A Google Tools Guide for the Middle School
Reviewed by Jeny Randall
Google has become ubiquitous in both our personal and our school lives. Whether you’re inclined to feel cynicism about the company’s motivations or appreciative of their free tools for education (or both!) the G Suite for Education can transform the learning experience. As the authors note:
“Perhaps Google wants to create the next generation of Google users, but regardless, if the tool works, if it helps with student engagement, productivity and creativity, it will enable student achievement…” (p.5).
As a teacher at a school that has implemented the G Suite for Education, I have used, and taught the use of, several apps detailed in the book (Docs, Sheets, Drawing).
I was unfamiliar with others, including Google Classroom, and, as I found out as I read, unaware of many of the extensions and add-ons offered by Google. So I saw the Google Tools Meets Middle School through the eyes of both an experienced user and a relative novice.
As a novice, I found the step-by-step tutorials helpful and easy to follow. As an experienced user, I gleaned tips that will help me use the apps in greater depth.
For Mac, iOS, PC and Android devices
Like our students, we learn best by doing. As I read, I frequently turned to my computer to play along with the step-by-step tutorials. At times, as in the section on Google Classroom, Google Tools served as a starting point for exploration, and I would return to the text when ready for the next step. The authors consistently give directions for Mac, iOS, PC and Android devices where keystrokes differ, and remind the readers that the G Suite is cloud-based and so can be accessed from any device with an internet connection.
While Google Tools is helpful for an initial foray into an app, it’s also a book to keep on hand for when you need a refresher for how to access a specific function.
Google Tools Meets Middle School is also more than an instruction manual. The authors include “technology-infused teaching tips”; specific examples from their own experience and those of teachers at their schools; implications for using the SAMR model to integrate the G Suite into classrooms; and discussions about how the G Suite helps teachers meet standards (CCSS and International Society for Technology in Education standards).
These useful additions highlight the authors’ teaching experience and the experience they have in working with educators to support best practices in incorporating technology into education.
Keeping middle schoolers in mind
Technology-infused teaching tip sidebars include tips on the specifics of working with middle-school students:
“Middle school students are children. They have a unique desire to test limits and break boundaries. Let them know the rules for new technologies early in the process…. Be consistent and technology integration will be smooth for your students…” (p. 44).
They also offer tips for advanced users such as how to assign an action item using the comments feature of the apps in G Suite, and ideas on organization: “It’s good practice to always navigate to the same location to create a Google drive folder so habits are formed on where files are created and stored,” (p. 81).
In addition to the sidebars, the authors provide examples within the text for how to use technology to provide differentiated instruction, both for enrichment and for increased ease of access such as voice typing, Alt Text, and Translate.
A couple of glitches
The book does have some flaws. In the chapter on Google Docs the figures and tables are not always referenced correctly in the text. For example, the text states that table 4.4 describes anchor standard 6 for writing taken from the CCSS for grades 9-12. However, the table shows the standard for grades 6-8, more applicable to the age group outlined by the book, but not as discussed in the text.
In several places, as the authors walk through the options in a menu, a practical discussion breaks the flow and can be disorienting. For instance, as the authors detail features in the file menu in the Sheets app, they insert a discussion of the importance of Data and Technology, a worthy discussion that sparked ideas for my own classroom, but the discussion made the subsequent menu items seem out of context.
A companion website which offers extensive resources including examples, lesson plans, templates, and further information such as a list of functions in Google Sheets is another positive aspect of the book. As is the nature of the internet, some of the links were no longer available, but many were helpful and could be implemented into the classroom immediately.
The final chapter “Even More Google” includes search tips, instructions for using the Google URL shortener, information on QR codes, Photos, Maps, Scholar, Voice, Hangouts and other apps and extensions. While the information here serves as an appetizer or perhaps dessert, after the step-by-step tutorials in the other chapters, I feel more comfortable exploring these on my own.
Google Tools Meets Middle School is a workhorse of a book. It sets out to accomplish a great deal, and it does, but sometimes lacks finesse. Overall, Graham and Borgen have a lot to offer, not just about Google Tools, but also about integrating technology into the classroom in innovative and thoughtful ways. I know that this book will serve as an excellent reference book, and I look forward to sharing it with colleagues this year.
Jeny Randall teaches 6th grade Language Arts and science at Saratoga Independent School in New York State. As Middle School Coordinator, she is overseeing the curriculum and program development for the new middle school. Outside of school Jeny teaches yoga, reads whatever students send her way, and spends time with her family, out of doors if possible.