the data scene

A Queens school finds opportunity in Google's education apps

Principals want to chart school expenditures? There’s a Google App for that. Teachers want to collaborate on curriculum? Students want to vote on the colors of their cap and gown? There are Google Apps for that, too.

ACTVF juniors shooting their own Alfred Hitchcock films after school on Tuesday

The Academy for Careers in Television and Film is making use of all of them. Founding principal Mark Dunetz has Google-fied the school, using Google Apps for Education to create shared, streamlined systems that aggregate information and smooth operations.

When Dunetz started ACTVF in 2008, he said he faced a challenge shared by most non-selective high schools: “You accept in a range of students based on their interest in the program, who might or might not have had success in school.”

His solution to guarantee their success was to implement a slew of organizational systems to make the school “responsive and efficient” to students’ needs. The first class of students will graduate this year, and Dunetz projects a graduation rate over 90 percent – a rarity for a non-selective school.

“It would be inconceivable to do the work we’re doing, as successfully as we’re doing it, without the systems that we have in place,” he said when I visited the school last week.

The starting point for ACTVF was the free suite of Google Apps for Education, which includes Google Mail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Google Sites. Dunetz leaned on the toolkit to create a shared document for staff to track parent outreach. But then the possibilities exploded.

“Once you get into it, you know what’s possible,” Dunetz said. “You start to really see everywhere the ways you’re wasting time doing things in an inefficient matter.”

Now, administrators, teachers, and students — who have different levels of access to the tools — use it for a large chunk of their managing, teaching, and learning.

New York State has an agreement with Google that allows teachers to get special Apps for Education training. But for the most part, enterprising educators such as Dunetz find ways to stretch the usages of the free suite on their own. Only when he can’t wrangle the system to match the school’s needs does Dunetz reach out to Google’s tech help.

“Every day I learn of a new way a teacher is using a tool in a way I didn’t think of,” said Jaime Casap, the Senior “Education Evangelist” on the Google Apps for Education team. He said he has seen teachers using Google Forms to replace paper reading logs and he’s seen them using Google Docs to chart student behavior from one class to the next.

“We love problem-solving,” he said, adding that Google’s engineers are responsive to the requests they receive and added 175 new features in 2011 alone. Casap sees the most promise for development in the Google Apps Marketplace, where third-party developers will be able to bring their expertise to the table.

With a few clicks, Dunetz can pull up detailed data about a single student or create a variety of charts and graphs to get sweeping, generalized views of his school: Pie charts of school spending, bar graphs of student lateness, line graphs tracking the frequency of teacher observations.

Teachers can also see more detailed trends, in shared Google Docs that track attendance, lateness, and grades. And Google Calendar makes scheduling and programming transparent and allows teachers to share materials. For example, the advisory curriculum is layered onto a shared calendar so when advisors select a date, they can immediately download all of the documents they’ll need to carry out the day’s lesson.

The apps also offer extra academic and emotional support for students. When a student is removed from class, the faculty member he reports to enters a note into a form that automatically sends an alert email to that student’s advisor and to the school social worker.

After school last week, Global Studies teacher Joel Kirkhart tutored a group of students for the Regents exam by having them revise essays on Google Docs. Kirkhart said he is still getting used to responding to student work directly on Google Docs but is finding that the suite makes it easier for him to track the revision process, communicate with colleagues, and keep tabs on students.

But he said having a constantly updated compendium of student and school data could be overwhelming sometimes.

“The volume of information that you get, the data that you have per kid, the trackable information — it allows you a huge amount of insight,” he said. But he added, “But are there enough hours in the day?”

Abraham Rodriguez, a junior, said that students make use of their school Gmail accounts to communicate with teachers and classmates and to keep on top of their grades. Sstudents receive an automated email each time their teachers update their virtual grade books.

Rodriguez said without the cloud, “people would start to fall back on their classwork; they wouldn’t know how to catch up in classes.”

Dunetz said that he had expected the students to feel oppressed by the system, given that teachers and administrators were collecting so much information on them. However, he’s noticed that most students, like Rodriguez, appreciate the structure.

“It creates this sense for the students that they’re known in really profound ways by the people working with them and supporting them,” he said.

But Dunetz cautioned that making use of Google’s Apps for Education isn’t a quick fix for a school with communication problems. In fact, he said, the apps are only as efficient as their users know how to make them.

“There is nothing wholesale to share,” Dunetz said. “What we have here is a set of tools that are extremely flexible — and free —that we are utilizing in creative ways.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.