Google Drive Lab Report Workflow

This year I've rolled out using Google Drive for all Physics lab reports. Several people have asked me what this looks like, so I thought I'd share. Feel free to suggest a better/easier methodology- this is something that's come together based on how I know how to use Google Drive, and I certainly don't know all the ways to use Google Drive.

A big debt is owed to Katrina Kennett, whose posts and EdCamp Boston sessions on using Google Drive for paperless grading inspired my use, and for Frank Noschese, whose lab rubric I borrowed from heavily.

The setup

1- Creating shared folders. As soon as I get a finalized class list and my students' email addresses, I set up shared assignment folders in Google Drive for each student in my Physics class. This is a folder that is only shared between the individual student and myself, so anything I put into the folder they can see and vice versa.

Here's what it looks like for me in Google Drive:

Shared Assignment Folders in Google Drive

It can be a tedious process to individually create individual folders for each student. Fortunately, you don't have to- there's a Google Script called gClassFolders, that will automatically create folders for all of your students from a spreadsheet with your students' information. I won't go into detail here about how to setup gClassFolders, as the official site does an excellent job walking you through the process.

2- Share the rubric. I created the lab report rubric in a Google Spreadsheet, then I make a copy of the rubric for each student, and share with them, and place the rubric in their individual folders. Again, this could be a tedious process. Fortunately it isn't, thanks to Doctopus. Doctopus will make copies of the rubric for each student, share it with that student, and put it into their GDrive assignment folder. Super easy.

To use Doctopus, you'll just need a spreadsheet with students' names and email addresses (which you probably already have from using gClassFolders in step 1), and then it'll walk you through your sharing and naming options. Again, I'll forgo the lengthy explanation of using Doctopus, because the official site has you covered.

At this point, when each student signs into GDrive, they'll see their shared folder, with a spreadsheet titled, "Josh- Lab Report Rubrics," for example.

A student's view of the assignment folder

Now we're ready for some student lab reports.

Google Drive in Action

3- Students write lab reports. In lab, students record their data in lab notebooks, graph their data using LinReg, and discuss their results in a post-lab Whiteboard Meeting.  For their formal lab report, they create a Google Doc and type up their lab report. For graphs, they take screenshots of the graphs, and add them to the lab report as an image.

When they have finished the lab report, they drop it into their Physics Assignment folders, where I can then see it and have permissions to edit the lab report.

4- Scoring. Since I am able to edit their lab reports, I leave comments directly on their lab report, as shown below.

Comments on a Google Doc lab report.

A nice feature of Google Docs is that students receive notifications when I leave a comment, so they know right away when I've commented on their lab report.

At the same time I'm commenting on a student's lab report , I'm filling out the Lab Report Rubric & Checklist for their lab report. An important note: For each student, I'm filling out the lab checklist on my copy of the lab report rubric, and not the copy that I've already individually shared with students. This may seem odd, but in the end it means that students will have one spreadsheet that contains the rubrics for every lab that they've done. Below I'll explain how to make that happen.

5- Copying the rubric to students. After I've finished filling out the lab report rubric and checklist for a student's lab report, I select the "Copy to..." option on the tab of the spreadsheet:

The "Copy to..." location

A window then pops up asking me what Google Spreadsheet I'd like to copy it to. Since I've already created a lab report rubric spreadsheet for every student (in step 2), I just search for the student's first name, and select their lab report rubric spreadsheet:

Searching for student lab report spreadsheets

Once selected, the sheet is copied to that student's spreadsheet, where they can see it. On a student's spreadsheet, it'll show up as "Copy of [tab name]," as shown below:

Copied tab- Student view

Voila! Each student has one document that will contain every lab report rubric we do all year. This makes it easier for students to look back at previous lab reports and see where they made mistakes or needed more depth. It will hopefully also easily document their their growth over time.

Once I've copied a lab report rubric to the student's spreadsheet, I revert my copy of the rubric back to its original state so it's ready for me to start on the next lab report.

6- Rewrites. When a student turns in a less-than-stellar lab report, they're required to do a rewrite. A nice (and new) feature of Google Drive is the Activity Pane, which shows all the changes that are being made to documents in a specific Google Drive folder. As students work on their rewrites, I can check the activity pane for the folder with the students' shared folders and quickly see who has been updating their documents (and who hasn't).

Activity view in GDrive

Wrap Up

This is the first year I've used such a system, and it's definitely a work in progress. So far I've been quite happy with how the process has worked, and being able to create one document that contains the rubric for every lab report we do all year is a major plus.

Again, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for improvement, let me know. I'd definitely be open for suggestions that make the process even more streamlined.

The best fun is hard fun.

Dr. Seymour Papert is one of my favorite educational thinkers. It's like he's in my head taking barely formulated thoughts and ideas and turns them into detailed, well articulated arguments that I might have never been able to get to on my own.

If you're not subscribed to Gary Stager's "Daily Papert," you should be. Little bits of Dr. Papert's work everyday, delivered directly to my Reeder. The May 25, 2011 edition contains this gem:

The third big idea is hard fun. We learn best and we work best if we enjoy what we are doing. But fun and enjoying doesn’t mean “easy.” The best fun is hard fun. Our sports heroes work very hard at getting better at their sports. The most successful carpenter enjoys doing carpentry. The successful businessman enjoys working hard at making deals.

The Marshmallow Challenge

In high school I'd spend hours in the back yard trying to perfect my curving corner kicks1, not because it was easy, but because it was something I enjoyed. More recently I've found myself drawn to other learning experiences that I undertake2 because I find them interesting- but often they take a lot of effort because when I start I don't know anything about them.

The traditional school curriculum more often than not misses this hard fun. Not because there's something inherent about what we learn in school that prevents it from being hard fun, but because designing hard fun learning experiences requires a bit more flexibility, a lot more student control, and a heckuva lot less "feeding" students the one right way.

I recently ran The Marshmallow Challenge with all my classes. For 18 minutes almost every student- and especially those students who will try to sleep through every class all day- were dedicated to building the tallest structure they could using spaghetti, string, tape, and a marshmallow. Half of the groups had a structure that was unable to hold a marshmallow off the ground- and most of these groups immediately wanted to spend the rest of class redesigning their structure and making it better. It was hard, but it was fun.

I've been greatly enjoying the work many educators have been doing recently towards providing students with hard fun in their classes. Notably:

  • Shawn Cornally's Inquiry Style™
    • He continually throws interesting situations at students and lets them take over. I love it. Take these investigations into oscillations, for instance. Killer.



  • Dan Meyer's new meme: #anyqs
    • I've been focusing on turning content into a narrative story whenever possible this year. Dan Meyer has been taking this to the next level in math, noting that, "good storytelling is a first cousin to good math instruction." I'd argue this is true for most any subject. Here's an excellent little series on sharpening pencils.

While I worry about the increasingly standardized nature of instruction in this country, I'm happy there are so many educators out there taking instruction to the next level and sharing with the rest of us.

Perhaps the best hard fun is designing hard fun for others. 🙂


  1. FYI: This was pre-"Bend it like Beckham"     (back)
  2. i.e. brewing beer, landscaping, fixing broken appliances myself.     (back)