Using AutoCrat in the Classroom

At a training I attended a couple of months ago, I was shown how to use the add-on autoCrat for Google Sheets. It takes information from a Google Sheet and disseminates it into specified places on a Google Doc based on a template that includes <<merge tags>>. Once in the Doc, it can be emailed automatically to specific email addresses as a Doc or PDF, shared with specific people, or just kept in your Google Drive.

The possibilities are endless for how to use this, but here are a few ideas. Feel free to check out my AutoCrat Ideas folder in Google Drive. All of the files there are set up for you to have viewing access, but File>Make a copy will add a copy of it to your drive to edit for your own use.

  • At Meet the Teacher night, instead of trying to read information scrawled on the papers you left around the room, have parents completed a Google Form. From there, use an autocrat job to: send a personalized welcome email, and populate a student information sheet that you can print for your sub folder and teacher planner.
  • Alice Keeler had the brilliant idea to use AutoCrat to create personalized newsletters for each student. I have a sample in my folder. My sample was made very lazily, so there are options such as, “Student is doing social studies,” but it’s enough to give you the idea of how it works. For the newsletter, I have mine set up to not run the AutoCrat job until I manually go to the spreadsheet and push the run button. That way, no one gets their newsletter until I’m ready to send it to everyone. I made a Google Form for it, but some sections will be the same for every student (although, not for every newsletter), such as general information and important dates. I plan on completing that part of the form for the first student, then copying and pasting for the rest of the class in the spreadsheet. Another alternative would be to update the template before running the AutoCrat job for each edition of the newsletter, and just eliminating that question from the Form.
  • Filling out award certificates.
  • Sending emails to parents to inform them about an event regarding their child (positive message, missing work, etc.)
  • Sharing the questions and a student’s answers to a Google Forms quiz with their family in a neat document.
  • Awarding badges or certificates for completing specific tasks.

Do you already use autoCrat in your classroom? What are some other ideas you have for how to use it to make your life easier?



Growth Mindset and Always Learning

If you read so much as the title of my blog, you probably know I’m an educator, but I’m also a parent to 3 boys (all age 9 and under). Not long before the school year ended for my sons, we sat down and made some goals for the summer, because when you have a lot of time on your hands, it is sadly really easy to let it all slip away. Before we realize what has happened, it will be late July and we will have accomplished nothing more scintillating than watching a whole lot of Netflix if we don’t form some semblance of a plan.

They chose their own goals, but I gave them some suggestions. Some goals are things like working on belt loops for Cub Scouts, going to the local science museum and zoo, swimming, and reading a book now and again.

One of the things I know they need to work on is their fine motor skills and handwriting. While some kids may get really excited about practicing forming row after row of individual letters and contrived words, mine simply don’t. I knew that printing handwriting pages off the internet would only end in tears (more than likely mine). Instead, we have implemented Family Art Time. Each night one of us chooses a YouTube video that features “how to” step by step instructions for drawing a fairly simple picture, and all of us attempt to draw it…even the grown-ups. For now, we’ve been choosing from kidsarthub’s channel, but their last video was uploaded 2 years ago, so I know we’ll need to find another at some point. We each have our own little blank notebook to use as a sketchbook, and I hope that they realize at the end of the summer how much their drawing improves over time. We might even revisit some of our early videos in August to see how much better we are at drawing something familiar after so much practice.
We’re still very early in the summer, but so far the results are good. The boys are excited about family art time, they work to control their pencils carefully to create what the video shows, all of us are improving our drawing skills, and we’re spending time together as a family.

One of the things I love about Family Art Time is that it has given us a natural situation to nurture a growth mindset in our boys. They see Mom and Dad erasing when we make mistakes. We have already had one kid remark in frustration that he just isn’t very good at drawing the picture du jour, which led us into a conversation about how practicing is the best way to get better at things.

Want to follow my journey as an artist? I’ve been documenting it on Instagram @thecurriculumnerd.

How 1:1 Technology Changed My Classroom

This year, I was fortunate enough for my district to provide every student in my grade level a Chromebook that they could access throughout their school day.

First quarter, there were some hiccups. Not every student was allowed access for several weeks, as each student and their family attended the training regarding the expectations and acceptable usage of these devices, as well as the consequences for noncompliance. (Our technology lab is entirely comprised of Chromebooks, so students were already proficient on how to operate them.) Between this and all of the normal first quarter hullabaloo, I hardly used our Chromebooks, and I felt really guilty about it.

Around the beginning of second quarter, when things in the school year get a little less crazy, I began having students use their Chromebooks for pretty much everything. This was over the top, and not exactly best practices either.

For the remainder of the year, I’ve made it a point to strike a better balance, although it is still my preference for graded work to be turned in online, especially for tasks the take more than one class period.

Some of the benefits I’ve found of having 1:1 access to technology are:

  • Instant feedback for students – Whether students complete a self-checking quiz on Canvas/Google Forms, or work on a website that gives immediate feedback, students are able to realize their errors and correct their far more quickly than if they completed a worksheet and wait until I get around to grading it and hand them back.
  • Differentiation – A Google Forms quiz can be set up for students to be sent to a particular section depending upon how previous questions are answered, Canvas modules can be set up as Mastery Paths to give students “just right” work depending on their performance on the initial assignment. Obviously you don’t need technology to differentiate, but setting it up to run automatically is definitely a time-saver during implementation. I also like that it’s a little less obvious to students who is getting the easier work than it is when everyone has their paper on the table.
  • Save paper and copies – I have definitely used less paper than last year, and spent much less time standing at the copier waiting for it to print out the work for my class.
  • No lost papers – When you use less paper, there are fewer papers that can be misplaced! There is not a concern about whether you remembered to give a copy to the student who was absent the day a task was assigned, no making sure that you put that late paper in the same stack as the rest of the work from that task, and no one needing a second copy because they accidentally forgot their backpack at home that day. Students who are absent, sometimes return to school with the work they were absent for already completed. There is never a question about whether a student really did turn in an assignment, and work that has been turned in is marked with a time-stamp so you know exactly when it was submitted.
  • Paper planners are no longer the only way to keep track of assignments. – While some people function better with the paper planner, having work posted in Google Classroom or Canvas helps to keep track of assignments. You might only use it as a backup plan when the planner is forgotten, or as another layer of communication to keep families connected with what work students are doing in the classroom. Both Google Classroom and Canvas have a calendar function that show the due date for assignments. In addition to the calendar function, I have set up my Canvas classroom so that the landing page includes an embedded Google Slides file showing students what they need to work on that day, what work they can do to get ahead, and what students may do to keep learning when they have already completed all of the currently assigned work. I update that slideshow every morning before my class arrives so that I don’t need to embed new files each day.

Summer Plans Smashboard

Thanks to Twitter, I learned about smashboards a little less than 2 weeks ago. Essentially, it’s a pathway that chunks a big project into smaller steps, using various files and/or apps for each step. When they finish, students have created a project that is typically more of real-world situation than the average school project.

Once I found out about this amazing idea, I quickly built a smashboard for my students to work on when they finished some other tasks that had already been assigned. Some students finished in 2 days…so I added 3 more boxes to my smashboard. Those same kids finished the new content that very day. I’ve already asked my students what they want to do next, and one of the suggestions was to let them make their own smashboards, and I could do them. As cool as that sounds, I think it would be even cooler for them to make their own smashboard, then let their classmates choose which one(s) to complete.

At any rate, I had shared a photo of this smashboard on Twitter and got a lot of positive feedback, including a request to share it. Below, I have shared all the necessary files, and given directions for how update it for use in with your class(es). Because many of the links on my original brought students to a Google Form or the Google Sheet where the form collected information, I couldn’t just share it as it was. That would have put the data from everyone who ever uses it all in one spreadsheet. That might be really interesting for data collection and analysis, so I’ll file that away for next school year’s ideas, but for this I really wanted to keep some of their work more private.

So, what do they do on this smashboard? They make a summer plan of what they would do (and where they would go) if they had all the money in the world available to them. Using that plan, they use Google Tour Builder to go to those places. Those get turned in on a Google Form and they take tours other students made and leave feedback on Flipgrid. After that, they scale it back and make a plan for some goals they could actually achieve this summer, and share those. The newest addition was for students to analyze the data from the survey of what they are actually doing this summer (the first box) and use it to plan an event or vacation that 4th graders or families with 4th graders would be interested in taking. They create an advertisement for their plan, with Flipgrid, Google Tour Builder, and Google Sites being my suggestions for where to create their ad.

In a nutshell, students will need to do: data collection, goal setting, use research and prior knowledge to know where to go to achieve their goals, leave feedback and receive feedback from classmates, publicly make a goal, data analysis, plan an event or tour based on that data, and advertise their creation.

If you want to use this smashboard, here is the folder in Google Drive with all of the files you will need. The folder is in “view only” mode, so anything that you don’t want to use as is, you’ll need to make a copy and update the copy. The board itself does not have links on all of the images right now, so you definitely need to make a copy of that one, and share the edited copy with your students. All of the docs are already linked so that clicking on them in the smashboard takes them to a screen that automatically requires them to create a copy.

There are a LOT of steps, but most of them will each take a minute or less.

How To Update The Smashboard:

  1. Open the link to the folder in Google Drive. Near the top of your screen, it you will see: Shared with me > SHARED Summer Plans Project. Click the down arrow and click “Add to My Drive.” The entire folder will now appear in your Google Drive instead of only in your Shared with me section.
  2. Right-click on the Summer Plans Smashboard file and click “Make a copy.” It will be in the same folder, named “Copy of Summer Plans Smashboard.” That is the one you will update and share with your students. Open that file, and rename it if you want.
  3. In the folder, right-click on the Google Form “Summer Goals Survey” and make a copy. Look through the survey and make any changes you wish. I’ve updated it to be more generic for ease of sharing. My original had information that was more specific to our location. Once you are happy with your survey, click the Send button and choose the icon of a link. Copy the link address and go to your copy of the smashboard doc. Click on the purple icon in the “Start here” box, click “insert link” in your toolbar, paste the link into the box, and click apply.
  4. Go to Flipgrid. Sign up for an account if you don’t already have one. Once you have a grid, set up a topic. My question was, “If you could choose any way to spend your summer vacation, what would it be? What goals do you have for the summer, and how do you plan to achieve them?” I have my grid password protected, and my videos are set to not post until I moderate them. I also opted to turn off the “video likes” and “video views” options after some students spent a lot of time reloading and liking the same video over and over to make it more seem popular. Once your topic is set up, you’ll be given a direct link to the topic. Copy that link, and go to the smashboard. Right now, the link for this box is set to go to the Flipgrid homepage. click on the icon and click “change” where the link appears. Replace my link with the one that goes directly to your topic, and click apply.
  5. In the Google folder, open the doc “Ultimate Summer Plan.” If you are happy with it as is, the link already on the smashboard is perfect for you. If you want to change it, right-click, make a copy, and change the copy. When you are finished, in the bar where the URL is, go to the end of the address, where you’ll see /edit and perhaps some other letters and numbers. Change “edit” (and anything that may appear after it” to “copy” and copy the entire url. Go to the smashboard and change where the link goes to the one you just copied, and click apply. This will make anyone who clicks on that link get a white screen that asks if they want to make a copy of “Ultimate Summer Tour Plan” and has a button they push to do it. It adds the copy to their Google Drive. This makes it so every student has their own version of the doc, rather than everyone editing one doc that you own.
  6. The sample tour is a tour I created. Feel free to keep it in your smashboard, or create your own example.
  7. “Build a Tour” takes students to the homepage for Google Tour Builder. You’ll want them to sign in, then create their own tour.
  8. To turn in their tour, I had originally embedded the Google Form into the Canvas assignment where they had downloaded a copy of the Summer Plans Smashboard. Because I know not everyone uses Canvas, I’ve updated the shared version to have a Google Form icon instead. Go to the folder I shared and right-click on “Google Tours: Submit Completed Tour” and make a copy of it. Open the copy and make sure you are happy with the form. When you are ready, click the Send button and choose the link icon. Copy the link and paste it on the Google Form image on the smashboard.
  9. On the form you just linked, click “Responses” and click the Sheets icon (green with white lines one it). Choose the default setting and click the create button. Open that file (it will be the only Google Sheets file in the folder right now, and shares the name with the survey it is attached to), and click the share button. Choose “anyone with a link can view” and copy the URL. Link the sheets icon in the box that says “Travel on at least 2 tours.”
  10. Go to Flipgrid and create a topic. Mine was titled Tour Feedback and my prompt was, “Which tours did you take? What did you like best about them? What is one thing that would have made each tour even better? Google Tours We Built​​​” Where it says, “Google Tours We Built” I included a link to the spreadsheet where the tour URLs were collected in case students needed to refer back to them. Once your topic is created, copy the direct link. Click on the Flipgrid icon on the smashboard and insert a link, pasting in the one you just copied. Click apply.
  11. Go to the folder in Google Drive and open the file Summer Goals. If you are happy with it as is, you don’t need to do anything. The file is linked so that students will have to create a copy to use the file. If you need to make changes, make a copy and make changes to the copy. When you are finished editing, go to the web address at the top of your screen. At the end of the URL, change “edit” (and anything that may appear after it) to “copy” and then copy the entire URL. Click on the Docs icon on the smashboard and change the link to the one you just copied.
  12. Go to the Google folder, right-click on the Google Form “Shared Summer Goals,” and create a copy. Open the copy. Make any changes you wish, then click the Send button. Click the icon of a link and copy the link. Go to the smashboard and click on the Google Forms icon in the box that says, “Share your goals” and inset a link to the URL you just copied.
  13. Open the Google Form you just linked to the smashboard. Click Responses near the top of the screen, and click the Sheets icon (green with white lines). Use the default settings and click the Create button. Open that sheets file you just created (unless you changed the name of the form, it will be called “Copy of Shared Summer Goals”) and click the Share button. Change the sharing settings to “anyone with a link can view” and copy the URL. Go to the smashboard and in the “check out our summer goals” box, click the Sheets icon. Insert a link to the URL you just copied.
  14. This step is one that you’ll want to wait until a fair number of students have taken the survey that is in the first box. You may wish to wait to do the next 3 boxes a day or so after unveiling the smashboard, or just have everyone take the initial survey before doing creating this link. Go to your Google Folder and open your copy of the Summer Goals Survey. Click Responses near the top of your screen. Since your students have already taken the survey, you have all kinds of charts and graphs. You have a few options for how to share the data. The simplest way cuts off some of the data, but I decided we could work with that for my class. While looking at the responses, I right-clicked and chose Print. I changed it to Print to PDF and saved the PDF to my Google Drive in the Summer Plans Project folder. Then I linked that file to the “Check out our summer goals survey results” box in the smashboard. You could also screenshot each graph and paste them all into a Google Doc as view only, or make each column of your Google Sheet create a graph and share the Sheets file as view only.
  15. Go to the Google Folder and open the Real World Connection doc. If you are happy with it as is, it is already linked to the smashboard so that it requires anyone who clicks the link to make a copy in order to see the file. My original file was specific to 4th grade, but I’ve updated it for sharing to be more generic. If you want to change it, right-click and make a copy in the Google Folder, then make any edits you wish on your copy. When you are finished, change /edit at the end of the URL to say /copy and then copy the entire URL. Change the link on the smashboard to your version.
  16. For the final box, there are two links (I was trying to keep the smashboard to one page). First go to your Google Folder and open the Google Form “Advertisement for Summer Event” and make any changes you wish to make. When you are happy with it, click the Send button and choose the link icon. Copy the link. Go to the smashboard and click the Google Form icon in the final box, choose insert link on the toolbar, and paste in your link.
  17. Return to your survey and click Responses near the top of the page. Choose the green and white Sheets icon. Keep the default settings and click Create. Open that sheets file and click the share button. Change the settings to “anyone with a link can view” and copy the URL. Click on the Sheets icon in the last box of the smashboard and use the toolbar to insert a link. Paste in the link to the Sheets file and click apply.
  18. Make sure your smashboard itself is set to “anyone with a link can view” or open the file and change /edit to /copy at the end of the URL and share the link to the full URL using your LMS or create a shortlink and have students type that in. The difference between sharing so anyone with a link may view and changing /edit to /copy and sharing the URL is that “anyone with a link may view” does not automatically put the doc into their Google Drive, but it does always show any changes you have made in real-time. The /copy trick only includes any edits you have made up until the moment they make a copy. Any subsequent changes will require students to redownload the file, which will create multiple files called “Copy of ________” in their Google Drive.
  19. To double check your sharing settings, log into a different Google account and go to the version of the smashboard you will share with your students. (You might be able to outsource this to a friend and they let you know which files won’t open.  I rolled the dice on this step and ended up needing to update the settings on 2 files when students said they couldn’t access them.) Click on each link. If for any of them you get an error message asking you to get permission from the owner, go back to that file and set it up to share so that “anyone with a link may view.”
  20. Enjoy your smashboard, and have an amazing summer break, whatever your goals may be!

Playlists and Pathways: How Do I Use Them?

Think of your playlist or pathway as a road map. Before you go on a long trip, you know the route you plan to take to get to your destination, even if you just know which interstates to take. Sometimes, even though you have a map, you take an unexpected detour and need to backtrack, other times you start off in a different place than someone else does, but you end up in the same destination. Using playlists and pathways in your classroom is a lot like this. As the teacher, it’s your job to create the “map;” in this case, the playlist or pathway for this skill or unit. Then, based on data from pretests or other resources, you mark the starting point for each student, and teach.

Some teachers use instructional videos as some of the activities on their playlists and pathways, and while I’m not opposed to making a video one of the tasks, I don’t feel comfortable completely replacing my instruction with a video. There’s just something to be said for the ability to gauge your audience, and adjust based on conversations students are having and questions they are asking as you check for understanding at different points throughout the lesson.

Let’s use an example to illustrate how this might look. Keep in mind that each day, you will look at how your students are progressing on their independent work. Anytime I have scheduled a reteaching lesson on the document below, that means that the data from that lesson’s independent work would show that group needed additional instruction and practice on that aspect of the skill before being ready to move on. Sometimes you will need to reteach for more than one day, other times not at all.

NFPathway1 (This is the pathway the embedded document below is teaching.)

Playlists and Pathways: What Are They?

The short answer is, playlists and pathways are the road map to your personalized learning unit for you and your students.

A playlist is a single-track path of activities that students will complete, in the order they are written. Based on information such as pretests, students may start at different points of the pathway, but the pathway for that skill or unit has all of the same activities and assignments on it for each student.

A pathway is much like a playlist, but it offers students choice. Instead of one activity or assignment that the student must do, they have 2 or 3 options of which task(s) to complete for that portion of the pathway. Just like with a playlist, the starting point for each student may depend upon information from a pretest or other data. Again, there is a progressive order in which the tasks must be completed, but the options can help to keep students engaged and interested. Sometimes the options are sorted by multiple intelligences, learning styles, levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, or even the difficulty level of the material (below, at, and above grade level).



Both linked files are written as pathways, which means that they offer at least some level of student choice. To turn them  into playlists, all that would have to change is that students would be required to complete all activities in order, or you would remove some of the activities and students would be required to complete each task in order.

If your district uses Canvas as an LMS, there is a feature that allows you to use tasks and pages on Canvas as you would a playlist or pathway. To use it, you need to go to your settings and click the slider bar for mastery paths to green. On a graded task (teacher graded or automatically scored) that has been assigned to everyone, go to the Mastery Paths tab to choose which task(s) students complete next depending upon how they score on that assignment. If you assign multiple tasks for a score range, the default is for students to do both tasks, making it a playlist. When you are setting it up, you can click the “&” between tasks to change it to “or,” which allows students to choose one of the two (or more) tasks you have attached to that scoring range. This subtle detail effectively changes your playlist to a pathway.

I’m using a Mastery Path module in Canvas LMS for my students as we are reviewing for our end of year standardized testing. For each specific standard, I have a pretest in Canvas. Depending upon how they score on that pretest, they are either directed to another pretest, or to a page with review instruction on the skill and short quiz to practice. Students who do not show mastery on either quiz will be pulled for small group instruction and practice, then given another chance on the quiz. This allows students who have mastered the skills move on instead of sitting in on yet another review session for something they can already do proficiently, and lets those who need more instruction and practice have that in a smaller setting.

What is Personalized Learning?

According to the training I attended for several days when my school joined the personalized learning cohort in my district, it can be whatever it needs to be at your school. I was reminded through an article I read recently that personalized learning, at its core, is starting off where your students are, and taking them to the next logical step, preferably in a way that offers students choice and encourages student buy-in for the need to know that information.

Personalized learning is essentially differentiation on steroids.

How do you start where students are? Well, one way is to pretest them. Here are a few things I learned from using pretests in the past:

  • I really should have included questions that were 1 and 2 years below grade level at the beginning of the pretest. There were times when I assumed students had mastered these foundational skills, only to realize that we needed to take a few steps back when my lesson started with on-grade level material. My pretests have typically been identical to my end of unit test. I teach 4th grade. Ideally, my future pretests will include 2nd and 3rd grade level questions from skills that lead to 4th grade standards, then I’ll include 4th, 5th, and potentially even 6th grade skills that align to give me a clear path of “where to go next” with those students who have already mastered grade-level material. Google Forms has the potential to be really good for this, because you can make the next question conditional on whether students answer each question correctly. For instance, I could have a second grade level question as the first item on the test. A student who answers correctly would advance to a third grade level question, while a student who answers incorrectly would see a different second grade question next.
  • Multiple choice questions, while easiest to score, are not necessarily the best indicator of what a student knows on a pretest (even if most standardized test use this method). I once had a student score 100% on a multiple choice pretest on multiplying and dividing multi-digit numbers. When I handed him his pathway where he was to skip the instruction and initial practice and go straight to using those skills in constructed response tasks, he looked at me and told me he had no idea how to multiply and divide more than his times tables. He wasn’t joking, he was just a really skilled test-taker. I think that either having a performance task as the pretest or as a first activity for those who have aced the pretest would work well to prevent good test-taking skills from creating holes in students’ knowledge.
  • “Go deeper with your grade level standards, not up to the next grade level” is the mantra I’ve heard, but let’s think about it for a minute. Have you ever read the Common Core standards? If you attempt to take a standard at your grade level to the next level, you’re probably really teaching a standard that is 1-2 grade levels higher. Fourth grade standards require students to add and subtract fractions with like denominators, so bumping that up a notch is adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators, right? Well that’s a 5th grade standard. If you really look at the MAP test Learning Continuum, many of my students score in a range where what they should be learning next is a combination of 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade standards. I have a colleague who looked at the learning continuum for her gifted 4th graders in reading, and found that she needed to teach them some 11th grade skills in order for them to show growth. All right 4th graders, let’s read and analyze Shakespeare’s sonnets today. (I actually did teach sonnets this year, but found one in Caesar’s English by Michael Clay Thompson that was about Constantine, leader of ancient Rome, rather than describing Shakespeare’s mistress. I appreciate when I can use appropriate content.)

How do you offer choice and yet still make sure students take the next logical step for them as you are teaching? The short answer is playlists and pathways. The long answer is worthy of a separate post for another day.