activity, so my decision to stay with Google makes the most sense. 


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

10 Discussions with Google Classroom

It was only the third day of school when a girl in my modern world history class said, "Mr. Zahner, isn't there a way we can do this without paper?" As I looked around the room to see the nods of agreement, my excitement had to catch its breath before I responded.


Apparently, the school had a shortage of paper last May, and it became quite the issue. You see, I'm new to the school, and I'm new to students who are so comfortable with digital technology. 

Since we were already on Google Classroom, I suggested that we try the new question tool. Here are some of the types of discussions that my students and I will have this year. 


1. Ranking

One of the quickest ways to infuse critical thinking into a discussion is to prompt students to rank something. The important thing to remember is to expect that they provide reasons for their decisions. 

2. Predicting

Making predictions is one of those skills we need to practice regularly. Predict the outcome of an experiment. Predict the probability of heads or tails out of x coin tosses. Predict the main idea of a paragraph after reading the topic sentence. Finish off the activity by testing the predictions and following up with replies that evaluate the accuracy of the predictions.  

3. Reflecting

As far as classroom routines go, reflection should be a non-negotiable. How else are we to gain depth with anything we study? Ask students to review their notes and reflect on one thing that came easy to them and one that they was (or is) a struggle. This discussion opens up opportunity for cooperative learning.  

4. Summarizing

If your students are taking notes or internalizing information, summarizing is a great way to help them distill the main ideas and make critical connections. By sharing individual summaries on Classroom, students can observe peer responses and make comments about keywords or ask questions for clarity wherever necessary. 

5. Sharing Results

One of the most effective instructional strategies is identifying similarities and differences. When your students share their results (for almost anything, any subject), they can analyze the results as a whole class and ask questions about how some results are the same and some differ. 

6. Inquiry-Based Learning

Learning by asking questions is as critical as it gets. The fact that this even needs to be discussed is a sign of the times and how much the "wheel" has been reinvented. I like to use inquiry to start units and new topics. What better place to do it than on the stream where students will regularly check for assignments and announcements. 

7. Project Updates

Speaking of announcements ... How about project updates? When they come from your students, it's a great way to set mini-deadlines that also build intrinsic motivation.

8. Exit Tickets

If you need a quick check for understanding or a 3-2-1 reflection, why not use the question tool on Classroom? My favorite part on the tool is the ability to assign a score. 

9. Silent Discussion

Sometimes a silent discussion is all you need. make sure you don't dominate with feedback that shuts down the students. Ask probing questions to dig deeper and expect more critical thinking. 

10. Synthesis Writing

Have students start with one aspect or theme related to the lesson topic. Rotate after a minute (or so), and have students add the next detail, example, or part of a sequence as they relate to their assigned theme. Rotate as many times as there are themes. 

The App

The mobile works well, too. Even though most of my students have laptops with them, they prefer to use the mobile app because it's quick and easy to manage along with a notebook. Not to mention the text they sneak here and there. 

The image below is from a class with only eight students. This was a question I made on the fly to meet the needs of my students. 

Digital technology lets us do that!