The Electric Educator

Monday, December 16, 2019

Family Breakout: A new holiday tradition

Three years ago I accidentally created a family Christmas tradition. 😯
Let me explain...
My wife and I have five kids: ages 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11.
As you can imagine, Christmas is a pretty big deal.
Fortunately, my wife is super organized and LOVES Christmas.
Each year we buy 5 different rolls of wrapping paper - one for each kid. This helps us keep track of which present belongs to which kid.
Our wrapping paper trick also inspired a new family Christmas tradition...
Just before Christmas, I had purchased a BreakoutEDU box and needed a chance to test it out. 
(Watch this if you have no idea what a breakout box is)
I decided that Christmas morning was the perfect opportunity to give my breakout box a trial run! πŸ˜‚
Here is what my kids saw when they woke up on December 25...
Note on top of the breakout EDU box
My kids had to solve a bunch of puzzles and follow clues (I had age-appropriate options for everyone) to open each of the locks and "breakout Christmas."
Inside of the breakout box was a small piece of all 5 wrapping paper designs with a name written on the back: the key to figuring out which presents went to which kid.
We broke out!
The first year was a big hit and now the pressure is on for me to create better and more elaborate breakout!
Perhaps a breakout game is something you should add to your family holiday tradition!
A breakout game is a fun addition to your classroom holiday party or family gathering!
Here are some tips to help you get started.

🧰 Purchase, build or borrow a breakout box

  • Purchase a breakout box from BreakoutEDU for $150. It has everything you need.
  • Assemble your own breakout box for $70 (or less) using these instructions
  • Borrow a breakout box from school during Christmas break!
Advice: a physical breakout box with combination locks and keys provides a unique experience, however dealing with the physical set up can be a pain (does anyone remember the combination?).

πŸ’» Use Google Forms to create a digital breakout

If you would prefer a free option, you can use Google Forms to design a digital breakout by turning on the "response validation" option which turns free-response questions into a "lock".
The key to using Google Forms as a digital breakout is knowing how to enable "data validation." Watch this video (starting at 4:24) to learn more!
πŸ” Find or create a breakout game
Designing the game is the fun part! Here are the essential elements:
  1. Backstory - every adventure has a setting. Set up the story for your adventure (like my elf-on-the-shelf example).
  2. Puzzles and clues - your breakout experience will require 3-10 puzzles. Each puzzle will reveal a numerical or alphabetical code that is used to open one of the locks. Check out this list of puzzle 
  3. A reward or prize - What is the prize for solving the puzzle? Include an exciting surprise inside the breakout box (candy, movie tickets, and small presents work well).
πŸ’‘Creating a good breakout takes a lot of time and testing. It is wise to use or modify an existing game for your first breakout. My Christmas morning breakouts are modified from the BreakoutEDU library.

πŸ†“ Free games from BreakoutEDU
BreakoutEDU offers free and paid breakout games. The breakouts listed below are free, but you will need to create a BreakoutEDU account.

πŸ—️ Sample breakouts using Google Forms
Google forms make it easy to build a digital breakout for FREE!
πŸ’‘ BONUS: The three examples above are included in my list of 30 ways to use Google Forms in the classroom. You can download the full list here.
I would love to know if you include a breakout in your classroom or family gathering this year.
Tag me in your Tweet or Instagram post!

Friday, March 15, 2019

5 ways to prevent cheating on your Google Form Quiz

5 ways to prevent cheating on your Google Form Quiz

If you are using Google Forms to give quizzes and tests in your classroom, you are likely aware that some students have figured out various ways to "game" forms to get a better grade:

  1. Open a tab to look up answers
  2. Preview your form before class to look up answers
  3. Send questions to their friends
  4. Share answers with friends
  5. Take screenshots of your the quiz questions
  6. View the HTML page source to find answers
  7. Look at a friends screen to select answers
  8. Right-click on words to check definitions and spelling
  9. Share answers with classmates during passing time
  10. Write down "cheats" on their hand or paper

The fact that students are looking for shortcuts to improve their quiz scores shouldn't come as a surprise. (You may have been this student when you were in school!!)

I believe that formative and summative assessments have an appropriate role in the classroom and that it is our duty as educators to take reasonable action to maintain the integrity of these assessments.

Google Forms is a tremendous tool for organizing and automating digital quizzes. Here are five tips for designing "cheat proof" Google Forms!

πŸ‘‰ Note: want to see all of these tips in action? Check out this demo form!

Shuffle answer choices to block screen creepers

When asking a multiple choice question, click on the "snowman" to find the "shuffle option order" feature which will randomize the order of the answer choices in your question.

Shuffling answer choices will make it more difficult for "screen creepers" to copy answers from a classmate.

Note: Google Forms does have a "shuffle question order" feature, however using it can lead to issues. I recommend shuffling answers over shuffling questions. 

Prevent cheating in Google Forms: shuffle option order

Use page sections to block assessment previews

Add sections to your quiz to prevent students from previewing a form before class. This is a common problem if you post your quiz through Google Classroom to all of your sections early in the day. 

You can take this a step further by adding a "password" to your form to prevent students from moving ahead until you are ready. 

An easy way to do this is to collect their personal information (name/section) on the first page of the form, but require a password before they can access the quiz question. 

Set up a password by adding a short answer question and using the data validation feature to require a specific number or phrase. 

Note: this is not a 100% secure solution and should not be used to protect sensitive information. 

Prevent cheating in Google Forms: add sections to prevent assessment previews

Use page breaks to create alternative assessment paths

Google Forms doesn't have a question bank feature to create different assessments for each student. However, you can create a similar experience by creating a branched form. 

First, add an un-graded multiple choice question in your quiz: “pick a number”, “pick a color”, etc. 

Next, set up 3-5 different sections to your quiz using the section feature mentioned in tip #2 above. Add as many questions as you like to each section.

Finally, add a "go-to" rule to direct students to a different section of the based on their response to the un-graded question that you added. 

Prevent cheating in Google Forms: use page breaks to create alternate assessment paths

Prevent cheating by asking better questions!

Don't limit your self to multiple choice questions. 
  • Sequence questions - use the "checkbox grid" question type to ask students to sequence or arrange items in a list.
  • Matching questions - use the multiple choice grid question type to create a matching question (great for vocabulary quizzes!)
  • Reading Passage - use the title/text element to add a short reading passage. 
  • Video question - have students watch a video and then answer questions about it (great for math and world language. 
  • Image question - images can be used as the question stem or question choices (great for science, math, social studies, and elementary students)
  • Free response / short answer - If a student can answer all of the multiple choice questions correctly, but can't articulate 2-3 sentences on the same topic...something is wrong.

Prevent cheating in Google Forms: ask better questions

Enable locked quiz mode

Locked quiz mode is one of many tools you have to protect the integrity of your assessments. When used in combination with the tips above, you have done your part to protect the integrity of your classroom quizzes. 

Locked mode prevents students from accessing external resources while taking a quiz. Their tabs, extensions, chrome apps, and screenshot functions will be disabled during the duration of the quiz. 

You can turn on this feature the settings page on your Google Form OR when assigned through Google Classroom.

I wrote a detailed overview of locked quiz mode here.

Prevent cheating in Google Forms: locked quiz mode

If you use some / all of the tips listed above, you have done your part to protect the integrity of your assessments and encourage your students to practice academic honesty. 

There is no way to be 100% certain that students can't cheat on an assessment. Ultimately, they are harming themselves and their academic growth. Our job is to encourage, instruct and train them to do their best and show good character, even when they have the opportunity to cheat. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

5 tips to design better forms

5 tips to design better forms...

Google Forms is a marvelous tool in the classroom. Get even more value out of form by applying these five tips that go beyond the basics.

1. Use validation to collect better data

Your Google Form is only as good as the data it collects. If your data is a mess, it won’t be very useful.

Many of the question types in Google Forms offer a setting called “response validation.” Use it to require a response to fit a certain criteria:

  • Checkbox questions: set a minimum or maximum number of choices that can be selected.
  • Short Answer question: use the Regular Expression feature to get consistently formatted phone numbers, zip codes, or state abbreviations.
  • Paragraph Question: set a minimum or maximum response length

2. Make your form look pretty!

While Forms has added the ability to change the header image, background, and some limited font options, with a little effort you can really make your form look nice!

I frequently split my form into different sections and use the image element to add graphics.

A good example is this conference registration form:

I use Canva to create most of my form graphics. I discovered that the “Leaderboard” template works really well with forms.

Another trick you can try is adding emoji to your form questions and answer choices. I use the πŸ”₯and πŸ‘‰ symbols to emphasize important information or 1️⃣2️⃣3️⃣4️⃣ if I have a set of steps I want to clearly explain.

The Emoji One Chrome extension is what I use to access emoji icons on my Chromebook (works on Mac and PC too!).

3. Automate with Add-ons

Once you’ve mastered the essential elements of forms, you MUST dive into add-ons.

Add-ons are like apps for Google Drive. To become a true Form Fanatic you need to be familiar with add-ons for forms AND sheets.

Add-ons will help you work more efficiently and create automated systems. I use a LOT of different add-ons for different situations. Here are some of my favorites:

Form Add-Ons:

  • Choice eliminator removes MC options from your form after they have been selected. Great for sign-ups, volunteer opportunities, and reservations.
  • Form Limiter will set limits on how long your form is available or how many responses a form will receive before it is turned off. Great for forms with deadlines.
  • Use Email Notification for Forms to send out email or mobile phone notifications when a new submission is received.

Sheet Add-ons

  • Autocrat is one of my personal favorites! I use Autocrat to generate documents based on form data (certificates, invoices, meeting agendas, etc)
  • Copy Down isn’t super exciting, but it’s very helpful! I use Copy Down to apply formulas to incoming form data to create automatic calculations.
  • FormMule is an email merge utility that you can use to send customized emails based on form responses. I use FormMule when I need to run calculations on my form data before sending out an email.
There are a LOT more add-ons, but those are some of my favorites!

4. Filter, Sort, and Pivot your Data!

We use Google Forms to collect data. Once someone submits a form, the information gets dumped into Google Sheets...and things get interesting!

A spreadsheet is an amazing tool for collecting and organizing information. Here are three things that you should know how to do in Google Sheets:

  • Sort - Sort a column in your spreadsheet to organize your data alphabetically or numerically. This is basic, but very useful!
  • Filter - Filter your sheet to isolate the information you want to see. For example, you might use the filter option to hide quiz scores for your first and third hour classes so that you can review the scores from second hour.
  • Pivot - A pivot table lets you look at your data from a different perspective. This is especially helpful with things like test scores or survey information. For example, you might “pivot” your data to see if the 8th grade students who had failing grades in math also struggled in their ELA courses.
Data analysis is super important topic. If you want to learn more, I recommend that you connect with Ben Collins, the smartest Google Sheets guy I know!

5. Autograde and lock your quizzes!

Google Forms has a special quiz mode that will auto-grade student choices!

Stop wasting your precious time hand-grading paper quizzes! Auto grade them!

Don't limit your quiz to traditional multiple choice questions! Here are a few ideas you might want to try:
  • πŸ–Ό Image Questions - insert and image of a map or equation and and then ask comprehension questions (great for math and science!)
  • 🎦 Video Questions - Add a short video to your quiz and then ask questions about the video content (great for world language!)
  • ✅ Check Box Questions - Use the checkbox question and have students select “all that apply.”
  • πŸ“ Matching Question - use the grid question type to set up a matching question.
Be creative... there are LOTS of possibilities.

You may have heard about the new LOCKED MODE for Google Forms.

I shared an early review a few months ago. When enabled, locked mode will prevent students from accessing other information during a quiz.

It's pretty awesome!

Locked mode is NOT available yet...but it should be very soon (March?)! Watch this video or read this blog post to see how it works!

Are you ready to become a Form Fanatic?

Each spring I teach a 5 week Google Forms masterclass. Join me for a deep dive into Google Forms!

I offered this course for the first time in the spring of 2018 and the feedback was outstanding:

"I was a casual user of Forms, but I was not using the data that I had collected to it's full potential. Now I am writing better Forms so my data is of higher quality and I am better able to analyze the results so I'm making decisions based on data...not just giving surveys." - Laura Foreback, middle school teacher
This course is perfect for classroom teachers, tech coaches, and school administrators!

Interested? Click here for details!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Do your students have these tech skills?

Before you can use technology to teach arts...etc, you need to make sure that your students have mastered some basic skills.

Students may develop some of these skills in computer class (if your school offers it), but subject-area teachers will still need to teach some basics early in the year.

So what are the most important, basic, essential technology skills that your students need to master?
To help you answer this question I created a technology skills checklist.
This check list identifies the most basic things that you should teach in your classroom at the beginning of the school year.

These skills are so basic that most middle and high school students will be embarrassed to admit that they don't know them. You will need to think of a fun, creative, non-threatening way to weave these skills into the first 1-2 weeks of the school year.

Just because students are "digital natives" doesn't mean that they know how to use technology effectively. We need to help them.
One idea for teaching a lot of these basic skills is my "selfie trading card" activity. It's fun, easy, and will cross off a lot of the skills listed on my check list. Check out this video for details (the trading card template is in the description of the video!)!

If tech is an important component of your classroom, it's worth devoting some time early in the school year to help your students be successful.

Was this blog post helpful? 

Each month I send out tips like this to my email subscribers. My monthly email features practical tips and suggestions for using technology in the classroom. Interested? You can subscribe below!

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Ultimate Resource Guide for the NEW Google Classroom!

Google Classroom is an essential tool for any teacher using Chromebooks or Google Drive as a teaching tool. On the surface, classroom is a simple tool, but with a little creativity and ingenuity it can do some awesome things!

I have scoured the web to compile this ultimate list of Google Classroom resources!

Whether you are just getting started with Classroom or are looking to go even further with it, this ultimate resource list has something for you!

If you find something useful, make sure you thank the creator!

Note: this is a really long, detailed blog post. I've created a really nice PDF version of this post that you can download here.

Download the guide!

What is Google Classroom? Should I use it?

How does Google Classroom compare with Schoology? Moodle? Canvas? Google Sites? What exactly is Google Classroom?

Setting up your first Google Classroom

Brand new to Google Classroom? These resources will help you set up your very first class!

Understanding the NEW Google Classroom

There are some BIG updates to Google Classroom for the start of the 2018 school year. Here’s what you need to know!

Posting to your Classroom

You can post three things to Google Classroom: announcements, questions, and assignments.

 Setting up Guardian Access

The guardian feature helps keep parents informed about the progress of their student. Check out these resources to setup and use this feature of Classroom

 How to configure your Google Classroom notifications

Google Classroom can generate a TON of emails and notifications on your phone which can be quite overwhelming and annoying. These articles will show you how to manage them and tell you which ones to disable.

 Keeping Classroom Organized

You can post three things to Google Classroom: announcements, questions, and assignments. Here are some tips on using all three!

 Teaching with Classroom

These videos and articles will give you suggestions and ideas for teaching content area skills with Google Classroom.

Student Guides and Resources for Google Classroom

Don’t forget, your students will need some instruction on how to use Google Classroom! The guides below can be shared with students to help them get the most out of Classroom.

Templates for Google Classroom

Want to customize how your classroom looks? Check out these header templates!

Get even MORE out of Google Classroom with these Chrome extensions!

Share to Classroom

This Chrome extension lets you push content into Google Classroom from anywhere on the web. You can also use it to push websites directly to student screens.  
⤵️ Install here


Students love stickers. Use the BitMoji Chrome extension like digital stickers to praise and reward students for their hard word! ⤵️ Install here

Emoji Keyboard

We use emoji all the time on our phones, why not on your computer as well? This Chrome extension gives you access to traditional emoji characters that you can use to express emotion or call attention to important notes and reminders. Use them anywhere you insert text. ⤵️ Install here


Use the Screencastify Chrome extension to record short videos that provide instruction, feedback, or tips. Recording a short video is far faster and more effective than writing out your instructions.⤵️ Install here

Google Classroom Experts

Need help? Here are the people you can connect with to learn more and get help using Google Classroom

John R. Sowash - John is the author of the Chromebook Classroom and full time Google Education trainer. Twitter | Instagram | Blog | YouTube

Alice Keeler - Alice is the author of seven books including two on Google Classroom.
Twitter | Instagram | Blog

Kasey Bell - Kasey is a technology integration specialist in Texas, author of the Shakeup Learning
Twitter | Instagram | Blog

Paul Limpert - Paul is a high school Lacrosse coach who is using Classroom to communicate with his players. Twitter | YouTube

Monday, July 23, 2018

Managing Comments in Google Classroom (2018 Update!)

Managing Comments in Google Classroom (2018 Update!)

Google Classroom is an under-rated messaging platform for teachers and students. When used effectively, the messaging / commenting capabilities in classroom lead to rich conversations and learning moments between teachers and students.

The 2018 update to Google Classroom significantly changed the location and emphasis of three commenting options in Google Classroom. I anticipate a bit of confusion on the part of teachers and students at the beginning of the school year as everyone adjusts to the new layout.

There are three different ways that comments / messages can be sent in Google Classroom: class comments, private comments, and question responses.

It is important that both teachers AND students understand when to use each of these three options.

Here's a quick overview of all three options:

πŸŽ₯ Note: click here if you prefer learning via video!

Class Comments 

Class comments are visible to the entire class. Google Classroom doesn't support student:student messaging, so the class comment feature is the only way that students can communicate directly to one another.

Everyone in the class can see class comments. Teachers have the ability to disable this feature entirely, delete an individual comment, and mute an individual student.

The class comment area is an ideal place for students to coordinate a study group, ask classmates for help on a challenging problem, or ask for a copy of a handout / resource. 

Class comments tend to be the most problematic element of Google Classroom. "Hey," "Hi" and "Wasssup" tend to be the most common comment that is left! This is distracting and causes lots of annoying notifications!

I recommend that teachers allow students to set the policy for comments. Ask them what type of comments that want to see and how they would like this feature to be used. Once they have established their own ground rules, allow them to self-police their policy. If they are unable to use this feature in a professional, useful manner, it can be turned off entirely.

Private Comments

Private comments allow a student to ask a question directly to their teacher. The 2018 update to Google Classroom places a lot more emphasis on private comments.

Private comments are a wonderful way for students to ask for help, get clarification on an assignment, and receive personal feedback from their teacher.

Teachers will heavily use the private comment feature to provide feedback to students. Check out this video on using private comments to improve essays and other writing assignments.

Question Responses

If you use the question tool in Google Classroom to ask a free response question, students have a third way to respond through Google Classroom.

The response in this area should be directly related to the discussion question. Submitting an answer will mark this assignment as "done."

You have the ability to decide if you want students to be able to view the responses from classmates when you set up the question. You can also prevent students from editing their response.

Students won't be able to view responses from classmates until AFTER they have responded. This prevents them from making up an answer based on the class responses.

How are you handling comments in your classroom? What policies have been successful? Leave me a comment and share any resources that you have created!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Create group assignments in Google Classroom

create group assignments in google classroom

Google Classroom makes it easy to assign individual work and whole-class assignments. But what about group work?

It takes a little bit more effort, but you CAN facilitate group work through Google Classroom.

Here's what I recommend.

πŸŽ₯ Note: If you would prefer a video overview of this process click here!

1. Create a new topic in Classroom to organize your group project

2. Prepare your resources

For my project, two students will work together to research an injury to the human body and identify the proper treatment.

I created a Google Doc with the requirements and guidelines for the project.

This is my template file. It is organized in my class resources and templates. I use this file every year, so I don't want students editing my original.

That's why step #3 is important

3. Copy the resources for each group

I make a copy of my template for each group. I have a smaller class so I only need three groups. I make a copy and rename the file for group 1, 2, 3, etc. 

You will want to put these files somewhere you can easily find them. I usually stick them into the Drive folder that is linked to my class.

4. Create your assignment in Google Classroom

There are a few unique things that we are going to do with this assignment:

  • Add "group 1" to the assignment title
  • In the instructions, list the member of the group
  • Attach the document for group 1 that we copied in step 3
  • Make sure you chose the "students can edit" option for your resource


5. Select your Group Members

We only want the members of Group 1 to get this assignment.

Click the drop down for "students" at the top of your assignment and select the members of the group.

Now you can click the assign button!

6. Copy the assignment for groups 2, 3, 4, etc

Now we need to send the assignment to the rest of the groups.

This is the easy part!

Use the "reuse" option in classroom to copy the assignment you just posted!

Don't forget: 

  • Change the title of the assignment to include "group 2..."
  • List the members of group #2
  • Remove the Group 1 document and replace it with the group 2 document
Repeat for the remainder of your group!

The end result is a nice list of the assignment for each of your groups!

7. Monitor your groups

Each student will only be able to see the documents assigned to their group. 

You (the teacher) will have access to all of the group documents. 

Click on a group assignment to: 
  • Open their document and observe their progress
  • Send private comments to everyone in the group or individuals in the group
  • Enter grades for each member of the group

This is one of many different ways to organize group projects in Google Classroom. If you have suggestions or modifications for my process please leave a comment!