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Useful Google Docs Features for Science Classes October 15, 2012

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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This afternoon I happened to spot this article on “50 Little-Known Ways Google Docs Can Help In Education“, shared by the M+Google team. This article actually lead me to a couple others, including this one about student friendly features and the Google developers’ blog and Google Docs help. All of these together might be a bit much to wade through, so here’s a few of my top pics for astro classes, which I hope translate well to other science classes.

Equation Editor: Under the insert menu, you’ll find “equation” as one of the options. It includes many of the traditional features of the MS equation editor, like fractions and subscripts.  I did not find a “proportional to” symbol, but hopefully I just overlooked that. According to the Docs help, the equation editor will take LaTeX commands, but I haven’t tried that yet.

Subscripts and superscripts: These are under the format menu. Downside: I can’t find a way to make a keyboard shortcut, but I didn’t try for very long.

Special Characters: Tired of typing “H-alpha”? Use the subscript command then Insert -> Special Characters. Choose “Other European Scripts” from the first drop down, and “Greek” from the second and you’ll have Hα (and I hope WordPress does that correctly!) It even remembers recent selections so the next time you need an alpha it’s easy to find.

Forms: If you haven’t tried making a form yet, you should. It’s great for things like getting feedback over the web, but because it automatically puts the data into a spreadsheet, it can make a simple interface for data collection. Lets say you have a lab where you want a lot of data, but you only have enough time for each student to do 2 – 3 trials. Instead of having them write all their data on the board, have them enter their data into a form. Share the resulting spreadsheet with your class in read-only mode. Students can make a copy, then do their own data manipulation, including creating graphs, and you’l know there are no transcription errors to cause weird results for one person. If you have multiple class sections, you can copy the existing form and have a separate form/spreadsheet for each section, or you can use a single form and have a huge sheet for lots of sections.

Research: conduct a search from inside your doc and embed links to the resources you find into your doc including as citations. You’ll find Research under the Tools menu.

Define: this is the Google equivalent of “Add to Dictionary”.

Templates: You want something organized a particular way to make it easy to grade. But the students do all sorts of strange things. Lab reports with procedures written as paragraphs even though they have numbered the steps, for example. Save yourself some of the headache with a template that makes it easy for students to organize their work they way you’re expecting it to be organized. Now if there was just some way to enforce proofreading…

 

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