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50 Ways to Engage Students with Google Apps


As I’m sure you know, my latest book, 50 Ways to Engage Students with Google Apps, just came out. I wanted to share with you some information about the book and the process of writing it with my incredible co-author, Alice Keeler.

The Book

Quite simply, the book is a wonderful resource of fifty strategies to improve student engagement using Google Apps (like Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc.). However, even if you work in a school district that doesn’t use Google Apps, this book can still offer tips, tricks, and insights you can use with other software too. In fact, as we write in the opening of the book:

Google tools do not create student engagement. We would like to say this again: GOOGLE TOOLS DO NOT CREATE  ENGAGEMENT. Tools do not teach.  For students to learn—let alone be engaged in what they’re learning—highly qualified teachers must carefully consider how they will use a variety of tools to apply pedagogical strategies.

With that in mind, we wanted to create a book that offered ways to help teachers think about their approach to tools and teaching.

While I have already written extensively about engagement in blog posts and my books, it’s worth reiterating what engagement is and isn’t. (Please check out the post, “This is NOT Engagement” to learn more about engagement and/or the post, “The Narwhal of Education” to learn more about what the narwhal on the cover of all of my books symbolizes). 

At its most basic construct, engagement is defined in the equation below:

Engagement=Enjoyment of the Task + Consequence for the Task

People who enjoy what they’re doing and the consequences (positive or negative) for doing the task are engaged. However, engagement is not binary–it’s nuanced. In fact, there are four levels of engagement: (1) non-compliant, (2), compliant, (3) interested, and (4) absorbed. 

Having established a foundation of what engagement is (and isn’t), we spend a few pages talking about instructional design. You’ll really love what we wrote about the 4Cs and the 5E Instructional Model! Then, the rest of the book is devoted to using Google Apps to build engagement.

You will see that most of the strategies are ones that aim to help get students into the Interested quadrant. We need to celebrate interest because it is engagement. Absorption, though it’s the highest level of engagement, is not possible for all students for all lessons for all classes every day. Rather, our goal should be to ensure:

  1. That all students are interested in all lessons for all classes every day AND 

  2. To find ways for students to explore what is absorbing to them in school and bring experiences from outside of school to their learning. 

At the same time, this is not just a how-to book that simply gives step-by-step directions on how to use a strategy. We wanted to include more than just the how but also some information on what and why. It is important to note that these strategies are not magical solutions. Instead, they are big ideas to consider when designing your lessons. The implementation of any strategy will depend on the unique conditions of your classroom, which we cannot control nor predict. Therefore, we suggest that you view our categorizations as suggestions rather than absolute rules. It is possible that a strategy we suggest to encourage compliance may actually increase student engagement for you, or vice versa. Similarly, a strategy that we suggest for generating interest may only result in compliance from your students. Our labels and organization were chosen based on what made the most sense to us, but we encourage you to reclassify them based on your own experiences, knowledge, and circumstances. We hope that these strategies will inspire you and provide a starting point for your own ideas and creativity in engaging your students.

The Process

A couple of years ago, a mutual friend, the great Melody McAllister, introduced Alice and me. At the time, Alice was doing some work as a consultant with a company and was telling me about what the company did. If I’m being honest, though I was familiar with a couple of her books, I didn’t connect the dots. Toward the end of the meeting, Alice told me she was going to send me a copy of her newest book and I offered to send her a copy of my newest book in return. After I got off the virtual meeting, I Googled Alice. You can only imagine my surprise when I saw she had over 100,000 followers on Twitter (when it was still called that). Compared to my maybe 1,500 at the time, I was speechless. (Follow Alice @alicekeeler on social media and visit her author's website on Amazon here).

Alice and I reconnected shortly after to talk more about engagement. She was kind, enthusiastic and energetic. As we spoke, Alice was tweeting our conversation and sharing what I said with her followers–this is what people with no ego do. This is what it means to support the work of others. This is what someone who is dedicated to doing great things for the profession does. Anyway, at some point, Alice said we should write a book together about engagement. She would be the expert regarding Google Apps and I would be the engagement expert. Honestly, I couldn’t have been more excited.

That said, Alice and I are very different people. Alice is a morning bird who, even though she’s an hour behind me from her home in Kansas, is still up earlier than I get up in New York. Alice is highly skilled in all things social media. Alice teaches math. I taught ELA, I’m an administrator, and I love MS Office. We are not the same. Nevertheless, I set my alarm early so we could meet and draft the book. 

In truth, writing the book took longer than we expected and there were bumps along the way, but I couldn’t be more proud of the work that we did together. I learned so much in the process and am so grateful to Alice and the DBC team who published the book. We hope you like it!


P.S. My Catch of the Week is Alice Keeler’s post, “50 Ways to Engage Students With Google Apps” where Alice shares information about the book and even includes an additional strategy that didn’t make it in the book. While you’re there, check out her other pages or additional blog posts!

P.P.S. Please remember to...

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