Google Teacher Academy United Kingdom: A whirlwind of inspiration, dreams…and yes, technology

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader

                                                                                                                                                  –John Quincy Adams

And with this quote, the whirlwind day and a half at Google Teacher Academy in London began.

I’ve been home from the Google Teacher Academy for four days….and my head is still swimming with everything I learned and with the powerful thinking and philosophy that is challenging my personal status quo. As someone who is accustomed to being relatively savvy when it comes to technology (educational and otherwise), it was a new and refreshing experience for me to be near the bottom of the pack in terms of my familiarity with the full potential of Google tools. As I have told many people who asked me about the experience, GTAUK (as it is affectionately known due to its location in London, England) took me so far out of my normal comfort zone that I felt like a newly-credentialed teacher attending my first professional conference. Yes, I learned that much…and yes, it was that amazing, that energizing, and that overwhelming!

To give you some perspective on just how much there is to learn, internalize and implement at a Google Teacher Academy, consider the fact that I returned home and two days later, signed up for the Google Apps for Education Summit in California this July. And I know full well that many of the topics we explored in London will be repeated there. That’s why I’m attending. I think hearing about them again will work much like recycling material in our K-12 classes: the learner (me) will be better able to apply the material the second time around.

Don’t get me wrong; I definitely intend to implement some of the tools and features, and especially the philosophy (summed up as “Dream Out Loud” and “write our own chapters in the use of Google apps”) this school year, but I suspect I need another go-around with the information before I’m personally able to implement the tools at the deep level of rigor and resourcefulness exhibited by our facilitators and “Lead Learners”.

Here are just some of amazing things I learned that I hope will begin transforming the times, places and spaces in which my students learn.

  • Use Google 80/20 time in the classroom!!! What is 80/20? It is the Google philosophy (and put into practice at all Google work sites) that gives employees 20% of their work time to freely play and experiment and create. Google firmly believes that some of their most innovative advances developed out of what was originally one or two (or more) people “playing.” So they pay their employees to play 20% of their scheduled work time. How does this work in the classroom? Some teachers at GTAUK were already doing it, but most of us haven’t implemented it yet. As a French teacher, I would have to have the caveat that the 20% be in French and connected in some way to francophone cultures around the world. Beyond that, I want my students to play, explore and experiment with topics and language of interest to them! If I implement this, I would do it once a week, rather than daily and I would have them journal about the experience each day:  What question/topic did they explore? What did they learn? What did they enjoy? What was challenging? Will they continue with the same topic next week? Why? What new questions or ideas do they have now because of the exploration they did today? I also would like to see this culminate in a showcase of some kind. Perhaps a “Google Night” where the students can share what they learned, created, explored, etc. and they could use any format, media or tools they wish to share their findings and creations (or to show the “flow” of their explorations over a period of weeks). Initially, I see this working best with my advanced class, so that’s where I plan to begin implementing it. Then I will work backwards from there, refining the use of “Google time” in my classroom to best unleash the intrinsic learning motivations of each of my students at all levels.
  • Google Earth Outreach (projects using google maps to collect data, address real-world problems and propose solutions)  http://earth.google.com/outreach
  • In Google (search), one can create custom searches where the results are already filtered. Consider embedding the search on your class Web site, give QR code or shortened URL (using goo.gl or Bit.ly). It’s a great way to provide students with pre-screened, relevant  sites for them to examine.
  • What do you Love search: get results from your search query across multiple Google products: Web sites, maps, blogs, videos, all organized in an attractive page for you to explore.
  • In Google Calendar: You can text in an event from my cell phone if you add your cell number to your Google Calendar. Then, to add a new event just type in the following order: event name AT time With person IN/AT location and it will automatically fill in all the fields and populate your calendar. If you already have a calendar in Gmail, to to Calendar Settings, then Mobile Setup, and give it the cell phone number. When you’re ready to add to your calendar from your phone, text the new event to 48368 for it to go to the calendar.
  • Consider creating a specific calendar for homework for your students. If you share the calendar with them, it will automatically update for them (and they can even receive “push notifications” if they choose).
  • Appointment slots are now available in Google calendar. Must be in day or week mode, not month. When clicking on a time, you now see option to make an appointment slot calendar with 5, 10, 15, 20, 30-minute intervals.
  • Need students to go to a Web site from their smart phones, tablets, or even a computer? Some sites have long, nasty URLs. Shorten them at goo.gl (or at Bit.ly or OW.ly). But if you do it with goo.gl, you can go into “details” and there will already be a QR code created of the same site for you.
  • Google sites (a Web platform) allows you to not only design clean sites for use by you or your students, but to embed script objects, including a “submit assignment” script that will automatically put their assignment into a collection in your Google Docs account….OK, this is a little more advanced. But I figured it out and created a simple page in Google sites specifically to play with what I learned at GTAUK, and I successfully edited and added the script and then tried submitting my notes from GTAUK, and presto! The notes appeared in the collection I had created for student work in my Google Docs.
  • Google Moderator…functions like a back channel, giving your students (or participants in a group or teacher training) the ability to comment on the content, ask questions and share online resources. Click on “create series” to start your own backchannel. Here’s a sample series we did during the Google Teacher Academy using Google Moderator at GTAUK to describe ideas for how to use Google Moderator in the classroom. Note how participants can vote and comment on suggestions, giving it more functionality as a back channel than other options, such as TodaysMeet.
  • Why does a presentation have to involve only one media (such as PPT (or Google Presentation): why not flow from material in a Google Doc to data on the same topic in Spreadsheet (maybe with a motion chart…AWESOME: click on the “play” icon under the graph to see the data flow over time from Jan. 1, 1988 to July 1, 1989) to video content you’ve curated on YouTube to Presentation to Forms, etc. If the different media are tightly connected in content, and well organized to blend seemlessly from one to another, this can transform the way students (and others) present their knowledge.

This list is just what impressed me within the first two hours of Google Teacher Academy! Needless to say, I have a lot of work to do and a lot of ground to cover in order to realize my dream of seamlessly and purposefully embedding Google (and other) tools into my practice in order to revolutionize the learning experience for students. Speaking of which, I mentioned we were told to “Dream out loud”, so I might as well share my “dream” use of Google tools here. All participants in a Google Teacher Academy have to develop an action plan of how they will implement Google tools to make a difference in the students they reach (directly and indirectly). So….let me share a bit of my action plan here so you can “hear” my dream:

Even before Google Teacher Academy, I had read about the Google Science Fair and I was intrigued. Here is an event that will feature students from around the world sharing their scientific knowledge with a panel of experts. In this case, the students apply online and the finalists are invited to participate in an in-person event, the Science Fair itself. But the concept got me thinking: how can I create a “World Languages Student Expo” in which students from around the world apply to present in the languages they are studying and their audience would be other students studying the same language as well as native speakers? How can we do this virtually, using Google Tools as well as others to provide virtual spaces in which the students can present and interact with their audiences?  I see this as running a bit like the Global Education Collaborative Virtual Conference and the Social Learning Summit, both of which are global, entirely online and free. Initially, I’ll try it with just French, but I hope to figure out how to design a bigger event involving numerous world languages. Our students deserve the chance to show the world what they can do with their new languages, and the World Languages Student Expo could prove to be just the venue.

A similar project I intend to pursue is the “Through Their Eyes” project, which I am already doing with a village in Burkina Faso. Since our partner village in Burkina Faso has no electricity and no Internet, my students and I do all correspondence through traditional postal mail, including sending disposable cameras to the village so the inhabitants can take pictures of life “Through Their Eyes” for us. But with Google tools, we can now connect students with peers around the world to create online presentations of life “Through Their Eyes”. They would begin by constructing a tour in Google maps showing their hometown or through their eyes, with photos and text embedded in the map as they lead the viewer on a tour of their hometown. These maps could be narrated and automated so that they run as a video using a tool such as Animaps. Subsequent “chapters” of the “Through Their Eyes” project might include photos, text, and voice describing themes such as “family life”, “holidays,” and “daily life”. The point is to blend photos with text and audio and other information, such as maps, to give the partner school and their students a window into the lives of peers from another culture. Of course, in a language class, this has the double benefit of providing substantial, relevant language practice.

So there you have it…my first comprehensible (I hope) thoughts among the many more that are still swirling about in my brain after Google Teacher Academy.