Using Google Calendars to organise my school

One of the things that I found a real bind when I became a deputy headteacher was organising the school’s rotas and timetables. No school can operate in chaos – several spaces have to be shared (despite my negativity towards shared spaces) – and so timetables have to exist to make sure that we don’t get two classes turning up to the same hall all togged up in their PE kits, and then one class having to turn back.

For a couple of years now I’ve been using Google Calendars to help me organise the school. It look like this.

The main calendars for our school – PPA, Main Hall, Small Hall, PPA, Visits and Vistors

Now that might look like a big mess, but what is important is that none of the colours overlap. That means no two classes are in the same place at the same time. There: chaos averted.

It starts by me sharing a Google Doc with all the staff to ask them when they want to use their various spaces. I then place their classes on the various calendars to give them their best wishes as much as possible. Where classes occur, I normally talk to the teacher to find a second best option. Once all that’s done, the calendars are ready to be checked – no overlaps means perfection – no clashes.

I’m aware that computer screens are not everyone’s first choice for reading information, so I then print out the calendars (how dreadfully old-fashioned!). Despite the advances in recent iterations of Google Docs, I still prefer Microsoft Word for the print medium…

The “Main Hall” Calendar

…so I use Jing to cut and paste each calendar into a Microsoft Word document. I can then display the calendars on a noticeboard in the staffroom.

But it is not over there. Oh No. As you’ll notice from the “Main Hall” calendar, there are many times during the week when the Main Hall is used. And it just might be that some teacher wants to use the Main Hall for an additional session. Can they do this without asking me directly? Yes! Because I have setup each of these calendars as a ‘resource calendar’. This means that when you add an event to your own calendar, you see a list of ‘rooms’ that you can do that event in. If the room is already booked then it won’t appear on the list – so teachers when planning their week know instantly if they can use the room they want to or if they have to make other arrangements.

I made a song with Audacity and an iPhone

At the end of every term I start thinking ‘music’. It might be that it’s just the season for performances and that I’ve got my guitar out, but inevitably over the next few weeks I’ll have a group of children trying to create some piece of music or other.


I’ve been using Audacity for a few years – plugging in the school’s old keyboards and seeing what children can come up with. This year however we’ve invested in a couple of iPods, so I’ve been wondering what I could do with them. I’ve been experimenting over the weekend to see what the time limits and snags might be and I think I have a reasonable solution for a way of creating some music with just an iPhone and Audacity. Although I have to admit, I have cheated slightly – I played a guitar – and that’s something none of my children can do, still here’s what my sequence looks like so far. If you want a more detailed explanation, let me know – this just a quick ‘big brushtrokes’ picture of what I did.


  1. Find some words for the song. I did a Wordle of the Google Teacher Academy Blog that Kevin McLaughlin had started. While I was recording other bits, I looked at the Wordle and tried to find words that would rhyme and might fit together until a song of some kind appeared.
  2. Start recording drum tracks into Audacity. I used DrumTrack8 which I like because it’s got a copy of my old Boss 808 sound that I used to use in the 1990s. Not that I used that particular sound for this song. Depending on how complex you want to be, you can record all the drums together or on separate tracks. I chose to do Kick and Snare together, highhat on its own, ride on its own and some fancy toms on their own track too. I then used Audacity’s fade in, fade out and amplify (with a -200 quantity) to cut some of the drums where I didn’t want them, for example I only wanted ride in the chorus.
  3. Find a tune. Try to match some words to it. While I was recording the drum tracks I picked up my guitar, tried a few chords and tried to make some of the words from the Wordle fit. This is the tricky bit for the children I guess – as most can’t play guitar – I’ll have to work out how to make this step accessible to the children.
  4. Record the tune. With the drum tracks done I recorded my guitar track onto my iPhone using Recorder Pro. I couldn’t record it straight into Audacity because my cheap mic had broken.
  5. Record the words (i.e sing!). I then sang into Recorder Pro and transferred that into Audacity too. This is the really weak bit for me – I can’t sing very well – my voice is thin and my tuning is… interesting. This was also where I had the largest snag. Aside from the quality of my voice, Recorder Pro seems to stop recording when there’s silence, so when I synced it back onto Audacity is had cut out some of deliberate gaps. I’ve tried to add some silences back in, but the words don’t quite mesh with the beat at some points because they’re out by the odd hundredth or so.
  6. Add some harmony and other stuff. I used Nlog Free synthesiser app to add some more sounds. I love this one. I can’t play keys but I can play Nlog. Sort of.
  7. Balance. The worse thing in a pop song is when you can’t hear the words. Except when I’m singing. So here, I did a little bit more fading in and out and amplify adjustment on the different tracks.
  8. Mix Down. Finally I assigned some tracks a little to the left and a little to the right to give that fuller sound achieved by a bit of stereo and I saved the track as an MP3
If I’d had more time I would have recorded some extra vocals to pad out my voice. I may have even tried some harmony.


If I’d had a lot more time I’d have found someone who can sing to do my vocals for me.

Here’s the song: gtauk song

Next stop – try something like this with the children. Should be an interesting learning experience for us all.


The words of the songs are:
I once was settled with what I knew
I thought I needed nothing new
In a bubble of my own
A tiny world was my home


But then cool awesomeness
Different practices
In a Network Earth
Couldn’t settle then
Had to jump right in
Into a different world


I’ve Gone Google at GTAUK
Posted time to a blog via Twitter that day.
So certify me.


Teachers from every different nation
Showing some steep appreciation
Demonstration and explanation
All in the name of education


New technologies
New literacies
Squeezed into each hour
Better practices
It’s going to work for years
This is education power

Google Search Training

It’s not much time to give up – half an hour. But in that time at Paganel we have just honed up our search skills not only to save us hours of time planning and preparing lessons, but also to improve the quality of what we teach.


This is what the staff meeting looked like:


Here’s some places to go for safe searches:
 – a website with vetted pages.
On Google, remember to use:
  • Wonderwheel
  • Timeline
  • Picture filters
  • Custom Search
Here’s one of my custom searches: Paganel Space Search


Short and simple.


The first few links to Sweetsearch and IPL are links to vetted searches – ace for primary schools where an un-monitored Google search can lead to unmitigated disaster, or at least embarrassing conversations with parents and/or senior managers, even if the safesearch is set to strict. The image search for ‘copyright free’ images is an interesting one for us. In the past we’ve not considered this very much and have used pictures willy-nilly whatever their copyright might say. Now, as educated, law-abiding members of the 21st Century, Paganel staff will only use images that are copyright free.


The second section – guidance on wonderwheel and timeline – should help staff get to the information they need quickly when preparing lessons. And the fact that you can search for images down to wanting a red line-drawing of a pirate is quite remarkable.


Finally we finished the meeting by looking at a Google Custom Search that I had made – ‘Paganel Space Search’ (above). I had used sites found at the IPL (also found above). Each member of staff had to then make their own custom search for a forthcoming topic (which range from Rainforests to the Victorians).


As members of the 21st Century we have to teach our children to use search safely and efficiently to find the information they need. Teachers need to be able to search for information quickly and also teach how to use search within the curriculum.


Which is why I concluded the meeting by showing the staff the Interesting Ways series for the first time. The Interesting Ways on Search was particularly interesting.

Divergent decisions


Sometimes the ideal way forward isn’t the most time appropriate.


I realised this morning that the best way of enabling my staff to collaborate on Google Calenders to set up the school rotas for the year would be to set up a Google Apps for Education account and do it within there. Then I could have each individual user logging into the school calendars and updating them together in the same session. The steps that led to that realisation included setting up the current school calendars to be shared with the e-mail accounts of each of the staff members (that’s the screenshot above). But unfortunately that would include setting up each of those e-mail accounts with an iGoogle account, which is time-consuming and pointless because most staff wouldn’t log on to iGoogle if they’re not already in the habit of using it. Hence I needed a Google Apps for Education account to tie it altogether. And of course that takes a few weeks to set up, because Google have to check that you’re actually an education establishment and not a company looking for a free-ride.


A few week that I didn’t have.


And three hours that I’d spent effectively wasting my time.


Each decision I’d made had led to at least two problems needing to be answered. Two more decision to be made. It was a network of ever-increasing complexity that, if I’d have the time, might have worked well, but the thing is that this particular opportunity will have lots its effectiveness if I don’t have it ready by Wednesday 1st September. I needed to get something sorted.


So I took a step back and looked at the best way to make my choices converge to a solution that would work. The ideal solution would have had staff working collaboratively to create the rotas in a way that will be continued throughout the year. The time appropriate solution is to cut-out the ideal methods of collaboration and just get the rotas done.


So I now have two gmail accounts – one called and the other The first holds the calendars, the second is what all the teachers will log on with to adjust the calenders. It’s not ideal because I’d prefer each teacher to log on with their own account – but as I’ve explained that isn’t possible yet. Maybe later on the year, I’ll be able to tie these things together with a Google Apps for Education solution and get closer to my ideal solution.


Next I will post the video I made to explain to the teachers how to add things to Google Calendar.

Creating Rotas Collaboratively

I’ve been experimenting with Google Calendar to make our systems more efficient. This term I’m turning to the school rotas.

Why Rotas?

It sounds a boring task, and it is, but getting the rotas right at the start of the year is essential to having an efficient year. It saves all those pointless conversations where people have to negotiate room usage and avoids all those embarrassing situations where two people, each with a class of 30 children, turn up at the Hall only to have their expectations and lesson plan dashed. Getting rotas right means the administrators in the office, who bear much of the difficult conversations in school can work confidently within the frameworks given to them. As these people often have the dual role of also being first contact for visitors it helps them stay positive and happy. The visitors also pick up on this mood and the school’s reputation improves.


Everything gets better with good rotas.


I love Google Calendar. I love the way it syncs so well with my phone and with so much other stuff. I also love the way you can collaborate with Google Spreadsheets – 50 people + on the new version it’s pretty impressive. So my initial idea was to generate the rotas by sitting together with the staff and a room full of laptops, type into events into a Google spreadsheet, and then import the data via a .csv file into Calendar. After some initial research and some sterling advice from fellow GCTs Danny Silva and Nic Finelli I soon dismissed this idea. I realised that getting the staff to accurately put their activities into a precise format onto Google Spreadsheets when some off them have had no prior experience of any kind of spreadsheet might be asking too much. It may be a challenge for the future. If you’re interested, the Google help page with the right format for importing into calendar is here.


So instead I’ve set up several calendars that describe everything we do in school. I’m intending to open up the calendars to the staff so they can edit them during the first week, set up the rotas, then I’ll take away their access rights so they can only see the calendars and they’ll be set. I’ll then transfer over the admin rights to the actual staff, so if any changes need to be made in the future they can be made through the staff in the admin office.

The rotas I need doing are:

  • Hall Timetable (mainly for PE)
  • Small hall Timetable (mainly for eating, but some PE)
  • ICT Table (for using our ICT suite)
  • Laptop timetable (for accessing our bank of 16 laptops)
  • Playground Timetable (for agreeing who’s going to be out on the playground over the course of the week)

In addition I created 3 separate calendars.

  1. KS1 Timetable
  2. KS2 Timetable
  3. Assemblies

I still need a 4th Calendar to finish the jigsaw – the Foundation Stage Calendar – but I’m not sure what their calendar looks like and won’t get the details until next Tuesday. I need to have got the bulk of this sorted by then.


The Calendar Menu looks like this – several calendars that I can turn off and on and make available to different people.

The KS1 Calendar looks like this:


And with the KS2 Calendar and Assembly calender looks like this:


What next?

I need to plan how I’m going to explain to the staff how to put their events up. Each member of staff will have a certain number of events to fill in for each timetable, for example 2 for the Hall Timetable, 2 or 3 for the ICT suite. I’ll probably use a video to record that – I quite like Smart boards screen capture video software – it’s simple but effective. I’ll need to remember to invite each staff member to fill in the appropriate calendars too.

Over the next few days I’ll post my explanation video and after the training has been given, show some of the results of what happened.


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