Evaluating Websites

Digital Citizenship. What does it mean? Well, part of it is being able to navigate the online world with a sense of place, getting out of the seedy spots quickly and being aware of when you’re in the right neighborhood. A week and a half ago, I was helping out at the first meeting of the Ohio Technology Standards Revision Work Group. There, educators from across our great state agreed:  evaluating websites, apps, etc. is a skill that every student will need in order to succeed.

This past year, I helped my middle school students think about the quality and credibility of the websites they wanted to use for research by giving them a list of Yes or No questions to ask themselves about the site. They highlighted in green or red, to get a visual summary of the positive and negative points. Then they added up the Yes’s and wrote a short paragraph explaining why they think the site is good or bad for their research.  Below’s an example image, and a link to the updated, blank Google Doc. Feel free to copy this, and modify it for your own students. It is adapted from Common Sense Media’s lesson on Identifying High Quality Sites.Yes no questions highlighted green or red


Next year, I’d like to share those same questions with students, but allow them to choose more options for providing me with their thoughts. Two options are voice annotation, and screen capture video.

For recording voice in a Google Document, there’s an add-on called Kaizena Mini. I haven’t tested it out with my students yet, but it seems easy enough to use. If you go into the Add-On menu, then click Get add-ons…you can search for it there.Get Add Ons in Add Ons menu

Once your students get it all set up, they select some text, click +New Feedback, and then click the microphone button to start recording. Kaizena Mini interfaceAfter they share their document with you, you can open Kaizena Mini from your Add-Ons menu to listen to what they have to say. For students who choose this option, I will have them also insert screenshots of the website showing what they are talking about in their recordings.

Screen capture videos are the next level of this same idea. While researching screen capture on our Chromebooks, I found that Screencastify doesn’t work due to low internal memory. (I like to use Screencastify for my own recordings, and if you have laptops or computers that can handle it, it’s a nice option). What did work, was TechSmith’s Snagit App and Snagit Extension.

Once your students get Snagit all set up and they are ready to use it to share their screen and their voice, have them click the Snagit icon in the extension bar, and then screen.


They may have to click Allow to let the camera and microphone power on. Then once they finish giving their virtual tour of the website they chose to evaluate, they click stop capture and then have these options to choose from. What’s great about Snagit, is that it is integrated with Google Drive. Videos save there automatically. Students can share them just to you, put them out there into the world on their own YouTube channel, or some intermediate option. Here’s an example I made.

Snagit share options


There is no shortage of information in the world today. I believe we must teach our children to sift through all of that, to critically consider what’s worth paying attention to and what’s not, and to communicate why. We should not expect our students to be thrown into the swirling cacophony of digital voices and not drown in it. Helping them learn to evaluate websites and other digital information gives them the craft to navigate past the dangerously irrelevant rapids and into the source of learning.



Google Slides: Edit Master

Looks matter. A good-looking theme adds polish and gravity to the topic. Plainly dressed default slides give the impression that the content is unimportant. In Google Slides, creating a custom theme to fit your style is easy. Just use Edit Master!

If you’re like me, you change your mind about font or color multiple times through the creation process. The Edit Master lets us make those changes instantly on all slides at any time. It’s not too good to be true. Check this out.

If you prefer screenshots to videos, here are the basic steps. There are only 5! And one of them is X-ing out at the end…You can definitely do this.

1. First, Start a slideshow. Then, click Slide>Edit MasterClick slide then edit master

2. Click the Master






3. Click Background and choose a dark color. The reason for this is explained in a previous post, but basically, you don’t want to compete for the focus of your audience (students, colleagues, etc.) with a giant, blinding white screen. Alternatively, choose an image. Or get super creative and use a collection of shapes and images, or change the colors of the text boxes.BackgroundBackground color or image






4. Change the font color and style if you like.

5. Then X out of the Edit Master to get back to your actual slides. They will all be in the style you’ve just created!X out of Edit Master

Here’s an example of the custom theme I made for a presentation about Google Classroom, in the Edit Master view: Edit master view


And in the Slides view:

Edit master my slides


So, I’ve got my little customized Google Classroom person google classroom logo with love speech bubble hanging out in the corner of all slides except Title slides, I have a dark background with yellow title text and white body text to match the colors of the theme, and I have the ability to change it all on a whim in seconds.

Next time you create a presentation with Google Slides, try out some of the techniques here to ensure you’re communicating to your audience that the topic is important and worthy of their consideration. A thoughtful custom theme will make that impression. Using Edit Master can help you to fine-tune your slides and see instant changes across your entire show.

Presentations: Pro Level

Presentations in the education world are not in short supply, however, really great slideshow presentations are rare indeed. If you are trying to have your audience (students, colleagues, etc.) remember more than 10% of what you say, and avoid boring them to tears, or worse, confusing them, you’ve come to the right place.

David Phillips’ TEDx talk How to avoid Death By Powerpoint is downright entertaining while being incredibly practical about how to improve your slideshow presentations. It’s also based on cognitive science and psychology. If you want to skip a bit of intro, go to 5:38. That’s where I start it when I show it to my students. If you’d rather read than watch, scroll past to the overview and my personal additions to his list.

  • One message per slide. Slides are free! You have an unlimited supply. Squeezing a lot on there makes it more difficult for your audience to focus on the main point you are trying to make.
  • Avoid sentences. If people are reading text while you are giving a speech, they have a hard (sometimes impossible) time remembering what you said or what they read. Instead, use very brief text snippets and images to emphasize or enhance what you are saying. That said, if you want students to go back and view your presentation after the fact, including the full text of your speech can be very helpful. Just relegate that to the Slide notes, below the actual slide, so it doesn’t show during the presentation.
  • Size matters. Make the most important part of your visual aid the biggest. Even though the default on all slides makes the Title larger than the Body text, doesn’t mean you should keep it that way.
  • Contrast steers focus. You basically have a magic wand at your disposal if you learn how to use contrast to your advantage. Whatever you want people to pay attention to, make that have the most contrast, and make everything else fade away to a color almost matching the background. The difference between these two slides is that one gives a hard nudge on what to focus on, and the other lets the viewer wander aimlessly.
    • Contrast good Contrast bad
  • Dark backgrounds. Don’t try to compete with a giant, bright white screen behind you. Also, it’s kind to the eyes of your viewers.

The next few are my own opinion, not discussed in the video.

  • High quality images. Poor images look lazy. If you don’t have or can’t find a good image (i.e. one without visible pixels, watermarks, or blur) then paint that picture with the words in your speech.  Better to have a short caption on a mostly blank slide and tell a story.
  • Font choice. Serif, sans serif, I don’t think it matters much. But, do choose a font that is easily readable and fits the purpose of your overall message. Don’t send mixed messages. Serif fonts tend to look more serious. Informal, handwriting type fonts are fine if that goes along with your message.
  • Purpose. Some presentations are meant for a limited, live audience, others start out that way but then could be used as review, and still others are meant for a asynchronous audience of strangers strewn across the world. All these require a different approach. For a limited, live audience, you may choose to have no words at all, or very few in your slides, so that the audience really engages with what you are saying. For slideshows which are given live at first, but then will be posted online for later review, the full speech could be included in the slide notes, or more words may be needed on the slides themselves. Or, you can allow your students access to the slide deck as you are speaking, if they are quick on the keys and you give them time after each slide to type their own notes. If you plan on making a presentation that is only viewed, and not heard, you can safely ignore the advice about sentences on slides.

Making better slide shows can help your students retain more information, and give them opportunities for review that they may not otherwise have. Also, if you are in a position to teach students about how they can make good slideshows, please share this information with them! Let’s grow a new generation of thoughtful deck builders.

Google Classroom and Drive: Digital Cleanup

Last week, I cleaned up and packed away the physical space of my classroom. Now all that’s left to do is neaten the digital side. For me, that means taking care of Google Classroom and Google Drive.

The first, and easiest, job is to archive my Google Classrooms. Archiving takes your classrooms out of your Home and puts them away in an Archived folder. Once a class is Archived, “You and your students won’t be able to make changes. You can view this class in “Archived Classes” in the Classroom menu and can find all class files in Drive.” But, if you change your mind, you can Restore the class.

Here’s how to Archive:

I also suggest taking time to delete or organize Google Drive items. Using the Shift to select multiple in a list, or Ctrl to select nonconsecutive items can speed up the deleting process.

Creating folders, and using drag and drop is a quick way to put everything in its place.

For all you super organizers out there, here are a couple of bonus tips! Star items, and color code your folders.

Happy Summer!

School’s (almost) out! Reflect with Google Forms

The end of a school year is always crazy busy. Field trips, assemblies, special projects, and final exams signal this to everyone. I suggest an addition to this list: a reflective survey. Using Google Forms, I ask my students some questions that trigger them to think about what they’ve learned in my course, and provide me with data to reflect on how I did as a teacher. To me, their learning and evaluation is what matters most. And, I can use what I learn from the survey to improve my practice next year.

To start a survey, open your Google Drive. Then click New>More>Google Forms.New-More-Google Form


There are a few different types of questions you can ask. The most relevant ones are:

Text Provides small text box for answer
Paragraph Text Provides large text box for answer
Multiple Choice Allows only one selection, chosen by radio button
Checkboxes Allows multiple selections
Choose from a list Allows only one selection, chosen from a drop down menu
Scale On a scale of 1-5….It’s a Likert scale
Grid A picture is worth a 1000 words on this type! (This screenshot shows a End-Of-Year Tech survey given to teachers, not the one I made for my students.)Grid

After you make a question, decide if you want to require students to answer that question or not, click Done and then Add item to start the next question.Done, required, add


Once you write all of the questions you are seeking answers to, find the Send Form button in the top left of the page. Send form buttonOnce you click that, you will find lots of options for getting your form to your students.Send formChoose whatever is best for you. I like to post a Short URL on our Google Classroom.

One other suggestion I have is to make the survey anonymous. I tell my students that I want them to be honest with me so I can get better. Since I teach middle school, and not every kid knows what anonymous means, I am sure to make that clear. While they are typing their answers, I stand by my “desk” (a tall projector cart) so that they won’t feel like I am peeking at their answers on screen. When making a Google Form that you want to be anonymous, be sure that the option “Automatically collect…” is unchecked.


My absolute favorite feature of using Google Forms is the Summary of Responses. It takes the data in the automatically generated spreadsheet and compiles it in neat and colorful ways. For example, on a scale question: how much did you learn scale

On a Grid question: Grid results

On Multiple Choice: Multiple choice results

On Text:Text resultsNotice the scroll bar to the side.

If you are curious about the questions I asked of my students, here’s a table of the question types, and questions.

To access the beautiful charts and graphs, click on Responses, then Summary of responses. Be enthralled. Be reflective. Be better next year.Summary of responses



Use CTRL for Multiple Attachments

Oftentimes, when  posting assignments to Google Classroom, or emailing someone, I need to attach more than one Google Drive item or PDF. If I click on one file I need to attach, then click another one, the selection just switches between the two. Rather than going through the attachment process multiple times, holding down the CTRL key while I click each one allows me to select as many files as I want! Keep this in mind next time you’re sending or posting  some attachments.

Collaborative Commentary

Last post, I wrote a bit about how commenting is a good way to provide feedback in Google Drive. What I’m about to tell you, is going to make commenting even more appealing. Skeptical? I respect that, and urge you to read on.

In a comment, using the + or @ symbol in front of a collaborator’s email address automatically sends the comment to that person’s inbox! Instant notification. They get the comment, as well as a link to the doc. They can reply to the email to comment back, or open the document and complete the process that way.

Here’s how you can use this tip:

  1. When commenting on a student’s work, after their final submission. Normally, students turn things in, and don’t look at them again unless you specifically ask them to. Using the + or @ symbol in front of their email calls attention to the completed assignment and your feedback.
  2. When working with a group of people on the same document, and only some people need to attend to your comment. It lets others know they can skip that part.
  3. Commenting to yourself, as a reminder to look at something again later.  I simply can’t remember all the things I need to do, so I create protocols* to alleviate that issue. I can comment to myself with +giovanna.orlando@cardinalschools.org when working on something I’ll need to get back to.

Here’s how to do it:

In a comment, type a + or @ and (no spaces) start typing a person’s email.

Google Classroom Standard Useage   Google Docs


Your contact list will populate. Choose the person and finish writing your comment to them. After you click Comment, it sends the email to them!

Google Classroom Standard Useage   Google Docs comment


Here’s an example of what the comment notification email looks like.

Google Classroom ...   What kinds of information would be go...   giovanna.orlando cardinalschools.org   Cardinal Local School District Mail

One important note, using the + or @ commenting only works with people who are already Sharing that document. To make sure that a person you are mentioning in a comment is a collaborator, click the Share button in the upper right corner and then the Advanced option. Then you can see the entire list.

  1.  share button
  2. advanced

I hope this makes your life a little easier.



*For example: I tell my students that they need to email me to remind me to re-grade their re-do work (I allow kids to re-do any assignment that they get a D or an F on, to encourage them to keep working at things they aren’t good at yet) because I know that if they just tell me verbally (oftentimes when I’m in the middle of taking attendance or some other task taking half of my attention), it will be long gone from my mind by the time my planning period rolls around.  

Colors and Comments: Providing Feedback for Students

Just as providing feedback to companies such as Google helps them improve their products, letting students know what they are doing well and what they need to work on is imperative for helping them learn. Two simple and effective methods for delivering feedback in the Google Drive environment are:

  1. Changing colors

Green and red are well known as basic signals for Yes and No. They are easy to spot for most people. (Although I did have a student last year who was colorblind, so I had to adjust for him!) If you have simple instructions on your assignments in Google Drive, you can just color each appropriately as you review a student’s work. Then when they check on it, they can see at a glance what they did right, and what they need to fix. Here’s an example:

To change the color of text, use this icon:


For pointing out and providing more detailed or complicated information, I use the comment feature in Google Documents. I find that the easiest way to do this is to select the text I want to comment on, and use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Alt+M.

Or try the Comments button or Comment icon .

The comment itself appears as a little side note. 

When the comment, or the highlighted selection of text that the comment belongs to is clicked, the yellow of the highlight gets brighter, and the comment pulls closer to the document and also grows a speech-bubble tail, so a student can see exactly which comments are paired to which selections.

If you use Google Classroom, you can check in on your students’ work any time, and let them know if they’re on the right track before the assignment is due. This level of access is only possible online! And it’s one of the many reasons I love EdTech.

The importance of being earnest with feedback: Google Classroom

  1. Giving feedback is a crucial part of the learning and growing process
  2. Complaining about something in the right way can produce results!

All teachers know #1 to be true. Some could use a little feedback on how to improve with #2.

I’ve been using Google Classroom since it started in August 2014. As with any new program, after getting used to it, I started longing for more. Fortunately, there is a way to ask for it! The feature I sought was the ability to create an assignment or announcement ahead of time, and hide it until the day of the lesson. I (along with probably thousands of others) asked, and received. Drafting came out last week! Here’s how you can go about getting what you want out of Google Classroom.

Getting this email was so great! I hope you get one too.

On the next post, I’ll be writing about providing feedback to students.

New and Improved! Google Classroom Updates

I’ve almost completely eliminated paper in my classroom by using Google Classroom to electronically deliver content and collect student work. This morning I was excited to find some new updates that I’ve been waiting for!

Now, you can invite other teachers to be co-teachers of your Google Classroom. I’ve invited the intervention specialists so that they can more easily access our students’ work.

First, go into the About section of your Google Classroom, and then click Invite Teacher.

Search for the teacher, select, and click Next.

Invite them! Notice that they can now do everything except for delete the class.

The other change, which I’ve wanted since day 1, is to save a draft of an announcement or assignment. In the past, all posts had to go live immediately. Now we can create a draft, and then post it at just the right moment. One way Google could improve this even further would be to allow teachers to schedule a date and time for the draft to appear.