The Possibilities of Web 2.0 and Google Apps

The skeptical teacher often looks at Internet integration in his or her classroom as just another way for students to find information.  The teacher wonders what is the purpose of another research tool that provides students with content that is often misunderstood or misrepresented in the student’s work.  In fact, I have felt that way myself at times when I’ve had students complete research projects.  But one of the greatest innovations in technology-infused education has been the advent of Web 2.0 tools.  This line of Internet use means going beyond using the web as a tool to collect information, it means becoming a contributor to the Internet.  An interesting point has been made that students are becoming “read-only” Internet users: they take and take, but don’t give back.  As educators, we want students to “write” also.  Web 2.0 tools give students the opportunity to create on the Internet.

One of the absolute best Web 2.0 tools around today comes from Google (not a surprise, right?).  If your district has integrated Gmail for students and staff, access to a myriad of Google Apps is available.  These include some of the most useful, and easily integrated, tools that I have seen in education.  Some Google Apps include Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and Drawings), Google Sites, and Google Calendar — See the table below for some details of each and ideas for their classroom integration.  All of these apps allow for the teacher to communicate easier with students and parents, promote collaboration among students, and easily integrate valuable media to any activity.  These will also eliminate the massive amounts of paperwork often seen on a teacher’s desk any day of the school year.  In order to make the strongest argument for the value of Google Apps, I will focus on one of the newest and most valuable out there.

Google Classroom is Google Apps version of a learning management system (LMS).  An LMS can often be daunting, or a foreign language, to teachers.  Many do not have the time to develop their own website, but are interested in working digitally in the classroom.  Google Classroom is the solution.  Using this app, the teacher provides an access code to students in the class, making this a private and secure website.  In this digital classroom, the teacher can post videos, links, and activities for the students to interact with or complete.  Students can then hold discussions about the content, while the teacher monitors and contributes feedback.  Also, any assignment posted on the site will automatically be created as a folder in each student’s Google Drive (a digital notebook) with needed assignment directions and due date.  Students and the teacher alike are now effortlessly organized, while assignment turn-in can be done with the click of a button.  The teacher can also quickly send needed feedback to the student for real-time assignment reflection (such an overlooked and often impossible prospect in the time-constrained classroom).  This is just a surface-level look at Google Classroom, but the possibilities are incredible and exciting.  Students can access this from anywhere on any device, while authentic learning, discussion, and collaboration can occur at anytime.


Google For Education

Google Feature: Features: Classroom Integration Ideas:
  • Saves time & paper
  • Used on any mobile or desktop device
  • Provides student privacy/protection
  • Organize messages
  • Use “Hangouts” to communicate with students and parents with a chat or video
  • Organize contacts
  • Provides Google Groups and Google Translate
  • Communicate with parents and students using contact groups
  • Students can collaborate using Google Groups
  • Students can translate information, if needed
  • Media-enriched communication can occur with “Hangouts”
  • Share calendar of important events with others
  • Manage schedule for meetings with parents and students
  • Can be managed on multiple devices
  • Integrates with other Apps
  • Fully customizable
  • Notifications
  • Use multiple calendars
  • Lesson plan calendar
  • Share appointment slots with parents and students
  • Can embed on websites
  • Manage lesson plans and important events from any device
  • Allow parents and students to choose and book appointment slots, when shared
  • Share calendar with parents and students with reminders of important events and assignments
  • Share with school staff for resource checkouts (computer labs, etc.)
Talk (no longer available)
  • Create, assign, collect homework and classwork
  • Integrate Docs, Drive, and Gmail for assignments
  • Send class announcements
  • When assignments are created, folders are created in each student’s Google Drive, with due dates provided
  • Assignments can be embedded with YouTube videos and links
  • Monitor student progress
  • Provide student feedback
  • Share a code with students for access
  • Manage classroom assignments paperlessly
  • Provide due dates for students
  • Provide directions for students and instantly place in student’s Google Drive
  • Embed media in assignments
  • Provide feedback instantly to students
  • Only those with code can access — secure
  • Collaborate among students and teachers on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations
  • Provide templates for students to complete
  • Access with any device
  • Chat and comments features for feedback
  • Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Drawings
  • Documents publishable to the web
  • Tools available for research
  • Use forms to collect assignments and data
  • No software installation required
  • Revision history is viewable
  • Students can collaborate on the same document
  • Teacher can provide feedback using comments on documents
  • Teacher can publish document to the web for massive access
  • Research is simpler for students with doc tool
  • Free and up-to-date replacement for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Paint
  • Create and customize a web page without HTML knowledge
  • No software needed
  • Use any device to upload media
  • Provide class announcements to students and parents
  • Create student portfolios
  • Can be styled to match existing school site
  • Contains a Search tool
  • Students build their own sites
  • Encrypted for security and privacy
  • Can collaborate on site editing
  • Layout customization
  • Embed YouTube video and other Google Apps
  • Each page can have different permission levels
  • Gadgets available for customization
  • Create a teacher webpage to share information and announcements with students
  • Students can create their own webpages
  • Students can create digital portfolios
  • Can be edited by multiple users for collaboration


Virtual Reality: Don’t Let Concerns Stop You from Giving Students an Amazing Opportunity

Virtual Reality, Simulations, Video Games, all of these types of digital learning can change education permanently, and for the better.  I’ve been gung-ho about virtual reality’s place in the classroom for a long time, so it was beneficial for me to consider the arguments that some have made against their integration.  These have mostly been the same arguments people have made throughout the years against video gaming in general: children struggle with separating the virtual world from the real one, they use it as an “escape” too often, they learn inappropriate or unrealistic views of the world, etc.  There is certainly validity to these arguments, but they should not be used to prove virtual reality has no place in the classroom, far from it.  These arguments are just the beginning of a learning opportunity.  Teachers should discuss with their students these points and hold conversations of how to differentiate between the two “worlds” and how to take advantage of virtual reality, instead of using it simply as an escape.

Moving past those arguments, however, there is one that needs to be addressed and studied further.  Some researchers have found that virtual reality or video games can affect the way a child perceives the world.  Not in the sense of differentiating between what’s real and what isn’t, but in the way the brain processes images and words.  Some studies have shown that children begin to view images moving up and down, like a computer screen, or images begin to move too quickly and unnaturally like in a video game, when they use virtual reality too often, (“Which world is real?”).  While this issue requires much more research, it should be taken seriously.  But teachers should also know how to differentiate their instruction and not rely too much on virtual reality as a teaching strategy, just like any other activity in their classroom.

Now, consider the advantages from using virtual reality in the classroom.  Teach your students about the Black Plague of Medieval Europe — the World History teacher is already excited.  Talk to your students about the incredible devastation of the plague, the way it completely changed European society, the way it promoted the Age of Exploration and the finding of new worlds.  Now have your students read some gruesomely, detailed texts on the subject, as well.  Wait, half of the students are losing interesting — on the Bubonic Plague?!  The reality is, students need to interact with the subject in order to be engaged, challenged, and develop their long-term knowledge of the topic.  Virtual reality provides that opportunity.  There are programs out there (see below for some links) that give students the chance to “walk” around a Medieval European village that has been devastated by the Plague and ask residents questions.  There are also programs that allow students to explore the planets in our solar system or reconstruct the pyramids of Giza.  Not only are we allowing students to be a part of the learning, we are challenging them in ways that we never could before, and they are enjoying the challenge!  Simply put, if we have the means to provide this type of education to our students, we cannot pass up the opportunity.  Higher-level thinking and long-term understanding is right there for our students, let’s take advantage of it.

Virtual Reality Programs

Miamiopia – Elementary age students can create an avatar and play interactive games and learning activities for every content area.  It’s a very secure site, as well.

Tropic Mind – Similar to Miamiopia, designed for elementary students.  This website also provides games and learning activities in every subject.  Allows students to interact with others throughout the world, but still provides identity security.

Immersive VR Education – As addressed above, this virtual reality program contains amazingly detailed, interactive presentations on several events, such as the Apollo 11 mission and the Black Plague.  It is new and still creating many of its presentations and is expensive, but definitely worth checking out.

Minecrift – Combining the incredibly popular video game, Minecraft, with the virtual reality goggles known as Oculus Rift, this program allows students to recreate historical worlds and landmarks and view them in a detailed 3D environment.  Great for middle school students to create fantastic digital products.

OpenSim – One of the most advanced virtual reality creation tools, this open source (free!) program allows students to create entire digital worlds and share them with others.  It’s challenging, with a steep learning curve, but is a great opportunity for students to become contributors in the relentlessly growing Internet-based 21st Century world.


Which world is real? The future of virtual reality, (2015). Science Clarified. Retrieved [2 June 2015] from

Students Blogging – Bloom is Proud (even if he would have no idea what blogging is)

One of my favorite lessons in US History was the integration of blogging with my students.  I used a blog to create digital discussions amongst my students throughout the chapter.  Students were required to research and understand six topics from a chapter focused on the Age of Jackson (a time in our history including famous events such as the Trail of Tears and Nullification Crisis), then answer a blog question for at least three of the topics.  Students responded to open-ended, critical thinking questions in which their opinion was based on textual evidence researched from multiple resources.  Students also were required to respond to at least two other students on the same blog question.  This lead to some fascinating discussions between my students and I was able to stay on the sidelines and watch.  I didn’t have to give feedback to every student or filter every answer as so often happens when holding whole-class discussions.

*Note: If you are interested in integrating a blog in your classroom, I highly recommend the simplicity of Blogger.

As I reflect on this lesson, I will compare it to both the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy.  In its basic sense, this blogging activity is only at Level 2 (Understanding) because students are summarizing and explaining events from history.  However, the right questions raise the critical thinking level.  My blog questions always sought the students’ opinion on an historical event, rather than simply explaining it back to me.  For example, students had to question President Jackson’s decision to punish Southern states who threatened secession in the Nullification Crisis.  Was Jackson the strong leader that the country needs or should states have the right to secede?  Students used evidence to support their opinion and then discussed with each other.  Knowing this, the level of thinking is raised to Bloom’s Level 5 (Evaluating) because students are critiquing and hypothesizing.

Let’s look at this in terms of Digital Bloom, as well.  The lesson still reaches Level 5 because students are posting and blog commenting, but it’s clear that this lesson could be raised to the next level.  The highest level in both forms of the taxonomy is Level 6 (Creating).  There are so many opportunities for students to express their opinion on the Age of Jackson through digital creation.  Instead of simply replying to my questions, students could research events, then create podcasts, videos, wikis, and images to express their opinions.  This would lead to more discussions, but this activity would also provide the class with some unique creations that represent how they have processed the events studied.  The opportunity for expression has now far surpassed what was seen with simple written discussions in the blog comments section.

Integrating Bloom’s Taxonomy and Marzano’s Instructional Strategies

Tried and true strategies — Most teachers are familiar with Bloom and Marzano as they go through the training process of what they hope becomes a long and successful career as an educator.  However integrating these principles may not always be as successful as one might hope.  But successful integration is a goal that we, as teachers, should always be striving toward because this is how we can move from being a teacher to a challenger of student thinking.  Bloom’s Taxonomy paints a clear picture of how to make students think beyond the surface level.  Marzano’s instructional strategies gives specific ideas on how to achieve successful student understanding.  Going forward, my goal is consider how to continually blend the two together as I design my teaching.

See these links for Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Let’s consider an example from each in order to see how well the two work together.  One of the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy asks us to have students evaluate concepts.  We want our students to consider an idea and critique its principles.  Marzano provides the idea of having students generate and test a hypothesis about the concept being studied.  Perfect — this is how we can evaluate.  Have students consider a concept being taught in the classroom, look at it from all perspectives, predict the outcomes created by this concept, then evaluate the actual outcomes and how they can be changed.  This is such better learning than “this president did this because of this, blah blah blah,” or “the chemicals react this way because of this, blah blah blah.”  Students aren’t remembering much from that lesson, but they will learn when incorporating Bloom and Marzano in the lesson.

See these links for Marzano’s Instructional Strategies:

I’ve prided myself over the years in being able to consistently integrate these ideas into my Social Studies lessons.  However, my new goal is to integrate them together.  I need to think of them as complementary ideas because they will be strengthened and more effective when planned together.  Instead of just having students create (Taxonomy Level 6), I need to have students create nonlinguistic representations of the concepts that they have learned and analyzed (Level 4).  Bloom and Marzano go together so perfectly.

It’s also important that I reignite those conversations with my fellow teachers about Bloom and Marzano because they have became so entrenched in our thinking from those college years that we do not consider how to improve them.  We also think of them too often as being mutually exclusive teaching concepts.  But they aren’t at all.  Look at them through the same lens; apply them to the same concept.  Our students’ learning can only improve.

Using Edmodo to Conduct 21st Century Learning

What is Edmodo?

When was initially introduced to me, it was advertised as a great site for sharing resources among teachers.  Designed in a theme similar to Facebook, teachers can share great items, such as reading materials, videos, and programs.  They can also comment on each shared resource, leading to quick discussions on the usefulness and/or proper implementation of the said resource.  This can be extremely valuable for teachers who are often lacking the opportunity to collaborate with fellow teachers in the same content area.  Teachers make the best thieves, right?

Upon further investigation of Edmodo, it can also act as a Learning Management System.  A teacher can enter student groups on the site and conduct a digital classroom through Edmodo.  One can give assignments to students, such as reading materials and discussions.  Quizzes and surveys can also be given.  Because Edmodo is fairly simplistic to set-up, this can be a valuable resource for a teacher who is uncomfortable in creating their own interactive site, but is eager to conduct more 21st Century learning activities.

Here a few other sites discussing the implementation of Edmodo:

15 Things Teachers & Students Can Do with Edmodo:

20 Ways to Use Edmodo in the Classroom:

A Complete Guide on How to Use Edmodo in Your Teaching:

Blogs & Education – Best Practices

Benefits of educational blogging

While blogs are a tremendous opportunity for your students to learn in the 21st Century classroom, a teacher should not jump into the process without a few considerations.  First, take it slow and teach your students how to blog properly.  Don’t expect students to know how to do this just because they live in the digital world.  They may not have an understanding of how to complete an educational blog.  Show them an example and consider having students read a few other educational blogs, (Rhode, 2009).  You may want to teach guidelines in blogging by having students complete a blog about it, (Kline, 2013).  One should also teach very early in the process how students will interact with each other on the blog, (Rhode, 2009).  This applies to two different facets of blogging.  Students must understand how to treat each other’s comments and ideas with respect, just like in the classroom.  But the blog is also nothing without higher-level conversation between the students, not just many individual comments to a teacher-prompted question.

In order to keep this blog as safe as your classroom, carefully choose the blogging site.  Your best bet will be a site that allows the teacher to read comments before they are posted.  You may even consider choosing a site that requires student log-ins, in order to prevent unwanted outsiders to join the “classroom” conversation.  Be aware of any district and/or school policies in regards to online learning and implement any student blogging contracts, if necessary.  Parents can also be given access to assure them of student safety, but balance this carefully in order to prevent losing student authenticity.  If you as the teacher keep control over the situation and carefully teach the process to your students in the beginning, you will find success in a controlled chaos, just like the classroom.

A few other articles about best practices in classroom blogging –

Blogger Beware: Teaching with Blogs Best Practices:

Best Practices in Educational Blogging –

And a list of the top 25 educational blogs:


The 21st Century Classroom – Technique 1 Blogging

The 21st Century classroom is more than simply addressing what education is today.  It is attempting to make education what it should be in 2015, rather than continuing the learning practices that we know from the 20th Century.  It is literally pointing out, “Hey, it’s not 1998 anymore!”  As educators, we owe our students the opportunity to learn in the true 21st Century.

The Connected Classroom’s article ( also points out that 21st Century learning is “much more than just having good technology skills. It is learning core subjects with application of these learning skills and communication tools.”  This type of learning is student-centered, which is what we have always wanted as teachers, but have always struggled with truly implementing.  A great tool for creating this student-based, collaborative learning is blogging.  The reason blogs have been so popular over the years has been their relative ease in giving anyone a platform to speak their ideas and allow others to join the conversation.  This opportunity is just as relevant in the classroom where we want all of our students to speak their mind and have deep conversations.  With a blog, teachers can put the conversation completely in the students’ hands and allow all of the wait-time needed for students to construct and deliver their opinion.  As teachers, we can simply watch and “listen” to the direction the students take the conversation about the content that they forgot we asked them to learn.

A few other articles about 21st Century classrooms —

21st Century Classroom:

Technology, Instruction, and the 21st Century Classroom:

Top 10 Characteristics of a 21st Century Classroom:

The Four C’s: Making 21st Century Learning Happen: