Fun with Google Slides

You may have noticed a pattern that I absolutely adore and love Google Forms and use them daily in my classroom. In the last year, I’ve discovered a deep admiration for Google Slides. Not only are Slides my go-to for projecting the warm-up questions, posting instructions during class, and direct instruction (sometimes I use screencastify to create in-class flip videos!), but also I’ve transitioned quite a few student assignments over to Slides.

We are 1:1 iPad, and the Google Slides iOS app is easy to use. It doesn’t have all the features of the web version, but it has just enough that we need on a regular basis.

Slides with Students
This year, I’ve transitioned all of my science labs to Slides. Instead of giving students a Google Doc to edit, or a PDF to work on in Notability, I’ve moved everything to Slides.

I love using Slides because it chunks down the lab into manageable parts. Instead of students staring at a long Google Doc, feeling overwhelmed at everything they are being asked to do, we can focus on one slide at a time. Bonus: I’ve noticed a positive difference in my students’ lab behavior–they are more on-task because they know exactly what they need to get done!

I was using Docs last year, and we had trouble when trying to insert pictures, especially in data tables. Students had trouble cropping images or making them easy to see. Slides is an excellent solution!

If we were on Chromebooks, I would extend this by using the Screencastify extension to have students explain what they did and what they learned in the lab.

Here’s an example of a Heart Rate Lab and Paper Airplane Lab we did using Slides. On the Heart Rate Lab, you can see I color-coded the different steps, making it easy for me to quickly check that we’re all on the same slide.

Slides for Teacher Creation
A few months ago, I blogged about Virtual Vikings, my #BathroomPD newsletter I create for the staff bathrooms at school. I change the page setup (File > Page Setup > Custom > 8.5 x 11) to make it printer paper size.

I use Slides to create handouts for class, including Cornell Notes (here’s my template!), I love how easy it is to add in and format text and images. It also makes it quick to print class handouts (I use analog interactive notebooks).

Master Slides
I’ve just started diving into master slides, thanks to inspiration from friends like Michele Osinski who is a pro! I’m still figuring it all out, but I love that I can customize my Slides templates to make it easy for specific layouts and formats. Here’s a quick video (I didn’t make this one) that explains more.

What are your favorite ways to use Slides?


How to Structure Student Discussions with a Walk and Talk

This blog post was originally featured on Kids Discover on September 13, 2017.

You know those days when the kids are getting a little squirrelly? The days where the side conversations get the best of the quietest kids and even the smallest distraction gets us all off track? It’s time to get the wiggles out while being productive.

It’s time for a Walk and Talk!

I teach in San Diego, California, and the weather is generally pleasant outside. We can easily go outside for this activity. This also works inside around the perimeter of the classroom (you might need to push the desks toward the center) or quietly up and down the hallway.

A Walk and Talk is a structured partner discussion where students are given question cards to answer with a partner while walking on a specified path. They walk toward a set location, such as a pole or tree, then turn and walk back. You can incorporate an instructional assistant or parent volunteer into your class activity by setting them as the turnaround point.

Start the class with a lab, activity, or guided reading assignment done in class. When I’m planning this activity ahead, I will create a list of questions or task cards, then pre-write them on index cards. The questions can be a combination of a review of what you’ve covered in class and how your students will prepare for the upcoming assessment or presentation.

When this activity happens on the fly because of extra time at the end of class or an energy surplus, I’ll ask students to write the questions on index cards themselves, based on what we’ve covered in class.

Before we go outside to our Walk and Talk location, I will randomly assign students a partner. Flippity Random Name Picker is my favorite randomizer tool. Then, we quickly review our class expectations for the Walk and Talk and for outside class work.

The Walk and Talk
We all walk outside and students line up next to their partner and I stand facing the head of the line. I hand a question card to each person in the first pair and wish them luck. The first person answers their question on the way to the turnaround point (about 20-30 steps), then they switch roles and the second person answers a question on the way back to the line. I wait about 10 steps between each pair, which helps prevent extra distractions.

Once the partners return from their walk, they get back into line. When they’re back to the front of the line, I switch their cards for new questions and we repeat the Walk and Talk. I quickly check in with each pair as they return and exchange cards, asking, “how did it go?”

Typically, we do three rounds before returning to class.

When we go back inside, students take some time to share something they learned from their partner or found interesting. This happens either out loud, or as a quick-write on paper or as a question on Google Classroom.

The Walk and Talk is an excellent preparation or reflection tool for larger research projects, essays, and Socratic Seminars. My students love the opportunity to go outside and work, discuss with a partner, and move around.

Forms, GAFE, leadership

Using Google Forms for Walkthrough Observations

As many of you know, I have a major obsession with Google Forms. Last school year in a Faculty Advisory Committee meeting, we were discussing our district’s walkthrough evaluation form, and how it did not adequately address our school’s focuses and goals. Once I realized I could customize a Google Form and use Autocrat to generate personalized walkthrough evaluations for teachers, I literally started bouncing in my chair. (One of my colleagues lovingly calls this “Tiggering” because I get bouncy when I’m excited!) I began a semester-long project creating the walkthrough Form, iterating on it, and troubleshooting technical problems.

I personally love it when my principal and assistant principals come through for walkthrough observations. These walkthroughs are informal, unannounced, are not put into our permanent records, and admin stays for about ten minutes to observe what is happening in my class. I can understand where there could be pushback from individuals about being observed. Building a culture around learning and framing observations as admin’s opportunity to learn from teachers can help introduce this to a reluctant teacher.

Often, our administrators sit down at an open student desk, interact with students, and ask students about what they are learning. In one very memorable walkthrough, my principal was sitting at a student desk, and I called on him to answer after a turn-and-talk (I call randomly using 2 sets of popsicle sticks–each seat has a group number and color, and I pull 1 color and 1 number stick.). He eagerly participated based on what he and his partner discussed!

Once admin leaves my classroom, I receive an email with their observations and suggestions. I always enjoy following up with them to discuss the lesson further or ask for specific support.

Here is the Google Form and the Autocrat template for the walkthrough. You’re welcome to make a copy of the Google Form (force copy) and Autocrat template (force copy), and customize for your own use! 

Here’s the basic workflow of the Form walkthrough setup and implementation process: 
1. Create a Google Form with the criteria you are observing. Create the Response Sheet. 
2. Create a Google Doc template for Autocrat, using <> tags for each section header from the Sheet. 
3. Go into the Sheet and run the Autocrat Add-on. Set it to email and/or share a copy of the doc or PDF to <> and <>
4. Take your walkthrough form into teachers’ classrooms and complete it as you are observing their lessons. 
5. Once you hit submit, you and the teacher will receive an email with the observation notes! 

Here’s a video on how to use Autocrat–repurposed from our Breakout EDU Digital how-to videos. Autocrat has since updated their interface, but there is little difference on the actually set-up process. Remember, if you make any changes to the Form, change the <> tags in your Autocrat doc template to make it easier to match up. 

If you end up using this or something similar with your teachers, I’d love to hear about it!


How May We #GSuiteEdu Help You?

How May We #GAFEHelp You? 
Do you use Google Apps for Education (GAFE)? Are you a connected educator on Twitter? (And if you are not, then why not? But that is another conversation to have later.) Have you ever had a question about GAFE and so you Tweet it out only for it to get lost in the abyss of Twitter and never get a response? Or if you do get a response, it is completely random and really doesn’t help?

Well, we hope this will be a solution to that dilemma. We would like to introduce to you a new Twitter account, @GSuiteEDUhelp.

Eight GAFE using educators connected on Twitter and have teamed up to manage this new handle. Our goal is to be a resource to other GAFE using teachers and help provide a quick answer to any type of GAFE related question you may need help with.

In addition to this new Twitter account, we will be using the hashtag #GSuiteEdu to also facilitate communication of any questions that may be out there.

We don’t see ourselves as experts, but just a group knowledgeable teachers wanting to help provide answers to your questions. If we don’t know an answer, we will try to help you research a solution and provide resources to help you get going in the right direction.

So if you need help with Google Apps, just tweet us @GSuiteEdu and/or use the hashtag #GSuiteEdu. So, how may we GSuite Help you?

Meet the GAFEhelp Team:
Justin Birckbichler (@Mr_B_Teacher) – 4th grade teacher in Virginia. Teaches with 1:1 Chromebooks. Google for Education Certified Innovator and Trainer.

Ben Cogswell (@cogswell_ben) – TK-6th Educational Technology TOSA in Salinas, CA. Google Educator Level 1 and 2. 1:1 iPads & Dell Venues implementing GAFE in 12 schools with 380+ teachers.

Sean Fahey (@SEANJFAHEY) – 4th grade teacher in Indiana at a Google Apps for Education School. Teaches with 1:1 ChromeBooks.

Ari Flewelling (@EdTechAri) – Staff Development Specialist (Technology Integration and 1:1 Support), Google Certified Trainer & Innovator, CUE Affiliate President

Kelly Martin (@kmartintahoe) – K-8 Educational Technology and Curriculum Coordinator in South Lake Tahoe, California. Google Educator Level 1 and 2. Supports 60+ teachers in a 1:1 chromebook environment in grades 3-12.

Karly Moura (@KarlyMoura) – Instructional Coach & Educational Technology Support Teacher in California. Teaches in a Google Apps for Education school with chromebooks and ipads.
Mari Venturino (@MsVenturino) – Middle school science and AVID teacher in California. Teaches with 1:1 iPads. Google for Education Certified Trainer & Innovator.

Joe Young (@jyoung1219) – Math & STEAM Instructional Coach in Palo Alto, California. Taught 1st, 2nd, and 5th grades in a GAFE district, 1:1 iPads, 1:1 Chromebooks, and served as a tech lead teacher

GAFE, Google Expeditions, student empowerment, student engagement, teacher engagement

Engaging Students with Google Expeditions

Last Wednesday, my school had the honor of hosting Google Expeditions for a day filled with fun. (And don’t worry, lots of learning too!) I signed up for the Expeditions Pioneer Program in March knowing that most likely they would not be doing any more visits in our area. To my surprise and excitement, they contacted me in April letting me know they’d be in San Diego in May. When I got the email, I started dancing around my classroom. 

In order to coordinate the Expeditions, another teacher and I got subs so we could help teachers manage devices and troubleshoot in our two Expeditions spaces (library and cafeteria). My sub was awesome, and took pictures while I hosted my own classes. He had so much fun participating with Google Expeditions and learning along with our students. 

I loved watching students who are usually disengaged asking questions and exploring. When their class’s time was up, they didn’t want to leave! A few of the teachers who brought their classes had never used Google Cardboard before, and had similar reactions to the students–awe and wonder. I loved sharing this experience with my school, and I’m thankful for Cristianna from the Google Expeditions team, my fellow teachers, my supportive admin, and for our students for making this incredible day happen. 

Below is my writeup that I submitted to my district’s newsletter: 


MV Expeditions 1.JPG
My 3rd period science class checking out
active volcanoes from around the world! 

On Wednesday May 18, 2016, Mar Vista Academy welcomed the Google Expeditions team for a day filled with virtual reality adventures and excitement. “Expeditions are guided tours of places schools buses can’t go. They are comprised of virtual reality panoramas and are led by a guide or teacher. Using a tablet, teachers can guide up to 50 students wearing virtual reality viewers. Teachers can guide their class and point out highlights while referring to editable notes” (

Students turning to look at a feature pointed out
by their teacher.
The technology is simple. Each student has a Google Cardboard with a smartphone enclosed. The smartphones are connected to the teacher tablet via wifi. The teacher selects the expedition from a list of over two hundred locations around the world, and sends out a 360° image to the student device. Students are able to independently explore this image simply by turning their head, looking up, and looking down. The teacher platform comes with notes about the location, people, and organisms at the location, making it easy for a teacher to guide an Expedition with little to no background knowledge.

AVID Excel students on their Expedition
Throughout the day, twelve teachers and over three hundred students participated in the Expeditions. Students visited the rainforest, observed ocean life, traveled to the moon, and explored historical sites, without ever leaving school.

Students had a blast visiting new places and learning as they explored. Seventh grader Andrew says, “It can help me see things that would be impossible to look at in schools and I will be able to understand things better since I am a tactile learner.” Our students enjoyed their new learning, and even students who do not typically enjoy school found themselves highly engaged. Seventh grader Vanessa reports that she “learned about the research they are doing to bring back some extinct species.” Our seventh graders studied about human impact on ecosystems and endangered species this semester in science. Eighth grader Jamie reports “My favorite part of the Google Expeditions experience was being inside a picture and always having something to look at, no matter which side you turn. I mostly enjoyed seeing animals in their natural habitat.” Not only were there many science-related expeditions, but also our students were able to view historic battlefields, such as Gettysburg or analyze the geometry in the architecture of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
Mr. Williams taking his 7th grade math class
to the Great Barrier Reef.

Ms. Johal exploring the surface of the moon with her
8th grade science students
Additionally, our Mar Vista Academy teachers were wowed by the experience. Our teachers were just as engaged as our students. Mr. Williams enjoyed taking his seventh grade math students, and perfectly sums up the experience. “The Google Expeditions activity was a great hook for my class and a fun way to get students thinking about the world around them. We toured the Great Barrier Reef for the purpose of analyzing percents. An actual trip for this simple purpose would have obviously been cost prohibitive. Letting students explore on their own generated great excitement and conversation and then being able to guide students to a portion of each picture to view allowed me to teach at the same time. The reflection and sharing after we put the google devices away was surprising. Student that are sometimes afraid to share their work or justify their answers in math were eager to share what they thought and liked about the expedition. I noticed more participating from those students during class immediately following the Google Expedition.” Each and every teacher that participated had similar thoughts about their experiences.

Students and teachers have been asking if and when Google Expeditions will come back to Mar Vista Academy. Everyone had a great time, and we exploring the world together.

Thank you, Google Expeditions!

GAFE, Google apps, welcome

Welcome to the new blog!

Hello everyone and welcome to my new blog! You can see the archives of old posts here.

I have switched from Squarespace to Google/Blogger, mainly because I have been using Google for so much lately, and it seemed logical and more easy to keep track of things. Plus, I just love the integration of each component of Google, and the general functionality.

Seeing as we will be on Fall Break in just a few days, I’ll be posting my first new post soon.