9 Tips for Passing Google Educator Exams

Bilbo GoogleAbout to embark on a new adventure? No, I’m not talking about tagging along with a gaggle of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their homeland, or depositing the One Ring into the fiery pits of Mount Doom (Hobbit release week…my apologies). I’m actually referring to the epic journey of passing the Google Apps for Education exams and becoming a qualified Google Educator. You won’t receive a chest of gold or a one-way ticket to the Undying Lands, but you WILL receive a Google-branded certificate solidifying your mastery of GAFE skills, as well as the badge of honor that you are a lifelong learner with a passion for innovation and sharing with others.

Even Aragorn and the entire Middle Earth is impressed with Google Educator certificates!

The Hobbits just passed their Google Educator exams. Job well done, fellas!

A group of Lake Forest High School students have begun the process of becoming Google Educators (because the real goal is for the student to become the teacher, and the teacher to become the student, right?).  As the students take and pass exams (huzzah!), there’s been a few exam-taking strategies that have been working for them. In the spirit of teaching and sharing, I wanted to pass those tips along:

  1. Use all 90 minutes. Don’t get cocky. If you finish with 40 minutes left give yourself a pat-on-the-back, dance a jig and then review your answers. You need an 80% to pass, and your success could come down to 1 or 2 tricky questions. Dive back in and review your work.
  2. Use common sense. Think about the Google philosophy of their apps, and ask yourself, “Does it make sense that Google would offer this feature?”
  3. Know the tool. Yes, file this one next to the shocking revelation that the Pope is Catholic, but knowing the tool will help immensely. If you’ve never used Sites before, make a Site. If you are unfamiliar with more advanced features of Calendar, start using Calendar. Sure, you could go in cold and just look up everything…but remember, you only have 90 minutes per exam. Having a grasp on the tool will help you eliminate answers that don’t seem to work and also allow you to spend more time on the questions you are struggling with.
  4. Try out the skill. Many of the questions are some variation of (depending on the tool, of course): “You wish to copy an event from a colleague’s Calendar to yours. How do you do this?” The question is followed by multiple choice answers. So, what could be more helpful than simply looking up the answer! Actually try it out! Launch Calendar, and do it…then you’ll know you are answering correctly. Which leads to….
  5. Look stuff up. This goes without saying, but of course I’ll say it and write more than I need to. Part of the beauty of the Google exams is that they are “open book” – so have another device, tab or browser open to scour the internet for answers. You’re not only being tested on what you know, but also how quickly you can find, interpret and evaluate information online.
  6. Have two (2) different Google accounts. Google is such a collaborative tool, and SO MANY questions are about sharing, emailing, document permissions, etc. Having two (2) accounts accessible allows you to go back and forth, check out individual permissions, examine the differences between editors and owners, etc. It helps a LOT.
  7. Use the online Help resources. I strongly recommend support.google.com and the App-specific areas at edutraining.googleapps.com –  (check out the table on this Doc with direct links).
  8. Mark it, and come back. Don’t spend 15 minutes on a head-scratcher question (the clock is ticking!). Give it your best shot, click on the Mark icon, and check back in at the end.
  9. It’s okay if you suck. Really, it’s okay if you fail a test. You get to take it again (not immediately, but in 7 days). Learning from mistakes is super important (especially for students), and it may be the most important lesson of all. Take it from the Zuck.

So, there you go. You can access the Certification page here, and soon you’ll be off and running. That Google Educator certificate will soon be yours! And if you are feeling unmotivated, you don’t need to do it for yourself:

Steal My Stuff! Google Apps for Collaboration, Communication and Innovation

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.38.55 AMI recently finished teaching a course amongst colleagues at Lake Forest High School entitled, “Google Apps for Collaboration, Communication and Innovation.” The course description: “Interested in team-based challenges that get you collaborating, communicating and learning within Google Apps with fellow faculty members? This course invites you to get amped about the innovative features of Google Apps – features that promote teamwork and differentiation, and can be immediately integrated into your classroom with your students.”

The course was a smashing success – we met six (6) times, with four (4) of these meetings taking place over 90-minute Google Hangouts. I’ve linked the Google Hangout activities below – the general structure of the Hangouts was a 10-20 minute intro/demo by me, and then groups of 3 or 4 teachers broke off into their own smaller Hangouts and collaborated on a Google Slide Deck for 40-50 minutes. We then came back together at the end of the nightly session for a large group Hangout, and the groups presented their Slide Decks and showcased what they created and learned. I loved the format – a lot of the participant feedback at the end of the course revolved around the engagement level, structure and how the Hangouts just flew by. I’ve linked the four (4) Hangout activities below – feel free to make copies, use, amend, pillage, plunder, etc. I owe a MASSIVE debt of gratitude to Google Teacher Academy, CUE and Dan Russell – pretty much everything we did at GTA revolved around teamwork and collaboration, and I’ve since modeled my faculty development and student activities on this collaborative format. Contact me with questions about any of this stuff – cheers, and #stealmystuff!

Peer Review through Screencasting

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 9.56.45 AMI love trying out new ideas with students – taking a traditional activity and reshaping and enhancing it using the digital tools that are readily available. So when it was time for an 11/12th grade AP Environmental Science class to evaluate their peer water quality projects, we (the teacher, a fellow instructional coach and I) asked ourselves, “How can we make this process better and elicit truly awesome and helpful feedback?” Here’s what we came up with:

The idea: Student-created screencast evaluations of a peer’s digital project.

A little background: Students sampled water quality of the Chicago River. They analyzed organisms, performed a chemical analysis, made conclusions and reported their findings. Students chose the digital mediums for which to present their findings (popular mediums included Weebly, Piktochart and Smore).

The peer evaluation process: Students submitted the links to their finished projects via a Google Form. Students were given editing rights to the destination Google Sheet, and the teacher assigned peer review partners. Students were given a paper copy of the evaluation rubric and spent 10-15 minutes combing through their peer’s project (hopefully taking copious notes in the process).

The digital component: We are a GAFE district, and we walked students through the process of installing the Snagit App and Extension for Google Chrome (Snagit allows for simple screencast creation, and it saves the video directly in your Google Drive. Huzzah!). Students did a quick microphone test to make sure the video saves directly into their Drive. (Tech note: Make sure to run the test. We were in a lab, so the students had to Sign-in to Chrome from the browser settings and accept numerous Snagit terms/conditions…and the computers were behaving differently (this would be undoubtedly easier on a Chromebook or personal device). Make sure to run the test!). If the student was able to save a video with sound to their Drive, they’re ready to record.

The recording: Students strapped on their headsets and launched into the recording. They used their notes, clicked and paged around their peer’s project, and when they were finished they pasted the link to this Drive-hosted video on the project Google Sheet in the column next to their peer’s project.

The results: At the risk of using hyperbole, it was the best dang peer feedback I’ve ever heard. I made that conclusion very quickly – just walking around and listening to the students record live was a marvel to behold (the teacher also was impressed with the students’ focus, engagement and willingness to fully examine another student’s work) . The students’ opinions and analysis was thorough, in-depth, thoughtful and honest. The finished screencasts ranged from 3 – 9 minutes.

Other thoughts: The very detailed rubric is a MUST for this activity. Just having the students create a screencast and giving thoughts of the top of their head would have been a disaster. By having the students double down by completing the rubric first gave them a lot of time to reflect and put their thoughts together. And – without realizing it – the students were also self-reflecting on their own projects in a way, especially if they were evaluating a digital medium that they didn’t choose. Choosing the right medium for a project is super important, and the students will hopefully be more educated when selecting digital mediums in the future.

Student thoughts: The students weren’t entirely sold. After reflecting on this peer review process, the feelings were decidedly mixed. Here are some student opinions about peer review screencasting:

  • “I prefer written feedback – it’s easier to go back and look at, so you don’t have to search when going back.”
  • “Recording and talking made it easier to share your thoughts…face-to-face you might be overly nice and less honest.”
  • “In conversations people can get defensive.”
  • “Writing peer feedback is simple and easier. Screencasting was overly complicated.”
  • “It’s better to have a conversation, but with a screencast you can review.”

So..reaction was mixed. I suspect it was the doubling-down aspect (completing the rubric first AND then recording) which made the peer review seem kind of cumbersome (not to mention they were in the same room as their peer while recording). But honestly, after reviewing the students’ video it was the BEST across-the-board peer feedback I’ve ever heard. I would totally do this again.

Oh – one final benefit of this process – I’ve been a part of situations where students turn-in digital projects and a decent amount of them don’t work (either the student sent the wrong link, the sharing settings are off, etc). Because another student had to examine the project from a spreadsheet first, if the link was not-functioning it had to be immediately fixed. So when it comes time for the teacher to grade, you can be sure that all the links work because they’ve already been independently checked. Awesome!

Reflecting on peer-to-peer feedback

feedbackI was brainstorming with a teacher the other day about the age old question: how do we get students to give each other quality feedback of their work? Far too often I’ve seen students only dish the stock comments – good job, awesome, really cool, etc. When I taught writing it was difficult to coax anything much further than than those friendly, but not very helpful responses. After talking it over for a bit, we decided to try something new: peer review via screencast.

Now, we haven’t done this yet (so results are still pending), but the thinking behind this is:

  1. Technology has made it easier than ever before for students to create screencasts. I recommend either using the Snagit Chrome Extension and App combination (which saves the screencast directly to Google Drive) or Movenote if you’re just reviewing a Google Doc, Presentation, etc. Either way is a breeze.
  2. By having students “talk through” their comments, it forces them to dig a little deeper and more closely analyze an artifact.
  3. Screencasting seems a bit more casual than busting out the red pen – and when things are more casual, it’s possible you’ll draw out more honest feedback (this is debatable…but I think it will be the case).

We plan on introducing this by modeling the procedure to the class – in many ways, this form of peer review is similar to the think aloud reading strategy. Just read through and document (this time verbally) the thoughts and questions that pop into your head – perhaps this could be a good way of reviewing someone’s work. Or, we are considering a rubric which outlines certain criteria that must be analyzed through a peer review…this could work, but my fear is that this could turn a little robotic. And my hope is for peer review to be a bit more casual and honest…so maybe there’s some middle ground to be had.

Look, peer review is tough – I remember in a college history class I had to trade papers with the stranger next to me. By the end of her peer review of my essay, it looked like her red pen had vomited all over my paper. I didn’t take it well. But at least she was honest – and in the end I appreciated it (after drowning my tears in a bowl of Breyer’s ice cream…kidding). Could screencast peer reviews hit the happy medium of honesty and thoroughness? We are launching the screencast peer review process in a few weeks. To be continued.

The Amazing Race – Chromebook Style

chrome-os-logoIf there’s one thing that still resonates from my time at Google Teacher Academy, it’s this: teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. Everything we did was collaborative and team-based. Every. Single. Thing. And while I pride myself on facilitating hands-on trainings with staff and students, the lovely folks at Google and CUE showed me that I can be doing a better job. With that in mind, when I worked with a few teachers at Lake Forest to help plan a Chromebook introduction for freshman students (all LFHS freshmea have been given Chromebooks this school year), I tried as best I could to emulate the spirit and structure of the activities from GTA. Our result was an “Amazing Race: Chromebook Style” challenge. Check it out below:

We made it as collaborative as possible and included tasks and functions that are important to the device itself: sharing files, snapping screenshots, taking and inserting pictures, and filming and uploading videos. Students also dropped pins on a shared Google Maps Engine Lite and shared their expertise via linked text (a relatively simple task, but an important skill to have). We stressed that it’s okay if you aren’t awesome at this the first time…you’ll get better. And now you know other students in your group and the class that can perform these Chromebook functions – AKA, class experts have been established from the get-go, and students know who to go to for help.

Students teaching students.

Students teaching students.

What else was cool? The teachers I worked with really liked Google Maps Engine Lite and we were soon discussing ways to integrate it into their curriculum (what an awesome added bonus). But all in all it was just so cool to watch the students working together and being 100% engaged to get things done.

So what’s next? Students received valuable practice time, they’ve identified experts amongst their peers, we’ve compiled resources for them to review if they desire a refresher, and my school has a Genius Bar-like place in the library for students to come to if they ever need help with anything tech-related. It’s a pretty nice system.

One final note: I’ve always pondered the delicious irony of professional development where someone comes in to teach about collaboration and good teaching….and then they lecture at you for 2 hours and hand you printouts of a 72 slide powerpoint.


This activity was a 180 from that sit-and-get mentality. One of the teachers I worked with brought up the same thing – and he remarked how great it was to have the students learn and practice collaboration in an activity that WAS ACTUALLY COLLABORATIVE. Seems so simple, yeah?

Lining up to film a YouTube video.

Lining up and filming a YouTube video.

5 Things I Learned From Google Teacher Academy

photo (4)Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View (#gtamtv) is in the books. I returned from California three days ago, and I’m still buzzing about the experience. There was such a build-up for GTA, and now it’s over – but not really. Because in a way I still feel like I’m there. It wasn’t meant to be two days and POOF it’s gone, but the relationships, inspirations, action plans and lessons learned are ongoing. Like the stockpile of awesome beverages in the many Google micro-kitchens, GTA will keep refilling my educational philosophies, connections and practice throughout the upcoming school year and surely beyond that as well. I love making lists on my blog (thanks for the idea, Buzzfeed!), so here’s the top five things I learned at GTA:

1. People are awesome. Without getting too Lego-moviey about the experience, everything WAS awesome about GTA…nothing more so than the people. Seriously, EVERY person I met was innovative, like-minded, forward-thinking, a great collaborator, and HUMBLE. GTA really knows how to pick them – with all of the collective knowledge in the room, it was amazing how not one person was braggy or intellectually unapproachable (we’ve all met the type). Heck, even the GCTs facilitating the event were called “Lead Learners” (which is an awesome term that I’m totally bringing back to my school). I felt honored and blessed to be amongst such cool people, and Google certainly made us all feel important. I made so many amazing connections at GTA, and through our Google+ page, Google Educator Group page and action plan collaborations, I know these connections will continue.

2. Raise the bar. When I facilitate professional development workshops, I pride myself on learners doing and exploring as opposed to me being the sage on the stage. But after living GTA, I realized there’s some things I can do differently – like for starters, raising the bar. Okay, all sixty-five of the participants in GTA clearly have Google and general EdTech experience, so you’d think it’d be easier to just throw us into the fire during breakout sessions and activities. Perhaps true – but not necessarily. Not once were we given “step-by-step” instructions on a tool or a procedure – we were instead given short intros, objectives, and challenges. The timer would be set, and we’d have maybe ten minutes to create something using Google Maps Engine. The Lead Learners expected us to dive-in, work together, and create – and if it wasn’t that good, that’s okay. It was our first try. And seriously, if I wanted a step-by-step for something I can find a YouTube video or directional sheet online in like 20 seconds. But that doesn’t inspire, does it? Ask yourself this: are you more likely to want to explore something further on your own after completing an engaging, short challenge or being given a more in-depth, procedural-based presentation? Because exploring further on your own and empowering yourself is the only way you’ll improve as an educator – so which would you choose? For me, I choose raising the bar and employing more engaging, “quickfire” types of challenges in my future professional development offerings.

3. Working with a team is the only way. Everything at GTA was team-based. Every. Single. Thing. And not in some hokey, “Okay, everyone – now we are moving to the team-based and partner activities portion of the program! YAY!” We’ve all been there, right? It feels so forced and awkward. But at GTA, it was sink or swim. You couldn’t NOT work with a team – the way activities were organized, you had a limited amount of time and had to collaborate, divvy up the work, and help your teammates to succeed. Participants were CONSTANTLY teaching each other new things (I’ll say again, the new tricks learned were participant->participant, not presenter->participant) – this is the way a classroom should be. The students can learn more from each other than the instructor in the front of the room, and the activities at GTA modeled this very principle every step of the way.


4. Friendly competitiveness is SWEET. I’m a competitive person by nature. I hate playing games I know I have no chance of winning at…call me a sore loser, but whatever. At GTA, many of the activities were structured around team-based competitions. We did an Amazing Race using Google tools, an Iron Chef challenge with Google Slides, Moonshot Thinking problem-solving – and most things were timed and sometimes we were competing (in a way) against other learners. And that’s okay – the Lead Learners made it fun, and it didn’t really feel like a competition. But like the ESPN principle of adding a timer to it’s sports talk shows, if you add a timer to activities (just simply Google set timer for 7 minutes, for example) it can really get the adrenaline going and give your actions more purpose. Oh, one more thing, and I alluded to this before – it’s okay to suck at something the first time. You WILL get better – and that’s the point. And it’s easier to accept not being great while working with great teammates and Lead Leaders, of which there was an abundance.

5. The hype is real! I can’t end this without mentioning the Google campus. Yes, everything you’ve heard is true. Modern facilities, micro-kitchens, state-of-the-art conference rooms, ping pong tables, pool tables, loungy sofas, comfy collaboration centers, cafes, relaxing on outdoor mats…I didn’t want to leave. It was my vocational Mecca. I know the point of GTA wasn’t to showcase the campus, but boy oh boy, it was an undeniably inspiring secondary treat.

casap inspire

Support During Reading Strategies with Subtext

tech-061412-003-617x416I wanted to share some positive experiences I’ve had with the Subtext app for iOS devices – I’ve used it with a 5th grade social studies and have co-led Subtext workshops with Caroline Haebig from Stevenson High School. In short, Subtext is a “social reading” app that allows you to import PDFs, websites and articles into eBook format (PDFs don’t convert into the pretty eBooks, but otherwise they maintain collaborative commenting functionality). As the teacher you can push out these digital texts to groups of students and learners can highlight, make comments and answer questions all within the same text. Collaboratively, it can’t be beat.

Subtext allows learners to engage with texts in new ways. Because Subtext is based on collaborative discussion and thought sharing, students are able to build deeper comprehension. Furthermore, learners have mechanisms to extend thoughtful conversations about a text beyond the walls of the classroom. Within a shared reading on Subtext learners provide their peers with meaningful feedback and are able to incorporate a variety of before, during and after reading strategies.

From our experience, Subtext provides an authentic and ubiquitous medium for learners to collaborate on a digital reading. Learners were eager to communicate with their peers using the app, and they responded thoughtfully and thoroughly to other learners’ thoughts, opinions and analyses within the readings. From a technical standpoint, the Subtext app performed smoothly and the learners found the different features quite intuitive and easy to use. It’s a fantastic app for building comprehension and allowing further opportunities for meaningful literary discussions at school and at home.

Bottom line: I’ve yet to find an easier way to pull content from the web and deliver it to students to collaboratively read and annotate. If you’d like to access our Subtext iBook for the iPad (or in iBooks on the Max if you’re using Mavericks) – which includes more information and tutorials – you can do so by clicking here.

How I got accepted to Google Teacher Academy

527999355_0d87b65448_zI’ll be honest – I don’t know the magic formula to get accepted to Google Teacher Academy. I don’t have the answers, nor do I know exactly how the 2014 Mountain View and Atlanta classes were evaluated. All I know is that I applied, I was accepted to Mountain View, and I am beyond honored, flattered and thrilled. It’s been two days since I found out I was accepted and I’m still over the moon.

With that being said, I’m going to write a little bit about the application process and how I think I got accepted. Again, I can’t pinpoint exactly what I did. But I can assure you it didn’t involve blackmail.

1. Leadership. I’ve been an instructional technology coach for the last 4 years (I was a classroom teacher for 5 years before this). In my coaching role I’ve been lucky enough to help lead 1:1 initiatives with Chromebooks and iPads, design and deliver workshops and present at conferences….amongst other things. It’s awesome to do this stuff, and as a coach it comes with the territory. I speculate that Google admires folks who put themselves out there and shares knowledge with other learners, which is obviously what any teacher does everyday. But I think my extra pushes to offer workshops and present at conferences helped my case.

2. Personality. I don’t like writing about myself, so I’ll try to keep this brief. At the risk of sounding like the ultimate horn-tooter, I consider myself a pretty funny guy. Others might not think so, but I give it my best effort! The bottom line is I’m a master of self-deprecation and don’t take myself too seriously. I like to have fun and make people laugh, but I can still get the job done at whatever professional task I’m doing (okay I’m starting to write about myself too much…I’ll try to stop the madness!). So when it came time to make my application video, I decided to showcase my personality and make my video funny (or, what I thought was funny). I was nervous because I had seen SO MANY awesome videos and mine is pretty unique, but it somehow worked. I figured the video would get me either laughed out of the program or laughed into the program. Thankfully it was the latter. (But trust me, when I read the application for the first time, did I think I’d make a video that would end with me making dinosaur noises in front of a green screen that was duct-taped to my office wall? Nope. The idea originated from me joking around with friends, saying how it’d be awesome to sublet a room in Mountain View/Atlanta for the summer to get in-region candidate preference. Why yes, Google, I live in Mountain View but commute daily to my job near Chicago. This (lame?) joke eventually blossomed into my actual video – true story!)

3. Honesty. One of the essay questions was writing about navigating hardships – and I did not get all buzz-wordy and write about education. Maybe others did, and maybe it worked – who knows? I wrote about what it’s like to have debilitating writer’s block and how I overcame it.  Writing is a really important part of my life, and I wanted Google to get some insight into the “non-EdTech Jimmy” side of me. I imagine that Googly people are creative and innovate in all areas of their lives, and it was cool write a bit about my work-in-progress YA novel (shameless plug for Dear George Lucas – coming to bookstores in….uh…2016 I hope?) and my literary aspirations. Like my video, I was a little nervous about steering away from the more traditional path, but the Google planets aligned for me and it worked.

4. Experience. I spent some time touching up and updating my resume, making sure to highlight innovative projects, workshops and conferences. Again, I’m lucky to have been an instructional tech coach for 5 years, so I have a lot of experience. So if anyone is reading this that didn’t get in to GTA, keep building that resume! Lead some workshops in your district and go present at conferences! Besides it being fun and an awesome way to pay it forward with the spreading of knowledge and ideas, I think the more experience you have the better your chances are of being accepted to GTA. But again, I’m just speculating.

5. Become a Google Education Trainer. I’ve been a Google Education Trainer for a year. I don’t think this was make or break, but I think it helped.

So there you go – if you have any more questions, give me a shout. Cheers!

A TED-Ed Club connects with France and Cyprus!

photo (14)I’ve been facilitating a TED-ED Club for the last five weeks, and maybe you’re asking yourself, what is a TED-Ed Club? You can read more about it here, but in short, a TED-Ed Club is a group of students working on sharing their own big ideas with the world. They can share their ideas any way they like – a traditional TED Talk, animation, documentary-style, etc. They are encouraged to express their ideas in whatever way they deem best. My club meets weekly to discuss their own ideas, share their thoughts on their peers’ developing presentations, watch and dissect TED Talks and connect with other clubs around the world. It’s that last point that my club members have really latched onto – they are absolutely enamored with Tweeting at other clubs and organizing video-chats. Who knew?

The structure of the club is kind of open-ended, and that’s partially what drew me to apply as a facilitator. I also get sick of being seen as the “tech guy” around my school, and one of the draws of working with a TED Club is that it’s not a tech club. It’s a club where students are encouraged to follow their own passions and are afforded opportunities to connect with the wider world. Their ideas matter, and I knew that I would get some students involved that might not have concrete outlets for their big ideas. TED allows students the avenues to express the ideas they really care about. Some of my club members’ ideas include equality of individuals with disabilities, grammar awareness, promoting healthier eating and individualizing education. It’s an awesome array of ideas, and I can’t wait to watch their presentations develop!

As I said in the beginning of the post, my club loves connecting with other countries and learning about their cultures and their own big ideas. The funniest moment had to be when we asked French students, “How do you picture the stereotypical American?” Their answer?


And likes McDonalds.

The French students even knew that the first McDonalds was in Des Plaines, and they were EXCITED that we were so physically close. My club members had no idea.

How’s that for interesting cultural connections? Feel free to contact me if I can answer any more questions about a TED-Ed Club. It’s awesome, and I totally recommend you starting one at your school.

photo 5