Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Google Apps and the Brain Friendly Classroom
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Dr. Marcia Tate has made it her life’s work to show educators how to create a brain-friendly classroom through her Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites series. Too often, we create a learning environment that is very unnatural thus making it difficult for the brain to make connections between old and new learning. For example, we naturally learn by talking, by playing, working in groups, using technology, and by experimenting. Very rarely do we learn silently, by ourselves, sitting still.

Now look around at the typical classroom in our schools. Do you want kids to not just learn but also REMEMBER? Make the environment make sense to the brain.

I am going to be writing a series of posts linking what Dr. Tate has identified as brain-friendly strategies to various Google products. I will share what makes the strategy powerful and how to leverage the multiple Google tools to help in student learning.

This week: Brainstorming & Discussions

Why are these important?

Both of these activities are important because they allow the learner to truly think about and process the questions and possible answers. Marcia Tate sites multiple studies that show adolescents learn more from small group discussions, that brainstorming is a creative process thereby engaging the brain at a higher level, and that discussions allow the learner to clarify their understanding. These activities get students beyond just “what is” type questions and takes them into “how might,” “what could,” or “why is” levels of thinking.

In our normal, everyday lives, we learn from talking to others. Our ideas and understandings are shaped the more we have to defend our points of view and the more we hear the ideas of others. This is very natural for the brain.

How Can Google Apps Help?

Google Docs are perfect for brainstorming! The fact that a document can be edited by up to 50 people simultaneously makes this an incredible virtual whiteboard. But it can also get a bit daunting and here are some ideas that might help.

  • Share Smart: Don’t take the time to share it with each individual. Set the sharing to “Everyone with the link” “Can Edit.” Then, use a URL shortener (I like the shortener extension for Chrome) and project that new url. Students can then type it in and get to editing the document. You can also email the URL or share it via Google Classroom. Just find a quick and easy way to get them there!
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  • Use Slides instead of Documents: If the group gets a bit big, one document can get tough to navigate and all of the colorful cursors can get a bit distracting and in the way. Use Slides and give each student, or small group, their own slide. They can still see what others are typing but have their own contained environment to work productively.
  • Use the Collaborators Icons at the Top to Navigate: When you are working on the same document as another person, or group of people, icons representing those collaborators will show up at the top. Click on an icon to be taken to where they are currently editing the document and you can see what they are talking about.


  • Google Groups: Keep the classroom discussion going outside of school! Set up either a Web Forum or Q&A Forum depending on your classroom needs. These can be easily embedded on your website and the membership and moderation options allow the teacher to maintain a safe environment.
  • Google Docs & Fishbowls: The “Fishbowl” activity where you have the students in two concentric circles. The inside circle is discussing the topic with the teacher while the outside circle is communicating via a Google Doc. The outside circle can interject ideas, comments, or other thoughts that the teacher (who is monitoring the Doc) can use to guide the discussion with the inside circle.
  • Hangouts: Whether it is a video or text hangout, the ability to have a group discussion no matter where the members are in the world, has been made easier by Google. Bring in a guest speaker or an entire class from another part of the world to join your discussion!

Next Week: Drawing and Artwork

Have a happy day!

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