Monday, January 4, 2010

The Greatness of Google Documents

Google Documents is one of the greatest locations for teachers on the world wide web. I type all of my lesson and unit plans into Google docs and I immediately gain two benefits. One, my materials are safely and securely stored somewhere that is not my computer, greatly reducing the possibility of catastrophic data loss. Two, I can then share my documents with other people (send lesson plans to a supervisor, for example) or post them to web pages. It is all free. And, on top of all of this, I found another excellent use for Google Documents: a digital (and permanent) blackboard.

In late March of this year (2008-2009 school year), my supervisor was coming in to observe one of my classes. I was teaching a lesson on Ray Bradbury's short story "The Veldt" (one of my all time favorites). The general thesis or objective for the lesson had to do with pitfalls of too much technology. I don't remember it exactly (although all of the class notes will be available to read at the end of this post), but the way I taught that lesson forever changed how I run my class.

About a week before fate made me a more competent teacher, our department received some LCD projectors for our laptops. My room (which I share with a colleague) became one of the lucky housings for a projector. Armed with this outstanding piece of technology (while simultaneously preaching about its limitations, the irony is not lost), I put it to full use during the lesson.

I set up the projector and my laptop on a spare desk at the front of the room, and wheeled my desk chair around so I could sit at the laptop while it projected on the pull down screen. This set up allowed me to access various technological functions of my laptop, such as collaborative web sites or iTunes song previews. Yes, I had to give up the power induced by standing in front of the class, but I did not miss it. Nor did my class suffer, either. They were so interested in what I would do next that there would be no behavioral issues. As an added bonus, I did my fair share of standing up to talk to the students, then sitting back down to play with technology, and all of this movement also helped to maintain the energy level.

This set up created one major disadvantage for me. I could not access the blackboard, as it was hidden away behind the screen. I needed to take notes. I needed my students to take notes. What options did I have? The laptop, of course. And Google Documents. I opened a new Google doc and began typing out the day's notes (in large font for the benefit of all). Students had no trouble reading what I was writing, I could go back to previous material for slower note-takers, and I can type much faster than I could write. Plus, I never once had to turn my back to the students to create notes. I cannot think of a single negative to using Google Documents in this fashion. The web site also automatically saved all drafts (and even revisions) of my notes.

Now, several months later, I can publish those notes right here on this site, for all to see. Please click here.

I have not written so much as a single letter on the blackboard since.

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