Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We Heart Google!

They say once you've gone Google you’ll never go back. Well, they don't really say it... but I will. Recently, I had the good fortune to attend the Google Teacher Academy in New York City. What is the Google Teacher Academy? According to their Website, the Google Teacher Academy is “a FREE professional development experience designed to help K-12 educators get the most from innovative technologies.” Well, I can say that I got way more than my monies worth! The Academy is “an intensive, one-day event where participants get hands-on experience with Google's free products and other technologies, learn about innovative instructional strategies, and receive resources to share with colleagues.”

The best part of the day was that I learned my district is considered a Google Apps School. What is a Google Apps School? Our district has invested in giving our students all custom email accounts that are powered by Google, which means that we have access to Google applications for communication and collaboration within our classrooms. What are Google Applications? Google Applications include Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Video, and so, so, so much more!

What is the advantage to being a Google Apps School? For one thing, it eliminates the need for our students to create gmail accounts when we use Google Applications in the classroom.

What can you do with Google Apps? These Google Apps are available to our students anytime, anywhere there is an Internet accessible computer. Our students can work seamlessly and easily to create projects that once were confined to a classroom. Students can use Google Apps to make presentations and collaborate with classmates. For example, I recently worked with a 9th grade English teacher to create netcasts/podcasts on the Holocaust as an introduction to the book, Night by Elie Wiesel. These students worked in pairs to create a video using Microsoft’s Photo Story with still images, voice narration, and music. Upon completion, the videos where uploaded to a class blog (using Blogger). The videos are actually hosted on Google Videos so they don’t take up any space on our school servers. After the videos are posted, the students watch each other’s netcasts remotely for homework and then are required to answer a couple of reflective questions on the blog regarding the evaluation of their project. They are also required to answer the polls on the blog. These questions can help the instructors to assess learning or tweak their assignment based upon the feedback from students. All comments on the blog are moderated, which means the instructor can view the comments from each student and make the decision whether or not to post them to the Web. This ensures that vandalism and cyber bullying do not take place in this online classroom.

There are several advantages to posting these videos to the Web instead of presenting them in class. First of all you don’t waste two days of classroom time watching presentations that only half the students in the class (and I am being very generous here) are actually paying attention to and secondly, other students in your school, district, State, and world can watch and learn from them. For example, these videos will now be viewed by 10th grade social studies students in our school when they discuss WWII and the holocaust. It can also be used to help review for the Regents Exam. So how to do you get started on a project like this? Just follow the simple steps below.

#1 Research the subject.
#2 Brainstorm ideas.
#3 Write a script.
#4 Create a storyboard.
#5 Produce a netcast/podcast. You can use any digital storytelling software, like Photo Story or Movie Maker.
#6 Present/Post to Web. I use Blogger, but any blogging site would work, like WordPress or edublogs.

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