Add-ons are Google’s shiny new set of tools for Documents and Spreadsheets, and they’re full of potential for educators.
They’re additional functions that can be installed and become available across all of your documents and sheets.
As any feature still in its infancy, you’ll find that several add-ons are still buggy and a little slow. As developers get time to respond to problems, they’ll become more stable — and even more valuable.
There’s a lot that educators can do with many of the add-ons. Here’s a selection of several of them (not an exhaustive list) with benefits, drawbacks and things you can do with them. We’ll start with add-ons for Documents and then for Spreadsheets.
Benefits: The set-up is simple. Add data (names, addresses, any info) in a spreadsheet. Create a document and show Merge where you want to add the data. It creates custom documents that you can e-mail.
Drawbacks: Setting all the data up can be time-consuming, but the product is worth it.
Idea 1: Customized grade reports. Student data can be typed or exported into a sheet and shared in a fancy document with all of the data merged.
Benefits: Using the headings (next to font) in Documents, it creates a clickable table of contents in a little window next to your document. It makes document navigation simple.
Drawbacks: Some users report that navigation is slow with larger documents.
Idea 2: Reports/papers. When students write, they add a table of contents for easy navigation.
Idea 3: Student work in one document. If all students do an assignment in one document, they can add their names as a heading above their work. Click on the student name to see his/her work.
Idea 4: Easily navigable readings. If you provide students with long articles or readings in document form, finding each chapter is easy. Plus, you can add a new heading after each day’s reading to serve as a bookmark.
Benefits: It very simply pulls in data from a spreadsheet into a chart/graph that can be inserted into a document.
Drawbacks: Some types of charts, like scatterplots, are not available.
Idea 5: Lab reports. Students can take readings, data, etc. from science labs and easily incorporate them into reports.
Idea 6: Tabulating results or student data. Student council elections. Class votes. Standardized test data. If it can be added to a spreadsheet, it can come out as an attractive chart or graph.
Benefits: It incorporates the approve/reject changes function of Microsoft Office to Google Documents. It shows changes made to a document and includes a simple check button or X button to approve or reject.
Drawbacks: No permissions exist for who can and can’t approve/reject changes. Also, changes to tables are not supported.
Idea 7: Group projects/papers. Partners can propose changes and approve or reject them without adding them to the document. (Provides a little more control than just writing comments.)
Idea 8: Peer editing. If students suggest changes to each other through the editing process, the original author can have the final say on whether a change sticks.
Idea 9: Student newspaper/yearbook articles. Student editors and advisers can suggest changes to articles without actually changing the document.
Benefits: It has many useful pre-created document templates that can be copied to users’ Google Drives. They include business letters, resumes, cover letters, calendars and budgeting tools.
Drawbacks: Many of the templates don’t pertain directly to education, but some will. The options are a little limited (but, hey … they’re free!).
Idea 10: Resumes and cover letters. Students — and educators! — can save precious designing time by using a template from the gallery.
Idea 11: Sports/club calendars. If a team or club requires a printed calendar of events (that doesn’t use Google Calendar!), there’s a simple calendar in the templates that can be modified.
Benefits: Its simplicity. It’s a basic calendar that sits next to your document. No switching between programs. No pulling the calculator out of your backpack.
Drawbacks: It is just a simple four-function calculator. You’ll need something else for more complex calculations.
Idea 12: Budgets in personal finance class. It will likely save students time to have the calculator sitting there as they create budget reports.
Benefits: It creates beautiful diagrams. It has plenty of icons for several types of diagrams, such as flow charts, Venn diagrams, organizational charts and even floor plans. Diagrams can be easily inserted in documents.
Drawbacks: Free version includes creation of five diagrams.
Idea 13: Storyboarding/story charting. Creating videos is easier if students have a visual plan for the story. Students could also create a flow chart to show how a novel or an event from history plays out.
Idea 14: Infographics. Students can show steps to complete a skill or chart out important information about a topic instead of writing it in a report.
Benefits: EasyBib takes sources like books, Internet sites and articles and creates a bibliography according to MLA, APA or Chicago style. It inserts the bibliographies in the appropriate places in a report.
Drawbacks: It is limited to three style manuals. Lists of resources may be too limited for some users.
Idea 15: Research papers. Students can create papers with flawless bibliographies using EasyBib.
Idea 16: Annotated bibliographies. Students can focus on adding comments to their different sources instead of getting punctuation and other details in the perfect spot.
Benefits: It displays synonyms and antonyms in a sidebar of a document. It’s another simple time saver.
Drawbacks: Results can be limited.
Idea 17: Writing essays. When students struggle to find words, this thesaurus can provide options.
Idea 18: Enhanced vocabulary lessons. Students can find additional synonyms and antonyms to the lesson’s vocabulary.
Benefits: Texthelp Study Skills simplifies using the highlighter feature of Documents. The sidebar makes the highlighter easily accessible.
Drawbacks: Free version offers four colors for 30 days. After that, one color is available.
Idea 19: Group reading analysis. Use highlighters in conjunction with comments to allow students to mark-up an article or reading provided in a document. Students can share opinions and important passages in a reading.
Benefits: Pro Writing Aid analyzes your writing for spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, plagiarism and readability, among others. It provides a report after analyzing the document for easy correction. If your school doesn’t have access to tools like TurnItIn, this could be a good alternative.
Drawbacks: Free version allows for only four scans. Scans on lengthy documents can take a long time.
Idea 20: Analyzing great writers. Students can run other writers’ work (in literature, in news, etc.) through Pro Writing Aid to analyze strengths, weaknesses and peculiarities.
Benefits: Doctopus is arguably the most powerful add-on in education. It creates shared folders for students and teachers to access. It distributes files to students like a virtual photocopier. Files can be tweaked for each individual student or kept the same. Teachers can monitor progress on projects and grade using the Goobric feature.
Drawbacks: Not many. As kinks are worked out of the new add-on, Doctopus will continue to get stronger.
Idea 21: Group projects. Doctopus can distribute the necessary files and allow teachers to see how often students have worked on their projects.
Idea 22: Differentiated work. If teachers want to distributed different versions of the same document based on students’ individual needs, Doctopus can do that.
Benefits: It creates documents or PDFs for e-mailing with information pulled from a spreadsheet. Create a spreadsheet with names, addresses or any other pertinent information, and Autocrat will insert it in each unique document. Autocrat can create the grade reports suggested in idea 1 with Merge by MailChimp.
Drawbacks: There’s a bit of a learning curve at the beginning, but it’s powerful once you get the hang of it.
Idea 23: Personalized parent letters. Parent names, student names, addresses, student grades and other data can be merged into a letter to send home to parents.
Benefits: Teachers can create assessments in Google Forms and Flubaroo will grade them. Once graded, Flubaroo creates a grading summary for the entire assessment (i.e. class average, number of low-scoring questions, etc.) as well as individual student grades and right/wrong answers for each student. It’s an easy system to learn and use.
Drawbacks: Flubaroo doesn’t grade some questions well (short answer and essay), but an automated grading system probably shouldn’t be grading those in the first place, should it?
Idea 24: Formative assessments. Quizzes can be graded quickly to provide students instant feedback while they’re still in the mindset of test-taking, strengthening the connection in their brains of what was missed.
Benefits: Styles makes formatting cells in a sheet easy. It provides several pre-chosen color and font schemes for quick use. It saves users the time of digging through menus to find the styles they want.
Drawbacks: Styles lacks complete flexibility to format cells with exactly the color and font scheme you want.
Idea 25: Analyzing data. Given a set of data on a spreadsheet, students can highlight certain findings (the lowest, the most common, etc.) with a certain style.
Benefits: Mapping Sheets gathers addresses, location names and other data and plots it on a Google Map. It creates pins on Google Maps simply and creates a good visual representation of the locations of multiple places.
Drawbacks: Locations are tied to addresses and don’t provide for off-road coordinates.
Idea 26: Virtual city visits. Students can plot the locations they would visit if they toured a certain city, state or country.
Idea 27: Visual sports team schedule. Athletes can see where they will travel for competitions throughout the season.
Idea 28: Natural science comparisons. Students can gather data on weather, animals, minerals or anything else found in various locations and see a visual representation of it.
What are other important Google add-ons? How can these or other add-ons be used? Share your ideas in a comment below!
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