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Paradise Valley USD gets ready for back to school in no time flat, using Google Cloud and Google Classroom

About Paradise Valley USD

Paradise Valley Unified School District, which serves Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, works to empower its 30,000 students at 43 schools to grow into educated, world-class thinkers.

Industries: Education
Location: United States

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With Google Cloud, the Paradise Valley Unified School District can create custom solutions to save teacher time, and run back-office IT functions more smoothly.

Google Cloud results

  • Offers the compute power for rapid rollout of automated solutions
  • Integrates easily with existing data centers
  • Solves “back-of-house” IT challenges while serving mission of teaching and learning

Teachers are ready to plan lessons for the term in just 10 minutes

Paradise Valley USD fills Google Classroom with everything teachers need to start the term

With Google Cloud, the Phoenix-area district creates an automated solution for gathering and organizing teaching resources

At Paradise Valley Unified School District in the northern suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, teachers and staff are committed to what the district calls “a journey of excellence.” That journey is fostered by another commitment: adopting technology tools that engage and inspire students. To meet this commitment, the district’s 43 schools began using Google Workspace for Education, Google Classroom, and Chromebooks in 2008.

“Google Cloud fit perfectly for us. We liked the navigation and security features. And long term, we’re very interested in Google Cloud's AI capabilities.”

Jeff Billings, IT Director, Paradise Valley Unified School District

The Google Workspace and Chromebook deployments were a great start, but Jeff Billings, the district’s IT director, was dreaming big about creating solutions for teaching and learning.

“Normally we’d deploy tools that came from a vendor,” says Billings, who’s been with the district for more than 20 years. “But when the tools we wanted didn’t exist, we thought about creating them ourselves.” Billings and Shawn Weaver, an IT specialist for the district, saw the potential for tapping into schools’ data centers to create teaching tools for students interested in big data and machine learning applications.

Billings and Weaver considered various cloud data platforms, knowing that the choice would rest on a platform’s ability to easily integrate with the district’s other data-center applications. “Google Cloud fit perfectly for us,” Billings says. “We liked the navigation and security features. And long term, we’re very interested in Google Cloud’s AI capabilities.”

In addition, Billings and Weaver liked the fact that Google Cloud would run in the same data center as the district’s other Google solutions. “That was better for us than trying to interface between disparate systems,” Weaver says. With Google Cloud, the district’s IT department found a cloud and data platform that would help build back-of-house solutions, like data protection solutions, and front-of-house solutions—like Google Classrooms automatically filled with time-saving teaching resources.

Reducing teacher workloads during remote learning

Billings and Weaver first used Google Cloud to create teaching tools that helped students understand the basics of big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence and machine learning. They used Looker Studio for visualized dashboards, Colab to code and to understand algebra’s connection to artificial intelligence and machine learning, and BigQuery for learning SQL. The development of teaching tools was followed by projects involving disaster recovery, such as automated sync and scheduling to create offsite backups of critical systems and data.

As they learned their way around Google Cloud, Billings and Weaver saw a problem that was a good match for the cloud platform, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic forced classes to go remote in the spring of 2020. “Teachers had to do an unbelievable amount of work to build all of their curricular resources and assignments into Classroom every semester,” Billings says. “They had a great start by using Classroom but didn’t have any content.”

The lack of resources was especially challenging at a time when teachers were already having to radically change the ways they taught and shared content with students. “I worked harder in 2020 than I’d ever worked before,” says Kelly Romm, a third-grade general education teacher at Grayhawk Elementary School, speaking of the abrupt shift to remote learning.

Most teachers like Romm were using Classroom intermittently prior to the shift to remote schooling, but Classroom soon became a required tool for sharing resources and managing assignments in the absence of a physical classroom. “That was when the need for digital resources became critical,” Billings says.

Starting a school term with every resource at hand

As spring turned to summer and it became clear that the fall quarter for Paradise Valley would be remote as well, Billings and Weaver started building a solution to auto-populate Classroom with learning resources such as lessons and reading assignments. The process started with Google Apps Manager, where Weaver created an automated script that would find and identify all rostered Google Classrooms based on course IDs from the district’s student information system.

For the next step, Weaver relied on the Infinite Campus student information system, as well as Little Sis, a web application for Classroom roster support. With the two solutions, Weaver built templates that were automatically populated, using Google Cloud. All the resources were organized by week, topic, unit, and assignment for each teacher.

Google Cloud helped the IT team to scale up compute resources in order to rapidly populate the Classrooms with content. “The Google Cloud compute instance worked great and had single-digit ping time to the classroom API server,” says Weaver. “It was fast to the point that when I went from testing to pushing the service into Google Cloud, I had to add wait timers to make sure the previous API call finished before it started the next one.”

Teachers were notified via email when their Classrooms were ready. In addition, if teachers wanted additional resources in their Classrooms, they were able to fill out a Google Form with an autoscript that would pull content—an especially helpful tool for teachers with special education, gifted, or ESL students who needed unique resources.

Eliminating hours of teacher prep time

When Paradise Valley’s new fall quarter began remotely in August 2020, every teacher had Classroom filled with the resources they needed to start sharing with students and assigning work.

“We didn’t have to go web surfing for content, and we didn’t have to scan books and papers,” says Deborah Devine-Wells, a fourth-grade teacher at Liberty Elementary School. “All the material is easier to find. It only took me 10 minutes this term to get organized with the class resources, compared to the hour it took me last year just to upload the material.”

The ability to assign reading and homework to students with just a few clicks has helped teachers like Devine-Wells and Romm save valuable time as they teach remotely. “It was a bit overwhelming to see all of the material at first,” Romm says. “But once I got used to it, I could see that I could simply share a link to assign a story to my students.”

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About Paradise Valley USD

Paradise Valley Unified School District, which serves Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, works to empower its 30,000 students at 43 schools to grow into educated, world-class thinkers.

Industries: Education
Location: United States