You Just Created a New Google Classroom. What’s Your First Move?

You’re at the beginning of the year, the semester, the term, or a fresh unit of study. Fun!

Your brand new Google Classroom is sitting there, sparkling, completely untouched. You want to set it up a little before having your students join.

What should you do first?

In this video, I’ll show you the important move that I make in my middle school context that optimizes my practice, preserves my sanity, and supports my learners.

If you’ve got a better first move, I’d love to hear it.

Why the NYC Department of Education is Wrong on ChatGPT

A system-wide ban feels like fear instead of curiosity, defense over offense, convention over adaptation.

The most recent iteration of ChatGPT was released on November 30, 2022. ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence bot that was trained on an enormous pool of information to engage in simple conversations with users.

Within a week, the AI bot had acquired over one million clients. And as K-12 schools began winding down for the calendar year, ChatGPT was making headlines around the world.

You’ve likely heard the buzz already, but in case you have yet to try it, ChatGPT is to Google what Google is to a set of encyclopedias.

Google is a master curator and locator of information, but ChatGPT has the ability to quickly aggregate and mobilize that information on a level the world has never seen.

If you haven’t seen ChatGPT at work, watch it perform these school-related tasks [9:48]:

  1. Design a lesson plan for an 8th grade civics class
  2. Compare the evolution of protagonists from two different novels
  3. Describe how the water cycle affects Vancouver, BC
  4. Calculate triangle side lengths using the Pythagorean Theorem
  5. Write a campaign speech for middle school president
  6. Suggest solutions for anxiety and loneliness
  7. Write a love poem for a special friend (and then make it spicier)
  8. Write a short story with specific character names

ChatGPT is just the latest manifestation of the growth in AI we’ve seen in recent years. And we know it’s only going to get better.

Enter the NYC Department of Education

Schools across North America were only a few bright days into the new year when the news came down from the NYC Department of Education, the largest school system in the United States: ChatGPT would be banned in all of their schools.

I can understand the fears and concerns about how this technology will impact K-12 education. I think we all can.

Like I said to my wife this week, this technology has permanently changed the way that I read and think about student writing. How can it not?

But I think a blanket ban is the wrong response.

Here’s why.

4 Reasons Why a System-Wide Ban on ChatGPT is the Wrong Call

Let’s start at the most basic, practical level.

1. A ban on a particular website is practically impossible.

NYC can only blacklist websites on school wifi networks, so students will still be able to access ChatGPT when they’re at home, off-campus, or using any device with access to a data network. Since students can obviously still use ChatGPT for homework, a school wifi ban doesn’t mean too much.

One has to wonder if a ban is actually more counter-productive to its own aims by simply raising the profile of the forbidden fruit in question.

2. Whack-a-mole isn’t sustainable.

ChatGPT has certainly grabbed the headlines, but there are plenty of other similar tools out there. And more are appearing all the time. is an AI paraphrasing tool that appears to render classic plagiarism checkers useless. offers a whole suite of free AI writing tools.

Premium (paid) AI writing services such as, and all claim to be able to deliver spectacular results to marketers.

The point: if the district strategy is to ban these tools as they appear, there will be another new tool to ban every month. That doesn’t feel like a strategy that will age well over the years to come.

3. Like wifi, Google, and YouTube before it, ChatGPT is just another step forward for learning tools.

It wasn’t long ago that schools were banning YouTube on their wifi networks rather than leveraging the world’s largest library of video resources to support learning. They opted for the safety of zero exposure rather than do the work of teaching best practices and applying skills of discrimination.

Even before the arrival of YouTube, many schools wrestled with the question of having a wifi network at all. As silly as these questions seem today, they were important conversations at the time.

Of course, Google itself has become a much smarter search engine over the years, prone to serving up large-font answers to closed questions (“How far is the sun from Earth?”) before listing any search results.

Because of this Google Effect, schools and educators have been moving away for some time now from a focus on strictly “Googleable” information to a more nuanced approach to critical thinking.

For example, instead of asking students to memorize the names of all 45 presidents (content which is very Googleable), we ask them to critique the legacies of particular presidents based on currently relevant policy issues.

Content is still important for students to learn. We know that a mass of knowledge forms a necessary foundation in order for students to learn more, make distinctions, draw conclusions, and establish new theories about their world.

But the power of Google has put downward pressure on the importance of content memorization — of that, there can be little doubt.

Like YouTube and Google before it, ChatGPT is just the latest application that will change the way we think about teaching, learning, and assessment.

These powerful technologies are here to stay. Let’s embrace them.

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

4. The biggest reason: a ban sends all the wrong signals about learning and mindset.

In December of 2022, ChatGPT forced the world to reckon with an AI tool that could complete complex tasks in seconds. There’s no doubt that things will never be quite the same.

Who will be the most excited to play with this tool? Our young learners.

Students of all ages will share our child-like fascination with the possibilities. And well they should: this is clearly a technology that will only grow in significance throughout their lifetimes.

Sadly, I fear that a school ban sends all the wrong signals about technology and the nature of learning. It feels like fear instead of curiosity, defense over offense, convention over adaptation.

It looks like head-in-the-sand, I-hope-this-goes-away kind of thinking. And that’s not the approach of a lifelong learner.

I’m not suggesting that every teacher should give their students unfettered access to these tools. There will be times to close computers and show evidence of learning and critical thinking using pencils and paper, just as there are in classrooms today.

But there should be other times to play. To experiment. To learn together — teachers and students, sitting side by side, engaging, thinking, and talking about what it will look like to leverage ChatGPT and similar tools in constructive, powerful ways.

Closing thoughts

Whenever I come up against a difficult decision in our schools, I run it through this tried-and-true filter:

  1. What is best for our kids?
  2. What is best for learning?

Banning the latest technology from our schools just doesn’t feel like a great answer to either of those questions.

Listen, there’s no doubt that the path ahead will be challenging, and these tools will require new approaches.

But growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone. Let’s lean into uncomfortable spaces and do what we do best: learn.

Together, let’s shape the nature of thinking and work in 2023.

The Teachers on Fire Awards: Top Education Voices of 2022

7 education content creators to add to your playlists and bookshelves in 2023

On December 21, 2022, I asked teachers for their input. Which education voices had done the most to spark their thinking and ignite their professional practice in the past year?

The purpose of this project was to amplify the education voices that are sparking teacher thinking and igniting professional practice in order to bring more fire to our classrooms and support student learning more powerfully than ever. I think you’ll agree: that mission was accomplished.

As educators, we glean ideas and inspiration from a wide variety of voices from within and outside K-12 education. As Jennifer Smith wrote recently on LinkedIn, educators can learn a lot from other industries.

But for the purposes of these awards, I wanted to keep the focus on education voices only. For example, I let contributors know in advance that I wouldn’t consider entries for Brene Brown or Simon Sinek in the speaker category, as much as we might love them.

Over the week of voting that followed, I was delighted to receive responses from 86 educators — not a bad starting point for this first edition of the Teachers on Fire Awards. If you’re hoping to take your practice to the next level in 2023, these are introductions worth making.

Education Book of 2022: Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, Grades K-12

The question I put to educators for this award read “What was one education book that sparked your thinking and ignited your practice this year?” I clarified that the book did not need to be published in 2022 to be nominated.

With a ton of titles for teachers to choose from, the voting results were impressive. Taking over a third of the votes was Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, Grades K-12: 14 Practices for Enhancing Learning by Peter Liljedahl.

I couldn’t agree more with this outcome. I led a book study on Building Thinking Classrooms (or BTC, as it’s affectionately known by fans) in the spring of this year in my Vancouver middle school, and it was one of those books that actually changed our professional practice in significant ways.

I won’t review the book here, but here are a few Peter principles that I’ll throw out as teasers:

  • The difference between studenting behaviors and students actually thinking
  • The power of visibly randomized student groups
  • The benefits of having students solve Math problems while standing at whiteboards instead of sitting
  • The possibility of de-fronting the classroom space
  • How to respond to student questions without doing their thinking for them
  • Rethinking homework and the role that it plays in learning
  • Rethinking what we require from students in terms of note-taking

I could go on. It’s a revolutionary book. If you teach Math at any level, it’s worth your time.

Education Facebook Group of 2022: Building Thinking Classrooms

Well, teachers found the book helpful, and the Facebook group clearly kept these learning conversations going. The question I posed to teachers for this Award category asked “What was one education Facebook group that consistently sparked your thinking and ignited your practice this year?”

It’s been interesting to watch the slow but steady growth of Facebook groups as platforms for professional learning over the last five years. Expect that trend to continue, and expect more learning conversations at the 37,400-member strong Building Thinking Classrooms group.

Education Instagram Account of 2022: @GCouros

For this Award, I asked teachers to consider this question: “What was one education account on Instagram that consistently sparked your thinking and ignited your practice this year?” I was careful not to rule out education organizations that are doing so much for our profession, but teachers tapped an education leader: George Couros.

George is a former teacher, principal, and now sought-after author and speaker. With over a quarter million followers on his education Twitter account and a large audience for his weekly newsletter, he is perhaps best known for The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity (published in 2018).

George creates valuable weekly content for educators on his YouTube channel and on his podcast, and I recommend subscribing to both. Interestingly, his Instagram account is probably the most personal of all his offerings, focusing largely on his family and weight loss journey in recent months. It’s content that clearly resonates with teachers.

Education Podcast of 2022: Control the Chaos EDU

What was one education podcast that regularly sparked your thinking and ignited your practice this year? That was the question put to teachers and education leaders for this category of the Teachers on Fire Awards.

Lots of my personal faves showed up in the results, including Natalie Vardabasso’s #EduCrush, The Tom Schimmer Podcast, Alfonso Mendoza’s MyEdTech Life, and House of #EdTech by Chris Nesi. Each of these shows earned multiple votes, but in the end, Control the Chaos EDU took a decisive lead.

At Control the Chaos EDU, tech coach Stephanie Howell and behavior coach Tara Ruckman engage in real conversations around instructional strategies, today’s classroom, the nature of learning, and teacher wellness. Recent episodes have included Use Student Excitement to Your AdvantageTaking Back Your Winter Break, and The Power of a PLN with Evo Hannan.

Upgrade your learning experience in 2023 by adding this show to your playlist on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

Education Speaker of 2022: Peter Liljedahl

When teachers were asked “Who was one education speaker who sparked your thinking and ignited your practice this year?” the answer came back loud and clear: Dr. Peter Liljedahl.

If the name sounds familiar, you’ve been listening. Liljedahl is the author of Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, Grades K-12. If you slept through my preview of this book and the powerful principles it contains, scroll up in this post to read why this title was voted Education Book of the Year.

So who is he?

Borrowing from his official bio, Dr. Peter Liljedahl is a Professor of Mathematics Education in the Faculty of Education and an associate member in the Department of Mathematics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. He has authored or co-authored 13 books, 41 book chapters, 39 journal articles, and over 50 conference papers.

A former high school mathematics teacher, Liljedahl has kept his research work close to the classroom. His scholarly interests include creativity, insight, and discovery in mathematics teaching and learning, the professional growth of mathematics teachers, and engaging student thinking. He consults regularly with schools, districts, and ministries of education on issues of teaching and learning, assessment, and numeracy.

If you’re ready to rethink education and hear a message that stands out from the crowd, Dr. Peter Liljedahl is a speaker to pay attention to.

Twitter Educator of 2022: Stephanie Howell

On Twitter, I wanted to put the focus especially on individuals. The survey question: “Who was one educator on Twitter who consistently sparked your thinking and ignited your practice this year?”

People have a wide range of impressions of the Twitter experience, but let’s put it this way: your feed is exactly as positive, wholesome, inspirational, and helpful as the people you follow. If you’re committed to building a vibrant professional learning network, I highly recommend doing so on Twitter.

The 2022 Twitter Educator of the Year Award goes to Stephanie Howell, found at @mrshowell24. You’ve seen Stephanie’s name show up previously in this year’s edition of the Awards, where Control the Chaos took Education Podcast of the Year. Her Twitter account is a similar flow of positive ideas, shares, and practical resources for teachers.

With 25,000 followers and counting, Stephanie has a proven track record of delivering value on Twitter. Follow her there — you’ll thank me.

Education YouTube Channel of 2022: Gold EDU

It’s no secret that YouTube has a lot to offer classroom teachers, but in all the noise of channels, brands, and influencers, which specific creators can be trusted to deliver quality content on a reliable basis? Coming in strong with a high percentage of the final tallies was Stephanie Howell’s Gold EDU.

On Gold EDU, Stephanie keeps the mission simple and clear: “We want to transform education to help educators use technology in powerful ways.” And that’s exactly what she delivers. Her video feed includes a mix of timers for the classroom, task trackers, tutorials (How to Use Google Earth), and conversations with other educators. If you’re looking to get more from your education YouTube account, Gold EDU is a must-subscribe!

Thoughts on the Awards and Learning in 2023

It was at the very tail end of 2021 that I first had the idea to try this project, but it was so late in the month that I realized I had lost my chance. So I did what any normal person would do and put it on my calendar for December of the following year.

That reminder was all I needed to launch the first-ever edition of the Teachers on Fire Awards in the final weeks of 2022. If you took part in the voting, thank you. By elevating educators who are making a positive impact, we introduce them to new audiences and allow other teachers to benefit. In turn, we support student learning, too.

I’m also grateful to the teachers who volunteered feedback around possible future awards at the end of the Form. Some of their suggestions for additional categories included TikTok Account, Education Conference, and Education Blogger of the Year. All are worthy considerations and will likely appear in next year’s edition.

To the Award winners above, thank you for doing what you do! Your work is making a positive impact on learning, and the world is a better place because of what you do.

Keep that fire for learning burning bright.

Vote in the 2022 Teachers on Fire Awards

Who were the education voices that sparked your thinking and ignited your professional practice in 2022?

Cast your votes in this first-ever edition of the Teachers on Fire Education Awards.


Award Categories

  • Education BOOK
  • Education FACEBOOK GROUP
  • Education PODCAST
  • Education SPEAKER
  • Educator on TWITTER

Thank you for contributing. Your email will be collected by this Form in order to limit respondents to one entry, but your selections will remain confidential.

All award categories are optional, so you are welcome to submit entries for only those categories that matter to you. Although I understand that you may have quite a list of favorites in some categories, only your first response in each category will be considered.

A focus on voices that focus on education. The purpose of these awards is to amplify the education voices that are sparking teacher thinking and igniting professional practice in order to bring more fire to our classrooms and support student learning more powerfully than ever. As educators, we glean ideas and inspiration from a wide variety of voices from within and outside K-12 education. But for the purposes of these awards, I’d like to keep the focus on education voices only. (For example, I won’t consider entries for Brene Brown or Simon Sinek in the speaker category.)

This Form was shared on December 21, 2022 and will remain open until December 28, 2022. Winners from each category will be published on all (or most) Teachers on Fire outlets.

Thank you again for participating. By completing the Form linked above, you’re shining a light on those educators that are making a difference, and you’re amplifying their voices.

Here’s to another great year of learning together.

Tim Cavey

Get the Most Out of Google Classroom: 13 Moves to Make

Here are the strategies I recommend to help you optimize your practice, preserve your sanity, and support your learners.

Welcome to Google Classroom. Whether you’re brand new to the platform or you’ve been here for a while, I’ve learned a few things that I think you’ll find helpful.

Let’s get into them.

1. Disable student posts, but allow comments.

You’ve just created a new Google Classroom. Easy.

From here, your first move is to disable student posts. You’ll be able to make this move in Settings.

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I teach in a middle school, and I’ll give you this word of warning: your Classroom feed can get away from you quickly if and when your middle or high school students discover the power to create their own posts.

Not today, students. Limit them to commenting.

Student comments can form an important part of a healthy learning community as they ask thoughtful questions, make suggestions, or encourage each other. And comments can be easily managed: it’s easy to mute a student who gets a little spammy or carried away.

But disable student posts.

2. Show attachments and details on the Stream.

I see ten different classes per week. That’s ten unique Google Classrooms.

I find it incredibly helpful to be able to quickly log into a Classroom and see at a glance what I last posted, when I posted it, the attachments and exemplars I provided for students, and how many students have submitted their work.

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When posts aren’t expanded on the Stream, it takes more brainpower and time to try to recall the nature of a learning activity by its title alone, and I have no idea what student progress is like without clicking into it. Ugh.

I know there are some who prefer no learning activities on the Stream page at all, but to me that just doesn’t make sense.

The Class Work page is not listed chronologically, which means that it does NOT tell me at a glance which learning activity I posted last. And just like the Stream when it’s set to condensed notifications, the Class Work page does not show details of learning activities or student progress without clicking into it. Ugh.

That’s too inefficient for my liking.

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Take my advice and make this move in your Classroom settings.

3. Limit notifications strategically.

Limit your Google Classroom email notifications before they limit you.

Seriously, if you leave this wide open and you teach a number of classes, your sanity will disappear quickly under an avalanche of emails.

To adjust your Classroom notifications, go to your General Classroom Settings. You’ll find the icon in the very top left of your screen from anywhere in Classroom.

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Next, scroll down to the very bottom of the menu to find Settings. From there, you’ll see the controls for Email Notifications.

The first button is the master switch. You do have the option to turn ALL notifications off. But I don’t recommend it.

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There are many kinds of notifications that are useful and will contribute to the learning life of your Classroom. For example, if a student posts a question, you want to be notified of it with a direct link to the learning activity in question — very helpful.

Instead, you want to think strategically about eliminating notifications that don’t help you serve students.

For example, I start by turning off notifications for student work that has been submitted late. If a learning activity was due on Monday, I’m not concerned if they submit it on Tuesday. Frankly, I’m happy they submitted it at all.

Late > never. If it’s been submitted by the time I review it and provide feedback, we’re good.

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There, I just reduced the emails hitting my inbox.

Next, I turn off notifications in any Classrooms where I am not actively teaching (but I am still a Teacher in the Classroom). Let me explain.

I teach 8B Math, and I have an 8B Classroom. I do not teach 8C or 8P Math, but I like to be a Teacher in those Classrooms so that I can pop in and see what my partner teacher is doing at any time.

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Turning off notifications for Classrooms where I want access but don’t actively teach is another way to reduce emailed notifications.

4. Invite students to create a Google Classroom header using Canva for Education.

We know that giving students voice and choice wherever we can in the learning community increases their sense of agency, ownership, identity, and belonging.

So why not give them a chance to put their fingerprints on your Google Classroom?

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This year, I started off the term by inviting my new students to do exactly that. Using their free Canva for Education accounts, students created their own Google Classroom header from a sea of templates.

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They submitted their entries, and then I get the fun of featuring a different student’s creative personality every week (or two). It keeps things interesting, it saves me the time of making creative headers myself, and students feel a little more connected and recognized. It’s win-win.

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You’ll get a mix that represents our students: balanced, creative, classy, serious — and the laughably bizarre. All are welcome.

5. Put emojis at the beginning of each topic and post title.

By putting emojis at the beginning of each Topic (section on the Class Work page) and post title, you’ll make your learning activities easily identifiable and build a clear sense of cohesiveness from activity to activity.

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Another important benefit of this practice is that when it comes to reposting learning activities from previous years, activities can be difficult to identify or locate in the Reuse Post menu (since the Reuse Post menu doesn’t reveal Topics).

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By including emojis at the beginning of each post title, I give myself a quick way of visually distinguishing between a unit on Surface Area (📦) versus the Pythagorean Theorem (📐).

6. Number your learning activities.

There is more power and convenience here than meets the eye. It is so helpful to be able to use numbers to give clarity to students regarding posted learning activities.

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“Please submit your PNG file in Activity 2, not Activity 1,” you’ll hear yourself saying. Numbers make it easier to refer to specific assignments, especially as the unit moves along.

7. Treat posts as lesson plans: include as many of the main elements of the learning activity as possible.

Think of Google Classroom learning activities like lesson plans. Make them clear and dummy-proof, with numbered instructions, clear formatting, and all related attachments.

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When your posts are this detailed, you hardly need lesson plans. Even better, your posts become easy for colleagues, substitute teachers, or your future self to repost.

Even if you improve on your lesson next year, you’re giving yourself a strong starting point. Your future self will thank you.

8. Use the Reuse Post option whenever possible.

I (almost) always prefer to Reuse Post rather than create a post from scratch. 

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Reusing a previous post gives me lots of practical benefits:

  1. Emojis remain intact in the post title (I don’t have to look for them).
  2. The learning target and essential question are already present. Even if we’re moving on to a new learning target, it’s helpful to see our last one as I plan forward.
  3. Relevant attachments remain pre-loaded. Attachments might include a helpful PDF, a screenshot of randomized class groupings for our current project, a video resource that was helpful, or a Doc from a related class discussion.

9. Use the Question feature for frequent self-assessment by students.

How are my students doing with our latest learning target? How do they think their learning is going?

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Use Google Classroom’s Question feature to quickly collect self-assessment data from your learners. Once you’ve created one such question, you can use the Reuse Post feature to ask similar questions in the future while keeping your multiple choice options (proficiency levels) intact.

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In the Question settings, un-check ‘Students can see class summary’ to make sure results remain private. In my teacher view, I can click on any of the bars above to see exactly which students responded at each proficiency level.

Who are the two students who feel that their learning is still Developing and may require additional support? I can see in a click.

10. Use the app’s student selector to get to know your students.

I have the blessing of teaching 220 middle school students over the course of the school year. It’s an awesome opportunity for me to develop relationships with every learner in our community — a very helpful benefit when I throw on the hat of part-time vice-principal.

But how can I possibly learn and retain so many names? My most reliable hack so far has been the Google Classroom Student Selector (only available on the mobile app).

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Here’s how it works.

At the start of class, I log into the appropriate Classroom on my Google Classroom mobile app. I post one of these great check-in questions on the screen (hopefully with an answer frame as a Tier 1 support).

Then I put the Google Classroom student selector. It does its job of randomizing the student order, but the win for me is that I get to say each student name a couple of times and pair the name immediately with the face.

“Next up, we have Dan! How would you respond to this, Dan?”

Dan may give me a colorful response, which may give me something to associate with his name and face. In any case, I’m getting to know my students better.

11. Use ‘Each Student Will Get a Copy’ to track student progress in real time.

Your students’ work may be incomplete or unsubmitted, but it’s NEVER going to be missing when you select ‘Each Student Will Get a Copy’ beside a Google Doc, Slide, Sheet, Jamboard, or Drawing.

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Never. Missing. You can look at it any time you want.

Let that sink in.

By activating this option, you can go into your students’ Doc, Slide, Sheet, Jamboard, or Drawing and see exactly what their status looks like in real time. There’s no more mystery around their progress or where their work is — you can see it right there.

This also gives you the opportunity to offer real-time feedback, coaching, and suggestions on their work.

That is BIG.

Once you’re viewing a student’s work, it’s easy to navigate quickly to other students. Use the drop-down menu or the arrow controls.

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(I’m using my Teachers on Fire Google Classroom and a mock assignment to illustrate this point in order to protect the privacy of my actual students.)

12. If you’re in a standards-based grading environment, turn off rubric scoring.

For educators fighting the good fight against points and trying hard to put the focus of learning on proficiency, numbers in rubrics don’t help. To get rid of them, turn scoring off. Force students to think in terms of proficiency and consider the criteria you’ve provided at each proficiency level.

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13. Add your colleagues to your Classroom as Teachers.

Your school is a learning village, and you can treat it like one by inviting your teaching teammates (who share the same subject as you) to your Classroom as Teachers. As described earlier, even if they’re not posting or actively engaging, it just makes sense to increase visibility and collaboration by sharing access.

The same goes for your educational assistants and para-professionals. Help them support your IEP learners the best they can by giving them full access and visibility at your Classroom. They’ll be able to view activity details, support their designated learners, and possibly even support other learners in the class.

And don’t worry — these other Teachers can’t do too much damage. Only you can delete the Classroom as original creator.

Closing thoughts

I’ve been on Google Classroom since about 2016. I’ve seen it slowly evolve forward, and I know it will continue to do so in the years to come.

Classroom isn’t amazing. It’s not especially powerful —when you think about it, it’s basically just a shell over Google Drive.

Google Classroom’s strength is its simplicity. It just works for teachers and learners.

Follow these simple tips, and I know you’ll enjoy the experience.

Happy learning, fellow educator.