call forms anything you like, just call them

I wish Google had come up with a spicier name for their forms application than Google forms, because the word doesn’t begin to describe their multi-faceted utility. In fact, I ignored them for months because a) I’m no spreadsheet expert, and b) what the heck do I need a form for?

Let me count the ways. My brain is constantly thinking up new things to do with them. To me, the utility is more like a blank canvas—pure, unlimited potential. Just like the faces of those students sitting in front of you! No, they aren’t really blank canvases, but they are all about potential, and Google forms is a tool that will help you unlock it.

Think input: Crank up a Google form anytime you need to find out something from someone, such as what’s in the inscrutable minds of your students. Why use a form instead of paper? There are lots of good reasons why, but here’s the main one: Paper is much more time intensive for you (collecting, reading, grading, returning), therefore, you’ll only question your students as often as you have time for. Take 15 minutes to prepare a form, and it will do the collecting and returning for you. Grading is simplified because the responses all reside on one page. If you need to provide an individual grade, you can make the entry in one column next to their responses.

Yesterday, I began by showing you how to create a form using Google docs and spreadsheets. I’ll continue that show-and-tell by explaining how to bring it to life. The purpose of this form is to collect specific information from my students: what three books would they recommend to other high school students? This form is a sort of poll. From this information, I’ll compile an interactive reading list, which will calculate the percentage of books read.

Once you’ve told Google docs to create a form, you’re ready to start applying the brush strokes:

You can’t make a mistake on this, as it’s easy to edit at any point in the process, even when you’re finished.

You can choose which type of form to create: text (for short answers), paragraph text (for longer answers), multiple choice, checkboxes, or choose from a list. And, you can mix it up; for instance, maybe you need text and multiple choice in the same form.

Here is what the form looks like, and now I’ll show you how to put it at your website. [note: only websites which accept ifiles and javascript will work. More about that tomorrow.]

You’ll be given an embed code which you simply copy and paste into your website or blog. When published, the code will turn into your form.

The responses will be collected into a spreadsheet list. I can’t wait to see the results.


must reads

Circulating about the web is a list entitled ‘1001 books to read before you die.’ I’m not going to include the link, as there seems to be some concern about the site harboring spyware. It’s a good list of fiction, though despite the large number, there are many worthy exclusions. The site provides a spreadsheet to download, hence the spyware warning, upon which you can notate the books that you’ve read, and the spreadsheet keeps a running percentage. It also calculates how many of the books you would have to read in order to complete the list in your lifetime, given your age and demographics.

I had fun comparing my reading with this list, and I enjoyed finding out my personal percentage. However, my most palpable reaction to the spreadsheet was to fulfill an urge to read more books from the list in order to increase my percentage. It’s the gaming aspect, I suppose, similar to what keeps teenagers glued to their video games: just one more ‘level’ before tackling the homework!

While this particular list of books is perhaps appropriate for our more mature students, I’m beginning to put together a list of ‘must reads,’ with this tentative title: books to read before you leave high school. I require my students to free read for homework, and we have free silent-reading days for a whole class period every few months—-which they love, surprisingly—-so, I’ve amassed quite a list of their favorite books. Of course, I’ll ask for their input, too, in a Google form: List 3 books you would recommend as essential for every high school student to read. These results would be collected into a one-stop spot for me to compile a list.

Education 2.0 is all about providing fun challenges that students will internalize, to encourage them to get their game on, while learning something in the process.

For more about teen reading lists see:

book ’em

poetry out loud

Shawntay Henry from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands is this year’s winner of Poetry Out Loud, a national competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. Shawntay’s recitation of “Frederick Douglass” by Robert E. Hayden is whispery and dramatic, commanding her audience to reflect upon each word.

Even if your students were not among the 200,000 nationwide who participated, you can devise a competition for your own classes. The Poetry Out Loud website has an amazing list of 400 poems, both classical and contemporary, from which to choose. Here’s one of my favorites: mulberry fields, by Lucille Clifton.

In the true spirit of the actual contest, require your students to memorize one poem. They will ‘own’ that poem, and it will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

Begin by creating a Google form so that students can input their choice of poem. Create input fields for each student’s name, the poem’s title, and a link to the particular poem they have chosen. You will then have a list at your disposal to enable you to follow along with the students’ recitations. If possible, project the written poem from the links on your list to a screen for the audience to follow along as the poem is being performed.

What a wonderful way to celebrate our poetic heritage.

More articles on Poetry

tap your iambs

let them remix videos

music in the mix

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

what’s in your portfolio?

Towards the end of the school year, many teachers like their students to compile all the work they’ve done throughout the year into one place. This portfolio is a measure of the student’s accomplishment, as well as a record of his or her progress. Why not have them create an online portfolio?

A while back I wrote about the simple and free web pages Google offers, Google Page Creator. Have each of your students sign up with page creator. They can upload their essays from Word, or they can provide links to their published essays created in Google Docs.

Of course, it would be nice for you to have a list of all the web pages your students turn into portfolios. Yes, it’s a perfect excuse for starting up the Google forms engine again! Here’s an example of what your form might look like. And now you’ve got a very convenient list in the resulting spreadsheet, enabling you to click right down the column to check out all those portfolios. Smile, it’s a compilation of all the work you’ve done this year, too.

If you haven’t been keeping up with my Google forms posts, start with this one.

input facilitates output

Your class has read and analyzed the text, and now it’s time to write the essay. In essay writing, of course, output depends on input, or pre-writing. Continuing with our Anglo-Saxon unit, we’re going to prepare for an essay on Beowulf. One of the more constructive aids can be found at Edsitement: a table for filling in the Elements of the Epic Hero Cycle (pdf file). You can make copies of the table to use as handouts for your students, but maybe you’re trying to cut down on all those handouts. There is also an interactive exercise at the same site, which is useful for the individual student, but not for you, or the class as a whole.

Why not utilize Google forms to capitalize on all that useful input.

First, create the form from Google Docs and Spreadsheets. (Click here if you don’t remember how.) Here’s an example of what your form might look like. Now, sit back and wait for the input.

Once all the students have participated, publish the results. The output from the input form is a winner in two ways. First, you have an online document which shows you at a glance whether or not your students have completed the first steps toward writing the essay. It will also be very apparent what they don’t understand as a whole, or individually. All very useful information.

Best of all, though, is how they help each other. By making the input document public, all students can see what the other students entered, and make adjustments to their own understandings, or lack thereof.

You’re going to like the output!

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!

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.

Infinite variations on a form

Google recently released its forms application, and I must confess that I’m obsessed. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what all I can do with forms: grading and testing and quizzing and polls and information collection and books-read-this-month and surveys and signups. . . . It goes on and on until I fear my head may split. Finally, I put fingertip to keyboard and came up with a simple quiz on rhetoric (feel free to take it).

Here is the easiest way to create a form. Open a new spreadsheet in Google docs, and give it a title. Click on the Share button in the upper right of the screen. Next, click in the to fill out a form bubble. Click on Start editing your form. You can choose to send your form to email recipients, but I prefer the option for it to be viewed and answered online.

Setting up a form such as this rhetoric quiz is simplicity itself. You fill in a question (which Google calls a ‘question title’ for some reason). You may provide instruction for answering the question, such as: “Answer in a full sentence.” Then you click on Add a question and repeat. When you’ve completed your quiz, click on Save, and Google docs automatically creates a spreadsheet for you, where the answers will be collected. Find more information at the Official Google Docs Blog.

At this point, I place a link to the quiz at my website and wait for the answers to come in. Note: don’t forget to create a question asking for the student’s name, and another for class period, if appropriate.

I call this particular quiz a ‘feeler quiz,’ in which I can sort of ‘feel out’ whether or not students understood the information from a previous lesson, or if the material needs a further going over. Hmmmm. The latter, I think!