Instructional Implementation Strategies Using Google Sheets

It's no mystery that the Google Apps suite is an incredibly useful and powerful way to bring your classroom into the 21st century. However, like many other kinds of technology, it isn't always obvious how you could or should start using these tools right out of the "box".

In this series I hope to explore each of these tools for the sake of classroom instruction. I'll describe how I've used these tools successfully in my classroom and offer some lessons learned through my use. This tutorial will assume that the educator has little to no experience with Google Apps for Education, so if you already have some experience I would skip down to the "Instructional Implementation Section", which is what I'll be focusing on. 

Authors Note: These strategies and techniques for using Google Apps in your classroom apply for any iteration of the Google Apps suite. Including: Google Apps for Education, Google Apps for business, personal Google Apps. Some of these versions have increased storage capacity, access to developer tools, and increased functionality. For the sake of transparency, I used my personal Google account for all of the strategies and techniques that follow.


If you're asking yourself this question then you might want to click this button (see below).

 Once you've gotten the general idea, you should create a google account and head over to their well-formatted Help section if you have any questions on general or more specific features and functions of the apps.

Authors Note: The first app you're going to need to download is Google Drive. From there you can simply click the "new" button and select the kind of document you would like to create, in this case it's going to be a "Google Sheet" that we're dealing with.

Second Authors Note: A Sheet and a spreadsheet are the same thing... I use the words interchangeably.

How to Create a Sheet

As I said before I am not going to go through the steps of physically creating a sheet, rather I'm going to focus on how you can incorporate a sheet into your instruction.

If you need a "refresher" on how to create a Google Sheet, click this button (below). There you can learn how to create a sheet and go through some of the features like creating cells, freezing columns and rows, using formulas, and creating sheets that populate data from form input. 

Getting Started Checklist

Before you get started, it's a good idea to have a few things figured out:

  1. Decide what data you would like to collect, what format makes the most sense to put it in (in terms of columns and rows), and what you're going to do with the data.
  2. Sometimes data can be scary, so it's a good idea to start small. Try using a sheet to track very specific, quantifiable data. I suggest tracking quiz grades over a few weeks, then comparing the scores over a short period of time (improvement or change over 3-4 scores). 
  3. If you plan on using data to perform actionable modifications, make sure you only implement one strategy at a time. If you're making too many modifications it's going to be challenging to figure out which strategy had an impact on the scores. 
  4. Don't be afraid to "fail". In other words, if you plot some data (lets continue using the scoring data example), and then follow up with a strategy to improve your students outcomes there's always a chance that the strategy is going to have little to no impact in the short term. Or your strategy might dramatically improve a few students' scores, but leave others relatively the same.

Instructional Implementation Strategies


Say it with numbers

The old saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words". If pictures are worth a thousand, then well formatted tables and charts are worth a thousand thousand (a million)! Design a lesson where students work with pre-determined data sets (example: California Rainfall Data 2015) to make strong cases in favor of (or against) relevant political or ecological action. Students can play with this data collaboratively using Google Sheets, or you can format the table yourself inside of a model spreadsheet and share it with your students. Depending on the grade level/competence of your students you can modify the complexity of the table/assignment.


Track Student Learning Outcomes and predict the future!

Educators have been doing this for thousands of years; Jimmy got a 75 on his first quiz, an 80 on his second quiz, and lately he's been scoring in the high 90's. You don't need the Google cloud to help you plot scores over time, but what If I told you applying a best fit line might help you make strong inferences about where those grades are going into the future? 

When I first started teaching high school students (I was a middle school teacher before that) I wanted to provide my older students with the same quantitative/qualitative feedback I was giving to their parents, and in great detail. This idea was a potential win-win, because I could encourage students to intrinsically motivate themselves to be better learners and they didn't need to wait for the marking period report card to track their progress. I could also repurpose this data to provide parents with a better snapshot of how their children were performing on an ongoing basis.

First I carefully plotted quizzes, tests, benchmarks, and even day to day assignments in a spreadsheet. Originally I used Excel, which is a very powerful tool in and of itself. However, I had a hard time moving my spreadsheet around from my classroom computer (so I could show my students what I was doing) to my personal computer and maintaining version control of those documents. Google Sheets was my sharing/version control solution wrapped up in one application. Then I created various types of charts, to try and determine what the most "user friendly" way of displaying the data was. I ended up using the bar chart (above). Finally, I used a trendline to make predictions about how my students were GOING to perform based on the scores I was collecting. This was a huge revelation for students. I could say within a margin of error, that based on their quarter 1 and quarter 2 grades that they would get a final score of X unless they changed something (for better or for worse). This was a huge eye opener for my students and their parents. 

My big takeaways from this experiment were threefold:

  1. The Parents loved me. I didn't say things like, "Well, Jimmy has had a hard time blah blah blah..." Rather was I was able to say was, "Jimmy has been performing well on his benchmarks, but his quizzes have been relatively low, I suggest we focus on his short term working memory by increasing the frequency of my checks-for-understanding.
  2. Students loved me. After evaluating the students scores over the weekend I would prepare small intervention sessions with them, specifically targeted at the exercises they were struggling with rather than trying to tackle their understanding of the subject matter. I would say something like, "You're doing fine on tests, but your benchmark scores are lower than you're going to need them to avoid summer school. I suggest XYZ, we'll reevaluate your score after the next benchmark." Or I was also famous for simply asking, "So Jimmy, I see that your quiz grades went down this week, what have you been doing differently?" to which many of my 15 year old students would reply, "Well, to be honest the new Call of Duty came out on XBOX, so I haven't been studying." This was a much better place to start for me, I would usually say something like, "Ok, well I really appreciate your honesty, and that's not a huge deal. What do you think you need to do to make sure this doesn't happen in the future?" [student suggests their own intervention - balance work/play] "Alright, lets try that and then we'll chat again in a week or two, hopefully another game doesn't come out before then : )
  3. The Administration loved me. Whenever I was invited to chat with fellow teachers, or the administration I would always bring one of my devices (Google Sheets is accessible on phones, tablets, laptops). This way whenever I was discussing my students, my instruction, or my professional development I was able to access my treasure trove of student data with all of the companion intervention discussions I had with students (and sometimes parents) on the spot. What started humbly as a glorified scorecard became a staggeringly detailed resource over time. I used this data to substantiate my practice, and relieve a lot of pressure off of me to work wonders. 


  • You can also collaborate with other teachers (using the same format) to track students across different subjects. (awesome PLCS? or team interventions?

  • Don't share the whole spreadsheet with parents - That's a can of worms

  • Make it VERY clear to students, teachers, and everyone involved that you will NOT share any of the grading data with anyone other than the students and parents who are directly affected. I promise you that once you break that trust, it will undermine everything you can potentially accomplish. Treat all of this data as level one sensitivity.


Put a graph on it!

This is a "Yes, and" suggestion in that in and of itself, there are tons of reasons why would would want students to add a graph or data set to a project/assignment. Google Sheets makes this really easy, especially since students can share the data amongst one another much simpler through the use of cloud storage companions like Google Drive. Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

Let's say I'm covering a chapter on food webs in my biology or environmental science class. Since I like to limit my lecturing, I decide to have students complete a project. One key feature of that project is for students to have an understanding of data sets related to predation - and it's impact on the ecosystem. So, I go in and create a Google Spreadsheet with some population data (raw data). What I ask students to do is use that data set to create 2 or 3 graphs that they incorporate into their final product. I usually gave students a choice (presentation, research paper, demo, article, or poster presentation). 

There are a lot of advantages to incorporating more analytical skills into projects, not only to satisfy the common core math standards, but to also get students more comfortable expressing their points through numbers. I would also like to mention that there are a ton of chart types in Google Sheets, do yourself a favor and have students use more than bar, pie, or line charts. 


where did this data come from?

Here's a quick implementation strategy, I like to call it, "Where did this data come from?" Once I took a few population pyramids and showed them to my students without any context, other than the fact that we were covering a chapter on human ecology. I asked them simply, what do you think this data means? What is it trying to show or say? and most importantly, how do you know? This kind of inquiry-based approach to problem solving led to a conversation about the form of data visualizations (charts) versus their function. But, for your classroom it might simply be a way to get students thinking on their own about the significance of charts and the ways in which numbers can be used to say something that would take a long time to write out.


Please leave a comment letting me know what you think of the post, what strategies I should add, resources I should include, and/or general feedback. Also follow me on Twitter for more more posts like this one, and share the ones you find useful. 

Thanks for reading!

[Header Photo Credit:]