Random Thoughts

Become a Google Apps Ninja

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It looks like word finally broke on Twitter yesterday about a project I’ve been working on for about 5 or 6 weeks at my school. It started as a “I wonder what would happen if….” project and has turned into a pretty awe inspiring, self-motivated, get-out-of-their-way, dare I say fun project. 


When I was going through the process of becoming a Google Apps Certified Trainer I was taking the required tests on all the Google Apps. The tests run on Google’s own system and once you press start you have 90 minutes to finish. Google also gives you all the training materials which are public and anyone can learn from. So I did what any cheating student would do. I started the test in one browser and then opened up the training materials in another browser. When I came to a question I didn’t know the answer to I would quickly search for and find it in the training manuals. Basically an open book test.

As I continued taking the tests I kept asking myself “What is Google after here?” and then it hit me. 

It’s about searching and finding information

A big smile came across my face when I realized I had been beat at my own game. I’m constantly preaching that filtering and searching are skills that EVERYONE needs to master in today’s information abundant world and here’s Google putting it into practice.



It makes perfect sense! Google Apps change so rapidly that really the right answer today might not be the right answer tomorrow. So the ability to search and find the right answer is what they are testing. I, as a technology coach/integrater/coordinator (whatever your special name is for the job), do this same thing everyday. People ask me how to do things, I look up the answer. So a big part of being in this role is knowing how to find information when you need it.

I then thought what a great way to build a tech team at our school. To find the kids that are geeky/eager enough to go and find the answers they don’t know on their own.



So I set out to create the ISB Google Apps Ninja Training Center. Here’s the idea:

  • Students take a test of 10 questions needing to get 80% of better to “earn” their Ninja Belt
  • Once they get 80% or better on the first test they progress through the Ninja Belts until they reach Ninja Master
    • White Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt, Ninja Master – Total 40 questions
    • Each time a student earns a belt I will send them a widget of that belt they can put on their blog
    • Each time a student earns a belt they can come get a button from me to wear around school
    • Once a student has become a Ninja Master in all 5 areas I’ll give them a shirt hence making them an official student tech team member
  • If students don’t get 80% or better they can simply study and retake the test as many times as they would like.

Next I started creating the tests in Google Forms and embedding them into the site. Once students have taken the test I install the Flubaroo script which grades the tests for me and e-mails the students their scores. Next those students who earned 80% of better get added to a sheet that is displayed on the front of the site so they know and others know who’s taking the tests and where they are in their Ninja training.

Now….how to get this out to kids? We don’t have tech classes, this isn’t a school initiative, there is no buy-in from teachers or admin. This is me….doing what I always do…creating stuff and figuring out the details later and ask for permission last. 🙂

Every middle school and high school student goes to our Moodle at some point in the day so why not start there? I put a message on the front page of our Moodle site that simply read “Do you want to become a Google Apps Ninja?”


That was 5 weeks ago and needless to say I can’t keep up creating and grading the tests. We’ve had 125 students attempt the tests at this point which blew my mind. Then I shared the site at a staff meeting and next thing I know I have teachers taking the tests. We started running parent trainings a couple weeks ago and now parents are taking the tests.

Parents and teachers are motivated to learn because they want the skills…I get that. But what about students? Why are students taking their free time to take a test? Really…is the little widget on your blog that cool? Our the little button you get to wear around school? So I asked a couple kids why they were taking the tests.

“It’s kind of fun.” 

What? Taking a test is fun? Since when? So I asked them how they take the test. Love this student’s response:

“I take the test the first time without looking at the study materials just to see what I know. Then if I don’t pass, the e-mail tells me which questions I got wrong so I can go find the answer or play around with my calendar until I figure it out.”


Or how about this kid:

“I watch a couple of the Youtube videos, maybe 5 to 10 minutes worth and then take the test. It’s pretty easy.”

Let’s see here…they have complete autonomy over how they learn and the timeline to complete it. They have a purpose to learn something new and they can work towards mastery.

Autonomy, Purpose, Mastery….haven’t I seen that somewhere before?  

Released under Creative Commons 3.0 License


Now comes the good news. I am releasing all the work (most importantly the tests) under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 License so that any school can take them and use them with their own students and staff. 

All I ask in return is that you share with the community and help keep all the tests updated….actually that’s the hard part. As Google Apps changes keeping the tests updated will become important and I need/want all the help I can get. I need a community!

I have everything you need to get started in a collection in Google Docs please fill out this form and I’ll add you to the growing list of educators helping out and using the tests with their own students and faculty.

Images: I contacted Google about using the Ninja images. Google’s response was that they own the images and that they could be used as part of Google Apps Training but that they hold the copyright to the images. SWEET!

Features Image: By brunkfordbraun

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. LOVE this idea Jeff – thanks for sharing it all too – you are awesome! I love thinking about how this could be applied for a teachers program too! Terrific!

  2. Wow. I use Google Apps all the time – I didn’t realize I could be certified.

    Better yet, I like your idea of making kids experts. We have a Student Data Leadership Team (SDLT) – which I take not credit for – but I like watching my students create the videos that make them eligible for selection.

    I did a few posts about using Google docs for quick formative assessments.

    Janet | expateducator.com

  3. Excellent post! Love the idea!! Thanks so much for sharing. You have inspired me today!

  4. Jeff
    Great idea to get kids refining their skills. I’ve taken the 6 tests. What I don’t like about them is that you can’t find out which questions you got wrong, so there’s no chance in to know the correct answer. I got 95% on one test and I was confident I’d nailed them all, but I’ll never know the ones that eluded me.

    But in all I like what googles doing, were just rolling our Relax I’m a Ninja support program here.

  5. Great idea. Dig the ninji theme. Recently, I have been designing widgets to hand out as expert merits for my Wordplayer wiki. I call them “POW” merits–meaning “Player of the Wiki” for when kids master certain tools on their wiki pages.

    I would like borrow your Google Apps tests in the future.

  6. Ashley Haddock Reply

    Hello Mr. Utecht,
    I am a student at The University of South Alabama studying to become an elementary teacher. One of the classes in which I am currently enrolled, EDM 310, focuses on the use of technology in the classroom. Like many things in life, practice makes perfect and that seems like that is exactly what is happening when these students, teacher, and parents take the tests. I never thought of researching through Google as something you would need to practice at, but evidently (as I have quickly learned through EDM 310) much practice is needed to become a proficient online researcher.

  7. This is terrific. It says a lot about you that you are willing to share your hard work. Thanks! Please add me to your list. (Need I send a separate email?)

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  9. I am very impressed by this. Have been hoping for some incentive-based method to train folks on Google Apps.

  10. Jeff, thanks for adding me to the list for this project. I am rolling out Google to our teachers and could use this project for professional development and get some pilot teachers to use it with their students.

    Corvallis, OR

  11. Dena Morosin Reply

    Very interested in google ninja for Elementary when it is ready … this is fantastic! thanks

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  13. Hi, I love love this. We have 200 middle school students I would love to do in the fall. I was wondering if it would be o.k. to use part (or all of the site) for our school? It is a perfect resources, but I can imagine how much time it must have taken you. I thought I would ask, before trying to recreate the wheel. It would be great if you would think about making this site a google site template.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Hi Amanda,

      Head over to ninjaprogram.com and sign up. You’ll get everything including the template for free so you can get started.

  14. Dear Jeff,

    After seeing you in Frankfurt I was excited to start my new job as a tech integrator. Hoping to share several of your inspiring ideas. Brett 🙂

  15. Could we use this? Also, could you share the Forms so that I can make a copy so that the info goes to a spreadsheet I own?


    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Hi Troy,

      Once you sign up at ninjaprogram.com you get access to the files. You have view rights and then can go to File-Make a copy and make a copy of all the files you want/need.

  16. Jeff,

    Just wanted to write and say thank you for sharing the Google Ninja program. We’ve used it to administer over 2500 belt quizzes in the last 3 months for our teachers and staff and we’ll expand it to use with our students with the rollout of google apps accounts this summer.

    Thanks again for a great idea and your willingness to share it with others.
    – Jim Daly

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Thanks Jim…it’s always great to hear that schools are using the program and having success with it. Really appreciate the feedback…makes me want to keep the program going.

  17. Love your Google Apps Ninja setup! We would love to be able to use this with our students and staff. Is it possible for you to share the Google Forms so that we can make my own copy and revise? Thanks again!

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  19. Seen this today at the google conference #gafecommunity. Amazing! Cant wait to use with my students.

  20. What a great way to engage students in learning how to utilize Google Apps! Our students will be moving to Google Apps this fall, and I’d love to implement your Ninja program to train our students. Even Google Apps training itself is too adult oriented and dry to make students want to learn. Thanks!!

  21. Ann Marie Adamkowski Reply

    Jeff, I am participating in a PD session today. Our school board is getting set up with google.apps and this is going to be so incredibly helpful! (I miss ISB!!)

    Thanks for all of these great ideas!

    Ann Marie

  22. Hey Jeff,

    Awesome work done here! Really appreciate the ability to use your GNinja Course to inspire our students to gain the skills to become more digitally fluent so that they can use the power of google docs environment to do some real learning! Thanks again!

  23. What I like best about your implementation is what I am most frustrated about on the Google Apps Cert tests…you let them see what they got wrong so they can learn! What a great idea!

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  26. Mr. Jeff Utecht,

    I am a teacher at Wells International School. I have heard great things about your program. I would really appreciate it if I could use the Google Ninja App.

    Best regards,
    Mr. Chad Duby

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      No problem….head on over to ninjaprogram.com and sign up.

  27. Dr. Jacqui Cyrus Reply

    Hi: I am an instructional technology professor in the School of Education on the island of Guam, an U.S. protectorate near Southeast Asia. I would like to complete this program this semester with a small group of my graduate students in TESOL who are all practicing teachers in the public school system here on Guam. My students are very technology proficient. Are there any requirements that we might need to know about prior to beginning this Ninja program?

  28. Awesome. Just attended the #edtech conference in San Diego. This is great work, I will gladly share and attempt to update as we move forward. #gafesummit

  29. I am the ITRT for Northumberland Public Schools in Virginia. When I sign up, will I be able to view what students in my schools complete?

  30. ❤️❤️❤️❤️ Starting a tech class at our middle school with the 6th grade. Wish me luck!

  31. Regan Jackson Reply

    Hi Jeff, or whomever it may concern,

    I am a high school student in Charlotte, NC, and I am a founding member of my high school’s tech help desk. Our instructor recommended we check out the Google Ninja program so one of my fellow students and I decided to take some of the tests online. It’s been a little over a week now and our instructor said that these things typically respond instantaneously with the results. Since this was not the case, I figured I’d reach out. If you have any advice as to how to better access the google ninja program or if you could just offer reassurance with the response time, anything would be appreciated 🙂

    thanks a million

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Hi Regan,

      Not sure where you took the tests at…..the ninja program was shut down last June. We didn’t have enough support for the program. Not sure where you took the tests at but they would not be auto-graded at this time if it was part of ninjaprogram.com.

  32. Randy Hamilton Reply

    I would like to set up this type of program in my Middle School. I have the ability to set up a weekly club where this could be done.

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