Simulating A Testing Environment With Google Apps For Education

lightgrenadeWith PARCC looming on the horizon in New Jersey, many educators are trying to simulate its unique testing environment with frustrating results. The PARCC will be totally online and feature many questioning and answering methods students have not seen before. Skills like drag-and-drop, window pane, and computer-based tool (protractor, ruler, calculator) manipulation will be new. Understanding drop-down menus, fill-ins, and check box style questions and typing efficiently will be required. The PARCC will place multiple texts side-by-side or in a separate window, so familiarity with scrolling techniques and alt+tabbing will be imperative. Short cuts for Copy (Ctrl+C) and Paste (Ctrl+V) and Find (Ctrl+F) will help students work more efficiently while students with special needs will have to get use to accommodations like text-to-speech, speech-to-text, in-line reader, answer masking, and more. Understand, we aren’t even talking about content! We are talking about the test itself! Kids continue to struggle to get use to the harsh testing environment, so while many teachers have been turning to different websites to help them create PARCC-like assessments, I’ve turned to Google Apps for Education to make my own.

My PARCC-like assessment

My PARCC-like assessment uses Google Forms to create the testing platform, Google Drawings for drag-and-drop and digital manipulation, and Google Sites to create the testing environment. Follow the links on the bottom to work your way through the assessment which is meant to show what is possible using GAFE.

There are some things going on behind the scenes that you should know about to get a better picture:

1) Each Form/section students are expected to answer in is actually a different Form, so this assessment has five different Forms in all. The cool thing: even though there are five different Forms, all the responses go into one Sheet (though different pages). This makes it pretty easy to grade with Flubaroo. I’m putting the final touches on making it even easier to grade and will release it soon. The below .gif will show you how to change the response destination of a Form, in case you want to experiment. In the .gif, you’ll see I select the Master Sheet for the Amelia Earhart assessment.


2) If you create the assessment within your Google Edu domain, students will have the option to open the text for easier reading. Below is what it will look like to students. This is likely how it will be on PARCC.


3) I use Read&Write for Google to simulate PARCC-like accommodations for students. Read&Write for Google is a great, free Chrome extension that will simulate text-to-speech and in-line reading for students. The paid version has an awesome highlight feature as well as a regular dictionary AND picture dictionary. Both are amazing for ELL students. The best part? The amazing people at Text Help will give teachers the paid version of Read&Write for free! Just follow this link and fill out the form! Make sure to thank them!

4) Google Drawings for digital manipulation is great in theory, but I’m struggling with the execution. I have students make a copy of the Drawing and then drop the link back into the Google Form for the teacher to grade. It’s a bit clunky, but works especially well if a teacher just does one per assessment. If you have any advice on how to create a better work flow so students can practice with manipulation like in the example below, let me know!

Even if you’re not a PARCC state, play around with my PARCC-like assessment to get an idea of the different testing environments made possible by GAFE. I’m always looking for ways to improve, so feel free to give me some feedback or ideas. Either way, I hope this helps you think about how we can best prepare our kids for the new types of testing they will be taking part in… whether we like it or not.

Until Next Time,


I’m Fired Up

lightgrenadeI was a Junior in high school the first time I got fired up. My best friend stormed up to me and smashed a burnt CD into my chest and said, “Listen to all of this…” I still remember the fire in his eyes as he continued, “…loud.” Later that day, I did just that. What came blistering and blaring out of my speakers rattled my windows and set me on fire: How I Spent My Summer Vacation by The Bouncing Souls.

I met a lot of people that made me feel alright
and their music’s got me through the night.

That’s how I met The Souls and why, thirteen years later, they’ve never left my play list. It goes beyond music. We started to go to Souls show and realized it is like going to Church. You clap in time and sway and yellalong as one big, sweaty mass and at the end of the show you feel Saved. You feel ready to take on the world. Few things in life fire me up like the Souls, but in the last six months I’ve found something else that does: Google Teacher Academy.

Yesterday I was a loser.
Today I’m winning.
Today you’re mine and the world is ours.

Last July, I was selected to attend GTA: Atlanta. Atlanta couldn’t have come at a better time. I was hurting before Atlanta. I felt alone in thinking we could do better for students and teachers. I’d been making serious changes to my class that the kids loved and produced results, but others didn’t get it, so I began to close my classroom door and keep to myself. In Atlanta, someone told me I felt that way because I was “so far out and in front, that I was irrelevant” to most people, but I shouldn’t give up because I was in a room of people who felt like I did. People will eventually get it. It takes time. The passion of the people there gave me the strength to keep going. I was a bomb waiting to go off and Atlanta helped me detonate in the right direction. Fast forward six months. I’ve just spent the last three days as a Lead Learner for GTA: Austin and I got those feels all over again. What is so inspiring and energizing to me has nothing to do with Google tools or the talent of the people in the room (which is mighty). For me, it’s the fire. Their passion fuels mine. Just like Atlanta, I’m leaving Austin fired up. I left both GTAs ready to take on the world. I left Saved.

I’m leaving everything behind for a peace that I can’t find.

GTA: Austin couldn’t have come at a better time because I needed some saving. I’ve been hurting again. I’m currently unemployed. Last week, I left the classroom; I abandoned my kids. At least that’s how I felt because I never dreamed I would leave the classroom. Teaching is literally my favorite thing in the world, but when I was told about an opportunity to 10x my passion, how could I say no?

A movement with no leaders, we stand tonight hearts in our hands.

I have a new job now. Next week, I begin my tenure as an Edtech Coach at my new K-8 district, one of the best in the state, where I’m going to fireup 10x more students and now have the privilege to fireup a hundred+ talented teachers. It is a dream job. It wasn’t an easy decision though.

If I want to change the world, it’s gotta start with me.

I hate school. School, in its current incarnation, is wrong. Students AND teachers deserve better because we can do better. I can’t count on anyone else to fix school. It has to start with me. I’ve never hid these feelings from my kids. In fact, it’s an ongoing discussion I’ve had with students for years. So when I broke the news to my kids that I was leaving, mid year no less, I was humbled when many of them told me they were proud that I was following my passion and they look forward to see, as one kid put it, “the wake of awesome” I was going to leave behind as I “Rampage American school systems.”

I built this cloud I can break it
The world can’t change how I feel
Because I know it’s a lie
My heart is real

Like Holden, I felt that I got the goodbye I needed, but something was still eating me up: fear. I’m scared. What if I suck at this new job? What if no one likes me? What if no one gets me? I’ve only taught high school English, what if I don’t “get” K-8. What if my old administrator was right when they told me “I’m too much” and should “calm down.”

So tell me why our movement’s out of time? Are we so out of line?

Thanks to GTA: Austin, Just like after Atlanta, I’m fired up. I saw again there are other great educators fighting the good fight that I can lean on. I was inspired by the other Lead Learners, CUE crew, and Googlers who shared their expertise and passion and learned along with everyone there reaffirming their commitment to disrupting education. I remembered I can’t let fear stop me because I know kids and teachers deserve better and I’m not alone in that belief.

Well you can fight or you can run,
Hide under a rock till the war is won,
Play it safe and don’t make a sound,
But not us we won’t back down

I like to set goals. Here are my new 10x goals for my job:

  • Take the big data from testing and make it meaningful and lead to better learning outcomes
  • Create world-class learning programs for my kids
  • Revolutionize professional development for teachers

The tone of this blog will likely change to reflect my new position and goals, but one thing that won’t change is my passion. I won’t be taking prisoners. I hope you’ll come along for the ride and get fired up with me because it’s up to us to save the world.

Until Next Time,

We live our life in our own way,
Never really listened to what they say,
The kind of faith that doesn’t fade away
We are the True Believers

Feedback To You!


During presentations and essays, I like to have students use Google Forms to provide peer feedback. While Google Forms is awesome, there are two big problems when using it for peer feedback: 1) It isn’t great for collecting wordy feedback. As you know, when you collect big pieces of text via Google Forms it can be hard to read. 2) Once I have all that peer feedback collected, it is difficult to share it back to that student so they can reflect.

For a while. I was printing out the feedback, cutting it, and handing it back to each student. This was annoying and time consuming. I said to myself, “Self, there has to be a better way!” Thus, my first foray into scripting came about like most inventions: Necessity.

I scoured the internet to see if any code that would solve my problem already existed and I came across this. From there, I did a bit more research, read a few articles, and played with Google Apps Scripts until I got it to do what I wanted.

This script will take a Google Form’s assigned Sheet, make an easy to read e-mail out of it, and send it to a person. For me, it means a student is e-mailed peer feedback in a way that they can easily digest. It is far from perfect, but it gets the job done.

I intended to keep this script locked away forever, since I’m not confident in my abilities yet, but in a recent conversation a teacher was lamenting that she was having the same problem I was: getting Google Form feedback back to the students in a way that was easy to read. I told this friend, the great Kate Baker, about my script and she asked me to share it with her.

I figured I would do one better. Below, you will find the script and below that a tutorial to “install” it. Again, I’m still learning, but if this script can be useful I feel it is my duty to share it; we’re all in this together. Feel free to use it as you see fit, and if you happen to know anything about code, I’d love to hear some feedback. Also, if there is an add-on or script out there that does this job already, let me know!

Here is a link to the Google Apps Script if you’d like to copy it from there. Otherwise, here’s the code:

function myFunction() {


function sendEmails2() {
var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();

var startRow = 2; // Row to start gathering data. Usually 2 because of header. You shouldn't need to change this.
var numRows = 3; // Number of rows to process. This is typically number of students.
var numCol = 7; // Number of columns in the spreadsheet
var emailSent = 8; // In this column, script will write "E-mail Sent." Future e-mail will not be sent if "E-mail sent" exists
// Fetch the range of cells
var dataRange = sheet.getRange(startRow, 1, numRows, numCol)
var dataRange2 = sheet.getRange(1,1, numRows, numCol)
// Fetch values for each row in the Range.
var data = dataRange.getValues();
var data1 = dataRange2.getValues();
var word;
for (var i = 0; i < data.length; ++i) {
var row = data[i];
var emailAddress = row[3]; // Column e-mail address appears in. Don’t count first Column.
var message = ""; //put a message between the quotation marks, if you'd like to add anything to the body of the email
for(var x = 0; x < data[0].length; ++x)

message += data1[0][x] + ":\t" + data[i][x] + "\n\n";

var emailSent2 = row[emailSent];
if (emailSent2 != EMAIL_SENT) { // Prevents sending duplicates
var subject = "Your Feedback"; //change this to change the subject of the email
MailApp.sendEmail(emailAddress, subject, message);
sheet.getRange(startRow + i, emailSent).setValue(EMAIL_SENT);
// Make sure the cell is updated right away in case the script is interrupted

And the tutorial*:

Until Next Time,


*Note: I mess up column and row every time I say it in the screencast. I really do know which is which… I promise.*


The Best Assessment Ever!

lightgrenadeWhat if I told you I had an assessment that hit most Common Core standards, increased test scores, was cross-curricular, and, most importantly, fun and engaging?

What is this magical assessment, you ask?

Student-made board games!

Students make their own board games at least once a level in my class. I use it to add some life to something boring like our mandatory vocabulary curriculum, to assess students’ understanding of a piece of literature or non-fiction, or to work on their ability to write informative texts.

My students work in Guilds for the year. When it comes time to make a board game, each Guild is given a class period or two to design the game. I tell them they have to make the game fun, fair, educational, and playable by the biggest Guild. I tell them they must also write the rules and directions out since they will not be there to explain them. That’s it! That’s all the direction they get. What kind of game they make, the rules, the questions, and everything else is up to them.

This creative freedom has led to some great games:

Forget playing the board games for now. The real learning and reinforcement comes from creating the game. If you think about how much high-level thinking goes into creating a fun, fair, and educational board game it’s easy to see why it hits so many Common Core standards.

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Gotta Be In It To Win It

Update 11/6/14:
KI Furniture has released our commercial!

We always encourage our students to take a risk, but when is the last time you took a risk for them? With them?

As I’ve started to revolutionize my classroom, I’ve had to take a lot of risks. I’ve had to put myself out there in ways that I never thought I would because I realize now the things I want to do and have in my classroom will likely never be given to me; I have to the risk and go out and get them!

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It’s Time For Mastery Learning

lightgrenadeOnce upon a time, I was terrified that I wouldn’t pass my drivers test. I wasn’t good at parallel parking to begin with, but as I waited for my instructor to pick me up I realized that I had been practicing on the wrong side of the road. I had been approaching the parking spot from the north when I should have been approaching it from the south. To be successful, I would have to mirror everything I’d trained myself to do and would only have two shots to get it right. Outlook not so good.

Once upon a time, I was terrified that I wouldn’t do well on the SATs because I never took a strategy class, nor studied in any meaningful way. To add to the stress, my parents couldn’t afford to pay for college, so I needed to do well on the SATs to get a scholarship. Do poorly and I’d have to go to community college and live at home; not something I wanted.

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Gamify Your Class Level III: Badges

lightgrenade“Badges ruin students’ intrinsic motivation to learn!” I hear this or a similar intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivational worry every time I talk about Gamification. What people are trying to say is that they are worried about the Overjustification Effect. The Overjustification Effect is a real thing. It does happen. Just not all the time to everyone always like people seem to believe. It’s more a sometimes to some people under certain circumstances kinda thing which you can see in studies like this one, this one, this one, this one, and, most recently, this one. I believe, when used properly and creatively, badges do much more good than harm. I’m not an expert in psychology, but I use badges and they’ve worked wonders for me; I love them. From the people I’ve talked to, things I’ve read, and mostly my personal experience in a gamified classroom here are 10 things you can do to get the most out of badges in your classroom and put the Overjustification fears to bed.

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Getting My Game Up!

lightgrenadeA quick weekend update to let you know some of the changes I’m making to my gamified class this year. You can see my gamified class site at Saga City Learning.

Whenever I add new game mechanics to my class I keep two things in mind: the types of kids we teach and what motivates them. In order of most powerful to least powerful, what motivates kids (and everyone, really) is Status, Access, Power, and Stuff.

Status – means to raise the value or esteem of someone.

Access  – is the ability to have something not everyone can have.

Power – is the ability to have say over yourself and others.

Stuff – tangible… stuff.

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So It Continues…

Teched Up Teacher

One year ago today, I started this website to document my foray into what I believe the 21st Century Classroom looks like. This overhaul, I said a year ago, included “compliance with common core, heavy emphasis on technology, project/problem based learning, using Google apps for school, blending my classroom with Schoology, student self-pacing, a full Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program,  a flipped classroom, and gamifying my classroom with achievements (badges), leader boards, item shop, and what I believe to be the world’s first ever attempt to turn my students’ work into an Alternate Reality Game (ARG).

There’s a bit more to this story. I wouldn’t say this then, but I am willing to say it now: I wanted to quit teaching. Our broken education system had sucked the life out of me. Whether it was because of politics, administration, tradition, or a number of other things, I was struggling to provide my students with the education they deserved. I decided I would give it one last shot. I would change everything and do things my way. And if it didn’t workout, it clearly wasn’t meant to be; I would quit (or be fired) and find a new career.

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Gamify Your Class Level II: Leaderboards

logoAfter creating a Total Points XP Grading system, the next step in creating a successful Gamified classroom is implementing Leaderboards. By popular demand, I’ve made my leaderboards available for purchase on Teachers Pay Teachers. My leaderboards build on the work of the amazing Mike Matera (@mrmatera), who is someone you should be following if you are into Gamification. Leaderboards fill a necessary niche in a Gamified classroom: leaderboards raise the status of all students and motivate Gladiators and Achievers.

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