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.

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.

Continue reading “Google Slides for iPad: A Good Start, But It Still Needs Some Work”

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.

What’s New for Schools with the Latest Google Drive Update for iOS?

Google has updated its iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch version of Google Drive with a clean new interface and a few new features ahead of the impending introduction of the new iOS 7 operating system for Apple’s mobile devices. So, what’s new and what’s still to come? Let’s find out.

Google Drive iPad App Update

What’s new for educators?

Visually, users will notice an immediate change in the layout and feel of the new Google Drive app. It now mimics many of the features you find on the Android app and you can view your files and folders as a list or a grid. The details panel is all new, and includes an image preview of your file at the top. From this panel, you can now copy the link to any document so that you can paste it into another document, app or email. Finally, there is an update for Google Presentation files. You still cannot create or edit these files, but there is a new viewer complete with speaker notes, a slide sorter view, and a true full screen mode.

Google Drive for iOS

What teachers still need

We badly need  support for tables. Why has this taken so long? Android users have it, but iOS users can’t view or edit tables and this can be a major inconvenience. I’d also love to see more sharing options. Why can’t we share documents as “anyone with the link”? Better still, why can’t Google Apps for Education users have domain sharing options to share files with everyone in their organization? And what about Google Presentations or Google Forms? Can we expect to see those added any time soon?

Conclusion

Overall, I love the update. I like the cleaner look, the ability to copy links and the nice new viewer for Presentations, but Google Apps for Education users will continue to seek further updates to increase efficiency with Drive on the iPad in the classroom. Let’s hope that comes sooner, rather than later. In the meantime, be sure to check out my guide to a Paperless iPad Classroom with the Google Drive app. It has been updated to include screenshots from the latest version of the Drive app.

The Paperless iPad Classroom with the Google Drive App

Google Drive

Have you read The Paperless Classroom with Google Docs by Eric Curts? If not, you should. It is a great way for Google schools to harness the power of Google for sharing documents, and establishing a workflow for students to turn in work for teachers to grade and return in a paperless environment. I love it. In fact, I liked it so much that I decided to pay homage to it with a version that is dedicated to doing the very same thing on the iPad using just the Google Drive app.

Regular readers will have seen my last post, How to Use Comments on the Google Drive iPad app. For me, this was a key change to the Google Drive iPad app, and one that had huge implications for the iPad classroom. It inspired me to think about just how much you can do in Google with an iPad and the Drive app, and I soon discovered that you can do a lot more than you might think.

So, with the blessing of Eric Curts himself, I sat down and went through all the steps he meticulously outlined for the desktop version of Google Drive, and converted as many as I could to the equivalent actions in the Google Drive iPad app. Then I added some additional steps for other things like taking documents offline, or grading PDFs, images and movies.

I realize that a lot of what Eric Curts lays out in his original document can already be done on the iPad by switching to Desktop mode, but this environment it is just not optimized for the iPad and can be clumsy at best. It can be done, of course it can, but if you can do what you need to do in the Drive app, the chances are you high that you will have a less frustrating experience.

I hope, therefore, that these ideas will be useful for Google schools that use iPads in the classroom. It is a first draft, so I welcome all comments or suggestions on how to update or improve this for other educators, and as updates are made to the app, I will endeavor to update this document accordingly. You can see the finished product here: The Paperless iPad Classroom with the Google Drive App.

How to Use Comments on the Google Drive iPad App

I’ve spent a few days playing with a great new addition to the Google Drive iPad app – comments! They can be used to share ideas with other collaborators or as a way of grading student work. So, if you haven’t had time to try them out yet, here’s how they work.

Add Comments Google Drive iPad App

  1. To insert a comment, tap in the document to leave a general comment, or select the specific words that you want the comment to be linked to by pressing and holding to select text.
  2. Next tap the comment button next to the title of the document at the top of your screen, or select “Comment” from the pop-up box above selected text.
  3. A comment box will appear in the top right hand corner, where you can type in your comment.
  4. This comment will now be visible to others who share the document (such as your collaborators or the student who turned in the assignment) although the comment(s) will not display when the document is printed.
  5. Collaborators (students, you, etc.) can reply to any comment by typing in the box labeled “Reply to this comment…”
  6. You can also tap the pencil to “Edit” your existing comment, or to “Delete” it.
  7. Finally you can tap “Resolve” to close the comment from further replies.

Google Drive iPad Comments

Are you using Google Drive on your Android phone or tablet? If so, you’ll be glad to know that comments work there too and you should be able to follow the instructions above to get them to work almost exactly the same way on those devices.