Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thing #7: Cool Google Tools

Happy 4th of July! I thought that I knew Google fairly well, but apparently, it is still full of surprises. I use Gmail (even though I don't totally love the format), and I use Google Chrome to explore the internet because my computer seems to hate Internet Explorer for some reason. Let's do a quick walk-through of the various Google tools mentioned, shall we?

Google Alerts: I signed up to receive a daily alert about baby/infant care (for obvious reasons). I think this tool is pretty neat. I had a horrible addiction to celebrity gossip sites like Perez Hilton, and I had to go cold turkey. I could use this tool to keep up with Jon and Kate's latest drama without getting sucked into an entire website of celebrity drama. (Don't worry, I won't be signing up for an alert like that, but I could!) My husband uses Google Reader to keep up with all of the websites he reads and the latest news in finance, diesel racing, and movie info.

Google Calendar: My husband and I both already use this feature. (He is better at keeping his part of the calendar updated than I am, but I'm working on it.) It is nice that we are able to share our appointments and meetings with each other online, and if I keep at it, we won't have to ask each other when a doctor's appointment is or what time we're supposed to meet some friends- we can simply check the Google calendar. I could use the Google calendar to create a calendar of assignments and due dates to share with my students as well.

iGoogle: I'm sure this feature is very valuable for some people to use as a homepage. As mentioned on the Library2Play blog, students could use this as their homepage and keep up with their assignments for various classes, athletic practices, birthdays, etc. I personally will not be using it as my homepage, as I prefer to just use our district site as mine, so that I can keep up with what's happening.

Picasa Web Albums: I have a few family members who like to use this site instead of Flickr to share their photos with everyone. It's very accessible and a great alternative to just using Google images search.

Google Scholar: This seems like a simplistic approach to research and probably a better fit for students as the information that pops up is from scholarly literature vs. doing just a simple Google search. This way, you don't really have to worry as much about the legitimacy of the source. However, the information appears to not be suited for middle-school students, and I will probably stick with using some of the other sources geared towards kids that we have on our library resource page.

Google Advanced Search: I actually just used this feature a few weeks ago when I was looking for safari photos to use in my son's nursery. I had originally used Google images to search and had found some great pictures, but when I went to enlarge them at my local Walgreen's, the image sizes were so small that they would become grainy if enlarged to the size that I really wanted. So I used Advanced Search and narrowed the images down to larger .jpg sizes and was able to get some really cool pics that enlarged beautifully and are now hanging up in Trip's room.

Google Earth: When this feature first became available, I thought it was really cool. If I am going somewhere that I have never been, I can view the place from the street so that I know what to look for as I am driving. However, sometimes it can be a bit creepy knowing that people are able to type in my address and view my house. All in all, a useful tool, but possibly too useful for robbers and bad guys!

Google Docs: I thought this was going to be great, especially for those people who always forget to hit "Attach document" when sending an e-mail. However, when I attempted to create a document to view and e-mailed it to my husband and myself, it came up with errors that said I was not allowed to e-mail people to view it. I'll keep playing with it, but I was disappointed that it would not let me do what it says it is supposed to do.

Google has some great tools for students and teachers. I could see a social studies class using Google Earth, a language arts class using Google Scholar, an art class using Picasa, etc. Something that I'm very interested in and would like more information on is setting up a classroom website with calendars and homework pages. I know that a lot of teachers at MMS use this for their classes, and even though the majority of my students may not own computers, they are always at the local libraries getting on MySpace and Facebook, so I know that they could access our class site as well. Any suggestions for a good one to use?

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