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(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog.)

At the Bronx Latin School in New York City, teacher Katrina Roman says the topic of ancient history doesn’t usually set students abuzz. But this week, they took a field trip to ancient Aztec ruins using Google Expeditions, a virtual reality teaching tool built with Google Cardboard. Normally, their assignment would involve poring over photocopied photographs, but instead, they stood at the top of Chichen Itza, then examined detailed carvings at Tenochtitlan. Amid “oohs” and “aahhs,” the students shouted out details they noticed and shot hands up to answer Ms. Roman’s questions.
Katrina Roman's class at the Bronx Latin School fills out their assignment after visiting Aztec ruins with Expeditions. The class is part of a history and geography pilot with New Visions for Public Schools.



Starting today, we’re bringing this experience to thousands of schools around the world with the new Expeditions Pioneer Program. During the 2015/2016 school year, we’ll be bringing “kits” containing everything a teacher needs to run a virtual trip for their class: ASUS smartphones, a tablet for the teacher to direct the tour, a router that allows Expeditions to run without an Internet connection, and Google Cardboard viewers or Mattel View-Masters that turn phones into virtual reality headsets. Although nothing replaces hopping on the bus for a field trip, there are some places that are just out of reach (hello, Chichen Itza!). Virtual reality gives teachers a tool to take students places a school bus can't.

To help teachers learn how to use Expeditions, we’ll be visiting thousands of schools around the world and bringing the kit for teachers to use in their classes for the day. Up first: Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S., followed by more locations as the school year progresses. At each school, our team will show teachers how Expeditions works and help set it up before class.

Right now, teachers can choose from a library of 100+ virtual trips to places like Mars, the Great Barrier Reef and the Great Wall of China. But we’re constantly adding more trips with the help of partners like PBS, educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, British documentarian David Attenborough and his production company Alchemy VR, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. We’re also working with The Starfish Foundation to help students explore future careers by showing them a virtual day in the life of professionals including a veterinarian and computer scientist. And to help students achieve those career goals, we’re working with First Lady Michelle Obama to support her Reach Higher initiative by taking students on virtual college tours.


















And if you see one of these cars on the road, that's us! The folks at Subaru, who invest in education as part of their Love Promise initiative, have created a fleet of Expedition Pioneer Program rides that we'll be using to bring kits to schools.

If visiting Mars, trekking on the Great Wall of China or exploring what it’s like to work at a veterinarian’s office sounds like something your class would be interested in, head to the Expeditions Pioneer Program site and sign up.

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Mariette DiChristina, Editor in Chief of Scientific American and Chief Judge of the Google Science Fair

(Cross-posted on the Official Google blog)

Editor's note: Mariette DiChristina is the Editor in Chief and senior vice president of Scientific American—the first woman to hold the role in the magazine's 170-year history. She has been a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 2011 and served as president of the National Association of Science Writers in 2009 and 2010. She joins us here today to share her perspective on the Google Science Fair, which is in its fifth edition this year.

 This marks my fifth year with the Google Science Fair. In October 2010, when I had my first conversations with my friends at Google about their idea to create a global online science fair that any kid 13–18 could participate in, I thought it sounded pretty cool. But I couldn’t then imagine just how inspiring and powerful such a competition would turn out to be in reality.

At the time, I hadn’t even been editor in chief of Scientific American for a year, but I had real ambitions to try to do something to make a difference in educating our young people about science. You see, I believe that science is the engine of human prosperity—it’s the way we grapple with some of the world’s most challenging problems, from cures for diseases to living sustainably in a finite world. So I’ve always seen the idea of fostering evidence-based thinking in our next generation of global citizens as vital.

Now, five years later and working with partners LEGO Education, National Geographic and Virgin Galactic, the Google Science Fair has an impressive track record of enabling our world’s young scientists to shine. Over the years, they’ve tackled serious issues, like world hunger and the energy crisis. Their projects have worked on how to diagnose and treat diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. They’ve engineered flashlights powered by their hands and plastics made of banana peels. And to date, the fair has provided almost $1 million in scholarships, and sent four grand prize winners on trips around the world to further their scientific passions.

Tonight we added some new winners to that list as we recognized and celebrated the 2015 top 20 finalist projects and the bright young scientists behind them:
  • The Grand Prize went to Olivia Hallisey for creating a novel way to detect Ebola.
  • Girish Kumar won the Google Technologist Award for helping improve learning through auto-generated study questions.
  • The National Geographic Explorer Award went to Deepika Kurup for her idea to use solar-powered silver to create clean drinking water.
  • Krtin Nithiyanadam’s project focused on improved diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease and won him the Scientific American Innovator Award.
  • Pranav Sivakumar's automated search for gravitationally lensed quasars earned him the Virgin Galactic Pioneer Award.
  • Anurudh Ganesan took home The LEGO Education Builder Award for his unique twist on effectively transporting vaccines.
  • The Community Impact Award went to Lalita Prasida Sripsada Srisai for her corn cob water filtration system
  • Eliott Sarrey took home the Incubator Award for creating a smartphone-activated gardening robot 
If you didn’t get to tune in, you can still watch the Awards Show live stream and check out the complete list of impressive finalists and winners, including our first ever Inspiring Educator, Aydan Meydan from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In all of these finalists and the thousands of submissions from students in 100+ countries, we see something common. These students are inventive, thoughtful, and determined to help make the world a better place. All they need is a chance and a platform to do so. And, unlike some of us adults, they are ready to try things that other people think are “impossible.” I find them inspiring.

It’s imperative for us to support and encourage our young people to explore and challenge the world around them through scientific discovery. So we’re especially glad that Ahmed Mohamed—the 14-year-old clock maker from Texas—took us up on our invite to attend this year’s event. Curious young scientists, inventors and builders like him should be encouraged and empowered.
The past decades have brought tremendous innovations and challenges, and none of us knows what the future of scientific discovery holds. But I can tell you one thing: it’s going to be better thanks to these kids. They will be part of building a brighter future for us all—and as they do, those of us at Scientific American, Google, LEGO Education, National Geographic and Virgin Galactic will be cheering them on.

So start thinking of your ideas for next year! We can’t wait to see what you’ll try next. 

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Editor's note: Today’s post comes from Guy Shearer, Head of IT at the David Ross Education Trust (DRET), a UK-registered charity that supports primary and secondary school students in achieving a high standard of academics.

How do you scale IT with limited resources when your organisation triples in size? We faced this challenge at David Ross Education Trust (DRET), where we manage a network of primary and secondary academies across the Midlands and East of England. We grew from seven schools in 2012 to 30 schools in 2014, and had to find a way to bring our 9,000 students more access to technology.

While we had a great many computer labs with desktops, we didn’t see this as a sustainable solution. Much of our time was dedicated to managing systems and installing software updates, fixing computers or teaching people how to use them. We wanted to make technology easier to manage for IT and a more natural part of classroom life rather than isolated in computer labs.

After hearing about Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks, we set up pilot programmes at interested schools and saw students pick up the technology almost immediately. Some brave students even start leading training sessions for their teachers. So far, we’ve deployed 3,000 Apps accounts and 500 Chromebooks at 13 schools, and plan to double this by the end of the year.

The cost savings have helped us expand access to digital learning across our schools. We can buy and manage twice as many Chromebooks as we can desktops or iPads. The £11,000 ($18,137) we used to spend for a single computer lab has been cut in half. Chromebooks are also lightweight, quick to boot up and easy to use, so we’ve been able to bring the devices into classrooms and repurpose the space our old computer labs once occupied.
Students hard at work 
The simplicity of managing Google Apps and Chromebooks allows our IT team to focus on new programs rather than setting up and troubleshooting technology. With the Web-based management console, we can remotely manage every Google Apps account and get detailed reports on how they’re being used. We never have to worry about installing software updates either, they just happen automatically.

With less lost time, we are able to focus on things that add value and improve the impact of our investment. For example, we were able to set up a programme called Digital Leaders that empowers students to train their peers and teachers in Google Apps for Education. The students come up with new ways to use technology that inspire us as educators. In the classroom, Apps and Chromebooks help students learn how to work in groups effectively, create blogs, present their work via Hangouts, and provide feedback through comments in Docs. Google Apps and Chromebooks have helped create a sense of community at DRET while quickly scaling an engaging platform that students and teachers love.

If you’d like to find out more, check out our full case study.

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Editor's note: We're celebrating this year's impressive 20 Google Science Fair finalist projects over 20 days in our Spotlight on a Young Scientist series. Learn more about each of these inspiring young people and hear what inspires them in their own words.



Name: Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai

Home: Odisha, India

Age Category: 13-15

Project title: Absorbing water pollutants with corn cobs






Lalita was inspired to find a use for corn cobs, unused agricultural waste, during a conversation with a tribal farmer in a nearby village. Considering the prominence of water pollution in her country, she decided to use the cobs to improve water quality and ultimately provide access to healthier drinking water. She tested several different methods and found that corn cobs can absorb chemicals, detergents and other pollutants directly from the water. Lalita’s project goal is to provide more clean water for nearby villages. 


What was the inspiration behind your project? 

When I was in nursery school, I dressed up as a corn cob and won the prize for the Fancy Dress Competition. Since then, corn has been one of my favourite vegetables. I love roasted, grilled or steamed corn ears, and roasted corn on the cobs is a popular street food in India. Interestingly, all the parts of the corn plant except the actual cobs are useful. I’ve wondered for a long time how to make use of corn cobs. One day I made a hole at the centre of a cob using a screwdriver. Then I poured some dirty water inside the hole and collected the extract from the other end. Surprisingly, the collected extract was devoid of all the suspended particles. This inspired me to search, examine and experiment whether we could clean wastewater by using corn cobs. This could reduce waste by using another form of waste. Luckily, I was supported by my mentor to plan the project in detail and encouraged to participate in this year's Google Science Fair.
Lalita's interest in corn started from an early age
When and why did you become interested in science? 

I am the privileged eldest daughter of my father, who’s a science teacher. Very often he used to take me to the chemistry lab so that I could perform experiments with his students. My frequent visits to the lab packed with variously coloured chemicals attracted my attention since childhood. In my home, I learned how to get around the kitchen from my mother. To me, mixing, soaking, roasting, grinding and baking different ingredients of right proportion to get maximum taste, flavour, energy and above all satisfaction is based more on science than art. Both of my parents ignited my interest in science from a young age.

What words of advice would you share with other young scientists? 

Always observe your surroundings keenly. You never know what scientific breakthrough you may stumble upon.

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School’s in! As you settle into your classes and start to juggle soccer practice, club meetings and homework, we’re here to help. We’ve been spending the summer “break” creating new tools to help you save time, collaborate with classmates and create your best work—all for free.

Schoolwork, minus the work 
Writing papers is now a lot easier with the Research tool in Docs for Android. You can search Google without leaving Docs, and once you find the quotes, facts or images you’re looking for, you can add them to your document with just a couple taps. That means less time switching between apps, and more time perfecting your thesis statement.
 
With Voice typing, you can record ideas or even compose an entire essay without touching your keyboard. To get started, activate Voice typing in the Tools menu when you're using Docs in Chrome. Then, when you’re on the go, just tap the microphone button on your phone’s keyboard and speak your mind. Voice typing is available in more than 40 languages, so we can help with your French homework, too. Voilà!
Do more, together
We’ve made it easier for you to tell what was added or deleted in Docs—and who made the changes. Now when you’ve left a document and you come back to it later, you can just click “See new changes” to pick up right where your classmates left off.
Forms helps you get a lot of information easily and in one place—so when you want to vote on your class field trip or collect T-shirt sizes for your team, you don’t have to sort through dozens of emails. With the new Forms, you can survey with style—choose one of the colorful new themes or customize your form with your own photo or logo, and we’ll choose the right color palette to match. Easily insert images, GIFs or videos and pick from a selection of question formats. Then send out your survey and watch as the responses roll in!
Your best work, your best you 
Creating presentations, crafting newsletters and managing your team’s budget is hard enough without having to worry about making everything look good. With the new collection of templates in Docs, Sheets and Slides, you can focus on your content while we make sure it gets the expert polish it deserves. Choose from a wide variety of reports, portfolios, resumes and other pre-made templates designed to make your work that much better, and your life that much easier.
With Explore in Sheets, you can now spend less time trying to decipher your data, and more time making a point. Explore creates charts and insights automatically, so you can visualize trends and understand your data in seconds on the web or on your Android. It’s like having an expert analyst right by your side.
 

Mission control, for teachers and students
A year ago, we launched Classroom to save teachers and students time and make it easier to keep classwork organized. Today we’re launching a Share to Classroom Chrome extension to make it easy for teachers to share a website with the entire class at the same time—no matter what kind of laptop students have. Now the whole class can head to a web page together, without losing precious minutes and focus to typos.
 
Rock this school year with Google Docs and Classroom. Your first assignment? Try these new features, which are rolling out today.

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Editor's note:Today we’re launching a new Chrome extension, Share to Classroom, which solves a big pain point for teachers: getting all students to the same website during class. The Share to Classroom extension works on any laptop, including Chromebooks, Macs and PCs. Catherine Davis, former 4th grade teacher and Director of Academic Technology at Pilgrim School, piloted the Classroom extension with Mrs. Shorkey’s 3rd grade class, and here she describes her experience using this new extension and the impact on her students.


Sharing a website with my students is a great way to get them engaged. When we studied South America, I shared a video of Tierra del Fuego, and my students were able to view the coast, hear the wind and see the waves soar. But getting a class full of 4th graders on the same web page is a huge challenge. I typically write the URL on the board, then walk around to help each student who misses a capital or underscore or backslash. My students get frustrated, I get frustrated, and before I know it 10 minutes of precious teaching time is lost.

So I was thrilled to pilot the Share to Classroom extension. With the extension I can open a website and “push” it to my Google Classroom students, so the page opens immediately on all their devices. Our 3rd graders gasped when we tried it – the webpage instantaneously popped up on all of their screens.
The new extension lets me engage my students and help them drive their own learning on 1:1 devices at our school. When our 3rd graders were studying Native American culture, I pushed a website to the class so they could research traditional clothing and food. The students aren’t locked to the page I send, and one student navigated from there to an even better site. With the Classroom extension, the student was able to push the new site to me, and I reviewed and pushed to the entire class. She had a boost of confidence when her discovery drove class discussion.
Using the extension also lets me think on my feet. When discussing pioneers, a brave student raised his hand and asked “What’s a stage coach?” I realized my students hadn’t been exposed to the term. I immediately pulled up a definition and video and pushed it to the class. I also saved the webpage as a draft to post to my other Classroom students later. I could have projected on a screen, but the intimacy of having the webpage on each device allows students to explore on their own, hear clearly and watch repeatedly. It also levels the playing field for ELL and students of different backgrounds so everyone starts literally on the same page.

As teachers, we never feel we have enough time to do everything we want with our students. The new Share to Classroom extension gives us back those few minutes it takes to get students to the same place and makes learning about investigating, not about navigating.

*Note: Google Apps admins can install the extension for their entire domain so that it’s easiest for teachers and students to get started. Teachers and students both need the extension in order to push web pages to each other.

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Editor's note: We're celebrating this year's impressive 20 Google Science Fair finalist projects over 20 days in our Spotlight on a Young Scientist series. Learn more about each of these inspiring young people and hear what inspires them in their own words.



Name: Anika Cheerla

Home:  California, USA

Age Category: 13-15

Project title: Automated and accurate early-diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease



While volunteering in a senior care facility, Anika was shocked to learn how many older adults suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Her curiosity led her to learn more about diagnosis of this disease, and she found that without a standard test or method for diagnosis, most doctors rely on their own opinions. She decided to create a tool that quickly and accurately diagnosed Alzheimer's and knew her brother, who loved science and coding, would be able to help her. By extracting image features from MRI scans, Anika built an interface for doctors to upload an image, enter some basic patient information and get a reliable Alzheimer's diagnosis. 

What was the inspiration behind your project? 

5.3 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s. The disease has killed my great-aunt, hurting my entire family. At the senior home I volunteered at, I met the victims of this illness. With Alzheimer’s everywhere around me, I wanted to make a difference and ease the lives of patients and their loved ones. I found that the majority of patients with Alzheimer’s are not aware of their disease, and therefore don’t get the proper care or treatment. This inspired me to build a tool that gives patients an early and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

I was also inspired by research carried out by other researchers as part of the SDSS Quasar Lens Search (SQLS). Using an earlier version of the data set I utilized in this project, the SQLS researchers significantly increased the number of known lensed quasars. The success of the SQLS approach inspired me to develop my own method for identifying lensed quasars.

When and why did you become interested in science? 

My brother and I were eating dinner when he asked me the question that would change my life: how does gravity work? I didn’t know the answer, so he made me run around the galaxy (our house) and find space-time (a sheet), a planet (a big ball) and two meteors (small marbles). He stretched out the sheet and balanced the two marbles on the ends of it. Then he made me put the big ball at the center of the sheet. The big ball pushed down on the sheet, and as the smaller marbles rolled down the sheet towards the big ball, I felt omniscient.

I took the materials to school the next day, and explained how gravity works to most of 4th grade. I learned two things from this: One, teaching other people, in a simple way, how complicated matters work makes me look really smart. And two, people actually feel the same wonder and amazement I feel when I learn something new.

This might have been the experience that led me to teach later on in life. This might have been the experience that led me to keep a jar of marbles on my desk. But this was, for certain, the experience that made me question anything and everything in the universe. It was as if the big ball formed an indentation in my head, making the marbles and the tissue (the neurons and the blood) stop in their tracks and start rolling down towards the answers.

What words of advice would you share with other young scientists? 

We now live in an age where the learning process takes minutes. We get easy access to research papers, free courses and a myriad of other resources. When I started this project, I had only a basic understanding of programming and no idea what neural networks were, but from learning from the hard work of other researchers and teachers, I was able to build my tool. What I took from this project, and what people should always remember is that you can stand on the shoulders of giants when you want to touch the stars.