Tag Archives: Google

GMail + Canned responses = Bye bye, “lost email”!

“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”


“If the teacher pops a test / I know I’m in a mess / And my dog ate all my homework last night / Ridin’ low in my chair / She won’t know that I’m there / If I can hand it in tomorrow, it’ll be all right…

~Saved by the Bell

I’m not going to lie—I’ve used it before. Teacher, you didn’t get my homework? Well I emailed it to you! Maybe you should check your spam folder… you did? Well maybe you should check your email settings… oh, you did that? Well maybe my email stopped working…

“Well, I sent the email; maybe something was wrong with the internet…” is Generation Y’s version of “The dog ate my homework”, but it doesn’t have to be. Inspired by the awesome 2-minute slam demonstrations I saw at Google Teacher Academy last week, I threw together my own 1 video of a Gmail work-flow hack that I developed a couple of years ago using 3 awesome GMail features—periods and plusses, canned responses, and filters—that, when combined, arm you with a powerful tool: the Secret GMail Address Auto Responder!

In a nutshell, when this is activated, specific emails sent to your GMail subaddresses 2 will trigger a pre-written response to the original sender. This is a great automated way of confirming to your students that you received their emailed-in homework; if they receive the auto-response, they know that it made it to your inbox safely. It’s also great for teacher; if you got the email and you automatically send the auto-response, it will be noted in your Sent folder as one more documentation location. Cool, ay?


  1. …which happens to be 4 minutes long… who’s counting…
  2. Basically, periods and plusses don’t matter in GMail.
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5 thoughts on my golden ticket to GTACHI

IMG_4177It’s been 72 hours, and my mind is still trying to come to grips with accomplishing one of my bucket list-level goals—becoming a Google Certified Teacher! In the last few days, I’ve been asked a lot of times, “So… how was it?”, and it’s been such a challenge to put the entire experience into a “tweetable” summary. Rather than try to limit myself to one or two sentences that invariably end up underplaying how awesome it truly was, I decided to share a couple of observations from my couple of days at Google:

  • I know so much… and so little. I’m not going to lie—I fancied myself a pretty smart feller before getting out to GTACHI. 1 I’m not a programmer or an app-designer (yet), but when it comes to digital solutions, especially in the educational realm, I’m very inventive, knowledgable, and capable of building simple-yet-sophisticated solutions to better teachers their students. In fact, I occasionally got frustrated by usually being the one sharing the idea, tool, or technique, and rarely getting any sort of trip or trick for myself. I wondered about how GTACHI would benefit me and my school.


    Before attending, I had heard the Google Teacher Academy experienced described as “like drinking from a firehose.” Yes, YES, and YES!!! In each of the sessions I attended, I came away with a few new tools and tricks to use; in a few, I came out with a bucket of questions; and in one particular, I came out with nothing but an overwhelming desire to sit in a quiet room with my laptop and try to wrap my head around using scripts. From my initial feeling of confidence, I gained a humble appreciation of the amazing work being done by other educators to help their students learn more effectively. And that’s not even touching on my colleagues…

    Google's Guestbook Wall

    Google’s Guestbook Wall

  • Hands down, the smartest room I’ve ever been in. I imagined that the star of Google Teacher Academy would be Google, and for the most part, it was always at least related to the subject of our conversations; however, what I’ll take away from the is experience is connections to 62 incredibly talented educators from around the world. 2 Having only been a teacher for 4 years, and having spent those 4 years at a very small school, I had never attended any form of formal professional development seminar—now, I think I just attended the one that all others will be judged against for the rest of my life, and to a large part, it’s due to those learning alongside myself.
    My teammates, with my man Christopher Kauter catching me.

    My teammates, with my man @Christopher Kauter catching me.

    In the month preceding GTACHI, I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know this incredible cohort, through Twitter chats and Google Hangouts and blogs and comments, so when it actually came time to be there, I knew who was there. My wife drove me over to the Google office, and as we passed the large herd of nerdy teachers, I cheesed and realized “Holy cow… that’s Jessica Johnston… that’s Lee Green… that’s Jo-ann FREAKING Fox!” It was so strange to, in person, talk to people who existed only on my TweetDeck hours before. As I sat next to them in various meetings and conversations, I was definitely intimidated by all the knowledge and wisdom and experience in the room; however, I am certain that I’ve never been around such a kind, humble, supportive, and caring crew in my life. In spite of my crippling nerves, the rooms contained absolutely no ego whatsoever—just inquisitive colleagues trying to take in everything they could, too. In the course of those crazy 36 hours, I made some great friends, friends that I look forward to working with and learning from more in the future!

    That’s them—partners in crime. Or learning. Wait, what did I say?

  • YES for tech talk! The stuff we talked about… man… at this point, I don’t even know where to start. I’ll try to do more of a piece-by-piece rundown later, but for now, you should know that there were 5 main sections to our first day—Creating your world (Blogger and YouTube Creator), Discovering your world (Google Maps), Automating your world (Scripts, scripts, get your scripts here!), Collaborating with your world (Using Google Sites for ePortfolios), and The Web and your world (Chrome, extensions, Google Search). Each section was an intense 45ish minute rundown of things we knew and things that we didn’t. My only (very small) complaint over the entire event was that we hustled from one section to the next without much time to let what we’d just learned sink in—just Go! Go! Go! I ended up with a huge Evernote notebook (Shhh…) 3 of fleeting thoughts and ideas that I’ll have to truly dive into later to fully appreciate.
    Did I mention the caffeine fixins? If you're ever @ Google, try the Chrome Blend. No crash whatsoever.

    Did I mention the caffeine fixins? If you’re ever @ Google, try the Chrome Blend. No crash whatsoever.

    The second day was a planned “unconference,” ala an EdCamp. If you haven’t attended one before (as I hadn’t), the day begins with absolutely no agenda. I mean, there’s no to-do list, no official speaker, no list of topics to discuss—everyone shows up and shares one thing they would like to learn that day. With the help of a few scripts, ideas are bunched together and then voted on. From 63 different requests, we settled on closer to a dozen topics to discuss in 45-minute blocks. The only real rule is to go to what you want and to leave what you’re not interested in. For example, I sat throughout a couple of great workshops about Gamifying a Classroom (by Philip Vinogradov and Cat Flippen), Making HTML5 Apps (by my man Christopher Kauter and Sean O’Neil), and Blogging in the Classroom (by my eduhero, David Theirault). It was a great opportunity to pick what exactly I wanted to learn about and binge on that subject.


  • Now I get what Charlie Bucket felt like. As I wandered around Google’s facility, I couldn’t help but feel like I had won the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory:

    As far, then, as I was concerned, my only job was to soak it all in, take in as much as I could, and avoid drinking the soda. A lot of the areas were off-limits to photography, but in common areas, I practically had my iPhone glued to my face, recording everything that I possibly could. For areas, though, I couldn’t photograph, I can say that they were spacious, colorful, and easy to imagine myself working in. We got to take a peek at a couple of the programmers’ play rooms (with XBoxes, Legos, musical instruments, and PingPong tables available for breaks) and micro-kitchens (more on this later), and working spaces were right in line with Fielding Nair’s concept of Caves, Campfires, and Watering Holes. There were tech support areas, gigantic meeting areas, and small office-areas for private conversations. Coolest of all—every room that I saw was equipped with state-of-the-art HD Webcams, LED TVs, and/or projectors. You know how in Google or Apple commercials, people are always using FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangouts to talk instead of just a regular-old-phone? I can’t tell you how many offices I walked by where I saw that exact thing happening organically! I feel like seeing technology in action like that inspired me to be better about using the tech tools to better connect with those around me!

    One of the few pictures I was allowed to take... oh, to have Google Glasses...

    One of the few pictures I was allowed to take… oh, to have Google Glasses…

  • Remember the “Freshman 15”? Well, there’s a “Google 15”, too. At Google, eating is a sport. The main cafeteria at Google Chicago is larger than my entire school building, with delicious (healthy!) meals, salad bars, smoothie machines and juicers, and just about anything else one would want to munch on.

    Time for yum-yums.

    Additionally, mini-kitchens scattered throughout Google’s couple of floors are well-stocked with juice, cereal, nuts, and other snacks to keep the geniuses powered throughout the day. There’s a famous rule that Google employees must always be within 150 feet of food, and in the couple of hours of hanging around, I never was more than a few steps away from some form of snackulation. So why all the emphasis on dining? 3 reasons:
    1. Morale! 2 free meals a day for each employee keeps workers happy and motivated;
    2. Time-saving. Occasionally during my own work day, I’ll run over to 7-Eleven or Starbucks and pick up a drink or munchy, which doesn’t take me a lot of time; however, if my school invested in an espresso machine, I could grab my brew and her right back to work quickly. By bringing everything to their campus, they cut out extraneous interruptions.
    3. Serendipitous bumps. Programmers and management and advertisers bumping into each other in the cafeteria or mini-kitchens mean more opportunities to share problems and solutions. 4

I could go on and on and on with all that I picked up, but I’ve truly been working on this blogpost for 3 days, and with less than 12 hours until I board my flight to Taiwan, I want to send this post out into the world. The point is that GTACHI was a phenomenal experience that I’ll never forget, for so many reasons, and I still feel so grateful for being accepted into this cohort. I’ve got a lot of work to do now—learning and relearning a lot, connecting with my fellow learners, and finding ways to apply these tools into my actual life—but I’m pumped and energized at the prospect of doing exactly that!




  1. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, this is pronounced “jee-TAH-chee”, like one world. The whole time, I had been calling it “GTA Chi”, as in “shy”, as in “I’m entirely out of me element around all these amazing minds, so I’m going to act very shy.”
  2. In our meetings, we were told that 63 people were chosen to attend GTACHI, and judging by some of the amazing minds I came into contact with, I was #63.
  3. One of the first questions I got about this event was “Is it just Google brainwashing? Are you only allowed to use Chromebooks? Is your MacBook Air going to get you intro trouble!?” Not ever an issue. Although they occasionally refused to mention their largest cmpetitor by name (“…that fruit company…”), I saw many Chromebooks, MacBooks, Androids, iPhones, and even an occasional Windows machine. (Strangely, though, aside from myself, no iPads…).
  4. I read about this in Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine (in regards to Pixar), but the idea was the same at Google.
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So a funny thing happened at 5:30 this morning…

GTAmeEvery morning, when I wake up, the first conscious decision I make is to grab my phone and see what damage my inbox took over night. Today, as I hazily began email triage, I stumbled across an email I had been expecting for a few days—a “Thank you for applying; we’re sorry to inform you that you were not selected…” email from Google Teacher Academy. I’ve gotten the email, and I knew what to expect: a generic paragraph encouraging me to try again in the future. Whatever.

As I scrolled through the email, though, I slowly realized something. Usually, when I received this email, I would only swipe up once on my iPhone before getting to the archive symbol; this time, though, I had to swipe three times. Wait… what? I somehow convinced my eyes to focus on the screen… and I saw this:


A post shared by Chris Webb (@webby37) on

Now, I know I was exhausted, because I stared at that message for over 60 seconds, not quite recognizing what was happening. (Honestly, it was like I forgot how to read in English. “Wait… what?”) I needed help, so I whacked the lump of blanket and wife to the left of me. “Hey… look at this.”

Lisa glared and snatched the phone out of my hand. She looked at the screen, swiped a couple of times, and turned towards me, just as I was realizing what had just happened. This was her approximate reaction:

So yeah… 5th time’s a charm, right?

Today was a blast. My wife kept calling me “Mr. Google Certified Teacher“; my students applauded me; and boy, was it fun hanging out on Twitter and reading tweets by 40 other lucky educators I’ll be meeting, sharing with, and learning from in Chicago on July 24th and 25th. Today was a quite the banner day for me.

When I was in high school, my friends and I were really into playing old video games on our computers. I had this original NES emulator program on my eMachines tower, and my friends and I used to run back to my dorm room in between classes and crank out a couple levels of Super Mario Brothers. The best part—because it was being run through emulation software, someone had added in a bonus tweak of allowing a user to save the game at any time. Even if a mushroom fell onto my head and I died, I could hit two buttons on my keyboard and be exactly where I was before.

I think about that emulator a lot. Not necessarily the gaming part of it, but about the ability to save my progress at any time and to easily go right back to when things were absolutely perfect. In fact, I recently started thinking about the couple of days in my life that were so amazing, if I had the chance, I would love to go back and restart from there:

I’m so pumped. And I still don’t fully believe it.

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Insanity: applying to GTA again and expecting a new result

I never said what happened with Google Teacher Academy Sydney.

If you remember, I had a pretty low self-esteem February, with a miniature breakdown where I expressed how alone I felt, professionally. To fight this, I decided to apply to the Google Teacher Academy being held in Australia. I put in hours and hours of writing a poem, recording audio (in one take), and building a concept for a kinetic typography video. Here was the response:

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 9.41.44 PM

I was pretty crushed. I don’t know why—of the hundred, and probably thousands, who apply, they only let in 50, and I don’t know that I have the kind of credentials that Google is looking for , so it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Also, it would have been a bit of a logistical nightmare—I’d have to leave my students, plan for subs, pay for my own travel, and leave my wife for a couple of days.

Maybe, then it was for the best. Maybe going to GTA Sydney was not what God had for me. Maybe I was too focused on gaining glory in the eyes of man, and not serving my God #1. Maybe attending was not what was right for me at the time.

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Colossians 3:23-25

After taking some time to reflect, I finally felt peace about not being selected for Google Teacher Academy Sydney. And armed with my new lesson, I decided I was done with GTA.

Then I saw this:


Here’s why this was a big deal:

  • I live in Taiwan all year long; however, when I fly back to the US, it’ll be to my wife’s house in Indianapolis.
  • Indianapolis is approximately 3 hours away from Chicago.
  • The only month I’ll be in the States this year will be July; however, I won’t be in Indy the entire time. In the middle of July, we’ll be going to Kansas and Nebraska to see my family. From Omaha, we’ll be heading back to Indianapolis around the 22nd of July.

I’m scared to say “it’s meant to be”, because if when I don’t get in, I don’t want to be crushed, but the circumstances were so perfect, it’s like GTA Chicago was personally inviting me to try one last time.

SO… 50ish more hours of video-creation later…

This is my last time applying, and I am 100% ok with that. If I get in, praises to Jesus. If I don’t, may I always remember to stay humble and keep my students #1, above everything!

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“You gotta fight… for your right…”

A few days ago, I had a bit of a breakdown on my Twitter account:

Sadly, no responses to any of my “cries for help.” Maybe I was just lonely because my wife was in the States with family, and maybe it was just one of those low-self-esteem days, but at some point, I realized that if I wanted to get myself to where I want to me, I’d have to do something about it.

So do something I did. After >50 hours of writing a poem, recording audio (in one take), and building a concept for a kinetic typography video, THIS happened:

GTASYDIt’s a professional life goal to one day attend one of these Google Teacher Academy things. I’ve applied a couple of times in the past, but I didn’t have enough time to put in a lot of effort into a video, and, frankly, I didn’t realize how involved some of these videos can be. The entire process isn’t based upon a 60-second clip, either—there’s an application I had to fill out with information about me, my education, my awards, and so on. But, as I stated earlier, it’s not like I have a lot of experience on paper, so I felt a lot of extra pressure to pour more into the video.

Google decides right around my birthday, in a couple of weeks, which 50 teachers get to attend, and I’m hoping (but not expecting) to hear some good news. Wish me luck!

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