Today’s Contributor: Yeyn Aguilar
My name is Yeyn Aguilar. I teach a First Grade Bilingual/mixed class at Barrington Elementary School. In my classroom, I am constantly trying to use technology with my students to expand their horizons. By definition, technology does two things: 1. It solves a need, and 2. It makes something much easier. Technology can be anything from a hammer, a chair, or a paperclip to a computer, virtual reality headset, or wireless headphones. I am a learner by nature and if there is a problem around me, I look for a way to solve it.
We live in a world where questions are the key to a better understanding of life overall. We encourage our students to ask questions and become critical thinkers. What if we could have a way of answering pretty much any questions they might have instantly? What if there was a way to make our students’ lives more interactive and their learning more spontaneous? What if all we had to do was ask for something and not have to wait that long to either get an answer or make amazing things happen? Well, Google Home was the answer I was looking for.
Pick students, define terms, as sounds, for competitions, to spell out words, to tell jokes, to tell stories, for timers, for alarms, as incentive to ask a questions, with built in games, for music.
The “Google Assistant” Experience
Introducing “Google Assistant”
As students come in, I ask them to take a seat and explain that they are about to meet the most intelligent assistant on earth. I let them know that this person knows pretty much everything and to prove it to them, I start taking down questions from students. After about 10 questions, I also ask them if they know how an ocean sounds, or what noises certain animals make. To make things more interesting, I compile a playlist of their favorite movies on the spot (I will use this to play their soundtrack later). After a few more seconds, I ask them to look around and see who can find this assistant I am talking about. Eventually they notice there is some new gadget next to my desk by a bookshelf. As soon as one asks me what that is, the hunt is over and it is time to come clean… I tell the class, “Let’s take a seat, our assistant has been found.” They look a bit confused but their eyes show eagerness to see what in the world I am talking about.
At that moment I explain what Google Assistant can do and tell them, “Our assistant is always listening, but the only way that it will answer any question is if we say the magic words.” I continue by explaining what these magic words are, and then the real fun begins.
On the overhead, I present the list of 10 questions that the students generated. By this time I have formatted the questions in a way that Google Home will understand. I say the magic words, “Ok Google,” and to their amazement, all 10 questions are answered. I then move on to the different animals we all chose together and I ask our assistant how a whale sounds, how a tiger sounds, how a mongoose sounds, and how a Tasmanian devil sounds. By this point students just cannot believe their eyes or their ears with the sounds they are hearing. Each student in my class has a number that has been assigned to them, and I ask the class if anyone would like to ask our assistant a question. Hands shoot up eagerly for me to choose them. I take advantage of this and let them know that our assistant will choose them. I say the magic words and ask our Google Assistant to pick a number between 1 and 20. After a cool little technologically-advanced sound is made, our assistant picks number 12. The student is feeling special that they were the first one to be picked by our assistant to ask a question. They let me know what the question is, and then I get them to ask in a way that our assistant will understand: “How long is a blue whale?” I let students know that if their behavior is at their best for the rest of the day, our Google Assistant will pick someone else to ask a question.
I close up this introduction by asking my students if they would like to hear a joke. They all say yes, and I proceed to ask our Google Assistant to provide us with a joke. After a few minutes of laughter and glee, I pass out a sheet of paper and ask my students to write about all the possibilities that came to mind when Google Assistant was introduced. This serves as a writing assignment, and at the same time it lets me know what these children might be thinking about their new assistant or how they plan on using it. I let them know that they have done an amazing job listening and participating and that as a treat I will let our Google Assistant play some background music for them. I show them all the list of the movies they have chosen numbering from 1 to 8; I ask a Google Assistant to pick a number between 1 and 8. When number four comes out – Moana – I ask Google to play the soundtrack to Moana, but not before asking Google to bring the volume down to four and then proceed to let the class know that if they’re too loud they will not be able to listen to the music. With this, the introduction to our new Google assistant in class concludes.
From a Teacher’s Perspective
Let us analyze what just happened. Our students have been introduced to a piece of technology that will allow them to ask questions and get instant answers. Because Google Assistant can answer questions that are worded only a certain way, students are forced to think before they speak to make sure their questions are specific and not very vague or general. This will help in the writing process, where being specific will help them attain a higher score. We have also eliminated any thoughts of favoritism when picking students. They trust that Google Assistant will pick a random number and that the teacher will not be the one to pick only the ones that know, or only the ones that do not know. From the feedback I got, this seemed to be pretty exciting to them. The different animal sounds they heard, along with how a river sounds, how a forest sounds, or how an ocean sounds, have transported students to a totally different dimension while sitting in their chairs. A world of possibilities has just been opened to them.
Ideas for using Google Assistant
Since the introduction of Google Assistant, many new ways of using it have become evident in my classroom. During math, competitions are held and Google Assistant is the one that provides the answer to questions such as “What is 15 + 35?” or “How many sides does an octagon have?” Groups rotate through our Google Assistant and play a math game that will sharpen their math skills. During reading and writing Google Assistant has been used to provide students with background music while they think. During our read-aloud our assistant has provided us with certain sound effects to bring the story to life. During reading groups, if students don’t know how to spell a word, all they have to do is ask Google how to spell it and their problem is solved; they are awarded only three words per day which keeps the traffic down. When students finish all their groups, they are then able to play a game where Google Assistant will guess the character they have in mind by asking them yes and no questions. This allows our students to think about their character traits and has really changed their writing. During science I ask each group a series of questions, and after a certain amount of points, the table with the most points gets to ask Google Assistant a science-related question. If we are learning about plants, students get to ask Google Assistant, “What is the smallest plant on earth?” or “…the rarest plant on earth?”, or “Can plants eat animals?” I have noticed that they look forward to being able to ask questions rather than receive prizes.
Extra uses (Technical Abilities)
Timers – Students used to get anxious with timers, but ever since they have been given the ability to go to our Google Assistant and ask for a 15-minute timer, come back 7 minutes later to ask how much time is left, and be greeted with a warm 8 minutes, and then hear a familiar alarm, the anxiety has left and their time management has increased.
Lights On – Adapters allow us to turn the lights on or off in our classroom.
Casting – if something needs to be played on the projector, all we need to do is ask Google Assistant to play it through a Chromecast.
A new way of life
It is very interesting to now see students coming into my classroom saying good morning to a Google Assistant and asking for news, how the weather is going to be, or just for a random joke. They have made it part of their lifestyle. Some students that are emotionally unstable have chosen to go ask Google Assistant questions, hear a joke, or play a game with Google Assistant for a few minutes to calm down (SEL). Other students that deal with anger issues have even opted to ask for some time in the peace corner and instead of sitting down and doodling or doing something else, they decide to go to our Google assistant and ask, “How can I calm down when I am angry?” or “What can I do when I’m sad?”
Google Home, or Google Assistant, has met many needs in my classroom. It did take a bit of training, and it was not that easy. It had to be put away 3 times because students kept talking to it during class or touching it when they were not supposed to. But it has now been seven months that Google Assistant has been part of their lives, and the other day when I took it home and forgot to bring it back I was met with a rowdy crowd that was longing for their “friend” and assistant to be returned to them. I hope this article has provided you with a few ideas of your own.