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Nancy Powaga
 |  December 22, 2020

It’s been a school year like no other for teachers like Erin Wolfhope, Instructional Technology Specialist at Burke County Public Schools in Hickory, North Carolina. A former kindergarten teacher, Erin earned a master's degree in instructional media, and since 2005, she’s helped her fellow educators integrate technology into their district’s K–12 classrooms.

Wolfhope Headshot

“I help other teachers learn and grow with technology to use with their students,” says Erin, a Google Certified Educator. In early 2020, she transitioned from working in elementary schools to helping high school teachers master their school’s learning management system.

“I moved to the high school a week before COVID took over the world,” Erin says. “I’m trying to help teachers work smarter, not harder. They've been forced to use technology for virtual teaching or hybrid learning. They are stressed and overworked. I thought, ‘How can I help them?’”

Erin has helped teachers navigate the previously unchartered waters of teaching online via video conferencing. “A lot of them will say, ‘I don't do technology,’” Erin says. “But they literally are doing all the technology right now. I show them new things apps and other digital tools can do in little snippets, so as not to overwhelm them.”

When North Carolina teachers and students returned to in-person learning in fall 2020, they entered a new world of COVID-19 safety precautions. This included trying to keep students from congregating in groups, including when waiting outside for their rides home from school—a topic Erin and her husband, Jeff, a middle-school teacher, knew all too well. 

The challenge: Keeping students safe during school dismissal

School districts all over the U.S. have faced unprecedented challenges creating a safe teaching and learning environment during the coronavirus pandemic. In the past, school dismissal has sometimes been a free for all, with excited kids racing through hallways to get outside and hang out together, as they wait for their rides home. This practice had to change in the age of COVID-19, to better regulate student dismissal and allow for physical distancing.

Erin’s husband Jeff Wolfhope, a sixth-grade science teacher at Walter Johnson Middle School in Morganton, NC, vented to her that his school was having difficulty managing the student dismissal and car ride pickup process. “They were announcing student names over the intercom [to go outside to catch their rides home] for 35 minutes straight,” Erin recalls. “My husband said it was maddening. I said, ‘I have a way to fix that.’”

Fortunately, Erin already had experience building a no-code classroom app using Google Cloud’s AppSheet.

A few years earlier, Erin had looked for ways to engage students in learning about historical explorers. “I was looking in the Chrome Web Store for things to add onto Google Sheets, Google Drive, Google Docs, and Google Slides. When I saw AppSheet, I thought, ‘I've never heard of that.’ When it said you could build an app without code, I thought, ‘Well, I don't know how to code. That sounds good to me.’”  

Using Jeff to test things out, Erin built a no-code app with AppSheet that allowed students to enter and cross-reference data about historical explorers in Google Sheets. “I wanted it to be mostly the kids inputting the data,” she recalls. “I just gave them some column headers and pointed them in the right direction. We used Google Search to find information about the explorers. Getting sixth graders to all collaborate on one sheet can be a little hairy. But they built this app. I threw in some maps. And I came to love Google Sheets and [AppSheet], and what [the students] could do with data.”

Choosing AppSheet: Streamlining the after-school pickup process

Erin set out to help schools in her district address the student dismissal and ride pickup issue. She created two tabs in AppSheet: “Students” and “Pick Up.” “I pulled the student rosters from our student information system and dumped them [into Google Sheets],” Erin explains. The lists of names synced with another app called Awesome Table that creates dynamic websites using data from Google Sheets.

Here’s how Erin’s car rider app works: The app sorts student names by grade and displays them in an Awesome Table view projected in the classroom. “It’s really pretty basic,” Erin says. “Teachers and students see the names of students projected in their classrooms. Outside, in the car rider line, administrators have the app on their phones. When students see their name on the board, then they go outside. Then, when one of the administrators sees that kid get in their car, they tap their name on the picked-up side [of the app] and they come off of the Awesome Table view in the classroom.”

Carpool-appThe app supports an orderly dismissal of students, with real-time updates between students picked up and the list of students waiting projected onto Awesome Table in the classroom. AppSheet Customer Support guided Erin in finetuning the app’s functions.

“Now, schools don't have a cog of kids out there on top of each other and they don't have to make those [student dismissal] announcements every day,” Erin says. I thought, ‘OK, this might be amazing.’”

The results: Getting students on their rides home safely

Erin’s no-code car rider app made with Google Cloud’s AppSheet is now used by several elementary schools and one middle school in the county.  Because of her no-code app, the rider pickup process is easier for teachers, administrators, and students; and parents approve of the more orderly dismissal, too.

“At my husband’s parent–teacher conferences, he bragged to his kids, ‘Hey, my wife made this app we're using,’” Erin recalls. “Then he said, ‘Erin, you got a shout out in my parent conference. [Parents] said since [schools] use the app, the car rider line is so much faster and efficient. They can get their kids and get out of here so much quicker.’  I thought, ‘Oh, there we go!’”

Erin’s no-code app also saves schools money. This is so important, now more than ever, as resource-strapped school systems struggle to keep learning alive during the pandemic. “I know there are some [commercial] car rider [software packages] out there, but we have no money, we really have nothing,” Erin says. “So I'm super thankful that [AppSheet] is not something we have to shell out money for. I'm hopeful the principals will say, ‘Hey, this worked so well. What do you think about doing something else with this?’”

Erin hopes to develop and expand use of her no-code car rider app to other schools in her district, including once the pandemic is over. She has other ideas for using AppSheet to create no-code apps for use in classrooms and school libraries, as well as to facilitate workflow and communications between teachers, school administrators, and parents. She says she likes AppSheet for its simplicity and ease of use for users at all levels, including the teachers and students she supports on a day-to-day basis.

“There are lots of possibilities,” Erin says.  “I just need someone to say, ‘Hey Erin, I need this thing.’ And I will say, ‘OK, I can work on that.’ Point me in a direction to work on something and I'll see what we can do.”

Do you have an idea for a no-code app that could help your school or organization work better? Google Cloud’s AppSheet is always free to try.

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Nancy Powaga

Nancy helps app creators build and learn with AppSheet.

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