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Student Collaboration with Google Drive

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This past week a handful of my colleagues and I utilized Google Drive to brainstorm, draft, revise, and finalize a proposal for the National Council of Teachers of English Convention in Boston next November.  If you’ve ever prepared a proposal to present at a conference before, you know how harried and nerve-wracking it can be.  Trying to organize six people to do one together, with 24 hours until the submission deadline is…well…it’s crazy!  It’s almost as crazy as trying to get a group of students to write a paper or create a presentation together.  In both scenarios–whether it’s a group of adults or students– here are some collaboration pitfalls:

1)  One person does all the work.  The high-achiever of the group grins and bears it as they carry the weight of the project.
2)  No one does the work.  If the dynamics of the group fail to include the driven personality, then chances are, nothing gets done.
3)  Too many chiefs…you’ve seen it happen, or perhaps you’ve been in a group where everyone is trying to lead and direct.  This is almost as bad as having no direction.  The final project lacks cohesiveness and rather than a unified, solid presentation

The night before our deadline, our go-getter sent a call out through Twitter and text to get our attention that basically said, “hey, this thing is due tomorrow!  Get your butts on Google Drive before 10:00 am or it’s not happening!”  And so we took our brains, individually, to the document created by our group leader and started to draft, revise, and comment, which was cool by itself.  The magic, however, occurred when we were all in the document, working at the same time, our multi-colored cursors moving around the document, communicating through the chat feature about what we were doing and should we do this or that, adding comments and resolving comments until finally, with two minute to spare, we had a proposal submitted to NCTE.

From the other side of our various devices and locations strewn across the metroplex, we all shared a collective sigh and appreciation for the power of collaborative writing and tools such as Google Drive that breathe life and spirit in to the writing process.

So here’s the skinny on Google Drive:

1)  It’s free.  Doesn’t get any better than that.
2)  Google Drive operates through cloud computing, which means that you can create, store, and share your documents through the web.  No more wondering where you left that flash drive or stressing out over loosing a document on your laptop after an unexpected re-imaging.  For our students, this means that they can work on documents anywhere they have web-access.
3)  Google Drive hosts a miniature Office Suite line-up of products including Documents (Word), Spreadsheet (Excel), Presentation (PowerPoint) plus a whole host of apps available through Google Chrome web store that can be downloaded and added to your Drive.
4)  When you create a document in Google Drive you can choose to share it with collaborators, allowing them access to edit, view, or share the document.  You can make your document private, public (open to the web), or public through the link.

Applications for learning:
Some of my friends have 200 students this year. We know that powerful writing instruction relies upon students writing, talking about their writing, and receiving feedback.  The teacher, alone, cannot be responsible for continually providing feedback on student’s writing with a 1:200 ratio.  Peer response is a powerful tool for a young writer,  but teachers cannot provide the type of quality feedback and evaluation on 200 essays more than a few times throughout the semester (if even that much).


Can we still have the same learning goals for students and their writing if they are participating in a collaborative essay or project that we would an individual assignment?  YES!  Do we address more learning goals by having them use technology to work collaboratively on a writing task?  YES!

ISTE’s NETs for Students even address this skill as relevant and integral to today’s workforce and post-secondary environments:

2. Communication and Collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:
a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
c. develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
d. contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

If we consider the SAMR model as a protocol for planning technology integration, Google Drive falls under Redefinition,  allowing an entirely new experience that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.  

I can attest to the power of collaborative writing experiences.  Google Drive can engage students who are too timid to speak up face-to-face in a group.  It alleviates some of the responsibility for providing timely feedback from the teacher and engages students in the writing community as a class as well as the smaller communities they form in groups.  Group members can collaborate remotely, from their own devices and locations, or side-by-side in a computer lab.

Coming soon!  My Big Campus allows you to integrate Google Drive as an application, much like it does Facebook and Twitter, which means that students can collaborate on Google Docs and more through one portal: MBC! 

What is your personal experience with using Google Drive?  Do you see any advantages for using it with students?  Are there pitfalls or obstacles to integrating Google Drive into your learning activities?



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Tech Tuesday: Google Earth

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Google Earth:  More than “Miss, I can see my house!”

I remember when I first learned about Google Earth.  My students and I were fascinated by typing in our street address and zoom in so we could distinguish the roof of our school and then even the fence line of our backyards!  A view of our own little world and community from space provided us with a new perspective into how we related to the world around us.

When I was really on fire about Google Earth, I would pull it up, type in the name of a city or address or continent and display it for my classes to help them understand the geographical context of a story or author we were studying.  This was high-tech stuff for me as an English teacher. 

But, Google Earth goes far beyond “you are here.”  Did you know that Google Earth has features such as push pins, narration, tours, recording, annotation, embedding media, and so much more?!  Check out the  video to see some of the basic features while navigating in Google Earth.

For a hands-on experience, go to Tour of Google Earth’s features.

Of course, Google Earth is much, much more than merely zooming in and out to find landmarks.  Below is a list of popular tools in GE and how they can be used in the classroom (borrowed from Google Earth’s Education Resources): 

Classroom Resources: Features for My Class

Fly to the Sky: With Sky in Google Earth your students can explore Hubble telescope images, check out current astronomical events, study the proportions of different planets, measure their size, and observe the relative brightness of stars. You’ll capture the wonder of the universe without leaving your classroom. Learn More! Easy

View Historical Imagery: With the timeslider, view historical imagery to study the construction process of large buildings such as sports stadiums. You can also see how communities have developed by comparing the city layout of past and present. Learn More! Easy

View 3D Buildings :With 3D buildings Google Earth students have entire city landscapes at their finger tips. They can explore specific skyscrapers, public landmarks, famous ancient architecture, and even study city planning techniques and trends.  With Google SketchUp students can recreate entire ancient cities within Earth. Learn More! Average

Draw and Measure: Discover the world’s tallest building or the world’s highest mountain peak by using the ruler tool to measure skyscrapers and mountains. You can mark off specific regions you have studied, or want to come back to using the polygon tool. Learn More! Average

Create a Tour: Students can create customized tours to share with their classmates. For example, they can build context around a novel by creating a tour of all the places mentioned in the book. Or, they can make a tour to highlight all the major rain-forests effected by deforestation. Learn More! Average 




Google does a terrific job supporting educators and integrating Google tools into instruction.  If you are curious about how Google Earth could be incorporated into your content area, check out the Projects for My Subject page.

Google Lit Trips

As an English teacher and librarian, I am particularly excited about Google Lit Trips!  Teachers and students can browse the many Google Lit Trip tours already created to explore the geographical locations and landmarks in their favorite stories.  

Here is a tour featuring the mythological and present day locations of The Odyssey.  To view the tour, you will first need to download Google Earth and then download the kmz (Google Earth extension file name) for The Odyssey. Trust me–it is well worth the two clicks it takes to view it!  The tour includes a 3D map of the locations along Odysseus’ journey, excerpts from the epic, photos, tour guides with facts and further details about each landmark, and more!  


Check out this video using Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner as another example:





Not only can teachers and students browse the many Lit Trips already created, but they can create them as well for their favorite stories!  For more video tutorials on creating Google Lit Trips check out YouTube and Vimeo!  

Google Earth is also available as an app for a smart device, allowing students to view and create projects using their personal devices.  Perhaps a Google Lit Trip or similar resource might make for a great Flipped classroom introduction or “View” in VESTED!

So let’s hear it!  How could Google Earth be used in your content area?  


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Tech Tuesday #5

Google Custom Search Engines



I ❤ Google!  I love Google forms, Google docs, Google doodles, Google Scholar…the list goes on and on.  And, I have a furvent longing to one day attend Google Teacher Academy, if I could ever get around to making that dang application video…Today, I love Google Custom Search Engine (google.com/cse).  Let me tell you why:

Yesterday, I caught wind of a little research project being conducted in our English II pre-AP classes over a little book called Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  The teacher graciously allowed me to take a look at the assigment handout, which led students through a webquest, exploring various topics relating to Nigerian history, culture, and the author himself.  On the assignment page, specific websites were listed for students to access depending on their topic.  I saw a library-infiltration opportunity and pounced!

(Time-out for a little soap-box on teaching students information and research skills.)




Used with permission from the creator, Sean Gallo, http://www.seangallo.com

 You may or may not be familiar with the addage, “How do you eat an elephant?…One bite at a time!”  This is the image that comes to mind when I am asked, “How do you teach high school students to be critical consumers of information, digital citizens, and researchers?”  One “byte” at a time, friends.

More often than not, research seems to be a “stop-and-do” unit of exhausting, lengthy days in the library or computer lab.  Students and teachers spend days and weeks pounding away at research topics, meeting minimal requirements for number of sources, note cards, direct quotes, working toward completing a checklist of research tasks rather than engaging in transformative, authentic inquiry.  Rather than pushing research back and back until afetr “the test” or reserving it until May when we’re eager to mark the days off of our calendars until summer, my proposition is this:  let’s teach narrow and in depth–one bite at a time. 

Google Custom Searches allow us to streamline one part of the inquiry process (exploring and searching) so that students can dig deeper into another part of the inquiry process.  Here’s what you can do as a teacher or librarian to help “cut the meat” for our young researchers:

2.  Select “Create New Search Engine”

3.  Give your search engine a title, description, and copy and paste websites that you have pre-selected as appropriate, credible sources for students to explore the topic in depth.

You can choose various formats and looks for your search engine, turn off the advertisements since you are using it for educational purposes, keep track of analytics (statistics that show usage), and even embed the CSE into a blog or web page.  If you don’t want to embed, you can copy and paste the direct link to share with students. 


Sometimes we need to be a Momma-bird and do a little “pre-chewing” for our students to ease digestion (tired of the zoological metaphors???  Got it.)  We can support students’ inquiry by providing them pre-selected sources so that they can then dedicate their attention to narrowing the focus of their inquiry, effective note-taking, documenting sources, synthesizing information, or presenting their understandings about the topic. 

Would we want to give them a CSE everytime they do research?  No, they need to learn to take the first bite, but perhaps we give them support in another area instead.  Once they have all the smaller pieces mastered, then they can fully engage in the transformative power of inquiry-driven research…and fully enjoy the elephant in its entirety (couldn’t help it that one).

Talk to your librarian about collaborating to create Google Custom Search Engines for your next research adventure!  Take a look at the library page I created to support students as they conducted research relating to Things Fall Apart.  Special thanks to Christina Salcido and Erin Mathews for allowing me to crash their research party 🙂

Sneak peak for next week’s Tech Tuesday blog:  Social bookmarking for student collaboration…Pinterest, Diigo, and Delicious

Check out some CSEs that I’ve created for various inquiry units: