Helping teachers integrate technology into instruction

Archive for May, 2012

Week 5, May 30th: Google Docs

I hope everyone has enjoyed their few days off since school let out and that you are starting to feel somewhat rested!  Now that we are not *quite* as rushed, I want us to spend some time getting to know Google Docs.  I know that some of you already use Google Docs regularly; if you do, please feel free to chime in with your experiences and tips/tricks to help the rest of us!  Remember, we’re all here to learn together!

**Please read this next part carefully…as part of MCS, you already have a Google account; it sits behind, and can be accessed through, the portal.  By default, your Google email address is  If you wish to use this Google account to use Google Docs, that is perfectly ok; however, please understand that the only way to access Google/Google Docs with this account is through the portal.  You may choose to create a different Google account outside of the portal or to use one that you already have.  The choice is yours!  If you have any questions about this, or need further clarification, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Before we jump in with both feet, let’s take a look at what Google Docs is.  Basically, Google Docs is a free, online system that allows people to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online and share them with others for collaboration.  In addition to creating new documents, you can also upload your existing documents for sharing and collaboration.  This online system allows you to share your work with others, collaborate on assignments, and save documents online for access anywhere in the world as long as you have access to the internet!

Why should we consider using Google Docs?  We can use it to:

  • Work on files anytime, anywhere (as long as we have an internet connection)
  • Get feedback from multiple people – simultaneously and asynchronously
  • View the full writing process – including revisions
  • Share data sets
  • Upload/download documents in various file formats

Take a couple of minutes to watch Google Docs in Plain English before we move on.

That’s a very brief overview of Google Docs.  Now, let’s get hands’ on!  As I mentioned earlier, you have to have a Google account to use Google Docs.  If you already have a Gmail account, you can use that same login to access Google Docs, as well as all of Google’s features. You can also use your school Google account by logging into the portal.  If you don’t want to use the MCS Google account, but don’t yet have an “outside” account set up, you will need to do that now.  So, let’s get logged on!

  • Go to
  • Log in or click the Sign up button to create a new account

  • If you are creating a new account, you will be taken to a page that looks like this

  • If you sign up for a new account, make sure you check your email account (the email address you used to sign up for the Google account) for the confirmation email.  It will contain a link that you will have to click on to confirm your account.

Once you are signed up and logged in, you should be in your main page.  If you are not sure, look at the URL (or web address bar) in your internet browser.  It should say  If you look at the screenshot of my homepage, you see that the URL also includes authentication information.  If you are still not absolutely sure, it is ok to erase what is in the address bar and manually type in and press Enter.  That will take you where you need to be.

Now that we’re all on the main Google Docs page, let’s start by creating a basic document.  Keep in mind that, while we are working with a basic document (the equivalent of Microsoft Word), the functionality that Google Docs provides extends to all of the document types (spreadsheets, presentations, etc.).  To create a new document, click on the red Create button and, when the box of options pops up, select Document.  This is what you will get.

The first thing you might notice is that your document is Untitled.  To give it a name, go to File and select Rename.

Now, here’s a feature about Google Docs that might take some getting used to – at least it did for me (and still does!).  It does not have a save feature!  It saves all of your changes automatically!  Test it out…start typing some random characters on your document and watch how the “All changes saved” at the top, middle of the page changes to “Saving.”  Just to be on the safe side, though, I am going to recommend that you don’t make any changes to a document and then immediately close Google Docs.  Give it a minute to save everything.  Just to be sure.

From here, you are going to work with your document just as you would a regular Word document (except for the saving part, of course!).

Let’s say that you have a document that you have already created that you want to share with others.  You can do that through Google Docs, too.  From your home page, click on the red Upload icon (next to the Create button) and select Files.  From there, navigate to the location where your document is stored to upload it to Google Docs.  Once it is in Google Docs, you can modify it and share it as you like.

The ability to share documents in Google Docs is what makes the platform so great to work with.  Multiple users can collaborate on a document at the same time and Google Docs will record their changes.  You can also look at the revision history in order to know who made which changes!  To share a document, start at your Google Docs home page.  To the left of the document you want to share is an empty box; click to put a check mark in the box.   Then, click on the icon that is the picture of a head with a plus next to it.

A Share Settings box will pop up that allows you to set who has access to your document.  If you want to leave the settings as Private, simply type in the email addresses of the people you want to share the document with and then click Done.  If you want to share your document with a fairly broad audience, click on the Change….icon next to the Private settings.  A box with additional options will pop up.  Here you can choose to make the document available to anyone and everyone who finds it, or to anyone who has the link to the document.  If you choose to go with “Anyone with the link” option, it will be up to you to provide the link to those you are sharing the document with.  Once you have made your choice, click on the Save button.


I’ve created a Google Doc for us to practice with.  Click on the link below to access it.  Once you pull it up, enter your first name only and then a Yes or No for whether you have used Google Docs before.  Here is the link:

Google Docs is a great way for students to collaborate on projects; it is also a great way for teachers to collaborate and share information without always emailing documents back and forth!

Whew!  That’s a lot of information about Google Docs!  It only scratches the surface of what Google has to offer for us, but that’s all we’ll cover during this series.  What do you think?  Questions or comments?  Have you used Google Docs before – if so, share your experiences!


Week 4, May 23rd: LiveBinders

I love LiveBinders!  I especially love finding LiveBinders of interest to me that other people have already created and shared!  So, what are LiveBinders?  Here is a 1½ minute video that explains LiveBinders for Teachers.

How cool is that????  Just think about the possibilities…if you’re doing a project-based learning unit and want a central place to put online resources; or for a research project; or for all of the online resources your students will need over the semester!

Here are a few LiveBinders that you can check out.  You don’t have to look at all of them, but you should check out at least two of them to get an idea of how they can be used.

You can search on the LiveBinders website for topics that are of interest to you.  Start by entering your search term in the search box at the top right of the screen, and make sure that you are searching in All Public Binders.

Let’s Practice!

You can also register on the LiveBinders website to create your own shelf.  When you do that, you are able to not only create your own binders, but also to “share” binders that other people have already created!

To sign up, click on the Sign Up link at the top, right hand side of the screen.  Fill in the required fields and then click the Sign Up button at the bottom of the page.

Once you are logged in, you are ready to create a new binder.  On the left side of the page, you will see a link that says Start a Blank Binder – click on it.  A page will pop up that looks like this:

Fill in the name of your binder, and description of your binder, and choose whether you want to make your binder Public or Private.  For the purpose of this exercise, choose No for the option of using Google to fill the binder; however, when you have time, go back and try this out by filling a binder with a Google search term!!  It’s a great way to fill a binder if you a certain that you have solid search parameters!  When you are finished, click Create New Binder.

That’s an overview of LiveBinders!  I have found some really great ones that I refer to for Common Core, Library Media, and Instructional Technology.  Hopefully, you will find some that interest you AND maybe find ways that you can use them with your students or colleagues!  What do you think?

Week 3, May 16th: Wikis

This week, we’re going to take a look at another way to write and share content, but this time in the form of wikis.  First, though, let’s look at what makes blogs and wikis different.  With a blog, there is generally one poster (writer) who then allows comments to the post – like we’re doing here.  No one is allowed to make changes to a comment or post made by someone else.  With a wiki, anyone with access to the wiki has permission to make changes to the content.  If you choose not to limit access to a particular group or membership, anyone in the world can make changes.  Here is a short video on Wikis in Plain English.

In MCS, both the K-4th and the 5th-8th grade math leadership teams are using wikis to share resources with each other as we transition to the new Alabama College & Career Readiness Standards for Mathematics, as well as new textbooks.  You can look explore the 5th-8th wiki here

Other interesting wikis (don’t worry if they haven’t been updated in a while, we’re looking at format and content!):

Learning Latin America (9th grade)

AP Literature & Composition

Take a look at this list of 50 Ways to Use Wikis for a More Collaborative and Interactive Classroom.  Try to find at least two ways that look interesting to you that might work with your curriculum.

Let’s Practice!

Visit the Instructional Tech Tools for MCS Wiki and add your name to the list.  To do so, simply click on the big EDIT button at the top right of the page.  Make sure you click SAVE when you are finished typing!  (The instructions are also on the wiki page.)  As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me!!

That’s it for this week!  What do you think about wikis?  What are your thoughts about blogs vs. wikis?

Week 2, May 9th: A Closer Look at Blogging

You all did a great job setting up your blog accounts and learning how to comment on my blog posts!  That’s terrific!  I know that, for some of you, it was no big deal; but, for many of us, just trying to figure out where to go to register for an account and clicking through the steps can be frustrating.  I will always *try* to remember to post screenshots and/or directions but, if I forget, please just ask!!

Ok, so now that we’re all set up with our blog accounts, what exactly is a blog, anyway?  Here is a very short (less than 3 minutes) video that explains Blogs in Plain English.

Now that you understand what a blog is, let’s take a look at some classroom examples of blogs:

These are just three examples of how you can use blogs.  If you looked at A Year of Reading, did you noticed about mid-way down on the right-hand side of the page the authors include links to other blogs that they like?  There are over 100 links to blogs that are all related, in some way, to reading – teacher/librarian blogs, kidlit blogs, author-illustrator blogs, etc.  Wow!  If you have time, click on a few of the links that sound interesting and look around.  You never know when you will find a goldmine!

Here is a 2 minute video that shows Ten Ways to Use Your Edublog to Teach (but you can use any blog!).

So, we’ve set up our WordPress accounts and talked about what blogs are; we’ve looked at some examples, and we’ve seen ten ways that blogs can be incorporated into the classroom.  Now, let’s practice!  Using the WordPress blog that you set up when you created your account, write a sample blog post.  It might be about something you think your students would like to discuss in class, or about a book you’re reading, or about anything else that you want to write about!

To create a new post, you have two options:  one, you can go to the top left of your screen where you see the name of your blog and click on the name of the blog, then click on New, and then click on Post.  This will take you to a page where you can enter a title for your blog post and then start writing.  Make sure when you are finished, you click on the Publish button to the right of the main text box!

Your second option for creating a new post is to simply click on the button at the top right of your screen that says New Post.  Doing so will open up a pop-out window that provides the same options for enter a title and main text.  When you are finished typing, click the Publish Post button at the bottom.

That’s blogging in a nutshell!  Thoughts, questions, comments?  Can you think of ways that you might use blogs either with your students or professionally – as a teacher or as a learner?  Also, if any of you have experience blogging, please share your experiences/advice!

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