By Elizabeth Lewis
Many are familiar with the search engine Google, but Google actually has a whole suite of web 2.0 tools available. Westport schools applied for and were accepted as a Google Apps for Education district and are beginning to move toward using the product throughout the district.
Google provides its suite of tools to districts that qualify for free. Over the summer, the www.westportschools.org website was rebuilt using the Google sites tool and the result has been many more contributors to the school websites. The district and each of the schools now have an announcement page, where notable accomplishments are celebrated and sneak peaks into the goings on in the classrooms are highlighted—make sure to take a look. There are calendars built in that have the upcoming events. Some teachers are also starting classroom websites using this new tool.
As part of this roll-out, two administrators and three teachers took a weekend to attend the Google Apps for Education Summit in Burlington, Mass. The freely available tools provide teachers with different ways to present experiences, both virtually and collaboratively.
One such tool demonstrated was Google Earth which has three dimensional and real-time street views built in. How would this be use in the classroom? Well, if you were teaching about the JFK assassination, you could use this tool to look at the view from the Texas School Book Depository right down to the street where the motorcade was. You can virtually turn and see what the surroundings look like today. Combining this with watching the historical films and reports of the day brings history alive to a generation that is now 50 years removed from this event. Another piece of this tool, Historical Imagery, lets you roll back the clock to look at how the landscape has changed over time.
You may have seen advertisements for the new Google Chromebooks. We have been piloting these affordable laptop-like internet devices at the middle school this year. Students are able to use these tools wirelessly in their classrooms to do research, writing, or utilize online programs. Sudents can work on a document or presentation and share it with their teachers. Teachers can make suggestions and corrections directly on the document for the students. Students can also collaborate with each other. Because the tool is web-based, students can access their work from any computer that has internet access from outside school at no additional cost to their families. Students no longer have to keep track of flash drives or worry about having a certain software program at home to finish up work.
In order to begin to share some of the great things that teachers are doing across the district we are focusing our February professional day on a workshop-style Technology Summit. The teachers will be able to choose workshops that interest them. These workshops will be run, in most part, by their colleagues. This gives an opportunity for teachers from our schools to share with each other.