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Even More

27 Jun

Today I will be giving a very general overview of my time in Mountain View, CA at the Google Teacher Academy. Each Monday for the next several weeks (probably waiting to start until July 7), I will address a new application. I will be providing screencasts or links to tutorials on how to use each program, as well as giving ideas on how to integrate the technology into the classroom.

“Even More” pretty much sums up yesterday! Why Even More? Because just when you think you have seen or heard it all, there is always “Even More.” This happens to be a function to see all Google has to offer, but many of us picked it up as a theme for our teaching and professional development. When you cease to realize there is always “Even More” you cease to grow as a teacher and as a human being.

We started off at 8:30 with breakfast and right at 9:00 with a whirlwind of information. After some basic introductions we were asked to break out into groups and to discuss “What is the most innovative classroom technology?” Sounds easy enough, but we could NOT include any technology. Some great innovations, both large and small scale were mentioned. Everything from serving breakfast, to methodology, to classroom management was mentioned. Through it all though, a common theme began to emerge. Stepping out from the “norm” and truly affecting change for students. Putting students and their needs first, be it one child at a time, or broad changes.

We then headed into breakout sessions where we were introduced to advanced search, Google Docs, Google Earth, and Google Maps. We spent a very short 30 minutes reviewing each application, learning the basics about it and how it could be used in education.

Next was our Google Tour followed by lunch at the main Google campus. We are not allowed to give a lot of specifics of what we saw while on the tour. What impressed me most though, was the morale of the employees. Google demands plenty from its employees, yet gives them the freedom, trust, and affirmation to be truly innovative. How nice it would be to follow this model in our classroom. Give our students trust, skills, high expectations, and affirmation, and just see how far they can go. I would imagine that the students and teacher would be surprised at how much learning can be accomplished when that learning is authentic.

Lunch was amazing! We had our choice of everything from soups and salads, to sushi and made-to-order pasta. No one left hungry! We hopped back on our shuttle to another campus to finish our afternoon.

Vicki Davis was our keynote speaker. During her presentation she used a program called backchannel that allowed for a truly interactive presentation. Basically the participants were in a chat room and we were able to throw out questions, links, and comments relative to her presentation. For those who don’t multitask well, this was a nightmare, but I enjoyed the interaction. She made a few statements that really hit home for me.

1- Technology is a tool, much as pencil and paper are tools. We should introduce students to the technology, give them some basics, teach them digital citizenship, then let them learn and innovate.

2- Tools (in this case technology) are inherently morally neutral. The people using them make them what they are. It is up to us to teach students digital citizenship, not just take the tools away. We wouldn’t think of taking away pencils or scissors because someone COULD use them inappropriately. Instead kindergarten teachers spend months teaching how to properly hold the scissors and pencils, how to use them appropriately and safely. The internet and technology are no different. We should not take those tools away, we should however provide students with instruction on how to use them appropriately and safely.

3- The most destructive weapon: humans. No explanation needed.

Afternoon sessions introduced us to Blogger, Reader, iGoogle, Bookmarks, Notebook, Browser Extensions, and Google Apps and Sites.

Esther Wojcicki spoke to us about using Google Docs in her high school journalism class. The quality of collaboration and production was amazing. Her students exclusively use Google Docs until they are ready to turn in assignments for production. This allows students to edit their own work, work at a time convenient for them, even if that is at midnight. They could work together on projects, edit each other’s work, and provide comments and feedback. The quality of work produced was unreal.

We ended the day formulating our action plans. We paired up with each other and discussed how we would take what we have learned and share it with other teachers in a way that will impact them.

Our celebration dinner capped the night. We had another wonderful meal followed by a short ceremony in which we became Official Google Certified Teachers! What a day it was! I am still processing everything and will likely continue to do so for a couple of days. It was truly an amazing day!

Upon reflecting about the day, I truly feel that what moved me most was the spirit of those attending. People came from all over the US and from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, not so much to learn new technology skills, but to collaborate and learn from each other. When I first read the credentials of some of the attendees, I was intimidated. I felt like I would have little to contribute. Here were district level tech specialists, state curriculum people, authors, national PD trainers, and entrepreneurs, how could I ever compete? Surely they would wonder how I ended up at Google. The impressive thing was that EVERYONE there knew that they had something to learn from each person they met. Egos did not cloud the collaborative nature of the group. Resources, links, ideas, were freely shared with everyone. The networking was inspiring. The power of this group lies not in what we learned within the walls of Google, but what we learned from each other, and what we will continue to learn from each other. Out of 50 participants, 22 had found each other in the 4 weeks prior to coming to California through use of 2 wikis, countless tweets on twitter, and posts on blogs. We recognized each other as friends and colleagues before ever stepping onto the Google campus. The power of that is indescribable to those who were not there.

This was truly a life changing experience. If I take nothing else from the experience, it would be that to truly affect change in education we need to focus on the students and their needs, learning styles, and futures. The right changes will not come as part of a law, test, curriculum, or through a computer. They will come from teachers dedicated to doing what is right for kids, being innovative in their approach to teaching, and being willing to freely collaborate and share with each other.

Thank you to Google and my fellow Google Certified Teachers for an experience that I will never forget!

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