Like many people, I couldn’t resist the half price Black Friday sale on the Google Home Mini. I have a Google Home in my living room, and it’s not only a great speaker (I’m a Google Play Music subscriber), but also very convenient to have the Google Assistant available! I recently listened to a podcast by Vicki Davis about using Amazon Alexa in the classroom. It was great to hear that this is already starting to catch on! But what would it look like in my grade 4/5 class?
As of January 2018, Google Home isn’t compatible with G-Suite accounts. This means it needs to be linked to a regular gmail email address to work. I decided I didn’t want to have it linked to my personal email, so I created a new gmail account that I would use specifically for use with Google Home in the classroom. I have considered the possible issues with privacy involving these devices, and in my option, since it is not sharing any student personal data, identifying information or photos, it doesn’t seem to be violating any of the privacy acts that are used in my province. Using the Google Home app on my phone, it was easy to set it up using my school’s secure wifi network.
Introducing it to Students:
Each morning my class meets in a morning circle. We share how were feeling and I give a prompt for students to think/pair/share. I used this reduced-distraction meeting to talk about what students already know about these devices and artificial intelligence generally. Of course, a few have them at home, or at least use Siri or Google Assistant on an Android device. I revealed that I had one for use to try, and this led to a great conversation about how it could help us in the classroom! I shared my vision about how it could be used to answer simple fact-based questions that students have, and how this would free me up to have more time to give feedback and have conversations with students about their work. Some examples we came up with for our Google Assistant for included:
- How do you spell…
- What is a…
- What is the sum/product/difference/quotient of ____ and ______
But there must be more it can do than answer simple questions! Over the first day, students had more great suggestions for uses in class:
- A student could be in charge of being the DJ and choosing music to listen to at appropriate times.
- Set voice reminders so we weren’t late for gym, or so we don’t forget to write in our agendas (it happens more often than I’d like to admit).
- “Hey Google, let’s play Mystery Animal” is a great way to fill 5 minutes with a meaningful and fun task. Google is a bit snarky in the game. The students love it!
- Setting a timer for things like read aloud since it’s so easy to lose track of time.
- Getting the current temperature before going to recess.
Like any new tools, there are always things that don’t go well. I am confident that we will get past these challenges, but for now there are still lots of reminders. Here are some things that we’re still working on:
- You don’t have to yell: The microphone is great in the Google Home Mini. It can understand what you are saying well even with some background noise. Some students think they need to put their mouth right up to it, while others just shout from their seat (which is obviously quite distracting to others). We have moved the position of the Mini twice. Now it is on the center wall at the back of the room (near my desk, but not too close to other seats) and it is wall mounted using a 3D printed mount I found on Thingiverse. We model and practice properly speaking to it.
- It is distracting to others, so leave the volume as it is. So far keeping the volume at 4 while we are talking to it, and at 6 when listening to music seems to be the magic numbers. The first day a few students thought it was funny to tell it to turn the volume to 100%. Luckily, students are quick to let their classmates know when they are abusing it, and remind them of our guidelines–it means more coming from their peers than from me!
- Yes, it can tell jokes, but during an independent work period isn’t the time for it. In line waiting to be called to the gym? Perfect! After the room is tidy and we’re getting ready to go home:? Why not!
- My 2 and 6 year olds both do it at home, and the students do it in class–When someone says, “Hey Google…” It seems to be an invitation for others to interrupt and say something else to the device. It’s not even just one person, if someone starts to ask it for something, there is a good chance 2-3 people will start shouting something else at it, and then no one gets what they need from it. Like a playground full of kids and 1 swing, they’ll get used to taking turns.
I’m hopeful that Google and third party companies continue developing more classroom centered software for the Google Home. This has begun at g.co/voiceexperiments. There are 5 listed so far, including a Google Docs add-on called Story Speaker that lets you write a “choose your own adventure” type story in Docs and for others to experience on Google Home as it reads your story aloud. I haven’t tried it with students yet, but I can think of a few students that I know are going to take off with it during free writes. The Meme Buddy experiment could also be used in class. The Google Teacher Tribe Podcast recently had some ideas around students creating memes to demonstrate understanding and learning, this is just another way for students to get creative!
This HAS to be just the start. More apps and add-ons will be made that can be utilized for engaging learning activities. I can’t wait to see what comes next!