New Times/New Ways

New times demand new ways to support students and schools

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction
Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction

Updated:  October 14, 2015.

California’s education system is transforming in positive ways. Replacing the high school exit exam with more modern and meaningful measures is a critical part of that work.

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed Senate Bill 172 into law, suspending the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) as a requirement for high school graduation for the next three years. I was proud to sponsor this bill, and I deeply appreciate state Senator Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, for bringing forward this urgently needed legislation.

The state Legislature created the exit exam requirement in 1999, and schools began using the test a few years later. Since then, however, the world – and California’s education system – have changed dramatically.

We have instituted new, more rigorous state academic standards. We have launched a more sophisticated assessment of student progress using online, computer-adaptive tests. And, we are moving toward a more comprehensive evaluation of schools that uses multiple measures instead of a single test score.

The current version of the exit exam was always meant to be temporary, according to the author of the legislation establishing it. Eliminating the old high school exit exam provides a great opportunity to develop a more effective approach to supporting our students. We must make sure that our high school graduates are ready for college and careers in the 21st century.

Students need a variety of skills to succeed in today’s economy. Our methods of gauging their progress should incorporate multiple measures. SB 172 requires me to convene a task force of teachers, parents, students, administrators and others to report back on new high school graduation requirements.

I look forward to exploring the options. One possibility is a senior or “capstone” project, in which students demonstrate what they have learned in an oral report, a paper or an exhibition. Another option is integrating community service into this work, so that our students learn “civics in action.”

In addition, a student could demonstrate career readiness by completing an internship at a local company, government agency, or nonprofit, and then producing a report about a potential career pathway. And a district may choose some combination of these approaches, customized to local conditions.

The search for a new high school graduation requirement is similar to our work developing a new accountability system. In both cases, we’re reinvigorating our schools by replacing 20th-century models with more thoughtful, contemporary 21st-century approaches.

As for the accountability system, the previously used Academic Performance Index has been suspended, and I have convened a task force to make recommendations for a new accountability system. The Accountability and Continuous Improvement Task Force is co-chaired by Wes Smith of the Association of California School Administrators and Eric Heins of the California Teachers Association.

The task force will study the issue and make recommendations early next year. Any new system should promote continuous improvement and better identify the needs of schools so they can receive the resources they need to improve.

On Sept. 9, the state released results of the new, online Smarter Balanced assessments in English and math. Certainly, those results will be part of any new accountability system, but the task force will consider other areas as well, including graduation rates, school attendance, chronic absenteeism, career readiness and school climate.

These are exciting times in California education. We continue to innovate and evolve. Finding new, more dynamic approaches to the high school exit exam and school accountability are two key components of transforming our schools and ensuring California’s bright future.


Tom Torlakson is the state superintendent of public instruction.

Editor’s Note:  The updated version of this commentary clarifies that SB 172 suspends the CAHSEE for the next three years,  but does not eliminate it permanently. 

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view.

Mindfulness In The Classroom

Under Stress, Students in New York Schools Find Calm in Meditation

Fourth graders at Public School 212 in Queens practice mindful exercises in the classroom. Credit Lindsay Morris for The New York Times

On the first day of the new school year, the schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, stood in an elementary school classroom in Queens beaming at a hushed room full of fourth-grade children sitting cross-legged on the floor.
“Please let your eyes close,” said a small boy named Davinder, from his spot on the linoleum.

Davinder gently struck a shallow bronze bowl.


“Take three mindful breaths,” he said, and the room fell silent.

“Do you do personal visits?” Ms. Fariña asked after the exercise was over. “Like to offices?”

In schools in New York City and in pockets around the country, the use of inward-looking practices like mindfulness and meditation is starting to grow. Though evidence is thin on how well they might work in the classroom, proponents say they can help students focus and cope with stress.

At the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School in Windsor Terrace, 15 minutes are set aside at the beginning and end of every school day, when students must either meditate or sit quietly at their desks.

The goal of mindfulness exorcises, practitioners say, is to get students into the habit of calming themselves and their minds. Credit Lindsay Morris for The New York Times
“It’s built into the schedule,” said Linda Rosenbury, founding principal at Brooklyn Urban Garden, a middle school. “Everyone clears off their desks. They shouldn’t be chewing gum, but if they are, they spit it out. Their hands are free. We ring a bell.” A building full of preteens and teenagers goes quiet, she said.

“It used to be that you wouldn’t say ‘meditation’ in polite company,” said Bob Roth, executive director of the David Lynch Foundation, a charitable foundation founded by the director of “Blue Velvet,” that promotes and teaches Transcendental Meditation to adults and children, including those at Brooklyn Urban Garden. “Now we’re working with all the large banks, we’re working with hedge funds, we’re working with media companies. People are having us come in as part of their wellness programs, and that wasn’t the case even two years ago.”

While Transcendental Meditation entails silent inward repetition of a mantra, a mindfulness exercise might ask children to focus on breathing in and out. In a classroom, both activities have similar goals; the idea, practitioners say, is to get students into the habit of calming themselves and clearing their minds so they can better focus on the day’s lesson.

“We’re putting it in a lot of our schools,” Ms. Fariña said about mindfulness, on the first day of school, “because kids are under a lot of stress.”

The Department of Education does not keep track of how many schools have mindfulness programs, but a spokeswoman said that grants and professional development seminars have provided some training to school staff members.

The city’s Move to Improve program has also taught nearly 8,000 elementary school teachers how to use activities in the classroom that can include things like mindfulness, balance exercises and stretching.

In many cases, schools are finding their own way. To mindfulness, in particular.

At Public School 212 in Jackson Heights, Queens, the school Ms. Fariña visited on the first day of classes, a literacy coach named Danielle Mahoney began doing regular mindfulness exercises with some classes the year before last, while taking a one-year certification course.

Last year, the school converted a large closet in a subbasement into a room devoted to mindfulness, complete with dim illumination and a string of rainbow Christmas-tree lights, allowing users to switch off the harsh fluorescent light overhead.

This sort of homegrown effort has created a patchwork effect; “mindfulness” might look a little different in every school.

“It’s a bottom-up process,” said Mark T. Greenberg, a professor of human development and psychology at Penn State. “You have very early adopters who are very interested in the ideas, and they are trying out different ideas and venues.”

Some districts, however, are experimenting with a more holistic approach. In Mamaroneck, N.Y., in Westchester County, the district has funded mindfulness training for teachers and parents in each of its six schools, and is encouraging the use of mindfulness exercises as part of an effort to address the social and emotional needs of students.

In Louisville, Ky., more than half of the city’s public elementary schools are expected to participate in a randomized study next year that will teach mindfulness exercises to some students as part of a so-called health and wellness curriculum.

Donna Hargens, the superintendent of the Louisville district of Jefferson County’s public school system, said that in classrooms a teacher’s reflex is to say, “ ‘Focus! Why aren’t you focusing?’ But what does that really mean, and have we given them any tools to help them do that?”

Research in a classroom setting appears to be picking up steam. In Britain, researchers from Oxford and University College London are studying whether teaching mindfulness in schools can improve the mental health of students, and some studies have shown benefits for many adults. Still, little is truly known about how, or even whether, children benefit from the practice in an academic setting.

“It definitely doesn’t address poverty, and it may not work for everybody,” said Patricia Jennings, an associate professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and the author of a book called “Mindfulness for Teachers.”

Mr. Greenberg of Penn State cautioned that even if the practice does provide benefits for students, the research has yet to explain how.

A version of this article appears in print on October 24, 2015, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: City Classrooms Give Pupils a Moment to Turn Inward . Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

First Year Pitfalls of Teachers

Staying Centered
October 22, 2015 | Volume 11 | Issue 4
Table of Contents 

First Year Pitfalls

Amy Stenzel

As a former mentor for new teachers, and, currently, as an instructional coach, I help new teachers avoid common pitfalls and find the wisdom that makes teaching a fulfilling experience. New teachers, whether right out of college or transitioning to a second career, often come into their new schools with abundant enthusiasm that can revitalize a department or grade-level team. Too often, however, that spark dims and is eventually snuffed out as a teacher tries to traverse the education landscape without the support of a competent guide. Avoiding these common pitfalls can help a teacher’s first year become the beginning of a satisfying and fulfilling journey.

Pitfall #1: Wanting Your Students to Like You

Of course, we all want our students to like us. The reality is that most will, but there might be some who won’t. All too often, new teachers spend a great deal of brain power on how to persuade students to like them, which is the quickest way to alienate students. I have seen every technique that you can think of: letting students misbehave, bribery, self-deprecating humor, class parties, and so on. These techniques only lead to a disorganized and ineffective classroom full of disgruntled students.

So, what is the secret to success? It’s simple, actually—students will like you if you do your job. Students are in school to learn, and if you help them do that while providing a safe and respectful environment, they will like and respect you. This is especially true of hard-to-reach students. If you can help them succeed, you will witness something powerful and beautiful. Offering stickers and allowing misbehavior does not possess the transformative power that good teaching provides.

Pitfall #2: Wanting to Change Too Much Too Soon

New teachers enter their careers with freshly written philosophies of education and a plethora of new ideas. They are eager to get into the trenches and change students’ lives. But many teachers make a crucial mistake by trying to change too many things too quickly. You have a long career ahead of you and plenty of time to make your mark. Remember that other teachers in your department or grade level have years of experience and most, if not all, are willing to share their wisdom and lesson plans if you just ask. Your first year will be difficult enough without trying to create all new curricula. Additionally, failing to ask experienced teachers for help may cause them to perceive you as a “know­it­all,” even though that is not your intention.

The first step to build trust and collaborative relationships is to work with those around you, take what they have to offer, and offer your input when appropriate. As you move into your second year, when you have established trusting relationships with your colleagues and you understand the school district’s curriculum and philosophies, offer your ideas more frequently.

Keep your focus on doing the best job you can, not trying to change what others do. Many new teachers are shuffled from classroom to classroom and end up teaching the classes that others don’t want to teach. Show your moxie as an educator by taking these things in stride and focusing on what you can do for your students, rather than who has the best classroom or the classes that you want to teach; those things will come to you in time. Innovation is wonderful, but make sure you mix that with wisdom from experienced teachers and administrators.

Pitfall #3: Taking It All Too Personally

Teaching is an extremely personal career. Most teachers enter the profession because they want to make a difference in the lives of young people. They want to be role models who lead and inspire others. Effective teachers are deeply invested in their careers, so it is easy to take things personally. And yet it is equally important to learn early that you must look at things logically and never make assumptions. This shift in perception is extremely difficult and will take practice.

For example, if a student misbehaves or has a meltdown, don’t assume that you know the reason. You may be sure the trigger was something you said, when in reality, it was something that happened to the student at home that morning. Or, if you get an e-mail from the principal asking for a meeting, don’t assume that you have done something wrong. There are many reasons you might be called on. If you find that the principal wants you to change something you are doing, do not assume that you have failed. Feedback makes teachers better, and without feedback, it is hard to know where you need improvement.

In the new landscape of teacher effectiveness programs, you can expect to have peers, administrators, and coaches observing in your room on a regular basis. Don’t become nervous and stressed about these visits. Instead, see them as opportunities and look for something to learn from every experience.

Pitfall #4: Burnout

Teaching is an extremely rewarding career, but it is also highly challenging. Don’t burn out by trying to do everything yourself. If your school doesn’t provide mentors for first­year teachers, don’t be afraid to ask administration for one. Find out what your resources are at the very beginning of the year. Librarians, custodians, secretaries, instructional coaches, K–12 coordinators, and department heads are all valuable people to seek out. Most are just waiting for someone to ask for their expertise. Take the time to ask them what support they offer for you and your classroom. The right resources can save you hours of time and frustration. With the right attitude and a few tips for success, every new teacher can have a rewarding first year.

Amy Stenzel is an instructional effectiveness coach in Whitnall School District in Milwaukee, Wisc.

ASCD Express, Vol. 11, No. 4. Copyright 2015 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit

5 Habits That Hurt Teacher Motivation

Staying Centered
October 22, 2015 | Volume 11 | Issue 4
Table of Contents 

Five Habits That Hurt Teacher Motivation

Roxanna Elden

Teachers know that motivating students and engaging families is part of the job. Sometimes, however, just keeping ourselves motivated can feel like a full-time job. Although we may daydream about our students sitting attentively with a look of delight that shows their love of learning, this ideal is certainly not always the case.

Here are some reasons why your enthusiasm might be lagging and some tips for making it through the slump.

Classroom Task Creep

With all there is to do every day, it’s tempting to funnel your off hours into teaching tasks or turn your home into a satellite office for your classroom. Although this may seem like a sign of dedication, it’s likely that if you’re never 100 percent clocked out, you’re never 100 percent clocked in, either. For the kids’ sake and your own, mornings should always feel like the start of a new day, and Mondays should always feel like the beginning of a new week. This means putting realistic limits on the amount of work that you bring home, scheduling specific hours to work on it, and then using your personal time for your personal life.

The Never-Done To-Do List

As teachers, we are our own secretaries. Nothing reminds us of this like looking at a to-do list of administrative tasks, especially one on which certain items seem to be permanent residents. To keep your list manageable, break big goals into smaller jobs that can be fully completed in a reasonable amount of time. “Print student test scores” is a good, list-friendly item. “Analyze student data and form long-term plans for each student” is a multipart project more likely to shut down your engine than get you in gear. Remember that your goal, when putting something on your list, is to cross it off.

The Wish-List Pretending to Be a To-Do List

Another hazardous habit is adding items to a daily task list that are actually long-term goals or ideas for the distant future. Not only do these items stay on our lists, but they also constantly remind us of our shortcomings. With this in mind, don’t write, “Be better at parent contact” on your to-do list if you really mean, “Call Javier’s dad.” For ideas that you’re not ready to implement, set up a computer folder, or even start a designated e-mail account where you can send ideas when you’re on the go. The important thing is to keep wish-list items off your desk and off your list of things that need to get done this week.

Dispiriting Discussions

Dealing with kids all day can make you crave the company of adults, but not all adult conversations help equally. Teachers’ lounge gripe sessions may help let off steam some days but feel toxic on others. Other times, you can find it more discouraging to talk to the teacher down the hall who’s sure she’s doing a fantastic job and can’t wait to tell you about it. Just remember—productive conversations comfort rather than overwhelm. Pay attention to which types of discussions drag you down. Then, look for ways to cut them short, tune them out, or avoid them altogether.

The Ill-Fitting Teacher Style

People constantly tell you to choose your battles in teaching. What they don’t tell you is that some of the battles not worth fighting are with yourself. Despite your best efforts, strengths and weaknesses from your personal life will carry over into your teaching style. You’re still more organized than creative (or more creative than organized). You’re still more ambitious than patient (or more patient than ambitious). The good news is that many different traits make a good teacher. No one has them all, and some of them can even contradict one another. Your goal is not to conceal your weaknesses or disguise them as strengths; it is to identify your true strengths and use them to reinforce potential weak spots.

So, the next time you feel your motivation waning, don’t despair—take a moment to examine if you’re guilty of any of these common motivation missteps, and adjust your attitude accordingly.

Roxanna Elden is a National Board-Certified teacher and the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. More recently, she has created the “Disillusionment Power Pack,” a free, one-month series of e-mails for new teachers in which she shares journal pages, stories, and insights she would have shared with the first-year teacher version of herself. E-mails begin with signup and arrive every few days for one month.

ASCD Express, Vol. 11, No. 4. Copyright 2015 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit




Units of Study

PORTS is proud to announce the completion of the PORTS Unit of Study Common Core Alignment Project.  All of the Units of Study are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. It has been exciting to note that our videoconference presentations are already aligned with the Speaking and Listening standards prominant in the CCSS:

Speaking and Listening: Flexible communication and collaboration
Including but not limited to skill necessary for formal presentations, the Speaking and Listening standards require students to develop a range of broadly useful oral communication and interpersonal skills.  Students must learn to work together, express and listen carefully to ideas, integrate information from oral, visual, quantitative, and media sources, evaluate what they hear, use media and visual displays strategically to help achieve communicative purposes, and adapt speech to context and task.

To register for a PORTS distance learning program, complete the PORTS Registration Form (PDF) and email it to your local PORTS Program Coordinator or the PORTS Interpreter listed for a specific Unit of Study.
PORTS Registration Form (PDF)

5E Lesson Plans
PORTS is piloting a new format for our lesson plans called the 5E that better aligns with the critical thinking skills being promoted by Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards . The 5 Es of teaching science with inquiry are Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, and Evaluation. Our newest units of study, Mammals and Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle and Migration, are written in a three column version of the 5E lesson plan that shows teachers what to do and say, what types of probing questions to ask, and how students might respond.



Explore the art and architecture of the ancient Greeks and Romans through the art and artifacts of Hearst Castle (6th grade)

Ancient Civilizations Unit of Study


Soon students can explore the coastal resources of Point Lobos Natural Reserve and learn how Marine Protected Areas are being used to help protect them.

For now, you can check out the following units of study which are already discussing Marine Protected Areas.
Elephant Seals
Tidepool Ecology
Salmon Lifecycle
Science of Habitat Restoration and Protection

We will also soon unveil our new Marine Protected Areas online modules here.

Coastal Resource Protection Unit of Study


Explore Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to discover its stories of change, preservation, extinction and protection. (4th and 6th grade)

Desert Stories Unit of Study


Students are introduced to the evolutionary history and adaptations of the northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve. (7th grade)

Elephant Seals Unit of Study


Learn about the California Gold Rush from Columbia State Historic Park. (4th grade)

Gold Rush Unit of Study


Explore the topic of immigration through the stories and lives of those who came through the US Immigration Station at Angel Island State Park.

Immigration Unit of Study


Explore the mystery of Monarch butterfly lifecycle and Migration from Natural Bridges State Park. (Kindergarten – 3rd grade)

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle and Migration Unit of Study


Find out about the unique redwood forest ecosystems of Humboldt Redwoods and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks. (6th grade)

Redwood Ecology Unit of Study


Students are introduced to the life cycle of salmon and the importance of watersheds for their survival at Del Norte Redwoods State Park (3rd, 6th grade)

Salmon Lifecycle


Students discover how human impacts degrade some of California’s native ecosystems and habitats while getting a first-hand look at the work California State Parks has done to restore the coastal sage scrub habitat at Crystal Cove State Park. (6th-8th Grade)

Science of Habitat Protection and Restoration Unit of Study


Engage students in researching information about their state representatives, the law-making process, and how they, as citizens, have a voice in government. (8th (adaptable for other grades)

State Government Units of Study


Experience life at the ocean’s edge and find out why life in the tide pools is no day at the beach. (4th, 5th grade) new test

Tide pools Units of Study


Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook is a great place to observe weather. Students will learn about weather, climate and the story of this unique park in Los Angeles. (5th grade)

Weather and Climate Unit of Study


Explore how mammals are different from other animals by learning unique features of mammals and comparing them to reptiles, insects and others. (Kindergarten-2nd grade)

What is a Mammal? Unit of Study


Check out what else we have to offer!
(K-12th grade)

Other Programs 


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  • Public Information Inquiries: (916) 653-6995 | (800) 777-0369
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Stay tuned to our #TransformationTuesday as cabins go from planning to breaking ground. (Image is artist rendering)

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Online Learning That Engages Students

Passion In Education has been utilizing Edgenuity since it’s opening in 2010.  We have assisted many students and parents.  Students need options in education to meet their needs.  If your student is currently struggling and needs another form of learning, check out The Bridge Virtual Academy for support courses, getting ahead, advancing in courses not offered in your current school and more.

Click here for a demo.

Here is the Course List:TBVA AD 2015

Enjoy the learning process.  Find what works best for your learning style.


The Power of Google for Education

Colleges and universities find new ways to work and learn with Google for Education

Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2015

Editor’s note: In this post, we’re sharing some of the great work that colleges and universities are doing with the help of Google for Education tools. To learn more about Google’s solutions for higher education, come visit us atEDUCAUSE – the largest higher education EdTech event in the US – October 27-30 in Indianapolis, at #1110 in the Expo Hall. We’ll be demoing the latest products with Googlers, administrators, professors and students givingshort presentations throughout the week. And if you can’t attend EDUCAUSE, be sure to join our webinar with University of Texas at Austin on November 17th at 2pm EST / 11am PST.

Many higher education campuses are home to tens of thousands of students, thousands more staff, and dozens of buildings and academic departments — not to mention online learners. How do you create community and enable collaboration in academic settings that are the size of small cities, while making it easy for everyone on campus to learn and work together? Millions of students, teachers and administrators at colleges and universities around the world use Google Apps for Education to access their coursework from anywhere, communicate at any time, and share ideas for academic projects. In fact, the majority of U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 universities use Google Apps. Here’s how several major universities have brought professors, students and departments closer together.

Bringing Google’s best solutions to campus

Introducing new technology tools often means adoption delays and integration headaches. At schools likeGeorgetown University (case study), where Google is already the top choice of many students and faculty for email and collaboration, using Google Apps for Education for official school business was a painless transition.

The high awareness of Google Apps, and its seamless integration with other systems, was also a deciding factor at North Carolina State University (case study). “For the students, many of whom were already using Google, it really was a no-brainer,” says Sarah Noell, an assistant director in the school’s Office of Information Technology.

Schoolwide solutions unify large campuses

At the very largest universities, like the University of Michigan (case study) which has 43,000 students, separate schools and departments often choose their own email and collaboration tools — which means there’s no consistent way to share documents or manage email across the vast university community. With Google for Education, Michigan was able to unify all of its 19 schools under one collaborative solution. “When Google Apps for Education was introduced, there was a huge sigh of relief,” says Jeff Ringenberg, a faculty member in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department. “Previously, it was very difficult for students and professors to keep their information synchronized.”

Professors and students work anytime, anywhere

Not only do schoolwide collaboration and productivity tools unify campuses, they make it easy to tap into course syllabi, reading lists and progress reports from professors. At Brown University (case study), moving from Microsoft Exchange to Google Apps meant students no longer needed to carry their laptops around – they were able to choose any device on campus or pull out their mobile phones and immediately be productive. “All you need is a web browser,” says Geoffrey Greene, Brown’s director of IT support. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on your PC at home or on your Chromebook at work; you can do anything from any machine, anywhere.”

The students running Brown Market Shares, a food distribution program, use Google Drive to share meeting agendas and customer check-in sheets. “Using a Google Doc for our weekly meeting agendas, is useful because we can each add items to it before the meeting at any time of the day or night,” says Meagan Miller, an undergraduate student and Brown Market Shares’ communications coordinator.

Security and privacy help research and learning flourish

With anytime, anywhere access, students and teachers need assurance that their projects can only be accessed by their chosen colleagues. Brown decided to adopt Google for Education in part because the university needed to protect in-progress research while encouraging collaboration from the campus community. The University of Texas at Austin made a similar choice: “What happens in the classroom should stay in the classroom,” says Christy Tran, a student intern working in CIO Brad Englert’s group. “Students can trust that they’ll have a safe learning experience.”

Better communication and feedback beyond the classroom

At UT Austin, home to 51,000 students, it’s not easy for professors to touch base with all of their students face-to-face. Google Apps lets feedback happen outside of class time or office hours. “I may only see students in class three hours a week, but we’re working together and editing classwork all the time, even on weekends,” says Angela Newell, a faculty member of UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business. “It allows us to move projects along much faster, and we can increase camaraderie with students.”

The University of Michigan’s Jeff Ringenberg collaborates with other teachers on his Electrical Engineering and Computer Science course syllabi and exams using Google Docs. “It eliminates the need to send thousands of versions back and forth,” he says. “We’ve streamlined the process of writing an exam, which frees me up to focus on communicating with students as opposed to generating content.”

There are many more stories about colleges and universities that are are re-thinking the ways they learn and work. If you’re in Indianapolis, we hope to see you in the EDUCAUSE Expo Hall at #1110. And if you can’t make it to the conference, be sure to join our webinar with University of Texas at Austin on November 17th at 2pm EST / 11am PST.

A new kind of Classroom for 10 million students and teachers

Posted: Wednesday, October 21, 2015

In a junior high class in Queens, New York, Ross Berman is teaching fractions. He wants to know whether his students are getting the key concept, so he posts a question in Google Classroom and instantly reviews their answers. It’s his favorite way to check for understanding before anyone has the chance to fall behind.

Across the country, in Bakersfield, California, Terri Parker Rodman is waiting at the dentist’s office. She wonders how her class is doing with their sub. With a few swipes on her phone, she finds out which students have finished their in-class assignment and sends a gentle reminder to those who haven’t.

Google Classroom launched last August, and now more than 10 million educators and students across the globe actively use it to teach and learn together, save time, and stay organized. We worked with teachers and students to create Classroom because they told us they needed a mission control – a central place for creating and tracking assignments, sharing ideas and resources, turning in completed work and exchanging feedback. Classroom is part of Google’s lineup of tools for education, which also includes the Google Apps for Education suite – now used by more than 50 million students, teachers and administrators around the world – and Chromebooks, the best-selling device in U.S. K-12 schools.

Here are a few of the stories we’ve heard from teachers and students who are using Classroom.

Learning better together

We built Classroom to help educators spend less time on paperwork and administrative tasks. But it’s also proven to be highly effective at bringing students and teachers closer together. In London, fifth grader Kamal Nsudoh-Parish stays connected with his Spanish teacher while he does his homework. “If I don’t understand something, I can ask him and he’d be able to answer rather than having to wait until my next Spanish lesson,” Kamal says.

Terri, who teaches sixth grade at Old River Elementary School, also observes that Classroom can strengthen ties and improve communication. “When a student doesn’t turn something in, I can see how close they are,” she says. “In the past, I couldn’t tell why they didn’t finish their work. I was grading them on bringing back a piece of paper instead of what their ability was.”

Resource room teacher Diane Basanese of Black River Middle School in Chester, New Jersey, says that Classroom lets her see her students’ minds at work. “I’m in the moment with them,” she explains. “We have dialogue, like, ‘Oh, are you saying I should use a transition?’ We’re talking to each other. It’s a better way.”

Removing the mundane

By helping them cut down on busywork, Classroom empowers teachers to do even more with every school day. “I no longer waste time figuring out paper jams at the school photocopier,” says Tom Mullaney, who teaches in Efland, North Carolina. “Absent students no longer email or ask, ‘What did we do yesterday?’ These time savers may not sound like much, but they free me to spend time on things that I consider transcendent in my teaching practice.”

In Mexico City, teachers at Tec de Monterrey high school and university switched to Classroom from an online learning management system that often added complexity to their workflow instead of simplifying it. Professor Vicente Cubells says he’s found the new question feature in Classroom particularly useful for short quizzes, because he can quickly assess learning and have an automatic record of their responses and grades. “The Classroom mobile apps have also become essential for our faculty and students, we use them to stay connected even when we’re not in front of a laptop,” Cubells said.

Giving teachers superpowers

Teachers are some of the most innovative thinkers in the world, so it’s no surprise that they’ve used Classroom in ways we never even imagined.

Elementary school teacher Christopher Conant of Boise, Idaho, says his students are usually eager to leave school behind during summer break. But after using Classroom last year, they wanted to keep their class open as a way to stay in touch. “Classroom is a tool that keeps kids connected and learning as a community, well beyond the school day, school year and school walls,” said Christopher, who continued to post videos and questions for his students all summer long.

These endless possibilities are the reason why Diane Basanese, a 30-year teaching veteran, says that Classroom is the tool she’s been looking for throughout her career. “It has made me hungrier,” she explains. “I look at how I can make every lesson a hit-it-out-of-the-ballpark lesson.”

Growing our Classroom

Ever since we began working with teachers and students, it’s been rewarding and encouraging to hear their stories, collaborate to find answers to their problems, and watch those solutions come to life at schools and universities around the world. Lucky for us, we’re just getting started.

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