The Wonderful World of Google Apps: How We Use Docs in PBL

If you’d like, check out my introductory post about Google in our classroom here.

There is nothing particularly brilliant about what Google documents offers. Microsoft’s Word still out performs Google’s attempt by leaps and bounds in terms of functionality and alteration; however, where Google docs steals the show is simply in its sharing and cloud capabilities.

For us in The Studio, Google docs gives us an avenue to digitally share, collaborate and assess student work all while protecting our student’s identities and safeguarding against students digital misconduct (read cheating here). Specifically, we use Google documents to have students develop research proposals, but students also use them to develop research packets, narrative and expository writing, and just general collaboration among project group members. Due to Google’s instant sharing capabilities and fair security settings, students can submit final proposals and products to use via Google documents where we can then access and comment on their work all digitally. What we love about docs as well is how they easily connect and can be embedded into a Google site, which each of our students maintains as an online portfolio. Finally, what I probably most love about all Google Drive apps is that they all instantly save as you go and they collect revision histories for you so nothing is ever lost; we can also easily see if a student cheated or lied about the completion time of a document. (Time stamps don’t lie!) Not that we ever really have to check revision history for this very often, but it is still a nice feature to have in place.

Today, I’m focusing solely on our use of docs to generate research proposals. If you’d like to learn more about Drive capabilities through Google, you should check out their blog here.

Alright, on to research proposals. Nic Carroll (my colleague) and I decided early on that we wanted our proposals to be written in APA format and to have certain sections within the document each time a student group turned it in to be assessed. We felt that MLA would ultimately be useless for our students after high school besides a handful of English courses they would take, so APA was soon elected as our research focus. We do not use exact APA style as there are just too many rules for most high schoolers to learn comprehensively; however, we do expect many of the rules to be used and followed, while using The Owl @ Purdue writing center as a reference for remembering APA formatting. Below is an image of how we set up the instructions and the title page:

From the title page, we developed how we wanted each section of the proposal to organize itself. This has been an evolutionary process. What we do now is not exactly what we did two years ago. Each year we re-accessed (sometimes even mid-year) and reorganized the proposal based on what we felt was missing, needed to be dropped, or adjusted. It is also important to note that the term research proposal might need to be used loosely. This document is something that is written over the entire process of the project building period. As you’ll see below, one half of the proposal must be done after the first week to ensure that students are steadily building the document. Essentially, the proposal ends up being a fairly thorough research document/essay including: an introduction, research questions, description of the intended audience, a list of standards and any relevant vocabulary that fits with them, an intended outcome, job titles and descriptions, result/conclusion, student reflections, and finally a reference/bibliography section. This is a way as a language arts teacher to ensure that students are always writing academically and developing formal writing skills even when their products may not push them to do so in any given project. Check out the next set of images below to get an idea of how we align the proposal for our students. *Note that the images are an incomplete view of everything we place on the proposal.

What you still can’t see from the images is a final section that is used for listing all their bibliographic information in APA format. I don’t claim for this to be perfect, but it has worked well for us and our students. By completing this at times arduous document, they become better writers and become much more familiar with the standards they are required to learn. This final image below just demonstrates how we use the share function if you’ve never used it before:

As mentioned above, we use docs for more than just these proposals, but this is one of the most formal ways we’ve used them successfully in a PBL classroom. I hope you might have found some of this enlightening or maybe something you could even use in your classroom. Happy learning!

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