Memo To Google: I Know 600 Students Who Depend On Your Gmail - InformationWeek
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2/24/2009
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Memo To Google: I Know 600 Students Who Depend On Your Gmail

I couldn't help but take Google's Gmail outage today a bit personally. I'm in the midst of my one, big yearly contribution to my son's school: computerizing the school's heavily paper-based read-a-thon competition, using Gmail as the platform. So I'm asking you please, Google, don't mess up my PTO project. For once I look like a hero rather than the under-involved parent.

I couldn't help but take Google's Gmail outage today a bit personally. I'm in the midst of my one, big yearly contribution to my son's school: computerizing the school's heavily paper-based read-a-thon competition, using Gmail as the platform. So I'm asking you please, Google, don't mess up my PTO project. For once I look like a hero rather than the under-involved parent.Ah, the PTO…I know you other harried working parents know what I'm talking about. We stand looking guiltily at that godly group of parents that seem to have more time-or do a much better job of making time-for PTO involvement than us mere mortals. So when I devised the Gmail approach as part of the PTO's goal to automate the read-a-thon, I enjoyed some hero status among the PTO regulars. Now, I'm dreading any questions that might arise from other parents about whether Gmail was the right way to go.

My answer is going to be: Don't worry, it was just a blip! Google has had Gmail outages over the past few years, and they never last more than a few hours. And Google, you better back me up on this. If for some reason Gmail was to go down for a few days during our read-a-thon in March, my hero status among the PTO is going to drop like a stone.

Background on the project: Every year the elementary school holds a read-a-thon competition; students read in increments of 15 minutes, submit completed 15-minute tickets to the teachers, and they receive bronze, silver, or gold medals based on the number of hours they read in a two-week time period.

The PTO used to draw these huge tables on paper for all 30 classrooms, and write in evey student name by hand. Teachers would write in how many 15-minute reading tickets each student turned in every day, total them up at the end of the row, and then determine the medal award. Minutes have to be calculated into hours to determine what medal each student gets. The PTO figures out which classroom "wins" by dividing the number of hours read by students in the classroom to achieve an average, and they're compared on that average. With 600 students, this is a huge project every year.

So we thought, how can we automate it this year? Well, the obvious approach was to provide teachers with spreadsheets on their computers to which they could type in students' reading totals each day. But how could we make those spreadsheets available to the teachers without having to worry about what computers they would use to access them? Enter Gmail.

Another Mom developed the spreadsheets and wrote all the formulas to do the various calculations. I created an account in Gmail, from which teachers will access their spreadsheets in the Google Docs section. All I have to do is send each teacher an email invitation to the spreadsheet with edit rights, and he/she can access it over the Web.

Google has provided a free, Web-based platform for our school read-a-thon project, allowing us to eliminate the use of tons of paper and cut out substantial hours of creating tables and calculating totals. The other Mom-I call her the spreadsheet goddess--will also create a final spreadsheet from which we can merge 30 classroom reading totals and determine which class won. We're also going to let students see regular udpates of how their classroom is progressing compared to others by posting a spreadsheet as a view-only Web page, also using Gmail, that the librarians will update daily after getting daily totals from teachers via email.

See Google, how you're changing our world for the better, helping us frazzled working parents prove we're not deadbeats? Gmail and Google Docs is a great service, and I know these are small, very infrequent blips, right? Remember, 600 young readers are counting on you.

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