Sunday, December 09, 2012
This blog post is being typed from 10,000 feet somewhere over California as I fly back to Kansas City after an amazing couple of days at the 2012 Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View. My head is still spinning at my flight left a couple of hours late due to mechanical issues. I'm due to get home around 1 AM but I'm excited to be teaching tomorrow and I'm pretty sure that I will still be running on Google adrenaline.
The last two days at the Googleplex have been specially tailored to geeky teachers and all of the members of this Google Teacher Academy class soaked in every minute. Several teachers that I consider friends have attended past GTA's and they all told me the same thing - it will be some of the best professional development you have ever experienced and you will meet incredible people. I have to admit that after hearing that repeatedly that I was almost afraid that it would be almost impossible to live up to the lofty expectations. In the end as I left today it did not meet those expectations, it exceeded them.
I'm sure that in the coming months I will do some things differently in my classroom as a result of an idea or tool that I learned at GTA and it will impact how I teach in the future. Tonight while everything is still rattling around in my head I thought I would reflect on a couple of big picture takeaways for me in three areas - 1) Tools, 2) the Google culture, and 3) the GTA network.
1) Tools - I started to title this section "Google Tools" but that really wouldn't be accurate. We didn't spend all of our time discussing tools exclusive to Google. Instead we discussed the "best tools" to meet our needs as teachers in our classroom. True, in many cases we focused on Google apps and tools but we also discussed a ton of resources not connected to Google. We had app slams and discussions where we we are shared what has worked for us and our students. I have a list of notes that will take me several weeks to process and many new things to try out. In my application I stated that one of the reasons that I wanted to attend a GTA was to become more proficient using Google apps. I use quite a few Google apps on a regular basis but I wanted to learn some of the tips and tricks to kick it up a notch and I did, now I just have to remember them and use them on a regular basis. I recently purchased one of the new Acer Chromebooks and am currently learning how to live more truly in the cloud and there were some great discussions on apps and extensions. My toolbox definitely got heavier as a result of the GTA.
Next steps for “Tools” - I will take the time to check out all the apps, extensions and scripts. There is so much out there for me to learn and I plan to present a variety of workshops and PD sessions for my staff about how we can all become more efficient in using these tools.
2) Google Culture - This is probably the thing I was most curious about prior to attending. I have long been intrigued by Google and the history of the company. Several years ago I read The Google Story by David Vice and Mark Malseed and I am currently almost 80% done with In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy. Everyone has heard about the Google culture - the 20% time, the relaxed campus atmosphere, the amazing meals prepared on campus in the Google cafeterias, etc. I feel extremely lucky to have been chosen for a GTA that was hosted at the Googleplex so that we could experience a little of this culture. Again, I thought maybe some of this was more urban legend than actual practice but it was all true. The campus is colorful, playful, visually appealing, accommodating the staff and quite honestly might be one of the most amazing places to work on the planet. We saw people riding bikes to get from one building to another part of the campus. People bringing their dogs to work and walking them on the grounds at lunch. Office buildings with bowling alleys, rooms for massages, heated Japanese toilets in the restrooms, tech help stations and every possible feature to help people focus on their job and being creative. It would truly be a great environment in which to work.
There is one example of “Googleness” that I will always remember from the past couple of days. Shortly after receiving our Google Certified Teachers pins we were honored to have a Google executive drop by to say a few words. Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette visited with us for about a half an hour, describing his role at Google and answering our questions. He talked about thinking of doing the impossible and attempting only those things which can eventually be scaled to a billion people. The line that resonated with him was Pichette saying “you must have a healthy disrespect for the impossible”. His time with us was inspiring and served as a pep talk to go out and do great things.
Next steps for “Google Culture” - I want to find more ways to both inspire my students and eliminate barriers to their success. I can’t provide free unlimited food or corporate perks but I can make my room as inviting as possible and make sure they have all the tools they need to succeed. I would also really like to implement a type of “20 percent” program in my class to allow my students time to really explore their passions related to history.
3) GTA Network - One thing that really impressed me about the other 60 or so participants is the amount of interaction that took place before the GTA event. Literally within hours of receiving our invitations to GTA people were communicating via Twitter and creating Google docs to organize hotel reservations and transportation. We created circles on Google+ and had video hangouts with our team members and lead learners to get to know everyone. By the time we met in Mountain View we already "knew" each other and had laid the foundation for a network. Many of us stayed in the same hotel, freely shared rides in rental cars and continued our geeky conversations late into the evening over our beverage of choice. Call it what you like - friendship, community, etc. - but it is really a network of people that we can e-mail or tweet in the coming months when we get stuck and are looking for an answer. I think it also extends beyond just our class and we have all adding significantly to our personal learning network as a result of the previous two days. We are all required to come up with an action plan - I will try to blog specifically about my action plan at a later date - and we will stay in contact to help each other as we complete our plans. As a side note, hasn't the introduction of social media been a great gift to teachers? I used to go to a conference and have great conversations with someone but then have very little contact with them after the conference because we didn't live in the same area. Today we add people to our Twitter lists and keep in touch, extending the conversations.
Next steps for “Networking” - The great thing about social media is that the interaction among the teachers at the Google Teacher Academy will only continue. In fact, we are still sharing tools and asking questions of each other on Twitter. With tools like Google Hangouts we can get together and collaborate at any time. We are all writing and working on actions plans to carry out after the GTA and knowing we can bounce ideas and suggestions off each other will help.
That is about all that I can process tonight. I will try to post more specific tips and applications of what I learned in the coming weeks. Christmas break might be a great time to decompress and work with the tools. It was an amazing couple of days and I want to thank Google and all the coordinators and lead learners that made it possible. I appreciate all the behind the scenes things you have to do to facilitate a conference with 60 teachers. Everything was so smooth and they treated us with respect and professionalism. Right now I'm still up in the air somewhere over the Midwest but in about seven hours I will be back in my classroom and as a result of the past two days at the Google Teacher Academy I think I will be a better teacher.
Posted by Eric Langhorst at 8:51 PM