Mr. Graham’s Take On Google Classroom

Here’s a video in case you want to see me talk, too!

A few months ago, I doubt the general populace knew what a “Google Classroom” was. If you surveyed some civilians at Huntington Beach and asked what they thought a Google Classroom was a year ago, I bet you would have gotten some interesting answers. 

But now, thanks to COVID-19, Google Classroom has become as common as watching baseball in the summer. Wait, baseball doesn’t exist anymore… As common as… arguing about COVID-19? Now, grandmas, parents, students, dogs, principals, uncles, and teachers alike have all, most likely, seen or engaged to some degree in a Google Classroom. 

There are a lot of cool things about Google Classroom. There are also a few things about it that drive me nuts (and I hope Google will change them in the near future, especially if Distance Learning stays a thing). A few months ago, a blog or video about Google Classroom would probably have been only viewed by a fellow educator; even then, that teacher probably would have walked away from the experience thinking, “Eh.. Maybe I’ll try that. But probably not until next year.” 

I’ve seen pretty good engagement and work ethic when my students are allowed to use Chromebooks. Part of this could be due to the insane increase in smart phones for our students: my first year, I had 2 out of 27 students with a phone; this last year: 22 of 28. 

you’ve been warned…

Google Classroom is essentially a hub for learning that my students can easily access. Like a lot of teachers out there, GC was probably the life-saver in their Distance Learning instruction. The following are quick tips regarding how I set up and schedule my GC, how I implement a variety of assignments, a few miscellaneous tricks I’ve learned/developed over the last few years, and a quick blurb about what I’d change.

1. SETUP / SCHEDULING

Quickly Getting Kids Logged In

First things first, when I start a new year or a new Google Classroom, I’ll display the class code on my projector. I’ll also write it on the whiteboard, if necessary. (The class code is located on the banner image of your GC, right underneath the title.) This usually makes the sign-in process a little quicker. Bonus: If your kids have school ID’s and passwords, have those usernames and passwords either saved on your computer or keep a copy safely in your filing cabinet. 

Setup

Here is an important step that can be critical in determining how simple and streamlined your GC proves to be. In my experience, there are two excellent ways to organize your GC: by TOPIC or by DAY.

Organizing By Topic

Setting up by Topic, in my opinion, is the best way to organize a virtual classroom. By having a subject for each assignment — whether it’s math, writing, a daily question, or an announcement — student work is organized simply but effectively. 

Generating work and scheduling assignments is much easier from the teacher’s point of view, and students also have a feeling of organization instead of sifting through a massive list of differing tasks.

So if you’re interested, follow these steps to get organized:

  1. Go to the “Classwork” tab at the top
  2. Click on the “+ Create” button
  3. The last selection on the dropdown menu is “Topic”. Pick that and name your Subject!
  4. From here, make sure every time you create a new task or announcement, you label it by topic before asking. 

I have used this easy setup every year to organize my own work, as well as to model for my students how to check if they’re caught up in each subject. It was especially helpful when we moved to Distance Learning because kids already knew the system, and were able to follow along without difficulty.

During DL (Distance Learning), I could also go in and see if students were “skipping” certain subjects or topics; one of my students did ALL of his writing, but failed to attempt even one math question during the COVID closure. Maybe his Chromebook was allergic to math…

Organizing By Day

With Distance Learning, a couple of my teaching partners set theirs up by Day, and they met great success. For example, Wednesday’s work was scheduled and posted, so the kids simply logged on and selected the tasks they were to accomplish. My team really liked this method; I didn’t switch to it since my kids already knew my system. 

Another bonus to this style of setup is if a student either couldn’t log on a certain day or forgot to, they knew what tasks were expected just by going through day-by-day. Previously assigned work could also be archived after the week ended, if the teacher wanted to. 

Regardless of the system you prefer, it’s important to at least have one. I personally prefer to have my Google Classroom arranged by Topic/Subject, whereas I’ve heard setting up by Day is very beneficial as well. (I should point out that if you are not doing Distance Learning, setting up by Day might be a little silly, since you probably won’t be relying on GC as much for daily instruction.)

Scheduling

So, if you’ve decided to set up by Topic or by Day, what follows is an absolute game-changer that will massively affect how much time you’ll be spending in prep work: scheduling out assignments.

If you plan and prepare out your students’ assignments, your workload will seem almost non-existent, and you’ll be able to spend time connecting with kids/families instead. It’s as simple as it sounds, but it packs a real punch.

Right when COVID-19 hit, and I understood that we probably wouldn’t be going back to school in person, I sat down and really began planning and scheduling all of my simple assignments that I knew kids would need to do. In less than two days, I had the rest of the year (10 weeks) prepped, which was a big deal for me and my students. 

Specifically, I planned out a “Daily Question” for every day of school for the remainder of the year; I located, created, and scheduled literacy articles and quizzes; and I also prepared  every single Math task, whether it was watching a pre-recorded lesson or completing a quick exit ticket question.

When creating an assignment, follow these steps to schedule easily:

  1. Go to the “Classwork” tab at the top of your GC
  2. Click “Create”
  3. Select what type of assignment you want (it’s relatively self-explanatory on this step)
  4. After you have posted the title and/or included any directions or additional links or videos, in the top right corner,  a button says “Assign”. Click on the arrow connected to “Assign” and select “Schedule”. 
  5. From here, pick the day (and time!) you want to assignment/announcement to be posted on your GC.
  6. If desired, you can include a due date. This can help kids see how much time they have left to complete their work. 
  7. Don’t forget to include the Topic in your assignment! (on the right side)

This method of planning my assignments yielded hours and hours of saved time: now you don’t have to recreate the wheel. The benefits of scheduling schoolwork are real — even more so when shackled to a Distance Learning platform.

This practice was essential in helping me (and my students) have a regular routine in each subject area, while allowing me to adjust for my “live classes” when needed. My job (during Distance Learning) was now focused on giving feedback to my students and connecting with my families: I no longer needed to worry or stress on the what, I could now be focused on the who.

2. TYPES OF WORK TO POST

For this section, I’ll shy away from the DL theme, and give real, practical uses for how to implement your GC in effective, DIY ways. (So many abbreviations… welcome to education!) 

Daily Question / Student Poll

First, if you’re asking a simple question virtually, use GC. Sometimes I’ll ask my students which coloring sheet they’ll want via an online question; sometimes I’ll give a quick exit ticket to check if my students know that an ordered pair is (x,y), not (y,x); and sometimes I’ll have a poll to see which 5th grade teacher is most likely to survive the zombie apocalypse (you know, the important things).

If you want students to do a quick, simple task, create a new question in “Classwork” in GC and await their answers. Even though this can be done in person, sometimes switching things up will promote engagement and foster class community.

Assessments / Questionnaires

At the beginning of each year, I’ll have a Google Form questionnaire called “Welcome to 5th Grade” for kids to fill out. It is a silly excuse for my students to log into our new Google Classroom and answer some foundational questions like “What’s better: Pizza or Tacos” or “Who is your favorite superhero?”

However, you can use GC to take real assessments. Using Google Forms, you can create a quiz or test, and even have some of it graded (I’ll show you how to do that later in a post about Google Forms). This can be a simple way to have kids take an exit ticket, math assessment, or even go over future testing expectations. 

We have a unit on Theme and Summary that uses videos and short questions, but most of the “quizzes” in my GC are used for casual get-to-know-you or fun how-was-your-spring-break activities.

Research Websites

If you’re a teacher of students under the age of 17, chances are the majority of your kids have enough experience with technology to get by, but not enough self-control to stay on task. Posting relevant websites in your GC can allow students the “freedom” to research on the internet, without them getting lost in the metaphysical woods.

For example, I have a Science/Writing unit on Biomes. Instead of allowing my 10 year-olds to scour the internet for resources (and who knows what will come up with misspellings…), I post 4-5 websites that I have looked into in order to help keep my students within the guardrails. I view it like bowling: if my kids need the bumpers, you know we’re using the bumpers.

Makeup Work

In my classroom, I try to use technology when and if possible. I don’t have a “thing” against pencils or packets; sometimes it’s easier to read their writing or keep track of their submissions.

So if there’s an assignment the class did that a student missed (or needs to reference), I’ll post it in our GC. This is very helpful when kids are absent during vocabulary, a math video, or even a science lesson. I can just post the material virtually, and my kids almost foam at the mouth to get onto the chromebooks to catch up. It’s weird, but I’m not complaining.

Individual Learning

One of my favorite ways to use GC is in conjunction with my All-Star students and my Literacy lessons. Since my Literacy lessons are ALL prepped and taught in Google Slides (more on that another time as well), I can assign my “lessons” to a group of students who are responsible, independent, and hard workers. 

Now, I don’t do this all the time, and not every student can handle it, but allowing a select group of students to work “on their own” for a Literacy lesson is powerful in preparing my kids how to work autonomously. 

I simply post my Teacher lesson slideshow on the GC (under the Topic “Literacy”, mind you) and allow the selected students to complete the work either in the hall or in the back of the room by the time the Whole Group Instruction is complete. Each lesson has a “task” to complete, so it’s easy for me to see who used their time wisely at the end of the Literacy block. 

You can do this with other subjects as well! For me, Literacy is the easiest, but I have found success with a handful of assignments for science, writing, and math as well. 

3. A FEW MORE TIPS

You can change your classroom banner image!

Instead of relying on the few images GC provides, you can actually customize your banner image. And it’s easy!

When you have an image picked out (I usually just use the internet…), follow these steps:

  1. Save the image
  2. On the right side of the banner in your GC, it says “Upload Photo”. Click that
  3. Select your desired image from your files
  4. Crop and Upload your image! 

When you do this, GC will actually change the color scheme of the fonts and icons to match the color(s) of your background image!

2 more Helpful Hints for Banner Images:

  1. When selecting your image, make sure it matches the size of your banner. You’ll want to find a picture that isn’t very tall, but very long. (Something like 1,000 x 400 pixels, or anywhere that ratio)
  2. If you’re repeating units each year, save those images for future use! Instead of being tasked with finding a new image each time you want to change your background (or “re-finding” the one you used last year), save the image either in a Google Slide or on your computer.
Muting Kids from Classroom Comments!

Although there isn’t a way to mute kids from a Google Meet Chat (hopefully soon!), there is a way to keep your “rambunctious” students from dominating (and annoying) the comments in your GC. 

To mute a student who hasn’t quite figured out online etiquette, go to the People tab at the top. Then, when you find the lucky kid on your roster, check the box next to their name. From here, go to the top of the Student list where it says “Actions” and select “Mute”. If you know how to do this, you know how powerful it is; if you just learned how to do this, prepare to sleep better tonight!

When the student has learned their lesson, you can “unmute” them the same way! 

If you don’t want kids to be able to comment or post at all, that is found in your Settings wheel under General > Stream.

Class Folder in Google Drive

When you have a Google Classroom as a teacher, it is automatically linked to your Google Drive. If your Drive is organized, it should live in your yearly folder. This is good to know, especially if you frequent your Google Drive.

Every Assignment (not Question) you give kids to submit will go into that folder automatically!  Meaning if you’re grading a bunch of writing papers that were assigned on your Classroom, you can quickly access them in your Google Drive instead of finding the individual submissions in the GC. Make sure you keep what you need to keep, and get rid of anything that is no longer relevant. 

Assigning Work Individually

From Google Classroom, you can assign certain work to a select group of kids. 

Just like a normal assignment, you’ll put in the topic, points, due date, and schedule (if desired). Then, where it says “FOR” on the right side, click on that, deselect “All Students”, and check the box for the kids you want to do the given task. (I use this when Middle Schools need work from only certain students, or if I have an extension task I have for some kids.)

Quick Grading

There are two fast ways to grade assignments on GC. They’re both very similar, and I usually use these methods when the work I’m grading requires little feedback, if any. 

To begin, go to the “Grade” tab at the top of your GC. From here, you can simply score students across multiple assignments from one place! It’s exactly like a normal, tangible gradebook with student names on the left and assignments (ordered by how recent it was given) on the right.

If a student turned in work, they will have a green “___/100” in the assignment box. If it’s grey or empty, they haven’t submitted anything yet, regardless of the elaborate story they tell.

From the Grades tab, you can type in a score into their box, just like a physical gradebook. To Return the grades to your kids, just click on the 3 dots next to the task you want returned and select “Return All” after you have graded all of the submissions for that assignment.

A second method I use allows me to quickly give a grade while seeing the work the student submitted. In the Grades tab, I pick the question/assignment I want to give a grade for. Then, on the left, there’s a list of students with empty scores. I graded these quickly by spamming “100-TAB-100-TAB-100-TAB…” until each response was graded. Then, I “Return”-ed all of the responses. Easy way to grade; easy way to “take attendance” during DL, like for Daily Questions or something that is just “busy work”.

4. WHAT I’D CHANGE

Grading

A frustration I have is that when I select an assignment to grade, it removes the “Grades” tab, as well as the assignments at the top of the screen. If I had it my way, I’d find a way to keep the assignments so it’s quicker to click between tasks without having to click out, find Grades, and then go to my assignments again. It’s annoying. But I won’t spend any more time on that.

Tagging in Comments

Like every other social media place in the world, when you respond to a person, their name is included. However, when tagging in GC, for some reason it thinks I want to address them by their email, not their username. Change that please, Google.

Topics on the Left Side for Subjects (Instead of “Upcoming”)

“Back in the olden days…” you used to have your subject list on the left side, so it was easy for kids to navigate via subject. Now, it’s just an “Upcoming” section with due dates. This is nice! But can we have both..? I know the topics are on the left in the “Classwork” tab, but I wish we still had the topics on the Stream page… Bring it back, Google!

Student View

The Teacher side of GC is pretty good, all things considered. But if I want to see how something looks for my students, there’s no way for me to check unless I hack one of their accounts. If there’s a preview in Google Slides, and Google Forms, is there a way we could do a preview for Google Classroom..? Just something I’d change, and that fits into this category!

Closing Comment

I love using Google Classroom to give resources to my students. I enjoy using it to connect with my class as well. Announcements, videos, daily questions, and writing links are just a few ways I can communicate personally and academically with each kid. Plus, being able to have an easy grading system, customizable themes, and a safe, easy-to-monitor home, Google Classroom can be a great way to combine “online” and “schooling” for any typical educator. 

2 thoughts on “Mr. Graham’s Take On Google Classroom

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