Using Google Documents to work collaboratively

I’ve used Google Documents in class before but the need had never arisen for pupils to write on the same document at the same time. With collaborative working being an important skill in science, I decided to get my year 7 class to work collaboratively on the same document. Their task was to write a press release detailing their lab test results for their CSI topic. With all the pupils having SEN (we are a special school) , the amount of text was going to be small which makes the process a little quicker.

I created the document with a table to be used as a writing frame or scaffold for the pupils, giving them the basic structure to complete. I asked the pupils to complete a different section of the press release and colour coded the boxes so they knew which section was theirs.  I shared the document with the pupils and invited them to complete their section.

Pupils were fascinated by seeing the text of their classmates appearing as they entered their own.  The flicker you see as the page updates didn’t seem to bother any of them, in fact they didn’t notice it.  Pupils entered their text and we reviewed the completed document.

Not only was this approach far more productive than writing their own reports, pupils had to communicate with each other and tie their contributions together.  This wouldn’t have happened working individually.

Google Sites – making a site and its use in the classroom

I’ve used Google’s suite of products to put together my sites.  I’ve used blogger for my main page/blog, I use Google Apps for email, docs and calendar.  I finally decided to use Google Sites (for Google Apps) to build a Wiki-ish website to store the resources I previously hosted on a wiki.

For those of you that haven’t used Google sites before, it is a simple page editor that gives you the ability to create simple nested pages, add files and google gadgets.  People who you give access to can edit the pages and add new content (to different degrees depending on their access).  You can even give a specific site you create a custom URL if you have a domain and access to your DNS.  There are a variety of templates and styles available, and editing is similar to using other google products.

I’ve set up a site with my science resources on here.  The structure of the site took minutes to set up once I’d decided on a structure.  Uploading lots of individual files took a while longer due to the sheer number of clicks required.  The site was created from start to finish in well under an hour.

I see plenty of potential for this within the the classroom (as part of the Google Apps for Education edition).  You can hide your pages from the internet (so surfers won’t stumble across them) and you can allow members of your domain to edit them.  Classes can work collaboratively on a set of pages for a topic and the teacher can subscribe to the page to see how it develops.  Malicious editing is deterred by the revision history.  Google sites has much of the power of a typical wiki without getting bogged down in esoteric wiki commands and formatting.

Google sites could even be used by a school to build a simple intranet if you haven’t got one yet in your school.   This video shows a little more of what is possible with Google sites:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_KnC2EIS5w]

It would be interesting to here from anyone who has used Google Sites in an educational context and how it went.

Making slime from PVA glue and borax

As part of our polymers topic we decided to make slime from PVA glue and borax.  The PVA is a polymer made of long chains.  As you gradually add the borax solution the PVA polymer chains begin to form cross-links.  This makes the solution thicken and become more viscous.  The slime that is made can be squashy and stretchy, and also supposedly bouncy although our pupils didn’t dare put this to the test. 

This is a great activity for science clubs and even primary schools.  Both PVA glue and Borax (Boots and some chemists stock this) are non-toxic, so as long as hands are washed and no chemicals ingested this is safe and fun for all.  We watered down the PVA glue before we started – neat PVA glue is harder to work with and the reaction is too fast for pupils to control the consistency of the slime.  A few drops of food colouring help make the slime look a little more revolting!!

These pictures show some of the better slime samples: