Download & Print from Google Classroom

Normally, I’m opposed to printing student assignments. With the proper workflow, I’ve found that I can offer more timely feedback in digital format, not to mention save acres of trees.

However, there are times when you might find that you need to print entire classes worth of documents submitted on Google Classroom. It can be tedious work manually opening each student’s document and printing it—especially if you teach multiple sections of the same class!  Here’s how you can easily download and print student assignments:

  1. Go to the PDF Mergy website
  2. Choose the option that says “select files from Google Drive”


3. Give PDF Mergy permission to access your Google Drive by clicking “Allow”


4. Find the folder that contains your students’ assignments. (If they submitted the assignment to Google Classroom, the assignments will be in a folder within the “Classroom” folder)

5. Select all the students documents (click and drag or enter CTRL A)


6. Click on Merge. The process will take a fair amount of time ( approximately 2-5 minutes).

7. Click “Save PDF to your Computer”



Cognitive Science in the Classroom

I enjoy reading Daniel Willingham’s work because he makes complex but important findings in cognitive science accessible to the average, busy teacher like me. I was first introduced to his writing a few years ago when I came across his book Why Don’t Students Like School?

Recently, I discovered that he has written a number of articles on highly practical topics for teachers ranging from spacing study to increase retention to whether critical thinking can be taught. Here are some of his findings, grounded in cognitive science, that might be especially useful for K-12 teachers:

  • Technology:

    • While technology might inherently be engaging, this appeal wears off quickly. Instead, teachers must strive to make the content itself engaging without using technology as a crutch. Technology can be an important support to learning but shouldn’t be at the heart of the lesson.
    • The best ideas for how to use new technologies will often come from other teachers because there hasn’t been enough time to conduct robust academic research on how to best implement rapidly developing education technologies.
    • Encourage students to avoid multitasking while doing an important task. Students aren’t actually multitasking, they’re just rapidly switching between tasks which reduces their focus and effectiveness.
  • Importance of Knowledge:

    • In the debates of content versus skill and whether schools should reduce the amount of material we expect students to learn because everything can be found on the Internet, it’s important to remember that knowledge is still important.
    • Knowledge helps you: take in, think about and remember new information; improve your thinking, and solve unfamiliar problems.
    • Willingham reminds us that “… the goal of education is seen not so much as the accumulation of knowledge, but as the honing of cognitive skills such as thinking critically. Knowledge comes into play mainly because if we want our students to learn how to think critically, they must have something to think about.” Therefore, while students don’t need to memorize long lists of names & dates, they need to know enough to engage in the vital task of critical thinking.
  • Practice makes perfect

    • Anticipating that we forget much of what we learned, we must practice a skill or recalling new information beyond a level of mastery.
    • What type of material is worthy of repeated practice?
      • Core skills & knowledge that will be used again and again
      • Knowledge students need to know in the short term to enable long-term retention of key concepts.

SAT v. Grit: What matters in life?


Another season of SAT, ACT and AP testing is upon us.

Teachers and administrators are beginning to stress whether their students are prepared for the tests and how students’ scores will reflect on their performance.

Students are worried the tests will reveal how smart they really are and whether they will be a success of failure in life  based on their scores.

SAT & ACT scores do correlate with some intelligence tests. However, as we consider what role the SAT (or any intelligence test for that matter) should play in our schools, it is important to remember:

Verbal reasoning, in which students have to analyze complex texts, can help gauge how prepared students are to tackle challenging readings in college. For example, the following question assess not just students’ ability to literally comprehend a passage but to analyze it for broader messages.

nullSOURCE: College Board

However, what this type of test does not assess is students ability to persevere, get help and seek creative solutions.

The SAT does not assess if a student, who may be a slower reader that initially found a reading confusing, could re-read a passage and use strategies to discern greater meaning. (The time constraints on the SAT & ACT, as any junior in high school will attest, are notorious for leading students to skim passages and guess on questions instead of thoughtfully engaging with the text.)

The SAT does not assess if a student has the initiative to ask a teacher or peer for help or use online resources to better grasp new concepts that his peers might have learned more quickly and independently.

The SAT does what it is supposed to do: provide an objective snapshot of a student’s reading, math and writing skills in the given time and testing constraints.

However, the SAT does not assess for traits far more important for success in life: self-efficacy and grit.

Annotating for Critical Literacy

SOURCE: New York Times

One simple way to teach students to critically examine texts from various lenses is to utilize targeted annotation techniques.  There are numerous guides for how to increase students’ comprehension by previewing texts, actively reading, summarizing, etc. One especially useful guide is from Susan Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Writing Programs at Harvard University. Guides like this can be useful for showing teachers and students what approaches to use across all texts: underlining main ideas, circling key terms, etc.  However, when you want students to analyze texts more critically, it is vital to have students make more focused annotations which have the power to change students’ perspectives while they read.

For example, if you would like students to analyze the economic, environmental and humanitarian benefits and costs of building the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, you could have students write econ +/-, env +/-, and hum +/- in the margin when they come across evidence that falls in one of those categories. Doing so would draw students’ attention beyond main ideas and supporting details the author used to support his or her argument to a more critical stance analyzing the issue from three different perspectives simultaneously.

After reading and annotating the text, students could be asked to summarize the various positives and negatives and come to their own conclusion as to whether the dam should have been built.  Through the strategic use of annotation techniques students ability to employ various critical lenses can improve significantly.


While reading, identify lines that show Economic, Environmental, and Social  positive (+) and negative (-) effects of building the 3 Gorges Dam.  

  •        Econ.: How will the dam help or hurt China’s economy?
  •        Env. : How will the dam help or hurt the environment?
  •        Hum.: How will people’s lives improve or change for the worse due to the dam?

This annotation technique was used with an edited version of the article The Chinese Dam Projects Criticized for their Human Cost

What Teachers can Learn from The Originals by Adam Grant

Recently I listened to the audiobook The Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant. Although the primary audience for his book are entrepreneurs and business people, many of his ideas are very applicable to teachers and school leaders.


Teachers too often bring each other down. We champion our causes (ed tech, project based learning, gamification, flipped learning, etc) and too often look down on other teachers who don’t share our excitement.

  • A documented phenomenon is horizontal hostility in which two groups with related but different views often are more critical of one another than people outside of the movement. For example,  research shows that  Conservatives, Orthodox Jews, Environmentalists, and Women Suffragists were more critical of different camps within their overall movement than outsiders often were.
  • Leaders need to look for similarities in our causes and build alliances instead of finding differences and tearing others down.

Punishments are ineffective for classroom management

  • When rules are backed by clear explanations, teenagers are less likely to break them.  Enforce discipline with a set of principles & values (e.g. We don’t do X in this classroom because we value respecting all people.)
  • Parents/teachers need to ultimately let children select values that best represents them
  • Empathy & guilt together can be highly effective, even for adults (e.g. A sign telling doctors hand washing prevents patients from catching diseases was significantly more effective than saying hand washing prevents you from catching diseases.)  We feel guilty about doing harm to others and often care less about ourselves.
  • The goal of effective ethical type of decision making is to move from a simple cost-benefit analysis to one of appropriateness—what would someone with my values do in this situation?

Persuade your principal to support your project by sharing its merits AND its weaknesses

  • Be forthright about the limitations of your ideas. When presenting them to others balance its merits with shortcomings. Your audience will see you as fair minded and as someone who has analyzed their proposal from multiple viewpoints

If you have a transformative idea, you have to share it over and over and over with your course team & administration before they might even consider it.

  • The exposure effect says that the more familiar people become with an idea, the more people like it but we have to be careful of overexposure.
  • Studies show that when we are exposed to an idea 10 to 20 times with enough variety in the way it’s presented and sufficient time between instances of presentation, the degree to which people like the idea increases significantly. We like what’s familiar to us. 

You don’t have to be the first to try blogging, Genius Hour, flipped learning, etc. but be sure you learn from the mistakes of those who were.

  • There isn’t always a benefit to being first, you can improve on and learn from the first mover.
  • Many startups (and initiatives) fail because the scale up faster than the market (or students/community) could bear.

If you’re trying to transform  your district, school, department or team start by trying to transform one class, one club/activity or just one project. 

  • If the vision is too bold and different from the current state, focus on taking small steps, and get your foot in the door. When persuading others start with the more practical how instead of the bolder why.
  • Link your new bold agenda to other familiar values and modify your argument to your audience. There’s a sweet spot so your argument is new enough so it’s not boring but not so new that people reject it immediately.

Critiquing Student Blogging, Genius Hour & Passion Projects

Students blogging about a topic they are passionate about is an example of authentic literacy pedagogy.  Instead of all students reading & researching the same topic, students have the opportunity to select a topic they are interested in and write periodic reflections on the topic.  This approach has become increasingly popular through various names such as genius hour, passion projects or 20% time. (NOTE: If you are interested in learning more about these types of projects, I strongly encourage you to follow @JoyKirr on Twitter, she’s an incredible resource!).   One of the major selling points of these projects is the incredible levels of student engagement seen through these projects. However, there can be significant drawbacks as well. 

The benefit of these approaches is that they maximize students’ intrinsic motivation and immerse them in a literacy rich environment that leverages their curiosity.   A potential drawback of this student-centered approach is that while students are engaged they may not become particularly skilled in evaluating sources, reading critically and thoughtfully organizing writing that generally occurs through more teacher directed projects. 

My students have been doing Passion Projects for almost 5 years and while I had this initial high of maximizing student choice and, in turn, engagement, I have found that every year  I need to tweak the amount of choice I give students. While I have increased student choice in the range of topics students research and formats for showing final learning, I have found that I need to limit the options they have for how they share their learning periodically via blog posts. 

First, I now require my students to connect the broad research questions and sub questions they develop with overarching course principles to guide their research instead of simply  exploring any topic that interest them. Second, I require students to write carefully organized blog posts with claim statements and supporting evidence so that students are motivated to read texts, watch videos and/or listen to podcasts not just for enjoyment but also with the critical eye of a detective looking for evidence.  

I have found that when students are asked to develop and and answer research questions their inquiries becomes more focused and fruitful. Students’ blog posts also become more organized because they now have to carefully provide evidence to support the answers to their research questions instead of just sharing what they learned in the past week.

Therefore, projects that incorporate 100% authentic literacy pedagogy may be highly engaging but not always effective for improving students’ literacy skills. There is a greater likelihood of students being motivated while learning fundamental literacy skills when the student-centered learning also includes challenging tasks deliberately designed by the teacher that push students to carefully organize their thinking & writing.

Information Literacy & Fake News

The recent election and the growing popularity of social media have created new urgency in the battles English and Social Studies teachers along with Librarians are fighting constantly—combating fake news.

A powerful resource that could help in this effort is www.checkology.or. Although the paid version offers teachers more features for monitoring student progress, there are free resources on:

  1. Filtering News & Information
  2. Exercising Civic Freedoms
  3. Navigating Today’s Information landscape
  4. How to Know What to Believe

The pace at which media changes and the frequency with which politicians are using it to distort reality is growing. Therefore, it is difficult for educators to have updated examples of misinformation and methods for detecting it.  Checkology provides current examples of news sources and social media and how they can be used to spread fake news. Also, the lessons are gamified so students earn points for completing each one. Most importantly, it provides realistic activities for students to apply their information literacy skills. For example, students are asked to:

  • Be the Editor: Decide the Day’s Top News
  • Participate in the Watergate investigation
  • Make a PSA & Dissect Rumors
  • Recognize bias in various sources

I recommend looking at checkology if you’re hoping to build your students’ information literacy skills and join the fight against fake news.