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by Matt Weyers
6th Grade Teacher, Byron (MN) Public Schools

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May 31, 2016
Using Google Classroom to Support PBL

by Matt Weyers
6th Grade Teacher, Byron (MN) Public Schools

Project Based Learning has been a revelation for me. It is the first instructional “plate” I have encountered that simultaneously blends significant content and 21st century skills, and meets my teaching philosophy.  I have come to believe however, that utilizing the PBL “plate” with my sixth graders is akin to going through a buffet line at your favorite restaurant. Without a predetermined method of organization, your food (or instructional) choices run together into a cluttered mess impossible to separate. I knew I needed to find a way to organize my project into a singular entity that did not cause my appetizer (entry event), main course (significant content) and dessert (final presentations) to become confusing and inaccessible for kids.

Over the past few years I have experimented with several learning management systems in an effort to find the best method of organizing information for students that is quick, simple, and intuitive to use. Google Classroom has become my personal favorite for three reasons: 1. It has a simple interface to post assignments  2. It supports narrative feedback  3. It integrates with Doctopus/Goobric from New Visions CloudLab.

Why I like the Google Classroom Interface

  1. It’s easy to post anything you want. With a few short clicks, Classroom allows me to select a Google Drive document, video link, or file from my computer and share it across multiple Classroom sections in a matter of seconds. For example, I will typically create and post a Project Overview page that includes links to all required readings, assignment descriptions, and helpful resources for students.
  2. You can provide students with individual copies of an assignment template in the blink of an eye. When selecting the document you want to post, by selecting “make a copy for each student”, Classroom will automatically create a copied template for each student enrolled in your class. Students can then submit or unsubmit their work at will, and teachers can electronically grade and return papers all through the Classroom section of Google Drive.

How Google Classroom Supports Narrative Feedback
I have recently become a convert of narrative feedback. Narrative feedback is the process of providing students specific and actionable feedback in the form of a paragraph. I particularly like the SE2R model by Mark Barnes. When grades are detached from the assignment, I believe narrative feedback helps make the shift from grading to learning. Google Classroom supports narrative feedback in two different ways:

  1. Having the ability to place private comments on student work in the Classroom platform itself. While adding comments to work is not a specific perk of Google Classroom (as it is available through Google Drive itself), the benefit is that students can still share their work with others, while the specific feedback/comments remain privy to the students themselves. In addition, the running narrative that can be created between student and teachers using this comment ability can be quite powerful.
  2. Although not a feature of Google Classroom itself (can currently do in Google Drive), I prefer engaging in narrative feedback with the students by commenting on specific locations within the shared document itself. When making the comment, I will typically begin it by typing a “+” and then the student’s email address (if he/she is already a contact of yours, their email address will show automatically) and then typing the comment. By adding the “+” in front of the email, Google will automatically notify the student via email that a comment has been placed. I have found this easier to manage than the private comments mentioned above.

Ingesting Assignments Using Doctopus/Goobric:
Doctopus is a Google Sheet add-on that can be installed from the sheet itself. Once Doctopus is opened, it provides you the option to share a template with a roster or to ingest an assignment from Google Classroom. When you select “ingest” the add-on will populate the sheet with student names, emails, and links to their individual assignments. The most beneficial feature is that Doctopus then allows you to attach a Goobric (rubric) that, once filled out, will copy itself to the bottom of the student document, as well as email the student notifying them that a rubric has been attached.

I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg with Google Classroom. I can only imagine that over time, it will continue to evolve into a better tool than it already is. Do you have any other tips on how to effectively use Google Classroom? If so, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to comment below!


  • Hi !! Nice I joined today Google PBL.

    Dr S Kotrappa on June 12, 2016 
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  • I have a questions about the email. If the district has disabled the email feature is there another way to notify the students you left a comment on their work?

    Ctaylor21 on June 29, 2016 
    [Reply to this comment]
    • Talk to your district. It is possible to enable email and restrict it to your domain (if that is their concern). They may just not know that there is an educational purpose for student email.

      MrsBray on July 27, 2016 
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  • Exciting! Can’t wait to try this! Thanks!

    MrsBray on July 27, 2016 
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