Monday, August 15, 2016

Google Sheets Checkmarks

Last post I mentioned how I use Google Sheets with checkmarks to keep track of what students have completed in my class. Below I have created a video that shows how to do this:

Monday, August 8, 2016


A few years ago I started to become dissatisfied with our SIS that our district uses. I tried to set it up so that it will only show checkmarks to students on an assignment, but that ended up not working at all. I was (and still am) extremely tired of the point game that we have students play in our classes. So, I started looking into alternatives of tracking what my students are learning.

It took some time to find something. I finally settled on For All Rubrics. It allowed me to create a checklist of assignments that I wanted students to complete while in my class. I really liked this. It took some time and practice to get things the way I wanted them. I created several checklists for my students and then imported my students into classes. I assigned the checklists to those classes. I was able to use my iPad to walk around the class and individually keep track of what students were completing in class. No grades or points were assigned to these checklists, so I didn't need to worry about having my students play the point game.

This worked really well for quite some time. In fact, if you want to get away from your SIS and start having students completing assignment and not playing the points game, I would highly recommend looking at For All Rubrics. You can share rubrics and checklists with other teachers. They even have a badging system that you can use to award badges to your students. (I haven't really gotten into the badging thing, so of course I couldn't push it off to my students very well, but you may love that feature).

I wanted to have my students see their report without having to worry about another username and password. For All Rubrics does not have Google Sign In integration, so I didn't want them worrying about remembering (or better yet not remembering) a different username and password. I was able to find the report page that does not require a log in to see. It allows them to see the checkmarks they have completed and the other assignments they need to complete. I was able to figure out a way to link that page to a student's individual SIS account. It is a very complicated process that takes me several days to set up at the beginning of a grading period, but once completed it is there for students and parents to see with just a few clicks. If you want details on how to do it, please contact me and I can help you out with it.

The one problem with this whole system is that it is not very friendly for other teachers to use in their classrooms. Yes, it would be great if our whole school or district used the For All Rubrics website, but I don't have that type of control (I barely have control of myself). Plus, even if we went to this system, I'm doubting that many teachers would jump on board.

So, this last school year I wanted to try something different. We have GAFE in our district, and so students are pretty used to using Google Drive. I wondered if I could create a checkmark system for my students using Google Drive.

I first tried to do something in a Doc. However, to truly get it working right I ended up creating a table. Whenever I start using tables in a document I always start thinking that a spreadsheet would be better. So, I started a Google Sheet. This was the best thing I could start.

After some searching I found that Google Sheets has a data validation that allows a user to create a list of items with images. So, I did a little playing around with both Docs and Sheets. When I was playing with Google Docs before I found a special character of a checkmark and an empty box. I was able to copy those and put thing into Google Sheets in the data validation list of items. I also found out that I could use those same two images in formulas in Google Sheets.

With formulas and the data validation I was able to create a checklist of assignment that I wanted students to complete. The next thing I had to figure out was how to share those sheets with about 400+ students. I know I could create a copy of the sheet for each student and then share it with them, but I know that would take some time to do so.

I also wanted a way to have a sheet where I could see all of my students from a class and see where they are in the process of completing assignments. I was able to do this with For All Rubrics. I could bring up my class and see how many checkmarks each student had on one page. This was great for me, because it allowed me to zero in on individual students and talk with them about their progress (or lack thereof) and try to encourage them (or push them--motivationally, not physically) to complete the assignments they were missing. I wanted to still do this with my new Google Sheets as well.

So, as I started looking for a way to do this I came across a Google Drive Extension that I had been introduced to several years earlier. It is called Doctopus. It has become a life-changer for me. This extension allows you to take one file (or multiple files, or even a whole folder) in Google Drive and share it with all of your students. It puts the document into their Google Drive where they can look at it all they want. Of course Doctopus has a LOT of features that I don't use, so I would suggest truly looking at the whole thing as it could be a solution for you on many different levels.

Doctopus was a great answer for teachers before Google Classroom came out. However, Doctopus can also be used WITH Google Classroom. The cool thing with Doctopus is that it allows you to link into the individual sheet and gather information from that sheet.

I decided to try this out. I had my sheet with checkmarks. I then started creating a Doctopus sheet and imported my students into the sheet. I then was able to pick the checkmark sheet and was able to send it to each individual student. It took a few minutes for Doctopus to do so, but it was faster than I would have been. I learned to tweak the sheets so that the students couldn't enter the checkmarks themselves. I really like my students, but I work with junior high kids, and I know that a lot of them would just mark the checkmarks themselves just to say they got it done when they truly hadn't (sorry, I'm a bit jaded with this). However, having my mark the checkmarks also allows me to talk and meet with each individual student several times.

I then used the INPORTRANGE funtion in Google Sheets to count how many checkmarks each individual student had on their sheet. This allowed me again to see who was not progressing very fast and to touch bases with them.

With the checklist on Google Drive I found I couldn't use the Google Sheets app on my iPad to change the empty boxes to checkmarks. However, I found that I could use my Android phone to do so. This turned out to be so much better. Instead of "lugging" around my iPad in my hands, I could pull out my phone and change a box into a checkmark and then place it back into my pocket.

I have totally loved this whole new system. I don't have to worry about points for my students. I can help them continue to learn without playing the stupid point game. I also started tracking how many assignments were completed throughout a class compared to when I kept track of them on my SIS. This last semester I had on average students completing twice as many assignments as I did when I used points. I am hoping to make this even more, and to hopefully get past the "how many assignments completed" idea as well. I want my students learning. If that happens by completing the assignments I have created for them, great. However, if they can think of a different way to learn and they can prove that learning, then I want to be able to be open to that as well. This will take some time, though.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Learning ePortfolio

This last year as I was helping my students to learn without using grades I started thinking about how students can prove that they have learned the information they are supposed to learn in school. This lead me to start looking into ePortfolios. So, I started searching around for examples of ePortoflios that are out there and how people are using them in schools. Surprisingly there is a lot out there about ePortfolios, but I could not find examples of how I could use it in my classroom with my students.

Then, one day I found that a local college (Salt Lake Community College-SLCC) that requires all of their general education students to create and use an electronic portfolio. I was really intrigued. The coolest thing was that they have videos to show students how to actually create the portfolio. As I looked through their tutorials and resources I began to really like the ideas they had come up with.

SLCC (pronounced "slick") allows students to use Google Sites, Weebly, Wix, Jimbo, or WordPress. However, some of these websites are blocked in our district, and let's be frank, WordPress is not the easiest thing for people (especially for most 7th-9th graders to learn to use). Our district recently started using Google Apps for Education (GAFE), so I started leaning towards Google Sites for my students' ePortfolios.

I went through the Google Sites tutorial from SLCC on how to create their ePortfolio. As a programmer I have never been too impressed with Google Sites because it doesn't allow a lot of flexibility, especially for those that know how to program. However, it is very simple to use and would be easy for students to use (mostly because of the simplicity). I was able to setup my first ePortfolio site and found it pretty simple to do. So, I thought I would try it out with some of my 7th-graders. Let's just say it didn't go too well (not terribly, but I have done things better).

So, I found out that Google Sites allows a user to create Templates. I then started putting together a template that my students could use to create their ePortfolios without actually having to set up all of the pages. I then started trying it out with a few of my other students. This worked a lot better. However, I wasn't too impressed with the setup of the site.

I started thinking about what happens if one of my students transferred to another school in our district. Then I wondered if they could use the ePortfolio if they went to another district in my state. Going further, what would happen if they moved to a different state or bigger yet, another country. Would they be able to use the ePortfolio they started with in my class, or would they need to start all over again because it was specific for my school, district, state, or country?

This began a huge search that would take several months. I first started listing classes that students cold possibly take. However, that seemed limited because those same classes could not even be offered in other places. So, I wanted to list the knowledge and skills that a student should be learning while taking classes.

My principal had shared the Future-Ready Plan from the Lakeville Area Public Schools. Although I have come to dislike the phrase "Future-Ready," I found myself returning to this file to look at the overall global things we want students to learn. You will see on page 9 the six basic literacies that this district listed. I decided to start with these literacies on my ePortfolio template.

So, instead of classes I started listing these literacies. I also started listing other basic, general literacies that students should know or have. I then had to start searching for what those literacies really meant. How could students upload an assignment or video or whatever to prove that they have the knowledge and/or skills for that literacy. I started to find national standards that have been created for a lot of these literacies. I liked the national standards better because I found that a lot of the state standards we have are very limited and outdated.

Now, I didn't want to get extremely detailed with these standards. I didn't want just a checklist of specific assignments for students to do. I want my students to see that what they are learning in all of their classes are bigger ideas instead of just the assignments that teachers have created. And, instead of listing "Classes" I decided to create a page called "Knowledge & Skills" to reflect truly what was being presented.

My goal in all of this is to help students to start to learn how to create a portfolio. I would hope that they could take their ePortfolio with them as they go through the schools in our district and start to collect, select, and reflect on the proof of their learning. Then, after they graduate, hopefully they can continue to take the ePortfolio with them into tertiary school and to their work life as well.

I also try and tell my students that this is just a template. They can change the portfolio any way they want. I also tell them that if they want to use a different site for their portfolio, they are more than welcome to do so. However, if they choose to use a different site, they need to do that on their own and basically have the same type of content.

This next year I will be trying to use this template a little more with my students than I did last year (isn't that what we do as teachers?). If you have any comments or suggestion, please help me to make this template better. You of course may use it all you want. Copy it, change it, improve it. Tell me how you did so and how it worked so I can improve mine as well.

Here is the link to the template (make sure you follow the link as there is one that is similarly named, but is totally different):

The site should look like this (if the template you see has birds, you are on the wrong template):

When you go to copy this to your Google account, you may get an error stating that you need to request permission to use the template. If that happens, return to the page and click on the "Use Template" button again.

I am also currently starting to set this template up for the "New" Google Sites. This will take some time, so please stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Learning, Education, Training, and School

I just finished another Sir Ken Robinson book. This one is Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education. There are so many good things in this book. I've already started to listen to it again.

One of the first things I really liked was his talk about the difference between learning, education, training, and school.

Learning - the process of acquiring new knowledge and skills
Education - the organized program(s) of learning
Training - a type of education that's focuses on learning specific skills
School - any community of people that comes together to learn with each other

I have been trying to get my students to actually learn in my classes for several years. However, I have found that the grade is one of the biggest problems with learning in our system. When students are worried about grades, they will only do that which is required so they can get the minimum grade they want. It doesn't matter how good the activity is. It doesn't matter how engaging the activity is. It doesn't even matter if students are thoroughly invested in the activity. If there is a grade attached to the activity, that is what students are going to concentrate on.

Oh, they will seem interested in what is going on in the activity for awhile, but when the activity starts to come to an end, they will just start to worry about the grade and what they have to do to get the grade they want.

One quote that I just found today was:

“The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners...

It is as true now as it was then that no matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used.

The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool parts of our lives.”

~ John Holt Quotes

So many times I think people (teachers, students, parents, etc.) equate teaching to learning. However, I am always trying to tell my students that they don't need a teacher to learn. I especially tell this to my Spanish students. I tell them that people learn new languages all of the time throughout the world without going into a classroom or having a teacher. 

Several years ago as I was telling one of my computer classes that they could learn just about anything from Google, one student asked me: "So, why do we even come to school?" I replied to her that even though they could learn just about anything from Google, they most likely wouldn't do it on their own. She paused for a minute and then agreed with me. 

I think some of that comes from us as teachers taking out any creativity on their part from school. They have to do the things we want them to do, the way that we want them to do it. This is something I want to start to work on this next year. I don't think I could go "cold turkey" from doing the assignments I know help students to learn, but eventually I want to be able to have them figure out how they can prove on their own that they can learn the things I want them to learn, but they can prove that in anyway they want.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


One of the best books that I have listened to in recent years is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. This book has really helped me to learn that I can change my mindset on a lot of subjects.

In the past I used to say that I can dribble a ball and I can walk, but I really can't do both at the same time. I would also say that I really suck at sports. This is all ironic as I am a pretty tall guy. However, since listening to Mindset I have fully changed my mind. I am still not good at sports. I still can't dribble a ball and walk at the same time. However, I know that I could learn to play sports. I know that I could probably get pretty good at it as well. However, I also know that I am not interested in doing so. If I really wanted to, though, I could take the time and learn to play any sports. Now, could I end up in the NBA or NFL, probably not at my age.

In this idea I have changed my mindset from a fixed mindset (me not having the ability to play sports) to a growth mindset (knowing I could learn to play sports if I wanted to). There are tons of websites, pins, and blogs that talk about Fixed and Growth mindsets. I would highly suggest getting a copy of the book and read or listen to it yourself, especially if you have any doubts about it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

What Happens When Students Don't Learn?

I have posted about how I decided to give all of my students "A's" in my class. Of course for most of my students this has helped them out a lot. I have seen most of my students doing more work than ever before, and therefore learning a lot more than with grades.

However, I will have to admit that there are some students that still don't do anything in class. Now, when I say they don't do "anything," they tend to keep "busy" in class, but they don't complete the amount of assignments that most of the students do. For example, every semester I have had least two or three students that have only completed two assignments the whole semester. This is really frustrating to me. And, at first this seems that the whole thing has failed and I get a little discouraged. However, I really had to start thinking about this.

One of the things that I came up with at first was to send students that were not really doing anything in class to our In-School Suspension room. My thought on this was that it is a privilege to be in class and learning. However, as I thought about this, I thought that this would be a nightmare for everyone involved (including the awesome people that work in our In-School Suspension room). So, before even implementing this idea, I totally scratched it. Plus, as I thought about it more, do I really want to send students someplace else to NOT complete the assignments in my class? That seemed a little silly to me. The whole point of this is to help students to learn.

Another thing that I thought of doing was putting those students that weren't doing anything in class in a group that would receive grades. I actually implemented this at the beginning of this last year. This was an absolute failure! I had these students still not completing assignments and still getting bad grades (mostly "F's"). This also mad me physically sick giving grades, especially when I was trying to have students not worry about grades. There was this threat lurking in the air that if a student didn't work, they would be getting a grade. Ugh! So, I went back and removed this group from my classes and gave all of my students "A's" again.

I then had to come to the idea that I had to be the person that helped these students out. I am the teacher. I am the person that went to school to learn how to be a teacher. I am the adult in the room. So, I decided that if a student was not completing the assignments in my class, I had to sit down with that students and talk with them personally. This has helped a little, but it is still something that I need to work on.

I have had a few classes that were smaller and I can move these students to either sit directly next to me or all by themselves. I usually let my students listen to music (either on their own devices or through my computers) while they work. There are times I tell students that are not completing assignments that they are not permitted to listen to music until they have completed enough assignments. I have also sat down with these students at times and have told them that I need a specific assignment done before the end of class that day. All three of these items work a little, but not extremely well.

However, I have also had to come to a realization that most likely if these students were to have received a grade (which most likely would have been an "F"), it (the grade) would not have been motivating to them to try and complete the assignments. Grades are more like a weapon that teachers use rather than a motivation for students. So, my biggest thing is trying to figure out how to help these students to succeed in my class. I don't have the answers, plus I highly doubt that even if I did find something that worked for me and my students, that it would work for everyone in their classes. However, if I do find something that works, I will still post it here so that everyone that wants to try it and tweak it (as we do as teachers), you may do so.

Friday, July 8, 2016


Another idea that I have loved about the book "The Element" by Sir Ken Robinson is the chapter on tribes. Every time I listen to the book I am extremely excited to be part of a great tribe at my school. We call our tribe "Down the Rabbit Hole." It is a name that took awhile to come up with, but really summarizes a lot of what we do and talk about.

Several years ago my principal started using teachers in our school as coaches for other teachers. Their basic job is to come in and observe us in our classes and then talk with us about what we want to improve on. One of our coaches encourages the teachers he coaches to video record at least one class of themselves. A lot of teachers who have done this have found great things that they can improve in their teaching.

One teacher/coach met with one of her "coachees" and they decided to just meet together after school to discuss things. The coach was an English teacher and the "coachee" was a history teacher. So they didn't necessarily talk about specific lessons and content. They were talking about teaching in general.

The history teacher one day stopped by my room on the way back to his room and talked to me about the topics they had talked about. He and I ended up talking for about 30-40 minutes as well. After a few times of this he invited me to just come to their meeting. Another English teacher or two had also joined the meeting. They were meeting on Tuesdays that were B-Days since one of the English teachers was a part-time teacher and was only at school on B-Days.

We had a great time together. I was finding myself excited about the Tuesday B-Day meetings. There were times as I was getting ready for school that I would have to think if today was the day for our meeting or not. We first started calling our meeting the "Tuesday Meeting." However, at the beginning of this previous school year we decided to meet on Thursdays (for several different reasons). So, we jokingly called it the "Tuesday Meeting that Meets on Thursday" group or the "Meeting Formerly Known as Tuesday Meeting" group. We also started meeting more often. We decided to meet most Thursdays even if someone couldn't make it.

Also there were times that we started emailing each other articles we had found on the Internet. Most of the time these conversations went on and on about the subject we were talking about. At one point we talked about opening our email conversation to more people in our building. We of course would always invite people to our physical group meeting, and sometimes a few people would come and give great contributions to our group. However, we know that not everyone's schedule could fit into that. We felt that emails were a better way to show other teachers what we were talking about as well.

So I started delving into websites that we could use for an email list so that we could also keep track of the conversation as it went along. I searched and looked at different websites for a few hours and then I was reminded of Google Groups. As I looked into Groups a little more I found that we could actually create a mailing list with one email that people could send information to and it would send it to all the people on the list. I brought it up to our small group and we started conversing about what to call the group.

As we had been emailing each other with links to articles we had found we found ourselves starting to click on the other links in that same article. Then we found we were clicking on links in those articles to go to other articles. It became a vicious descent. Thus we decided to call our group and our mailing list "Down the Rabbit Hole" as we felt we were continually diving into more and more rabbit wholes by following the links on the articles.

With the approval of our principal we added every teacher in our building onto our mailing list. We did tell them that they don't have to read the emails and if they wanted off the list, then they could unsubscribe or ask one of the people in charge of the group to remove them. We didn't want the list to be a mandated thing that we had to do (we all know how those things work out).

I feel that I have found my tribe for now. I'm sure that some of us will move on and we may eventually abandon the group altogether one day. However, for now I feel that I am totally getting validation from this group. The first small part of this group were some of the first people that I told about giving all of my students A's. They are the ones that I almost have convinced to do the same thing, but they aren't there yet. I reassure them that they do not have to jump on board the "crazy bus" until they are ready. However, these are the teachers I hear from when students talk about what is happening in my classes.

These are also the teachers that inspire me to continue to work out this way of teaching. Even during the summer months we have been emailing here and there with articles that inspire us to think differently about what we are doing as educators. I would never have found some of the articles or videos we have shared without this group of people.

I also feel that they "Alchemy of Synergy" is working and within our group and we will be doing some great things together in our classes soon. I feel that although I have worked with different people in groups throughout the years, this is my true "tribe." As I mentioned before I totally look forward to the days that we meet. Sometimes the day can seem to drag on, but if we have our meeting that day I feel that I can make it through the day because we are meeting. There are times we have an impromptu meeting at lunch or before or after school. I absolutely love those time. They always make my day so much better.

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