I recently discussed Google tools that will help students explore the world around them (an inside them). Here are some ways Google gives for students to explore what’s possible and known about that world.
Google has changed technology and learning environments by inviting students to digitally collaborate, but there tools to take them to deeper levels of learning and creating.
I suppose we should begin discussing exploring with Google’s new (in the last year) Explore tool. It’s the little star button on the bottom right in Docs, Sheets, and Slides that you may have seen but may not fully understand what it’s for. It’s a helpful artificial intelligence tool meant to give you and students additional insight and ideas for your creations. It’s very easy to use just by clicking the button and can be a great helper and time-saver.
To begin, it replaces the research tool in Docs. You can use it to search internally for related topics, images, research, and links. It’s easy to add and search for content without opening a separate window. It will also automatically suggest content based on what you’ve already written. I’ve found it to work alright in that regard, but the AI is supposed to get better the more you use it.
One issue is that it is not as easy to limit your searches to Google Scholar (to be discussed later) as it was with the research function, but that may be upgraded soon. When it was first introduced there were issues with citations, but you can now easily add citations via Explore in MLA, APA, and Chicago formats for the resources you found using Explore. Granted, it only does citations and not a bibliography page that many teachers prefer. For that, you can use the EasyBib add-on.
The use of Explore in Sheets is probably going to be the most helpful for the common user. Formulas and functions can be difficult for the less-seasoned spreadsheet user to understand. Explore allows you to search with normal non-technical language to organize data in the way you need. It will suggest graphs and charts helping you and students visualize the numbers. It also suggests formatting along with answers to questions you may ask about your data.
In slides, Explore is mostly helpful for suggesting layouts based on the content you’ve already put in. Just like in docs and slides you can continue to use it as a built-in search functionality.
Translate has to be one of the most helpful Google tools I use. While there is a whole translation unit available here in New York City, I still go to Google frequently because they offer far more languages (over 100) as well as bonus features for ease and convenience. I will say there are some NYC teachers are still waiting on Cantonese and Oromo.
You can get help for ENL students who struggle with reading and writing. Several of the languages allow you to speak them directly and have them translated. The translations themselves can also be played rather than needing to be read. The most fun may be the addition of Word Lens features that allow you to hold your camera up and translate text right before your eyes. You can find more Google tools for to improve accessibility and communication for struggling students in your classroom too.
Exploring What We See
An important skill students learn is how to make sense of the things they see around them and discerning what is important and what isn’t. That means understanding the differences between visibly available information and what we discern based on what we see. There are great lessons for evaluating imagery produced by museums and other organizations. It’s an important skill to learn in what has become a time where truth seems relative.
Goggles is a neat tool that lets you look at a paintings, landmarks, items or barcodes at the store, or QR codes and find information about that item. It’s pretty accurate too depending on how well-known the item/site is. There are some bugs still being worked out, but I’ve had students use it to for museum tours and to identify images of landmarks around the classroom.
Yes, Google Images is the place you find pictures for all of your documents, but there are more ways to use it with students. In addition to searching by size, color, file type, and date, you can also ensure students are searching safely. You can also do a reverse image search by clicking the camera icon on the search bar. It’s a good way to show students about media literacy and how to fact check if an image is being used in a ‘fake news’ story. Make sure students are familiar with image copyrights and that they know to cite their images just like they do for any other resources.
Exploring What Is Known
There are several Google tools in addition to standard search to help organize and gather information for student projects.
Google Scholar is a search engine that focuses on searching for journal articles. Students can build and organize a library of related articles where they can view comprehensive info sheets and abstracts that they can use to search later. Just like with standard Google search, you can set up alerts to let you know if something new comes out related to a particular topic. References are also easy to do using Scholar.
Studying current events with students is nothing new, but Google News allows students to quickly compare various resources and compare and contrast what each includes. They can also search older primary documents to relate to any modern information. Teachers can even customize the opening page to show the topics they want students to focus on. By viewing multiple news sources students can delve into examining bias.
Google Trends is another way to explore current events with students. It’s what they use to put together their year in search videos. It is an interesting place to spark interest. For example, you can find what was searched immediately after Barack Obama’s election victory. You may find some of the results hopeful and others disheartening. Students can explore what foods are most popular by country or why curling is only a popular search during the Winter Olympics. Check out the help center for more info.
No knowledge exploration in the classroom would be complete without including books, but there are distinct advantages to using digital versions like those found in Google Books. It allows you to search a story, bookmark it, organize thoughts and notes. It also can access millions of textbooks, magazines, and other literature from around the world. Many books are free, but you can purchase others in the Google eBookstore. Books can be read on the Web via a PDF or as an ebook on Android, iOS, Sony, or Nook. Teachers can create an entire online class library
“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”
― E. L. Doctorow
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