Sunday, October 13, 2019

Google MyMaps You Can Do

Google MyMaps is one of the apps that doesn't get the love and recognition it deserves. If you've never given it a go, I encourage you to. Today is all about an introduction ... an exploration ... a discovery. Next week, I'll share more specific ideas and lessons you can use MyMaps with.

From a young age, maps, globes, and anything to do with geography has fascinated me. On the rare occasions my family went on road trips, my parents would get a TripTik from AAA. The path would be highlighted and we'd follow it. I loved opening the map and looking at all the connections and cities and roads and landmarks. (Folding them up was an adventure in itself!) This goes right along with the nerdy history buff in me.

I've had the opportunity to share MyMaps with both 3rd & 4th graders over the past year. This is an amazing age to share this tool - they are super inquisitive and have had enough exposure to Google tools that it allows for guided exploration. It also allowed me to share the tool with their teachers so they'd feel more comfortable with it.

Each time I introduced MyMaps, I follow the same lesson plan. (Feel free to use this in your own class.)
  • Prepare a completely empty MyMaps, with the share setting edit-able by anyone with the link. 
    • You can create & house MyMaps directly in Google Drive
    • Use a URL shortener to make an easy link to type in (I prefer
  • BEFORE sharing the MyMap, have a short discussion with the class. I strive to build on prior knowledge, so I ask if anyone had ever used MyMaps before (usually no one) and then ask about using maps or GPS (usually everyone had some interaction). 
  • Next, tell them we are going to use a Google App called MyMaps and that it would be collaborative. 
    • Insert short discussion about what it means to work collaboratively ... never a bad conversation to have
  • Then, write the shortened URL on the board and have them type it in. This gives them a little exposure to typing in URL's, but in a meaningful way.
  • As students pop into the map, I give them time to explore as I ensure all students are able to get to the link.
At this point, the students are having their own conversations with those around them. I encourage a discovery period and love that they naturally share their discoveries. Since we are only in the intro stage, even if they "do" something, it'l just add to the learning experience. It can't hurt anything.

After a few minutes, I call out to have them put their hands on their heads. This allows us to move to a whole class discussion. I ask them to share what they've found out about MyMaps in the last few minutes. I also encourage them to look at their screen and identify similar tools they have seen in other Google applications, too. Depending on how much they point out, I might need to focus their attention on the share settings, the zoom in/out, or the toolbar. It's pretty impressive to see how much they can learn in a few minutes. 

Here comes the fun part ...

We get really active inside the map. As I circulate the room, I encourage students to help their neighbors, but not to do it for them. I ask them to locate a place on the map they might like to visit on a vacation. We locate the "pin" and we drop it onto our vacation spot. I walk them through changing the name of the pin to their name and then saving it. I remind them we are working collaboratively and ask them to refresh the page. The sounds of surprise as their classmates pins show up is awesome! [You see, MyMaps isn't "live" as the other Google Apps are, you need to refresh to see others work.] They are now locating their classmates vacation spots!

To wrap up this first lesson, we find our own pin again, and when we click on it, we talk about all the tools available. We can change the pin color, change the icon (who wants to stay a boring blue pin when you can be a tornado in lime green???); we also add a description - a 1 sentence reason why you selected this location as vacation spot; and we can even add pictures. Once again, refresh your page, and now you can explore everyone's vacation spot with reasons, updated pins, and possibly a photo or two.

You might be reading this and thinking, ok, but this isn't really doing anything more than playing with a new tool. And I'd agree. Let's discover and play with the tools while teaching students the basics. Next week, I'll be back and I'll share some - what I think are - cool ways to incorporate the use of MyMaps in your classroom. You might be surprised ... they aren't all for the social studies class!

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Google Calendar (part 2) You Can Do

This time of year is incredibly busy for me. This year is proving to be even busier! The school year is well underway, my own girls are back in school, all 3 play soccer, the 8th grade DC trip I co-coordinate is really starting to amp up, AND on top of it all, I'll be heading to NYC in a couple days to continue on my Google Innovator path! 

I planned to get this out last week, but it didn't happen. I hope the wait was worth it.

Two weeks ago, I shared many things that I love and use in Google Calendar. I really cannot go a day without using my calendar. Today I want to focus on my main calendar. I have 2 - for the same purpose - but one is for home and one for school. I simply cannot go without them. They are my lifeline. They help keep me organized. They help keep me sane.

The major reason I rely heavily on these to calendars is because I can share them. (But in 2 very different ways.)

At home, our Family Calendar is not only on my phone, it's on my husband's phone, my oldest daughters' phone, and my younger girls iPod & iPad. (I created Google accounts with Family Link for them since they are both under 13.) Now, the 5 of us can stay "in sync". Soccer practices & games, doctor appointments, after-school activities, field trips, parties, events, etc. If it doesn't get on our shared calendar, I'll probably forget about it. Even my youngest daughter can easily open her calendar app and see what is coming up or happening.

How To ... Share Google Calendar

Once you are on Google Calendar (on your computer), look to the far left, under "My Calendars". Find the calendar you want to share. Hover over the name and look for the "world's skinniest snowman" to the right of the name. [For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it's the vertically stacked 3 dots ... I like "world's skinniest snowman" better.] Click on the snowman.

*** Bonus: this is also where you can change the color for the events on your calendar! *** 

Back to sharing ... select "Settings and Sharing". 

On the next screen, scroll down to "Share with specific people". And then "+ Add people".

Type their email addresses & then you will have 4 options for sharing. THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!  You do not need to give everyone the ability to edit - this could be disastrous.

Select the option that fits the person the best. If you just need them to know when you are free or busy, "See only free/busy" is best. 
If they need to be able to see the event & the details about the event, "See all event details", is perfect. 
If you want them to be able to add events, but not add people, "Make changes to events", is perfect. 
And finally, if you want them to be able to add events AND manage who can add people, "Make changes and manage sharing", is the option you want.

Now, how about for school? Same concepts apply, only this time, I am part of a domain. We have shared calendars for our building (one restricted to JUST staff; one that is publicly available for parents & community members to see); shared calendars for teachers to sign up for our labs; and one for signing up for conferences room in order to have meetings. But all of us have our own calendar that comes with our Google account. This calendar - I call is "Sarah @ school" - is where I add any event that is connected with me at school. I put meetings, classroom appointments, conferences, etc., on here. I do this so I know where I'm already booked. Since 99% of the time I have my phone on me, I can easily reference my calendar as well as create events.

Recently, I've discovered an even more powerful reason to do this. I was working with a principal who wanted teachers to be able schedule appointments with him. Immediately I thought of the appointment slots available in GSuites. 

How To ... "Find a time" in Google Calendar
But instead, we stumbled on "Find a time". 💥 Mind. Blown!!! ðŸ’¥

As you are creating your event, add your guests, and their calendars will show up, too!!! Check out the screenshot below. I am in my school account, and I added 3 colleagues to this event I'm trying to create. Do you see all of them??? I can then literally find a time for the 4 of us to meet with as little conflict as possible! I mean seriously ... can it get better???

This is seriously such an awesome find! You can see that my red covers the whole day. (I'll be in NYC for the Google Innovator Academy!!!) I have shown this to several people and they all react the same ... a little weirded out, at first, and then they realize the convenience this can allow.  I helped a counselor in one building target a good time for her, the principal, school psychologist, and myself to get together. Likewise, if teachers want me to come into their classroom ... "Find a time" & send me an invite. Love it!

It does work outside of a domain, but you have to have been shared on someones calendar. For example, I began to create an event in my personal account, and I added my school account and Google Trainer account, and I could see all 3 calendars. I previously shared both of these calendars to my personal account. 

Finally, the final idea I'd like to share about Google Calendar is my new found dedication to using icons at the beginning of many of events I create. These help me quickly see what type of activities I have going on. Right now, I'm regularly using:

👩‍💻  classroom appointments
🤖  for a committee I am on in one building
👥  meetings
⚽  my daughter's soccer practices & games
💡 ↬ my #NYC19 Google Innovator dates

I hope I've shared a tip or two that can help you stay better organized or utilize Calendar a bit better. 

Google Calendar Wakelet collection
I've started using Wakelet to collect resources and I created one for Google Calendar. Check it out for help tips and other hacks for calendar. The link is below the image on the left. I'll keep adding to this as I find more ... so feel free to come back and check for more.

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Google Calendar (part 1) You Can Do

Google Calendar was probably the first Google App I was introduced to. At the time, I was firmly holding on to my paper agenda and was NOT looking to let it go. I clearly remember one meeting, where my principal, Chris, said he would be putting events onto the school Google Calendar. I remember feeling unsettled ... but not for long! 

Today I'm focusing on the Calendar App ↬ there's too much to share in one article, so I'll be back next week with more.

We know dates and times change. And when I realized how incredible it was that one person could enter ... and adjust ... dates/times for school functions and I didn't have to lift a finger??? ðŸ’¥WOW💥

Google Calendar has become a complete necessity for me. I do not go a day without consulting my calendar, creating events, looking up/adjusting an event, being reminded of an event via a notification, and so much more.

Why Use ... Google Calendar

Before we get into "how to" and specifics, how about a little "why"? We live in a world where we juggle so many different "hats" and having a tool that can help us stay organized is a blessing. Google Calendar is accessible on computers and mobile and it syncs so if you make changes in one place, it is reflected in other places. Calendars can be shared with others. They can either just view the calendar or you can allow them to manage it, too. The power of this comes into play when you are comfortable with Calendars.

How To ... Find Google Calendar

Let's start with the basics ↬ go to ... each Google account comes with a calendar. You will notice 2 sections: "My Calendars" and "Other Calendars". 

"My Calendars" is where you find the calendars YOU create & can manage. 

"Other Calendars" is where you find calendars you have been given viewing access or that you've subscribed to.

How To ... Create a Google Calendar

Now that you are on the Google Calendar website (sorry - I've not seen a way to create a calendar via my phone), creating a new Calendar is SUPER easy! Next to "Other Calendars", click the plus sign, then choose "Create New Calendar". Give it a name, description, timezone, and ... bam! Done!

How To ... Subscribe to a Google Calendar

How Do I Use ... Google Calendar

It might also help if I provide some of the ways I use Google Calendar. I HEAVILY use Google Calendar. But I didn't start off that way. I started off simply using the shared calendar from my principal. I think I even just used it to write down the dates into my own planner ... until I got tired of crossing out & rewriting them!

Fast-forward, I use Calendar for work, school, my family, and pretty much anything else that has dates 😄. You might think I go over board ... it's ok. It works for me. That's all that matters. That it works for YOU. (I even have my calendar set up on my watch so I can see my calendar & receive reminders.)

Even more ...

I have it on both my personal and school calendars, I have them attached to my phone and I also have it syncing to my watch.

Google Calendar Wakelet collection
Now you might think, how can there possibly be more??? Well, there is and I can't hope to get it all in one blog. I've started using Wakelet to collect resources and I created one for Google Calendar. Check it out for help tips and other hacks for calendar. The link is below the image on the left. I'll keep adding to this as I find more ... so feel free to come back and check for more.

Next week, I'll be back with some other things you can do with Calendar.

Calendar CAN work for you! But don't worry, while I love Calendar and don't go a day without using it, I still have a small paper one, because there are times where I need to jot things down, track things, or keep paper notes handy. You have to find what works for you.

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Lunch Box Notes You Can Do

This week, I have a "quick win". My mom was good at tucking notes into my lunch randomly. I've tried to be good at this for my girls, but I don't do it often enough. One reason is I usually think to do this in the morning - and that's not the ideal time to whip up something. 

After putting some thought into it, I came up with a Google Slide deck with 24 pre-made notes. (And no, they don't have to just be for lunchboxes!) I left some blank so you can handwrite your own. I also included some instructions if you are wanting to make your own! I'll be printing these out and using them for my own daughters for sure! I might even tuck them in colleagues mailboxes, too!

Here is the link to the template ↬ Little Notes ... Big Impact 
(I used the URL hack for you to be able to preview the notes. Please click the "Use Template" in the upper right corner to make yourself a copy & customize to fit you.)

I've also added it to "Templates for Teachers" website I maintain with a colleague of mine, Beth. We have shared out over 60 templates made with Google Apps that you are free to take and make your own. There are ones for teacher use as well as ones ready-to-use with students.

* * * BONUS * * *
2 weeks ago, I shared out the idea to include your students in creating the header for your Google Classrooms. Here is ANOTHER idea you can include your students in. This is great "real estate" for your students to express their creativity and learning. Since there are so many different devices out there - this would work for iPads and laptops as well - I'd recommend Googling your specific device's screen size to find the correct resolution. Then create a Google Drawing of that custom size.

I Googled the screen size for our chromebooks.

In the "File" menu, select "Page setup" then "Custom" and change the unit to pixels. Type in the screen size you found.

Once you have this "template," share it out through Google Classroom. You could design a challenge around a current learning topic or just allow students to demonstrate their creativity. [At the beginning of the year, this could be a great getting to know you activity!]

To insert it as the background, they just need to download it as a JPEG or PNG file. Do a double-finger tap on their current wallpaper, and "Set Wallpaper". Go to the downloads file and choose the downloaded image. You can do this as often as you'd like! 

Good luck! If you have your students create backgrounds, I'd love to see them! You can tag me on Twitter (@kiefersj), comment below, or even email me I enjoy seeing what students create!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Classroom Header Template You Can Do with activity idea

If you are a GSuite school, you should have access to Google Classroom. Classroom is an incredible platform for teachers to manage the "ebb & flow" of a digital classroom. It is clean, simple, and easy. 

The top of each Classroom has a graphic, automatically assigned upon creation. This header is a great way to help both you and your students visually associate this Classroom with their time in your room.

You are always welcome to leave it as is, but you may choose to create your own header. This can be an exciting way to share your creativity and better indicate the content you cover. [Likewise, if you are using Classroom for a club or activity other than an academic content, you can customize it to fit your group perfectly.]

Many teachers will go ahead and create their header at the beginning of the year and leave it. 

But ... here's something to think about ... 

Why not let your students create the header?

Use this to start the year and work together to create a header the students have input on and create a header they own. During this activity, you can informally assess your students on various levels. You'll see their tech skills, encourage creativity and collaboration, begin building your classroom community, and see how your students interact with each other. Providing guidelines versus allowing a free-form creation can serve different purposes, too. If you will be creating multiple classes, guidelines can provide a bit of that structure to create graphics that clearly separate one class from another. Giving students free reign over the graphic allows creativity flow freely.

And the best part? . . . . . this doesn't have to be a "one and done" activity! What if you repeated this each quarter or semester or unit? What if your students saw their work each time they logged into Classroom. Imagine the pride your students will feel when they see their work! And better yet, surprise them when the unit or quarter rolls over!

You might be saying at this point, ok, ok, all fine and good, but HOW do I do this? It's pretty simple. I created a template you are welcome to use. Keep in mind, the header in Classroom IS responsive. This means that the header will automatically resize based on the device it is being displayed on and some of your design might not display fully. Don't get super involved in having too many things on your header - another reason why this is a great activity for even the littlest of students.

Here is the TEMPLATE for you, along with some tips and specific information on the "how to". When you click the link, it will show a blank white rectangle ... don't worry! Clicking the "Use Template" in the upper right corner will make you your own copy and allow you to see the tips and instructions I've included.

If you'd like to have your students create a header, now that you have your own copy, share it to your Classroom using the "make a copy for each student" option (or groups of students), and let them go to town! As with all my templates, feel free to adjust any of the info I've included on the Drawing - just don't adjust the size of the Drawing. This will give you the best base to start with.

Good luck! If you have your students create headers, please let me know! I'd love to see them! You can tag me on Twitter (@kiefersj), comment below, or even email me . I enjoy seeing what students create! 

Looking for additional info about Google Classroom?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Guardian Emails You Can Do

With the beginning of the year, a topic that is super close to my heart is communication. I can't stress to teachers enough how important it is to have clear and consistent communication. I adopted this philosophy early in my career and it definitely paid off. And being a mom to three girls in school, this is also an important topic on the home front as a parent. I love my girls, but let's be honest, they don't always come home and detail out their day like I would like. Anyway I can gain more insight to their day is very welcome!

Are you a Google Classroom user?

Perfect! You have to try out the Guardian email feature. Beyond the initial setup, there is nothing for teachers to do. And the guardians will receive an email daily or weekly, based on their preferences.


Yes, it's that easy.

Looking for a little more help? Looking to convince others to try it out? I've got you.

I've also started collecting Google Classroom ideas/tips/tricks in a Wakelet collection. I've included a link to the official Classroom help site about Guardian summaries in it, too. 
You can check it out here ↬

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersjor email me at .

Monday, August 12, 2019

Back to School Activities You Can Do

 It's the time of year when most schools are heading back to class! As Summer 2019 draws to a close, I'm excited to see what the 2019/2020 school year has in store. I will return to Ross in the same position - which I absolutely love! - and I'm excited to see how we grow, the new challenges we will face, the new people we will meet, and how we will work together to accomplish all that is in store for us.

As I see it, each new year presents me with the opportunity to reinvent myself, in a way. We have a whole new group of students to work with, we have new colleagues to meet, we might have new "things" in our classrooms, or we might be starting over in a completely new place. A new school year for teachers is very much like a new school year as a student. 

As we prepare to return to school, I thought I'd share a couple activities you can do with your students. AND ... they do not have to be digital!

Back-to-School Bento: I came across this tweet by @ClassroomQuips awhile back where a teacher shared about a #BookBento. I was intrigued! For starters, I had no idea what a bento was. Once I had that figured out, I fell in love with the simplicity of the photo. I knew it would make a great digital activity. When I sat down to create one, I realized I didn't want to confine you or your students based on my design. Instead, I created a Slide deck with a VERY basic example, and then a couple of slides with some teacher tips as well as how to use this beyond the first week or so of school. I also encourage you to take a look at the #BookBento hashtag on Twitter for how others are creating.

Using this for a beginning of the year activity, I'd go one of three ways:
  • All About Me Bento ↬ have the students bring in items (or do an image search) that give you info about themselves
  • Summer Vacation Bento  students can tell the story of their summer, in pictures!
  • Goals Bento  ask students to share goals they have for this school year
  • ... don't worry, I tucked in a few ideas of how you can use bentos later in the year.

Or allow your students to choose which one(s) they want to do. 

Here is a link to the example with teacher tips: Back-to-School Bento

[Pssst! You do not have to do this digitally! Allow students to draw their bento's!]

Another option ...

How about a video? A video can be a wonderful way to be introduced to your students. (I also think it can give you a baseline of information for your student. You can brainstorm as a class what they might want to include in their video. You could also incorporate writing by having them write a script for their video. 

How can this happen?
  • Have ipads? turn on the camera and move to video mode. Pair students up and make it a collaborative effort. The videos then "live" on the iPad. Your students can upload to Google Drive, or submit via Google Classroom
  • Have chromebooks? use Screencastify extension to have students record themselves. Screencastify can automatically save to Drive, so have students either share it to you or submit via Google Classroom.
  • Interested in an online method? Try out Flipgrid! The whole point to Flipgrid is to be able to share videos! Don't worry, you can protect your grids so they are not publicly accessible, an it's FREE! If you allow students to see each others videos, they can comment on them and you can incorporate discussion on appropriate commenting. 

If you have gone back -- if you are heading back this week -- or if you don't go back for a little while, just remember, the relationship you build with your students starts every day. Smile and listen. One day at a time. I'll be right there, too, next week. We can and do make a difference in the lives of our students.

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersjor email me at .

Monday, August 5, 2019

Google Drive Organization You Can Do

Last week I shared a Slide deck focused on the icons and pieces of Google Drive. I promised to be back this week with a Slide deck focused on organization. I hope I don't disappoint!

When I work with teachers, the moment we need to open their Drive, I'm met with guilty looks and the admission of "My Drive isn't very organized! I keep meaning to get to it, but ..." I do not sit in the judgment seat. As teachers, I believe we do our best and often, we are pressed for time. When I converted to using Drive as my "digital filing cabinet", I, too, struggled. I also have tried enough strategies to know that there is no one perfect method. What I've compiled below are some very simple and basic, no-frills steps to having a better organized Drive.

The top question I get when working with teachers, is "Sarah, how do you organize your Drive? I'll just do mine like yours." WRONG!!!!! My brain works differently than yours. I house different topics than you do. I do what I do, because it works for me. You have to do what works for you. Please know, what I'm sharing today works you through a process rather than give you a formula. You will need to dig a little deep, put some thought into it, but I promise ... it pays off over and over! 

It will be investment of time in the beginning, but once you hone what works for you, you will see it will save you quite a bit of time in the long run. You'll know where the files are you are looking for, you'll spend less time re-creating what you've already created, and you will feel more confident in sharing with others. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm still not 100% perfect, so don't stress. Searching your Drive is incredibly powerful and helpful, even for the most organized. Do I hear a topic for next week? Nah ... I've got you covered already! I shared "Better Searching in Google Drive" on my companion blog "TYCD: Resources". On this blog, I try to share out a resource or tip each Tuesday with a brief overview. I'd love it if you checked it out!

And because I am not the only one sharing about Google Drive, I've created a Wakelet collection for tips/tricks/resources I come across. You can check it out:

Here you go! This week, my Slide deck is here to help you organize your Google Drive better. Feel free to use it for yourself, peers, and most definitely with students. I've based it off what I do with teachers on a regular basis. Some of this is definitely geared to ANY audience, but some is specific to teachers.  If you want to use it with students, great! You might want to make your own copy & take out what doesn't work for your students (or your specific teachers). Enjoy!

Here is a LINK if you want to make a copy & modify it for you. ***

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersjor email me at .

Monday, July 29, 2019

Getting to Know Google Drive You Can Do

I'm excited to be back after a 2 week hiatus! This is the time of the summer when my brain really starts to focus in on the coming school year. Today is all about Google Drive. If you are a Google user, you've heard of Drive, and hopefully either you've experienced its power or someone has told you about it.

The best way I can describe Google Drive is an endless filing cabinet. (Ok, to be fair, a personal Google account only comes with 15 GB of storage ... but even THAT is a LOT!) Any Google item you create is stored here ... AND you can store pretty much anything, even if it isn't a Google product here, too.

At the end of each school year, I pop into the 4th grade classrooms and do a Google Drive activity. We talk about the pieces of Drive, we do a little organizing so when they enter our middle school they start off in a pretty good spot, and we talk about some good long-term strategies for using & managing their Drives. I also work with numerous teachers on cleaning & organizing their Drives. IT CAN BE DONE ... and relatively painlessly.

I've broken this up into 2 parts ... "Getting to Know Drive" and "Organizing Drive". Today is the first part, "Getting to Know". I've found that while most people go to their Drives often, they don't always know Drive (especially students!). There are so many options to customize Drive and really make it work FOR you. The first step is understanding the various parts of Drive. 

I've made a Slidedeck to help you get to know Google Drive better. Feel free to use it for yourself, peers, and most definitely with students. I've based it off what I do with 4th graders and everything here is appropriate for them (so definitely for you, too!). If you want to use it with younger students, great! You might want to break it up into smaller chunks or just use a few pieces. By 4th grade in our district, our students have enough items that these pieces make a little more sense.

*** UPDATE (July 30, 2019): I added in a Slide to share my thoughts on whose Drive do you display? It all depends on your audience ... students or adults? Check out Slide 3!