Using Google Suite in the High School Classroom

How I use Google Suite to increase Efficiency and Reduce Paper Usage in a High School Classroom.

Schools spend a lot on photocopying per year. When I say a lot, I really mean a lot. My school is a medium sized international school with around 100 teachers.  Edutopia estimates the photocopying costs of medium size school to be around ~$30,000 per year and that is a conservative estimate. Many schools spend much, much more.  Schools are gradually realising that this reliance on paper doesn’t blend well with messages of sustainability and resource recycling.

Students support a move toward a paperless system

Students are happy to see technology replacing the need for class sets of worksheets and exercise books.  Anuj Nagarajan – a high school student back in 2016, was so aghast at his school’s spending , that he wrote a blog post outlining his disgust – see ‘16k of our school’s budget is spent on paper every year…What the actual f**k ‘.  Thousands of schools around the world have taken large steps toward reducing the use of paper, my school is no exception. The use of google suites in the high school classroom has played a large part in this.

Using google suite in the high school classroom has helped me transform my teaching. My area of teaching is middle and high school science.  Last year my school switched to 1:1 laptop use in middle and high school. This change was welcomed by the majority of teachers and parents. Predictably the students were also overwhelmingly in favor of receiving a laptop for use in class. The regular use of laptops in class brings about many challenges. I decided I needed some sort of journal, an electronic science journal, that would allow student to track and record their work. Google suite offers a fantastic array of programs that enable teachers to do this. Here’s how I am tackling this challenge:  

Harnessing the Power of Google Docs in the Classroom

In my NGSS science classroom the main challenge has been giving students a place to record and track their work in class. Previously this was done using a traditional exercise book or A4 folder. Parents were initially concerned about how teachers would be tracking student progress without these tools. Where would students record their notes and show evidence of their completed work? How would the teacher provide regular feedback? 

Concerns and anxiety were most apparent in the weeks and days just before assessments. For these reasons I introduced a ‘science journal’ which all students use in my classes. The electronic science journal needed to be simple,  easy to set up and personalise. It needed to:

  • be rooted in one location – easy to find by both student, parents and teachers.
  • be adaptive enough to be a ‘nest’ for all the work.
  • provide a way for the teacher to add feedback.
  • allow the teacher to quickly locate and keep track of the journals.

Using google suite in the classroom makes the creation of an effective science journal possible.

I decided to use a simple google doc as the electronic journal for my middle and high school science classes. Since starting I have gone through several drafts of this electronic science journal. I find that the simpler the version the easier it is for students and parents to keep track of. Students receive a template of their journal for each NGSS unit. Each journal begins with basic contact information and a front page. Students are encouraged to customise the electronic science journal by changing the creative fonts, presentation style and colour scheme of the journal. I make sure they have their name in the header, footer and title as this makes it a lot easier to instantly work out who’s science journal I am looking at.

Using Google Suite in the High School Classroom: Remember to Enable Personalisation for Middle and High School Students.

I give the students complete freedom to personalise their journal – so long as it is legible I am happy with their changes. Students are also encouraged to add some personality to their journal by replacing all the instructions on the front page with an image or two of people, objects or places that inspire them.   I assign the journal template to the students through google classroom. I have found that the website works really well for this. You can assign the journal template in Google classroom. Classroom has the option make a copy of the template for each student and add the student’s name to the file name. Once you set up the electronic science journal template applying this entire process to several classes is quick and easy.  Here’s an screenshot of the front page of my current journal template:

Personalising each science journal
I give the students plenty of space and options for personalisation of their electronic science journal.

















As a science teacher and an amateur fan of technology I wanted to embrace this new resource (the laptops) and move completely to a paperless classroom. I wanted students to use their laptops in class as their main tool for reporting their classwork and homework. Gradually I have developed the idea of a science journal as a simple tool that my students use to show me their progress. Here’s a summary of the five main questions I faced when I tried to implement the effective use of an electronic science journal in my classroom:

What do I use the electronic science journal for ?

I use the journal to give students a place to organise and present their work in a logical order. The ‘deliverables’ for projects are pasted or linked here. This might be a photo of completed posters, a link to a completed video or the results of their experiment in a lab inquiry form. I use a ‘daily tasks’ document in google classroom – here I keep a list of the tasks and what work should be reported for each one.  Students can use this document in google classroom to check what type of work should be posted in each task number. 

How do students use an electronic science journal to keep their work organised ?

We all struggle with this. In my classes when we worked with paper and ring binding folders some students were effortlessly organised, other less so. There were always three or four students per class whose bags were full of damaged and loose sheets of paper. Many folders were poorly organised. It wasn’t unusual for students to lose their folders halfway through the first semester. 

As students finish a task I use google classroom to announce where the evidence for this task should be posted. This will be in their journal in the next available task.  I have found that generally students keep themselves well organised. It’s important to keep a running record of what task needs to go where and I post this in their google classroom periodically. Of course there are still some students who find this entire process challenging and they need help. I add feedback in the form of comments telling them what is missing – if they go back and add it they can then alert me to  this and I will update their formative progress grade. 

An example of student work in a science journal. Google drawing combines really well with google docs – perfect for modeling.

How does the electronic science journal help?    

Students still struggle to remain organised, but I see signs that it’s made daily school life easier for most of them. They don’t have to worry about forgetting or losing their folder – google drive looks after that. They have learned how to quickly pull up their journal in drive and add a link or google drawing. Saving work is automatic and in the case of major problems, previous versions can be activated using google docs. Most of my students take pride in keeping their journals looking great. 

Additionally all these skills are transferable to other subjects. 

How can the electronic science journal be used for effective student feedback and reflection ? 

The great thing about google docs is the ability to add comments on the side of the document for the student to read. This gives me, the teacher, the opportunity to give 1:1 feedback to the student that is only visible to us and no one else. I find that students find this feedback reassuring and it gives me a regular opportunity to pass on praise and areas for improvement without the rest of the class looking on. 

A student brings together her knowledge following an investigation.

What has and hasn’t worked for me and my classes? 

What did not work:

For our first unit this year I ‘preloaded’ the science journal for each class with the tasks I intended to cover. This didn’t work at all. Students were confused with the instructions and many placed the links and ‘deliverables’ in the wrong places. Some tasks we simply didn’t have time to get to and some tasks had to be altered due to equipment shortages. Occasionally I simply realised (as teachers often do) that assignment needed to presented slightly differently and this then didn’t align with the instructions in their science journal. All these factors lead to an underlying feeling of confusion with the journal, especially with about 5-6 students in each class. 

What did work:

By the time the second unit came around I switched from a pre-loaded science journal to an empty template. This has so many advantages. I could use the template for all my middle and high school classes. I made it clear to my classes that they can simply populate their journals as they work though the unit. For example I recommended that presentation on waves is placed in task 3, but if they decided to add a clear and obvious link to task 2 then that’s fine too. So long as I could easily find it. Allowing students this level of flexibility made everything so much easier. No more ‘Where do I paste the link to this presentation’ emails. The students had finally understood and just populated their electronic science journal as we made progress through the course.   

Here’s my six unexpected benefits of using google suite to create a electronic science journal: 

When I set up this electronic science journal for my classes I enjoyed encouraging the students to take advantage of the suite of google apps. As we moved through the study units, experiments and projects I delivered some unexpected benefits of this approach. 

Benefit 1:Using Google Suite in the High School Classroom: Google classroom can show you which students are working. 

Google sends you an email if a student updates one of your comments. This gives you an idea of who is working on what document, without even having to open the document itself to check…or even the email – the subject line of the email explains most of what you need to know. 
Benefit 2: Feedback conversations with students

After I gave feedback to students I encourage them to reply. Most don’t, but some do and the conversation can be very useful in helping students with their learning. When this has happened I have found it to be a very handy and rewarding experience. 


Reporting homework
An example of a student reporting a simple homework task in their science journal : Construct paper/cardboard models of different tectonic plate interaction.
Benefit 3: Easy retrieval of previous work

Once the science journals are complete it’s easy to look back at an entire unit’s work and find the notes they need or details on the models they have made. This can be really useful at revision time before an assessment. 

Benefit 4: Easy display of work to parents in emails

Sometimes I need to contact parents to report excellent or substandard work. When the students report this in their journals it’s really easy to emphasise my point with the parents by sharing the image, google drawing, presentation or even a simple screenshot. 

Benefit 5: Linking with other google apps – drawing, sheets, slides. 

My classes have really got proficient at using the google apps to add variety and creativity to their work. We made a lot of models and google drawing has become indispensable to help them do this. I also love the way a google drawing file is so easy to insert into a google doc (the science journal) and it looks great too. The same is true for google sheets. The student’s experimental work also looks great, contained in a separate but linked ‘Lab Inquiry Form’ that serves as a framework or graphic organiser for lab reports. 

Benefit 6: Assign the journals through google classroom for faster grading of class sets

If you add the science journal as an assignment in google classroom it’s really easy to flick through all the class’ journals checking for progress and adding quick progress/reflection comments for the students. Google classrooms comment bank is also great for adding quick, relevant feedback. 

Google classroom makes grading/marking/checking student work a lot easier. No more searching for assignments.
















Using Google Suite in the High School Classroom has really help me transition to a paperless classroom. I have really enjoyed moving to a 1:1 laptop policy at my school and the use of an electronic science journal has made my teaching life easier – I can check progress and provide feedback in a far more efficient way than before. 


Are you involved in science education? Check out my article on how the NGSS will transform your teaching space. 

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