Bridging the Divide with Writing Tools



As I left work yesterday, Pete McWilliams asked me if I ever needed a testimonial on the power of our Google Apps for Education, let him know. I said I would love one as I would be interested to know how he was using them and if it was helping him teach writing better in his seventh grade class. Pete, or as he is known, Mr. Mac. has been teaching at Durham Academy for many years and has always been willing to learn new ways of integrating technology into his teaching. He epitomizes the term life long learner. When I envisioned how Google Apps for Education could be used, I hoped to get him on board as I knew he might see the benefits of being able to collaborate in real-time. Mr. Mac has for years used Remote Desktop to monitor students as they write their papers in the labs. We would get the program setup for him and he would observe and when needed take control of the student’s computer. This allowed him to type suggestions to the student inside of their document. He told me he envisioned this type of tool 42 years ago when he began teaching.

In November, Mr. Mac came to the training sessions I held on how to access and use some of the features of our Google Apps for Education setup. We then worked together as he was beginning his current writing project. I have seen the success his students are having but did not fully realize all the benefits he and his students until I got his letter this morning. I have tears in my eyes as I am proud and happy to hear this type of report on how the tools are helping him and his students. He told me to share his letter with anyone, so I want to share it with you. Thank you Mr. Mac.

January 27, 2011

Mr. Karl Schaefer

Dear Karl,

Durham Academy continually stretches her faculty through the introduction of new technological hardware or software. The latest magical–and it is truly magical–advance is Google Docs.

Google Docs allows a teacher of language arts to do that which this particular teacher only conceived of at the beginning of his career. How could interactive writing occur in a manner that would allow the teacher in one physical space to read a student’s writing in a totally other geographical location–while the student was in the act of composing? Google Docs finally provided a way! For several years it has been possible to sit in a DA computer lab to interact electronically with students as they write, offering constructive criticism and responding to questions. But with Google Docs it is now possible to interact electronically with students as they write beyond the school walls. Last Sunday, for example, I sat at my kitchen table and worked–electronically–with a student polishing an essay from her home, offering immediate suggestions about grammar, punctuation, organization, style, and the like. The important point here is that pupil and instructor could each observe without delay that which the other was writing, thus allowing the student to persevere at a difficult time. This efficient, personal intervention afforded the student the opportunity to grow in her composition skills under the tutelage of her teacher despite the fact that class would not reconvene for over forty-eight hours. Needless to say, the reverse was also true. That is, the teacher could see the mind of the student at work during the writing process.

So kudos to Durham Academy for providing this computer-assisted program that truly is a magical link insofar as it affords student-teacher reciprocity in real time. If one of the grounds of good pedagogy is integrating into the curriculum strategic means for academic success, then Google Docs stands on its own merit. As a revolutionary bonus, use of this tool also saves paper!

Pete McWilliams



Learning Without Limitations

FC Limit

I had thought about writing this post yesterday since I had two teachers come ask me why they could not send attachments with our FirstClass system. We impose a 200 MB limit on teachers and a 70MB limit on students. There are of course practical reasons for these limits since we host these services on campus. Our Moodle setup allows for an upload of 150MB per object as we increased it each year to accommodate larger files as more teachers were uploading video files and other learning resources. Our new Google Apps Accounts allow for 2 GB of space for teachers and students with Google formatted documents counting for almost nothing against this quota. Most of our students live in a world outside of school without quotas. We can debate whether this is a good thing or a bad thing as quotas to live are important. I think a balanced approach to life is a good thing.

I wrote about Nathaniel just the other day as he had sent his homework from New Zealand. Seems like he has sent to much.

Hi Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Sheard,

I have been sending pictures of homework that I have done to my teachers since I am in New Zealand.

Today I tried to attach a picture and Firstclass complained that I had used too much disk space and I didn’t have enough space to upload this picture.  It told me to delete some files to make room.  Since I had copied all my email into my Saved Email directory, I deleted everything that I had a copy of, and freed up 21MB.  My picture still would not attach.  I tried to clear my trash can but it said that I couldn’t do that, that the trash can cleared after a certain time set by the administrator.

What should I do to be able to send my teachers my homework?


Nathaniel B

Sheard Advisory

8th grade



My response to him relate to teachable moments of sorts with how FirstClass handles the quota and how he might adjust his camera to take lower resolution images or edit the image to a smaller size prior to sending via FirstClass. The last option was for him to use his Google Account and share the images or documents with his teacher which would eliminate the entire quota issue, at least until he gets to 2GB.

Update 2:07 PM on 1/7/2010:

Thank you for all, the advice Mr. Schaefer!

After dinner, when I went back online, my trash had cleared and I sent my teachers the homework.

I have been sending teachers pictures, but I think I know what program to use to shrink them.

Thank you for your google docs idea, it will be helpful if my Firstclass fills again.


Nathaniel B.

Sheard Advisory

8th grade




Stop Me if You’ve Seen This

By now many folks have seen this video of the Google Presentation Demo Slam. I saw it on Twitter and today came across it in Page Lennig’s Blog: The TechKnow. Her post got me thinking about how our roll out of Google Apps for the Middle School has gone. I believe we have given the best tool we could have given our students and echo much of what Page talks about in her post, except for all of the teachers who came to my training brought their laptop:). I am very grateful that we have the tools for our students as we have removed many obstacles that used to prevent the fluid learning process.

Donnelly Think Board Using Google Doc

Donnelly Think Board - Google Docs.jpg

Students never stop amazing me with how quickly they adopt and put into practice new tools. We have been using Google Apps for Education since late October and each day I see students being successful with this new tool for OLD uses but also now using them for NEW uses. Patti Donnelly’s English class is using a Google Doc as a Thinking Board to discuss how they could collaborate throughout the school using technology. I will share with you some of the writing, understanding this is a LIVE  private document that as I write this post, students are adding their ideas and thoughts. I asked permission to share some of their content and was granted it. The image above was created by the students in the Google Doc.

Student additions:

Student Cyrus: I’m in green (they chose colors to easily identify editors)

Like Mrs. Donnelly was saying during LA, what if we could collaborate throughout the school technologically? We start small, then inspire the city, which leads to the country, then the continent, then the world. DA has almost all the tools necessary, iTouchs, laptops, and now with access to Google Docs, we could easily be socially involved with the upper and lower schools. The problem is will we. Mrs. Donnelly, I think you’re right; if we have the tools, why not try it-the worst that could happen is that it doesn’t work, but who cares, at least we tried. If we start, it can and probably will cause a chain reaction, which means the world will be able to connect wherever and whenever via Internet or maybe a worldwide software. This global change may not happen in our lifetime, but if it works, it could cause a whole planet to connect and communicate with technology. Also, the global connection could be used for not just business or school, but also helping end world hunger, or pollution, or stopping war. Imagine how much better this world would be without that stuff. But you can’t know what’s happening in the world if you can’t communicate. Families could have more time together, because they wouldn’t have to hunt down information about the world. Learning would be upgraded and fun, and the world would be happy. If we want a change in the world, we should start now, and I think it could start at DA.

Student Collin: Guys, what Cyrus says make a lot of sense. This would be the ideal situation but, this may not happen because it is too big. We should try and express our opions here because if we do then people who look at this will look deeper and catch on.

Teacher Donnelly: Cyrus, this is so powerful!  What do others think?  Just brainstorm ideas….what comes to mind?

Student Hunter: Black/Yellow

I agree with Cyrus, It makes a lot of sense but this might be hard to get out to everyone.

Student Cyrus:

I think we should add some stuff about how people learn. I believe there should be 3 separate parts of a school-

1. the section for visual learners

2. the section for audible learners

3. the section for learners who need to move to learn

We can have technology in every room, which means there would be quicker access to information. Kids also get more excited with technology in the room, which means they will be more excited about learning, and like the video said, school is kinda boring right now, which is why more and more people are dropping out. You’d think advancement in technology would be good for schools, but hardly any schools have used it to an immense advantage. Technology also gets students more involved because they’re not jut listening to a teacher talk. Mrs. Donnelly is introducing iTouchs and laptops to us, except we use them for school, not surfing the web. DA can definitely take a huge step towards the world of technology if we try.

Student Collin: This makes sense but we need to really stretch this out. If we want to pull this outside of our classroom we need to build it into a large essay type thing. Then we can pull it outside and place it inside the real world for everyone to see and then press it into this.

Student Cyrus: I think we could make something like the video or maybe an essay and post it on youtube. Mr. Schaefer’s blog is going to help with the publicity, too.

Student John H.: is purpleish-

Think, is it the way you learn or is it or the things you use to learn. The answer is not that technology is the answer, it is how we use it. We have the tools we have all we need, we just need to use it to our liking. We have the goods we just need to use them. If you do not enjoy using the technology you can go to another side of campus. Or if you enjoy working with sound you can go to certain classes or go to a different moodle course or something along those lines.

Student Collin: Guys, What if we build advanced moodle course that recognizes advanced students and give them challenges that the teachers will allow them to do in class. For example. The 6th grade course would have different sections that are password protected so that the teachers could give the password to the best of students. Then when there is review or something that is stupidly simple for that student so they do added work for tons of extra credit and other incentives.

Student Cyrus: People should take a test to see which part of the school they belong in. The moving learners can be interactive and play games or something that helps them learn well. The visual learners can look at diagrams or charts to help them learn, and the auditory learners can listen to the teacher explain about the material.

If this doesn’t work, we could just have different types of schools. I still think technology should be used more in schools, though.

With this sort of discussion taking place in a 6th grade class, I wonder what could happen by 8th or 9th, … In fact check out this link that came across my Twitter feed today where what the students above are discussing is taking place.

What a great time to be a teacher with the tools we have today.