Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Setting Up Your Google Classroom

For the first time, Google has designed a product for a specific industry. Fortunately for educators, that product is for them! Google Classroom is a brand new tool designed to help ease the burden of sharing and receiving assignments from students. 

The excitement surrounding classroom has reached a fever pitch; teachers are ecstatic and can't wait to get their hands on classroom. The excitement may be contributing to inflated expectations, however. Classroom is not a complete classroom solution; it must be used alongside perennial favorites such as Edmodo, Hapara Teacher Dashboard, Moodle, etc.

Google Classroom Will:
  • Help you communicate with your students. 
  • Streamline the sharing of documents to your students.
  • Streamline the receipt of work from your students. 
  • Help you provide personal, timely feedback to individual students. 
  • Serve as a classroom hub
  • Help students manage class resources.
Classroom Will Not:
  • Replace/become your gradebook. 
  • Replace your existing learning management system. 
  • Eliminate the need to use Google Drive directly. 
Classroom Does Not [Currently]
  • Integrate with Google Calendar, Sites, or Blogger.
  • Allow students from multiple domains.
  • Allow for multiple teachers
  • Share documents in other domains. 
  • Have many assignment options (points, rubric, no due date, complete/incomplete)
Google Classroom is expected to launch in September of 2014. You can request access here

Don't have access, but eager to see what classroom has to offer? Check out this sneak peak of Google Classroom including instructions on how to setup and manage your first class! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Organize Apps into Folders on a Chromebook

An update to ChromeOS now allows teachers and students to organize their Chrome Web Apps into folders on their Chromebook. This will make it much easier for students and teachers to keep their Chromebook content organized and easily accessible.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

5 Formative Assessment Tools for Teachers

Research indicates that student learn more effectively when they are engaged. Incorporating regular checks for understanding, polling questions, exit tickets, and interactive mini-assignments is a great way to make sure that students don't check out during a lesson. This type of assessment is called formative assessment.

Formative assessment is non-graded activities that are used to inform and plan future instruction. Formative assessment can take the form of a quiz, an exit ticket, a simple project or task, or a thumbs up/down response.

Formative assessment provides teachers with timely feedback to determine if a lesson was effective, identifies students who may need additional help, and suggests content that may need to be reviewed. There are several wonderful tools that can help teachers incorporate regular, spontaneous, and engaging formative assessment without disrupting the flow of the class period. These tools will keep students engaged, provide actionable data, and give students a means of asking for help and guiding instruction based on their needs. 

Here are five formative assessment tools that can help you identify the needs in your classroom and help you plan future instruction.

Need a quick overview? Check out this handy head-2-head comparison!

Google Forms
A long standing favorite of teachers, Google forms provides a simple method of collecting data from students. From a "mood check-in" to a post-lesson quiz, forms is a very flexible assessment tool. The built in "summary of responses" feature allows teachers to quickly view class statistics with no advanced setup.

Socrative is a web-based student response system that can be accessed on any device with an internet connection. Teachers can create import a quiz and push questions out to students through a unique class code. Once a quiz is created, it can be delivered to students in a variety of formats including the old-school "Space Race" game. Socrative also provides the ability to spontaneously create questions and exit tickets.

Near Pod
Near Pod is a visually appealing product that combines a traditional slide-based presentation tool with a student response system. Teachers build slide decks with interactive content (multiple choice questions, drawing activities, matching, web links, etc) and deliver them to students through a unique session code. The teacher controls the pacing and advancement of the slides turning every device into an extension of the teachers device. NearPod boasts a tight iOS integration which makes it a great fit for iPad schools. Near Pod also offers a large database of existing content, some which is free and some which must be purchased.

Geddit is a student monitoring and feedback tool designed to help you intervene at the right moment. Geddit is 4Square for the classroom! The "check-in" feature allows students to indicate their current level of understanding in real-time. The teacher view displays students by their "mood," enabling real-time intervention and project groupings. Geddit can also push questions to students to check their understanding.

Pear Deck [beta]
Pear Deck is an interactive presentation tool with deep Google Drive integration. Teachers create slide-decks with static and dynamic content. You can even import your existing PowerPoint or Google Drive presentations! Interactive slides can be multiple choice, short answer, numeric, or dragable. Students responses are recorded and can be reviewed by the teacher to determine the level of student understanding.

You can request Beta access to Pear Deck by clicking here (you will need to login to your Google Apps account). Let them know John Sowash sent you and you will get bumped to the front of the line!

Need a quick overview? Check out this handy head-2-head comparison!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Chromebook Institute

The Google Chrome platform has exploded in the last two years. Chromebooks went from being a cute gimmick to a platform gaining momentum at a rate that is making even Microsoft take notice.

In Michigan, 40% of expected educational device purchases in 2014 will be Chromebooks [source]. The same is likely true around the country. As the Chrome platform becomes increasingly common in classroom settings, the need for quality professional development will also increase.

Educator Ryan Bretag and a team of others saw the need for focused PD related the Chrome platform and have launched the Chromebook Institute, a multi-day conference focused entirely on the Chrome ecostystem.
The inaugural Chromebook Institute will take place in Downers Grove, IL Jun 16-18. Additional events across the country are being considered. More details available at

I will be facilitating a 1-day Google Certification Academy during the precon portion of the conference.

Got Chromebooks? Need to get up to speed quickly? You might want to schedule a trip to the greater Chicago area this summer!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Google Certification Academy

Blogging has taken a back-seat on my to-do list for some time now, but there is good reason! For the past six months I have been developing a new Professional Development opportunity for schools who have invested in the Google Apps Platform - The Google Certification Academy. Today I'm excited to announce the program and invite you to participate!

gCertification Academy
The Google Certification Academy is a multi-day professional development opportunity designed to assist educators in become Google Education Certified Trainers.

In 2011 I participated in the pilot group and was one of the first Google Certified Trainers. My participation in this program has opened up tremendous professional opportunities in my life and I would like to help others access these same possibilities.

This year, Google completely revamped their certification process. The changes have increased the rigor of the program and have caused some level of confusion about the process. You can learn about the process of becoming a Google Education Certified Trainer here.

The gCertification Academy is designed to support educators as they pursue certification, providing training, encouragement, inspiration, and a supportive community.

This summer there are six certification academies planned. Including a 1-day academy at the Chromebook Institute in Downers Grove, Illinois.

The gCertification Academy has been developed so that it can be brought to YOUR school. If you are interested in being a host, contact me! If you are interested in attending a GCA, you can view the list of hosts at

Note: the Certification Academy is not affiliated or endorsed directly by Google. The GCA is different than the Google Teacher Academy.

Friday, November 8, 2013

2013 miGoogle Conference Wrap Up

On November 4-5, 2013, Brighton High School hosted the 2013 Michigan Google Education conference. I was honored to plan and coordinate this conference and am thrilled with the feedback and energy that it has generated!

For the second year in a row the conference sold out, doubling in size to over 600 in attendance. This year a "pre-conference" day was added featuring full and half day breakout sessions to provide an opportunity to go deeper with various Google tools and teaching styles. Sessions on project based learning, the flipped classroom, Google Drive, Chromebooks, and more were offered. Every session was filled.

The best part of the miGoogle conference is that it is a Michigan conference. Planned by Michigan organizations, sessions led by Michigan teachers, and even many of the sponsors are Michigan based companies. It's a great time to be in Michigan!

I had the opportunity to delivery the keynote address to open day 2 of the conference and made a case that we, as classroom teachers, should be training "dot connectors" instead of encouraging students to be "dot collectors." My slide-deck and a [partial] recording of my talk can be accessed here.

Five sessions were featured throughout the day. These sessions showcase some of Michigan's best presenters and hottest Google topics. You can watch recordings of these sessions here.

If you weren't able to make it to the conference this year, you can still benefit from the learning by checking out the resources posted on these session pages. You can also look at the #migoogle hashtag for lots of links

Didn't make it to miGoogle13? Didn't even know about it? Follow the conference on Google+ or Facebook to receive updates about next year's conference. Or fill out this form to be notified when the call for speakers and registration for miGoogle 2014 opens!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

5 Chrome Settings that will Make Teachers Smile

Google Chrome has been my browser of choice since it was launched in 2008. Chrome redefined the browsing experience for users and continues to do so today. Many new features in Explorer, Safari, and Firefox are responses to Google Chrome.

Chrome is an awesome browser for the classroom. Here are my five favorite "tricks" for getting more out of Chrome. These tips do not require any special plugins, extensions, or applications. They are available for anyone running Chrome OS or the Chrome browser for Windows or Mac. 

To enable any of these features, click on the "hamburger" (the three horizontal lines in the top right corner of your Chrome browser window) and follow the instructions.

1. Launch Tabs on Startup
Most of us spend the majority of our time on the Internet on the same 3-5 websites. For me, it's Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Calendar - my productivity essentials.

You can ask Google chrome to automatically load your favorite websites each time you start Chrome. No need to manually visit these pages. Open Chrome and you're ready to go!

To enable this feature: Settings > Show Advanced Settings > On Startup

Tip 1: Don't auto-load too many pages! I recommend you keep it at three or less!

Tip 2: If you use Chromebooks in your classroom with students, you can set which pages load when a student logs on to their Chromebook. This feature is controlled from within the Google Apps dashboard so you'll want to make your IT director a pan of brownies and ask him to turn it on.

2. Bookmark Sync
Teacher love bookmarking pages. Now you can synchronize your bookmarks across Chrome! You can use Chrome on your PC, Mac, Chromebook, iPhone or Android tablet. As long as you sign in to chrome, your book marks will be there when you need them!

You must sign in to Chrome to enable this feature: Settings > Sign in to Chrome. Make sure you check the box for "bookmarks". You can adjust your Chrome sync settings at any time by going to Settings > Users > Advance Sync Settings

3. Tab Sync
Have you ever pulled up a web page on your home computer, gone in to the office and wished you could remember the web address of the page back at home? With tab sync, you can view any open tab on any of your devices and open them with a single click. Pull up a map on your laptop, jump in the car and open up the map on your phone!

You must sign in to Chrome to enable this feature: Settings > Sign in to Chrome. Make sure you check the box for "open tabs". You must repeat these steps on every device you wish to use the tab sync feature. 

After enabling tab sync, when you open a new tab in Chrome, you will see an option for "other devices" where all of your open tabs will be displayed. The screen shot below is from an iPhone, showing tabs on several other devices.

4. Zoom
When you are projecting something in class and you want to highlight a specific area of the screen you can use the keyboard shortcut ctrl and + to zoom in. When you are ready to zoom back out, use ctrl and - or ctrl and 0.

Nothing to enable here! Just use ctrl and +/- to zoom in and out! 

5. Settings Search
Do you need to reset your pass-phrase, adjust your trackpad sensitivity or delete an extension? Don't worry about remember where that button is, just search for it! Chrome user settings can be quickly searched. It makes adjusting settings super easy!

Nothing to enable here! Just go into settings and look for the search box!