Category Archives: Technology

The Switch was worth it

Assignments are arranged in class folders using Classroom.Google

Assignments are arranged in class folders using Classroom.Google.

by Steve Lyle, language arts teacher, West High School, Davenport, Iowa

I haven’t flipped my classroom yet, but I did make The Switch.

You haven’t heard of The Switch? Of course you haven’t — I just coined it, simply to make what I did this year sound catchy and cool.

My major accomplishment was switching to paperless assignments, or ePaper, this school year. Instead of turning in printed pages of their essays, students turn in the electronic document. It still has to be typed, double-spaced, and include their name, rank and serial number at the top. I like the change, and so do my students. I’m not the first teacher to do this, but if you are just starting a digital classroom, these tips may help.

It was easy to switch thanks to my new cart of 30 Chromebooks that I got last September. However, I now had to figure out how to manage the workflow of digital documents in cyberspace. Enter I started using it during Term 2. I love how easily I can post assignments and handouts online. Students can submit the finished assignment to the proper folder and “Done” pops by their name. I can post their grades beside the list of names. (The downside is that my roster is in alphabetical order by first name while my gradebook is arranged by last name.)

The biggest advantage to ePapers is being able to assist students more easily during the entire writing process. If students create a class folder and share it with me with editing privileges, I can look at their progress and comment at any time. Peer editing is easy, too; they share the file with their partner.


Highlighting and clicking “Comments” takes some effort, but the ability to write legible, detailed responses is worth it.

I find that I write more detailed comments on first drafts because I have more than a one-inch margin to write. My comments are more legible, too, and I can’t spill my chamomile tea on any papers, or misplace them in the clothes basket. However, I do miss my green pen at times because it could swiftly underline a powerful passage or put a dot under a misspelled word. Now I have to highlight the text, make two clicks to get to the comments box, and one more click to post it. That’s a lot of clicking if you make ten comments on a paper.

I could mention other advantages to ePapers, such as accessibility to files from home, improving turn-around time in responding to papers and saving the life of that beautiful tree in Whispering Pines Preserve. Let me tell you about the lesser known problems of working with ePaper assignments, discovered through firsthand experience.

Don’t overextend yourself.  Trying to respond in writing to every draft will drive you crazy. After a spot check of a students’ work, oral feedback can handle the matter. Also, students can evaluate each others’ work if you give them guidelines, such as “What is clear and engaging?” and “What questions do you have?”  Students are surprisingly compassionate and supportive in their comments.

What about the district rubrics? I can’t staple the paper rubric to the students’ papers and write on it, so I had to create an online version with space for comments beside each target. I copy and paste the rubric at the end of the students’ paper and type in comments; I use Suggestion Mode to type because it is in green, like my green pen of old.

Underline mistakes. In the old days, for misspelled words and other usage errors, I would place a dot underneath the error and have students correct them when I handed the papers out. I can’t do that easily on an ePaper. Now I have to highlight the error and underline it while in suggestion mode so that it stands out in green. It takes 6 seconds of trackpad fingerwork digital compared to .06 seconds of penmanship, so that’s a pain.This is the real reason why we call it the digital age.

Keep the workflow simple. Insist that all finished work be submitted to your Classroom assignment folder. Don’t allow students to share their work with you. That clutters your mailbox and you can lose track of the assignment; Classroom won’t know that it was turned in to you.


Ok, I do use paper in my digital classroom.


Always have a Plan B. The Internet may go down when students need it most, or it slows to a creeping crawl. This has occurred about 10 percent of the time due to traffic congestion on the Autoban-width. When this happens, I pull out my Beethoven CD to soothe the savage beasts while they plead for an extension of the deadline.

Help! Occasionally you’ll be stumped, and your go-to guru may be on maternity leave, so “google it” if you have questions.  The user forums are quite helpful. When I failed three times at trying to give every student a copy of an attached file, I found the answer online: Classroom won’t give you that option once the assignment has been posted.  (I’m currently trying to figure out why that file no longer appears on some students’ computers–could it be because I altered the original file?)

Finally, using ePapers keeps my house clean. My desk is neater without the never-ending stacks of essays to grade, and my carpet does not have those tiny paper fragments that shed from papers ripped from spiral notebooks. I still have to dust and vacuum on Saturdays, though.

Classroom.Google makes keeping track of assignments easy allows students to get their assignments and return them to you as ePaper. allows students to get their assignments and return them to you as ePaper.


Jumping Into Google Classroom

Technology sure has made life easier, and as a classroom teacher, I cannot even begin to summarize how much my classroom AND teaching has transformed. Introducing GAFE last school year was quite remarkable; suddenly, the amount of missing assignments drastically dropped! With the use of gClassFolders, I could easily access student assignments and encourage their completion by some feedback, or I could grade what was present and enter that into the gradebook. No more waiting for dirty, crumpled papers to be produced from an equally dirty backpack! Though this new excitement by students and the completion of more work from them was marvelous, admittingly, I still was bogged down by the time it took to go to each individual student’s folder and find the assignment. Though I directly told students what to name work, at times it was like searching for a needle in a hay stack if they did not create neat unit folders to store their assignments. What about group assignments? Who was the group leader; do I go into their folder to find the assignment? Ugh, how annoying!

This year, magically, Google Classroom appeared. I was hesitant to jump in mid-term (come on Google, you know school starts in August–why wait to release Classroom in September?); therefore, I took the leap at the start of Term 2. Now I’m shaking my head because I should have made the transition in September! Once again, Google has made something ridiculously easy and very user-friendly. Though I am only 2 weeks into Classroom, I am loving it. Below is a list of what I am experiencing as positives for Google Classroom. I hope others can add to this list!

1. Collecting of assignments is such a breeze! Organization is made easy!
Okay, last year we had an inservice where we created gClassFolders. This year it was expected that we grow up a bit and do this on our own. Well, guess what? I didn’t do it–I tried, though! I followed Lori Blocker’s step-by-step directions, but I did something wrong, and my folders just couldn’t be created. I wasted 3 evenings trying to correct this, spoke personally to Lori, and I still had something teeny-tiny wrong. Whatever–the end result? Collecting assignments was a mess! I will save you the details of my painful term.
Classroom creates student folders automatically! OMG–heavenly music instantly began to play when I discovered this followed by the urge to bang my head on the desk because of the time wasted and stress of last term. Umm, have I mentioned how EASY it is too? I LOVE LOVE LOVE how everything automatically syncs up with Drive, and I simply check-marked my class roster to invite the entire class.

2. Providing Feedback
Using Google Docs has been teacher life-changing because I have found that students are so much more receptive to editing/revision. They can easily see my comments/suggestions on their documents, and this is just how they operate. They no longer care to read my scribbles on their work; they think digital.
I like how as I am grading assignments I can enter the score and provide additional feedback on an assignment to the student before hitting the return button. In my two weeks, I see students first reading my feedback and then opening up the assignment to review. Suddenly they have more purpose to stop and review the graded work, OR if they do not open it, then I know that they received at least some feedback!

3. Communication Occurs on Both Sides & Instant Announcements Occur
Elaborating from above, I see students more comfortable with communicating with me. If I mark something on their assignment, they may comment back or even email.

4. Classroom Helps with Absent Students
I’d like to believe that there is some magical teacher and classroom out there where attendance is not an issue. This isn’t the reality for me, so Classroom is wonderful because students have a go-to-place to see the agenda for the class that they missed, view the handouts from class, and do the homework/in-class assignment right from home. It’s beautiful because the documents are easily uploaded to Classroom from the teacher’s Google Drive. It takes only a second to attach a document. I am going to confess–I have stopped using my District Website because it is totally unnecessary with Classroom (Shh, don’t tell!). I don’t like messy—District Websites were messy/annoying to me because embedding documents and links was not super easy. My students know instantly to log-on to their Chromebooks and go to Classroom. I love how some even preview the day before the bell even rings!!!!! I still have my agenda on the board; however, students will look ahead at the assignment/handouts. This is pre-reading at its best! When I get to the assignment/handout, some students have put thought into it and have very specific questions to ask. Again, before I spent too much time modeling where to go to find an assignment or repeating myself at least 5 times to open a document–it’s now all there.

5. Great Practice For College
Submitting work online is the college way, so why aren’t we doing it in high school? I like how once a student turns in the assignment, they cannot access it until I grade it. (this is only sort of true; if a student submits in error or realizes they forgot something, there is a button for them to recall the assignment).

6. Grade Recording Interface
Grading an assignment is super easy now because I can just click on the student’s name and open up their document, record the grade, leave a message if need be, and then move on to the next student. My big wish would be if Google could muster up a way to connect to our online gradebook. It is a let-down that I still have to open up Infinite Campus and straddle two sites at one time as I record the grades, BUT this is still better than before 🙂

7. Online help is out there. If what I wrote above hooks you a bit, go to
This site has tutorial videos and step-by-step directions for everything that I have described.

So, how do YOU use Google Classroom? Steve, Alissa, Marcia, and I would love feedback and questions. -Angela

Questions, questions…

from A Google a Day

from A Google a Day

A good bell-ringer to help students improve their search skills is Students have to find the answer to a daily question, and they earn points depending on  how fast they submit the correct answer.

Jeff Utecht suggests that these questions are good for teachers, too. They show teachers how to reframe a question so that it requires multiple levels of knowledge. Here’s an example from Google a Day:

What is the binomial name of the animal for which the FVGP provides sanctuary and rehabilitation?

A search of FVGP reveals that it it the Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project, a sanctuary for the Western lowland gorillas that are hunted for bush meat.    A second search for the binomial name of the lowland gorilla is Gorilla gorilla gorilla. Submitting the correct answer in timely fashion earns you 300 points.

Your essential question for class projects needs to be “Google proof,” Utecht says.  “Ask questions that Google can’t answer.”

This got me thinking about how I could engage my journalism students to discover the perimeters of media law.  Instead of lecturing or having them read from a six-year old textbook which doesn’t have last week’s “I (heart) Boobies!” ruling, I could give them a scenario that would require them to determine a legal defense.  It would take more time, but students would be learning the skill of search in a real-life situation, not the skill of note taking. Yes, I could play the role of the judge hearing their arguments in the courtroom. Sounds fun.

Getting technical

Screen shot 2014-03-05 at 5.52.22 AM

I enjoyed the Digital Classroom Conference on March 4 at Bettendorf, Iowa, High School that was presented by Jeff Utecht from Spokane, Washington.  He had some great examples of how students are using the Internet to learn things on their own.  He also reinforced my belief that schools are not doing enough to prepare students for the digital age. His ideas are valuable and trend-setting, so that’s why I’m getting off my couch to share them with my fellow teachers and parents.  The best way to do this is on a blog, of course. (I just hope WordPress is not blocked at my school like Blogger and YouTube.)

Utecht emphasized the importance of teaching students “the skill of search.”  He thinks Chrome is the best search engine, and “Wikipedia is more accurate than your textbook” simply because knowledge expands like never before in history.  He suggested that we teach students to limit searches to only the sites that have been updated within the last three years. He suggested that adding “site:edu” or “” to search terms will yield more trusted web sites. To get a global perspective on a topic that is relevant to a region, students should add a country to the search. He suggested a search on “Vietnam war” to see how Vietnam perceives what they call the “American War.”  “Never before in education could you get a country’s perspective on a topic,” he said.

He wasn’t here to give us just search tips, however.

He continued his presentation with examples of how students can collaborate to create new knowledge with their hands-on research, mapping tools, and class notes. I’ll talk about digital communities next time.

Let’s interact. How do you help students improve their skills of search?