10 Tips to Becoming a Google Drive Pro

"I can't find it!" That's almost the worst but not as bad as, "What's it called?" Does this sound familiar? Does file mismanagement slow down your team's ability to get into a state of flow? Then it's time to move out of the level of sophomoric use of cloud-based file storage and computing and start acting more like a pro.

google drive tips

Using Google Drive takes a little bit of practice and letting go of bad habits. Naming files randomly and not using the tools of the software are only a couple of the habits many desktop publishers need to forget.

Here are some of the things I do daily to ensure my time is used efficiently, and the people relying on me have what they need, when they need it.

1. Search Drive

I'm still amazed at how many people do not use search tools to their fullest. I know. Many people got into their current computer-using routines with slower computers that were running Microsoft Office and storing everything locally. I'll admit that I never liked waiting too long to search for a file using Windows Explorer (not the browser, of course). But it's different, now. We have faster computers and cloud storage that rocks.

It's easy. Type in the search bar above your files in Google Drive, and you'll get results that match almost instantly. If you don't use naming conventions, I suggest you start. This process can be difficult if your files are named "download.pdf", "download(1).pdf", etc. I'd keep the naming simple and searchable. If you consider the fact that you'll like to find your file quickly using the search bar, you're more likely to name it appropriately to begin with.

Pro Tip: If you run a business or manage a group, standardize the naming convention so that every file is named consistently, greatly reducing the clicks and scrolls it takes to find your documents.

2. List View

Forget about the grid view if you need to find things efficiently. Some say, "I like the way it looks. It's easier for me to find files." I get it, but that novelty will wear off if you rely on those files to earn a living or support an important cause.

Pro Tip: Use list view because it reads left to right – just like our eyes are trained in the Western world – and enjoy all of the additional information you get toward the right.

3. Sort By ...

Whether it's in Gmail, Google Search, or Drive, operators are a great way to refine your search. If you don't know how they work, you can simply click the down arrow to the left of the search icon on the right of the search bar. As you set parameters, the operators will appear in the search bar.

Pro Tip: In time, you may learn a few operators so you can skip the clicks and scrolls by typing it in yourself.

4. Star Files 

This is a simple tool that can come in handy when compiling a list of files from different locations. For example, if you want to reorganize files from several folders into one, star the files and click the starred files option in the left side navigation. This will put all of the files in one place so you can move them to the new folder at once.

Pro Tip: Sometimes I star files when I need to use certain images in a slide presentation or if I'm making a print of share list. 

5. Check "Recent"

I start here more often than not. Think about it. If you are working on files, no matter where they are, you are often going right back to them to sooner than later. The "Recent" sort also helps when printing or uploading to a blog or website, to name a couple examples. Instead of searching for the file, which may not have been named accordingly (see ProTip 1), just click "Recent" and your most recently accessed files will be at the top of the list.

Pro Tip: Lose a file? Did your Internet connect run away without your file making it into the proper folder? Just use "Recent" to find your work and proceed without worry.

6. Share Links

Sharing by granting access to particular individuals is helpful if the collaborators are long term and very few. If there are several files that you need to share or plan to share more in the future, share a folder link because then it's one share and done. Anything you add to the folder of the shared link will be available to anyone with the link.

Pro Tip: Share a folder with view only permissions to share resources, and a separate folder with editing permissions to receive resources. The separate folder with different permissions protects your files without taking away the opportunity for collaboration or creation of new documents.

7. Download As PDF

Adobe is useful when you don't know what the receiver of a file has to open the it. Since Adobe Acrobat is a standard for almost all users, it's safer than sending a link to a Google file format that may get messed up in a funky browser setting that you couldn't have predicted.

Pro Tip: Make a PDF format to "publish" a version. Do this to preserve the changes made to a document while making it more accessible to those who might not use Google apps.

8. Define and Research 

Two of the best features on Docs are the ability use a dictionary and do a Google search without leaving the workspace. I used to need an extra monitor or to use a book off the shelf to complete these tasks -- not that I don't like books or extra monitors. 

ProTip: Use Ctrl+Alt+Shift+I to research a highlighted selection of text.

9. Limit Folder Levels

People have different ideas about this issue, but I've made a lot of websites and  exchanged a high volume of files with a lot students and colleagues. The more folders that need to be searched to find something, the slower your tasks are completed. 

Plus, try being 35, clicking and scrolling for most of your life without getting carpal tunnel is unlikely. It's painful. When you work with high volume, limiting your hand motions to access files is key.

ProTip: Try to keep files stored to a maximum of two folder levels. If it's organization that you're concerned about, use alpha-numeric naming conventions and start folder names with 001, 002, etc. 

10. Convert Files to Google Format

Save space. If you're messing with Microsoft Word formats, knock it off. Make the full shift to Google and quit messing around.

ProTip: Formatting can be an issue when converting to Google format. Clear formatting once the document is Google. For extreme cases, clear formatting in Microsoft Word before converting. Tabs and tables are usually the worst. This process and frustration may teach you to not make documents with complex styling. Like tables? Fine. Keep it simple. 

For more about Google Drive or GAFE, check out these posts.

10 Things Google Apps for Education Replaces

5 Essential Google Apps for Your Students

10 Ways Google Drive Supports Learning

10 Google Drive Hacks for Education

How I Used Google Classroom Differently This Year

It was a lot to manage student work on Google Drive before Classroom. I did it because I believed in the power of what collaborative online word processing could do for the learning process. The feedback that I could give was so much more efficient and thorough using Google Docs. But it certainly took patience and hard work to teach students how to share in folders.

google classroom updates

The following year, Google Classroom was released and my workload lost a heavy weight. Although I had a lot to learn about what would work and what would not, Classroom allowed me to communicate and push materials to kids more efficiently than any other platform, including Edmodo and Moodle.

This year has been different. I'm in a school where students already have experience with Drive and Classroom. Many of them already had these apps on their mobile devices. It was this additional weight lifted that allowed me to focus on making better choices and make a better Google Classroom stream for my students.

Here are some of the things I've done differently this year.

1. One Agenda Post per week

The stream can become cluttered rather quickly. Since Google hasn't applied a labeling system to the stream, like Keep or Gmail, students have to scroll to find he post. I know. Poor kids. They have to scroll a bit to access the instructional agenda and materials. Give them a break. Their executive functions need some help here and there.

Honestly, one post per week helps me access it quickly, too. If I need students to access materials for only a part of a lesson, I make a separate post and delete it later. Sometimes I leave it and move the weekly post to the top, which is a helpful feature similar to pinning a post.

2. Co-Teaching

The co-teaching option was a feature that I would have loved last year – better late than never. I co-taught a special-ed history class last semester and was able to add the special-ed teacher as a teacher. Although the teacher was not much for using technology, he was able to see the efficiency. It also saved me from having to email him what we were doing every week.

This semester, I have a classroom paraprofessional access to the materials, which helps reduce the questions and time spent explaining what could be read from the stream.

3. Questions

Exit tickets. Paragraph Responses. One-sentence summaries. Thesis statements. The list goes on and on as to how this tool (type of post )can be used. The best part is how easy it is for me to read submissions, provide feedback, and return the work with a couple clicks. No papers lost. No folders taken home where the dog will come in from outside on a rainy day and ruin the work inside (true story).

Here are some ways you can use the question tool.

4. Using the "About" Page

The About page is useful for materials that you want students to access throughout the course. I used to make single item posts. I recently noticed that you can post several attachments to a post and edit the description.

This may sound like and obvious oversight, but it's how we learn. I continuously analyze the way I'm communicating with my students and making adjustments to improve wherever I can.

5. Exam Review Posts

Kids are always asking for a review. Even though I share a link to a Google Drive folder with unit guides, kids still ask for one. It can be so bad that I literally have to quiz them on the whereabouts of materials because they're not used to teachers using Classroom efficiently, yet.

That's why I make a separate post a few days before an exam. The post includes slide presentations, the unit guide, selected YouTube videos not in the presentations, and links to Quizlet decks.

6. Extension

The Chrome extension is new to me. So far, I use it when we find a resource during class and I want to push it to the students without leaving the resource (usually websites).

7. Polling

The newest addition to the Classroom platform is a step in the right direction. One question is limiting, but it's a quicker return on student feedback than reading a constructed response from a question post. For example, if you want to know the confidence level of the students, write the question response choices as a scale.

I haven't done much with this tool at this point in the year. But I can see the potential. It's quicker to make a question than forms, and perhaps eventually forms will be integrated into Classroom. How awesome would that be?

The 100 Acre Wood of Educational Technology

Integrating technology is a process. It's full of ups and downs that make it hard to see the forest for the trees. Educators, particularly classroom teachers, experience a range of emotions depending on their comfort with new technology, among other change.

integrating technology education

Reflecting on my process of making technology choices over the last few years got me thinking about a way to tell the story. In the spirit of my appreciation for elementary teachers, I chose the characters from Winnie the Pooh.

I got the idea from a casual mention about how the characters were correlated to different mental health disorders. I couldn't remember who told me, but I snooped around and found the analysis. My attention was grabbed, so here it goes.

Piglet: Anxiety

People experience anxiety in different ways and over a variety of circumstances. It could be that the user is not good at trouble shooting or navigating unfamiliar applications. My anxiety was about the time spent learning the tools as opposed to learning the content. 

Students with anxiety have benefited from the options digital learning tools have provided me in support of them. My favorite example is the time I found a girl on the verge of tears because I assigned a vocabulary quiz. I told her that she could sign into Quizlet, practice the card deck, take the quiz as many times as necessary, and that I would consider it done. She was so excited to tell me the next morning that she had passed the quiz. Most importantly, her classroom performance went up because her anxiety went down.

This girl's story is not an anomaly.

Tigger: ADHD

I remember the fever. It was bad. My honey moon with edtech took me from tool to tool in awe of what they could do for our class. But that's all that ever happened.

At some point I had to decide what I was using and to be sure it would take us to the place we wanted to be by the end of the semester. That's when I chose my core apps and only used the others in the periphery of the course.

At some point, I was doing what tiggers do best – bounce trees. Who has time for climbing? Luckily, I realized that constantly shifting attention to different tools meant never really doing anything of substance with any of them.

We found the best support from Google Apps, Verso App, Remind, Poll Everywhere, and Today's Meet. Once in a while we'd try other things, like Hstry, but this focus helped keep us from bouncing trees.

Winnie the Pooh: Addiction

Even with a focus on my core technologies, I'm always looking for the honey. I can't get enough of the things that happen when a tool allows kids to learn more in the alotted time than if we had stuck to paper and pencils. 

One of my favorite tools is Today's Meet. It's great for collective notes while students read selections from the text. We also use it to share current events stories. Sure, we could use Google Classroom or a Doc, but the 140 character limit provides structure that we all crave. You should see the creativity and growth that explodes from a character limit. (The power of character limits reminds me of how much my students gain from writing history haiku.)

At least my addiction is at a manageable stage in which I'm mostly making sure that I am ready for the best honey of all – the amazing things students do. It used to be the ah-ha moments. Now it's the suggestions from students and the engagement that happens when the class is working toward a common goal. 

Okay, a little weird, but give me a break. It's the 100 Acre Wood.

Rabbit: OCD

Checking your phone for no reason – other than to check your phone? What? No texts or likes? 

This stuff will drive you crazy, especially if you are not mindful of the diminishing return on the dopamine shot you get from each social media engagement that says, "People like you!"

I check my social media three times a day and non-work email once. I've had to limit my habit because it leads to empty feelings and rituals that maintain the obsession.

We use Twitter for current events. I post links to lists in the "About" page on Google Classroom, and we access it for discussions about what happened on this day in history, for example. These choices to use social media in our classroom has helped me better situate its role in my life. 

Eeyore: Depression

At some point, I got tired of spending so much time teaching kids how to use technology that they weren't using in other classrooms. I wondered if it was worth it and withdrew a bit from integrating so much into the lessons.

It was hard to match the overly romanced narrative of technology in the classroom that I had read about online. This was especially hard without proper training or vision from leadership.

After a few weeks of resetting the classroom routines, I realized that I didn't have much student input. They told me what they thought from time to time, but I had never asked them directly. I had never asked them a series of questions to understand what they wanted and what they were experiencing using new technology.

It was so simple. I made a Google Form and was soon back to what motivates me in the first place: student voice. 

This reminds of a post I did last year on surveying students about technology.

Owl: Superiority Complex

Climbing out of the blues and surveying my students for their point of view gave me enough direction to get back on the mountain from which I was shouting. 

Some colleagues thought I was crazy, but I thought I had the answer and nobody could tell me otherwise. I'm glad, however, that I listened to the concerns of my colleagues. 

It wasn't long before I realized that using technology that connects my students to each other and the world was the better way to teach and learn. It was the process, however, that taught me that I had a lot to learn to do it well.

To document my process, I started this blog. The superiority, in this case, is not my posts. It's the body of knowledge that my posts relate to. It's making a contribution that starts conversations and nudges education in a direction that better supports learners. 

Christopher Robin: ?

In the Disney adaptations, Christopher Robin is not in a great deal of the scenes. He seems fairly solid and perhaps brighter than the average child his age.

My move Massachusetts is the strongest correlation to Christopher Robin because technology integration briefly became secondary. I had to learn a new school, a new set of professional expectations, and three new curricula.

Ideally, I want to be the author. Narrator. The omniscient who can tell the story flawlessly because the possibilities and characters (students) are so well known that not much is out of control. Luckily, when control escapes the writer of my technology integration story, I have this blog to refer.

Thanks for reading.  

App Smashing Google Slides and Poll Everywhere

The feeling of completing a puzzle has never been so great as it has since finding the Poll Everywhere Google Chrome extension. It's now the keystone to my slide presentations because it allows me to do a quick check for understanding at certain points.

google slides poll everywhere

I don't like slides with too many words. I don't like presentations that leave the viewers with too much idle time. To overcome these issues, I've considered a balance of input and output between the audience and presenter. 

Strategically placed questions throughout a presentation, cartoon analysis, and crowdsourcing cues are a few of the things I've used to break up the teacher-led talk. Adding polling questions without having to leave Google Slides was the perfect compliment to these strategies.

I realize that this could have been done using Microsoft PowerPoint and Poll Everywhere, but I don't have time to deal with the headaches of Microsoft Office. Google is far too efficient for me to ever go back.

Check out this video to see how it works.

Going Paperless With Google Apps and Docs Teach

When you're new to a school, you tend to hear a variety of stories as students and teachers want to fill you in on what happened in recent years. The story that most frequently recurs is the one about the paper shortage. 

paperless classroom
See video below.

As most people tell it, last April or May found teachers and students without paper. (Administrators have told this story differently.) To me, it's a bit silly, sorry, and opportunistic. I'm focusing on the latter because I can see the value of going through fewer reams having worked with 1:1 devices at my previous school. 

Reducing Paper

I've already started preparing for the day when paper is deliberately reduced and the technology transition is in full swing – it's coming. The transition to a paperless classroom, for me, has been a long one. This is partly because of the inconsistency among student devices and my knowledge, however lacking sometimes, of different ways to make it happen.

I recently found interactive exercises on DocsTeach, which is provided by the National Archive. I vaguely remember finding these activities about a year ago, but this time I actually played with them a bit. 

As it turned out, there are activities with sets of documents questions and text boxes where students can respond to questions. These responses are emailed to wherever the student chooses (more about how I manage this below).

The paperless potential and the interaction with documents got me thinking about what it would look like from assigning the work to receiving and providing feedback in a paperless setting.  

Here's what we did.

Share to Classroom With the Extension

1. Go to the activity.

Once the Google Classroom extension is installed in Chrome, you are ready to share resources to classroom.

2. Select the class.

The nice thing about the extension is it allows you to assign resources to a particular class.

3. Choose the type of post.

Like posting to Classroom from within, the extension allows you to choose from different types of posts, like announcement or assignment, to name a couple.

Completing the DocsTeach Activity

1. Go to docsteach.org

Be sure to share the Web page of the activity. This keeps the activity reset and fresh. In other words, don't click to begin the activity and share the resulting link.

2. Choose an activity.

This activity is a simple flow map style analysis with stops along the way and opportunities to answer questions. 

3. Click on the prompt(s).

When students click on the prompts, they expand and shade the rest of the activity. With so much information at our fingertips, little touches like this help keep  our students focused. It's likened to using a piece of paper or ruler to guide your reading when eyes may wander.

4. Open the documents needed to answer the question(s).

Each document can be clicked and enlarged for analysis. This is an image of the Zimmerman Telegram. It is still in code, so further details are available when clicked or touched. 

5. Type a response to the document-based prompt(s).

For the prompts among the documents, this activity saves responses and includes them with the final submission. The New Deal map activity, for example, makes note of map decisions and includes an attachment of the map results for each submission. 

6. Write a final response for submission.

The final response is often a summary of the analysis guided by a common historical question. 

Keep It Neat With a Gmail Filter

Receiving so many responses can get messy. I like to keep my inbox neat by employing filters that bypass the inbox and collect messages under a label (folder).

1. Go to settings to make a filter.

2. Make a filter with a customized address.

As long as the username of your email address is somewhere to the left of the @ symbol, most emails will still work. What's nice about filters in Gmail is the ability to add a custom piece to your address that will be acknowledged by the filter.

3. Send all emails to a specified label.

Now that your custom email is decided, set messages to the custom address to skip the inbox and go directly to a label. I labeled this one DocsTeach.

4. Responses will organize by common subject lines.

When the DocsTeach assignment is sent, it automatically completes the subject line. This is an added bonus because the submissions will be grouped by subject line under the label.

5 Ways to Get Students Out of Their Seats

I've learned over the years that it takes simple, active sentences to get teenagers to do just about anything, especially if they're not fully engaged. Something as simple as, "Stand up, and find a partner," can take two or three tries before most of the class is in motion (assigning partners helps, of course). But I don't let any of this get to me because I know that the movement, in this case, is going to add to the engagement throughout the activity and for a good 7-15 minutes after, depending on what's happening.


I've been trying harder this year to design lessons that avoid the slump that occurs when the instruction is too teacher-centered or sedentary – the two often go together. A few tricks for getting kids up and moving, however, was not enough, for me. I had to make a list and try some new things.

My New Trick

After figuring out how to embed Poll Everywhere into Google Slides, without leaving Google Slides, I got really excited over the efficiency. But I was soon saddened because the kids were still sitting, moving very little. I'm not saying that history should be like a physical education class. That's too far. I'm just not happy with a sit-and-get approach for too long. That's why I decided to add movement to Poll Everywhere (see below).

In general, movement ideas are usually simple. The Poll Everywhere idea was so simple that I was inspired to think of more to add to my "few tricks." Here's a list of ways I've been getting my high schoolers up and moving.

1. Stand and Share

I love to teach note-taking and observation skills. Since my students often need to learn observation skills for interpreting visuals, I have them list words that describe their observations. It's particularly helpful when I show them a photo, cartoon, map, and a chart or table. As the slides progress, students add descriptors to their list.

Next, they stand and read the items on their list. As each student reads their list, the others mark their own lists to ensure that no words or phrases are repeated when it's their turn. Students sit when there list is completely crossed off.

This is another activity that probably has several names (made this name up). And it doesn't need to be done with paper. The image below shows the potential for using Google Keep.

2. Scavenger Hunt

At the beginning of any history course, I send my students on a scavenger hunt. It asks students to count certain things in the school, like trees in the courtyard, for example. It's always a great conversation on accuracy and interpretation when we get all of the data together.

Send your students off to find objects in the school that relate what they are learning. Have them measure things to use as data for equations. Or perhaps you could do something more abstract, like instructing them to write a five-word reflection and sending them off to find words in different places that match words from what they wrote in their reflection. It will promote repeated review and provide a different environment for thinking about the lesson content.

This activity provides added benefit beyond the time frame of the lesson because areas of the school will now possess a new meaning as they walk the halls, day after day. 

3. Tell Me, Show Me

This one is easy to set up. After giving a few slides of notes, I usually ask a question or two. Sometimes I add two slides, each with three vocabulary terms.

Students stand and facing each other with one facing away from the screen. The goal is for the student facing the screen to describe the word so the one facing away can guess. Every so often, I flash the lights, signaling that students need to go silent. The describer now needs to act it out while the guesser writes potential answers on scrap paper.

The debrief is usually about sharing what was particularly challenging and what was not. This promotes students teaching peers because they often have different struggles.  

4. Move To Choose

Usually ideas for movement come to from staring at tired faces (at 10:30 a.m.). I realize that teenagers are naturally like this, but that's no reason to not try to overcome the slump.

It was a U.S. History II lesson on propaganda posters that gave me the idea to add movement in this way. (Actually it was some professional development that gave me the idea, but you know what I mean.) The slide presentation had about eight posters, and students were to decide if the posters were positive, negative, or neutral. 

The left side of room was negative, the middle was neutral, and the right side was positive. As a new poster was projected in the screen, my students moved to the area based on their choice. 

I've also tried this with embedded Poll Everywhere questions. Only this time, the students moved to one side or the other based on their confidence level. I used the right, left, middle options, and it showed me more than whether or not they can answer a multiple choice question correctly. 

5. Gallery Walk

Hang student work or stimuli on the wall, inside or out, and instruct students to walk the different items and complete whatever tasks are necessary. I don't know if this also called a carousel or not. Call it what you want. The point is that students are moving, reading, thinking, writing, and often feeling more free to ask questions.

This sort of activity often works better with a particular note organizer. I prefer to project the style that's required on the screen and require my students to copy it, as opposed to handing out a worksheet. After they learn a few organizers, I have them choose one that best serves the documentation needs.

Have any ideas? Share them in the comments below. 

Making Your Own Crossword Puzzles

It's the beginning of Spring and it's time to add something new to keep students engaged and trying new things. They've done a lot of games with movement, trivia, and visual analysis to build knowledge, so I wanted something new yet familiar. Then it came to me. I searched for history crossword puzzles.

crossword puzzle generator

Sure enough, there are several sites that specialized in crossword puzzles. I found one that I liked. It had a huge selection of ready-made history crosswords and a crossword and word search generator. I had to try it.

Here's what I did.

1. Add words and hints.

I took words from a Quizlet deck and listed them in the left column. Then, I found a short piece from Quizlet that served as a good hint, which was pasted into the right column.

2. Generate the puzzle.

One click and the puzzle is generated. This list of words didn't turn out to be the best combination, so next time I'll consider the puzzleness. (That's not a word, but you get the idea, right?)

3. Check the answers.

The check answers button is another time saver. I saved a PDF of this for my records when I PDFed the puzzle.

4. Save the puzzle to PDF.

I like to make PDFs whenever I can so that all of my lesson materials can be stored digitally in one place. Sure, hard copies are a must for an activity like a crossword (although there are ways to do it paperless, like with Google Sheets).

Right click (or your device's equivalent) and select print. You'll only get the puzzle, not the rest of the site, which is always helpful when developers set it up that way.

5. Store your puzzle in Drive (or somewhere reasonable).

Like I said, my puzzles are stored in Drive. If a teacher walked by my room and liked what he saw, I could share it immediately with the app on my phone. It literally takes 10 seconds to keep those kinds of promises. 

This is all me working on the struggle – the never-ending journey that takes me away from the usual and leaves my students, occasionally, with a lesson that may stick long enough to be useful.