Real world connections – talking science on Google Hangout


I love this photo.

The children enthralled at the picture but more because they got to talk science with a real scientist, in this case a volcanologist.

As a teacher I can help the children in my class understand plate tectonics, I can show them pictures, I can inspire them to ask questions and show them how to conduct experiments.

But I can’t tell them what it smells like near a volcano, the instruments you use or that you need to throw out your clothes after you’ve been near an erupting volcano.

Most importantly, I can’t tell them about the amazing adventures you can have as a scientist.

Sometimes you need to ask others…

Why I banned Google slides in class

I love Google Apps for Education the services keep getting better. There are oodles of scripts and extensions to further enhance the experience for both kids and teachers. As far as ease of use, ability for children to collaborate and a teacher to give feedback nothing beats Google.

Yet there has one been one tool that has been a niggling problem in class.


The first thing that most of the kids in my class do when faced with a classroom task is open a presentation. Despite modelling and guiding the kids in design principles, showing them other creation tools, I was still receiving multiple poorly designed slide decks.

Lots of information, bad photos, poor design and a couple of YouTube videos embedded with no context.

When the kids were giving presentations, they were reading off the slide decks. More problematically they weren’t demonstrating a high level of understanding of the concepts they had been learning.

So I took a step back and observed the children’s use of slides.

Lots of copying and pasting, not much analysing and thinking. Moreover the kids were losing sources of information unless it happened to be a YouTube video.

The problem wasn’t slides.

The problem was that slides were being overused and used as a curation tool rather than for the purpose of creating presentations. There was a need for the kids to a break up ‘research and thinking’ and the creation rather than doing a bad job of both at the same time.

So I took an unusual step – I banned the use of slides in class.

The kids were free to use any other tool. I also introduced the kids to Pintrest as a means to curate content.

It was like a light went off in the kids heads – research needs a different set of tools from creation.

The children started using their bubble catchers, they started talking about concepts with each other and were suggesting websites for their friends to visit.

When it came time to think about how they were going to ‘show what they know,’ all those other tools and apps the kids had learned were utilised. Better yet, they were planning what their content first on docs taking pictures from their bubble catchers of important ideas to remember.


Transliteracy in action

Yet as we sat down for our class read-aloud, I fired up a google slides which I use as a modelling book for our novel discussions on the class projector.

“Hey Ms Stephanie I thought you’d banned slides in our class.”

I love that the kids tripped me up on my hypocrisy.

We discussed purpose of using slides during read alouds, the kids were able to identify that slides were a good tool because:

  • Everyone can see the words in the board when we’re discussing and reading the story.
  • We can refer back to our thinking and predictions as we read the story.
  • Children can access discussions easily online via a link on our blog when working on literacy tasks or discussing the novel on our classblog.

Then I challenged the kids to think of how they were using slides and how much clearer their thinking was now they were using tools appropriate for the purpose.

A little voice popped up.

“So slides are good, but you need why you are using them.”

Yes that’s it.

#gafesummit – Moving from talk to action redux

A @shareski inspired jump shot.

A @shareski inspired jump shot.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 2 years since I last attended a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) summit. Life has changed a lot since then.

When I left the last GAFE I came away with a lot of plans and a zeal to share my plans with anyone who would listen and many who didn’t want to.

My plans were:

  • Do a series of 1 minute ‘what’s going on in your classroom?’ video. Review with my tutor teacher to look for improvements in teaching practice. Post reflections to my blog for input from a wider audience.
  • Contribute to the digital citizenship project.
  • Institute a daily google challenge to improve my class’s digital literacy (thanks Wendy Gorton for the book, I also plan to write some questions relevant to my New Zealand context).
  • Design an app for my class to communicate more effectively with my parents/students. Students and parents to have input into key functions.
  • Use google maps to develop a virtual tour for incoming year 7s for next year.
  • Hold an end-of-term ‘innovation day’ based on the principles behind google’s 20% time.

Did I achieve my plans?

Erm yes and no. I did post a few videos of cool stuff and even a welcome video for my new principal, I still do google challenges and innovation day happened at my old school. But when I look at that list, I realise that there were a lot of things I didn’t come close to accomplishing. My lesson is that I’m very good at coming up with crazy ideas not so good at implementing them.

Coming to GAFE Singapore was a change to reconnect with all that crazy googly energy. To remind me that coming up with ideas is one thing, but implementing is so much harder.

So my new action plan is:

Geek Girl Dinners – Something that bothers me at educational technology events is the lack of women presenting and sharing. Teaching is a workforce dominated by women yet the field of edutech is largely dominated by men. Instead of quietly complaining I’m publicly planning to help do my part to get more women sharing how they use edutech in the classroom. I’m hoping to get the first event underway before christmas

Telling stories better – It’s amazing how quickly I’ve gotten out of the habit of using my phone to video moments of awesomeness. I really do need to get into the habit of capturing things. I took on @shareski point that teachers need to tell stories. I’m using Humans of New York as inspiration to tell stories about the kids in my class. 

Share the Joy – I’ve gotten out out of the habit of sharing. Making time to write more instead of faffing around consuming stuff on twitter I need to put time into creating things for others.

Just do it – I’m not sure if it is a fear of failure or poor time management on my part but I’ve become  a lot more risk adverse these days. I’ve already got one project on the boil at school and another one I’m in the process of putting together.

Doctopus + goobric making google apps for education more awesome

I love Google Apps for Education. However managing workflow can be an absolute nightmare with students sharing new docs and not naming the correctly which can make it hard to find work. Moreover keeping an eye on your data can be even more cumbersome.

But what if there was a system that easily shared documents with students, gave you an overview of the class and stored the data effectively.

Enter Doctopus.

Doctopus (document + octopus) essentially acts like a giant photocopier which can send files out to individual students, project groups or the whole class. There’s a nifty little chrome extension called goobric where you can enter levels and feedback onto a form which then is magically pasted back to a spreadsheet giving you a view over your whole class while students have access to the class.

I’ve used Doctopus for formative writing assessments and rolled out through the specialist teachers reports. The downside of the script is that it doesn’t like to do more than about 100 kids at a time. However in terms of managing workflow in Doctopus is the bomb.

Before you get started make sure you are using Chrome. create a Doctopus folder which contains

  • A spreadsheet with the names + gmail addresses of your class (you can export from your contacts) in two separate columns. You can create a 3rd column which groups students. If you want the kids to be in the same group, assign them same letter in this column. You might not want to share to all the kids in the class in which case just write exempted in the group column.
  • The document/s you wish to share
  • A folder for all the student docs you’ll be creating
  • A rubric in spreadsheet form (optional)

Right lets party.

Find the script

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The first thing you need to do is to install the Docotpus script. In the spreadsheet with your student roster click on tools then script gallery. Doctopus will be right there. Install the script. You’ll get a couple of pop ups asking you to authorise the script for your account. Go ahead and authorise.


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Once the script has been installed you’ll notice an extra tab on the top of the spreadsheet with doctopus go ahead click on it and launch installation.


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Image by author

Image by author

The first choice you’ll be asked to make is what kind of ‘share’ you want.

Project group shares one document to a group of students to work on.

Individual all the same  shares the same document to each student individually. Useful for whole class tests.

Individual differentiated shares different documents to kids based on groups that they work on individually. Useful for writing groups or giving extra scaffolds for some kids and not for others.

Whole class shares the same doc for the whole class to access.

Once you’ve decided on the sharing type, you’ll get some options about sharing. You can give editing and commenting rights to other kids automatically. There’s also an option of sharing these documents with other teachers which is useful moderation purposes.

Click on ‘save settings’ and you’ll get a weird octopus come up. That means the script is doing its thing.

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Image by author

The next thing you’ll be asked for is what document/s you wish to share and with what group. This is where the folder comes in handy. First click on the folder then select the documents you wish to share.

After that, click save settings again.


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This brings us to step 3.

First you need to select where you want all these docs you’re about to create filed. This is where the ‘student work’ subfolder comes into play. This dumps all the files in the one spot making it easy to find when you are looking for tests.

Next you have to name the file. I always put $name (which creates a named file for each student) and then the project they are working on. You can also send a little message out when you share the file to let the kids know which assignment to find.

Now your final step, sharing the document. Have a quick check all the information is correct and hit the ‘Run copy and share’ button. This will send the document out to your class. You can redo step four if you have students that might have been exempted that you now wish to have the file.


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You’ll get a little doctopus dancing as the files are being shared. Just leave the computer to do its thing.

Once you are done, you’ll notice some extra cells on the spreadsheet. The hyperlink will take you to the doc that’s been shared with the student. The ‘last edit’ lets you know when the student last edited the document. You can lock down the documents in the doctopus tab by hitting the embargo for grading.


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Speaking of grading.

The chrome store has a nifty little extension called goobric. This basically puts a pop-box in each document for you to mark a students work and then give some comments. The comments paste into the doc and back into the spreadsheet you’ve been working on.

First install goobric onto your chrome browser. You know you’ve been successful when you see this little eye on the right hand corner of your address bar when you are a viewing a google doc.


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Now that goobric has been installed, go back to your doctopus tab and hit attach goobric.


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Now you need to select the rubric you’ve put into selected earlier. Here’s an example of the e-asstle (a New Zealand writing test) that I’ve converted into spreadsheet form. You need to make sure you’ve got the criteria going down one column and the levels going across the other.


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Select the spreadsheet then wait a few seconds your pop up should have the spreadsheet in the window. Hit on the ‘attach Goobric to this assignment button.’


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You’ll notice now that your spreadsheet has more columns filled in with the different criteria. Those will be filled in with grade. Click back to sheet one and then you can start grading.


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To mark a piece of work, simply click on the eyeball thing in the corner and you’ll get a pop up.


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Enter the levels and the comment and then hit submit and paste into the document. You need to make sure you’ve hit submit before going to a different page otherwise you’ll lose the comments. You can choose to email the grade to the student or perhaps you might want to wait if you are moderating work.

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Once you are finished, the goobric will be pasted into the students work.

But what makes goobric awesome is that those marks and comments are also pasted back into the central spreadsheet. You can mark a piece of work multiple times and decided between an average mark or a last mark.

Image by author.

Image by author.

This lengthy post probably makes scripting seem hideously complex. But once you learn the process, you can set up a copy in a few minutes and it makes managing data, particularly for teachers of multiple classes so much easier.

I also like that teachers can easily share student work easily for moderation purposes.

Scripting probably isn’t a sexy topic for normal people. Moreover doctopus probably sits more down the modification end of the SAMR spectrum. The technology is doing the same stuff we always did on a computer but with a few functional improvements, making data and online workflow easier to manage for teachers. But hey sometimes teachers need to make life easier for themselves.

Stay tuned for what happens when the kids start using the task…

Weekly Reflection – on your way to Disco

This year I volunteered to be the teacher in charge of Student Council which also means I’m the teacher in charge of organising the school discos. Officially the student council run disco but there are limitations to 11 and 12 year olds organisational skills.

Organising permission slips, tickets, posters, food sales, lighting, music, prizes, decorations not to mention cleaning up afterwards is a big job. I must admit that I was expecting the weeks leading up to disco to be frantic.

It wasn’t.

The reason?

Google docs.

Ticketing has always been a logistical nightmare. 18 classes to keep tabs on and each kid needs to be issued with an individual ticket so we know how many kids we’ve got inside in case of an emergency.

So I set up a google spreadsheet. Each classroom teacher filled out their student names on separate tab. I filled in the ticket number and then mail merged the information into a ticket. The result was that each child was issued a ticket with their name on it.

When the night came, the teachers in charge of ticketing could easily cross off kids on the master list so we knew how many kids were at the event very quickly.

I also had a google doc going for the student councillors. Music is the most important thing for disco so each student had to go back to their class and get the top five songs. From there I could share that doc with the teacher coordinating the playlist. The kids designed posters which they then shared across the network.

The week of the disco I circulated a google doc with some of the jobs I needed teachers for. The teacher put their names next to the duties and added other jobs I had forgotten about to the doc. In short I was able to tap into the collective knowledge of the teachers in the school without having a giant meeting.

While having nice weather and some awesome staff does help to keep events running smoothly, I’ve found technology helps so much in helping to keep big school events manageable.

Weekly Reflection: #GAFEsummit Moving from talk to action


Author googling it up

Another holiday, another trip up to Auckland to attend a conference.

This time around it was Google Apps For Education (GAFE).

Conferences have a two-fold purpose for me. The first is obviously to hear new ideas but the more important one is to renew links with all the teachers I interact with on a regular basis on twitter and also to connect with new people. GAFE definitely ticked both of those boxes however it would have been fantastic to have the event last longer than a day.

I hope that GAFE returns to New Zealand and will definitely be looking to apply to any Google Teacher Academy that comes close to New Zealand.

In the spirit of GAFE, I’m determined that my day at ASHS isn’t just a talk-fest but actually leads to some concrete actions.

So where to from here?

  • Do a series of 1 minute ‘what’s going on in your classroom?’ video. Review with my tutor teacher to look for improvements in teaching practice. Post reflections to my blog for input from a wider audience.
  • Contribute to the digital citizenship project.
  • Institute a daily google challenge to improve my class’s digital literacy (thanks Wendy Gorton for the book, I also plan to write some questions relevant to my New Zealand context).
  • Design an app for my class to communicate more effectively with my parents/students. Students and parents to have input into key functions.
  • Use google maps to develop a virtual tour for incoming year 7s for next year.
  • Hold an end-of-term ‘innovation day’ based on the principles behind google’s 20% time.

Term 4 looks to be a frantic one at just 9 weeks with camp in week 2 and my school undergoing a major refurbishment so perhaps this list is a bit optimistic and ‘go with the flow’ will definitely be my mantra but so too will ‘follow your passion.’

In the spirit of action, I am going to be of blatant self-promotion. The ‘learning to make a difference‘ project is in the finals for the New Zealand Interface magazine awards in the ‘best teaching with ICT’ category. I would appreciate your support by voting for the project here.

How do you implement ideas from conference into your teaching?
Do you engage with conference organisers about the effectiveness of the ideas you’ve picked up at a conference?