The robust and diverse features of Google Docs (and now Drive) have been increasingly entering our K-12 classrooms. By working in the cloud, students have lost less homework, used less paper and been more engaged in learning. Yet, the greatest benefits of Google Docs may not be so much in what can be done in to construct knowledge independently by our students, but in what can be done to construct knowledge collaboratively.
In particular, collaborative use of the Google Spreadsheet has great potential for creating impactful and thought-provoking learning experiences with our students. These types of activities go a long way to meet the requirements set by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S). Through collaborative work and discussion, students work on several of the standards and goals pertaining to problem solving, speaking and listening, presenting ideas, recognizing patterns and developing communication skills. Plus, they develop creative and critical thinking through technology by using “models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues” (NETS 1c), “identify trends and forecast possibilities” (1d), “identify authentic problems for investigation” (4a), and to “collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions” (4c).
Here’s an example of how this can work:
- The teacher creates a Google Spreadsheet, formats and labels a table/chart, and shares it to the students in the class. (As students become more comfortable with this tool, having them decide how to organize their information or data themselves can be a great part of the thinking/learning process!)
- The students research and collect data on a topic independently or in small groups and enter it into the spreadsheet. For example, in PE, students could record the rate at which they can perform jumping jacks in order to set a goal for an upcoming fundraiser. In science, the students might record weather data over time, comparing and observing weather patterns. In social studies, students might collect population data, the cost of various goods, or information about elections. In math, students can survey students about their favorite video games and tally results. The possibilities are endless… and can easily be used in all grade levels and curriculum areas!
- Next, students use the spreadsheet tools to work with the data. In the Google Spreadsheet, students can create graphs to model and compare the shared data, use formulas to find averages, and make predictions based on patterns recognized in the collected data. Students can even sort and categorize lists and information as well. As the teacher, you can monitor the students’ progress in real time by viewing the document and use your observations as formative assessment. This catalyzes an opportunity to provide just-in-time support for struggling learners and enrichment for those achieving mastery.
- Finally… well, there is no final instruction. Why? The collection and modeling of data is a great jumping off point for further learning, research and inquiry on any topic! Use this collaborative knowledge base in your students’ spreadsheet to prompt class discussions, presentations, group work or even digital media creation. In my third grade classes, students used the data they collected to inform persuasive data-driven writing and animated commercials like the one featured on this page. In fact, cross-curricular integration possibilities abound when working with visual representations of data and information.
Best of all? The kids love it! The interaction between students, the camaraderie of building a knowledge base together (even in younger grades!), promotes a desire to learn and a love of the inquiry process. It’s time to bring some excitement to the use of data in the classroom… and Google Spreadsheets are a great way to do it!