striking serendipity

For a couple of months now I’ve been singing the praises of Google forms, and I’ve tried to verbally explain how to make them. As we all know, however, it is difficult to follow verbal direction alone, and I hope that I can make up for not using the multiple-intelligence modes I’ve touted in the past. That I’m now able to show, as well as tell, is due entirely to serendipity: good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries. Google just announced that Google forms can now be embedded on blogs and websites, meaning that you don’t have to provide a link to the form for your students to fill out; they can simply fill out the form wherever you place it on your website, blog, or wiki. This development was both unexpected and a nice surprise.

In my next post, I’ll display a form for you to try out for yourself, wholly executed through the simplicity of Google Docs.

But first, I’d like to show you how to get a form started, and that brings me to the second piece of fortunate discovery, Jing. What I’ve needed is screen capture software that allows mark-up. Jing is the real thing. It’s got some great features and is very easy to use. Can’t you imagine about a million applications for this software to help your students better understand just about anything?

Let’s get a form started. You’ll need to open a new spreadsheet, which will be presented to you unsaved and untitled.

Once you’ve titled your spreadsheet, your entries will be saved automatically. Don’t worry about filling out the spreadsheet; instead, we’re going to build a form that will create the spreadsheet for you.

Now, the real fun begins as we custom build a form. Stay tuned!

collaboration and process

A while back, Google asked teachers to tell them how they were using Google Docs and Spreadsheets. They have now published results of that questionnaire from teachers all over the globe. Two key themes emerge from this survey: collaboration and process. These are enthusiastic endorsements:

In some point of progress, the students invite me to join them and have a look at and give comments on their work. It helps me, as a teacher, to be able to participate in the process, not just see the final product. The students also appreciate that they can work without having to think about different software at home and at school.

This is a great point. As English teachers, we know that successful writing is all about revision, revision, and revise again. And, I can so relate to the last statement. I’ve been asked dozens of times why teachers seem to be slow to adapt to using technology in the classroom, and I just shake my head. There are so many incompatibilities and costs involved, it has seemed impossible to get everyone on the same page. Web utilities such as Google Docs make universal compatibility a reality. In fact, if I had to choose one reason why technology has stalled in the educational arena, I would say incompatibility of software and hardware tops the list, hands-down.

Another teacher incorporated a chat mechanism into her students’ presentations. One student conducted the out loud talk about the slides, while the others added their comments to the chat:

For the first time I can EVER remember as a teacher – 100% of the students were engaged in the presentation and participated in the chat. The students were enthusiastic and offered insightful and appropriate comments. The students liked being able to add their input without interrupting the presentation. I will definitely use Google shared presentations again.

Here’s a teacher from Portugal who appreciates his ability to comment on papers before they are revised into a finished copy:

One of the main features that I found was the ability of following their work (each group gave me access to the document), since the first day, inserting comments along the documents and giving clues to the students. Moreover in the end all of their work was published (with a click) and presented to the student community.

Google has an excellent tutorial for teachers who are considering this very useful tool.

the sound of no paper shuffling

On any given day in the classroom, our time is spent shuffling papers. All of us shuffle: students, teachers, administrators. So much paper, so much shuffling. When our students are in the process of completing projects, we shuffle even more papers, or folders, or notebooks. During projects, we like to see how our students are progressing, and we suggest revisions, and shuffle it all back and forth again and again. When we are dealing with 150+ students, that’s a lot of shuffling. Lots of trees.

I’m becoming an anti-shuffler.

One of my favorite projects for my tenth graders comes at the end of the school year as we are reading Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, called the Discover Family Project. It involves 5 writing efforts completed over several weeks. When each piece of the project is due, the students present that portion to the class. In the past, when students finished their presentation, they handed in what they’d written. I’d suggest revisions, then hand it back so they could revise and compile all the writings into a final copy of the entire project. As you know, a lot of shuffling is required for a project like this. If there is no movement in paper handling, the work sits idle and incomplete in the student’s backpack or on your desk, accomplishing nothing, accumulating only stress.

There is a way to keep everything in one place. Think of this tool as a project manager that takes over the task of distribution, even allows flexibility in the way that materials are distributed.

Set up a spreadsheet on Google Docs such as this one for the Discover Family Project. Before anything is filled in, it is a template. Click the publish button, and place the link on your website. Have your students go to the site, right-click select all, and make a copy for themselves. This eliminates the step where you make 150+ copies of the project timeline and pass them out.

As the students write their papers in Google docs, they will click the publish button to produce a web link, which they add to the column on the spreadsheet. You will click on that link, read their work, and suggest revisions. After they revise, you will review for the final grade.

Distribution flexibility comes in two ways: (1) your students can make their spreadsheets public, and select to have you notified by email when changes are made; (2) your students can email their spreadsheets to you whenever they make a change. You decide which option you are most comfortable with. This eliminates the steps where you collect their papers for each step of the project and hand them back.

Life presents plenty of opportunities for shuffling; Education 2.0 provides ways to diminish it.

More on Google docs and lesson plans:

of Anglo-Saxons and slideshows

visualizing Google docs

teaching with docs

FORMing rubrics

Prior to my Education 2.0 thinking, I used paper rubrics to assess my students’ essays. I made large numbers of copies of my rubric, and filled each one out upon completion of marking and grading the essay. The rubrics were given to the students when I returned their essays.

I recorded the final grade points from the rubrics, but not the breakdown. I could only hope the students kept the copies of their rubrics, and maybe even compared them to subsequent essay rubrics in order to assess progress in each area. While rubrics make it easier for instructors to provide a more detailed explanation of a final grade for an essay, it is difficult to assess progress from essay to essay beyond the final grades of each. Does grammar continue to cause a particular student problems? Should I spend more class time discussing essay structure?

With my Education 2.0 mindset, I’ve tried to resolve these dilemmas using the various tools at my disposal. Nevertheless, I’m not looking for more work for myself, so the implementation has to also help streamline my workload.

Here’s what I came up with. I created a form through the Google doc’s application as a rubric template for me to fill out, the results of which will be collected in a spreadsheet. Google forms makes it easy to mix-and-match the type of questions, so your forms will accept different types of input. When choosing the type of input for the rubric criteria, select checklist. In order to fill in the points earned, select text. Now, I don’t want to make a separate form for each one of my students, so what I did was to copy the spreadsheet, renaming each one with a different student’s name. For each one, I click the Share tab, and tell it to fill out a form, and it creates a new form for me, automatically. When I’m ready to fill out a rubric for a student, I bring up his or her spreadsheet from my document list and click on ‘go to live form‘ at the top of the sheet.

After I’ve ‘filled in’ a student’s rubric, the output will look like this. Google allows me to send a copy of this page to the student through email. Now both the student and I have a copy of the rubric and, at a glance, we can both see the student’s writing strengths and weaknesses. Each time I assess another of the student’s essays, the rubric breakdown is added to the same spreadsheet, allowing the student and me to assess progress over time. It’s all in one place, and it’s working for both of us.

More articles on Google forms:

Infinite variations on a form

quiz on friday!

input facilitates output

looking good on paper: it’s overrated

When it comes time to edit essay drafts and final copies, many of us prefer a clean paper copy to work with. We are used to wielding red ink pen (I used to use green ink if only because it wasn’t red!), flipping pages back and forth, circling, underlining, making notes in the margins. We prefer it because, despite the hassles of handling mounds of paper, we were trained to do it this way, we’re used to reading paper, it works for us, and it has always been thus.

However, reading and editing on paper does not work for our students; they do not prefer it. They know they are entering a world in which paper is not the primary method of conveying communications. For as long as we can remember, the tools of school, with the exception of the telephone, have also been the tools of business: pens and pencils, typewriters, paper. No longer. The tools of business are computers and cellphones, merely peripheral tools in the school setting, unfortunately.

Printing a paper copy of an essay is an extra step done at the teacher’s insistence, not a necessary step in the business of their lives, and our students know it. Think about the reports and essays that get to you late: they were left at home, in the car, the printer ate them, assuming the printer worked at all.

I’ve ‘collected’ Beowulf essay rough drafts from my students, and I’ve completed some basic copy-editing, utilizing those familiar tools, highlighters and green ink. Students will make the necessary corrections and ‘turn in’ a clean copy for a final grade. Check it out. No, it won’t have the crisp feel of white paper.

And that’s the way they prefer it.

More articles on Google Docs

Google docs finally offlined!

teaching with docs

visualizing google docs

context and comprehension

All literature is contextual. While our students might follow the plot of a tale such as Beowulf, the story will really only come alive for them when they understand the culture of the Anglo-Saxons. This is true regarding all stories and their cultural context, but especially true for very old cultures from which we only have meager clues as to how people actually lived. Often, the clues come primarily from the stories themselves, so we can set our students to the task of being detectives, employing reading comprehension.

Attaining relevance is really just adding to previous knowledge, and, more importantly, chipping away at existing misperceptions. Here is an exercise that will help with both.

An Anglo-Saxon village has just learned that their king and his battle-weary men are soon returning from a conquest, after a long absence. In two pages, describe the details of the reunion, such as setting, characters, and the ceremony itself. What is the significance of the ceremony to the village? In such a harsh environment, what were the benefits of being well-spoken or artistic? Back up all statements with line numbers from the poem.

No matter what you’ve tried to articulate about the Anglo-Saxons, students retain a mental picture of gruff, axe-wielding barbarians, so it is critical that students find the clues by carefully parsing the text. Beowulf‘s poet would not recognize their mental construct!

Since the poem is difficult even in translation, it helps to have visuals, as well as background information, and this is where the web becomes a welcome ally. Provide specific sources, such as these, so that they don’t become overwhelmed with the varying levels of research available.

This type of assignment works well with groups or pairs. Have students open a new Google Doc, giving each member permission to edit, as well as you, the teacher. Have them send you a link to each group’s papers. Set a timeline for the project and check their progress regularly, leaving comments on their drafts. Tip: If each person in a group composes in a different color, you will see at a glance who is doing what.

Utilize the tools of our culture to explore another.

forms for earth day

For a long time I’ve been looking for ways to diminish the amount of paper used for teaching, and it’s not all about the environment. All those before-school, lunch breaks, and afterschool minutes spent at the copy machine add up to too much of the free-time in my life. And that’s when the darned machine is actually working. And then there’s always the department’s allotment of paper, which seems to run out at the most needful times, and then I’m spending my own paper money for paper copies. I’ve had enough of paper.

Think of all the times you use paper to gather information from your students, their parents, other teachers, club members, and so forth. First you spend time making the copies, then you take more time to disseminate all those copies to the appropriate people. Next, you collect all those papers, file them, check to see who hasn’t turned them in yet, make more copies for those ingrates who lost them or used them for paper airplanes instead of giving them to their parents . . . . You know all too well how this goes.

So while I’ve been looking for ways to cut down on my use of paper, here comes Google with their Google Docs forms application, whose primary utility is to gather information into one place. Without paper. I’ve been yammering on about forms for awhile now, but don’t just take my word for it. Read what a very busy and most grateful middle-school band teacher has to say:

I am a middle school band director. I teach nearly 300 students each day
and have communication with them and their parents – nearly 1000 people in

With Google Docs, my program has reduced its paper use by as much as 90%.

Instead of using hard copies, thousands of times over, we can now set everything up to work online with documents, forms, and spreadsheets. Previously parents had multiple pieces of paper for certain functions. We can now eliminate these by using separate online forms. Rather than going through so many pieces of paper, parents can now just click the next link.

Read the rest of what Matt Doublestein, self-proclaimed teacher and earth-friendly Google Docs user, has to teach us about saving the earth–and, bless him, saving us time!

Happy Earth Day!

Google Docs finally offlined!

Since the beginning, when the Google Docs application first became available in October 2006, I have loved using it so much I’ve been able to overlook the one major detraction: it was only available online. Yes, I had a place where I could collect all of my lesson plans, class presentations, quizzes, tests, notes, everything for the classroom–and it was available everywhere I was. Anywhere that had an internet connection, that is.

I had a connection in the classroom, but it was a victim of a sloooow server, making the internet a less than dependable tool during lectures. Still, I made it my primary repository for all materials because of its accessibility and the automatic saving/back-up/revision features. Soon, sharing and collaboration made it easy for me to assess and comment on student essay drafts, a welcome development, but still I had to depend on a connection.

Some months ago I detected rumors tossed about the web that Docs would be available offline as well as online. My heart began to pound. Could this be merely a dream, or a dream-come-true?

A couple of weeks ago, the dream came true, as it was announced that Google was offering a slow release of the offline feature. I waited patiently–well, somewhat patiently–and, finally yesterday, I got my wish. A little green and white arrow icon now appears at the right-hand top of my Docs screen, such a tiny symbol for such huge functionality!

Docs offline capability is powered by Google Gears, which you are prompted to download if you haven’t already done so for offline use of Google Reader. After downloading my offline application, I immediately put it to the test. The download places an icon on my desktop so it’s very simple to access offline. All my documents came up, and it was very easy to edit. When I went back online, my modifications were instantly synchronized; I didn’t have to do a thing except beam.

The one thing you can’t do currently in offline mode is create a new document, but I have figured out an easy work-around. When you are online, create a couple of blank doucments (I titled them Blank Doc 1 and Blank Doc 2), which will then be available for you to ‘modify’ when you are offline. While you’re at it, create a couple of blank spreadsheets and presentations, too, so you won’t be caught off-guard next time you’re without an internet connection and you’ve got some serious work to do.

Here’s a video showing how the whole thing works. Enjoy!

quiz on Friday!

Yes, it’s Friday and we’re ready to take a quiz. If you haven’t studied the Elements of Anglo-Saxon poetry, you’d better cram now.

In a post from last week, Infinite variations on a form, I introduced the concept of using Google’s form application to produce online quizzes. That particular quiz was set up to accept textual responses, all of which were accumulated in a spreadsheet. The purpose of a quiz like this, I suggested, is to see how well your students understand the material from a previous lecture. What makes this online method of testing so appealing to me is that in a quick glance–as opposed to shuffling through dozens of papers–I can determine comprehension, and adjust my lessons accordingly.

Today’s quiz on The Elements of Anglo-Saxon poetry is multiple-choice, one of the form-types Google has built into the application. Here’s the link to the spreadsheet that has already collected answers from my ‘students.’Your understanding of how these forms work is greatly enhanced if you actually take the quiz yourself. Even if you don’t take it, check it out. You’ll see that the first ‘question’ asks for either a student’s name or his or her i.d. number. My thinking is that there may be great benefit to making the the results of this quiz public, so that students can compare their responses to other students’ answers. If they don’t want their names displayed, they can enter their i.d. numbers.

If you set it up so that the results are immediately available, your students will get immediate feedback. You’ll need to follow the instructions to make the response-spreadsheet public, and provide that link to your students. There is great value in immediate feedback and seeing how their responses stack up to those of other students. If you, the teacher, take the quiz first, the correct answers will appear on the first line of the spreadsheet. Even before the quiz is graded, students can see how many responses they got right.

You have the option to keep the spreadsheet private until all the quizzes have been taken and the responses accumulated. You can enter the raw scores into the next column and apply a spreadsheet formula to enter percentage grades, and at that point make the quiz results public for your students.

Of course we all know that effective teaching is interactive, a two-way communicative boulevard between teacher and student. Google’s forms application is merely a tool to facilitate interactivity, still in its earliest developmental stages, but which is already stirring those infinitely creative juices in the teacher-in-me.

Find more information at the Official Google Docs blog.

of Anglo-Saxons and slideshows

Last night I was into my second viewing in so many days of the new semi-animated film Beowulf . I started thinking about the sorry state of my “Elements of Anglo-Saxon Poetry” slides. Pretty sad, isn’t it? We never turn off.

Anyway, I grabbed my laptop and got to work. I didn’t get rid of the text-heavy slides I’d already created but added more visual slides to spiff up the presentation.

Check out the new slideshow and tell me what you think. I created the slide from Google docs Presentation. Tomorrow I’ll discuss the ideas behind the visuals.

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