Google Docs

To say that Google has changed the way I teach would be an understatement. Since August of 2013, I have integrated Google into almost everything we do in my classroom. To preface this post, I do not work in a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) district. This means that every school does not use Google apps. In fact, I do not know of any other teachers in my county who are using GAFE, but hopefully I can rectify that situation.

The two main Google apps we use in my classroom are Google Drive and Google DOCS; for this particular post, I am going to focus on Google DOCS. Whenever I tell parents that I love/use Google DOCS in my class, the usual answer is: “What is Google DOCS?” It is an obvious question because DOCS is not as old nor as used as Microsoft Word. But, in my opinion, is far superior to Word for 99% of the people who use it. When I tell parents we use Google DOCS, I give a short introduction of how it works and how we will be using it. I tell them the main reasons we use it:

1. instant real-time collaboration (Word cannot do this..they can collaborate, but it takes more steps and is bulky)


The above picture is of three of my students working on the same document at the same time. Each student was supposed to create their own monologue and perform it in front of the class. Instead of having them work alone on their monologues, I wanted them to get help (because in my opinion, learning to write is a group process…if you don’t agree, ask a published author how many people ‘helped’ write their book 🙂 They were working on the middle student’s monologue.

To do this, all the student has to do is change the privacy settings to either make it public, allow certain people with the link to see it, or it can stay private. She can also share the document simply by emailing them from her Google Drive. This student did just that. She typed their email addresses and clicked send and POOF, all three students have the document in their Google Drive shared folder. Now, if you notice on the bottom left hand picture, it has the name “Brittney” in a blue box. That is so the other people working on the DOC know who is making changes. A great tip for real-time collaboration is to have each person work in a separate color…it helps with identifying who is making contributions. The bottom right picture shows editing and revisions that took place while they were working on the document. DOCS creates a revision history that allows me (the teacher) to see every revision or edit made, the time it was made, and who did the revision. This is incredible when you are assessing who did what for the finished product. It also helps to stop the “I DID do a lot of work. I promise!” The proof is in the revision history.

The best thing about this process is that they can see the changes take place in real time, so it really allows the students to talk about the writing process and to try new things. Like I said earlier, Word can collaborate, but not near as effortlessly as this and it is more complicated for the users. Also, did I mention that all Google apps are FREE for everyone? 😀

2. automatically saves document after every keystroke without the need to click File, Save.

Yep: students do need to learn responsibility and how to save their work. But, how often have you been working hard on a paper or story and simply forget to hit SAVE and then a vampire comes and cuts your power lines? Poof: gone. Just because you did not remember to save it does not mean you are not responsible, it just means you were ‘in the zone!’ DOCS automatically saves after every keystroke. This allows you to focus on the content. 🙂 I know I love this feature, and I tend to get more student work because they can’t say, “I forgot to save it!”

3. allows students to send me

a. a link to their doc

b. share it automatically to my Google Drive account

c. if they have to, they can save it as a WORD doc

It may sound like a small deal, but not having to worry about attaching files to emails is a great invention. Instead of SENDING someone a document, you SHARE the document with them. It also helps with having multiple documents at different places at the same time. This way, if someone needs to edit a document, they can edit ONE document instead of adding to a doc, saving it, and then emailing it back to you. As a teacher, I can make quick comments and/or revision to a student’s essay without having to save and resend…the comments appear on the original.

The ability to share their document with my directly via my Google Drive account has saved a LOT of paper in my classroom. Once they invite me to view/edit the DOC, I can grade it without having to print it out. If I have any questions, I simply add them to the comment section of the DOC and tell them to look at what I wrote. The ease of sharing within all Google Apps is astounding.

Many teachers will never jump on to the Google Apps For Education (GAFE) bandwagon, and that is OK. But, teachers should not punish those students who decide to use Google for their education. Google Docs has the ability to save a Google Doc as a WORD file. Once they finish their document, simply go to FILE, DOWNLOAD AS, and then click on WORD. Poof: you now have one file in two formats: the GDOC file and WORD.  Then, the student can email the file if needed.

Soon, I will write a post battling Google DOCS vs. Microsoft WORD 🙂 If you have any questions about Google DOCS, don’t hesitate to let me know!




Hamburger Grades

Today was a half day for students. They dismissed at 11:15, and we had parent conferences scheduled for the remainder of the day. I personally enjoy talking with parents; I feel it is that bond between parent and teacher that allows us to work together toward a common goal.

During one conference, I literally laughed out loud before I knew what I had done. I am usually pretty loud anyways, but this particular story caught me off guard because I had never heard of this.

Mom said she constantly checks her son’s grades via Infinite Campus (an online grading portal). This, of course, is nothing new. However, she said that whenever they are going out to eat as a family, she checks his grades before they enter the restaurant. If his grades are lower than they should be, she leaves that particular restaurant and goes to a ‘lower level’ establishment. She explained that a couple of nights before, they had pulled into Chilis’, and then left to go to Burger King.

Now, I love me some Burger King, but given the choice, give me Chilis’. Her child loves Chilis too. When she got to Burger King, she told him that he produced “hamburger grades,” so that is what he is having for dinner.

When she said that, I laughed out loud. Not because it was necessarily funny, but because it was a novel idea. It made me think about how parents/teachers reward students.

Let me preface this section by saying compensation for grades is definately not a clear-cut idea or observation. The grade and maturity level of students come into play.

Some parents choose to give money for good grades, and some parents do nothing at all. Some parents promise them trips to their favorite place/theme park if they get good grades, and some parents do nothing at all. If you think about it, what does rewarding a child with money or a trip really do? Many people will have many answers, but I think if you give a child money based on grades you are cheapening what is learned. To many students, they will equate the learning with earning money instead of recognizing the fact that they are becoming educated. I know that many elementary and middle ‘schoolers’ do not ‘care’ about being educated, but giving them money for a grade can give them the idea that if I do just enough to make them happy, I will be rewarded with something I want. In reality, that 20 dollars for an “A” simply goes in their pocket, and when it is used, it is done with. I have had students tell me that they simply want to get an “A” to get

a. their parents off their back

b. get their phone back

c. get off restriction.

What if kids lived life according to their grades? Bring back “hamburger grades.’ After she told us that she took them to Burger King, she explained that since his grades had dropped, this is the meal that he ‘earned.’ This got me thinking. How great was it that this parent was not simply giving money or one particular reward for her child’s grades: she was basing his lifestyle on his grades.

This might sound harsh, but it does not mean the child does not eat, or that the child does not have clothes. After thinking about it, here is a way it could he used.

The higher the grades, the better they do in school. The better they do in school, the better college/trade school/job they can get. Because of these previous decisions to do the best they can, they are now able to live the way they want to live. They can buy the house they want, the car they want, live where they want, and eat where they want. Instead of giving your child one thing or taking them one place for good grades, consume their life with it. Show them what good grades mean in the real scheme of life. In the real scheme of life, a great grade will not earn you 20 dollars, but it can earn you the ability to HAVE a job that pays you that 20 dollars, and in turn allows you to go to Chilis’. If you equate their lifestyle with their grades, it will quickly become evident that grades can equal their everyday life and not just a dollar bill or a trip to Six Flags.

Get an F on a report card? Subway instead of the Applebees we planned. Didn’t study for that quiz you knew about for 2 weeks? You can watch TV, but only basic cable. Did not turn in your work on time because you forgot? You can get new shoes, but you are going to Wal Mart or Target instead of Foot Locker or the mall. It is not about punishing them, but showing them what their worth ethic will bring in the real world.

Imagine if every child knew that their complete lifestyle was dictated by their grades. Could you imagine the investment they would have in their own education? Either way, if you agree or disagree, it is something to think about.

Do you want to have “hamburger grades” when you are fully capable of earning “steak grades.”

Randy Norman

“Game-Based-Learning” and the competition that ensues…

Competition is a classroom can be a great thing. In fact, I say it can be one of the most important parts of a classroom. Especially true in middle and high school, using competition as a way to garner engagement is one that many teachers shy away from for fear of someone getting upset. While students can and will get upset, if the classroom has been fortified with trust and love, those students have the opportunity to grow in their confidence.

I found “Kahoot” at the beginning of this year. Scouring the internet for game based learning programs, I came across it and decided to try it. I am glad I did. My kids love it! This video was taken in my class during a game based review session. Kahoot is a free program that uses students’ own devices. It is ‘trivia’ based in that the longer it takes you to answer the question, the less points you get. After every question, the see the leader-board and how many points they are away from first place. My kids love answering each question because it gives them immediate feedback on their knowledge. One great thing about Kahoot is that you can set the time for each question. For vocabulary questions, I might only give them 5 seconds to answer the question. For questions with more detailed thinking, I can give them up to 2 minutes. All the while, I am watching them high-five each other, stand up, pace back and forth, and create a conversation about the content that I could NEVER deliver as a lecture.

Well played, Kahoot, well played.





My kids love it.

The Waffle House Cook

This morning I took my wife and daughter to eat breakfast at the Waffle House. Like many times before, we sat down in our booth and enjoyed the crazy atmosphere as waitresses yelled their orders at the cooks while refilling Coke, coffee, and banging around plates of smothered hash browns and waffles. Then, I really began to think about something. I though to myself, ‘How do these cook remember all those orders?’ Looking at the cooking area, there is nowhere to place the orders for the cooks to see…there is no ‘spinning’ wheel to place the orders so the cooks can remind them of what they are supposed to be cooking. I said to myself: “They have to be ‘audio’ learners!”

Audial learners are people who learn best by listening to others speak through changes in tone and recall. These are the students that always do well on oral exams and are amazing at recalling the one important piece of information in a 2 hour lecture class.

While eating my tasty hash browns, I noticed a couple of things that the cooks did that caught my attention. There were two cooks, and both cooks worked together to complete the orders. Similarly, audial learners need someone to work through their ideas. Audial learners cannot simply sit down and study; they need a partner to listen to them and more importantly, they need someone to talk to. Also, I noticed that the cooks always had multiple orders going on at one time. Audial learners tend to focus on ‘sections’ of a particular topic because creating ‘chunks’ of related text helps them to create small conversations they can share with others.

The next time you are in Waffle House, pay attention to the cooks and see if you notice the same thing 🙂

Socrative In My Classroom

As a teacher, I am constantly looking for ways to keep my students engaged. I strive for them to want to come to my class instead of them having to come. In my search for engaging strategies and programs, I have come across an amazing diamond in the rough: Socrative.

Many of you may have heard of this program, and many of you might be using it as I speak. Even so, I want to give you my 2 cents and explain how I use these Socrative  in my class. 

I teach 7th grade English: a year full of grammar, vocab, learning how to write and how to comprehend that the choices you make are just that: your choices. As a teacher, I also have choices, but my choices are different because what I choose to do in my classroom affects over 80 kids. 

This year I came across a program called Socrative. It is a web based quiz/backchannel/TOTD program that students can access on their cell phones/tablets/laptops/desktops. 

I login to and I am automatically entered into my personal virtual classroom (creating a free account gets you a free virtual room that is yours as long as you use the program). Once I am logged in, I create a quiz and begin to create my questions. I am able to pick MC, TF, and short answer questions. The MC and TF questions will automatically be graded by the program and imported in an Excel spreadsheet. The short answer questions will also be imported in an Excel spreadsheet, but you will have to grade them by ‘hand’ since the program cannot understand an explanation. 

Once I am ready for them to take the quiz, they login to, click “I am a student,” type in my room number and they are ready to go! 

From my end, I have a host of options when it comes to how I want the ‘student experience’ to be. I am able to set the pace as student paced or teacher paced. I am able to let them review previous questions and go out of order; I am also able to set it up so that each student gets immediate feedback after every answer. My students and I love this option because they don’t have to wait on me to grade the quiz because they already know how many they missed. This also keeps them focused because they constantly know what grade they are earning. 

Once the test ends, they simply close the program and they are done! Then, i simply quit ‘finish’ and I am able to immediately download an Excel report or have the report emailed to me. Socrative stores all my quizzes on their servers so there is no need to keep a paper copy. 

I use the data in class to show them what went well and what we need to work on. The Excel spreadsheet includes their names (the 1st question in the quiz to link them to their answers) and each question answer. The correct answers are green and the wrong answers are red. We always spend some time going over each individual question so that we all feel comfortable with the content. 

 I have nothing but praise for the Socrative team. On twitter @Socrative , they are dedicated to their users and create an amazing learning experience. I only wish I was able to be on the ground floor and be apart of such an amazing educational experience.