Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer Quest: Getting Up to Speed on Google Tips and Tools

I realize that I am usually behind the times in all aspects of my life--fashion, cars, what's going on at my school (otherwise named as "gossip"), and of course, edtech and Web 2.0. So I am setting a quest this summer to focus on Google tools, especially Google docs.

I need to break down and actually become a paying member of some of the various edtech groups that I follow but usually the amount of time I have available still does not meet the amount of free information these groups provide!! One of the groups I follow is SimpleK12 and I recently attended a free webinar advertised as "Google Tips and Tools." I made a reservation as I thought they might provide information on Google docs. Nothing on that but I received some great general information about Google and I want to be sure that others are aware of these excellent edtech resources.

One resource I thought would be helpful and visual for my students would be the use of Wonder Wheel. By typing in a general topic like "Civil War," Wonder Wheel creates a graphic organizer in the shape of a wheel of related topics. This would help students see options to narrow down their search toward their actual research needs. By clicking on one of the spokes to select "Civil War battles", another wheel pops up to further define the needed search. Related searches is another option to help students to better define their search but it does not provide the visual treatment that I think would appeal to my students. Both of these options are found on the left sidebar of a Google search.

Another option located on the left sidebar is Timeline which displays a timeline of the general topic and provides general information arranged by date. By clicking on a section of the timeline, the search is made more specific with articles of information specific to that time period. An example of "Civil War battles" looks like this.

Looking at the top of the Google screen are options like "Images", "Maps", and one called "more" with a drop-down arrow. Clicking on that one and scrolling to the bottom to find "even more" takes students to a more organized screen of Google products. Here students could look at the "Media" section for images, news, books, and YouTube. Google Docs are located under the "Home and Office" section and the "Specialized Search" section features Trends (past and present search trends) and Scholar (scholarly papers and articles). And under the section of "Innovation" you find Labs--Google's technology playground!

One lab tool that I think both teachers and students will appreciate is Google Squared. This tool searches and organizes its findings into a spreadsheet that can be edited. Requesting a search of "Civil War battles, " Google Squared provided 20 items with categories of information of "Battle Name," "Images"which was often a map, "Description," "Location," "Date," and "Result"--all in a matter of seconds!!

Other lab tools that I think would be helpful to both teachers and students are News Timeline and Fast Flip. Both of these tools provide media information on specific topics or dates. News Timeline is described as "a web application that organizes information chronologically. Google News Timeline allows users to view news, scanned newspapers and magazines, blog posts, sports scores, and more on a zoomable, graphical timeline." Fast Flip offers "blinding fast overviews of headline pages of top newspapers."

And last I want to mention the free iPhone/Android app called Google Goggles which uses pictures from your smartphone to retrieve relevant information. An example on the description page shows taking a picture of a menu in another language and obtaining a translation.

Are these relevant tools for today's student? When showing them to my college son this weekend, his response was "Why didn't you show me this stuff a couple of semesters ago when I had to research information for all of those papers?!?" Hmmm--maybe this old girl isn't so far behind the times!! :)

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