Collaborating with Google Docs and Spreadsheets

Collaboration – (kuh-lab-uh-rey-shuhn) n. the act of collaborating. Working together for a common end.

Every class can benefit from enhanced collaboration among students and between students and instructors. Learning is social. Course assignments that encourage collaboration are effective way of encouraging interaction and discussion among students. Unfortunately, collaborative projects can also have its problems. With multiple students working on one project there can be issues with limited access to the materials or resources. While some of the learners are engaged in the project, others wait their turn or just don’t participate.

What’s for lunch?This past school year I incorporated Google Docs and Spreadsheets in my beginning Computer Applications course to facilitate communication and collaboration among my high school students. Google Docs and Spreadsheets is a free and relatively easy web-based tool for creating and collaboratively editing online documents in real time. It is well-suited for student collaborative projects because previous versions of the document are always accessible and it is easy to see who made which changes.

Our collaborative project was called “What’s For Lunch?” The goal of this project was to collect data about student’s eating habits at lunch and analyze the information for nutritional value, cost and how much waste was created. For one week, every student photographed a variety of student lunches and interviewed students about their food choices. The class compiled their photos together and began the task of analyzing the data. We decided to assemble data about nutrition (calories, fats, carbohydrates), cost of the meal, and we also created a point system to tabulate the amount of waste each lunch produced.

I set up a Google shared spreadsheet to gather the data. Each student created a Google account (which can be separate from a Gmail account). Although anyone could view the spreadsheet the students needed to be invited to edit and collaborate on the spreadsheet. Once the students accessed the file, they could begin to add their data to the spreadsheet all at the same time! Each user is color coded during collaboration and the document is automatically saved after each edit.

What’s for lunch2?I have never witnesses such enthusiasm and excitement for entering data into a spreadsheet before. Every student was engaged and involved in the documentation. Students could immediately see the edits being made other students which encouraged them to share nutritional information with each other. The whole process was motivating, easy and fun. From a teacher’s point of view, I could easily see a history of the revisions to determine who participated and how many entries they added. I also could add comments directly to the spreadsheet if I needed clarification of the data or more information.

After all of the data was collected, the spreadsheet was exported to an Excel spreadsheet where students wrote formulas to analyze and compare the data. Unfortunately, the data showed some poor eating habit by our student body. Another concerning element was how much garbage our students threw away from their lunches. Students graphed the results and created posters to try to influence the eating and recycling habits of their classmates. The posters included the lunch photos and data and were hung around the school.

During this same unit students used Google Docs to write letters to local state representatives concerning their opinion about a bill that would ban junk food in all public high schools. After writing their first draft, students invited collaborators and used peer editing to review the drafts and make corrections on their Google doc. We also set up a Google spreadsheet to collect the names and addresses of Oregon Senators and Representatives. The spreadsheet was exported to Excel and the addresses were adding to the letters using mail merge.

I continue to find many uses for Google Docs and Spreadsheets throughout my curriculum. Having the ability to work together on a document at the same times ensures that every student will be engaged during collaborative projects. Keeping the documents stored online provides access from both home and school and the automatic saving feature prevents losing work. The revision history allows documents to be restored to an earlier point and also makes students accountable for doing their part. Google Docs and Spreadsheets are just one of many exciting products from Google that you can use in your curriculum.


Google For Educators: Using Google Docs and Spreadsheets

Some ideas on how to use Google Docs and Spreadsheets in the classroom
Elementary school students collaborate to

  • read the same book and write a collaborative book report.
  • share their reflections of a field trip.
  • create a story from a story prompt
  • collect favorite poems for a class anthology
  • publish a weekly newsletter about class happenings
  • track profits from magazine sale

Middle school students collaborate to

  • write a science hypothesis about an experiment.
  • recreate an historical event.
  • develop a word math problem.
  • keep track of homework assignments
  • collect weather statistics

High school students collaborate to

  • create articles for the school newspaper
  • write a script for play
  • debate a current event
  • analyze data from US Census bureau
  • manage sales and profits from school store


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