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What’s The Big Deal About Google Classroom?

What’s The Big Deal About Google Classroom?

If you’re a teacher or an administrator, you’ve probably heard about Google Classroom. But unless you’ve seen it, you’re probably left wondering what it actually is. How does a “paperless” classroom function? What can you do in this digital workspace? And how do we get the kids to use it?

Google Classroom Admin ScreenshotGoogle Classroom: Online Workspace, Digital Home Base, Robot Assistant?

Google Classroom is a web-based platform that helps you integrate the Google tools you and your students use. It’s your online “homeroom”–use it to create different classes to organize your students, distribute assignments, communicate with students and parents, and reduce the amount of paper you use in your classroom. It’s intended to be used in a technology-rich classroom environment–you’ll find it’s a good fit if you have enough devices for all the students in your classroom to use at once, or close to it. Classroom can really help you take advantage of all those devices and make your digital workflow seamless.

Since you can already share documents and files with students using Google’s built-in collaboration functions, you might be wondering why you need Classroom. The answer is that it’s not imperative–but it does simplify your digital classroom workflow and organization of assignments, and gives your students one specific “home base” for interacting with you online. This is especially handy if you don’t have (or don’t want to maintain) a teacher website, though many teachers integrate Google Classroom into their websites and use both.

Google Classroom How to set Up

Your First Visit

If you’ve never signed in to Google Classroom before, there are a couple of steps you (and your students) will have to go through. You’ll want to ensure that your students are logged in with their school Google accounts, and that they choose “student” when asked to choose their role. (Don’t panic if you have a jokester who selects “teacher” – just let your IT administrator know after class and they can fix the problem. Both students and teachers can join classes in Google Classroom, so you’ll be able to continue introducing the tool without leaving that student in the dust!)


Create A ClassSetting up google classroom

Once you’re logged in, use the plus sign at upper right to create your first class. Name it carefully – consider adding a year and semester or other grading period to differentiate it from other classes you’ll create this year. Your class page will have three tabs across the top: Stream, Students, and About. Your Stream is the chronological “feed” of things you post for your students to see. New assignments will be at the top unless you choose to bump an older one up. Assignments, announcements, and questions (quick polls) will appear here. The Students tab lists your roster of students and permits you to customize some options, such as allowing students to post on your Stream, changing or displaying your class join code (more on that in a moment), and entering the emails of your students’ guardians so they can receive automated summaries of class work each week. The About tab is where you can add a co-teacher and post a syllabus, class expectations, links, or other persistent information.

Add Your Students

To add students to your class, visit the Students tab. You’ll see an option to “invite students” via email. This works if your students have email enabled in their school Google accounts, and if they know how to check the email. However, it’s usually easier to spend about 15 minutes of class time to get everyone added at once. You can easily talk students through the process of navigating to Classroom (check the App Launcher which looks like a grid or “waffle” in the upper right-hand corner of almost any Google page, or send them to and have them set a bookmark using the star in the omnibar). Once there and signed in, they’ll click “student”, click the plus sign, and enter the join code you’ve found on your Students tab. Click the small triangle next to the code to display the code in large print on your screen for students to view.

Creating Assignments

To create an assignment for your students, be sure you’re in the Stream tab. Click the large plus in the circle at bottom right, select “Create assignment”, and follow the prompts. You can add directions, add a topic to the post to help your students filter posts from different subjects or units of study and add videos, documents, links, or pictures, and more. You can also choose whether attachments are copied and distributed to each student for editing or posted as read-only. You also have the option to choose to assign the work to an entire class, several class sections, individuals, or groups of students.

Behind The Scenes

Google Classroom saves student work and assignment templates in your Google Drive. You’ll see a folder named “Classroom” appear in your Drive once you start using it. Feel free to look inside this folder – but please DON’T move folders or files into or out of this folder! Putting a file in the Classroom folder doesn’t upload it to the Classroom interface, and removing files from the Classroom folder can really confuse the “robots” that make Classroom work –you’ll find that student sharing permissions get messed up in a hurry. Resist the temptation to move files around in that folder and you’ll be fine!


While Classroom has come a long way since it was introduced in 2014, there are still some features you might wish were a bit stronger. As of this writing, Google Classroom’s gradebook does not directly interact with several of the most frequently used gradebook systems. There are workarounds–Google Classroom grades can be exported to a .csv (spreadsheet) file for import into another system–but it can be inconvenient to make your gradebook “play nicely” with Google. Be sure you understand how to export grades before using it. Here’s a list of some student information system programs that do interface directly with Classroom’s gradebook.
Classroom for iOS/Android also has some features not available in the web version of Classroom, like marking up PDFs. If you use mobile devices in your classroom, or if your students have their own smartphones, you may want to familiarize yourself with how these mobile versions of Classroom work.

There’s currently no way to view a “student view” of work that is assigned to students–unless you have access to a student account so that you can log in and see what it looks like. It’s a good idea for you and colleagues to join each other’s classes so you can get familiar with the workflow from a student perspective and give feedback to your peers.
Classroom is a great tool for you to use to take control of your digital classroom. Introduce it to your students with some low-stakes tasks (entry and exit tickets, routine practice assignments, etc.) and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they pick up the routine of checking the stream every day. Spend some time learning your way around it–you’ll be glad you did!

Want to learn more and see a live demo of this blog in action? Join Katherine Livick and CTL for a Professional Development Webinar on Google Classroom on October 18th at 9am PST. Click here to register for this webinar, and to watch all of our past webinars!


Interactive Video Tools for Chromebooks

Interactive Video Tools for Chromebooks

With more Chromebook and other devices in classrooms than ever before, teachers have the opportunity to help students deepen their learning with digital tools, including video. If you’ve been using video in class, but want to be sure it’s time well spent, check out these free tools you (and your students) can use to create interactive video lessons to flip your instruction, enhance study time, and engage your class.

Bringing Video to Life

You’re probably already using video in your class, so why bother with these new tools? Video is already useful, but we can make it even more relevant to educational use with tools specifically geared toward using videos for student learning. Even a great, highly engaging video that is germane to your learning objective can be ineffective if students are zoning out when they’re supposed to be watching it. With interactive video tools, you can not only guide students’ thinking and reflection while they watch the video, you can also drop questions into the video at just the right spots to deepen their thinking or reinforce an important point. Each of these tools works slightly differently; one of them should be just right for your classroom.

[Something to consider: because they’re third-party tools, you may want to double-check with your IT department or instructional technology coach to be sure that these tools are approved for student use in your district. Many of these websites (and those of many other educational tools) collect the email address of the student when they login, which could be considered personally identifiable information. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prohibits sharing of such information with third parties unless parental consent is obtained. This applies if you’re having students under 13 log in to view videos you’ve enhanced, or if you’re asking students to use the tools themselves to create quizzes or study materials. Asking students to view the videos on these websites without logging in shouldn’t create any problems, but you will not be able to collect data on student responses directly from the tool if they are not logged in.]

Interactive Video Options

Playposit: Log into this interactive video tool using OpenID–your Google, Microsoft, Clever or Edmodo account–and find the perfect video for your lesson from a number of sources, including YouTube and Vimeo. Add multiple choice or short answer questions throughout the video, then connect to Google Classroom or other tools to share your videos with students. You can view publicly shared “bulbs” (Playposit’s name for a video with questions) and use those for your class, too (though you’re limited to only a few shared bulbs as a free user). Playposit’s dashboard allows you to monitor student progress. It will let you know who’s viewed your videos and who hasn’t, but you’ll have to manually post links to the bulbs via Google Classroom, and your students will need to log in to Playposit (using their Google accounts) in order to view the videos.

EdPuzzle: This tool works in a similar way to Playposit, but allows you to upload your own videos when using a free account. You can also use YouTube or Vimeo videos, or videos from a number of different sources Like Playposit, you can use other teachers’ publicly posted lessons. Import classes from Google Classroom and post to Classroom directly from EdPuzzle using the “post to Classroom” button. You can prevent students from skipping ahead in your videos with this tool.

TED-Ed: This tool, as you might expect, was developed by the same organization that brings you TED Talks and conferences. It offers pre-made Ted-Ed lessons and series, as well as permitting you to choose YouTube videos (by searching or pasting in a URL) to create your own lessons. Ted-Ed has a very clean interface and is simple to use. It’s also 100% free, and you can choose to have students log in (if they’re over 13) or just watch the videos and take the quizzes with a nickname. Ted-Ed doesn’t collect data on the answers students submit, so it’s not as immediately useful for formative assessment as some of the other tools.

Vialogues: Another simple tool for creating interactive videos, Vialogues creates a comment stream alongside a Youtube, Vimeo, or uploaded video. Like Ted-Ed, it doesn’t collect answer data, but facilitates a discussion of issues in the video, based on questions or reflection prompts placed at certain points. As the creator of the questions and prompts, you’re a “moderator” rather than a teacher. Vialogues doesn’t connect to Google Classroom or other learning management systems, but it’s useful for non-graded activities such as encouraging reflection before an in-class discussion, or for introducing a topic.


Watching movies in class might have received a bad rap in years past, but with the abundance of digital video available to teachers today, we now know it can be an important part of an engaging learning unit. Try a few of these tools out with the videos you’re planning to show your class, and see how they deepen your students’ thinking. You’ve got nothing to lose!


To learn more about video tools for Chromebooks, attend or view Katherine’s June 15th Webinar on this subject! Register now! 

Did you know you can view all our past webinars on Chromebooks for Education and more? Find links to all our past webinars here! 

Managing Chromebooks in the Classroom

Managing Chromebooks in the Classroom

So–you’re getting Chromebooks for your classroom! This is a great opportunity for you and your students. You’ve heard they’re great tools…but the thought of all the things that could go wrong makes your blood run cold. What’s an already-busy teacher to do with the influx of technology into his or her classroom? Every situation is different, but there are a few things you can consider to make the transition smooth for everyone.

Introducing Chromebooks

What is a Chromebook, anyway? How is it different from a laptop? It’s a good idea to have a background understanding of what you’re actually wrangling in your classroom. A Chromebook is essentially a netbook, or small lightweight laptop, that runs the Chrome OS operating system instead of MacOS or Windows. Don’t worry – the environment won’t look too foreign to you once you’re used to it. In order to be called a Chromebook, a laptop must meet certain standards set forth by Google that allow it to operate comfortably with Google tools. Chromebooks are designed to work smoothly with Google apps, but you can run almost any web-based application on a Chromebook, including Office 365. There are a few exceptions, but that list is shrinking by the day. Chromebooks do have some storage space, but they aren’t designed to hold all your documents and data–that’s what Google Drive is for.

Most of the time, when you use a Chromebook, you will log in with your own Google (school district) email account. This is also likely to be how your students will use the Chromebooks. The documents you create and work on will be stored in your Google Drive, which means you can log in to that same account from any device and find all your stuff. This is why your students don’t need to grab the same Chromebook every time (though some teachers prefer that they do just to keep track of how the device is being treated). Pretty cool!

Daily Routines

Think through your daily routines and storage of the devices. Depending on the number of Chromebooks you have, and on district policy, you’ll want to think about the following things:

  • Do students take the devices home? Are they responsible for arriving at school with a fully charged device? Does your district designate policies around handling of electronics, or do you need to make your own?
  • How do students know if they need a device today/this period/for this lesson? It’s a good idea to have a system or sign so you don’t have to answer the question “Can I get out my Chromebook?” a million times at the beginning of the day. Frisco ISD made some great resources for device handling and signals for use–their site is aimed at students who are bringing their own devices to school, but the resources are handy for anyone with devices in their classroom. Take a look at some great teacher advice and student-created posters.
  • If Chromebooks are stored in the classroom, how and where? What are the likely problems with traffic patterns to and from the storage area? Does everyone fetch his or her own device, or will you designate helpers who will pass them out?
  • It’s advisable to be very specific when teaching students how to handle a Chromebook, as well. Two hands on the device whenever you’re carrying it is a very good idea. Be sure to model this behavior for students…I admit that I have dropped a Chromebook in front of my class more than once!
  • Computers collect germs (yuck). Make sure you set policies around food and beverage use near the devices. Whose responsibility is it to clean the devices? How often? Is your district providing cleaning materials that are legal and safe for school use? (Please don’t Windex your Chromebook!)

Expectations and Consequences

If you haven’t used computers in your classroom much, you’ll need to adjust your classroom management style just a bit. Don’t worry too much, and don’t think of yourself as the Internet police, but it’s a good idea to be sure you’re moving about the room. Before you ask students to get their devices, be sure you have a clear purpose for their use, and clearly communicate that to students (with intermittent reminders). If your principal walks in and asks a student “What are you doing with that Chromebook”, you want them to be able to answer intelligently! To save yourself major headaches later, decide on some attention signals to use (yes, even with older students) so you aren’t doing an interpretive dance up front to get attention from a class full of students with eyes glued to screens. Some teachers say “Screens 45” to indicate that they need to interrupt student work briefly; then say “Screens closed” to indicate that they need students to turn off the devices. Be sure to give adequate time for students to respond–even adults don’t respond instantly!

Once you’ve set expectations for device use in your classroom, you’ll need to decide on consequences for misuse as well. Your district may have a policy that you’ll need to follow, or you can create your own. Make sure it allows for a learning curve and an occasional mistake (nobody’s perfect), and then be consistent and fair in enforcing it. It’s always a good idea to know how you would teach a lesson without the technology, just in case something goes wrong (behaviorally or with the network!)

After reviewing basic procedures and expectations with students, it’s a great idea to involve them in the management of their classroom by having them create presentations or posters as reminders for the whole class.

Don’t Panic–Plan!

You have a great opportunity to deepen your teaching when you have Chromebooks available in your classroom. With a little advance organization, you can have a great experience with these devices–and your students will learn some valuable new skills!

Want to learn more?

Register for the May 17th Webinar on this same topic with Katherine Livick at

You can also view all our past webinars at or on the CTL YouTube Channel 

YouTube Authoring for Teachers

YouTube Authoring for Teachers

Join CTL and presenter Katherine Livick for a Free Webinar
on YouTube Authoring for Teachers

Thursday, March 16 from 9 am – 10 am PDT.


By Katherine Livick, Professional Development Manager for Digital Learning at ESD 112 in Vancouver, WA.

Most of us have used YouTube to search for and view videos, whether classroom related or not. But did you know you can also create your own content for YouTube? You don’t have to be a filmmaking expert or even a social media star – you can learn to use YouTube’s simple authoring and editing tools to enhance your teaching and student learning.

Why do I need YouTube?

You know that you can use YouTube to find educational videos to share with your class–but have you thought of it as a lesson presentation tool, or as a response mode for students to use? Using the built-in functions of YouTube, you can:

  • Flip (or semi-flip) your classroom by recording instructional videos and lessons for your students to preview at home
  • Record videos for supplemental instruction – for absent students, homework assistance, or enrichment
  • Share student work with an authentic audience (with parental permission, of course)
  • Connect and share with other teachers

Since YouTube is part of the G Suite family of tools, if you have access to Google Apps like Docs, Drive and Slides, you can easily incorporate YouTube into your classroom repertoire.

What can I do in YouTube?

Upload and edit videos: Using the Creator Studio, you can upload raw (unedited) video from your camera, phone, tablet or computer to YouTube, arrange clips in order to make a longer video, and add titles, photos and transitions. YouTube has a library of Creative Commons video clips you can use as part of your project, as well as hundreds of royalty-free audio clips so you can add music and sound effects to your video. You can make video and audio adjustments to your clips–brightness, contrast, clip speed, and simple audio equalization.

Caption videos: From the Creator Studio Dashboard, you can select the small triangle next to the Edit button by any of your videos. Select “Subtitles/CC” and your language, then one of the four captioning options. Captions help hearing impaired students access your videos, but they’re also great for other students – sometimes it helps with information retention to be able to see the words and hear them at the same time!

Set video privacy: Your videos on YouTube have three privacy options: Private, Unlisted, and Public. You can keep your videos unlisted to keep them out of search results on YouTube, or keep them Private and share directly with students from the “Info and Settings” tab.

Teach students to use it as a response mode: Why should teachers have all the fun? Students can upload, edit and share videos too. Your district’s Google administrator may impose restrictions on student use of YouTube, so be sure you know the limitations in your district before you assign a project requiring students to use it.

For More Information…

Check out YouTube’s Teacher channel for lots of ideas and inspiration about how to use YouTube in the classroom. There’s also an Education channel if you’re looking for pre-made videos to use. TedEd partners with YouTube to permit teachers to create interactive lessons from any videos on YouTube – even your own! Try it out – it’s a great tool.  If you’re still not convinced – check out Ednyco’s article about why you should use video in your lessons.

Katherine Livick is the Professional Development Manager for Digital Learning at ESD 112 in Vancouver, WA. She develops curriculum for teacher professional development around technology and acts as a technology coach and consultant, helping teachers to integrate technology in school districts around ESD 112’s region. She has quite a number of opinions about coffee, Star Trek and plants.

The NEW Google Sites: Pros and Pitfalls

The NEW Google Sites: Pros and Pitfalls

Join CTL for a Free Webinar
on the New Google Sites for Educators
Wednesday, January 18 at 9:00am PST.


If you’ve used Google Sites in the past, you probably know that it’s a convenient way to create a website and integrate items from your Google Drive without having to worry about hosting or paying for external services. You’ve probably also noticed that it was well past time for an overhaul of its complicated interface and not-exactly-modern design options. Google noticed too, and they’ve created a seriously updated Sites tool to phase in over the next year or so–but is it worth switching now?

Where is this new tool?

First of all, your Google administrator has to enable the new Sites tool. They’ve probably done this already, but if you don’t see the new Sites tool in either of the places I describe here, you might want to ask them about it. The new Sites is integrated into Drive, so you don’t have to go to a separate page to start it up. From your Drive, click the New button and hover over “More”. You should see some additional Google apps in that section, including Google Sites. Click on it it and it will create a new site for you right away. The site will be stored in your Drive, just like your other Google Apps files. You can also type in (and bookmark) the new Sites homepage, which you can find at That link will take you to a page listing all sites you’ve created in the new sites tool. The interface for that page looks a lot like the Docs or Slides homepages you may be familiar with, and you’ll be able to create a brand new site by clicking the plus sign in the bottom right corner. Alternatively, if you’re already looking at the old Sites tool (, look for the “New Google Sites” link beneath “Browse Sites” in the left sidebar.

New Interface, New Features

You’ll notice immediately that the Sites creation tool is much different from your old Sites. The interface is clean, simple, and allows some drag and drop functions. On the right side of the screen, there’s a sidebar that allows you to insert content and placeholders, add and re-organize pages, and apply new themes to your site. You can click on any text you see (like the placeholder for “Your page title” in the header) and edit it directly. Want more text? Just click the “text box” tool from the Insert menu in the right sidebar and it will appear on your page. Add images, links, or Google files from the right sidebar to populate your page. Once you have a few elements on your page, you can drag them around to re-order them. Google will keep things neat and tidy for you. If you want to change the look of your text, click on it and a pop-up menu will allow you to adjust alignment and give you a few options for size. The paint palette at the left will allow you to select from a limited number of styles, including choosing a photo to place behind your text (Google will adjust the contrast for readability automatically), and the trash icon will delete the text box.  Add pages and adjust the theme or design of your site with the other options in the right sidebar.

When you’re ready to share your site, click the PUBLISH button at top right. Depending upon your domain’s settings, you’ll have the option to publish your site to the world, or just to your district. Your site will be created with “responsive design”, which means it should change to accommodate any screen it’s viewed on – mobile or desktop. You can preview how your site will look by clicking the eye icon at the top of the page.

What’s missing

The new Sites tool is still in its “early release” phase, and while some functions are much more advanced than the old tool, there are still a few missing features. Themes, fonts, layout, and colors are not yet fully customizable. Many scripting, API and site-level features that were available in the old tool are still missing from the new version. Gadgets, sidebars, and iFrame embedding are missing too. has created a side-by-side comparison table of the features of both tools that is very handy. Many early users have noted these missing features and reported them to Google, so it’s likely that many of them will be added back – a few have already been changed since the first release of the tool, so stay tuned for further updates.

Making The Choice
If you’ve already got heavily used, functional sites made with the old tool, you may find that the missing features are a deal-breaker for switching to the new sites at this time. Google has stated that the old Sites will be around for a while, until at least 2018, and that migration options to move classic Sites to the new Sites will be released this year. This gives you a lot of time to play with the new Sites tool and familiarize yourself with the options. Go create a site, and don’t forget to have fun!


Katherine Livick is the Professional Development Manager for Digital Learning at ESD 112 in Vancouver, WA. She develops curriculum for teacher professional development around technology and acts as a technology coach and consultant, helping teachers to integrate technology in school districts around ESD 112’s region. She has quite a number of opinions about coffee, Star Trek and plants.