Friday, August 29, 2014

5 Google Classroom Mistakes

Google Classroom is here (read my review here)! Hurray! As teachers around the country setup their classroom, there are a few things you want to avoid in order to steer clear of future trouble.

1. Don't click student!

When a teacher visits for the first time, they will be asked if they are a teacher or a student. If you select student, you will be unable to revert back to teacher mode. Your domain administrator must go into the Google Apps control panel to reset your account and give you the teacher role. 

At this time, it is not possible to use classroom as both a teacher and a student. This is bad news for schools that were hoping to use classroom for staff PD. Hopefully this is a feature that will be added in the future. 

It might be wise to create a fake student account so that you can explore classroom from a students point of view. Ask your domain admin to setup a student account for you. 

2. Don't group all of your sections/hours together. 

Although it is tempting to setup a single classroom for all of your sections, don't do it! Yes, it will be nice not to have to post things multiple times, however if you group all of your students together, you will lose the ability to post messages and assignments to individually classes. This will be very important if you are unable to maintain exactly the same schedule in each class. 

Spend the time to setup a separate class for each of your sections. You can't duplicate content between classes, but you can copy/paste your assignment descriptions and announcements. 

3. Don't chose arbitrary class names

Ideally, each school will choose a naming convention for classes. If you don't, your students are going to have a hard time sorting through all of the courses in which they are enrolled. Unfortunately at this time, students (and teachers) are unable to sort classes; they appear in the order that they were joined/created. 

The name of your class should NOT: 
  • Contain the name of the teacher (the teacher's name will be automatically displayed)
  • Include section/hour (there is a designated field for section
  • Be long (long class names will not be fully displayed)
The name of your class SHOULD:
  • Be simple (i.e. Biology)
  • Include the year/semester (i.e. 2014-15 or Sem 1.)

4. Don't mess around with the "Classroom" folder in Google Drive

When you create a class using Classroom, matching folders will be created in Google Drive under a top level folder called "classroom." Do not move, rename, or delete these folder. If you do, you will cause trouble for yourself and your students.

5. Don't add things directly to the Drive folders created by Classroom. 

The folders created by classroom are used for the copying and distribution of student files. They are not designed for use outside of classroom. When you create an assignment in classroom, it will move/copy files into these folders. If you manually put something into the classroom folders it will NOT be displayed in Classroom and will NOT be visible to your students. 

If you need to share documents with your students that you don't wish to assign via classroom, you might want to use the Google Drive add-on called gClass Folders which will set up a very handy folder structure for the sharing and receipt of files in Drive. 

Google Classroom is a promising tool that is in need of some refinement. Don't forget to send your comments and suggestions to Google. There is a "send feedback" button in the bottom right corner of Google Classroom. Use it to make Classroom better!  

Chrome Browser Update: Multi User Sign-In

Chromebooks are quickly becoming device of choice for schools around the country. But what about schools with PC's and Macs in a shared lab or cart setting? The Chrome browser is a logical solution, however in order to take full advantage of the management capabilities of Chrome a student must sign in to Google Chrome, a process that isn't very user friendly. Signing out is even worse.
Chrome Beta improves multi-user browsing

Today the Google Chrome blog quietly announced a new beta feature that will make this process a bit easier. "Share your computer without sharing your business..." The new beta release doesn't provide too much in the way of new features, it simply provides an easier and more streamlined way to sign in to the Chrome browser.

In the beta version of Chrome, a drop down menu in the top right corner of the application indicates the person who is currently signed in. Clicking on the name displays the profile image of the user and a link to switch users (image at left).

While still lacking a few needed features (such as password authentication and a sign-out link) this update moves one step closer to a workable solution for schools that would like to use the Chrome browser to achieve the same management features and functions of ChromeOS.

To download the beta version of Chrome, click here.

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.