Screencastify, Paper & Math: Spin It Around, Write It Down, Explain with Sound!

This post originally appeared on the Screencastify blog, here.

We all know how important it is for students to demonstrate

their understanding of a particular subject or problem by “showing their work.” If your students are using tablets, there are a number of great interactive whiteboard recording apps that allow students to write with a stylus, annotate images and provide audio explanations.

But what about the large student population who are using Chromebooks, not tablets?  Some new Chromebooks have touch screens and a small number are ready to roll with Android apps, but for the majority of our students, this type of recording feature is nowhere in their near future.  And it’s a great feature!  What’s better than telling a student to “show their work”!?  Telling them to “explain their work” or, better yet, narrate it.

As an educational technology advocate and problem-solver, I am always looking for a hack.  And, here’s my hack for this.  Tell your students: “click on the Screencastify extension, select Cam, spin the computer around, aim it at a piece of paper, starting writing or drawing and explain away.”  In short, spin it around, write it down, explain with sound.

Check out my hack in action in the video below!

Easy Citations in Google Docs

Digital citizens are constantly sharing other people’s content.  We are all cultivators of stuff.  Images, quotes, GIFs, artwork, you name it – we share it.  It is very important that we teach kids to give credit where credit’s due.

Unfortunately, students are very resistant to citing their sources when they do schoolwork.  Why?  I believe it’s because it’s a pain to do so.  Who would want to cite their source if you have to do tons of sleuth work to figure out who the original source really was?  Who would want to cite their source if you have to enter a boatload of information into a separate site to prepare the citation to put in your document?

In my book, the goal for students, especially those in middle school, should simply be to get them to cite their sources.  I don’t care if it really is the accurate original source.  I don’t care if the periods and commas in the MLA citation are correct.  I just want them to recognize that the content is not their own and that the originator deserves credit.  Google Docs makes that easy with two tools.  Let’s check them out . . .

Using the Explore Tool in Google Docs

This will only work for resources on the web (not books), but it’s super easy to use.  It creates footnotes, which I’ve heard aren’t commonly used in K-12 writing.  However, as you’ll see in this animation, you can easily copy those footnotes and turn them into a Works Cited.  Check out this GIF to see how:

Using the EasyBib Add-On

This tool is great for citing books, but not as good at citing websites.  It keeps track of your entire bibliography until you’re ready to add it to your doc.  If you are using the Explore tool for your websites, you can just combine them when you’re done, just like I do in the animation below.

Text on Both Sides of Images in Google Docs

When you look at newspapers, magazines or newsletters, you often see centered pictures with 2 separate sets of text on either side of the image.  However, when you center an image in Google Docs and set it as Wrap, the text continues horizontally around the image.  This may be useful sometimes, but in general, doesn’t look like what we’d see in a professional publication.

Now, Columns in Google Docs can help you with this, assuming that you want only 2 or 3 columns and that you want them to be equal widths.  But, what if you want more columns?  Or widths that aren’t equal?

Well, here’s the hack for you.  Create a table, put the picture into the table and use the remaining cells to type your text.  When you’re all done, set your table borders to 0 point (a.k.a. invisible!) and you’re good to go.  Check it out:

Docs Text on Both Sides of Image Animation

CopyDown Add-On

Years ago, as a STEM teacher, I had my students build basswood bridges.  We’d then test them by hanging weights from them.  I’d submit the results to a Google Form, which would kick it to a Google Spreadsheet, where a formula was all set up to calculate the “Engineering Efficiency” (a measure that leveled the playing field between heavy, strong bridges and light, strong bridges).  Unfortunately, formulas don’t automatically apply to the new rows created by new Form Submissions. I had to have a student manually drag the formula down each time a new result was submitted.

Enter the CopyDown Add-On

I later discovered this wonderful little add-on.  It automatically pulls that formula down to a each new form submission.  No manual dragging necessary.  This is super, super useful when your Form & Sheet are part of a bigger system that triggers other actions in other add-ons (i.e., autoCrat, formMule) that require those formulas.

Here’s a GIF of how it works, followed by a step-by-step guide to using it:

CopyDown Add-On Animation

  1. Set up your Google Form.
  2. Open up the connected Spreadsheet.
  3. Start with an initial form submission.  You’ll need this in the next step.
  4. Create your formulas in Row 2 (the row with your first submission).
  5. Click Add-Ons and follow the steps to add CopyDown.
  6. Click Add-Ons > CopyDown > CopyDown Settings.
  7. Flip the switch to “On.”
  8. Generally, I select to paste the results “as values” (otherwise it puts the formula itself into each cell which, if it’s a lengthy spreadsheet, will ultimately slow it down).
  9. Save Settings.
  10. Start gathering form submissions!

How Many Hot Dog Topping Combinations?

It was 6:12 PM EST.  We were eating dinner on our deck.  My sister messaged me.  She had a very important question.  Her and her colleagues were in a heated debate.  Just how many topping combinations were there at Cleveland’s fun hot dog restaurants Happy Dog?  I know, right?  This is a big deal.  Could I swoop in and save the day?  Yes.  Er, well, with the help of my trusty sidekick Google Sheets I could.  (Excel would have worked, but what if I need to access the calculations on the go?  or share them?  Yup, I made the right choice.  gSuite’s trusted cloud-based spreadsheet is the way to go here.)

So, I got the details.  There are 50 toppings possible.  No limits (you can do all 50, as my oldest son might choose) or minimums (0 toppings, as my youngest son prefers them, counts too).  Variations on the dog (veggie?  black bean!?) or bun (bleck, wheat?) were to be ignored.

I set right to it.  I picked a trusty Google Sheets formula – Combin – and got to work.  That formula deals with a common mathematics formula that finds the number of combinations of something.  You need only know two things – how many possible things and how many are to be chosen (i.e., 50 toppings choose 1, 50 toppings choose 2, etc.).  Now, don’t get this mixed up with permutations where order matters, because no one cares if you go peanut butter, sriracha, alien relish or alien relish, peanut butter, sriracha or … well … you get it.

COMBIN(nk) where n is the size of the pool of objects to choose from and k is the number of objects to choose.

The rest is history.  Check it out in the GIF below.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you the answer: 1,125,899,906,842,620 – one quadrillion, one hundred twenty-five trillion, eight hundred ninety-nine billion, nine hundred six million, eight hundred forty-two thousand, six hundred twenty combinations.

Side note to math teachers: I love how the numbers are symmetrical (i.e., there are 1,225 different 2-topping dogs and 1,225 different 48-topping dogs).  Could be a great discussion with math students.

Now, here’s how I did it:

Happy Dog Combinations Animations

Suggested Edits in Google Docs

This post is about a useful feature that most people don’t notice in Google Docs: Suggesting Mode.  This is fantastic for students doing peer revisions or even teachers collaborating on projects.  It allows you to show people what you think should be changed, without actually changing it.  The choice is ultimately theirs.

I recommend this when students do any peer revisions in class: if you’re suggesting a specific grammatical, punctuation or word change, use Suggested Edits.  However, if you’re giving more general feedback or suggesting a change be made, but not identifying what to change to, use a Comment.

Anyhow, here’s how it works: Up in the top right corner you’ll see the word or icon for EditingCommenting or Viewing.  Click on that and switch to Suggesting.  Now, act as though you’re actually editing the document (type, backspace, etc.), but your “edits” will show as “suggested edits.”  Awesome!

Suggested Edits in Google Docs Animation

Screencasts in Math Class

Years ago, as a middle school math teacher, I had a dilemma.  My 51 minute math classes had been shortened to 43 minutes.  As any teacher knows, this is a big deal.  After wrestling with a lot of ideas for how to handle here’s what I landed on:

Each day, during my planning period, I pressed record in a screencasting program called Jing, stepped up to the SmartBoard and went over the day’s homework as if my class was there.  (I’m sure I looked like I had lost my marbles to any passerby) I did it quickly, forcing myself to keep it under 5 minutes.  Any longer would mean 2 things: my assignment was too long and I was using to much class time to explain content that my students had already done.

The next day, I would play that video while taking attendance, checking to see who did their homework and meeting with any students who had been absent.  This allowed me to combine two sets of things that I had previously done–going over the homework and doing the beginning of class teacher stuff–at once.  It made up for those 8 lost minutes, and then some.

Nowadays, my philosophies about homework and classrooms where all students are doing the same thing at the same time has changed, so I wouldn’t repeat this format.  However, I think these recordings would still be valuable in a blended learning setting.  When students finish certain assignments, they could view the videos to self-assess and learn more.  Learning Management Systems and websites really open up the possibilities on this.

Here’s a sample of one of these videos:

Differentiation in Google Forms

Google Forms are great for collecting information and delivering assessments, but did you know Forms had some differentiation swag?

Yup, it’s true. Use “Go to Section Based on Answer” with a Multiple Choice question to have right answers and wrong answers lead to different sections. A general mockup of what this could look like, and steps for creating it, are below the GIF.

Differentiated Google Forms Animation


  1. Add a question with a correct answer and (at least one) wrong answer.
  2. Add a section after that question.
  3. Put your remedial content in that section. YouTube videos work well.  You could even make your own video to put in there.  You could also include a follow-up question to give your students a chance to re-assess.
  4. Add a section after the remedial content.
  5. Put your next content here.  This is the section where students who got the correct answer will land.  It will probably also be where you have students who completed the remedial step will land.
  6. Go back to your initial question.
  7. Select “Go to Section Based on Answer.”
  8. Have the incorrect choice(s) go to the remedial section.
  9. Have the correct choice(s) skip to the section after the remedial one.
  10. Sit back and enjoy the differentiated learning experience!

General Layout:

  • Section 1: includes the question the differentiation is based on
  • Section 2: the remedial section – whatever content you want the students who got the previous question incorrect to see (video, explanation, follow-up question)
  • Section 3: the “next step” – the slide that the students with the correct answer jump to, also where the students with the incorrect answers land after completing the remedial section.

Note: you can add multiple levels of this in one Form, but it can get hard to manage.  I once created a Form that went: Question 1, Remedial Video & Question 1a, Remedial Video & Question 1b, Question 2, Remedial Video & Question 2a, Remedial Video & Question 2b, etc.  As you may guess, I had to create a complex flowchart to make sure I had everything jumping to the correct places.

Practice Speeches in Screencastify

Giving speeches or presentations in front of their peers can be a really nerve-wrecking activity for students.  We often encourage them to practice, but . . . what’s practice without reflection and self-assessment?

Students can use the free Google Chrome extension Screencastify to record themselves giving their speech or presentation.  Then, they can view that recording and reflect on how they did.

Practice Speeches in Screencastify Animation

Screencastify automatically saves to their Google Drive and is not public, unless the student chooses to upload to YouTube or share the Google Drive file.

The steps:

  1. Install the Chrome Extension.
  2. Click on the extension and follow the prompts to set it up.
  3. When ready, click on the extension to record.
  4. Select Desktop (recording entire screen), Tab (recording just the current tab, even if you navigate away from it) or Cam (recording only the camera).  If doing Desktop or Tab, decide if you want the webcam on or not.
  5. Click Record and start talking!
  6. Click stop and then watch your masterpiece.  Remember that it’s also saved in your Google Drive in a “Screencastify” folder.

Diagram Labeling Activities in Google Drawings

Google Drawings is a great place for quick, simple, visual activities.  Add shapes to a diagram, tell students to double-click in those shapes and – voila – they’re text boxes!


  • before sending them out to your kiddos, click into those shapes and format the text size so it’ll fit in the boxes.
  • Once you’ve made one box the way you like it, use command+d (ctrl+d on non-Mac) to duplicate it.
  • If this isn’t being used in Google Classroom, make it anyone with the link can view, copy the link, change the “edit” to “copy” and send it out.

Google Drawings - Fill in the blank Animation