Educational technology tips for teachers, librarians and schools.

13 Things You Didn’t Know You Can Do With GAFE

13 Things You Didn’t Know You Can Do With GAFE

By Shawn Beard, Google for Education Certified Trainer

What’s so miraculous about Google is the magnitude of the tools available for educators. With just one Gmail account, or as a member of a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school district, you gain access to cloud storage, email, document creation, communication tools, social media applications—the list could go on and on.

What many users may not know is that there are a variety of creative features hidden inside the Google tools you use every day. Some of these features are right in front of your face, while others are less obvious. Let’s take a look at the 13 things you didn’t know were possible with GAFE.

More: 20 Best Google Classroom Tips From Google Pros

1. Create Drop Down Menus in Google Sheets

There are several uses for dropdown menus in a spreadsheet. For instance, if you want to create your own attendance chart for special clubs, organizations or meetings, dropdown menus make it easier to organize.

To make this work, use the Data Validation tool in Google Sheets. Click on the cell (or highlight the cells) you want to apply this feature to. Select the Data Menu and choose Validation. From the Validation Menu, you can choose your criteria. For this instance, I chose List of Items. Enter your dropdown list items, separated by comma. Click Save and your drop down menu will be created.
drop down menu

2. Create Pixel Art

Did you know that you can create your own pixel art with Google Sheets? By setting up your sheet ahead of time, users can enter a number in any cell, and it will appear as a color. Making this work involves a feature called Conditional Formatting.

Resize your cells to make them “pixel-sized” by clicking on the top left cell to select all cells. Then click on the Format menu to choose Conditional Formatting. The range of cells you selected will already be shown in the range box.

On the “Format Cells If” box, choose Text is Exactly. Enter the number you plan to use for your color (Example: 1 for Red). Then change the Text color to Red, and the Fill Color to Red. Now each time a student enters a 1 in the Cell Grid, it will fill with the color red.

Do this for each color you wish to use in your Pixel Art. Then create a Color Map that kids can use as a guide, or create an accompanying worksheet utilizing Math or Spelling items (use letters instead of numbers) guiding kids toward the creation of a picture.

Learn how by watching the Video Tutorial

pixel art

3. Create an Interactive Map

Create an interactive map to accompany a short story you are using in your classroom or use this as an icebreaker activity for the beginning of the year.

To get started, create a Google Sheet with two pieces of information in columns: Locations (City, State or Latitude/Longitude) and a Label for the location. That label can be anything—the name of the city, the student doing the report on that location, or as is shown above, the event that took place at that site. It just depends on your activity.

After you have created your sheet, go Google’s My Maps and create a New Map. You can also do this from Google Drive: create a My Maps document (go to Google Drive and click New—choose Google My Maps). Once in your new map, click Import under the Untitled Layer. Search for the Sheet containing your Data, and follow the onscreen instructions.

To extend this activity a bit further, make it a Start-of-the-Year activity by using a Google Form to gather data. Import the data from your Response Sheet into your Map for a fun, creative way to display information.

Learn how by watching the Video Tutorial


4. Create a One-Stop-Shop for RSS Feeds

It can be difficult to keep up with all the news and information that goes out every day. You can subscribe to all the sites and blogs you want, but will likely find that your inbox is soon full. One way to keep up is by using a function in Google Sheets called Import Feed.

  1. Find the RSS Feed URL for the site you wish to follow. An example is the Official Google Blog, whose RSS Feed is
  2. On a blank worksheet in Google Sheets, type =IMPORTFEED(“feed url”) in the upper left cell. For example, for the above website, I typed =IMPORTFEED(““) in the upper left cell.
  3. Click Enter. Your feed will load into your sheet, with one article per row. As new articles are posted, they will populate your sheet.

You can create a new worksheet for each blog or site you’d like to follow, making it easy to check in whenever you want.

More: 5 MORE Ways to Use Google Forms in the Classroom

5. Protect Cells in Google Sheets

Sometimes, when working with other collaborators in a Google Sheet, or when setting up a Google Sheet as a fillable form, it is necessary to protect certain cells so they cannot be edited. This is a fairly straightforward and simple task with several control features.

To protect any cell in a Google Sheet:

  1. Highlight the cell(s) you wish to protect.
  2. Right click on the highlighted cell(s).
  3. Choose Protect Range
  4. Click Set Permissions
  5. Choose whether you want to allow Only You, or if you would like to add a Custom User.
  6. Click Done.

protect cells

6. Add a Collaborator in Google Forms

Google Forms were made to be used for surveys, informational use, or even quizzes. This often means that you don’t need to “Share” it with others, as you would with a Doc, Sheet or Slides presentation. However, in some cases, it is necessary to add another collaborator so you can both work on it at the same time.

To do this in the OLD Google Forms:

  1. Click on the File Menu in Forms and Click Add Collaborators.
  2. In the Invite People section, add the email address of the person you want to share your form with, along with the level of permissions you wish to grant.
  3. Click Send and then Click Done.

In the New Google Forms:

  1. Click the More icon (Three dots in top right corner)
  2. Choose Add Collaborators
  3. In the Invite People section, add the email address of the person you want to share your form with, along with the level of permissions you wish to grant.
  4. Click Send and then Click Done.

More: 10 Game-Changing Chrome Extensions and Google Add-Ons

7. Publish Docs as ePubs

The invention of eReaders made it easy for almost anyone to become a “published author.” Now, Google has taken that one step further by allowing users to publish Google Docs as an ePub.

Beyond just getting your work out there, the ability to publish a doc as an ePub has several applications: teachers can export a syllabus, create their own textbook, or push out a workshop tutorial guide as an ePub so that students, parents, and fellow teachers can more easily access materials on mobile devices.

Need to create an ePub? Here’s how easy it is.

  1. Open a Google Doc
  2. Click on the File Menu
  3. Click Download As and choose ePub.

Its that easy! Happy publishing!


8. Create a Choose Your Own Adventure Quiz

Did you know that in Google Forms, you can apply a feature to questions called “Go to Section Based On Answer”? This handy little feature allows Form creators to send users to a certain page based on their response to a question.

For instance, if you asked the user which school site they are enrolled in, you could skip to questions pertinent to them, leaving out unnecessary questions.

Additionally, teachers can use this feature to create a Choose Your Own Adventure-style quiz. Create a quiz based on your story by using the title and description fields—be sure your paragraph ends in a cliffhanger. Then ask the reader to decide what happens next.

Set up sections to your quiz and have the form direct them to a different section depending on their answer. By doing so, they choose where the story leads next.

choose your own adventure

9. Use a Google Form as a Check for Understanding

Rubrics are great when grading student projects and work. As a classroom teacher, when students would give oral presentations on projects, I would stand at the back of the room with my clipboard, and a stack of Rubrics that I would fill out as they presented.

With technology today, I swapped my clipboard for a tablet, and replaced the paper rubric for a Google Form—a huge timesaver. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Set up your Google Form to include the basic information such as Student Name, Period, and School Email Address.
  1. Set up your Rubric by using question types such as Linear Scale, to show a student’s mastery of a concept, or the need for improvement with a simple number-based score. Do this for each standard in your rubric.
  1. Finally, in the Response Sheet for your Google Form, use the add-on Autocrat to merge form submissions with a Google Doc so that can be emailed out to students. In this way, students will receive their grade in a timely manner, and you can save time and effort by grading as you observe.

Get Your Own Copy of the Template Shown Above

Watch a Tutorial on setting up Autocrat


10. Make an Animated GIF with the SnagIt Chrome Extension

With many of my blog articles, I post Animated GIF files to show readers how to carry out a process. I’ll often get comments asking what I use to create GIF files. The best tool I have found is SnagIt. SnagIt is a Chrome extension created by Techsmith, found in the Chrome Web Store.

You can use it to create screenshots, video, and Animated GIF files. This is a very handy tool, especially when you need to explain something technical to someone. I’ve used it many times to respond to questions by email, with a GIF file rather than a lengthy explanation.

Plus, all your screenshots, captures, and videos are stored in Google Drive so you can access them later! Great tool!

11. Take your Lists & Sticky Notes With You

At the end of the day, I usually have a long list of tasks that I need to take note of for the next day. In the past, I would find any scrap of paper, or sticky note, that I could find to leave reminders for myself.

By desktop eventually looked like a huge scrap pile, as they began to accumulate. Then I discovered Google Keep. Available as an App for Android , Chrome, or iOS, as well as in browser, Google Keep allows you to keep notes and lists that you can access anytime.

Now I no longer have scraps of paper everywhere, and I can use my Google Login to stay on top of tasks and lists by looking on my desktop, tablet, or phone. Still not convinced that this would be for you? Think about these reasons to use Keep:

  • Set Keep as your Home screen and see your lists as soon as you login each day.
  • Share any Note or List with anyone.
  • Color code your Notes to keep them categorized.
  • Set Reminders on your notes so you receive an email or calendar alert for certain tasks.

12. Transfer Ownership of a Google Doc

The longer I have worked with Google Docs, the longer the list of files I have in my Drive. As a result, there have been times when due to a change in my duty schedule or responsibilities, I have had to pass certain files off to someone else for them to use.

But, rather than have them make a copy of the file and lose any information that might have been associated with it (revision history, form responses), it’s sometimes easier to transfer ownership.

To transfer of a file:

  1. Click the Share Button. (In Google Drive, highlight the file and click on the Share icon)
  2. Click Advanced on the popup screen.
  3. Next to the User you want to transfer ownership to, click the dropdown and change to “Is Owner”.
  4. Click Save Changes
  5. Click Done.

Watch the tutorial video to see more

13. Access Google Tutorials from your Chrome Browser

If you like some of the things you’ve seen here, why not watch and learn more? You can access a wealth of tutorial videos from your Chrome Browser while you work in Google Drive. Download the Techy Coach Chrome Extension and get plugged in!

chrome extension

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  1. Pingback: OTR Links 04/27/2016 | doug --- off the record

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