Google Apps for Teaching Culture

Photo by  Thomas Young

Photo by Thomas Young


Teaching history, geography, and other social sciences can be an extremely rewarding.  What better way to get students to understand and appreciate the diversity that exists within the classroom and in the world?  

Yet, how is it possible to learn about and appreciate all points of view? Putting your students at the center of learning is how to get them most engaged and there are several Google for Education tools that make that easier than ever.

Google Cultural Institute

The Google Cultural Institute has paired up with museums and galleries around the world to digitize art collections.  The site offers images of painting, photography, sculptures, and any other classification of visual art.

The art is organized by "Art Projects," "Historic Moments," and "World Wonders."  There are also virtual field trips that you and your students can take where photos of the art are already grouped and elaborated with a description.

If you don't find what you are looking for, put key terms in the "search box," and see what comes up.  There are also several apps that pair with Google Cultural Institute, which are available on Android devices. And if you can get a set of Cardboard viewers for your class, then you can have your students traveling to far away destinations right from your classroom.

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard viewers make virtual reality a possibility for a very affordable price.  The most basic viewer is available for around $15. You (or your students) will have to assemble the viewer in a few simple steps, and cell phones are necessary to use apps to view the 3D material.  

The basic app is called "Cardboard" and is available for OS and Android devices. With cardboard, it is possible to travel to major cities around the world, explore cultural institution, and participate as a character in a video game. Google's Cultural Institute is also in the process of making their collections available for virtual reality with Google Cardboard.  This video demonstrates this ongoing project and shows what the basic version of a cardboard viewer looks like before assembly.  

If you like this project, you can sign your school up to be a Pioneer site for Google Expedition.  If your school is selected, Google will set your school up with cardboard viewers and an Expedition control station that will allow you as the teacher to lead the class as a whole on a field trip in another place any where in the world.

Google Maps

Let's say you want to have your students teach each other about the world, but you are short on resources.  Google Maps offers a "My Maps" option, which you can get to my clicking on the hotdogs on the left side of the search box.  By creating their own maps, students can plot out a trip with sites the want to see, or map out historic places that have been studied.  Students can do this individually or collaborate with someone else similar to collaboration with other Google Docs.

Another very cool option for teaching culture with Google Maps is Google Maps Treks.  This is another way to lead a group on a virtual field trip and really bring alive a cultural lesson. Google has put together dozens of expeditions, and makes it possible for anyone to add to the collection.  As Google explains, this started with street view, and now includes journeys "with trikes, trolleys, snowmobiles, underwater cameras, and even a camel."

Google Educator Groups

"This is all great," you say, but what about talking to real people around the world.  Yes, that is great too. And Google makes that possible too! I like to refer language and culture teachers to the Google Educator Groups found throughout the world.  

If you want to connect with a group of students from somewhere else, I suggest going to the map and zooming in on that part of the world.  If there is a Google Educator Group formed in that geographic location, post a message in the group introducing yourself and say that you'd like to have your students meet virtually.  

In many cases the educators from around the world active in the group will be very willing to have a conversation with you and possibly your students if the technology allows. Google Educator Groups are a great place to chat with colleagues with similar interests from around the world, and is a great way to grow your own Personal Learning Network.

Google Hangouts

What is the technology that will allow your students to chat with other around the world?  Google's voiceover IP is called Google Hangouts.  If you have the necessary bandwidth, a web cam, and mic, you can set up a conference call with your class and a class somewhere else in the world.  

If your class is too big to all talk into one webcam, you can set your students up into small groups. Google generally allows 10 different callers into one chat, but if your institution has Google Apps for Education, you can have up to 15 participants.  

Who should you speak to? I think that students talking to students around the world is pretty exciting for all involved.

You can also get students chatting with experts. To set up either a conversation with a group of students or with an expert, its a good idea to do some preparation first.  You have have students brainstorm a list of questions they want to ask, then send it to your guests ahead of time. This can help the conversation go more smoothly.

Google Apps + Culture = Awesomeness

Gone are the days when history and social science student must be buried in the books and documentary films.  Google offers so many possibilities to bring a culture classroom alive and make the world so much smaller. With the resources that Google supplies, teacher-led or student-led lesson are available, and can be adapted for just about any classroom.  With the five apps discussed in this post, so much is possible.

ed tech, cultureBryn Hafemeister2, GAFE, a