20+ Google Hacks for the Busy Educator

If you are looking to save time, stay organized and learn new, efficient ways to use the Google Apps you already love, Read On! At the Missouri Summit Featuring Google for Education this weekend, my colleague, Alicia Brand (@BrandsArtClass) and I shared 20+ Google Hacks for the Busy Educator. The link to our presentation slides can be found here.


  1. Filter on the fly.

Labels and filters can be a great way to declutter your inbox, but taking the time to set them up can be a pain. With “Filter messages like these” in the More menu you can quickly create a filter/new label for a sender. Select “Apply filter to matching conversations” to include messages you’ve already received and don’t forget to check “Skip the inbox” for maximum decluttering.

  1. Create a quick alias (username +alias @ GAFE domain) to filter by.

In a GAFE account, you can use a symbol plus text between your username and domain to create a quick alias. For instance, I use ssteimel+sub@liftforlifeacademy.org when I use my email address to subscribe to a newsletter or when signing up for free products. Then, I can filter messages To that alias to a Subscriptions label.

Another alias I use is ssteimel+reply@liftforlifeacademy.org . This allows me a quick way to keep track of emails I send that need follow up. When sending the message, I bcc ssteimel+reply@liftforlifeacademy.org and have it set to filter to a Need Reply label.

  1. Set an email as a Task or go “turbo task” with Boomerang.

Another helpful option in the More menu is “Add to Tasks.” Select this option to help yourself remember to follow up on an email.  You can simply add it to your Google Tasks list or set a specific due date.  For even more options for managing your email, consider the Boomerang Chrome Add On. You can Boomerang 10 messages per month for free, or it’s $4.99 per month for unlimited.

  1. Label email distribution groups with a Subject Prefix.

This one is for the administrators of your Google Apps, so you could ask them to do this if they aren’t already. By adding a subject prefix, such as [HS Staff], in front of group emails, you can easily see to whom the message was directed. To do this, in the Admin panel for each group go to Settings: Email options: Subject Prefix.

I would also suggest asking your GAFE admin to set up a Non-school related distribution group [Non-School] if you don’t have one already, so that it’s easier to ignore unimportant emails when you have a limited amount of time to deal with your inbox.

  1. Mute conversations you don’t care about.

Select “Mute” from the More menu, and you won’t receive further replies in your inbox unless they are directed specifically to you.

  1. Turn on Preview Pane in Labs.

If you want to see a preview of your inbox messages similar to Outlook, enable Preview Pane in Labs. It allows you to reply right in the preview (this works better with the horizontal split). You can toggle the Preview Pane on and off as needed.

  1. Turn on Canned Responses in Labs.

Another time-saving option in Labs is Canned Responses. Once you’ve enabled it, you select the icon in the bottom right corner of any message to create and insert canned messages from there.

  1. Gamify clearing your inbox with the Email Game.

Boomerang created this fun game that awards points for beating the timer. Just sign in with your Gmail at emailga.me to get started.


  1. Use Calendar as your plan book.

My colleague Alicia has ditched a paper plan book in favor of Google Calendar.  She includes an overview of the day’s lesson plans in the Description field. Share the calendar with students and parents for a quick way to communicate expectations and catch up absent students. You can even attach copies of handouts.

*If you’re a Google Classroom user this option may soon become even more powerful. With the recent addition of a calendar in Classroom, assignment due dates are automatically added to a calendar for each class, which also appears in your Google Calendar. Google just needs to add a fix so that manual Calendar entries sync back to Classroom.

  1. Hide morning and night in Labs.

Limit your calendar view to your work hours by enabling Hide Morning and Night. If you do have an after-hours event, such as parent-teacher conferences, it will show you at the bottom of that day’s view, and you can always expand it to see the details.

  1. Create calendars for items, rooms, computer carts, field trips, etc.

Creating calendars for shared assets and giving permissions to your staff to schedule them is an organizational boon! Be sure to remind staff to select the correct calendar from the drop down menu when scheduling since the default is their own calendar.

  1. Add attachments to your calendar events.

Add meeting agendas, handouts, directions, field trip rosters, etc. to your events. I love that you can attach Drive docs not just traditional attachments.

  1. Appointment slots are a quick and easy way to offer meeting times.

When you create a new event, you have the option of offering Appointment slots.  You can set the duration of the appointments. You can also choose to invite people by email address or give out a URL to the calendar’s appointment page. This is a great way to schedule parent/student conferences, observations and more.

  1. Use Suggested times to find a time to meet with others.

This only works if the other person or people you are trying to meet with also use their Google calendars for their daily schedule.  Create an event, select Edit event, add your guest(s)  and then click on Suggested times to see times when everyone is free.

  1. Create a new event right from the Google search bar.

If I type “Meet with Brand 2pm” in the search bar, the first result that pops up is a Google calendar event with the details I’ve typed. What could be faster?


  1. Create comment shortcuts in Docs.

Do you get tired of typing the same comments over and over again (“add more details” or “check your citation”) when giving your students’ feedback? In Preferences, you can create a shorthand system for yourself. Then,  all you need to do is turn on Suggesting mode, so that your comments appear in a different color. Greg Lawrence (@greglawrence) has a 30 Seconds of Google video to get you started.

  1. “Flip” your Comments.

Use the concept of flipping lessons with short videos when giving students comments on their documents. URLS in Comments become hotlinks, so all you have to do is paste the URL into the Comment box. You can use your own videos or do a quick video search. For instance, I found this video on How to Write a Conclusion on the first page of results.

  1. Give yourself the option to “Save to Google Drive” when surfing the web.

With the Save to Google Drive Chrome extension, all you have to do to save an image you find on the web is right click on it, and select Save to Google Drive. It will also allow you to rename the file and specify where in your Drive you save it.

  1. Make Form responses more readable.

I love using Google Forms for a myriad of purposes. The only thing I don’t love is how unreadable the answers are in the Spreadsheet format. With the Add On formMule, you can automate sending yourself an email with the responses in an easy-to-read format that works similarly to a mail merge. At the Summit, I also learned from Drew McCallister (@drewmca) about another Add on called autoCrat that allows you to automatically create both emails and documents from form responses at the same time.

  1. Use the Research tool to add images to your Slides and Documents fast.

Go to Tools: Research and search for an image. When you find the one you want, simply drag it to your slide or doc. It will include the URL automatically.

  1. Create flyers and handouts easily in Slides.

Creating a handout in Docs can be cumbersome and Draw can feel like you are working in Paint instead of a Doc. An easy compromise is Slides. Just go to Page setup and change the dimensions to 8.5 x 11 inches, and you are good to go.


  1. Get the Keep widget on your phone to quickly capture ideas.

I love Google Keep for my To Do list. If you add the widget, you can also use it to quickly capture not only your to do’s but also audio and images. If I click the camera icon in the Keep widget, it automatically opens my phone’s camera and saves the image to my Keep account.

  1. Get reminders by location.

I am always thinking of things I need to do at home while at school and vice versa. With Keep’s reminders by location, I can just input the addresses, and I’ll be reminded of my To Do’s for that location when I arrive.

  1. Easily share and send your notes to other people and programs.

I first started this list of hacks in Keep on my phone, adding to the list as I thought of new ideas. I was then able to easily copy the list to Google Docs to further develop and organize my ideas.  I can also share Keep items with individuals and with other programs such as Twitter, email, Pinterest, Facebook and more.

There you have it, 20+ Google Hacks to to make Gmail, Calendar, Drive and Keep work harder so you don’t have to.

Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite ways to save time and stay organized with GAFE? Share your hacks in the comments.

5 Attitudes of Successful #Edtech Integrators Every Teacher Should Adopt @etaofstl @greglawrence

At the September meeting of The Education Technology Association of St. Louis (@etaofstl), Wentzville ed tech specialist Greg Lawrence (@greglawrence) had 5 teachers from his district share their experiences with managing the digital classroom. As these successful integrators of technology spoke, some themes emerged that I think are worth sharing. 

Here’s how you can emulate them:

1: You don’t have to know everything about an app/web tool before trying it with students. 

The days of the teacher as “sage on the stage” are long gone (or they should be!). Some teachers let fear of not being an expert on tech hold them back. Successful ed tech integrators know you can use a tech tool with students without knowing all the ins and outs of it. Even if a lesson doesn’t go perfectly, there’s a life skill to be learned with that, too.

2: Tinker time is not wasted time.

Students can become proactive in their learning if you encourage them to problem solve and allow them to tinker.Given the time and opportunity, students will pick up new tricks with tech tools, and, perhaps, even teach you a thing or two.  One successful strategy to try: make a tinker project for a resource to get them familiar with and excited about that resource before using it for a bigger assignment.

3: Just because your students are tech savvy, don’t assume you can ignore tech instruction.

Personal technology use doesn’t automatically transfer to knowledge of tech for educational purposes. Successful tech integrators understand the importance of building tech competencies among their students. As one middle school teacher pointed out, if the next grade level’s staff can tell a difference between student tech skills based on which team the student was on, you know there are discrepancies. Find a way, not an excuse.

4: Value the rich experiences available at students’ fingertips. 

Successful tech integrators do not see technology as “one more thing” they’re expected to teach, they value the real world applications for students. As one high school math teacher pointed out, the rich access to real data on the web reinforces what students are learning and makes the learning more relevant. Try this: Post short urls/qr codes around the physical walls of your classrooms that link to enriching content or video tutorials for students to explore and use Google Classroom to push links to kids online.

5: Embrace opportunities for professional learning and sharing.

Whether its the ability to give more timely feedback on writing assignments with Google Drive, quickly assess what students know with Kahoot, flip your lessons so you have more individual time with students or completely redefine a lesson, technology improves your teaching practices. Successful technology integrators know this, so they embrace opportunities for professional learning. At Wentzville, teachers can gain knowledge via leveled courses with the option for discounted graduate credit, attending tech mini-lessons on their plan periods or watching Greg’s 30 Seconds of Google videos. Being able to share lesson plans and collaborate across buildings was also cited as a major advantage of using GAFE in their district.

A big thanks to Greg, as well as Constance, Richard, Amanda, Stacy and Stacy for demonstrating attitudes that make tech work for you and your students!