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Redefining the (digital) Classroom

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Better GAFE Than Sorry: 10 quick ways to leverage Google Apps for Education in your School

So many districts I talk to these days have moved to Google Apps for Education (GAFE). However many of these schools often don't fully realize the gold mine of resources that have been opened up to them! Here is a quick list of ways to leverage Google Apps in your classroom / school.

GAFE in the classroom 

(1) Google Forms for Assessment
Create Google Forms for your Exit Tickets, pre-assessments or even summative assessments. Use conditional formatting to help you grade it quickly with colors, or the script Flubaroo to auto-grade your entire spreadsheet of form results. See this video for a quick walk through of form creation and conditional formatting.

(2) Google Drive for Collaboration
Have your kids work collaboratively on a project with a shared Google Presentation or partner write with a shared Google Doc. Or, have them work independently and share peer feedback through "comment only" sharing settings in Google Drive. Another great use is by sending shared reading texts or other oft-photo copied assignments to kids via Google Drive. Instead of having students squint to see the overhead projector (or if you're fancy, the doc cam projection), allow them to view their own copies on their own screen. Then, watch as your kids are amazed by the fact that they can see your work (or each other's) in real time - keystroke for keystroke!

(3) Doctopus Google Script for student workflow
When sharing these documents save yourself a lot of time and hassle by using the Doctopus script to make copies of these files and share them out with your students seamlessly. This script will even create a spreadsheet of links to these shared documents and allow you to send your students grades and feedback! Check out this page for more information on the Doctopus script and how to use it.

(4) Google Sites
Create your own Google Site to share information with your class - both in school and out. You can post homework assignments, the class calendar, Google Form assessments, lesson videos that you create or find and much more! See this video for some tips on how to create your own class site. See also this sample class site (my own from last year!).

(5) YouTube
Many districts have begun to unblock YouTube for teachers. Even if you only have a single computer in your classroom, you can still leverage this bounty of resources for teaching and learning. Discover great media to inspire your students or get them asking questions. Find videos to help scaffold or reinforce learning for struggling students - or challenge those who are excelling. You can create your own playlists or find already-created channels such as Mathademics.

GAFE in the teacher's lounge

(6) Google Sites for Communication / Resource Sharing
Google Sites can also be a great place for a school to easily share information with its faculty and staff. Instead of handing out binders of forms, lesson plan templates and memos at the beginning of the year - and continuing to waste paper with newsletter stuffed into mailboxes - consider create a Google Site. The site can offer Google Forms for teachers to request supplies, field trips and reserve common spaces like labs, auditoriums and computer classrooms. It can serve as a filing cabinet for important documents and even host embedded Google Docs for frequently-changing documents like RTI lists, schedules and staff lists. By making the site invite-only (open only to those with whom it is shared) you keep the information on it protected and private.

(7) Blogger for PLCs
Finding it difficult to schedule common meeting times for your after school PLC? Try having teachers contibute to a Blogger page in lieu of some of the face-to-face meetings. We have done this for our iPad PLC for the past three years and it has worked quite well! The teachers in the PLC are all made authors and then commit to posting once a week. They write about challenges, questions, successes and post student work. The other teachers can them respond to one another with questions, support or comments. Not only does this make teacher collaboration an anytime anywhere activity - much more convenient for cross-grade PLCs that don't enjoy common prep periods - but all of that collaboration is then archived for future reference!

(8) Google Hangouts for Meetings
Still want to have a verbal dialogue? Try a Google Hangout. This allows teachers to be in different places yet still find a time to meet. For example, if two members of your team had to leave early - one for a doctor's appointment and one to pick up a sick child - you could all agree to meet that night at 8pm, after dinner is over and the kids are settled in for the night. Google Hangouts allow up to 15 members at a time and also integrate other Google apps - such as Google Docs and presentations. If you don't like the way your hair looks at 8pm or want to join in your jammies, simply turn off the camera using the camera icon in the upper right corner and focus on the work product - the shared Google Doc. You can embed Google Hangouts into Google Calendar invitations by clicking "Add a Google+ Hangout" when you're editing the event. Then all your colleagues need to do is click "Join this hangout" on the date and time of the event and they're in!

(9) Google Calendar for Scheduling School Events
Use Google Calendar to streamline your scheduling. Create one to show when common spaces are reserved. Create another for teachers to show what they're teaching when. Create another for sporting events. Then teachers will have a list of calendars on the left panel of their Google Calendar - they can select or deselect the calendars by clicking on them. If the calendar is selected, it will show on their main calendar screen - if not selected, it is hidden. Teachers will easily be able to see what is going on, where their colleagues are, which rooms are available and what others are teaching - for cross-content alignment. Moreover, these calendars can be embedded into the teachers' Google Sites as well as the school's Google Site.

(10) Google Drive for Lesson Plans
Instead of having teachers email lesson plans back and forth to and from the principal or their curriculum coach - resulting in countless downloaded files and revisions of Word documents - try using Google Docs and Drive. Create shared folders for each teacher - either shared with the entire school (for collaboration and alignment) or with the teacher and his/her coach/administrator. Then teachers will simply drop Google Docs into these folders and they'll automatically be shared. Moreover, coaches or administrators could give feedback and support regarding these lesson plans by using the comment tool in Google Docs. The teacher will automatically get an email when a comment was made and be able to click a link in that email message to respond to the comment. If the teacher makes a revision of that lesson plan, the revision history will show the update and the coach can see the evolution and improvement of that plan over time. In this way turning in lesson plans becomes less about accountability and more about coaching, feedback and support.


  1. Great post! We love GAFE. I'm sharing this with my colleagues.

  2. Fantastic and powerful ideas. The very nature of Docs is to foster collaboration and a by product is the leverage the teacher has in the tools and 3rd party scripts to enhance performance and make things a bit tidier. Jennie, you hit the nail on the head and believe me, I will be pushing folks to your site for inspiration. Thanks so much for being on target.