George Lucas Educational Foundation

Improving School Communication with Google

Does your school speak Google? If not, you might want to give it a try.
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate
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This may come as bad news for those who fear Google's world domination, but the fact is that the Google Apps Education Edition is a useful tool that teachers and students can employ in almost any school.

The apps -- Web-based tools for communicating, connecting, and creating content -- are free. Teachers use the Google Docs tool to plan lessons together, follow up on ideas that arise in instructional meetings, or give students just-in-time feedback. Counselors use Google Spreadsheets to monitor student behavior and quickly flag concerns. Students use Google Chat and Google Docs to collaborate with peers in real time and Google Calendar to keep track of deadlines. Parents stay in the loop with their own Gmail accounts. Jason Levy, principal of Intermediate School 339, in the Bronx, New York, has seen rapid academic gains, improving its New York City progress report grade from a D to an A.

Here's a way to develop a plan for your school:

Pick a Starting Place

Many schools sign up for Google Apps to solve a specific technology challenge. Levy's I.S. 339 needed to replace an outdated email system. Getting school leaders and teachers to use new Gmail accounts was an easy first step that improved communication. Having a shared starting place builds buy-in and sets the stage for expansion.

Empower Users

At Belle Plaine Senior High School, in Minnesota, Anthony VonBank uses Google Apps as his communications backbone. This enabled students to work on collaborative projects from home or school, using mobile devices and home computers. Collaborating in teams not only empowered individual students but also accelerated their leap to innovations, like mashing up different apps to solve specific local problems.

Ask for Help

Not surprisingly, educators who are pioneering the use of collaborative tools are eager to share their insights and support newcomers. Check out the assortment of webinars, case studies, and discussion groups at the Google Apps Education Edition (for K-12). Then connect and brainstorm with your online colleagues.

Comments (11) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Stephen Armada's picture

Hi, what grade have you used google docs with to help students collaborate on a project? I teach K-5 and I think the 5th grade can handle that. Would students have to create their own google account? If so, do you need parent permission?

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Here's some great resources to get you started:

:: Google Apps for Schools for K-12 Education Homepage

:: 10 Reasons to use Google Apps in your school

And Here's some of our latest tweets on Google Apps that may be useful:
:: Google Earth for Educators- (Many Resources)

:: How 2 get #Google Edu Apps up in your school/district.

:: RT @tipsbytony: Google Wave's Best Use Cases - great post from #Lifehacker

:: RT @edutopia Using #Google Docs: Docs for students

:: RT @ChrisLAtkinson: Google Docs Become More Student-Friendly

Eva OMara's picture

Are there any users who have come up with a nifty Terms of Service policy for their school district

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

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.

My 4th and 5th grade students *love* Google Groups and collaborate on projects online every week.

Kim Wilkens's picture
Kim Wilkens
technology activity

This school year I started a pilot program using google apps with 7th & 8th graders. I have found it to be a great resource and the students have really embraced it and found new and interesting ways to use and collaborate with the applications. I set up the accounts and turned off e-mail and chat because we aren't ready to go there yet. I included the appropriate use of google accounts in the acceptable use policy, that all students and their parents/guardians must sign.

At the same time I introduced google apps to the dozen or so teachers that work with these students and initially they were not as eager to learn something new, but it has been a fantastic way to coordinate schedules and collaborate on cross-curriculum activities.

Now the rest of the school wants to get on board with google apps and I do see incorporating some google apps learning with 4th thru 6th graders.

Paul McKenzie's picture
Paul McKenzie
Technology Integration Specialist at the International School of Belgrade

[quote]Hi, what grade have you used google docs with to help students collaborate on a project? I teach K-5 and I think the 5th grade can handle that. Would students have to create their own google account? If so, do you need parent permission?[/quote]

Grade 3+

We've introduced Gmail and the Google Suite to our grade threes and up for the last couple of years now with great success. We've had no parent objections as we present it to them as a rational and required skill for 21C learners. The ability of the students to register for educational web-based accounts, co-construct knowledge on shared docs with peers, improve organizational skills and task management, engage in reflective blogging... is well, self-evident. We've also noticed our reticent readers and writers have improved through their use of Google Chat and blogging :)

Melody Castle's picture

I am an admin. assistant (and former Language Arts teacher) for Kings Valley Charter School. I set up our school with google docs to streamline our work and make collaboration easier. Our main site is a google site, we survey the kids' opinions several times a year through a form on google docs, we schedule conferences through docs and calendars, and our high school students are creating online portfolios to demonstrate proficiency and meet graduation requirements. Teachers are building classroom websites, and students turn in essays through docs. Students are blogging and creating websites for classroom assignments also.

Like any change, teachers are taking time to "warm up" to what google has to offer, but it has been smooth for the most part. I am looking forward to when Education Edition includes Picasa Web Albums (to store photos) and one other change I would like to see is having different permission settings for different users - so we can turn off chat for students, but not for teachers, or allow public sites for teachers, but not for students. Right now you need to have separate google accounts for that to happen.

shirley rinaldi's picture

I would love to use Google tools with my 5-6th graders and indeed tried. The problem was setting up Google accounts....students are asked for their date of birth and have to be 13 to be accepted. My kids are 10-11 and not eligible for an account. Any suggestions?????

Andrew Flowerdew's picture

We have just rolled out the Google tools to over 170 schools in the UK as part of our deployment of MOOPLE.NET. One of the key trends have been the way in which staff in particular have used the communication tools to start building ad-hoc support networks, especially through the use of the Google Chat widget within MOOPLE. These tools make communication and collaboration so effective that they really help schools drive the project-based learning approach championed by Edutopia.

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