Google as a teaching tool

On Board Online • October 26, 2009

By Brian M. Butry

Staff Writer

Think about it: How often do you use Google? If you're like most people, you use the search engine cum Internet juggernaut several times a day to read news, access web pages, check e-mail and find driving directions. One former educator, however, found another important use: teaching.

Carol LaRow spent 33 years teaching language arts in the Niskayuna school district in Schenectady County. But in retirement she has turned the tables and now educates former colleagues and school officials on how they can harness Google to help students learn.

"Google as a Teaching Tool," LaRow's presentation at the NYSSBA Annual Convention, drew a crowd of board members, superintendents and a few teachers. What they found was the website can be a central part of classroom instruction making learning easier for both the student and the teacher.

The ever-evolving technology allows teachers to integrate more information into their curriculum. By accessing the Internet, peer-to-peer collaboration is easier and students can incorporate multimedia elements into their class work.

"There's something for everybody," LaRow said. And learning doesn't have to be tied to the classroom. They can work on this from home.

Through applications such as iGoogle, Google Docs, Google Forms, Google News, and Google Maps, LaRow was able to easily demonstrate how an ordinary lesson plan could be transformed into an interactive presentation. With the click of a button, teachers can apply the use of these different applications to literature, historic events, science lessons, current events and even class field trips.

As an example, LaRow showed the audience screen shots of a lesson plan she developed around a class trip to a state park in the Albany area. She demonstrated how she was able to have students log on to the iGoogle page she created for her class, find pictures from the trip she uploaded to site, find historical data about the park, read their assignment and then work together to research and create reports about the park.

A science teacher could then use the same trip, she said, by asking the students to report back on the different plant species they found in the park, how the park served as a habitat to certain animals and the effects of erosion. Students can then cross-reference what they found with information already on the web.

"We can channel students to specific websites and point them to places I know I want them to visit," noted LaRow, who serves as a consultant to school districts and is a "Google Certified Instructor."

This is part of what makes the most popular feature on Google to be the site ?s capability to leverage the latest internet technologies in order to enhance students' 21st century learning skills.

"We see this as technology," she said. "These students see this as information."

Moreover, school officials and board members can find Google a helpful tool in day-to-day operations, from sharing documents with the public to utilizing the site ?s document sharing capabilities, LaRow said.

And the cost to use these tools won't break the bank.

"I know you're always looking at your budgets, that's why the best thing about this is that it's free," she told the audience. "This stuff is free, it's online, it's current and it's fantastic."

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