Google Classroom Update

If I wasn’t already a fan of Google Classroom, I am now! Google has given some awesome new features to one of my personal favourite Google Apps for education. If this is the first time you’ve heard of Google Classroom (firstly where have you been?) you can check out my previous rantings about it Streamlining Assessment or GoogleClassroom. Google Classroom has greatly reduced both the amount of paper I accumulate during my teaching and the time it takes me to provide feedback to my students about their work.

However as the honeymoon period between Google Classroom and I ended, I began to notice some of the limitations of the program. These included not being able to change the order of posts or reusing content between classes.

So whats new? There are 6 new features summed up in this infographic; pinning a post, reusing a post, posting a question, integrating with calendars, optional due dates and attaching google forms.

GoogleClassroom update

So far I’ve played with three of the new features and am thoroughly impressed. The ability to attach Google Forms was definitely something Google Classroom was lacking before. It will help give easy formative assessment because Google Forms let you install add-ons that mark forms for you (provided you ask certain styles of questions). You could attach a form at the end of a lesson to see just what resonated with students or at the beginning to check what they remember and what they need to revise before you build on that previous knowledge.

Reusing posts is very helpful for teachers who teach the same topics to multiple classes throughout the year. This way you can keep instructions and attachments uniform between classes while letting Google Classroom store student work in their particular class folder in Google Drive.

The biggest surprise for me was how useful posting a question could be. This is a feature I didn’t know I needed until I began using it. Here Google Classroom lets you pose a question and record (and grade if you choose) student responses. You can also allow students to comment on each others responses or edit their answers. It is great for keeping track of student dialogue or getting students to post and comment in a safe environment. As the teacher you can look up which students have replied or commented in Google Classroom’s “Done” and “Not Done” designations.

Students answers to "Can you think of an example of a material that we use for a specific purpose because of its properties?"

Students answers to “Can you think of an example of a material that we use for a specific purpose because of its properties?”

Still the App is not perfect. It has its bugs. For example, if you are typing a comment or reply and somebody submits a comment, reply or post then your half written comment is deleted. Also all students are added to the “Done” list after the deadline passes. I am sure that these will be fixed soon.

Don’t let the limitations put you off! Google Classroom is still an efficient and powerful tool for education. I am excited to explore the other new features and to see what the programmers at Google have planned next for my favourite Google App for education; Google Classroom.


When Digital Literacy becomes Literacy

It is no surprise that as we proceed more deeply into the technological age that is becoming increasingly important to be Digitally literate. Our students are “digital natives”, as they have grown up immersed in technology and as such its use and comprehension can come as second nature. However, their comfort with technology should not be misinterpreted as Digital Literacy. Digital literacy is not only a measure of ones ability to use and understand technology, it extents to their maturity of conduct through it. By which, I mean their adherence to the rights and responsibilities through digital platforms and their mindfulness of the digital footprint created by technology use.

digital-bookshelf (CC)

Digital literacy underpins the capacity of the individual and the nation to provide equal access to social opportunity and competition in the digital economy in which we live. Therefore the correct conduct of students through digital medium is paramount to their future success as citizens of this global society. So how as educators and parents do we teach students the true weight of digital literacy?

1. Communicate. Talk openly about the benefits and ramifications of participating on the global digital stage. Technology empowers students by giving them an international voice and connecting them with relevant global issues. Digital literacy enables students to participate in a global conversation about matters that interest and motivate students to learn.

However, Students must be made aware of the dangers of digital citizenship especially cyber-safety, privacy and the digital footprint they are leaving every time they post. Students should be engaged in discussing the possible consequences of their online conduct and taught to think about these consequences before posting content.

2. Show. Model the appropriate digital conduct to students. Show students the appropriate methods for honouring copyright and giving credit where credits due.

3. Consequences. Both positive an negative consequences should be enforced for correct and incorrect use of technology. If students are assessed on digital literacy skills they are able to focus on growing these skills over time.

On another note, we can foster the digital literacy of students by removing the focus from the technological tools used to the skills inherent in learning to use these tools. Let’s face it, in a couple of years the tools will be replaced so our students need to be comfortable experimenting with new technology. Student’s also need to learn to troubleshoot with technology and where they can find support online to help their learning.

Therefore as educators, we must be mindful of the skills we develop in students throughout their schooling career. Our main aim should be fostering the growth of active citizens of the world, which in this age means digitally literate individuals. Their digital literacy will enable them to be active participants in their technological world.

Manage Tech’s Cognitive Load

When exploring content through technology it is easy to lose students as the cognitive load inherent in the use of the technology compounds with the cognitive load from the content being explored. It is important to ensure that the technology enhances rather than hinders learning. Otherwise you are just using technology for technologies sake.

So how do we navigate around this issue? These are the three main points to consider to decrease the cognitive load in your student-centred technology use.

  1. Pick your battles. It is important that you chose only a handful of tools to use, otherwise students can get distracted by the technology. If students must learn a new technology each activity they are wasting their time and energy in the tool rather than the content.
  2. Invest. If there are particular technologies that you intend on having you students use frequently throughout the year it is with taking the time to give students some initial training. Investing time earlier on helps students focus on the content later on. Personally I use GeoGebra and GoogleSheets extensively in Mathematics so I spend a few lessons getting students familiar with the tools. This way, when it comes to activities during class, students are more comfortable working independently to achieve the activity goals. Prior to this I was having to give step-by-step instructions and student-centred activities were more teacher-centred in nature.
  3. Choice. Where you can help it, it is good to give students choices about what technology they will use. This is one of the keys to making tasks more authentic but also empowers students to choose tools that they are more comfortable using. For example, if students are asked to give a presentation, students could choose between powerpoint, keynote, prezzi or other tools depending on what they are comfortable with.

So when planning or reviewing your student-centred activities ask; are there too many tools to learn, is there not enough familiarity with the tool and can I give students a choice? Considering these simple questions can stream line your student-centred activities and save you some trouble in the future.

Daily Desmos Day 5

Finally we’re at day 5. Another great feature of Desmos is that you have access to a number of ready-made templates. These range in content from graphing lines to calculus.


If you have an account with Desmos anything you create can be saved for later in this menu. To access you have to select the icon in the top left corner of the sheet.


Here you can see that the last graph I created was called “Other Standard Form Parabola” and I could open this file to demonstrate during class or search for it in the search bar above. So I encourage you to get an account and start compiling resources.

Daily Desmos Day 4

Ok so it’s been more than a day but I am excited to share my other Desmos ideas with you!

Desmos offers class activities too! It’s Teacher website allows students to inquire and explore mathematics through interactive activities. One of my favourites is the function carnival.


You are given a class code so that your students work is saved to your account. You see all entries as pictures in the table and can select any for closer inspection.


Student work for each exercise is stored under the activity title visually so you can compare student work at a glance. Function carnivals focus on position-time graphs is great at confronting common student misconceptions by illustrating how time always moves forwards. This is harder to communicate through a static graph or worded example. Here the students experiment and create, and by doing so develop a deeper understanding of the nature of travel graphs.


In addition to function carnival which is beautiful at illustrating travel graphs, the Desmos Teacher activity centre offers activities on functions, volumes and algebra as problem solving with patterns. I hope that they are developing more because there resources are very effective!

In a nutshell, the Desmos Teacher Activities are dynamic, illustrative and student-centered. They are a great addition to your teaching toolkit. Let me know how you find these activities or how you use them in your classroom.

Daily Desmos Day 3

This next one is one of my Desmos activities that I use with my senior students. If you have a Desmos account (which is free and makes activities easy to set up before time and just link to) you can save it to your templates. This helps you explore the standard form of a parabola by clicking and dragging the focus or by moving the sliders to show the infinite possibilities from the standard form.


Or you could use the other Standard form


I think these work well for demonstrating how all parabolas fit into the standard forms. Let me know how these resources work for you or if you have a similar resources.

Daily Desmos Day 2

It’s often better to have students explore concepts and identify patterns themselves through investigation. Thats why I prefer to introduce the gradient-intercept form of a line with the following Desmos activity.

I start the lesson by showing students a collection of different lines with their equations on them and ask pairs to establish patterns in the shape and equations of lines. I then ask my pairs to pair up to discuss competing theories before the groups of four share the findings with the class. This is called “Think-Pair-Share” and it helps students communicate their ideas in a non-threatening way. It often helps the discussion as students don’t feel like their ideas are “too silly to share” because they have been bounced off three peers before being shared with the class. It also opens up some interesting vocabulary debates which consolidate understanding of terminology and general mathematical ideas.

Once the theories are “chalked” up on the whiteboard, I get the students to open Desmos and type “y=mx+b” into the input bar on the left hand side. Desmos will then ask you “Add sliders”? Choose the blue “all” button.

Add Sliders

Desmos will draw the line with the sliders for the gradient and intercept set at one.


Now you can choose the animate icon to the left of m and b to see the sliders move smoothly to illustrate the affect of changing the gradient and the y-intercept.

I end the lesson by a matching activity between the equations and their graphs to consolidate student understanding.

How do you teach the Gradient-Intercept formula? Share your tips and techniques in the comments below.

Daily Desmos Day 1

When teaching transformations of functions one traditionally spends a significant amount of time sketching various transformations of each function. This has always been a great way to illustrate the “shift” yet a lot can be lost in the amount of time and effort each function takes to sketch. Then I found Desmos.


Desmos can sketch large numbers of functions on the same graph almost instantly. This shortens the time it takes to illustrate the idea of shifting parent functions. Also you could break students into teams to explore different transformations if you are short on time (which most of us are). You can share your graphs by linking to your google account and choosing save.

Desmos Save graph

So here is one resource I’ve used multiple times to explore transformations to functions. Investigating Absolute Value Transformations. I hope that it proves useful to you.

Designing Student-Centered Activities with Desmos

Teaching at a BYOD school brings its own unique set of challenges. The steepest learning curve for me has been finding resources I can use which will work perfectly on any brand of computer. These resources are called “platform independent” because they do not rely on a particular operating system to function effectively. One of my favourite finds is Desmos.


Desmos is a visual, free graphing calculator which requires a newer web browser like Chrome (which can be downloaded here). Desmos elegantly explores all things Coordinate Geometry with such idiot-proof design that it is particularly suited to student-centered activities or for the technologically challenged teacher. Students can explore concepts in an easy yet engaging manner. I have also found it particularly helpful in demonstrating concepts when teaching Functions and elementary Calculus.

You don’t have to take my word for it but it is worth checking out. Head to Desmos and start playing.


There is a growing user and resource base to help you out, including a thorough user guide. To further persuade you to try this resource, I’m going to post a Desmos activity I have designed each Day for the next week. Remember that feedback is appreciated and I would love to hear your own Desmos Activity ideas.

As always, I look forward to learning with you.

Google Form Warm Ups

I have recently been using Google Forms to give me real-time feedback on student learning. I use this for diagnostic assessment purposes to inform my approach to lessons either at the beginning of a lesson to gauge foundational understanding or at the conclusion of the lesson to determine whether students are ready to build on the concepts previously taught.

To try out this technique you can follow these simple steps:

1. Create the Google Form. Choose the create icon in your Google Drive and select “Form”.



2. Type your questions to assess student understanding. Be sure to include a “Name” or “Email” section if you want to identify individual students.


3. Complete your Form. This is so that you have an answers key when you go to grade it.

4. Share or link to the Form. Choose the blue “Send form” button in the top right hand corner. Share the Form with the students in the class or obtain the link to the form from the Share menu.


5. Grade assessment. Go back into your Google Drive and enter the Responses sheet for your Form which automatically appears underneath your form. Choose “Add ons” and “Flubaroo” (which can be added through “Get add- ons” if not already present). Flubaroo will ask you to “Grade assessment” where you will select the response to grade all subsequent responses against. Naturally choose your answer response which should have the earliest timestamp or your name.


6. Analyse your data. You can now see at a glance where some common misconceptions and misunderstandings lie and can address them before attempting to build on a shaky foundation.


So my post-holiday diagnostic revealed that 12% of my students couldn’t remember opposite operations and 40% struggled with the two step equation (though a few ran out of time for the last two questions). In addition I get to keep this information electronically to help me talk about the improvement of individual students understandings etc.


I hope that this info-torial helps you give Google Forms a try in your diagnostic assessment procedures.