A Digital Worksheet is Still Just a Worksheet

digital worksheets

Recently, there have been a number of tech tools that have been created to help enhance teacher productivity and improve assignment workflows in the classroom. Take, for example, the excellent OneNote Class Notebook Creator. It is an ideal app for Office 365 schools who want to quickly distribute materials to a whole class, have students work in a paperless environment, while also providing a collaboration space for the whole class to work in.

Google Apps schools are flocking to Google Classroom – a management tool for teachers who are looking to consolidate and simplify the flow of electronic files. It lets you make a copy of an individual document and distribute it to students with permissions configured automatically so that only the student and the teacher can see the document. There is also a discussion feed for students to communicate inside your Google Classroom.

iPad classrooms are using workflow apps like Showbie as a way for students to turn in assignments created on the iPad so teachers can grade them and give feedback. Similar apps like Skaffl, Handouts, and Turnitin do much the same thing, while others are turning to cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive to meet the same need.

Then there are the many learning management systems that were created to take your classroom to the cloud. Canvas, Moodle, Schoology, Blackboard, Haiku, BrainHoney and many many more exist because teachers are looking for simple ways to unify the experience of delivering content and working online with students.

However, there’s a problem with all of these systems. The problem is, that they make it too easy for teachers to do what they always used to do – assign worksheets that don’t challenge, engage and empower students in their learning. A digital version of a paper worksheet is still just a worksheet, and it is not taking advantage of the powerful technologies that students have at their fingertips today.

It doesn’t matter whether you are using Chromebooks, Macbooks, iPads or Surface tablets. A low-level worksheet is a low-level worksheet whether it is in paper form, a PDF, a Word Doc or a Google Doc. Whether they type on it, or write over it with digital ink, it makes no difference. I know it is quick, easy, and convenient to assign. I know because I did it myself when I was in the classroom. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher, but your students deserve better.

None of these tools are inherently flawed. In fact the majority of them are fantastic because they  offer multiple solutions to a very real digital problem. However, I would encourage you to use them in a way that is most befitting a modern digital classroom. Use them to collect authentic assignments that demand creativity. Use them as part of project based or inquiry driven learning projects. Use them to showcase learning in a way that can only be captured with an electronic device.

Consider collaborative projects in Office Online or Google Drive. Have your students write a blog post or create a website to showcase their learning. Have them create a screencast or an Office Mix presentation. Assign them a video project that combines other multimedia content or take advantage of stop motion and green screen effects to communicate their learning. Have them create a Thinglink, an interactive timeline, or a custom Google Map. Challenge them to some App Smashing (it’s not just for iPads by the way), tell some digital stories, create some Kahoot quizzes, or reach out for new ideas like augmented reality, QR codes, and makerspaces.

I know there is a lot out there, and I know it gets overwhelming, but it’s also incredibly rewarding and help is at hand. The chances are high that someone in your building is already doing this, and if they aren’t, there are thousands of educators on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ that will be more than happy to help you out and share their ideas.

Start small. Begin by replacing just one worksheet with an idea like the ones above and see how it goes. Watch the reaction you get from your students. As time goes by, continue to look for more ways to leverage the power of your digital devices and integrate meaningful digital experiences to demonstrate learning in new and innovative ways. Trust me. It will challenge your students, motivate them, and engage them in something deeper, and more meaningful, than any worksheet you can lay your hands on.

How to Add Clip Art to Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms & Drawings

At a recent Google Drive training, a participant asked me if there was a way to insert clip art into a Google Doc. They knew how to insert images, but they wanted an image bank of those cartoon-like clip art images, just like in Microsoft Word. Can it be done? Indeed it can. Here’s how.

Start by opening the document of your choice and going to Insert > Image to open the Google Image browser. Then select “Search” from the menu on the right-hand side.

insert image

Next, enter the type of image you are looking for in the Google search box. Results that are shown are labelled for commercial use with modification, so they are perfect for classroom use. In this example I am going to search for a picture of a dog.

dog image search

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Google Slides for iPad: A Good Start, But It Still Needs Some Work

Today Google finally delivered on their promise to release an iOS version of Google Slides. It is free, available in the App Store right now, and joins Docs, Sheets and Drive as part of Google’s productivity apps for the iPad and iPhone. Is it any good? Here are some initial thoughts I had after trying it out this afternoon.

Google Slides for iPad

It is great to have the ability to create and edit Google Presentations on the iPad, but you probably won’t rush to uninstall Keynote, PowerPoint or even Haiki Deck just yet. Why? Well, although you do have some basic formatting and editing features built-in, Slides still lacks some basics that you might expect to find in an interactive iPad presentation app.

For instance, you only get one theme to choose from when you create a new Presentation. That theme is not even a theme really because it is just a collection of white slides. Another drawback is the inability to add images or video. There is no option to browse the camera roll for media, or even to copy and paste images from other sources.

When you come to present, you can see your speaker notes in the editor mode, but not in presentation mode. That’s a little odd. There are also no annotation tools or laser pointers that you find in the presentation modes of other apps. There are also no transitions or animations.

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How to Move a Public Google Site to a Google Apps Domain (and vice versa)

Better Google Sites

Something I get asked about every now and again is how to move a Google Site that was created in a public account, into a Google Apps for Education domain account. This is a popular thing to do when a school gets Google Apps for Education for the first time. However, it is also a top request among teachers that move to a new job with a new school and want to do the reverse, or even transfer between apps domains. Here’s what you need to know.

The first important thing to know is that you can’t actually move a site. What you have to do instead is make a copy of the site, and for this you need two Google accounts — your personal account and your Apps for Education account. Once you have made the copy, you can choose to delete the other site if you want, or just take it offline and ignore it.

The instructions below are based on a scenario where you have created a Google Site in your public account and want to move it into a Google Apps domain because your school is going Google. However, it is very much the same procedure to make a copy of a site to a public account, or move it between apps domains. So, let’s get started!

1. In your browser of choice, log in to your personal Google account with your @gmail username and password. Then navigate to the Google Sites website you want to work with.

2. Now, add yourself as an owner by clicking on the blue share button in the top right-hand corner of the site. (You are, of course, already an owner of this site, but what you are going to do here is add your new Google Apps for Education account as a collaborator on the site. Be sure to give this account the rights of an “Owner”).

sharing permissions

2. Next, copy the URL of the site you just added your school Google account to.

3. In another browser, (or in another user account in Chrome), log in to your school Google account with your Google Apps for Education username and password.

sign in to Google

4. Paste the URL of the website we made changes to earlier. You should find that you have full access to the editing controls when it loads, but if you don’t, scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Sign in link in the footer.

5. Click the gear icon in the top right-hand corner, and select Manage Site. This will take you to the General settings page of your Google Site.

manage site

6. Choose the “Copy this site” option and rename it accordingly. If you want to keep your other Google account as a collaborator on this site, feel free to copy the original collaborators checked before you copy.

copy this site

7. The site will now appear in your list of websites at http://sites.google.com when you are logged in with your Google Apps for Education account.

There are, however, a couple of caveats. For starters, the site you just created now has a new URL. Be sure to make that available to anyone who needs access to your site, or create a custom tinyurl and share that. The URL you used previously, will direct people to the site that was originally created outside your Google Apps domain.

Speaking of the old site, it’s a good idea to change the sharing permissions on the one to “Private” so not to confuse visitors about which site to visit, or just delete the old site altogether if you don’t think you will need it any more. You also need to make sure that you, as the owner, are updating the correct site!

Otherwise, you should be good to go. When you make a copy of a Google Site it will look exactly the same as the original version so all the content you had before will now be available to you and your visitors inside your Google Apps for Education domain.

Google’s Classroom LMS App: What We Know So Far

Today, Google took the wraps off a brand new free app for Google Apps for Education users called Classroom. It is designed to meet the needs of teachers and students in the same way that an LMS like Canvas, Haiku or Edmodo might do. Here’s what we know so far.

UPDATE: Google Classroom is now live for all Google Apps for Education domains. Read my hands-on review and step-by-step guide here.

In a press release on their blog, Google listed the following features as part of the new Classroom app for Google Apps for Education users:

  • Create and collect assignments: Classroom weaves together Google Docs, Drive and Gmail to help teachers create and collect assignments paperlessly. They can quickly see who has or hasn’t completed the work, and provide direct, real-time feedback to individual students.
  • Improve class communications: Teachers can make announcements, ask questions and comment with students in real time—improving communication inside and outside of class.
  • Stay organized: Classroom automatically creates Drive folders for each assignment and for each student. Students can easily see what’s due on their Assignments page.
Google Classroom Screenshot
Screenshot of a student dashboard in Classroom

Teachers can add students to a class they create, or issue an enrollment code to students. When teachers create an assignment, they can choose to share it as a single document or create a copy for every student in their class. Teachers can see at a glance who has turned in the assignment, and who hasn’t, as well as send announcements to the whole class. Students can also post questions to a classroom stream for everyone to see or comment on.

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Test Driving the New iOS Apps for Google Docs and Sheets

Today Google released two standalone apps for Google Docs and Google Sheets. They are available for iOS and Android, and perhaps most exciting of all, another new app for Slides is on its way. So, how are they different to the iOS Drive app? Let’s find out.

google docs for ios

In terms of features, the big difference is the ability to create and edit documents offline. This is obviously nice to have, but it does not work with the “old” Google Spreadsheets, only with the “new” Google Spreadsheets or spreadsheets you create inside the app.

Additionally, seeing as they are separate apps, you only see your Docs in the Docs app and Sheets in the Sheets app. Teachers of younger students in a GAFE school may appreciate the separate app for just that reason.

It’s also a little easier to share a doc, because just like the desktop version you can now do that from inside the document or spreadsheet by pressing the “i” in the top right hand corner. You can also use Speak Selection on selected text to read that text aloud,  which is great as as an assistive technology tool.

You can now set a passcode lock for each user of the app. This could potentially be handy if your iPads are shared devices, but you will not always be prompted to enter a code or choose an account each time you open the app unless you choose the “always lock” feature, so turn that on to switch between users every time you open the app.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the Docs and Spreadsheet apps are now the only way to create and edit Docs and Spreadsheets. Google has removed that functionality from the iOS Drive app, and turned it into a file manager like Dropbox, Box or OneDrive. If you hit the “+” sign and try to create a new document, you will be prompted to download the new Documents app if you don’t already have it.

google sheets for ios

Missing features? The most obvious gap seems to be the continued lack of support for tables in Documents. Hopefully that will come in a future update. I’d also like to see a Forms app that is optimized for the iPad, so hopefully that will be on the roadmap in the not too distant future. Other thoughts? Feel free to leave your own ideas below. Maybe Google is watching! 🙂

More information here.