Googlish Classrooms at Vianney

If you’ve been listening to the buzz around our school the last few months, you may have heard students and teachers talking about Google’s new learning management system, Google Classroom. For a brief introduction and a view into a Classroom course, check out Jared Weber’s use of the tool below:


As you can see, Classroom focuses on doing a small number of things really, really well. It is especially good at …

  • Organizing: Google Classroom gathers and organizes Google documents that your students produce as part of an assignment
  • Turning in work: Google Classroom creates a workflow that’s very similar to one you’d find in the physical classroom. A teacher creates an assignment, maybe distributing “copies” of a template that students fill out. The students complete the assignment in some fashion (documents, videos, drawings, etc.) and then “turn in” their work. The same workflow occurs in Classroom.
  • Grading: Google Classroom arranges student work in an easy-to-read, gradebook-like format that allows teachers to leave feedback quickly on documents and other artifacts.


Most often-asked question: So, does this replace Schoology?

Answer: Well, maybe. It depends on how you were using Schoology.


A quick feature break-down

Assignment system involves uploading or connecting, and giving
feedback involves a system separate from Drive
Amazingly efficient, as the workflow is built for Google Drive from the
ground up.
Course Materials
Folders and subfolders mimic arrangement of unit materials typical
in the planning process
No support for folders yet, though you can create something akin to
folders by attaching Google Docs to the “About” tab.
Quickly assess small-group or full-class discussions for who
participated and how well
The classroom “stream” is more similar to that of Facebook.
Posts and replies are nicely indented, but you might have to do a bit of
scrolling to check in on participation.
Full-featured assessment engine allows for free response and multiple
choice, and can import quizzes from ExamView.
No testing engine yet, though Forms and Flubaroo do allow for
auto-grading of multiple choice assessments.


If you were using Schoology primarily to deliver and collect digital student work, Classroom is a fantastic option.  The single sign-on option, ease of feedback, and intuitive work flow is hard to beat.  If you were organizing class materials, discussions, and assessments so students could return to those at different points in the course, you might find a conventional learning management system better meets your needs, or you can combine other Google tools with Classroom, building your own LMS environment.

Google continues to roll out new features for Classroom, as well as for Forms (it’s closest assessment offering).  Check out the Google for Education blog for updates.

Interested to know more or to give Classroom a try? Touch base with me or chat with any of the following teachers for more information: Jillian Hoge, Brandon Lewis, Carrie Mitchell, Keith Touzinsky, Sean Scanlon, and Jared Weber.

Beg to differ with the feature break-down?  Using Classroom and didn’t see your name above?

Sound off in the comments below!

(Cross-posted on Vianney Learning)

#GTAATX submission

This past October, three teachers and I crafted essays and videos for submission to the December 2014 section of the Google Teacher Academy, #GTAATX.  My essays and video are posted below. While my application was not a successful bid for the Academy (this time), my greatest joy was creating these pieces together with a group of gifted, passionate teachers.  The dialog we had about what drives us to coach students towards personal success was a great reminder of the quality of people I have the privilege to serve.  My hope was that one of us would make it, and how fantastic was the news when Adam Hamilton, science teacher and football coach at Vianney, got the coveted tap to attend #GTAATX.

I’m looking forward to applying for the 2015 Academies, repeating the process of reflection and playful creation that marked October’s experience.



Tell us about how you’ve navigated ambiguity or hardship.

When I began teaching, my classroom was full of ambiguity, because it was full of people. I was flustered, stretched, and lonely at times, so I invited every principal, developer, and teacher I could into my room. I knew that I wasn’t the one who could solve this puzzle on my own. I could only form questions and share them. As my responsibilities have changed, now I think about the ambiguity in all our classrooms, and I’ve found that conversations remain my most effective strategy. Instead of providing quick answers, I help my colleagues form questions. We talk about ideas, then tools, then networks that can help them. Forming the question has helped me own my personal search for answers, and that same approach helps bring a sense of control and success to the teachers I support.

Tell us about what inspires you to be a part of the GTA Program

I’m inspired to be part of the GTA program because I can’t think of a more passionate group of teacher coaches that I’d like to join. My love for the work and burdens of teachers motivates me each day to ask, listen, and encourage. I ask questions first because I’m genuinely interested in people and the curriculum taught here. I also ask questions in order to provide space for a teacher to reflect. The pace of our profession crowds out time for reflection, but the well-placed, sincere inquiry gives teachers an excuse to admire and tweak their efforts in the classroom. I love this part of my job, and I know I can grow in it. I’d like to add my strength to the accomplished efforts of Google Certified Teachers and learn from theirs so I can better serve my own school, city, and network.

To see Adam’s winning entry, as well as the great videos created by David Petersen and Brandon Lewis, check out this playlist.

Stop Making Sense in Social Studies Class

When you walk into Don Owens’ classroom (“Coach O” as he’s fondly known around here) on a select Friday, you might notice that his students aren’t dressed in their usual attire.  All of them have donned a white t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Stop Making Sense”.  Interesting … especially for a history classroom, where things ought to make sense.

“That’s just the point,” Coach says.  “These guys come in here with the idea that it’s all going to be handed to them.  They’ve lost the power of imagination.  But that’s not what we want here.”

What Coach O, who teaches every freshman at Vianney, wants his students to know is that learning is about a lot more than what’s written on the page.  “I want them to collaborate, to use their imaginations so that they can engage in what we’re doing here.  I want them to think outside the box.”

With that driving force, Coach went on a hunt for inspiration, and he found it in David Byrne, the leader of the 1980s rock group, the Talking Heads. “Byrne is a guy that’s always looking to break the mold, and he’s always looking to partner with someone else to make that happen.  That’s what I want our guys to do.  Forget the routine.  What’s possible here?  What’s really going on?  Ask questions.  Work with each other.  Get outside your comfort zone. Think!”

So how does that translate into his class? For a portion of class time on selected Fridays in the semester, students work on “outside the box” activities.

Things like:

  • Wear the shirt – Students gather as a team with an atypical dress code for atypical work.  This helps Owens set a tone of novelty and anticipation in his classroom.
  • Analyze video clips — Students have been analyzing selections of Byrne’s on-stage performances and discussing what’s happening on stage, what’s in the mind of the musician as he designed how things happen, and what motivates Byrne to be unique.  With the study of history, it is tempting to simply take people and events at face value, but true historians ask probing questions to learn what’s really going on.  Owens’ students develop these type of questioning patterns as they work through Byrne’s unique performances.
  • Pull apart song lyrics —  Historians process through primary documents with a fine-tooth comb.  Owens encourages his students to do the same, with material that’s charged with political and social themes from the modern world.  What does the singer mean by these lyrics?  What’s going on other places during that time that might inform his work?  As the boys move through these questions, they lay the foundation for similar work with ancient sources that touch on similar issues.

“I’m seeing better work out of my guys,” Coach says.  “They’re getting out of the habit of rote memorization.  Right now, I tell them ‘We’re on a road to nowhere’ during these ‘Stop Making Sense’ times.  But we won’t stay there.  We’re moving to that other road soon, where they need to start making making connections for themselves.  ‘Start the Change’ is going to be where we say, ‘Let’s stop talking about things, and let’s do them.’”

For students in Owen’s classes, the “Stop making Sense” activity has engaged their imaginations.  Now, Coach will be devoting that same time to opportunities where students will, like Byrne, work through the creative process to display what they know and how they know it.

Cross-posted on Vianney Learning

#TechTuesdays Summer 2014: Google Apps

Last summer, teachers met to collaboratively work through the Vianney Learning 2.0 development, getting a sense of a piece of what’s out there on the web.  This summer, we dove deep, walking through the intricacies of the core of Google Apps for Education.  These face-to-face and online hangouts were designed to introduce teachers to the content of the Google Educator Certification course in a more personable, engaging way than simply plowing through the material.

Session agendas can be found on our wiki, and the hangout events are embedded in the playlist below (direct link).

Chromebooks and Collaboration

This morning I had the opportunity to work with teachers at Holy Cross Academy – Annunciation as they prepared for their first year of a 1:1 Chromebook deployment.  We had an informative visit about the number one benefit of Chromebooks in the classroom: collaboration.

Prezi presentation (direct link)

Evaluating the Application of Technology Using the SAMR Framework

Presentation and notes from a presentation to faculty at St. John Vianney High School, 16 Aug. 2013.

Subject-specific examples of SAMR:

Ancillary resources used in the workshop:

Succeeding In Spite of Ourselves?

Quotes that are making me think …

Yong Zhao, in a recent article on the direction of US education, makes this observation:

For historical reasons, the United States is not as good at “sausage-making education” as most other countries are.  A decentralized education system that allows local autonomy, the lack of a national curriculum, a broad conceptualization of success that tolerates diversity, and teaching practices that respect individual differences  have made U.S. schools relatively ineffective in producing students who score high on standardized international tests.  But this very ineffectiveness has made schools more successful in preserving students’ creative and entrepreneurial talents.

Seth Godin, in his Stop Stealing Dreams manifesto, writes

In 1914, a professor in Kansas invented the multiple-choice test. Yes, it’s less than a hundred years old.

There was an emergency on. World War I was ramping up, hundreds of thousands of new immigrants needed to be processed and educated, and factories were hungry for workers. The government had just made two years of high school mandatory, and we needed a temporary, high-efficiency way to sort students and quickly assign them to appropriate slots.

In the words of Professor Kelly, “This is a test of lower order thinking for the lower orders.”

A few years later, as President of the University of Idaho, Kelly disowned the idea, pointing out that it was an appropriate method to test only a tiny portion of what is actually taught and should be abandoned.

James Baldwin, from his essay A Talk to Teachers,

 The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.  The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not.  To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity.  But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around.  What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society.  If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish.

My open question: Are we succeeding in American education in spite of ourselves?

Online Safety – in 7 minutes

This year’s Speed Geeking session focused on bringing digital citizenship into the classroom. As I pondered my topic of “Online Safety,” I decided to deliver a one-line message rather than an assortment of resources, something that teachers and administrators could easily remember and use as they crafted approaches in their various contexts.

Prezi presentation (direct link)

Book Review: The Practical (and Fun) Guide to Assistive Technology in Schools

I just finished reviewing a book for the upcoming METC conference, The Practical (and Fun) Guide to Assistive Technology in Schools by Christopher R. Bugaj and Sally Norton-Darr.  It was well-worth the read.  My review is below:

The Practical (and Fun) Guide to Assistive Technology in Schools

In this volume, authors Christopher R Bugaj and Sally Norton-Darr have woven a quick-witted, down-to-earth account of how their Assistive Technology (AT) team took form. Though the book might seem written toward a specific audience, I recommend it as an important case-study for any leader interested in creating a viable and defensible district team. Buaj and Norton-Darr thoroughly examine the team-creation process – selecting team members, dividing workload, outlining leadership duties, advertising services, establishing procedures, delivering training, scheduling consultations, tracking contacts, and measuring success. While addressing these general strategies, Buaj and Norton-Darr also keep faithful to their task: outlining what it takes to build a team focused on delivering a free and appropriate public education for all students through accomodations that involve assistive technology. For general or special educators alike, this book offers a number of practical measures that expedite the process of getting assistive technology and AT strategies into the hands of kids and teachers. As an added bonus, the authors have done so in a way that makes the reading a delight, and not drudgery. Peppered with personal anecdotes and fictitious tales ripe for re-use when explaining concepts to others, this “practical and fun guide” delivers on both counts. Many of the strategies outlined can be put in place at once, and it won’t feel like hard labor to wrangle them from the text. Kudos to Chris and Sally for an eminently readable account of what is certainly a daunting task: building or improving a district AT team.

Does technology make teenagers into zombies?

Recently, John Lawrence (instructional technology over at Chaminade College Prep High School) passed my information along to a student there who was looking for a teacher’s perspective on technology and teens.  The student’s questions and my answers are below.  If you have any additional thoughts, or have some corrections to offer, please add them in the comments.

1. Do you think that technology has more of a positive or negative effect on the youth? Why?

I think the most appropriate answer must be “it depends.” To the degree that it connects young people to ideas, world views, and those they care about or are interested in, it’s great. To the degree that a particular young person may choose to use it in ways that isolate or distract him, it can be a detriment to his development. In my opinion, if we come to technology with an idea of what we want to productively accomplish by using it, we win. If, instead, we come to technology with a desire for entertainment, self-fulfillment, or escape, we run the risk that the technology may control us rather than the other way round. I think this concept applies to any type of technology, whether we are talking about a guy’s shop full of power tools, a lady’s collection of romance novels, or a teenager’s use of the Internet.

2. In you opinion, why do teens love their cell phones and other technology more than spending time with family?

I’m not sure teens love their cell phones. I think those who “love their cell phones” actually love something their cell phones give them. For some, cell phones give them instant connection to their peer group. Part of the adolescent journey is defining ourselves within one crowd and in opposition to another. Teens have been doing this through peer interaction for generations. Cell phones just add an immediacy to this dynamic that is a powerful pull away from the “established” identity tied to the family. If I already know where I stand as a “son”, I don’t have to think about that. What I really wonder about is where I stand as a … fill in the blank. That’s a big question, and a big reason to be attached to a peer group through one’s cell phone.

3. How do you think that technology can be a good thing?

As I mentioned earlier, technology can be a great connector. It ties us into conversations happening around the world, and allows us to be participants in those conversations, not merely passive consumers. It allows us to archive and analyze our experiences in new ways, ways that can bring patterns to light that we never imagined were there. Athletes use digital video to hone their form, companies use tweets to re-evaluate their marketing strategy, students use tablets to record lectures and review their notes, and the list goes on. Advanced technology coupled with user-generated content has created a vast ocean of information that is growing exponentially. We as a human community are learning together in a way we’ve never done before.

4. What are some ways you think technology can be a bad thing?

I think technology can be a bad thing as any “tool” can branded as “bad.” A hammer is just as effective a tool in creating shelter as it is in tearing it down. Technology connects. It connects moral people to those without consciences. It connects vulnerable children to images of unspeakable evil. It connects teens who feel unsure of themselves to any manner of arenas where they can escape rather than confront their doubts and fears. Ultimately, I think of technology as an amplifier of our intentions, emotions, and actions. If it is bad, it is so because we find our own faults magnified before us.

5. How do you think that technology effects the minds of teens?

That question you might better answer than I. I think a mind soaked in the connectedness of technology has a tendency to be satisfied skimming across information rather than diving into it. This bears out whether I’m thinking of an adult or teenager. I think the teen may have a more difficult time reading or thinking deeply only insofar as he has fewer reference points for the more sustained action of study than has the adult who may not have experienced the same degree of screen exposure. There’s a good body of evidence about what screen time does to children, and a growing debate over what it does to our ability to read. I don’t think that teenagers have been “zombified” by technology, but they do have a more demanding choice before them than have other generations in the past. Through technology, kids and adults have an ‘escape hatch’ from the stress that may actually produce learning. Teens have the added challenge of the innumerable other stressors that adolescence brings, so jumping for that escape might be even more tempting than at other stages of life.

6. Do you think that technology has a bigger effect on younger children than it does on teenagers?

I think it definitely has a bigger effect on children aged 2 and below. Beyond that, I haven’t seen a lot of research on degrees of impact between elementary-aged students and teenagers.

Big thanks to John for passing this opportunity my way, and to the folks at EdTechTalk, whose conversation with me last winter helped me begin to describe technology in terms of one piece of a unified experience rather than a world that operates under separate rules.

fleeting thoughts about education and technology