Posted in Cool Tools, Google Slides, how to

Create a Slide Template using Theme Builder

Lesson packaging or content packaging is an important part of teaching these days. Just as you would create a handout, worksheet or physical activity for students, you can create a digital activity that can be shared with students in a digital environment like Google Classroom. When you use the theme builder in Google Slides to build your activity, you can rest in the knowledge that students will be unable to delete any lesson elements accidentally. Some of my favorite edtech creators use the theme builder to create fun activities like the “disguise the turkey” and “decorate a jack-o-lantern” activities. It is also beneficial for those of us using interactive projectors. Isn’t it annoying when you go to click on your model slide and it selects and moves an element without you wanting to? If you are super crafty, you can also create your own slides layouts and designs like those awesome creators on slidesmania.com and slidescarnival.com.

To learn how to use the slide theme builder to create your own slide template, check out my slide tutorial below. (How many more times can I use the word slide in this very short blog post?)

I would love to see the amazing slide templates you create with the theme builder feature. Drop a link in the comments to showcase your work!

Posted in Cool Tools, Google Classroom, how to, Student Workflow

Use the Google Classroom Question Feature for Easy Student Sharing

There are many times when students create content in Google Classroom as part of a project or assignment and we want them to be able to share their work with their classmates to allow for discussion and interaction. Once the students submit their work to their teacher, it kind of gets locked down and the only person that can view it is the teacher, who then has to figure out ways to grab the content and make it shareable with the class. There are all sorts of work arounds but it usually requires the teacher to put time and effort into copying and pasting student work into a new format or by using a third party app like Flip for students to record and share their work.

The easiest way to have students share their work with their classmates and have opportunities for their fellow students to comment on the work and give feedback is by using the “Question” tool in Google Classroom.

Essentially, you create a question that simply asks students to share their work. To share their work, students create an “anyone with the link can comment” link from their work and post that link as their answer to the question. Once the link has been posted, other students are able to click on that link, view the work of their classmates and then use the comment feature naturally built into Google products to leave feedback for their classmates. Since the question is assigned to students, teachers will be able to see, at a glance, which students have responded from the grading side of the assignment. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

Here is how to create this sharing opportunity:

Open Google Classroom, navigate to the Classwork page, click “Create” and select “Question from the dropdown.

Set the question type as short answer and then give your students directions on how they are to share their work. The easiest way is for them to open the work to be shared and create an “anyone with the link – commenter” link that can be copied and pasted in as a response to the questions. Your district might have this option locked to just your school domain, so the student would pick that option along with “commenter.”

Student View When Creating the Link
Sample Way to Write the Directions

If you want the students to be able to respond to the work directly on the question thread (this gets a little messy and I don’t necessarily recommend it), make sure you have the “Students can respond to each other” option toggled on.

Allowing students to reply to each other creates a really long thread to wade through.

You can also choose to let students edit their answers. I found that to be helpful when students created and posted the wrong type of link and had to go back and share the right one.

When you create the question, you can always include additional materials. You could create a video showing students what you want them to do. You could share your own work for the students to comment on. You could add a funky music video that harkens back to the golden age of MTV. It is totally up to you!

Students will then be able to answer the question by posting their link as a response. What is kind of cool about this is that they will not be given the option to see the responses of their classmates until they have posted their own response.

Student View in Google Classroom

Once they have posted their link, they will then be given the option to see the responses of their classmates.

After the link is added, they now have the option to see classmates answers
The links show up next to the names of the classmates

Students can now click on the links their classmates shared, open the materials and use the comment feature to leave feedback for their peers.

Students can leave feedback for their peers right on their work.

As the teacher, I can then look at the student answer side of the question to see who has turned their work in and who has not. The links are there for me to click on and I will be able to see who left comments for their peers. It makes it pretty easy to track participation.

Teacher view of the question once it has been posted

Now, I know that you can get all fancy and do this with Flip, but it requires students to go out and use a third party application. The nice thing about using the question feature is that it is all in-house and contained in Google Classroom. And, you can have the students submit just about any product for their peers to view. Videos, docs, drawings, slides, sheets, and images are just a few that come to mind.

I hope this method of student work sharing makes your life a little easier. How do you see yourself using it with your students?

Posted in G-Suite for Education, Google Classroom, how to

Google Classroom Quick Guide for Admin

We have been using Google Classroom in our district for a long time now, but I feel like admin are still a little shaky when it comes to their understanding of the functionality of Google Classroom. A few of them jumped on the bandwagon in the early days of adoption and made a classroom for staff communication, but by-and-large, they have kind of abandoned the medium for their own uses. I think it is important that admin have conversations with their teachers about how they are using Google Classroom, so I made these quick guides for admins to use. One is focused on how the “Stream” functions and the other is on the nuts and bolts of the “Classwork” page.

Google Classroom Stream
Google Classroom Classwork

What do you think? Will these drive conversations in the right way? Am I missing something that you think I should add? Let me know in the comments! If you would like a copy of these for yourself, here is the link to the Google Slide I used to create them.

Posted in Cool Tools, Google Docs, how to

Video Preview in Docs = Awesomeness For Note Taking or Question Answering

In education, we often work in video. Fortunately, we have been able to step away from the “whole class watches the video at the same time” method of teaching thanks in part to programs like BrainPOP and Edpuzzle. The problem with those programs though are that they don’t live in Google Classroom and are not portable for students to be able to keep their responses or notes for future use after the video assignment has ended.

That is why I am in love with the video preview feature in Google Docs. Using this feature, you can build a multimedia response activity right on a single doc. The students don’t have to have multiple windows open as they can watch the entire video right there while working on their doc.

As an example, I created an activity focused on invasive species. I wanted my students to watch a short video and answer some questions based on the video. I am planning on having them use the answers to those questions in a larger project, so they will need to be able to access them again in the future. Plus, I want them to have access to the original video in case they need to review it as they are working on the larger project.

I created a doc and placed a table in the doc. On the right side of the table, I wrote the questions I wanted the students to answer. I put it on the right side because when the video is previewed, it will cover up the right side and I didn’t want them struggling to move it to type their answers. On the left side of the table, I left space for the students to write their answers. I used a table because I wanted the space to be able to grow as they wrote but still be aligned to the original question. At the top of the table, I linked the video. I used the smart chip feature in Docs to make the link look prettier, but you could just put the link there.

Students can then mouse over the video link and when it pops open, they simply mouse down to the bottom right of the video and click the preview button. The video will then open on top of their doc and they can play it, pause it, rewind it or skip ahead as they work to answer the questions.

Video Preview in Docs

I will assign this activity in Google Classroom with the “make a copy for each student” option. After they turn it in, I can easily return it and students then have access to their notes by either opening the assignment in Google Classroom or by locating it in the Classroom folder in their Google Drives.

This feature makes taking notes so much more accessible for our students! Just an FYI, kids can click the little x in the video to get rid of the commercial bar that covers the video at points. How are you going to use this feature with your students?

Posted in Cool Tools, how to

Easy QR Code Generation in Chrome

Your Google Chrome browser now has a built in QR code generator. If you want to share something as a QR code, you can now do so in two easy clicks! Simply look to the right of your URL and click anywhere in the white space of your URL bar. A QR code icon will show up. Click on it and a QR code will generate. All you need to do is download that QR code and you are set and ready to go!

If you are working on a computer instead of a Chromebook, you will click on the square with the inset arrow icon to access your QR code.

Don’t forget to change your share settings if you planning on creating a QR code for a Google Doc, Slide, Sheet, etc. Nothing worse than getting all of those request for access emails.

Posted in Cool Tools, how to, Screencastify

Create Your Own GIFs with Screencastify


I use Screencastify almost every day to make short instructional videos. Sometimes these videos are just a quick point and click moment where I am trying to show someone else how to do something, and often, I don’t even use my microphone because what I am teaching is pretty obvious by what is seen on the screen. I decided that instead of sending a short video to people, that I would just use the cool feature on the Screencastify watch page to turn that short video into a GIF and send that instead. That way, the teacher doesn’t have to click play or rewatch the video because it will just keep playing on a permanent loop.

I then got to thinking about all of the things that I could turn into GIFs. Math problems, science demonstrations, funny reactions, quick guides, and so much more. Because I am in charge of edtech PD for my district, I decided that all of my teachers should know how to make awesome GIFs with Screencastify, and so the following how-to guide was created. Enjoy! I hope you make the most awesome GIFs ever!

Posted in Cool Tools, Seesaw

Practicing Fluency with Seesaw

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about how to combine Google Classroom and Screencastify to give students opportunities to practice their oral fluency. We still use Google Classroom for our 3-12 students, but have begun using Seesaw for our PreK-2 students. After working with a kindergarten teacher, I realized that we could also use Seesaw to create activities that would allow for fluency practice. The kinder teacher (Melissa) I was working with wanted her students to practice their letter naming fluency two different times to see if they could get faster and more fluent the second time. She wanted this fluency activity to be on one page with multiple opportunities to record. While this activity was designed for kindergarten students, you could create something similar for older students by adding passages to the canvas in the same way we added the letter charts.

To create this activity, we used a single page activity with directions for students to use the record voice option. We also used the Seesaw Reflect extension to grab content from online. We are very fortunate to live in Ohio where we have access to a statewide resource of teaching and learning materials called INFOhio. My activity is the one on top. I tried to give the students a visual cue on how to access the record voice option by creating the how-to steps with images. Melissa created the one on the bottom and provided a really nice set of directions. Can you tell who the real kindergarten teacher is? If I were to do this with older children, I would take some of the reading passages found in INFOhio and add them to the activity using the Seesaw Reflect tool.

When students add their response to this activity, they open the activity, click on the three dots on the left, click the voice button and record themselves reading. Since Melissa wanted the kids to do a one minute timed trial, they could use the recording counter that begins once you start recording as their timer. When they finish their recording, Seesaw automatically creates a button that says “Listen” and their recording is attached to it. As long as they keep their recordings under five minutes, they can record multiple times. Each time they record another “Listen” button will be created. If they want or if directed by their teacher, they can change the word “Listen” to numbers to show their first, second, and subsequent recordings.

Once challenge I discovered is that the recording feature often covers the content I want the students to read. I have tried to create the activity so the the material is off to the side a little to keep it from getting covered when they are recording. Another option is to teach the students to double click or double tab on white space on the canvas to get the text box option to pop up. Once it does, they can tap the three dots and choose voice from the menu. It is a little more fine motor work, but it will keep the recording button from covering the content you want the students to read.

This activity will give your students a lot of independent opportunities to practice their fluency independently. Because the recordings stay right on the Seesaw canvas, students can listen to themselves and hear their growth over time!

Posted in G-Suite for Education, Google Calendar, Google Classroom, Google Sites

Add Your Google Classroom Calendar to Your Google Site

During this pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that caregivers and students need a one-stop shop where they can get information about the happenings of our classrooms. Knowing that caregivers cannot actually take a look into Google Classroom without signing in as a student, many teachers have turned to Google Sites to create informational classroom websites.

A useful feature that you can add to your website is you Google Classroom Calendar (or any Google Calendar that you create to keep caregivers and students informed.) When you add the Google Classroom calendar, students (and caregivers) can easily see when assignments are due. They can also get assignment details by clicking on the assignment while viewing the calendar. As I have mentioned before, I have a son who needs a ton of parental management. Being able to see what is due and when it is due without having to sign in as my kid makes my life a lot easier. I am sure I can’t be the only parent out there who has to be “in charge” of learning at home!

With the quick insert feature available in Sites, you can add a calendar in just a few clicks. However, before you get started on that, you need to make sure that the calendar is visible to viewers outside of your domain. This requires you to go to your Google Calendar and change a view setting.

To see how to add a Google Calendar and make sure your settings are correct, watch this short video.

Posted in Google Docs, Quick Tech Tips

Chips and Docs

Smart Chips are a newish feature to Google Docs. With smart chips, you can embed Google products like docs, slides, sheets, and drawings right into your doc. I have also had success chipping videos that live in my drive or from the share links on Youtube! In addition to embedding these materials in your docs, you also have the ability to add dates, calendar events or even create a calendar invite right on the fly. 

Let’s say that I am working with other teachers or preparing a group project for students. I can create a document that has all of the content that we need and embed it right into the document. In the past, I could accomplish this with hyperlinks but with smart chips, it gives a nicer visual feel and my collaborators can see the type of content I have linked rather than just clicking on a word I have hyperlinked. When you mouse over the smart chip, it gives a preview of the content you have chipped, let’s you know who owns the content, and reminds you to alter your share settings on the original content if you have not done so already. Take a look at an example of a document I built using smart chips.

When you mouse over the chip, you get a preview of the content it represents.

To add a smart chip to a document, type the @ sign and begin to type the title of the material you want to pull in from your Drive. The content the dialog menu box pulls is slightly limited, so if you know exactly what you want, you can always go to your Drive first and grab the share link from it. Once you hit the @ sign in your doc, you can simply paste the share URL in. Docs will then prompt you to hit tab to turn the URL link into a smart chip.

To learn how to add smart chips to your own documents, watch this short video.