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Increasing Student Engagement and Improving Assessment with G Suite

Increasing Student Engagement and Improving Assessment with G Suite

Join CTL and Dani Kennis for a free webinar on how to get started with G Suite for student engagement and improved assessment on Wednesday February 22, at 9am PST.


By Dani Kennis ( or @kennisdani on Twitter)

Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is quoted as saying “change is the only constant in life.” When considering change as it affects education, today’s digital age means that we get to try many new and exciting tools in our classrooms. However, not all stakeholders in education are ready to jump in head first and readily embrace change. This blog post will serve as a slow dip in the shallow end of the Ed Tech pool and will introduce you to some of the ways educators can incorporate Google tools into their teaching repertoire to enhance engagement and assessment in the classroom. It is my hope that this blog post can be a jumping off point for a conversation, or even the implementation of new strategies and lessons in your classroom.

G Suite offers teachers many options for connecting, motivating, engaging, and assessing students. ‘What is G Suite?,’ you ask? It is Google’s free collection of cloud based technology apps, such as Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Draw, Google Forms, and Google Classroom. Allowing students to utilize these tools as an integral part of their learning experience enables rich and memorable learning opportunities that focus on important future ready skills such as creating, collaboration, and critical thinking. Below are five ways you can utilize G Suite tools to engage students and improve assessment in your classroom.

  • Flipped Instruction: In this model of teaching, the role of student and teacher are reversed. The ‘old school’ classroom model of lecture/note taking becomes work that is done at home so that class time can be used for questions, deeper learning, or group projects. While there are many different models of flipped instruction, I choose to pre-record videos (10 minutes or less in length) which serve as the direct instruction portion of a lesson. Then, the video is uploaded to my YouTube channel and students go home to watch and take notes. Independently, students fill out guided notes at home while following along with the lecture video. The final step is for students to complete a Google Form with questions on it, which is how I hold them accountable for doing the work. The next day in school, I review the answers on the Form to assess understanding and based on that information, we start by reviewing what students saw and heard in the video. Usually, this takes place in the form of a Post It where I have students write two things they learned and one question they still have on the material. Before digging deeper or doing a project, it is important to make sure to clarify misconceptions or misunderstandings that students may have. Eventually, when you’ve flipped a handful of lessons and students have gotten used to the new model, it becomes a seamless process whereby class time can more readily be used for various projects or other collaborative learning opportunities that foster deeper understanding and student driven learning.
  • Google Calendar: Many of my students struggle with organization and executive functioning. When I asked my freshmen how they keep track of assignments they reported that they ‘just remember’ or store it ‘in my head.’ They do not yet grasp the importance of using an agenda, calendar, or alternative tool to keep track of long and short term assignments or due dates. This is why I take time at the very beginning of the year to introduce Google Calendar and suggest that students download the app onto their phones, along with downloading Google Drive and Google Classroom. I explicitly teach my students how to enter assignments, due dates, reminders, and how to access all of the information independently and at home. I show them how to use Tasks and To Do lists, as well as discuss the importance of keeping track of both school and non-school related tasks, such as jobs, practices, or meetings. Focusing on these skills and teaching students to implement these tools early on in a student’s educational career stresses the importance of responsibility and organization, making them better and more effective students later on.
  • Google Forms: Another beginning of the year procedure I stand by is having students complete an interest and learning inventory questionnaire. I used to have this survey on paper but I found it took too long to collect and sort through the stack. Now, I use a survey I created on Google Forms and post it on Classroom for students to access. The purpose of this is twofold; it provides me with a lot of valuable information and data and also reinforces the many key, rudimentary skills that my students will need to be successful in our class – Taking their assigned Chromebook from the cart, logging in, accessing Google Classroom, typing, and putting their Chromebooks away in an orderly and timely fashion.
  • Google Draw: The information I collect from the above mentioned survey provides me with insight into students’ strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. I take the time at the beginning of the year to discuss learning styles with my students because I want them to understand that not everybody learns in the same way. We talk about the differences between being visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners and talk about how many people are a combination of many of those styles. For students who learn best by doing and creating, Google Draw is an invaluable tool. While I always provide written notes for my students, I will often assign them projects in which they have to interpret and prove that they understand the information. Many of them choose to do this using Google Draw either to create an illustrated summary of information or to create a graphic organizer. There are so many options for different projects students can do with Google Draw and, best of all, it’s simple to learn and easy to use for students.
  • Group Essays: While essay writing isn’t typically a skill that students look forward to, allowing them to collaborate and assigning specific roles makes the process much less daunting and more manageable for students. Using Google Docs, I have students work in groups to complete the different parts of an essay so that they are able to specifically hone in on certain skills and components of essay writing. I will assign one person to write an introduction, another to a body paragraph, another to a conclusion, and another to editing and proofreading. This also helps them to understand how much effort, time, and thought needs to go into writing an effective and strong essay.


Dani is a high school Special Education Social Studies teacher and Technology Coach in the New York suburbs. She is also a Level 2 Google Certified Trainer and co-founder of The Education Calendar, a crowdsourced map and calendar of education events worldwide. Her blended classroom incorporates the use of G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Education) as well as other Web 2.0 tools in order to prepare her students to be successful 21st century learners in a global community. She blogs about her work and teaching at and would love to connect on Twitter (@kennisdani).

Google Chrome Time Saving Tips for Educators

Google Chrome Time Saving Tips for Educators

Get More Done in Less Time with Google Chrome!

By Dani Kennis ( or @kennisdani on Twitter)

In today’s fast-paced society, we strive to complete tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible. For many educators, Google Chrome and G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Education) helps us get more done in less time. To ‘level up’ your knowledge of Google Chrome, continue reading for tips and tricks for working faster and smarter while using your favorite web browser. For the full rundown of tips and tricks, tune into CTL’s Webinar series on Tuesday, November 29 from 4-5pm EST (1-2pm PST). Click here to register.

  1. Always be sure to sign into Google Chrome. Whether you are at school, home, or on the go, logging into the Google Chrome browser enhances the user experience. Automatically, users are logged into apps such as Gmail and other Google services, as well as YouTube. All browsing data, history, bookmarks, passwords and other user settings are automatically saved and synced to user’s Google accounts. This is one of the very first skills I teach my students at the beginning of the year as we dive into the 1:1 experience.
  2. While we’re talking organization, Google Keep is an invaluable tool for the Chrome user. It is a note taking and organization platform that is connected to the Google ecosystem. Think of it as a virtual combination of Post-ItsⓇ and “to-do” lists. The colorful yet minimalist look of Keep makes it easy to organize and share text, images, voice notes, and reminders on the go. Users can even set alert times for reminders. If you are looking for a similar app with additional functionality, Evernote is a great alternative to Google Keep.
  3. Extensions, extensions, extensions! Google Chrome Extensions offer users enhanced functionality at no cost. Who doesn’t love efficiency for free? Two of my favorite extensions are Google Mail Checker and OneTab. Mail Checker allows users to be signed into multiple Gmail accounts at the same time and provides alerts when a new email comes into a user’s inbox without the user having to open up Gmail – Definitely a huge time saver for those of us with multiple personal accounts or work e-mail addresses. By clicking the extension icon, you can preview or read emails right from the Extensions bar rather than going directly into Gmail. OneTab is my all time favorite app for those of us that constantly have more tabs open in our browser than we know what to do with. OneTab compiles all open tabs into a list of links in just one tab, helping users to save battery power and keep all tabs in one tidy place. To download these apps and more visit the Google Chrome Web Store,
  4. Keyboard shortcuts. Saving time by reducing keystrokes is my personal favorite way to increase efficiency. There are an endless amount of keyboard shortcuts and they vary depending on advice. Below are a few of my most frequently used and favorited keyboard shortcuts that simplify my Chrome experience.  
  • Ctrl + C = Copy
  • Ctrl + V = Paste
  • Ctrl + A = Select all text
  • Ctrl + K = Insert link
  • Ctrl + T = Open new tab
  • Ctrl + click = Opens a link in a new tab
  • Ctrl + = Zoom in
  • Ctrl – = Zoom out
  • Ctrl + shift + M = Log in with a new user or an incognito tab.

Depending on the G Suite app you are using, there are many other shortcuts available to users. When I am kicking off the school year with an intro to 1:1 etiquette, I provide my students with a checklist of skills, including keyboard shortcuts, they should know to make their lives that much easier.

  1. The power of the Omnibox. The Omnibox is the bar located at the very top of a website that contains the web address – but it is so much more than just a URL home. It can be used as a search engine without having to type in, or users can right click and visit the ‘Edit search engines’ option to search websites like YouTube, Wikipedia, CNN, or almost any website with a variety of search options. The Omnibox can also be used to search Gmail inboxes by typing ‘search Gmail:” to locate a specific email. For a complete list of Omnibar options, this website is a great resource for the superuser and for those really looking to ‘power up,’ this site explains how Extensions can be used to further enhance the Omnibox capability and functionality.

Time is a scarce commodity that we value and cherish, especially as teachers with only a few precious minutes in between periods, during prep time, or after school. Knowing how to utilize our favorite and most used tools, such as Google Chrome, can enable us to work smarter, not harder. For even more tips and tricks of saving time and being an efficient Google Chrome user, tune into my webinar on Tuesday, November 29th.


Become a Google Classroom Guru!

Become a Google Classroom Guru!

By Dani Kennis, Special Ed Teacher and Technology Coach

As educators in the digital age, we are fortunate to have technology tools at our disposal that help to make our jobs easier and the way we run our classrooms more efficient. When it comes to saving paper and making the most of our valuable time with students, Google Classroom is the answer. A blended learning platform, Google Classroom, makes transitioning to a paperless classroom effortless by allowing Classroom to handle the dispersal, collection and grading of papers. Below, check out five reasons to use Google Classroom this school year!

  1. Supplement or replace a class website → The ‘About’ tab in Google Classroom is invaluable. That is where I post my class syllabus, important links that students will need for the year, a student interest inventory survey, and directions for how to sign up for the app Remind. Students frequently drop/add in and out of classes at the beginning of the year and this is an efficient and quick way to allow students access to all of the most important tidbits they will need to know upon entering your class.

Google Classroom About Tab

(Image source:

Additionally, Google Classroom is now integrated with Google Calendar, which allows students to easily keep track of assignment due dates and upcoming projects. One caveat with using Classroom as a class website is that parents do not have access, however this lends itself to an opportunity for students to show off their skills and understanding of Classroom to parents at home.


2. Ease of assigning and collecting work → Google Classroom allows you to attach documents, links or videos and add due dates, which makes assigning both group or individual work nearly effortless. Work can be assigned to multiple classes at the same time and teachers have the ability to choose how students complete the work – individually or in a group. Google Classroom makes it possible for students to all work in the same assignment or for teachers to assign an individual copy for each student. Students can also choose a document to upload and submit using the ‘Turn In’ button. No matter the assignment, I always assign it on Classroom and have students click the ‘Done’ button, which adds that extra step in accountability whether their assignment is viewing a video, reading a chapter of a book,or getting a permission slip signed.

Google Classroom Assignment Screen


  1. Allows student access to a living, breathing archive of their work for the year → Growth and progress are two of the most important goals that we strive to help our students achieve. In terms of knowledge, abilities and confidence, our students are at very different places in the beginning and end of the year. Google Classroom allows students a unique opportunity to go back on any assignments completed digitally and reflect on their growth. Additionally, in working towards establishing a positive online presence, students have a large collection of past work to choose from when deciding what to display.


  1. Student collaboration and content creation → Putting students in the driver’s seat and allowing them to be creators of content is key in developing independent, hard working contributors to society. When we provide opportunities for students to actively seek information and create content that displays their understanding, those rich experiences lend themselves to true deep learning. Too often I see students in classrooms disengaged and unmotivated while being fed information during a lecture. We can no longer make excuses for students being passive consumers of information when we have technology at our fingertips to allow them something so much greater. Furthermore, classroom enables educators to assign, collect and grade papers more easily and efficiently than ever before.


  1. Giving student feedback → When I was in school, we were assigned a paper or project and had one chance to complete it. Today, the collaborative nature of GAFE tools, especially Google Docs, makes it nearly impossible for every student not to earn a perfect score. One of the major changes I made in my classroom last year was allowing students to complete written work, such as essays, as many time as possible until they got the score they wanted. I never wanted to leave a student feeling helpless and out of chances, like I often felt in some of my high school classes. Now, students go through a continuous cycle of editing and turning in drafts of papers on Google Classroom. I provide them with feedback (both online and in person) and then return the work. Doing this made students feel that I truly believed in them, plus they really seemed to appreciate the continuous feedback and opportunity to strive for better.


Google Classroom opens up a world of possibilities for educators and students, alike. It simplifies workflow, makes trivial tasks easy and succinct, and provides an online location for all resources and work for a class. If you want to learn more about Google Classroom’s features and best practices, please be sure to tune in to the webinar that I will be doing on September 28 at 4pm EST on Becoming A Google Classroom Guru (!

GAFE Project-Based Learning in the Chromebook Classroom

GAFE Project-Based Learning in the Chromebook Classroom

GAFE Student Projects Using Chromebooks Webinar Wednesday, July 13 

Join us for a webinar with Dani Kennis Wednesday, July 13 at 1pm PDT where she will demonstrate GAFE Student Projects Using Chromebooks in greater detail. Register here: Here, Dani gives us an overview of what will be covered in Wednesday’s webinar. Can’t make the live presentation? No problem. We record all our webinars and post the links on

By Dani Kennis

What did school look and feel like when you were a child? For me, desks were in straight rows with an overhead projector at the front of the classroom. Students vigorously scrawled down what was on the screen without reflecting, understanding or applying information. I was never asked what I wanted to learn, I was simply expected to regurgitate information I was fed. Today, advancements in ed tech, such as Chromebooks, are changing the landscape of education and shifting the roles of teachers and students. Gone are the days of teachers acting as the sage on the stage. Instead, teachers are facilitators of knowledge who provide students with opportunities to explore inquiry, passion, and creativity through content.

Project Based Learning (PBL) is an inquiry driven model that focuses on real life application of knowledge and skills to solve relevant and interesting problems. It is an engaging, motivating and enjoyable way for students and teachers to embrace the cultural shift in the education landscape. This approach is made seamless through the use of Google Apps for Education. Below are some ideas for how to get started in creating a more learner-centered classroom by using GAFE in assigning student projects.

Google Slides

  • The ‘ABCs of History’ project is the first of the school year in which students define and visually represent a term, place, person or event for each letter of the alphabet. Providing students with an index card template in Slides, they create a set of flashcards that assist in gathering information and displaying understanding of key facts in history.
  • Create Your Own Adventure: This (created by the brilliant and talented Caren MacConnell) is the best step by step guide I have seen on creating a CYOA project. The beauty of these projects is in allowing students to think outside the box and ask those ‘What If’ questions, considering alternate endings in various historical situations.   
  • Comic strip: By manipulating clip art and playing with features such as speech bubbles, animation, arrangement and order, students can design scenes of events and characters to showcase their knowledge. Some of my more ambitious students even experimented with stop animation, creating Play Dough figurines and using their phones to take pictures then create a story using Google Slides.  

Google Docs:

  • Hero/Villain Project: Provide students with both ‘Man of the Year’ template and ‘Most Wanted: Dead or Alive’ poster templates. Students then utilize notes and research to analyze and decide whether their historical figure is a hero or villain. Students often choose to ‘beef up’ and manipulate or enhance the template provided to convince the audience (which often consists of my Twitter followers) to craft a poster and provide a written justification for their choice.
  • Using one of the many available Facebook templates in Google Search (here is one example), students create a Facebook profile to showcase important information about historical or literary characters. Many of my students’ favorite parts is creating a Facebook Wall dialogue between a character and his enemy!
  • A student favorite this year was the mock interview or reenactment of an event. Students start by collaborating on Docs to script out settings and specific lines for their scenes. Many students dressed up in costume, used accents, and even scouted out relevant scenery throughout the school to establish a sense of authenticity (and theatrics, of course!). After recording on their phones, students upload their footage to Google Drive then use YouTube to edit and publish a powerful piece of content that displays their work.

Google Sites

  • In my 12th grade Social Studies class, seniors create and pitch a business idea similar to Shark Tank. This year they used Google Sites to publish a business plan, embed a YouTube video of their elevator pitch, and display their investment strategy.
  • Establishing a positive online presence in today’s digital age is crucial. Teaching students to create ePortfolios is a powerful way to teach students both how to display their best work for the world to see and also teaches them important lessons in digital citizenship.
  • Rather than writing a traditional research paper, allow students to use Sites to create a more aesthetically and visually pleasing display of their research topic. Students can create new pages for subtopics, link to supplemental information, embed video, or host a discussion board. The complexity of these tasks lends itself to student reflection in metacognition, organization, and writing skills.

Google Draw

  • Students creatively display their understanding of a topic by doing a visual brain dump. Drawings may be as complex or simplistic as a student desires, but should represent their interpretation of content material. Students can save their images and share with their teacher or upload to Google Classroom, allowing teachers to view and correct misconceptions or misunderstanding by exploring the student’s thought process.
  • Draw a timeline to provide an overview of an important time period. Students can import clip art or create their own to illustrate major events and facts.  

Google Forms

  • Students create a review quiz for one another with various types of questions – Multiple choice, written response, check boxes, etc. Using Add Ons such as Flubaroo in Google Sheets (where the results are collected) allow students to automatically gather results data and grade each other’s work quickly. This enables students (and teachers) to provide valuable and timely feedback on specific topics where misunderstandings have occurred.

Google Maps

  • Using a Google Maps class account (Maps is not included in the GAFE suite), students create a map of a specific geographic area of study. Using tags, they provide written factual information on each specific place. Best of all – This map can be embedded into a Google Site!

Google Classroom

  • While PBL is great for students, Google Classroom makes the process easy and efficient for teachers. It is invaluable in assigning, collecting, returning and grading student work in an efficient and timely manner. Additionally, it assists teachers in remaining organized and maintaining accurate records in order to best guide students to success.

A PBL approach using GAFE tools for projects requires teachers to be flexible and focused, keeping in mind that lessons should always be learning-driven, rather than tool-driven. We must remember to provide students with voice and choice in guiding them through the process of choosing the right technology tool for the task at hand. Done right, PBL creates a tangible sense of student empowerment and motivation through creativity and producing for an authentic audience. Providing our students with these experience is what truly will allow us to redefine the meaning and feel of ‘school’ for each individual student in our classes.
Dani is a high school Special Education Social Studies teacher and Technology Coach in the New York suburbs. She is also a Level 2 Google Certified Trainer and co-founder of The Education Calendar, a crowdsourced map and calendar of education events worldwide. Her blended classroom incorporates the use of Google Apps for Education as well as other Web 2.0 tools in order to prepare her students to be successful 21st century learners in a global community. She blogs about her work and teaching at and would love to connect on Twitter (@kennisdani).

5 Reasons Why You Need To Be Using Google Docs

5 Reasons Why You Need To Be Using Google Docs

Google Docs: A Must in Any 21st Century Paperless Classroom

Dani Kennisby Dani Kennis, Educator and Technology Coach

Picture this: It’s Friday afternoon and you are leaving school. The birds are chirping, the sun is beating down on you, and all is seemingly perfect – Except for the gigantic stack of essays and projects that you are carrying in your arms. While entirely eliminating the task of grading isn’t an option, simplifying your workflow is — Google Docs to the rescue! Google Docs is a word processing tool (with many other capabilities) that makes grading, creating, collaborating and giving feedback efficient, quick and easy for both teachers and students. Below are my top five reasons why Google Docs is a must in any 21st century paperless classroom.

  1. Free & device agnostic. This one is a no brainer. What teacher doesn’t love a productivity tool that has no cost associated with it? Google Apps for Education (GAFE) comes at no cost to students and teachers. Plus, the Google Drive suite (which includes Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides & Classroom) can be accessed from a Chromebook, Mac, PC, iPad, Android, etc. This makes it incredibly easy to use Docs and other Google tools for schools and students that have BYOD policies or a variety of different devices.
  2.  Cloud based. Google Docs is a web based tool that automatically saves work to the cloud – A huge win in the life of a teacher with 44 minute class periods. Saving to the cloud eliminates the need for flash drives or multiple email exchanges with various attachments. Plus, for all of us busy educators that complete work on the go, Google users have the capability to access files whenever and wherever they need with Google’s ‘work offline’ option.
  3. Collaboration – Whether students are creating a set of collaborative group class notes, brainstorming, or working on a group paper or project, Google Docs allows multiple people to share and work on the same Doc simultaneously. Collaborators can check revision history and revert back to previous versions of a Doc easily if necessary. This can be useful when teachers are looking for which parts of an assignment were contributed by a specific student. Additionally, collaborators no longer have to be in the same physical space to work together, meaning teachers can now give students more authentic opportunities to create for and connect with the world beyond the four walls of their classroom.

After the Paris attacks earlier this year my students collaborated with students from Canada, Europe, and other US states on a Google Doc in which they wrote letters of condolences for the victims of the attacks. Providing students with these genuine learning opportunities gives them a strong and confident voice as well as provides an authentic audience to produce for. In my experiences, this leads to increased engagement, motivation and empowerment as students create and collaborate on valuable work that exists for not only a local classroom, but a global community.

4. Feedback. This is my absolute favorite feature in Google Docs and the one that I find to be most powerful. In promoting student growth and improvement it is imperative that to provide ongoing feedback during the writing process, not just when the work is finished. Google Docs provides options for commenting, editing and suggesting, making it easy for both students and teachers to give feedback for one another in real time without changing the original work. It allows teachers to gain insight into student understanding and misunderstanding. Moreover, teachers can elevate the power of Google Docs by ‘app smashing’ (combining the use of multiple apps) and integrating it with Google Classroom to foster an automated, paperless workflow that simplifies the distribution, collection, and grading of online work.

5. Add Ons & Hidden Gems. Adds Ons are additional functionalities and tools that enhance the user experience in the Google Drive suite. Some of my personal favorites are Draftback, Kaizena, JoeZoo Express and TextHelp Read & Write. Google Docs also offers hidden gems, such as the research tool which allows you to conduct research right in a Google Doc without needing to switch between tabs or windows. My personal favorite (and a favorite of many of my students’) is the voice typing feature which allows students to speak directly into a device’s microphone and Google transcribes the words into text.

While the benefits of using Google Docs outweigh the challenges, those that are new and ready to dive in should keep a few things in mind. There is a learning curve associated with transitioning to Google Docs from Microsoft products. Google Docs and the Google Drive suite both look and ‘feel’ different from other products. Additionally, students might need to be explicitly taught about the function of various icons on the toolbar. Finally, and most important in my opinion, students should be taught shortcuts in Google Docs and on their keyboard. Teaching skills like copying, pasting, commenting and viewing revision history in just a few quick keystrokes leverages the power of Google Docs and saves important classroom time.

Google Docs makes transitioning to a paperless classroom nearly effortless. It helps to create a seamless flow between creating and grading work. Ditch those paper copies and dive into Google Docs today!

Dani is a high school Special Education Social Studies teacher and Technology Coach in the New York suburbs. She is also a Level 2 Google Certified Trainer and co-founder of The Education Calendar, a crowdsourced map and calendar of education events worldwide. Her blended classroom incorporates the use of Google Apps for Education as well as other Web 2.0 tools in order to prepare her students to be successful 21st century learners in a global community. She blogs about her work and teaching at and would love to connect on Twitter.