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Friday, July 20, 2012

5 Ways to Use Google Sites in Schools

Over the last two weeks I've had five occasions to work with teachers to either develop new websites or improve existing websites in Google Sites. Over the course of these workshops I've found that there are five ways that Google Sites are commonly being used in schools.

Before you jump to the list, the shameless promotion department at Free Technology for Teachers would like to mention that you should see Google Sites for Teachers if you need help getting started using Google Sites.

5 Ways to Use Google Sites in Schools
1. As a wiki: Google Sites can be used as a wiki if you share your site with others and invite them to be editors. As a teacher you could start a site then add your students as owners or editors on the site. If you add them as owners they will be able to start new pages. If you add them as editors they will only be allowed to edit existing pages. You can also use the new page-level permissions option to allow students to only edit the pages that you grant them access to.

2. As a digital portfolio: Google Sites can be used by students to create digital portfolios featuring their best works and accomplishments. I would encourage high school students to develop a digital portfolio that they can share with university admissions officers. Teachers should also consider developing a digital portfolio of their best lesson plans, credentials, and references to include when they apply for teaching positions.

3. As a digital file cabinet: If you have PDFs, Word files, or other documents that you want your students to be able to easily download, consider using the File Cabinet option in Google Sites. By creating a File Cabinet page you provide a place for those files to be easily accessed. You might also consider putting up a File Cabinet page for forms like permission slips that parents need to access.

4. As a blog: Use the Announcements template to create a blog page within your Google Sites. You can update the blog or make the blog page collaborative and let your students contribute to a class blog.

5. As a website: I left the most obvious option for last. If you need to create a place where parents and students can come to find important information about your course(s) or your school, Google Sites provides all of the tools for that. Incorporate a blog element (see #4 above) for posting updates and use the rest of the pages to house information that doesn't change that often. You can also incorporate a file cabinet (see #3 above) to post forms for parents to download. And if you're using Google Calendar, you can easily add a calendar of events to any page in your Google Site.

How are you using Google Sites in your school? Please leave a suggestion in the comments. 

BoomWriter Offers Collaborative Publishing for Kids

This week I had the opportunity to have dinner with Ken Haynes, one of the co-founders of BoomWriter, to talk about what his service offers and how it got started. Ken was a sixth grade teacher in a Brookline, Massachusetts school when he and his business partner started BoomWriter.   BoomWriter was started to provide a safe online place in which students could collaboratively construct a story.

Here's how BoomWriter works; BoomWriter provides a story starter for a story and students continue the story by writing additional chapters. The chapters are submitted anonymously by students to the project. After the submissions are made students can vote for their favorite submissions. The chapters receiving the most votes make it into a book that students, teachers, and parents can choose to have published by BoomWriter. 

Teachers can register their classes and have their students anonymously contribute to a project that is started by using one of the BoomWriter story starters or started by a prompt enter by him or herself. The anonymity only extends to other students as teachers can see who made which contributions and offer feedback to students.

Applications for Education
BoomWriter is a natural fit in a creative writing lesson, but as Ken and I were talking we realized that it could also be useful in a history course. In a history course a teacher could have students write about various events and eras in history to create a small textbook. Also in a history course BoomWriter could be used by students to develop a historical fiction story.


In the interest of full disclosure I will mention that Ken did pay for dinner but I do not have any other financial or in-kind affiliation with BoomWriter. If that changes, I will be sure to mention it in future posts. 

MIT Video - More Than 10,000 Educational Videos

Last night I stumbled upon this video of David Breashears presenting at the Cambridge Science Festival. The video is hosted by MIT Video which I either had never seen before or had completely forgotten about (a real possibility after 6500+ blog posts).

MIT Video is a giant collection of more than 10,000 educational videos organized into more than 150 channels. The largest channel is the Open Courseware channel that contains more than 2,300 lectures from MIT's open courses.

All of the videos are either MIT productions or videos approved by editors at MIT Video. Only people with MIT email addresses are allowed to contribute to the collection. Some videos are hosted by MIT Video while others are from YouTube.

Applications for Education
If you're looking for educational videos to use to supplement your instruction in your high school or undergraduate courses, it will be well worth your time to search through MIT Video.

We Choose the Moon and Other Apollo 11 Resources

Today is the 43rd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepping onto the moon. Here are some resources for teaching and learning about the Apollo 11 mission.

We Choose the Moon is a project put together by the John F. Kennedy Presidential LibraryWe Choose the Moon has eleven stages that viewers can follow as the mission progresses. If you visit We Choose the Moon you can explore image and video galleries capturing the sights and sounds of the lead-up to the launch. Included in these galleries are videos of President Kennedy talking about the goal of putting a man on the moon.

NASA has a short video that includes the audio from President Kennedy's speech to Congress in which he states the goal of putting a man on the moon. The video explains the significance of Kennedy's proclamation in 1961 and today. Watch the video below.



Snag Learning hosts Journey to the Moon.  Beginning with the formation of NASA and concluding with the Apollo 11 crew safely returning to Earth, Journey to the Moon is a 44 minute film tracing the development the US space exploration program. Watch the film and find discussion questions here.

Watch more free documentaries

Planet In Action is a fun website that features three games based on Google Earth. All three games utilize Google Earth imagery and navigation. The three games are Ships, Places, and Moon Lander. In "Places" you navigate, from a helicopter view, five popular places including the Grand Canyon. In "Ships" you become the captain of a fleet of ships to navigate famous ports of call. And in "Moon Lander" you take control of the Apollo 11 moon lander and guide the "Eagle" to touch-down.

Collaboratively Create Animations on This Exquisite Forest

This Exquisite Forest is an online art project developed by Tate Modern and Google. This Exquisite Forest is a site for collaboratively creating animated stories. The stories are called trees and the story starters are called seeds. There are ten public trees that you can make contributions to. You can also create your own seeds and invite others to grow a tree with you. To create your own seeds you do have to contribute to an existing tree first.

Applications for Education
This Exquisite Forest could be a good site for students to use to work together to create animated stories. If you have students who don't fancy themselves as artists you might have students work in groups in which some students write and outline of the story and others do the drawing of the story.

To use This Exquisite Forest you will need to be using an updated modern browser like Chrome or the latest version of Firefox. 

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