5 Ways Google Apps Saved My Life In First Term

This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been given some permissions to explore Google Apps For Education as our school looks to move closer toward cloud-based learning tools for teaching and learning. As a result, I’ve done a lot of reading of blogs, watched countless YouTube instructional videos, completed the Google Educator online course (which I highly recommend spending the $75 for the certificate!) and used our whole school goal of using data to inform future teaching and learning practice, as a basis for all of my planning and reflection.

In one of my previous posts I shared my personal goal for the year, which was to implement routines and structures to better manage myself and my students thus maximising use of class time for effective learning. Perhaps the biggest influence, for want of a better word, is Google Apps.

So here are five ways that Google Apps saved my life:

1. Student self-assessments

At the end of our first unit of inquiry, students reflected on their learning journey through the six-week unit. Our central idea was ‘Communities are enriched/influenced by the contributions of individuals and groups.’

Rather than hand each student a paper copy of our beginning-developing-established rubric, I created a Google Form and offered the students multiple-choice questions and responses to reflect upon and assess their own learning. As part of our class Essential Agreement, we agreed to be ‘principled’, and as a result, our answers would be honest, truthful and a reflection of our own personal learning, not others.

Here is what the questions looked like, and the original form:

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Linking the responses to a Google Sheet, I was able to see all the data from the students updated in real-time.

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Give that all questions on the form were ticked with ‘compulsory’, students were required to give evidence for their responses to the respective learning focus. The data that was received by our teaching team was analysed to assess student learning, inform which inquiry focus perhaps needed more attention in the future, and provide students with a means and a voice to share their journey through this particular unit.

2. Conditional Formatting in Google Sheets

A big thanks must go to @misskyritsis who introduced me to conditional formatting in her TeachTeachPlay YouTube webshow several weeks ago, but this has been a genuine life-saver. Previously, student assessment data would be loaded into a spreadsheet and I would spend hours trying to find trends by looking at letters, numbers, symbols and the like. Conditional formatting, however, has allowed for a better visual display of student data.

To allow for conditional formatting:

1. Select an area within your Google Sheet that you would like to format:

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2. Click Format, and select Conditional Formatting:

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3. Select from the drop-down menu the rule(s) you wish to follow for your selection:

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4. Consider the background and text colours for your formatting. I know that if I type in 1, I am considering that to mean ‘Established’; 2 is ‘Developing’; 3 is ‘Beginning’; I use the traffic light colours to differentiate those levels, and I do not wish to see any text, so make the text colour the same:

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5. Click save rules, and you can begin to input your data, and the formatting will change automatically!

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Rather than taking hours to click individual cells or columns and filling the background colour to visually demonstrate student achievements, now it is done for me with the click of a button. So what once looked like this:

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Now looks like this:

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3. Take-home reading reports with Google Forms

In a previous post I shared how I assess my students’ reading by combining Google Forms and Sheets with weekly email to parents. I have since found this to be a positive way to include my students’ parents into the learning process, while at the same time receiving (positive) questions, feedback and ideas, as well as collecting data about what my students are reading, enjoying, missing and practicing.

4. Enhancing collaboration with teaching and support staff

I am so pleased that I no longer have to sift through dozens, if not hundreds of emails in my inbox, searching for that elusive Word document containing anecdotal assessment notes from three weeks ago that I really needed for a meeting or phone conversation with a parent whose son/daughter is grouped with another teacher for numeracy and… well, you see where I’m heading with that.

Now, all of the data from our 100+ student cohort is saved in a shared Google Drive folder which can be accessed anywhere at any time. Further, rather than filling out our own notes and then emailing back and forth, multiple users can edit and modify the same document at the same time on multiple devices. Folders and documents can also be shared with learning support staff and administration. We share folders for Literacy, Numeracy, Units of Inquiry, handy websites, excursions, documents, meeting agendas and more. Our learning team leader created a Google Calendar to share important dates, meetings and events.

We hope to explore add-ons like Goobric and Autocrat, Kaizena and Doctopus in the future.

I dare say that as a team, we have likely saved 100 hours of administrative work by electing to go the collaborative route rather than the ‘traditional’ save-and-change-and-send-on route.

5. Provoking student thinking and inquiry

It is truly amazing to see what my students have explored with Google Apps and their action approach to the learning process. From going home and creating a Google account, to sharing YouTube videos through Twitter. From basic surveys about favourite colours and foods in Forms to collaborative thinking routines in Google Docs and Drawing.

We have established and modified our Essential Agreement of appropriate Internet use and provided examples of the way we use Google Apps for learning and linking them to the PYP Learner Profile. Google Apps encourage learners to inquire, to think and to reflect. It has further promoted my class’s ‘Big Words’ of respect and responsibility.

And the journey is just beginning…

— How has Google Apps For Education saved your life? —

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Using Google Forms To Collect Data About Students’ Home Reading

This year I’ve been exploring the use of Google Forms as a way of collecting assessment data from my students. Rather than spend a lesson of my release time flicking through learning journal and checking for signatures, the Form above was something I cooked up with the students in about 10 minutes during our Library session earlier this term. I asked them, ‘If you were a teacher, what would you want to know about how, what and why your learners are reading at home?‘ We came up with some ideas together, and this became our weekly home reading self-assessment.

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Using the response Spreadsheet that is automatically generated, I am able to see all the responses from my students, as well as a breakdown of their self-assessments, e.g. more than 50% read at least 2 books form the library this week; there are some new words that they can use in their narrative writing pieces; not many students read non-fiction books; some students need more explicit teaching for giving a summary.

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Now, I will have real-time data about their reading, and the results can be integrated into our numeracy lessons as we are looking at how data can be collected, organised and presented!

Furthermore, each week I can direct my focus questions to our class focus as well, e.g. What text connections did you make? What was the main idea of your text? Which books did you read that might relate to our unit of inquiry? Were any of your predictions for your book correct? What was the author’s purpose in your book?

I email an embedded link of the Form to my students (and Bcc their parents so they are involved in the learning process as well) each Tuesday morning for them to complete on a Tuesday night. I have found it to be an engaging way to reflect on their reading, and have already found that the volume, quality and level of their reading is beginning to increase.

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This is one way which I am adhering to my personal goal of implementing routines and structures to better manage myself and my students thus maximising use of class time for effective learning.

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How do you use Google Forms to enhance your teaching and learning?

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The Coach and The Coached – Collaborative Self-Development

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Right at the moment my mentor suggested to me that she was searching for a ‘subject’ to coach, the prospect of collaborating with her to enhance my own practice was something I knew I wanted to do. A part of me felt that it was now time, after two years in the system, to be more proactive with my self-assessment and development.

Over the summer holidays, I thought about the ways in which I wanted to improve myself so that I could provide a better learning environment for my students.

Like most 20-something year-old males, admittedly, sometimes my organisational skills leave a lot to be desired. My office desk a shambles. I had files and folders scattered over my computer desktop. My learning space would frequently look like a bomb site, and while it was moderately humorous to have the school cleaners joke about the state of my room, it was in fact a reflection of me, the way I teach and the way my students learn.

I felt I was being pigeon-holed as the ‘young guy who is good with ICT’ by staff, and ‘Mr Kuran is a good teacher because his lessons are fun’ by some students.

I felt like I wasn’t being seen for what I am truly capable of.

So, I sat down and established my goal, which sounded something like: ‘Implement routines and structures to better manage myself and my students thus maximising use of class time for effective learning.’

What did I specifically want to change, improve or modify? It begins with me, and my own self-management. Improve the way I manage myself and that will lead to better management of my students. What did that include? Planning. Preparation. Time management. Tidiness. Establishing (and sustaining) structures. Establishing my role in our teaching team. Modelling respect and responsibility.

My mentor would come in and film me. I would observe the video with her and name and notice the behaviours in my class. Instructions. Engagement. Focus. Modelling. Are the children sitting for too long? Is my instruction repetitive? Have I explained the learning engagement in the best way?

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How would I know if I have been successful? Would it be as simple as knowing in my own mind that I have improved? That my classroom management had improved? Would I need to see it documented in the video?


Being coached for the last few weeks has already dramatically changed my practice. I’m pleased that the structures I have put in place, linked closely to the class’s essential agreement, have meant that I am beginning to maximised learning time. The 9:10am starts have moved to 9:02. Talking for 8 minutes has become 5 minutes. While waiting for other classes to congregate for our literacy rotations, we have been watching videos on Wonderopolis. We are asking questions and thinking about our learning before our classes begin. We (our teaching team) are maximising the amazing space we have in our open learning area, as kids spread across beanbags, stand at tall-tables, collaborate, investigate and create.

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What now?

Regular meetings with my mentor, in which I think about what I have seen on film, reflect on my actions, planning, management and goals, have made me feel more confident in my own practice. One of the strengths of this program, in my opinion, is that I’m not told ‘how to do things’. I am assessing myself, with support, and analysing data to inform my teaching. Yes – just as we do with our own student assessments!

As I think back to this time last year, and even further back to my first year of teaching in 2013, it is heart-warming to actually see and hear myself now.

The reflective process through filming, noticing and applying change, is an absolutely beneficial one that teachers, new and experienced, should try. Even just once.

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Inspiring Student-Led Learning With SOLEs

sole-sugata(Image taken from http://www.dialogcrm.com/blog/2013/02/27/ted2013-prize-for-education-in-the-cloud-sugata-mitra/)

Unable to sleep early last week, I did what any educator would do to pass time – jumped on TED! Browsing through the list of tags and topics, something in my mind connected with Educational Scientist Sugata Mitra’s TED-Talk videos. I had watched them previously but not with a level of attention that was really required to truly ascertain his message, his values and philosophies.

So, I clicked on his video titled ‘The child-driven education‘, and then, with curiosity and excitement igniting, ‘Build a school in the cloud‘. If you have a spare 30-40 minutes, I highly recommend watching these clips, if not for Sugata’s wit and humour, then for his kind soul (not to be confused with SOLE – that’s later!). As a speaker, he blends humour with ingenuity, an honest and forthright recollection of his ‘experiments’ and educational ideology.

He reiterates the notion that students learn best from, and with, one another. In fact, these days, all children need are an internet connection (and a smart device), a small group, and a source of admiration and encouragement. That those three elements are all it takes for authentic, purposeful student-initiated learning to take place might seem far-fetched upon first thought.

I decided to test out Sugata’s ‘Self Organized Learning Environment’ design in my Year 3 class during the week. We established these environments on two occasions – once to form some basis of a summative assessment in a mathematics unit about shape, another to provoke deeper thinking and curiosity for the beginning of a unit of inquiry about needs and wants.

The School In The Cloud Website  allows educators to create SOLEs for their group of  learners. Within this website, you can start your SOLE, share and connect with a global learning community, as well as logging your own experiences with SOLE and the progress of your learners and their learning.

All it takes to begin is setting a time limit – 30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes, entering the number of students in your learning space, and a BIG Question.

The Big Question can be phrased in many ways, depending on the scenario. I elected to pose my Big Question as: “Why do we need to learn about shapes?”. Students were then divided into groups of 4 – each group was given one iPad (Broadband), one piece of A2 paper, pencils, texts and a designated area within the learning space. They were told they would have 60 minutes to answer the question in a way that would allow others to learn from them.

So, in a nutshell:

  1. Five groups of 4 with an iPad, paper and pens
  2. 60 minutes to respond to the question
  3. The teacher observes and provides feedback/assistance when required

Is that really all there is to it?


Collaboration – Initially I stood back and made some observations about the way they selected their groups, where they chose to set up, how they planned to tackle the big question, and the vocabulary they used in their communication. All groups were different throughout – some were consistent, some started well and dissipated as time passed, and some took a lot of time to get the ball rolling before ending on a high.


Encouragement – Groups were given time to ‘grandma’ around the learning space – to briefly peer over the shoulders of their classmates and gather ideas or inspiration to improve their own learning. However, if they chose to ‘use’ some information that they had found, they were encouraged to leave feedback to that team and let them know that the information was invaluable. I felt that this was one of the more positive aspects to come out from this experiment. Our numeracy coordinator also joined us to ask questions, share ideas and provoke thinking from our learners.


The big finish? Given that this was our first attempt at creating SOLEs in our learning space, I was more interested in the collaborative nature of the activity, and the learners assessing themselves with regard to how they contributed as a part of the group, and how their group operated overall for an hour. Responses varied:

  • ‘We worked well together because we shared ideas.’
  • ‘We assigned roles and everyone contributed.’
  • ‘We argued about how we should display our ideas.’
  • ‘I didn’t think we would work well together but we did.’
  • ‘I saw different groups doing different things.’

Our conversation turned to the skills required to success when we learn collaboratively. We referred to the PYP transdisciplinary skills and decided that the most important skills we needed to think about for the future were the need to resolve conflicts when they arise, to demonstrate attentive listening, to make decisions as a group and adopting a variety of roles. I gave the students 30 seconds to think about which skill they saw as an area for improvement for the future and wrote it on a post-it note.

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The best part about the experience? My belief is that Sugata Mitra set up School In The Cloud to strengthen global connections in learning. One of my students posed a wondering in his SOLE, and wrote it down. I took a photo of it and put it on Twitter.


The response?

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So why SOLEs?

On the day following our first SOLE, several students came to me asking when we could ‘do another SOLE’. I asked them why they’d like to have another go at it:

  • ‘We learn from each other.’ – student-centred
  • I find out new things from my friends.’ – collaboration
  • ‘It’s fun!’ – engaging
  • ‘I feel like I can share what I know in my own way.’ – personalisation, differentiation
  • There are so many websites with information to help us!’ – research skills
  • We want another big question!’ – inquiry approach to learning

It’s all about SOLE!

A big thanks to @schoolincloud @sugatam

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Seven Signs You’ve Become a PYP Educator

  1. You don’t use the word ‘student‘ – the term ‘learner‘ has become so much more profound in your dialogue
  2. You don’t plan ‘lessons‘ – you inspire critical thinking, curiosity and inquiry through engaging provocation

  3. You don’t wait for simple answers – you look for great questions that lead to further inquiry

  4. You don’t pretend to know everything – you’re on a child-centered learning journey toward international-mindedness

  5. You don’t teach in a classroom – you establish an inspiring learning space that is not confined by walls and promotes global-connectedness and understandings

  6. You don’t limit yourself to assistance from your staffroom – you make connections with a global professional learning network with whom you share, collaborate and celebrate your practice

  7. You don’t ‘do tests‘ – you provide learning experiences that lead to student-initiated action

When did you know YOU had become a PYP Educator?

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#PYPchat – A Global Professional Learning Network for PYP (and non-PYP) Educators

Yesterday I was proud to present to a group of fellow educators about #pypchat. The presentation took place as part of the Victorian PYP Network TeachMeet program. I have attached my presentation below. 

If you are a regular #pypchat contributor, or even if you’re not, see if you can spot yourself as part of my PLN!

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Personalisation and Developing Real Relationships With Students

I’ve just spent the best part of a couple hours on YouTube watching a series of videos from Dr. Christopher Emdin. He is an African-American Education Professor at Columbia University, and is the man behind #hiphoped on Twitter, which has a tremendous following in North America. He has presented TED Talks about teaching teachers to create magic in the classroom, transforming education through hip-hop music, and is one of the most profound spokesmen about urban education in the US.

The video that inspired me is this one, which, if you do have 9 minutes, is well worth the view, particularly as it relates to the subject of this post. It speaks of the way he introduced hip-hop music, specifically rap and rhyme, to re-engage low-performing students who are completely disconnected from the course content. 

“They love hip-hop, they don’t love science.”

He takes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning – combining science with music, writing, critical thinking, reflection and collaboration.

“This is not just rhyming. You’ve got to know the content.”

From the video, it is clear to the viewer that Emdin has taken the time to get to know the learners, to understand their interests and gauge their level of commitment to learning. He has their complete and utter attention, and uses language that is specific to their needs. 

“They (the students) are looking for an opportunity to be heard.”

Providing the students with a platform upon which they can express themselves, their knowledge and understanding, Emdin is personalising his teaching approach in a manner that provides students with instant engagement.

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It gave me time to think about the ways that I get to know my students. Favourite sporting teams. Personal interests. Music genre. Siblings. Pets. But the most important question, had nothing to do with my students outside of school. 

‘How do I get to know a student as a learner?’

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What do you do to develop positive teacher-student relationships, to know your students as learners, as well as people?

How do we then, as educators, personalise our teaching and learning practices for our learners?



– – – – – 

Christopher Emdin’s Website

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