Favorite Tools

We met nearly a year ago at the Google Teacher Academy. At the end of a jam-packed 12 hour day, we were challenged to stretch ourselves to learn more about all that Google has to offer and to make a plan to share what we learned with other teachers. As one of our three projects we were asked to commit to, we decided to take on the task of putting out a weekly tech tip for our staffs. While it did sound a bit daunting, little did we realize just how much time this commitment would take.

For our last Tuesday Tech Tip, we decided that we should share our Five Favorite Google Tools.

Mary Fran's Favs

Five...how could we possibly narrow the number of favorite Google Tools to 5? It has been more challenging than I would have guessed In the end, I decided to chose the five tools I use most.

Most people have their first encounter with Google through Search. They expect to be able to ask a question and get their answer in return. I am continually amazed at the quality of the results and the number of Search Features Google offers. Recently, the Google Search team put together a series of 15 Second Search Tips. The topics range from Unit Conversion to finding local Movie Times. It's always good to go back and refresh your memory on all Search has to offer.

Search Options, added to the Search page in May, lets you filter your results by type, time, and even offers suggestions for related searches. If you haven't yet looked at Wonder Wheel you ought to give it a try.

Custom Search
A feature of Search that I like that we haven't covered is Google's Custom Search Engine. Being a third grade teacher, setting my students loose in the World Wide Web can sometimes be a bit scary. When I assign third graders to do a research presentation on spiders in the Media Center, I don't want to have to worry about what results they are going to get for [black widow] and since I want to incorporate teaching skimming and scanning skills, I want to make sure my primary students can read the results they get. So, I set up a Google Custom Search to limit the sites they have access to by simply dropping the URLs for the websites I've pre-screened into a form.

My favorite characteristic of Docs is its collaborative feature. It has helped Colette and me coordinate our schedule, my third grade team and I work together on the Educational Action Plan while I spent two weeks in Buffalo in September, my grade level team share grades for our rotation students, and my students to put together two presentations while working on it at the same time in the Media Center (thank you, Kelli Glass for putting up with the noise and confusion). And because it is all stored in "the Cloud," I have access to my Docs wherever and whenever I have a device that can access the internet. This came in super handy when I went to give a presentation with my laptop and forgot to bring along the connector to hook my Mac up to the projector...I was able to turn on their Dell and access my slides!

Another favorite feature of Docs is Forms. I used it to collect phone numbers and e-mail addresses at back-to-school night, thus avoiding having to decipher a parent's handwriting :-), to collect information from students on science observations, reactions to our field trips, to "vote" in the November elections, to gather "book report" information, and so much more. It is so easy to set up and the summary information provides instant graphs, and the kids love working online in the classroom or from home.

While it took a bit getting used to, I love, love, love, Gmail's threaded conversations. It is so nice to have all of the communication on a subject right there, in chronological order to refer to. But when that doesn't work in finding that e-mail I want to refer back to, Search Mail always seems to come through for me.

It is very easy to filter messages to have them go to separate folders, and Google has done an amazing job at keeping SPAM out of my inbox. I also like getting a view of my Calendar and Tasks from the one screen I use most.
I am very excited to see how Google Wave will transform the "email" experience.

Colette's Fab Five

My favorite Google tools are similar to MaryFran's choices - but I guess that shows how valuable these products are.

I've been using Gmail since it first was in Beta and love it.  It keeps getting better and better.  I first loved how the conversations were linked together and have learned how to "search" for mail instead of wasting time organizing my mail into folders.  The integrated tasksand calendar features are really nice.

Docs / Forms
Using Google Docs& Spreadsheets this year with my HS Computer students has been transformational.  Students are much more willing to collaborate on projects instead of relying on one student to do more of the writing.  We have found so many uses for Forms, like surveys, data collection, and quizzes.  I am even moving all my lesson planning documents online to keep them updated and accessible from anywhere.

Personally I use maps all the time.  How did I ever find any location before Google Maps?  But now I find that I first go to maps to choose restaurants, accommodations and parks by using the "search nearby" feature. 

My students also enjoyed mashing up Google Maps with photos, text and video this year.  Having the ability to go between Google Maps and Google Earth is also pretty cool!

I've convinced my whole family to start using Google Calendarthis year and now its easy to remind them of important dates and upcoming events.  I color-code different categories (family, school, PD, etc) to make it easier to glance at my calendar and see what's happening or sort by category.

Last but not least is Google Search.  I love the new Search Options that I wrote about last week.  I use search for everything -- recipes, questions, health information, current events - you name it.  I don't think a day goes by that I don't use Google search for something.  I find the results relevant and accurate but always have the option to narrow down or broaden my search with advanced search or the new options.

We will not be doing Google Tech Tips Tuesday again next year. Colette will be working with her school librarian to inform their high school faculty of more resources to augment curriculum. Mary Fran hasn't yet decided what she will do but expects to continue some kind of regular communication on tools to use in the classroom.

Once again, thank you for all support and encouragement you've given us over the year. It helped make all the late Monday nights worth it.

                                                                        Colette Casinelli and Mary Fran Lynch