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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Google for Educators: The Best Features for Busy Teachers

These user-friendly tools will keep you and your class inspired, inventive, and organized.
By Sara Ring

Eye in the Sky: Melissa Browning's students saw their school's Brooklyn neighborhood through Google Maps's street view.

Credit: Google Maps

Among all the links and downloads out there, it can be hard for teachers to know which ones work best. Google has made it easier by creating Google for Educators, which compiles some of the search engine's most useful features in one place. Whether you're teaching Spanish or social studies, mathematics or music, there's a free Google feature that will make your lessons more dynamic and your projects more organized. The lively, informative Web site offers step-by-step visual tours and even videos to help you get set up. Below are some of the most useful features the site has to offer:

Google Maps

Many of us have used Google Maps to find driving directions, but its usefulness goes way beyond getting from point A to point B. Before a field trip, your students can study the area they will visit through a variety of maps, including street, terrain, and satellite views. Then document your trip by creating personalized maps that include your route, as well as fact balloons, photos, and even videos.

Melissa Browning, a third-grade teacher at Brooklyn's PS 8, had her students use Google Maps for their unit on mapping. "We used Google to locate our own street addresses and find different locations in the United States and in the world," Browning explains. "My students love using the computers; it makes learning a lot more interactive." She also used Google Earth in this unit, and she had students search on Google Image Search for photos of the animals they were studying. "I love using this technology in the classroom," Browning says. "It makes it easier for teachers to have this information at their fingertips. It's all there for us."

Google Docs

Google Docs is particularly handy for teachers when revising students' work. It allows you and your class to track what changes have been made, save each revision, and collaborate in real time. And it's a great organizing tool: You can easily upload old documents in other applications to Google Docs so all your files are accessible in one place. Not only can your students create electronic documents and spreadsheets, they can also instantly access and edit each other's essays, post their work to a blog, publish it as a Web page, and create eye-catching presentations -- all within the same program.


Blogger allows you to create your own blog that contains important information about your class, assignments, and upcoming tests. It requires no HTML, and you can easily update and edit it from anywhere. Your students can create their own blogs to display writing and photos and to share information with each other. And you can set all blogs to "private" so only those users you approve may access them.

Google Book Search

Google Book Search, the electronic equivalent of browsing through a library, is a great way to find new books for your class to read or for your students to use as research tools. You can browse through specific categories, type in keywords, or search for particular titles. Each result includes the information you'd find about that book in a card catalog, plus a table of contents, links to book reviews and related works, and other resources. For instance, in the results for Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, you'll find links to scholarly works about the novel.

For copyrighted books, the results may provide a few sample pages, but for books in the public domain, you may be able to read the entire work online. If you want to keep track of your searches, you can create an online library of books by clicking "Add to my library" for any book you'd like to include. You can review, rate, and do a full-text search on the books in your library, and you can share the link with others.

Google Book Search also lets you buy any book online or search for it at the nearest library.

That's only a sampling of the features Google for Educators offers. So, try out a feature that's new to you or use a familiar tool in a new way to see how Google can make your lessons more effective and more convenient.

Sara Ring is a contributing writer for Edutopia. She lives in Los Angeles.
This article was updated in July 2011, by former Edutopia staff writer Sara Bernard.

Comments (12)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Susana Claro's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I want to share the course I do since 2006 in Chile using GOOGLEPAGES, one of the google tools not listed above.

6th grade children that have never used an email before end up building a whole on-line adventure book with multiple paths. Each child builds at least one webpage and all of them are part of the same story.

See them here:
(in spanish)
see an example of the map of the story:

googlepages here: www.googlepages.com, but will be replace by JotSpot this year.

S.R.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really like Blogger, but IMHO only someone who has not tried this in a school setting would recommend it. Blogger has some anti-spam tool that will block your students from using it after it detects a few people signing up from the same IP address range. This was a death blow to the project we were working on. There was no clear/easy solution other than to get our IT people involved and they didn't want to be involved. This otherwise great program was completely useless for our school.

Anissa Barton-Thompson's picture
Anissa Barton-Thompson
Computer Instructor/Technologist for Gardena Valley Christian School

As a Google Apps for Education school, some definite problems we've encountered are:
1) Google Maps working sporadically with no rhyme or reason as to why; Google support has been unsuccessful in finding out why the map tiles will load on all but 20 of our stations... and those 20 happen to be in our main computer lab, but with the same software, configurations, security and user settings as the other 70 stations throughout the rest of the school. I have many wonderful lesson plans that are simply on hold until we can get Google Maps to load consistently.
2) Blogger is a wonderful tool, but requires students to be 13 years of age or older (at least that was the stipulation when we first started seeking blogging tools for in-school use).

Now, for some wonderful pros:
1) It's FREE to schools, and since we are a non-profit, we qualified for a free hosting account through DreamHost, which already provided full integration of all Google tools with their account services.
2) It's easy to setup faculty and student accounts. You can bulk create student accounts via import from a .csv export of your school's student records; Google even provides a simple tool to import your Outlook/other email software accounts into Gmail.
3) The Google Calendar, Docs/Spreadsheets/Presentation, Sites and Groups are very flexible and easy to integrate with any other web services you have. For example, I publish a school Google calendar that houses closures & holidays, athletic schedules, teacher meetings (which are private), field trips, and other events, that parents and teachers can copy into their own Google calendars/other calendaring tools. (See http://www.gvcs.net for examples)
4) My 4th and 5th grade students *love* Google Groups and collaborate on projects online every week.

Aaron Anderson's picture

My work has been considering becoming a Google Apps for Education school, there is no liaison as with microsoft @Live helping sculpt out a long term implementation plan for our business requirements.
>> FREE to schools
Ms. Thompson is correct that it is FREE to share with students except what she must NOT KNOW, is that there is a LIMIT of access for Google DOCS at 3500 Students... Since our Student body is 7500 we'd have a new fee for each seat above that head count to deal with and thats is a show stopper...
Since I cannot seem to find a Point Of Contact Google Apps to interface and negotiate this item. Momentum for implementation has been lost for next semester.

Toni Krasnic's picture
Toni Krasnic
I help students learn and succeed in school and life with mind maps.

I just came across Goggle knol (http://knol.google.com) and love it. It's a great new Google application (still in Beta mode) that makes it easy to create, collaborate on, and publish content. It's just like a wiki, where users can collaborate on writing a document and/or post comments. Give it a try.

For a sample, see a knol that I just created: http://knol.google.com/k/toni-krasnic/four-steps-that-turn-reading-into/....

Anissa Barton-Thompson's picture
Anissa Barton-Thompson
Computer Instructor/Technologist for Gardena Valley Christian School

Aaron is right, Google does have a restriction on total number of users; as our school consists of less than 400 student and faculty accounts total, we are unaffected by this restriction, but I do understand the concern for school districts...

Also, regarding Google Maps: we were able to resolve our missing tiles issue. The solution was to remove 10-year-old software (Jumpstart and Knowledge Adventure) titles which caused graphic conflicts with the javascript code Google uses to generate and place the map tiles.

BONUS!: Starting this Fall 2010, Google will finally allow account combinations, allowing for the use of other Google services that were previously separate from Google Apps to now be incorporated into Apps for Education/Business. (!)

David Andrade's picture
David Andrade
High School Physics teacher, Educational Technology Specialist

We had that problem, but fixed it. You can contact Google and they can help you. I actually found the answer in the Google support forums.

David Andrade's picture
David Andrade
High School Physics teacher, Educational Technology Specialist

Some of the best things about Google are the ability for teachers to use it for free - I have a website, class blogs, use Google Docs, and more, all for free. My students use Google Docs and Gmail too. They sign up for it on their own, as opposed to the whole school using it. Our school still uses Microsoft products. Students do not get any email from school. They do get some storage space on the school network for files, but not much. So, 1st week of school, I introduce them to Google's apps along with other ones like Evernote, OpenOffice, Trackclass, and Dweeber. I work in a district with 96% of the students qualifying for free lunch so I share as many free resources as I can with them.

Here's a list of some of the other free resources for students:
and for teachers:

Colleen's picture

I have been working over the summer on learning as much as possible on interactive technology for Kindergarten level. i found the comments posted above interesting and informative.

Senorita Hill's picture
Senorita Hill
World Language Teacher (Spanish)

I appreciate this website, not only for its innovative ideas but for its ability to permit teachers to collaborate with one another. Thank you!

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