Google Drive: The Basics

For teachers who are just getting started with Google, Google Drive can be intimidating! In preparation for a Google training, I’ve put together a short explanation of Google Drive and its basic features. Although an increasing number of people have a Gmail account, I run into teachers all the time who are not sure what Google Drive is or how it works.

Google Drive is like a big virtual bucket! It’s where everything you create with Google apps–documents, forms, sheets, slides, drawing–are stored. And unlike a traditional word processing document, you never need to click “Save”…EVER.  Your work is automatically saved every 5 seconds (or so).

Google Drive comes with 15 GB of free storage, so you can save files, photos, and videos. You can access any file in your Google Drive from any device as long as you have internet access. This means you are no longer tethered to a piece of hardware. You can open, edit and share files from any device that can get online.

For those with unreliable internet access, you can also install Google Drive onto your devices and work offline. Then when you are back online, your devices will sync and store your work!

Here are some screenshots to help you navigate your Google Drive.

Organize your files in whatever order makes sense to you. You can limit your view to the files you’ve created, the files that have been shared with you or the files that have been most recently edited. This makes it easy to locate the files you’re looking for.

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Click on a file or folder and check out the “More actions” icon (3 vertical dots) to manage your documents more easily.

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Enjoy total transparency with the “View Details” icon (black circle with the letter “i” in the middle). Simply click on a file or folder and see all of the activity associated with it. You can see when documents were created, when they were edited, and who edited them!

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Last, but not least, you can insert files, photos and videos directly from Google Drive into your emails.

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If you use Google Drive and have tips to share, please post a comment!


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New Tradition: Family Reading Time

Most of my blog posts are inspired by the work I do with my high school students. This post is inspired by my own children–ages 6 and 7. My children attend a Spanish immersion school, where they receive 90% of their instruction in Spanish. As part of their homework, they must read each day.

My daughter, who is in 2nd grade, is expected to read independently for 25 minutes a day in Spanish. She is an avid reader, who devours chapter books in both English and Spanish.

My son, who is in kindergarten, is just beginning to read. We do reading lessons at night, but I felt like he needed quiet time on his own to slowly sound out words and get comfortable reading without me looking over his shoulder.

So, we started family reading time!


It’s simple. Every night we all go into the living room with our books and read quietly for 30 minutes. It’s been amazing! The kids absolutely love it. They literally chant “family reading time” as they skip into the living room because they are so eager to read. The magic of family reading time is that we all do it together. My husband and I stop whatever we are doing and we all read. It’s becoming one of our many family traditions.

Not only does this make it easier for the kids to complete the required reading for homework, but it also sends the clear message that we, as a family unit, value reading. As an English teacher, it’s incredibly important for me to instill the love of reading in my children. I love these quiet moments together. I would encourage every family to try this!

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Teach Students How to Manage YouTube Comments

When students share their ideas and work online, they are taking a risk. As soon as they share a YouTube video or post a comment online, they open themselves up to possible ridicule and unkind remarks. I wish I could protect my students from the Internet, but I can’t. What I can do is help them to protect themselves and learn how to be savvy about how and what they share online.

Last week, my students posted and shared their TED-style Talks online. In an effort to help them to navigate comments on YouTube, I posted a blog to our class website detailing how students could either turn off comments or turn on comment moderation. I thought this would be helpful for other educators who encourage student to publish their work on YouTube.

Instructions for turning off or moderating YouTube comments: 

Step 1: Log into your YouTube channel (*use the same email and password you use to log into your Gmail). Then click on your image in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. A popup window with a button reading “Creator Studio” will appear. Click “Creator Studio.”

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Step 2: When you get to your videos, click on the arrow next to “Edit” and select “Info and Settings”.

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Step 3: Once you select “Info and Settings,” it will take you to the actual video. Once there, click on “Advanced Settings.”

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Step 4: Advanced settings allows you to decide how people interact with your videos. If you don’t set any preferences, viewers can post comments that will immediately appear beneath your video.  However, if you set preferences, then you can:

  • disable comments so no one can post a comment.
  • set comment moderation where you approve comments before they post.
  • remove the rating feature, so viewers cannot post a thumbs up or thumbs down on your videos.

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Step 5: If you decide to allow commenting without moderation, it’s important to know how to delete an individual comment. Simply hover to the right side of the comment and click the small arrow that appears. You will have three options: edit, remove, or disable replies.

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I want my students to share their ideas and work with the world, but I also want to arm them with the tools they need to safely navigate our increasingly digital world. It’s crucial that we teach students how to protect themselves from cruel comments and abuse online. Please share this post with colleagues and students!

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TED Ed Clubs: Students Spreading Great Ideas

I’m a huge fan of TED Talks! TED presenters weave together stories and information skillfully to engage their audiences. They have clearly rehearsed their material, yet the delivery is natural and, as a result, their ideas are compelling. I want my students to feel confident articulating their ideas and delivering powerful and poignant presentations, so I began my own TED Ed Club.


TED Ed Clubs “is a flexible, school-based program that supports students in discussing, pursuing and presenting their big ideas in the form of short TED-style talks.” TED Ed has designed a curriculum for club facilitators complete with club goals and meeting outlines that guide students through the process of identifying, cultivating and presenting their ideas worth sharing.

At first many of my students were daunted by the prospect of presenting a TED-style Talk. It’s sad, but many teenagers assume they cannot add anything of value to the global conversation about important, and often controversial, issues. I want my students to know their ideas are worthwhile and their voices can be heard by a global audience. I passionately believe that when educators give students an authentic audience that students will do their best work.

I was literally floored by some of the TED-style Talks my students delivered at the end of first semester as the culminating event for our TED Ed Club.

Here Paloma Velasquez, a 9th-grade student, talks about the need to redefine feminism. She makes the point that feminism is about balance and flexibility.

Emma Donoho, a 10th-grade student, talks about the need for more strong female role models. She argues that young girls, like young boys, deserve to grow up believing they can be strong, powerful and intelligent.

Anna Kaufman, a 10th-grade student, shares a heartbreaking story and explains how a tragic event taught her to embrace, rather than run from, chaos.

As we transition from an age of privacy and a new era of connectively, it’s important for educators to create time, space, and opportunities for students to cultivate and share their ideas with the world. TED Ed Clubs give teachers a structured way to get this done. Click here to view the application form.

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Transform Your Classroom into a Makerspace

As finals approached this year, I had a desire to do something different. In the past I’ve had students write a timed five-paragraph argument essay about whether Montag, from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, is a conformist or nonconformist. My students had already written four essays this year, so I decided to ditch the essay. Instead, I had them select a metaphor from the novel and asked them to bring it to life creating a 3D visual metaphor.

Anna Makerspace










I was not prepared for the level of enthusiasm, excitement, and creativity that was generated by this assignment. When I introduced the final exam, I told my students I wanted to be BLOWN AWAY.

My students entered the class eager to begin their work. They were so focused and on task. They each arrived with a unique vision and worked the entire time to bring that vision to life. Here is a short clip of them at work.

Now that finals are over, I am more convinced than ever that teachers need to embrace unconventional forms of assessment. I have kids who are extremely strong writers and do very well on essays. Similarly, I have students who are great test takers. Unfortunately, the kids who are innovative and think outside the box rarely get a chance to shine during finals. This week I found a way to give students the autonomy to create using any medium they wanted (clay, popsicle sticks, cardboard, newspaper, etc.).





Teachers need to take time to transform their classrooms into makerspaces where kids are encouraged to create, invent and learn. I bet none of my students will ever think about a metaphor in the same way again.

Despite teaching in a low-tech classroom, I’ve enjoyed challenging my students to “make” and create using everyday items. It has been exciting to experiment with tactile learning in an English classroom! Every time I’ve given them the freedom to create, I’ve been absolutely stunned by what they produce. This project was no different. They nailed it and I was totally blown away!

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5 Tips To Keep Students Learning When Extreme Weather Strikes

Yesterday Northern California was hit by massive storm. My school was closed because of weather for the first time in my teaching career. I know this is a fairly regular occurrence in colder climates; however, it’s a new situation for many of us in more temperate climates unused to extreme weather patterns.

When I received notification that our school was closing three days before final exams, I was dismayed. We didn’t have time to lose an entire day together. So, I decided to get creative with technology and modify my class so students would still cover the content.

Here are 5 strategies I used to keep class in session online:

1. Text Your Students and Parents 

The first thing I did was use Remind, a free text messaging service, to text all of my students and parents to let them know school was canceled, but my class was in session online.

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2. Use a Google Community to Connect Students

Create a Google Community for each of your classes. This is an ideal space to post announcements, allow students to ask questions, and encourage students to have discussions about assignments.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 9.52.30 AMPart of our class assignment was to complete reading in Fahrenheit 451. Normally, students would have small group discussions about the reading. I encouraged them to use our Google Community to have a similar asynchronous conversation to ensure they understood the reading.

3. Flip Your Instruction Using Your YouTube Channel

Just because you’re not in the same room with your students doesn’t mean you cannot present information. Record a quick video explaining a concept, introducing vocabulary or describing an assignment or project. I use QuickTime on my Mac to record quick screencasts. Then I upload them to my YouTube channel, so students can view them at home. I’d also recommend you pair your video with a TodaysMeet Backchannel to allow students a shared space to discuss the video and ask questions.

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4. Use Web Tools to Design a Virtual Lesson

I use a wide range of web tools with my students. Yesterday, I designed a lesson using StudySync that asked my students to read and annotate a digital text titled “Burning Books.” Once they had actively read the text, they had to synthesize the information in that article with our core text Fahrenheit 451. Once they submitted their writing, they were asked to provide 2 peers with thoughtful peer feedback on their writing.

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5. Offer Virtual Office Hours with Google Hangout

Even though you are not physically in a room with your students doesn’t mean you cannot connect with them to answer questions or provide quick tutorial sessions. I told my students when I was planning to be online, then I encouraged them to message me if they wanted to set up a Google Hangout to discuss their assignment or our upcoming final exam.

Google hangout pic with my students

Despite the weather and missed day of school, I don’t feel behind. If you are used to school closures and cancelations and have strategies you use to keep your class in session virtually, please post a comment and share them!


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Voxer: Have Fun with Speaking & Listening

This week I was invited to join an ongoing conversation with a small group of English teachers using Voxer. Voxer is a live messaging app that combines the functionality of the classic walkie talkie with texting and photo sharing capabilities.


Users can talk live or share recorded messages with a single person or a group of people. The ability to send a combination of text, photos, and audio messages using Voxer makes it a versatile tool.

In an effort to capitalize on my students’ love affairs with their devices, I’ve tried to think outside the box in terms of the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards. In addition to our face to face conversations in the classroom, I am always looking for ways to connect students beyond the classroom to extend and enhance the learning happening in real time. Voxer offers some exciting possibilities!

Here are some ideas for using Voxer to help connect students in a meaningful way and practice both their speaking and listening skills.

  1. Create discussion groups up to 5 students.
  2. Encourage students to form study groups to prepare for an exam.
  3. Pair students learning a language, allow them to practice having conversations, and encourage them to critique their recordings.
  4. Extend PBL (project based learning) assignments beyond the classroom so group mates can connect and work asynchronously.
  5. Connect lab groups outside of the classroom, so they can discuss the results of labs/experiments, ask questions and get support.
  6. Facilitate peer feedback. Students can talk through their plans for a writing assignment or share a thesis statement and receive feedback.
  7. Practice an oral presentation and get feedback.
  8. Group storytelling. Each member of the group can add to a collective story that can then be developed in writing.
  9. Gather reading samples from students to evaluate their reading level and share with parents.
  10. Offer asynchronous office hours.

If teachers are a member of each student group, they can see and listen to all of the information shared by their students. This provides more opportunities for teachers to provide formative feedback and support beyond the classroom.

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MindShift’s Guide to Digital Games & Learning

Digital games and their place in the educational landscape has been a hotly debated issue. Despite the debate, one thing is clear, students love games. If educators can capitalize on that interest and excitement, games can become a powerful vehicle for learning.

This comprehensive guide published by  MindShift and written by Jordan Shapiro explores the benefits of using digital games for learning, provides strategies for selecting games, and includes examples of how educators are using digital games in the classroom. Ultimately, the goal is to use digital games to engage students and put them at the center of the learning in the classroom.

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The guide is organized in the following chapters:

 Introduction: Getting in the Game

Chapter 1: What the Research Says About Games and Screen Time

Chapter 2: How to Start Using Digital Games for Learning

Chapter 3: How to Choose a Digital Learning Game

Chapter 4: Overcoming Obstacles for Using Digitial Games in the Classroom

Chapter 5: How Teachers Are Using Games in the Classroom

If you found this guide helpful, I’d recommend MindShift’s “Teachers’ Ultimate Guide to Using Videos.”

If you are currently using digital games with students, please post a comment sharing your favorite digital games and how you are using them!


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The Truth Is I Almost Quit Teaching

Before technology, I was so disillusioned with the teaching profession I remember thinking, “Have I chosen the wrong career?” When I began to experiment with technology, my reality as a teacher changed so dramatically that now I cannot imagine doing any other job!

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Get Common Core Ready: Transfer Active Reading Strategies Online

I’m writing a series of blogs titled “Get Common Core Ready” that are inspired by my next book Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with Technology (to be published by Corwin in spring 2015). This first blog will focus on helping students to transfer their pen and paper annotation skills to the online space.

I’m a stickler about annotations. For years, I heard students lament, “Tucker, I never remember what I read” or “I just don’t understand what is happening in this book.” In response, I began to teach students the art of annotating.

I provide students with strategies they can use to annotate the texts we read. I encourage them to:

  • Identify and define unfamiliar vocabulary words
  • Underline words or phrases that hint at or reveal a central idea/theme in the text
  • Identify new characters or individuals and describe them in a few words
  • Note any symbols and brainstorm the deeper meaning of those objects
  • Underline or highlight sections of text that are descriptive, poignant or thought provoking
  • Make connections to other texts, movies, or points of reference
  • Predict what will happen next
  • Ask questions
  • Capture emotional reactions to events, people and/or dialogue

Some students capture their annotations in the books we borrow from our school library using post-it notes, while other prefer to take Cornell-style annotation notes.











The trick for the 21st century student, who regularly reads both paper and digital texts, is to transfer those classic pen and paper annotation strategies online. It’s too easy for students to skim online articles and texts without thinking deeply about they are reading. Yet more and more information is becoming available digitally, so it’s important that students know how to actively read digital texts.

In addition, a large number of students will be tackling the Smarter Balance Assessment and PARCC exam this spring. It’s crucial that they are able to actively read digital texts if they are going to be successful on these exams. If students have not been given the opportunity to regularly read and annotate texts online, they will not have the digital reading stamina or active reading skills necessary to be successful on these Common Core aligned exams. The more we ask students to read and annotate online, the more likely they are to feel confident and prepared for these new digital exams.

There are a two tools I regularly use to encourage students to annotate online.


StudySync has an extensive digital library composed of excerpts from classic and contemporary literature, poetry, short stories, famous speeches, and nonfiction texts. For every text my students read, they use the built-in annotation tool to highlight and create notes employing the annotation strategies suggested above.

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The goal is to train students to think about what they are reading and use annotation strategies to make sense of complex texts. Each student’s annotations for every text they read are saved and can be easily referenced as they continue through the online lesson.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.52.06 PMStudySync gives me the freedom to pick and choose texts that will complement the traditional titles I teach. For years, I was limited to the literature available in our book room. Now, I have access to hundreds of titles at various Lexile levels (users can search for texts by Lexile). I can pair FDR’s Inaugural Address (pictured above) with To Kill a Mockingbird, which specifically references that speech, to provide students with historical context.

This is a phenomenal resource for schools and districts looking to shift to the Common Core and embrace a digital approach to literacy development. This is a paid for product worth checking out!


Instead of making copies of online resources or articles, I’ve gone entirely paperless. I no longer print articles, make tons of copies and pass them out to students. Now, I simply find supplementary readings online and hyperlink to them from our class website.  I instruct my students to “Diigo” them, which means I want them to read and annotate the online texts.

Diigo - annotating a digital text #1 - toolbar

Students click the hyperlink on our class website and go directly to the article I want them to read and annotate. On their device, they can upload the Diigo toolbar so they can easily annotate anything they read online. There is even a Diigo Chrome extension for those students using the Chrome browser.

Diigo - annotating a digital text #2 -highlight and note

Students can highlight in several colors and create post-it notes as they read. These are automatically saved to their individual Diigo accounts.

Diigo - annotating a digital text #4 - share with a group


Diigo notes can be private or shared with an individual or a group of individuals, which makes sharing resources easy if students are collaborating on an assignment. When they are done reading and annotating, they click “Share” and email their annotations directly to me.

Escaping the paper trail is so freeing, and it teaches students an essential life skill. Using Diigo teaches them how to process and organize all of the information they read online.

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