Internet giant Google Inc. has launched a new resource, “Google for Educators,” that contains classroom activities and teacher guides for using a dozen Google applications in the curriculum. The web site, www.google.com/educators, also links to all these applications from a single location. The move marks Google’s latest effort to spread its influence to schools.

One of these applications is Google Earth, a satellite imagery-based mapping product that lets users view the earth from space or at street level and is essentially a three-dimensional model of the planet that users can grab, spin, and manipulate. Different versions offer tools for measuring, drawing, saving, printing, and supporting Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.

Using Google Earth, teachers can enhance lessons on geography, economics, and demographics, Google says. They can use the application for geographical units on volcanoes, continents, mountain ranges, and other landforms. Educators also can download GEGraph, a free tool that enables Windows users to create charts and graphs inside Google Earth.

Discovery Education and Google have teamed up to create detailed lesson plans for educators to illustrate key curriculum concepts using Discovery’s unitedstreaming video-on-demand product and Google Earth together. On Google’s site, teachers will find links to lesson plans on the American Revolution, monuments, great explorers, and lessons related to literature, such as The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet on the Western Front.

“It has been a long time since a technology application got the eye-popping reaction from teachers that Google Earth gets,” said Hall Davidson, director of the Discovery Educator Network.

The Google for Educators site also helps schools take advantage of Google Apps for Education, an IT solution that brings communication and collaboration tools to the academic community free of charge.

The solution helps school IT administrators provide eMail, online calendars, instant messaging tools, and a dedicated web site for faculty, students, and staff. All aspects are delivered online, and no hardware or software needs to be installed or is needed to maintain the systems, Google says.

Google is offering its Gmail service free of charge to school domains, performing all of the upkeep of the domain and freeing up valuable IT staff time that often is spent maintaining the overwhelming amount of eMail that must be housed on any school’s servers.

Google Gmail gives school faculty, students, and staff two gigabytes of storage per account, as well as search tools and built-in instant messaging that easily can be disabled for the entire school.

In addition, using Google Calendar, school officials can publish their school’s calendar on their school’s web site to let parents know about events such as back-to-school nights and vacation days. Plus, Google Page Creator allows users to create and publish web pages quickly and easily without needing technical expertise, Google says.

Google Book Search, another of the many features on the site, lets educators and students search for and locate books, as well as access the full text of out-of-copyright books and search the full text of most other books.

“As a chemistry teacher, I try to take my classes to the computer classrooms or to the computers in the school library several times a month. My students have found Google Book Search to be especially valuable in reducing research time and in broadening sources for research far beyond our school’s library,” Brent Jones, a 10th-grade chemistry teacher at Proviso West High School in Hillsdale, Ill., said on Google’s web site. “Frankly, I don’t see how students would be able to complete research assignments without Google’s great tool. The secondary-school research paper has entered a new era where the cost of access to reference books has all but disappeared.”

Using Google SketchUp, modeling software that was developed to help architects design buildings, students can construct three-dimensional models of buildings, trees, and anything else they’d like. Educators can use this application alone or in conjunction with other applications, such as Google Earth.

SketchUp can help educators illustrate lessons ranging from area and volume, to studying building and community design, Google says.

“SketchUp is the most versatile, easy-to-use 3-D software I’ve ever worked with. We’ve got a lot of different software packages in our applied technology lab, but SketchUp is by far superior to anything else in terms of ease of use,” said Dan Zahner, a teacher at Colorado’s Boulder High School. “Now, instead of spending an entire semester designing a single project, we can use SketchUp to create several iterations based on the initial design; instead of building one house, students can build 10, each one morphing from the previous version.”

Another application that can be downloaded from the site is Picasa, software that enables users to find, edit, and share pictures. Once Picasa is downloaded to a school computer or server, students can take lesson-related photos and organize their work in online albums. Students also can use the software for class presentations.

“As an instructional technology resource teacher, I train my teachers to use technology with their students. One program we have used is Picasa. I have found that it’s a great beginning photo-editing program,” said Amber Price, a teacher in the Suffolk Public Schools in Suffolk, Va. “Using Picasa, my students have created slideshows from scratch at the click of a button, created timelines and picture collages of famous Americans, and they have learned how to crop, edit, and add effects to photos they have taken with the digital camera. Students can also create an instant web page with their photos, and with the Picasa upgrade students can create a web album of photos.”

Educators can sign up for the Google Teachers’ Newsletter to receive updates on tools, features, tips, and other relevant information. Educators also are encouraged to share their expertise about any of the Google tools with other educators. “We think of this site as a platform of teaching resources for everything from blogging and collaborative writing to geographical search tools and 3-D modeling software, and we want you to fill it in with your great ideas,” the web site tells teachers.

Though the applications offered through the site are free, some include advertising. That could give some schools pause, said Tom Hoffman, an education software developer and frequent contributor to eSchool News Online’s Ed-Tech Insider blogs.

“The tough question here is the role advertising plays in the various products and whether it is appropriate to make tools that contain advertising content, such as GMail or Google Calendar, required within a school,” Hoffman said. “It is a tough decision, because some schools might be able to save a significant amount of money farming this work out to Google.”

Link:

Google for Educators
http://www.google.com/educators