Monday, January 22, 2018

Classroom Collaboration - Hack Google Classroom

ICE Conference

Fall is my favorite season. I love the turning leaves; I love the cool, sweatshirt weather. One of the best things about living in the mid-west is that you never get bored with the weather; it is always changing. One gem that happens each fall is the ICE conference. I look forward to it each year, but it has been especially beneficial the last several years as Michele Eaton has done a fantastic job of bringing some great keynote/featured speakers on board and organizing great opportunities for Indiana educators. I'm excited to see how the conference will continue to grow and evolve.

I've also had the pleasure of presenting at the ICE conference over the last several years on various topics. Its been interesting to think back to just a few years ago because I was presenting primarily about iPad integration for primary students. Now I'm very focused on utilizing GSuite in all classrooms, but that's very much due to my job change to MSD of Steuben County. Change is a good thing whether it is a slight refinement or a 180 like I did; it has certainly helped me to expand my understanding of the role of technology in the classroom.

Before I became enthralled with Google, I remember attending ICE 2014 and many individuals attempting to present on Google Classroom. It was downright terrible! Not Google Classroom, but the ability to present on the topic was because the only option was to project Google Classroom on the screen and talk about it. There was no hands experience and no interaction because it was a new, barely charted territory. (Really it probably has more to do with my learning style because if I have to sit-n'-get through a session, it is hard for me to get much out of it.) Classroom has come a long way since it debuted. Back in 2014, you couldn't white-list domains or allow for just anyone outside of your school district to have access to your Classroom. After ICE 2014, I vowed I wouldn't do presentations specifically on Google Classroom...until October 2017 rolled around.

For ICE 2017, I broke my promise to myself for a couple of reasons. First, Google allowed for outside access to Google Classroom in 2016 which means I can create a training scenario for teachers to try instead of just presenting on how Google Classroom works. Second, I really saw a need to help people create efficient and effective collaborative spaces for students. Too often I've witnessed teachers give up on the "students can edit file" option that exists in Classroom due to poor, past experiences. Lately, I've been on a mission to help teachers develop and prepare collaborative spaces in the most efficient and effective manner I know how.

Classroom Collaboration

So what are your options for collaboration with what Google has to offer? So much that I created a half-day workshop designed just on collaboration within Google. There are a lot of online spaces that allow for effective collaboration, but how many of them have premium features that are ever changing? How many of them are free for now, but have a plan to get your hooked later? Google is pretty committed to the education realm. Not only that, but the spaces you build are transferable and downloadable. (The ability to transfer is a huge reason as to why I try to build everything within Google.) For my Classroom collaboration workshop, I provide teachers with several scenarios. 
  1. Questions provide a forum-like setting where students can easily reply to one another. When students reply to a reply, it attaches the Google username to the post so that everyone in the space knows where the reply is directed. It is the simplest and easiest way to throw a spontaneous space when you provide students with a short-answer question and the option to reply. 
  2. Comments are also a simple way to provide a collaborative space for each question, announcement, or assignment has space already provided. It is a matter of allowing the students the freedom to do so. It is also a matter of training the students how to utilize it responsibly for assistance and guidance while the teacher is working with individuals or small groups. I frequently find this feature turned off when in reality it is the same as training a student to raise their hand instead of blurting out. 
  3. Google Docs it the classic space for collaboration. It is really what got the ball rolling for GSuite for Education. When I train on utilizing docs as a collaborative space, I focus not so much on the sharing aspect withing Google Classroom, but how do you develop an effective space for student resources, reflection, and response. Some advice I give teachers is to include lots of tables, colors, use the Drawings tool for images and other fun drag-n-drop tools, and have students include links. to resources along the way. If you want to see these tips in action, check out my video below.
  4. Google Slides is my favorite collaborative space because the teacher can create layout elements that are not movable and there are so many versatile configurations teachers can create. You can have multiple students responding on one slide or give every student their own. Teachers can utilize different color backgrounds to organize groups or response locations. I spend a lot of time training teachers to create custom layouts with unique titles to give students choice on what questions they answer or even how they want to respond. By editing the master and creating custom layouts the learning experience is completely recoverable. If a student deletes a slide, you can easily bring back the slide by creating a new slide and selecting the desired layout. But what really separates using Google Slides over Google Docs are all the resources at the students' fingertips. Whether it is video, images from the web, snapshots, shapes, charts, or diagrams, the students can quickly and easily access these items without visiting a ton of tools. There is a lot of potential in utilizing Google Slides, but the best way to do so is to edit the master to create custom layouts. I have a video as a resource for editing the master slides to create a template. This is not focused on a collaborative set of Slides, but it will at least give you an idea of how to edit the master slides to create your own template if you are not familiar.
  5. The other Google products (Drawings, Forms, Sheets, Hangouts, Keep, and Sites) are also effective for collaborative spaces. I tend to spend more time in Docs and Slides because it covers most of what teachers want to accomplish. Drawings, Sheets, and Sites work well in conjunction with Google Classroom as far as the distribution and sharing of these resources. I recently did a post on utilizing the new Google Sites as a collaborative space. It does give a unique option for publishing with the incorporating of all items residing in Google Drive. If you are a middle or high school teacher, I highly recommend giving it a shot. 
With all of the various options for setting up collaborative spaces within Google Classroom, it is hard to justify spending the time elsewhere. Google provides the portability and recycle-ability that teachers need in order to feel that the time spent on preparing these online learning spaces were worthwhile. 

A Google Classroom Hack

Last year, Google added the capability of selecting individual students for a post. This was a huge game changer as teachers could utilize this capability to differentiate assignments. This also greatly impacted the ability to set up collaborative spaces. Teachers could now create collaborative questions, Docs, or Slides and only allow specific students to access the space. However, organizing these spaces was still a bit cumbersome. The teacher would have to go to the prepared document and make multiple copies and name them accordingly so that each group would have their own space. Then the teacher would have to create the number of assignments and attach each document separately to keep everything organized. This can make a teacher's head spin! There has to be an easier/efficient way to set up a series of collaborative documents within Google Classroom. 

The "reuse post" option in Classroom brought to light a great opportunity to give me the time efficient method I was seeking. Within this option is the capability to create new copies of all attachments and that means the teacher doesn't have to go to Google Drive and make a bunch of copies, rename them, and organize them in a folder! Here are the steps: 
  1. Create an assignment and attach the template so that students "can edit" the file, but don't assign it; save it as a draft. This will be your template post for the entire activity.
  2. The next step is to reuse the post and make sure that the "create new copies of all attachments" button at the bottom of the assignment is clicked and reuse it. You'll see it as it will be labeled "draft" instead of having an assignment date. 
  3. Name your assignment according to the activity and the group name. This merely helps you with organizing in the long run. The stream in Google Classroom can get really messy quick. 
  4. The fourth step is simple; select the students in your first collaborative group that are to receive the assignment. This can be found at the top of the post in Classroom. You should see a drop-down arrow beside the words "all students" to access the students you need. 
  5. This step is completely optional but is helpful in organizing the learning experience. I like to utilize the topics feature in order to organize my groups. Then I can quickly click on a group name in my topics to access any of the collaborative documents I've sent their way. If your groups are never the same, using a topic in relation to the activity is your best option. 
  6. Repeat steps two through five for your next group. You'll reuse the draft post each time in order to keep the integrity of your template. 
  7. After you've created all your group assignments, you can delete the draft. You'll have to go into your "saved posts" in the stream, select the assignment, and click on the three-dot menu on the right-side of the draft. The option to delete it will be there. The integrity of your original document template will stay intact in your Google Drive. 
Here is how to do it in video format:

This process is simply beautiful. No longer do you have to create separate copies in Google Drive and organize them. No longer do you have to worry about ruining your original or misplacing your template. When you reuse the post, all new attachments created go straight into your Google Classroom folder under the associated class. Everything is copied and organized just as it should be in Google Drive. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Collaborative Playground in Google Sites


The powerful thing about using Google in the classroom has always been the collaborative nature of their products. If you are a lover of GSuite, do you recall the first time you experienced a collaborative doc? My mind was absolutely blown away by the thought of not having to email a document to my colleague and getting it back. The multiple versions of a document created a nightmare! I was instantly done with the email tag with attachments. I felt like William Wallace for a moment and wanted to yell, "freedom!" Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but it was awesome. 

Out of Site(s)

2017 was an interesting year of changes for Google's lineup, but my favorite was the update to Google Sites. A user could get used to the old version and it ended up not being too bad as long as you put the time into learning it, but the new Google Sites is intuitive, clean, and simple. Teachers actually love the fact that there are not a million font or color choices. "Just pick one already!" will not echo through the hallways of school as much. If you haven't had a chance to try the new version of Google Sites, get started by visiting your Google Drive. Act as if you are going to create a document by clicking on the "new" tab. Google Sites is now able to be organized just like a file in your Google Drive. Pretty awesome, huh? Also, if you're new to it, I created an entire guide about using Google Sites when my school district received an early preview of it. You're just a click away! 

Collaborative Space

Remember that feeling of first experiencing collaborative documents via Google I mentioned earlier? That same sense of freedom is also available in Google Sites! I have teachers that will use it much like a Google Slides presentation. We have a great space in our middle and high schools that have tables with televisions attached. Students gather together there and collaborate on building a website around an entire project. There they can pull in images, text, videos, and even directly embed items from their Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings) into their project. It really ends up being a project to house multiple other projects much like a portfolio for the learning experience. 

So what about you? What would you have students do with Google Sites? It is a great place for students to jigsaw their learning for an all-encompassing topic. As they include links to outside resources, they can also link to one other's content. Thus forcing them to read and digest what their peers produced. This format obviously works in the small group setting, but it could even be used with the entire class. Here are some ideas:
  • Inventors or inventions are always a fascinating topic. Students could produce a website advertising their invention as a product for purchase. These inventions could be broken up among individuals or small groups, but the entire class could essentially be building their own company featuring the products and the inventors. Classmates could even provide fake reviews of the product like it is for sale on Amazon. This could be easily done with a few screenshots pieced together within Google Drawings
  • For you geography teachers (earth science could be included here), a vacation guide website featuring a region of the world would be a lot of fun. Videos, custom maps, and banners with Google Drawings could be all inserted throughout the site to feature places of interest. Geography class can be a complete vacation guide. 
  • Khan Academy, couldn't the class become Sal Khan? Several videos and learning resources could be built and the best options would make the cut. Initially, I was thinking this would be a great resource for future classes, but the reality is that every class would need the experience of building this resource. It isn't about having a resource. It is about the process of creating it. Creating is powerful.
  • In history, a website could be built all around an era and the propaganda of the day. Several websites could be built for the purpose of having a political bent of the time. Students could choose which direction they want to go based on what interests them most and not necessarily their own opinion of the topic. It would be interesting to have students try to support the opposing viewpoint. 

Getting Started

So now that you're all fired up to have your students building Google Sites, you need to get things organized. You'll need to think about the structure of your site. What are the major breakdowns of the topic and group size are all questions we ask when students are going to embark on a group project regardless of the use of technology. In my video, I discuss the setup of a site and how to structure pages to fit the learning experience. This is especially dependent upon the student experience with Google Sites as well as the age level of the students. As a former elementary teacher, I'd at least want some structure in place to get the topic rolling and then allow students adjust it to match the need. I hope the video is helpful in getting rolling with your collaborative Google Site

Have Fun

Students will be excited about the process of building their own site. The collaboration that could take place in making decisions of what pieces/elements need to be added and who will complete the tasks is a powerful process in the learning experience. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Life After the Interactive Board

Is It Worth It?

Long has it been that companies like SMART or Promethean have dominated display options in the classroom. SMART really revolutionized how we as teachers demonstrate or share content with students. Freedom is what it represented in those days. The idea that a teacher to could grab content from about anywhere and manipulate it before their students' eyes. It enhanced our productivity as content creators. 

Technology is ever changing. Students and society is ever changing. Therefore, the way we teach should change was well. Once schools began exploring options for all students to have a device, the need for the teacher at the front of the room (The Sage on the Stage) began to dwindle. Suddenly the students had access to thousands of teachers, and personalized instruction became a reality. If a student wants to know more on any topic of their liking, the resources are just a click away. This landscape causes me to question the need to spend thousands of dollars for teachers to stand at the front of the room with what is essentially a glorified overhead projector. (Actually, it is worse because the teacher's back is turned while operating a SMART board.) $5,000 - $7,000 is a ballpark estimate for an interactive display; that equates to a class set of Chromebooks. A class set of devices that can make personalized learning a reality. A class set of devices that can give students the experience, tools, and skills to be competitive in the marketplace. Can that be done by students watching a teacher write on a website at the front of the classroom? What wins in your book?


At MSD of Steuben, we are exploring options to still effectively display content and save money for other opportunities. The simple answer is merely using a television. A 65-70 inch display is reasonable. Especially when comparing to the likes of a SMART or Promethean Interactive television. The next typical response I get is how it can be interactive like SMART or Promethean products. I'll propose a couple of options. One is more focused on teacher-directed instruction. The capability of having a point of interaction and students utilizing the Interface is a reality at the fraction of the cost. The other is to allow for students to take control. Students can be in the driver's seat and sharing from their very own device. But before I move on, keep in mind that both of these options are with the thought that a teacher would still need to have a PC, Mac, or Chromebook connected to a television via the HDMI port. 

Chrome Remote Desktop

Chrome Remote Desktop run on a touchscreen device (iPad, Chromebook, Android tablet, etc.) provides the mobile interactivity that teachers need. We have a lot of teachers that love Active Inspire or SMART Notebook. You can still operate these pieces of software, but from a smaller touchscreen device. One that you can carry with you around the room. You are not stuck at the front of the room with your back turned from the class. You don't even have to have students go up to the board. You can place your device before a student so that they can respond from afar. Chrome Remote Desktop takes your touchscreen Chromebook and turns it into a remote control for the the device (PC, Mac, or Chromebook) connected to your television. This is a nice transition for teachers that are very comfortable with the software that SMART or Promethean offers. If teachers have invested quite a bit of time creating flipcharts or notebooks, Chrome Remote Desktop will ease the growing pains. 

Keep in mind that there will be some necessary steps for setup on your PC or Mac. The next video demonstrates the installation as well as basic use with Active Inspire. You can install Chrome Remote Desktop from the Chrome Web Store.

Google Cast for Education

Google Cast has come a long way since its inception in the summer of 2016. When it first launched, much frustration took place because of poor picture quality and failed casting attempts. The idea was great because it allowed for the teacher to turn the teacher PC or Mac into a Chromecast location. The best part was the fact that students now had the capability to cast their own screen! The teacher could choose to accept or deny the casting attempt as an alert automatically pops up on the teacher's device. There the teacher can see who is attempting to cast and choose to accept or deny the connection. What a powerful way to give students power. 

As I mentioned before, things were rocky for Google Cast for Education, but it has since greatly improved. I've utilized it numerous times during class visits with very few connection issues. Students love being my demonstrator. Like Chrome Remote Desktop, some installation and setup is required. The next video will give you an overview of how to set it up and utilize Google Cast for Education. 

You will need to first download the Chrome Extension for Google Cast for Education.


Life after the Interactive Board is not only the title of this blog post, but it is also the title of a half-day workshop I run with my teaching staff. During this session, teachers have the opportunity to try casting, Chrome Remote Desktop, and explore various interactive websites that work well on a touchscreen Chromebook. The teachers that have participated have expressed positive feedback as it eases the fear of change. Change is never easy, but my hope is that I can adequately provide support to make it palatable.