Thursday’s Tip: Google It

google logo

The 21st century classroom has many, many needs. There’s research to be done, papers to write, schedules to keep, information to share, connections to be made, messages to send, conversations to have, books to read, and a whole world to explore. Google can fill all your needs and it’s free*.

Once only known as a search engine and eventually an email provider, Google has long since added many applications that are available for free with a significant amount of storage for its users. Just within the menu of a typical Gmail account, one can find links to a calendar, documents, photos (Picassa), sites, and the web (search). Additionally, there are maps, groups, video (YouTube), blogs (Blogger), and a RSS reader. I haven’t even mentioned the options for searching the news, images, books, scholarly articles, or whatever you want. There are also offline tools such as a web browser (Chrome), a drawing program (Sketchup), a 3-D model of the earth, and even an operating system. This list only scratches the surface of what Google currently offers its users.

That’s great, but how do we best use Google in the classroom?

There are some good resources for all-things-Google out there for teachers. TeacherHub.com offers “100 Google Tips for Teachers,” covering everything from search tips to any basic tasks with which Google can help. EdTech-er Tom Barrett’s popular series of “Interesting ways to use…” utilizes Google Presentation (a Doc app similar to PowerPoint) and even features several just for Google tools. Google for Educators offers some ways in which you can use Google in the classroom. Finally, here are 100 more ways Google can make you a better educator.

No matter your needs, Google has a tool that can help. You should begin today by signing up for an account and exploring these and other apps offered by Google. You may even find yourself earning the distinction of Google Certified Teacher in the process.

What are your favorite Google tools to use? How have Google tools enhanced student learning in your classroom?

*Google Apps for Schools is not free, but it’s affordable and offers many solutions for schools with limited resources.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center and avid Google user.

Tuesday’s Tool: Google Reader

While searching for a tool to share for today, I realized that there is one tool I turn to time and time again when searching for resources, ideas, and even inspiration. There’s a place where all my favorite websites and blogs send their content so that I don’t have to go searching it out. It’s a time-saving tool that organizes these resources and allows me to search them for whatever I am looking. The tool I decided to post was the same tool where I was looking for an idea: Google Reader.

Brooke posted a while back on the benefits of using your Outlook account for collecting and organizing RSS feeds, but Google offers the ability to access your feeds anywhere while keeping them separate from your email[1]. All you need is a Google and/or Gmail account to get started. Google Reader is listed at the top of your Gmail page or can be found on the menu of Google’s homepage.

Google Reader (like most RSS readers) allows you to manage your content easily and efficiently. Save time by only visiting your Reader homepage as opposed to visiting every site or blog you read on a regular basis. Google Reader insures you won’t miss updates and new articles as new content is delivered to you. There’s even a search feature that allows you to go back through content you may have missed. Additionally, Reader offers ways in which you can discover new content based on your preferences or even friends with which you choose to network.

For more information on Google Reader, check out the following resources:

How has Google Reader made the organization of content easier for you? Have you subscribed to our blog on Google Reader yet[2]? How could you use Google Reader with your students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center and an avid Google Reader user.

Notes:
1This is, of course, a personal preference. I like to keep my email and RSS feeds separate so as not to get my digital information too cluttered. However, if you’d like to keep email and RSS feeds in the same place, I highly recommend Brooke’s post.
2Counting myself, I know there are 32 of you out there.

Tuesday’s Tool: Google+

Google is the latest to throw their hat in the social media ring with Google+, a site that achieved 2o million users in just 24 days. That’s a mere 1,128 fewer days than Facebook. Of course, Google+ has many classroom applications either ready to use or soon to be available.

The video below sort of explains why this new tool is so important.

The EdTech blogosphere is all abuzz over Google+. Of course, Larry Ferlazzo already has a working list of Google+ resources you can access. Some are looking toward what Google+ can teach us about education reform. However, there are still many concerns over potential privacy disasters to be aware of when dealing with a social media tool. That said, there are still a large number of educators taking advantage of this new and exciting tool.

What do you think of Google+? Are you using it yet? Do you see possible classroom applications that you haven’t seen with other social media tools?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center as well as an early adopter of Google+.

Friday 4ALL: Google+

Another new social network has cropped up, but it’s hard to tell if it is worth an educator’s time to learn a new online tool. Google has entered the social networking world (unless you count Wave, Orkut, or Buzz as social networks) with Google+. Originally available to users during an invite-only phase, the site has grown to over 10 million users in a little over two weeks of existence.

What makes Google+ different or even more educationally prudent than Twitter or Facebook? Well, there are many things that make it more ideal for the classroom, even in these early stages.

Google+’s circles allow for more customization for grouping followers. One of the scares for teachers using Facebook is that it is too easy for administrators, parents, and students to see private posts that could jeopardize their reputations or even their jobs. Sure, privacy settings and some customization every time something is posted is a possibility, but Facebook changes privacy settings too often to depend on keeping anything truly private. The circles in Google+ make it possible to limit everything you post to specific groups. Create circles for different classes or have them available for both private and personal use. It’s really quite a seamless process.

Hangouts are the best thing to happen to free video conferencing since Skype. Have a discussion with a class in another school or organize a lesson for sick or vacationing students. The hangouts feature makes online video discussion very simple. Also, you can once again limit these hangouts to particular circles. Facebook is trying to get their own video conferencing up and running, but Google+’s feature is already here.

Sparks make it possible to filter one’s stream. Students could focus their streams on specific topics like politics, poetry, or an infinite number of topics. Teachers could also do this to watch for developments in various educational topics or current events. One has to wonder if this feature will soon be as customizable as hashtags on Twitter.

Google+ is still a long way from being what it could potentially become, but there is promise there that Twitter and Facebook cannot offer. For one, the new Google+ status bar at the top of every Google tool suggests greater integration of the tools, but this has yet to come to fruition. As Google+ grows in popularity, we might see a re-introduction of Google Wave or at least some approximation of the failed collaborative tool that eventually failed. Still, Wave was ahead of its time and could become an important piece in G+’s future.

What do you think of Google+? What are the classroom applications you can see in using this tool? Will Google+ replace today’s top social media sites or will it go the way of Friendster and even MySpace?

To get started with Google+, check out this blog post for some basics.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center as well as an early adopter of Google+.

HD_Links: Five Helpful Links

Happy Wednesday/Hump Day (HD), everyone! Here are a few useful links to get you through your week.

  1. Lifehacker provides some nice advice in their “Emailable Tech Support.” Today’s post [How to Browse the Web Using Tabs (for Beginners)] features the basics of tab browsing, which can be an effective and useful practice to get into when doing online research. Sometimes, we are more likely to return to a task or webpage if the tab is left open as opposed to copying the URL or bookmarking the page.
  2. Trying to teach debate or opposing viewpoints in politics? Mashable points out that YouTube is launching a channel where they match members of Congress debating two sides of a given issue. As is typical in the beltway, things can get pretty heated. So, you’ll want to preview the debates before sharing them with students. Read “YouTube Matches Congress Members For Debates On New Town Hall Platform” here.
  3. Looking for a simple file sharing app? How about one that is so simple that sharing can happen by simply dragging and dropping files? Check out Fyles, the free service that provides 2GB of space, a link for your shared items, and a password for future deletion. (via Lifehacker)
  4. From Google Labs (via EdTech Toolbox) comes Google Public Data Explorer. With this tool, students can compare data sets and create their own infographics. Easy to explore, visualize, and communicate data sets, Google Public Data Explorer is another free tool from your friends in Mountain View, CA.
  5. Edutopia addresses the differentiation issue with a specific example of how one school in South Carolina is utilizing technology to provide individualized learning facilitation that works. Even without loads of technology, the tips provided are good things to keep in mind for your own differentiation, but with technology the article demonstrates how powerful technology can be in the diverse, 21st century classroom. (H/T Edgalaxy)

Zac Early is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National with a rather large number of subscriptions in his Google Reader that he follows so that you don’t have to.

Thursday’s Tip: Search Google Visually

Though we do what we can to avoid internet searches in class, sometimes a Google search is called for when a student’s research comes up short. Maybe a bigger issue than appropriateness and security in such an activity is helping students sort through reading vast search results for their desired needs.

Luckily, Google Image Search provides a new way to look for information. Sometimes, a student may not know the best search terms, but he might know it when he sees it. The new Google Image Search lets you search by subject. Watch the video below and see how it works.

Of course, depending on your district’s filter, always be prepared that a Google Image Search might be a risky option. It’s always best to try it out for yourself before unleashing results onto your students.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Tuesday’s Tool: Google Calendar

It was recently announced that Google Calendar has added color coding for events. Now, you can code certain kinds of events with particular colors. This is just one of many ways Google Calendar (a free tool) makes it easier to organize your life personally and professionally.

Below are some other features Google Calendar (GC) has in store for you:

  • There is a sharing feature on GC that allows you to keep a calendar with one person or even a group of people. You may even decide to make a calendar public so that anyone can see it.
  • Embedding is available so that you can display your calendar on any website the utilizes html code. I have posted calendars on blogs and in Moodle portals as well as helped teachers insert them into their class websites.
  • With so many electronic devices at our disposal, it’s good to know that one can sync a Google Calendar with any computer using Microsoft Outlook or Apple iCal. Plus, there are apps for accessing GC from your smart phone.
  • One can maintain multiple calendars on a single Google account. So, if you want to keep two separate calendars for school and home, it is possible to that and more.
  • For those who need an agenda that doesn’t necessarily come in calendar form, GC features an agenda view that lists the events for your day or week ahead. Additionally, you may set up a calendar to email your daily agenda when you’re on the move.
  • Among the many great add-ons available in Google Labs, GC has a “jump to date” tool which allows users the ability to simply go directly to a date instead of scrolling or searching through calendars.
  • Desktop or mobile notifications can be set up to provide reminders just before an event so that you don’t lose track of time.
  • For those who work best with lists, GC provides a to do list tool that can keep you on task.
  • Often, a meeting or other event requires a certain spreadsheet, document, presentation, etc. With GC, you can attach documents to an event with ease. Either by simply uploading a file or connecting to a Google Doc, this feature makes it simple to come prepared.

Do you use Google Calendar? What are some different features that make Google Calendar a useful tool for you?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Top-10 Ways to Use Social Media in the Classroom

Created at Wordle.

For this week’s tip, we’re bringing you a list of top-10 ways you can use social media in your classroom.

10. Social bookmarks like Delicious (still around), EverNote, and Diigo are great ways for groups of students researching a topic to gather and organize their resources. You can set up an account for an entire class, a small group, or one for individuals who share and follow their peers’ research.

9. As mentioned earlier this week, there are many new uses for YouTube (and other social video sharing sites like Vimeo). Channels can be created. Response videos and creative annotation and tagging can add another interactive level to the video sharing process.

8. Google Reader (H/T Brooke Higgins) can be a great way for teachers and students to follow particular resources as well as share in a community. A teacher can create a bundle of important resources to which he wants his students to subscribe. There is also the share feature where students and teachers could share interesting articles or blog posts they find in their own readings. The comment and search functions can also come in handy with Google Reader.

7. The new Groups on Facebook make it even easier to communicate with students and parents without having to give up privacy via friending. There are many more privacy safeguards for the new Groups, but there are also several new features that make Groups more community-friendly. Now, when comments are made on the new Groups’ walls, that same content shows up on every member’s feed and sends a notification. This insures that every member sees all the wall posts. Also, there is a group chat that allows more than one participant at a time, great for online class discussion. Documents, pictures, videos, links, and events can all be managed in one place.

6. Teachers and schools often complain about the cost of out-dated textbooks that don’t match student needs as closely as they should or are limiting in their scope. A great way to combat this is to write our own textbooks using wikis. Not only could a wiki be used to display a teacher’s notes, but there are multimedia capabilities as well as commenting options. Even better, students can be involved in writing their own textbooks. A wiki-created text could be revised and edited from year to year without the cost of a new textbook series eating up valuable space in a school’s budget since wikis are often free or very cheap for premium, ad-free packages. Oh, and there’s a wiki out there with directions for writing a textbook.

3.-5. Google Docs provide several great options for collaborative classroom work. Here are three:

  • Google Docs has its own presentation feature, much like PowerPoint. In fact PPT files can be uploaded to Google Docs and converted to an online presentation. Students working from different computers or locations can easily contribute to the same presentation. When presented to the class, students can chat during the presentation and the discussion shows up on a side panel.
  • Collaborative writing has never been easier than with Google Docs. Using the word processing feature, students can contribute to the same document, insert comments, chat about the direction of the document, and access older drafts. Plus, the document can easily be converted to a PDF or website.
  • Data collection and online tests quizzes are easier now with the addition of Google Forms to the Docs suite. A form can be set up to gather any data (surveys, quizzes, blog submissions ;) ) and it’s all gathered in a tidy spreadsheet that can be easily converted to charts and graphs. Plus, multiple users can gain access to the results, as with any Google Doc.

2. Photo sharing sites such as Picasa and Flickr offer great opportunities not only for sharing and commenting on one another’s images, but also several other useful features. Tagging and/or annotation images is a great way to demonstrate understanding and to encourage contributions. Both offer some editing features and allow video uploads.

1. Blogs. Well, what else would you expect from a blog? Blogs are a tremendously underused social media tool. Collaborative writing, online publishing, interactivity between readers and writers, easy to manipulate HTML code with multiple options for embedding media… The possibilities for blogs is endless. Plus, blogs can be used alongside many of the tools already mentioned above.

How do you use social media in your classroom? Feel free to comment below or link back to this post.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

4ALL: Goolge Labs Ngram Viewer

Word clouds created in Wordle have been an educational and entertaining way to view information trends. Google has released Google Labs Book Ngram Viewer that creates instant graphs of how often phrases or words appear in books from 1800 to 2008. It gives an interesting view of many social issues and historical topics as well as offering a look at when products and technologies hit the US. Try “civil rights” or “economy” and ask students to consider what was happening to account for the changes in interest and published materials.

Jennifer Kuehnle is an area specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Tuesday’s Tool: Picnik

I found this tool, offered by Google, by watching my daughter use it to make a collage with some of her photos for a class project. Picnik is easy to use and has educational uses. Read more about how it is being used in the classroom.

With Picnik, you can edit photos quickly and easily wherever they are, mix photos together to make a collage, turn photos into a scrapbook or greeting card, and build slide shows to share with the world.

Chris Lohman is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.