These 13 resources are all free and may help you in using technology in your classroom.
by Susan Brooks-Young
Twenty years ago Google was a search engine, period. That started changing in 2000 through a series of acquisitions, partnerships, and internal projects.
Today Google offers a wide variety of tools, apps, and extensions, many of which are well-suited for use in K-12 classrooms. With all the changes, it can be a challenge to stay on top of everything.
Here are some of my current favorites when it comes to technology and resources to use with Google products.
Tools, Apps, and Extensions
Built-in Google Search Tools:
Let’s start with an addition to something Google has offered for quite some time. When on the Google main search page, users may enter a number of specific keywords to access special tools.
For example, typing “currency” opens a currency converter, “calculator” opens a calculator, and “translate” opens a tool that can be used to translate text from one language to another.
Now a new tool is available here. The keyword “metronome” opens an online metronome that can be set to measure from 40 to 208 beats per minute. This is a great addition for music students who are practicing or composing music. Researchers are also studying the use of metronomes with students who have trouble concentrating, which might lead to additional classroom applications.
There’s far more to conducting effective online searches than simply figuring out the best keywords to use. Google Help offers five suggestions for improving basic searches and tips for how to use the Expert Search feature, including image searches, filtered searches, and advanced options. Students may be familiar with a few of these techniques, but most will benefit from activities that introduce or reinforce all of these skills.
Google offers lesson plans and other activities designed to help students conduct more effective online searches.
There is also a Google site that hosts lesson plans developed by Google-certified teachers. Of course, additional lesson resources are just a Google search away.
Launched in May of this year, Spaces is an online environment where small groups can share links, images, video, and text related to a specific topic. Create a new space with one click. Give the space a name, invite members, and you’re in business. Customize the space by changing the color scheme and cover graphic. The Spaces extension for Chrome makes it easy to add new items to your Spaces groups.
This tool has potential for offering a platform that supports small group collaborative work, particularly during the research phase of an activity. For example, a space can be a place for faculty members to add resources related to a discussion during a staff meeting or student teams might use a Space to organize resources for a class project.
Google Spaces is not currently available within Google Apps for Education (GAFE) schools, but it can be used within a personal Google account. Non-GAFE schools can use this tool (also available in mobile formats for iOS and Android) with no difficulty. The Webliography for this column is a sample Google Space. Be sure to check it out. (Note: you must have a personal gmail account and have Spaces enabled for it to work.)
Similar to bookmarks, this Chrome extension was released in April 2016 and allows users to quickly and easily save and organize Web pages and images. Use tags to categorize items you’ve saved. Add notes to annotate what you’ve bookmarked. Access everything you’ve saved at Google.com/Save. Consider using this extension for preliminary research or for those times when it isn’t necessary to share your results with others.
Did you know you can type and edit Google Docs using your voice? The dictation feature supports multiple languages, while the edit feature currently works just with English. If you’re familiar with Dragon Dictation, you’ll find this Google tool easy to use. If not, it may take a little practice initially, particularly when dictating punctuation, but the learning curve is not terribly steep.
This is useful for students who think more quickly than they type. It can also raise students’ awareness of the importance of articulating clearly while speaking at a steady rate of speed. Voice typing is only available in Google Docs.
This Google Docs add-on is handy for those times when it’s necessary to change text from all uppercase to all lowercase, to ensure that all sentences begin with a capital letter, when capitalizing titles, and more. Install the add-on once and it’s accessible in all Google Docs. Students can use this tool to self-check their use of capitalization throughout a document.
Another add-on, Word Cloud Generator, allows users to create a downloadable graphic that shows how many times a word is used in the text selected by the size of the font—the larger the word’s size, the more frequently the word appears in the text.
The Google Doc needs to be at least 50 words long, but after that you can select some or all text within a larger document, drop words (e.g., “the” or “and”), and include a word count in the cloud that’s generated. There are all kinds of ways to use this add-on with students, such as looking for the main idea of a text based on the frequency of words used or identifying the overuse of specific words.
I am including this new Google Forms feature with a caveat. Using technology to create and grade quizzes allows teachers to automate something they would be doing anyway. However, automating quizzes does not mean that technology is being effectively integrated into classroom instruction. Online quizzes may save time, but they don’t impact students’ academic performance one way or the other. That said, teachers who choose to save time by automating quizzes will find this tool easy to use.
Multiple choice, checkbox, and drop-down questions are automatically graded and scored using an answer key and point values provided by the creator of the quiz. Other kinds of questions may be included but must be manually graded.
In addition to being a useful time-saver, teachers can challenge students to create and share their own quizzes. This use of the quiz feature does have potential for having an impact on students’ learning as they are asked to think through the material and devise questions instead of simply responding to objective questions written by someone else.
Google Sites has not had a major update since the tool was launched in 2008. If yours is a GAFE school, you are eligible to be a beta tester of the new version of Google Sites. If not, the updated version will eventually be available to everyone.
Two new features I find particularly interesting are the ability to drag and drop elements onto a page and the fact that more than one person can edit a page at the same time (in the past, one editor locked out everyone else). Google Sites is a quick and easy way for teachers and students to create a Web presence—particularly nice for project showcasing and similar activities.
This Web-based tool is not a Google product, but I’ve included it here because it works with YouTube (which is owned by Google). SafeShare TV enables users to provide links students can use to view YouTube (and Vimeo) videos without seeing distracting comments or buttons. Ads that precede many YouTube videos are removed here, and teachers are able to crop from the beginning and/or end of the video. Once a link is generated, it does not need to be recreated later.
Students still ought to be supervised when watching videos, but this tool helps reduce distractions significantly. You do need to keep a list of the URLs for the SafeShare TV videos you create in order to have ongoing access to them.
Like SafeShare TV, this tool makes the list because it works with two Google products—YouTube and Google Drive. Using VideoNot.es, students can take online notes while a video is playing. Notes are linked to the video, so clicking on the text immediately jumps to that spot in the video, allowing students to review that specific material again.
One common concern teachers report when flipping their classrooms is how to determine if students have actually watched assigned videos. Teachers can monitor students’ notes with this tool. Annotated videos are saved in Google Drive by default, but they can also be stored in an app like Evernote. There is both a Web version and a Chrome app.
The next two resources are Web-based tools teachers and students can use to enhance instructional activities.
In July 2016, Google released its updated Google Arts & Culture website and companion app for Android and iOS. This website features information about art, history, and world wonders from more than 1,000 museums. Materials may be searched several different ways, including by time, topic, and person’s name. Along with other features, the app works with virtual reality viewers, such as Google Cardboard, to allow users to access virtual 3D experiences.
I’m not sold on virtual field trips as an alternative to real-time student travel; however, sites and apps like this make it possible for students to examine works of art more closely than what’s possible in real life. In addition, the ability to organize artwork and other materials by themes or trends is an opportunity for students to look at things through a new lens.
Planning a trip requires various skills related to multiple content areas. Google Destinations is a search feature that currently works only on mobile phones. Google made the decision to take this route based on a study showing a 50 percent increase in travel-related questions generated on smartphones.
Type the name of any destination (e.g., Europe, Italy, Ohio), and add the keyword “destinations” or “vacation,” and search results will yield a collection of Google information cards students may use to select a specific destination. From there, additional cards help them determine the best season to visit that location, the cost of airfare and hotels based on time of year, local activities and sights, and much more. There are several opportunities during upper elementary through high school when students can use this search tool to learn more about locations around the world.
If you’d like to learn about additional tools, you might want to take a look at this comprehensive list: Alphabet/Google A – Z. Some have been retired, but that still leaves many tools you can try on your own.
In closing, I’d like to mention a project Google is working on to bring virtual reality experiences into the classroom. Google Expeditions offers more than 200 virtual expeditions created with 3D images and panoramic photos. Each expedition requires a guide—the teacher or another adult—who uses a tablet to direct the experience, while students use Android smartphones with Google Cardboard (or other virtual reality viewer) to participate in the virtual expedition.
There is more to it than that, and many teachers won’t be in a position to implement Expeditions right away, but it’s something to keep in mind for the future.
Links to all resources mentioned in this article are available on our Winter 2016 Issue Resources Page.
Susan Brooks-Young a career teacher and school administrator, currently works as a professional consultant and recently authored a book on mobile devices and education.