I will put a huge disclaimer up front: I am a complete, die-hard fan of Google, but I do not have any financial gain for recommending or using (or passionately advocating for) Google products.
I started using Google in 1999, after leaving AltaVista search engine behind. My husband told me, “You’ve gotta check out this great new search engine…” It was love at first site (pun intended). Ten years later, I started a classroom of students on Google Apps for Education email accounts, so they could send documents and other assignments to me electronically – allowing homework and projects to be time-stamped by Google in my inbox. In 2011, I worked to get the entire school and our parent community onto Google Apps for Education. Students from Kindergarten through 8th grade (and all of the parents) have Google Apps for Education accounts, and currently second grade and up use the email and Google Docs features. It’s still early – I’ll get to Kindergarten and first grade by the end of this school year!
The things I love most about Google Apps for Education are the collaborative documents students can use at home and at school… or anywhere else they can grab an internet connection with their browsers. Eighth graders have used Google Presentation and Google Drawing to make informative and creative slides about The Book Thief characters; Google Documents to save word processing documents for their Poverty Projects, for the annual science fair projects, and for a social studies/country project; and Google Spreadsheets for a math stock market report. Seventh graders learned how to gather data by using Google Forms. Some students still prefer to use Microsoft Office or Apple iWork tools – and for some projects, I do like the more customizable features in those products. But Google Apps are free, and Google Apps don’t have any operating system or version compatibility issues… the cloud is always open and updated.
Our science teacher recently had sixth, seventh, and eighth graders create all of their documents for the science fair on Google Docs, and allowing her to own, edit, and view the documents that were created. The graphs, tables, and documents were there for the science teacher to see, and she could check the revision history to see when they were edited and who edited them. She left comments for each student in the comment stream, including grades – which were also forwarded to each student’s parent account. Our techno-savvy science teacher even set up “office hours” online for students to meet with her to go over particular questions via the chat feature in Documents. Talk about increasing communication!
The way we set up our Google Apps accounts, all emails coming to the inboxes of students are also forwarded to that student’s parents’ account. Parents can peek in during the day when we’re working on collaborative documents – when the fifth graders were working on a presentation on types of fog for science, I saw a couple of parents viewing student work at the same time. (And the parents aren’t given permissions to edit – only to view…)
The apps available for Google accounts are incredible as well. Blogger, Picasa, and Google Video are just a few that we’ve played with in classes and with the Technology Club (we geeks meet on Mondays after school). Using Chrome and adding apps/add-ons from the Chrome Web Store makes Google Apps for Education even more valuable. A word of warning: be careful not to get sucked in at the Chrome Web Store – it’s just as bad as Pinterest where it can suddenly makes hours disappear in what seems like mere seconds.
Google Apps for Education and its offerings change quickly – and seamlessly. The Google team is constantly updating and upgrading the features, and it continues to get better and better. If you’re not using Google Apps for Education at your school, what are you waiting for? Just grab the bull by the horns and get ready for the ride of your life. Your students will amaze you, and you’ll wonder what you did all this time without all those fabulous features.