Emerging Technology 2: Google Docs

Although I have used Google Docs before for students who don’t have word processors at home, I recently used it in a completely new way in my classroom, inspired by the recent assignment for this class.  Generally, at the beginning of a unit, my classes do some exploration on the historical context of the upcoming novel, in this case To Kill a Mockingbird.  Unfortunately, this type of group project usually ends up with one or two people doing the research and typing it up, while the other group members secretly play a video game, hiding it when I walk by under the presumption that I didn’t see it and don’t know how to look at the toolbar or other tabs to see what they’re doing.  With this issue in mind, I decided it was time for Google Docs to become a tool (or weapon) in my arsenal.

Students found my assignment on my class wiki.  From here, they found their groups, the TKM Webquest, and my expectations.  It was also a way to get them to actually visit on their own and see the resources open to them, but I digress.  Instead of simply typing up their answers in a Word document, which only one person at a time can edit, they were told to start a Google doc and invite their group members to collaborate.  In this way, as I explained to them in the very beginning, everyone can work at the same time, they can oversee each other’s work, and, as an added bonus, I can view exactly who’s contributing and who is not.  As a portion of the presentation, students were required to create a visual element of their research, and many used Google Presentation (which I had never used before), putting certain students in charge of different elements of the project.  With the basic requirements explained, I told them to talk to each other to figure out their plan of action and get to work.

While the overall results were excellent (a student produced example it included), there were a few issues with this.

1. Difficulty in creating a Google account.  For some reason, this was the hardest part for many students.  During 1st period alone, half the groups could not create an account and sign in.  Because frustration was high and I didn’t want to lose the enthusiasm for the original project, I had to create the documents myself and send the links out to all my students (thank goodness I created an email list on the first day).  Unfortunately, this meant half the class was editing as a Guest, and everyone had access to all the documents. I had one incident where a student had opened up another group’s document and was making changes and deleting.  And, of course, it was one who was editing as a Guest.  Though I never found out who it was, I ended up closing that document and sending individual invites to only those group members.  If I had had more time in the beginning, I would have done this for all the groups, but I only had a few minutes before they started shutting down.

2. Apparently, the idea of collaborating on the same document at the same time is a difficult idea to grasp.  Two girls in my fourth period had difficulty wrapping their minds around the idea that what they type will appear on their neighbor’s screen and vice versa.  I explained that it was basically the same as if they were all writing on the same piece of paper at the same time.  One of them stared at me as if I had said the rabbit comes out of the hat by magic: same level of disbelief, even though she knew no better explanation.  In the end, their long suffering group members suggested they work on the presentation instead of the FAQ sheet.

3. The computers in our lab were really slow.  I know it’s not an issue with Google, who can handle billions of visits a day, but again, I was seeing a frustration with the technology.

Presentations were finished on Friday, and with the exception of one group, were quite excellent.  Nearly all the groups utilized the Google Presentations, and one student even announced that it was the coolest collaboration project she’d ever done because I was the only teacher who showed them how cool Google was. (I’ve paraphrased.  She used the word cool about 10 more times than I wrote it.)

For the last portion, students were required to do a Group Evaluation and Reflection online.  I created it in Google Forms (which I have used in my classroom before)  and embedded it into my wiki page.  Students are required to Submit it by midnight, Monday 3/1.  When I receive the results, I will update this post.

Emerging Technology 1: Google Lit Trips

Night Lit trip

Google Earth.  What comes to mind?  For most people, it’s “I can see my house from here!”  For others, it’s a great way to check out cities and natural landforms they’ve never visited in real life.

Google Earth in the Classroom: What do you think of?

World Geography.  History.  Math.  Science.  Current Events.

Did you think English? Surprisingly, this great little program is useful in the English classroom for more than just showing students where a story takes place.  In fact, I found a whole website dedicated to Google Lit Trips .  While these pre-made literary trips by Google certified teachers are fine and dandy, I like my materials to be a little more custom made, tailored to my classroom, my style, and most importantly, my curriculum. It is with this task in mind that I sat down to teach myself the ins and outs of Google Earth. Surprisingly, it was much easier than I expected.  I started with a quick search of videos and found a few very useful ones fairly quickly.

Luckily, because I know my topic (Elie Wiesel’s Night and the history of the Holocaust) pretty well, this was a much easier task, mostly involving dropping pins and adding text and pictures where I wanted it.  Surprisingly, the most time consuming part of this task was tracking down the exact location of Wiesel’s childhood home!
Although my overall lit trip is unfinished (I need to add some information for the end of Wiesel’s confinement and more historical information on some of locations), I used this in my classroom to help my students understand how far he traveled and the layouts of some of the camps.
This project took me about a week to complete, usually working just a few minutes each day to add a bit of information here and there.  I found that I had to use many of the tools provided, finding train routes that could have taken the prisoners between camps and using the distance tool to measure thise itty-bitty lines to find how far he traveled.   I would love to have my students create their own trips based on this novel, requiring research and higher level thinking to develop discussion questions, analyze text, and draw conclusions.  However, I fear the some difficulty in actually teaching the program, as I had to recall some knowledge of HTML code I hadn’t used since college.  It seems that with the advent of easy web page makers, this knowledge is no longer common for most regular users of the Internet.  Perhaps a simple handout with basic codes would be useful in this case.