At the beginning of this school year, our Creative Technology teachers were hoping to find some new lessons to infuse digital learning into our existing projects – specifically, we were looking for a new way to teach spreadsheets that would be engaging and relevant for students at the middle school level. The Applied Digital Skills curriculum from Google seemed like a great, free option and luckily, Brittany from Google, Chicago was able to give us more insight into the lessons and answer some of our questions.
That’s where the “Guide to An Area” lesson really fit with our classes. In this lesson, students utilize the design thinking process to identify and empathize with a specific audience in order to create a guide to an area with their interests and needs in mind. Once students choose an area and audience, students use Google Sheets to create a list of locations and details to add to their guide. During the process, students learn how to utilize formatting options in Google Sheets to change the way data is displayed, and how to use data validation to create a rating scale for their locations.
The first few steps are pretty useful for middle school students to learn. The unit is taken to the next level when students use the Google Apps Script Editor to code their own interactive sidebar for their guide that features Google Maps 360 street view images! It was a challenging but satisfying experience for my students, and they were visibly excited when their code would execute properly and their sidebar worked!
The grand finale of the unit is when students learn how to import their Sheets file to a Google MyMaps. The pins on the map auto-populate from the data in the student-created guides. Students can customize their pins any way they want. Again, when students saw the map layout auto-generate before their eyes, their reactions were pretty amazing. One of my students was very invested in this project and was excited to take on the challenge of coding for the first time as well as expressing his creativity through his Guide to Woodstock project. See his screenshare below!
In the end, this lesson was engaging, challenging, and definitely rewarding. But I wanted to find a solution to really wrap up, reflect, and assess the project in a memorable way. Instead of sitting through a day (or two) of student presentations to the class, students would film screencasts explaining their project to a viewer, and post the videos to a class Flipgrid topic.
This way, students could watch their classmates’ presentations in any order they wanted, at their own speed, at school, or even at home. In true middle school fashion, the students really enjoyed the social aspects of Flipgrid: responding and collecting “likes” on their videos! It was really fun to add that final layer of creativity, collaboration, and communication using Flipgrid at the end of our lesson. Here’s what they had to say when asked what they learned during this lesson and how they may use it in the future:
“One digital skill I picked up from this activity was the skill of creating a pivot table. This skill will be helpful in the future because I can use it in future google sheets. This skill is important because it keeps my choices organized, and make the whole rating process less tedious than what it would be like without the pivot table.”
“Just about everything. Before, spreadsheets weren’t exciting.”
“How to make a sidebar. This might be useful if I want to include more information in a fun, different way.”
Jen Leban is a creative technology teacher and former visual arts teacher at Sandburg Middle School in Elmhurst, IL. She is a Google Certified Innovator and roller skating enthusiast. You can follow her on Twitter (@MrsLeban) or check out her blog at LebanTeachTech.com to see how she combines technology and creativity in the classroom!