Monday, September 20, 2010

Do you Google?...It’s more than just a search engine.

Most of us have used Google to search for information and we might have even told our students to “Google it” at some point in time.  But did you know that Google has a lot more to offer.  Google is more than just a search engine.  Google has technology that educators and students can benefit from and the best part: its free.

As an educator, I try to use technology in my classroom all the time either to present or share information, communicate with colleagues, or produce materials for the class.  I have my students use technology for the exact same processes.

One of the problems that I used to face with students and the use of technology was inconsistency of software and hardware students were using between school and home.  The other problem was how to turn in, share and collaborate with assignments and information. Google Apps has helped to solve these problems for the school environment.

Students now do not have to print out their assignment or email an attachment to turn it in.  They are able to share it with the teacher for correcting and other students for peer editing. Teachers and students can leave comments on the document.  More importantly comments and even editing can be done on the same document at the same time with multiple people.  Students also do not have a need for a flash drive or other storage media. Anywhere students have access to the internet they will have access to their documents.  They are even able to upload and/or convert documents from different software to Google Apps.

Google Apps is platform agnostic software that is used in an internet browser.  Students can use any operating system (Windows, Apple, or Linux); all they need is an Internet browser that is up to date.  Google Apps gives you access to a word processing program, a spreadsheet program, a presentation program, email, and a calendar program.  You can use your personal Gmail account to access your personal Google apps (little a), but a better alternative for Education is to sign up for Google Apps (Big “A”) for Education. This allows you to have more control over the programs and lets you sign up students through your school account for these great tools. Lets take a look at what Google can do for your classroom, school, and Ag Program.

Google is known for its search page ,but are you and your students utilizing its full potential? There are some great resources on the Internet to show the capabilities of search.  Google even has a set of lesson plans on using search.  Here are some of the things that might be useful for your classroom.

Google Advanced Search: Something that is easily missed on Google’s Search page is a link to Google’s Advanced Search.  This takes the place of having to know Boolean Search Language, but more importantly Advanced Search will let you pick a file type, look for only recent information, designate usage rights (free to use), and even define a region.  For example, lets say you wanted to do a search for corn on Google’s main search page.  You would get back around 123,000,000 results.  But if you used advanced search, you could limit your search to results for corn, only PowerPoint files, and only information within the past year from the United States.  What you would receive are 800 PowerPoint files from the the United States posted in the last year - current information ready for you and your students.

Google Timeline: Timeline is a great way to put information in historical or chronological perspective for students.  If you do a search for FFA in Google, then click on “Timeline” under “More search tools” you get a visual representation of the events that have happened.  You will see a significant spike in 1928.  “Students look at this time line, what do you think happened in 1928 to get a such a huge spike of news?” This could be a great way to get your students thinking when introducing FFA to them.  Timeline will let you “drill down” from a decade, to the year, to the month to better refine the information you are looking for.

Behind search, the second most known product that represents Google is Gmail.  As stated before you can use your personal Gmail account or you can sign up for free for Google Apps for Education and use your own domain name.  This is the preferable method.  I was able to buy a domain name for $10 per year ( and this allows my chapter to have their own email address for our advisors, officers and even all the members if we choose.

Having email accounts for my students is wonderful.  First, I don’t feel weird corresponding with a student that has an email account that we have given them (example: instead of their personal email account, that as we know our students don’t always pick the most appropriate email address.  Second, students are able to communicate effectively with me about class assignments, projects, FFA events, etc.  Being an Agriculture Teacher we have to be away from the classroom to take students to different events.  During this time I am able to keep in contact with my students during class even when I am not there.  Students are able to ask questions about assignments as needed.  This is one example of how effective email has been for my class.

Along with Google Apps Mail, there is the availability to turn on Chat.  This has been a boon for my students. During class students can communicate throughout the room without leaving their seats to ask questions of one another and teach each other quickly and efficiently in a manner they are used to.  Granted chat can be a great tool and also a huge distraction, but with some simple classroom management this can easily be controlled.  This year I had a student with three chat windows open and I went over to investigate, thinking the student might be using chat for the wrong purpose.  To my delight the student was helping three other students at the same time with the current assignment through the chat windows.


Another great tool that I have found students as well as teachers do not use to its full advantage is Google Calendar.  This is by far my favorite application of the Google Tools.  Most people think of a calendar application as just a simple way to keep events in order, but Google Calendar offers so much more and has so many ways to take advantage of this seemingly mild mannered application.

Google’s Calendar application allows you to have multiple calendars visible in one location as well as being able to share calendars with others, embed calendars in websites, send out reminders by email, and the ability to invite guests to an event.  These are just the basics of Google calendar.  Teachers and administrators are always coming up with new ways to use Google Calendar in their schools and classrooms.

There are many ways to take Google Calendar to the next level.  Use it to make a class pacing guide with due dates for assignments, attach the assignment to the event and then share it with students directly and on your class website. Set up reminders to come straight to your phone through SMS messages.  Even have Google Calendar send reminders of events to your community on your FFA Twitter, FFA Facebook page, FFA Website and to a list of email subscribers (Google Calendar by default will not Tweet or send information to Facebook, but with a couple of simple tweaks this is easily possible).

Google Docs are three web based applications that come with Google Apps.  They are Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations. These tools come close to being full fledged desktop applications but have some significant advantages.  With Google Docs you have the ability to have multiple people working on the same document at the same time.  This allows students and/or teachers to collaborate on a document, spreadsheet, or presentation without having to break it up into multiple files.  All of the files also have the ability to become web pages that can be shared to edit or view with a single individual, a whole group or publicly with the world.

Spreadsheets in Google Apps also have a great added feature: the ability to collect information through a form.  The forms are very easily created, like most other Google Docs, and can be sent to individuals to fill out through emails, embedding them on a website, or using their own URL to become a simple website themselves.  Use a form to collect data from FFA members, find out what food parents are bringing to the potluck or even use a form to create an application for an FFA award.  With some simple formulas applied to the spreadsheet of the form you can even use a form to create a self grading online test.

The last tool I am going to talk about with you is Google Sites.  Sites allows you to easily create an FFA website, a class website, or turn your students to Sites to build an online presentation, lab right up, or presentation board that they can share with you, other students, their parents and even the world. Sites have the ability with a few clicks to add one of your Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, or Calendars on to your website.  A novice user will have no problem building a website and experienced users will be amazed at what you can do with a Google Site.  With the ability to use pre-made templates users can also have a site ready to go in a few clicks and just need to add their own content.  My students are always amazed when I tell them tomorrow we are going to build our own websites instead of making a powerpoint or poster for a project.  Kids love the idea that they are making something that could possibly be viewed by anyone.  This is great for the idea of an authentic audience.  When students know that what they are creating has a large potential audience they are more likely to put in a great amount of effort.  At our school we are using Google Sites to build ePortfolios with our students.  They start their portfolios as a Freshman and continue working on them until they are Seniors when they use them as part of their exit interviews.

Links to teaching and learning resources