Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Google Add-Ons for Everyone!

Google Docs was born through the acquisition of a smaller company in 2005 and was officially made available to Google Apps users with its current name in 2007. If you have used Google Docs for more than a month in your life, you know that it is updated and changed frequently. Features are added; layouts are changed; updates are made. As frustrating as this can be sometimes, there is no argument that Google Docs has come a long way in the last few years. It will probably never rival the power of other paid word processors, but for a free application, built with all of the collaboration and sharing features it boasts, it definitely is still up there as far as usefulness in education goes.

Sometimes releases of new features come in Google Labs, written by creative little Google minions, based on need and customer feedback. Often times these Labs, if popular and effective enough, become part of the regular Google Suite. Most often Labs are seen in Google Mail and Google Calendar. In the realm of Google Docs, additional features are called Add-Ons. It used to be somewhat cumbersome and complicated to link Add-Ons with your Google Docs, but Google has made that more seamless as well, offering Add-Ons right from the Google File menu.

To browse Add-Ons, click Add-Ons on the File menu in a Google Docs, then choose "Get add-ons...". Below are descriptions of some Add-Ons that may be useful in the classroom.

Easy Bib - Provides citation, note-taking, and research tools within a Google Doc. This is a quick and easy way to cite sources to help promote ethical use of others' works and increase good digital citizenship skills.

Thesaurus - Dictionary, Spelling check and a Research function are built in to the Tools menu of Google Docs. There are a number of thesauruses available as extensions or add-ons. Students can make their word choice more interesting and avoid redundancies using this add-on feature.

TextHelp - This includes free highlighting features which are part of a powerful paid extension Read & Write for Google. Summarizing, identifying main idea, locating thesis statements, and citing evidence in written text are just some of the ways teachers can leverage the power of this 4-highlighter system, which allows highlights to be easily extracted to a separate document to share or turn in.

gMath - Can be used in Docs and Google (spread)Sheets. Utilizes LaTeX syntax, but also includes clickable, editable shortcuts to common expressions. Works with other Add-ons to quickly create quizzes using Google Forms, and using QuizNinja to differentiate quizzes and set up automatic grading features, with advanced features for validating mathematical responses.

Table Formatter - Sometimes what separates Google Doc capabilities from those of other word processing applications is the presentation of the information. This add-on allows you to easily format tables with colors and heading features similar to those available in Microsoft Word without having to format rows individually. You can even create your own custom templates for colors/arrangements you use most often.

Easy Accents - Writing in a foreign language is a complicated cognitive function. This add-on has made adding appropriate accents to your writing much easier. Open the add-on, click on the accent you'd like and it is automatically added to your document wherever the cursor is.

Kaizena Mini - Ever get tired of typing? Give your fingers a rest and let your voice give the feedback. With the Kaizena add-on, you can highlight words, sentences, paragraphs or portions of text and give voice feedback to your students. (Kaizena is also available as an extension, with a slightly different format).

Mapping Sheets - Google spreadsheets also promote a number of add-on features. Mapping Sheets allows you to plot your own data on a google map - easily. When you add mapping sheets to a spreadsheet, click Start Mapping. The Add-On creates a customized spreadsheet with headings. Fill in the information and click the build button. A Google map will be created with tags that include the information entered on the spreadsheet. Use to visualize historic events, plot geographical events from novels, write notes about geographical features, etc.

Allowing students to choose multiple ways to show what they know and identifying tools that are appropriate and helpful are skills students will need in this 21st century job market. There are many more add-ons available, and new ones being created all the time. If you need help adding or using any of these Add-Ons, or want help with ideas on incorporating them with your curriculum, contact Sarah Radcliffe or Cara Schueller.

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