I signed up for Good Apps for Education when it was first launched a few years ago but it was only this week when I decided to 'launch' it with the children. Originally I felt that its tools were too limited (the ability to import images had some restrictions on it if I remember correctly) and from a 'teaching and learning' viewpoint, I felt that other online services needed to take priority (e.g. Purple Mash) so that the children could develop the more basic ICT skills first.
The tools available within Google Docs are quite advanced and I would never use the rather grown-up interface it has with KS1 children. With KS2 children however, I recently began to feel that they needed an additional online tool to access to further challenge their ICT creativity and the massive improvements that the Google Docs applications have had in the last few months (e.g. you can now easily do an image search from programs) prompted me to finally go ahead and introduce it to them. It's important to stress my use of the word 'additional' though here - I strongly believe that children need to be shown a variety of ICT tools to help appreciate the value in online content creation and sites like: Purple Mash, Interactive Resources by TES iBoard and Myths and Legends still have a large role to play within the curriculum as they provide different sets of tools for developing different sets of skills in a much more child-friendly way (e.g. read these posts on: creating databases, designing 3D models, developing typing skills and teaching control programming).
Setting up a Google Apps for Education account is a fairly straightforward process - the only 'issue' being that it can take a good few weeks before they validate your application request by checking that you really are a school. You can read more details about the set up process on Ian Addison's blog by clicking here. A selection of different 'apps' can be turned on or off - I chose just to switch on Docs and Sites for my school because that's all we really need at the moment (communication is done using Edmodo).
I had planned to teach Year 4 children how to create their own document on Google Docs on Tuesday but I hit problem number one - the LA filter had decided to block the site over weekend! It turned out that since the URL had changed the previous week from docs.google.com to drive.google.com, it had automatically decided to re-classify it as 'peer-to-peer networking'. Sadly, I only spotted this at literally the very last minute (it had worked fine on Friday) so had to do a backup lesson instead whilst I waited for it to be unblocked. By the end of the afternoon it had been unblocked with no problems but it is something that I urge you to check if you are deciding to use Google Docs (on Google Drive) in your school.
Undeterred, I decided to have a second attempt at introducing Google Docs this afternoon with Year 3 and I'm pleased to report that (despite the whole network being switched off accidentally minutes beforehand - making me think the lesson was cursed), it eventually was fairly successful. I say 'fairly' in that there were a few initial problems but these all seemed to be sorted by the end and the children's learning progressed.
As I knew that the class were all very confident in using a range of PowerPoint tools to create posters by this point in the year, I decided to just demonstrate to them all the main tools available when creating a new word processed 'document' and let them have a go at trying as many of them out as they could in the session. Being an ICT lesson, the focus was clearly on developing ICT skills but I decided to get them to try and do a bit of work linked in with their current topic of 'plants' by asking them to create a document explaining the definition of a key scientific terms, each illustrated with an image. The idea behind this was that they would be creating a new document for every word and thus be practicing the skill of creating a new document and naming it a few times within the lesson (i.e. not just once). Normally, I might have produced a sheet with a load of definitions on it to prompt their typing however as I only came up with this idea at 9:30pm last night, I decided to use these flashcards which I purchased from simplescience.net instead - in the end these worked just as well and perhaps would also be useful to use as a quiz-quiz-trade game in a science lesson too!
In the main teaching part of the lesson, I asked for a few children to come up and help me demonstrate how to do certain tasks - this not only made the chosen children feel more special/involved but also assisted me in being able to stand in the middle of the room near the IWB whilst they sat at the side and operated the connected laptop (I still think that a proper keyboard and mouse is both quicker and smoother in a lesson for doing certain tasks). Whilst this seemed to work very well at the time, it went on to unfortunately lead me to problem number two - it took me over five minutes to work out why I couldn't access the username list in the Google Apps dashboard to check a child's username when they were struggling to login. You should have seen look on my face when I realised that it was because I was still signed in as the child who had come up to demonstrate! The solution in future would be to do the demonstration in a private browser window (e.g. going 'incognito' in Google Chrome) since this fools the computer into letting two users login to a site from the same machine simultaneously.
Once the children had all managed to login to Google Apps, I then faced problem number three. Although minor, it was a bit unexpected - users are forced to now sign up to Google Drive before they can proceed to create a new document. Whilst it did only require the press of a button, the fact that the button was illogically paced in the top-right corner of the window did initially confuse a few children. I'll obviously be more aware of this in future and warn children to expect it!
Creating the actual documents in Google Apps did prove to be quite a straightforward activity and most of the children did manage to do this quite independently, being prompted to change various font settings to improve the appearance of their text. Problem four (which I hadn't anticipated) was that the children wanted to drag any inserted pictures around the page like in PowerPoint but this resulted in either the screen flashing grey or a hyperlink being inserted instead. Whilst this was a bit of a nuisance, a quick press of the 'undo' icon fixed it and I found that asking the children to press ENTER two times before putting a picture in and aligning it to the centre stopped it from happening again.
By this point I do admit to being a bit flustered since this had been the fourth problem that I had encountered. Having mostly been rushing around the room sorting them out, it was only when I actually stopped to see what was on the screens of everyone else that I realised that most of the lesson had actually worked well with many good quality pieces of work appearing to be produced!
I finished off the lesson by referring back to the: good, great and super criteria I had briefly mentioned at the start. After a little bit of thinking time, I asked the children to talk to their partner for 30 seconds telling them what level of achievement they felt that they had done and why. This is always and interesting thing to do as when you discuss it afterwards you can then prompt children into thinking how they can improve their skills in future - How could you improve and do 'super' work next time? A quick show of hands showed me again that, despite my initial concerns, a good two-thirds of the class had actually felt that they had done 'super' work. Indeed, at the end of the day, I wasn't bothered too much about the quantity or quality of work produced, I was more concerned with them being able to know how to use a variety of word processing tools to create it which many of them told me that they had managed to achieve!
I am now intending to introduce Google Docs to another class soon and will hopefully be able to learn from the issues I encountered during this lesson to make it run more smoothly. It certainly looks like it's going to be a great addition to the collection of online tools our children can use! (Indeed, I have high hopes for it helping children to type/edit literacy work - especially since it integrates with Edmodo so nicely now, allowing them to share their writing with others/submit it as an assignment.)