December 15, 2015
Teachers Talk - Google Docs -- It Rocks!
Jason Perkins, Teacher, College Park Elementary School, Oshawa, ON

In today's day and age, technology is rapidly taking over the classroom.  Educators must keep current with what is new and how to best utilize this ever changing area. As an elementary school teacher, teaching computer science has its challenges. Most of today's students are digital natives; they have grown up in a world where technology has always been around. But it's only been in the last few years that students have been able to really utilize that technology in a much more efficient and effective way in the classroom.
 
In the past, students have used floppy disks, USBs, or any other number of storage devices to keep their information and work stored safely. This method however has not been without its problems. Floppy disks get damaged, and USBs get corrupted, left at home or lost. Thus, the ability for the student to continue their work is greatly impaired. For the last number of years, teaching computer science has been a breeze with the introduction of Google Docs and Google Drive. The ability to have individual student Gmail accounts on a school server, or school Gmail accounts for each student, has made it possible for the students to work independently, cooperatively, and collaboratively. Their work is stored on a Google cloud drive which is accessible from anywhere that they have an Internet connection. No longer do the students have the excuse that their work is at home or it is lost. Once they have begun the work, it is saved and backed up automatically. The students can then choose to work on an assignment independently or in groups. As they work, they have the option to share their work with their classmates or their teacher. Corrections and edits can be done in real time. Students can work together in the same computer lab, or across the country on the same document.
 
During this past school year, I have introduced a number of new projects and assignments which utilize Google Docs in many areas. If you are not familiar with using Google Docs and Google drive here is a brief overview:
 
Documents is similar to Microsoft Office Word and Mac pages. With it, you can bring your documents to life. Google Docs has smart editing and styling tools to help you easily format text and paragraphs. There thousands of fonts to choose from, and you can add links, images, drawings, and tables.
 
Google Sheets, which is like Microsoft Excel or Mac Numbers, is a simple way to keep track of mathematical formulas and data with colorful charts and graphs. Built-in formulas, pivot tables and conditional formatting options save time and simplify common spreadsheet tasks.
 
Google Slides, similar to Microsoft PowerPoint or Mac Keynote, gives the creator a variety of presentation themes, thousands of fonts, options to embed video,add  animations, and much more.
 
Forms is Google’s unique way to collect the information or data you might require. You can gather information you may need to plan your next classroom party, manage activity registrations for the upcoming school year, or even take a quick poll of your friends favourite ice cream flavour. Teachers can even collect email addresses for a newsletter, or create a pop quiz. This information can then be immediately placed into Google sheets.
 
I used these Google tools in my classroom in a variety of ways. Let me share two examples of assignments that I have given to some of my classes this year for computers.
 
The students were asked to go into Google and find an appropriate clip art picture. After selecting the picture, the student saved it to their computers desktop for future reference. Students were then asked to go into their Google account, open up Google Drive, and go to Documents where they were to open the drawing tab. Once there, the students were asked to create a drawing by overlaying various shapes in order to get their drawing to look as close to the original as possible. This is a very time-consuming assignment, because the students will need to place layer upon layer of various shapes hiding them and filling them in with the appropriate colors in order to achieve the correct look. This assignment helps the students with their creativity as well as patience. It can even be used as a bridge into the Fine Arts curriculum. The following link will give you a more detailed explanation on how to use Google drawings:
https://support.google.com/docs/answer/179740?hl=en
 
A second Google assignment is to create a comic strip. Students were to create six - nine boxes on a blank page in Google Docs. Once the students were done creating the boxes they were to insert their drawings, which they created using Google Draw or scanned hand drawn pictures into each box. The students were then asked to create a dialogue between their comic strip characters using the callout option in the drawing tool. A twist on this assignment would be to have students take a story from the Bible and create a comic strip about it, thus, combining Bible and technology. Another option to do a comic strip would be to use Presentations. This option would be like reading a comic book and each page would be the next page in the comic.
https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/16goLqOmvMd1jh29dcIQ-kDk0fo8AFaihfa2FYZDHn2o/mobilepresent?pli=1&slide=id.p
 
My students seem to be very receptive and have learned quickly. With so many more options available to me, I have found computers to be a real delight. I am enjoying each moment that I teach, because each day I am learning something new. I look forward to the opportunity when I can share with each of my students something truly unique and fun in the world of technology.