The Google Teacher Academy.
I’m sure I’m not the only person to compare receiving the acceptance email to two days in a Googleplex with 50 other passionate educators to finding a golden ticket in your inbox.
After all, the competition for spots for the 50 spots open in the bi-annual programme is pretty fierce. I know there are many fabulous teachers who missed out on coveted spots and there participants in Sydney who travelled great distances for the event. Moreover besides being an Internet juggernaut, what glimpses I’d had of Google offices looked more like the fantasy of Willy Wonka’s chocolate room than a sterile working environment.
While I didn’t spot any Oompa Loompas during the two days I spent in Google’s Sydney office, I certainly spent time with my mouth open in awe of my surroundings like Charlie however I’d be lying if said there wasn’t some Augustus Gloop gluttony going on during the many meal breaks.
The pace of the two-day programme was nothing short of frantic and subject to rapid change. After we were placed in teams by the sorting hat it was straight down to work. I remember thinking early on in the event it must be close to lunch given the amount of content covered only to find that we had barely made it to morning tea. Unlike many teacher sessions, there was very little sit and listen. Instead most group sessions focused on fast-paced creative challenges which showcased how to use google tools to enhance student learning.
What surprised me event was how much I don’t know about the services google offers. I’ve been using google since 1999 and considered myself a pretty knowledge about the suite of products available. But even I was amazed at the variety of online tools in google’s toolbox: newspaper archive, Google Moderator, Google crisis map, the world wonders project to name just a few.
What I really found fascinating was a deeply unsexy topic, scripts. For me it’s exhilarating watching a google script do its thing. No more do I need to beholden to clunky learning management systems that don’t do what I want them to do. Scripts give me the freedom to manage my online learning environment a lot more effectively. What’s more it is easy for me to collaborate with other teachers as I can share my decisions and students work a lot more easily with my colleagues.
Google indulged any serious internet geek’s request for a tour of the facility. Unfortunately I can’t go into great depths about all the things I saw. However as I walked around the alcoves and colourful breakout spaces, I couldn’t help but feel that our schools need an infusion of some of google’s company principles.
Shouldn’t there be places in schools for kids to eat high-quality food whenever they are hungry?
Why do playgrounds only ever seem to exist outside school buildings?
Why are so many online student learning spaces closed off from the world?
Yes I know finite cash resources, breakages and administration are all cold hard realities to these ideas. That’s impossible and/or irresponsible you say. However in order to make something a reality, you must dream it first.
The true value of the Google Teacher Academy isn’t actually about the technology or the glorious environment, it’s the connections you make with other teachers. There’s nothing quite like being in a room filled with passionate educators, you can almost see waves of energy pulsing as new solutions to old problems are found and exciting possibilities unfurl during the conversations we had over those two days.
One of the most surreal aspects of attending the Google Teacher Academy is meeting people that you admire and respect online in person for the first time. It was really cool to meet people like Jay Attwood and Chris Betcher in person as what they’ve shared online has helped me so much in the classroom. I would remiss in my post if I did not do a huge shout out to the lead learners, Googlers as well as Allison and Danny from CUE for producing such an amazing event.
What was particularly cool was the strong New Zealand presence at this international event. Nine New Zealanders were selected for Sydney and our contingent was bolstered by the awesome Dorothy Burt and Fiona Grant who lead some of the sessions at the academy. There really are fantastic things happening in New Zealand classrooms and I felt incredibly humbled to be accepted into the Google Certified Teacher community alongside these awesome educators.
So for anyone reading this thinking to yourself,” nah there’s plenty of rad educators out there and I’ve got no chance of getting in.”
The worst that could happen is you get a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email and you can try again.
But maybe you’ll get a nod and get to spend an incredible two days at the Google learning with and from an amazing group of educators. But don’t just take my word for it, read reflections from other teachers who attended the event.
Over the last two weeks of school holidays I have watched my twitter feed light up with hashtags from barious conferences and hui happening around the country: #ignition2013, #NAPPNZ13, #byod13 #tfchch13. It’s a sign of the New Zealand teaching workforce learning and sharing together.
That’s just the tip of a rather large iceburg. Up down the country there were teachers toiling away in their schools making resources, catching up on marking, photocopying, designing wall displays.
There’s often a fine line to be tread with holidays. Teachers sometimes have to put up with dark mutterings about how we get 12 weeks of holidays a year. It can easy to cast to take the role of a martyr, listing the hours of holidays spent working on that massive ‘to do’ list.
We all know the spiel.
We know those who start the spiel don’t actually care.
So we shut up because really who wants to listen to a teacher whine about how incredibly difficult the job is.
Nevertheless I can’t help but wonder why it is we seek to minimize the invisible work that teachers do to keep their classrooms afloat.
If I were a cynic, I would say it is because teachers go against accepted wisdom of our modern society that people will only work hard if there are cash incentives involved.
Call back days not withstanding, teachers don’t have to come to school in holidays. There are no billable hours, nor bonuses for doing that little better extra.
In fact teachers will often end up paying out of their own pockets for classroom supplies, a conference or a pair of shoes for their students.
Teachers do so not for recognition or a cash rewards but because they want to make their classrooms better places for students to learn.
They do so for the joy of it.
Term 1 holidays for me are now synonymous with ignition. For those not in the know ignition is a 2 day un-conference. You throw a 100 or so passionate educators in a room and MAGIC ensues.
When I look over last year’s post, I remember how super-charged I felt after attending the event. I know the learning in my class has changed as a result of ignition. As I mentioned in my ignite talk, so many of my great ideas came out of attending the event. Goodie buckets for the start of the year, the classroom redesign, even the submission came about through conversations and collaboration at ignition.
This year I came away with more questions than answers.
The more control I give over to my students, the more I realize how important integral those key competencies are. Learning what makes an effective learner and making those key competencies more than buzz word is a challenge for my class and I over the coming year.
Moving professional learning into the 21st century.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible student when it comes to the traditional weekly PD. If something doesn’t hold my interest, then I will quickly wander off the task. However ask me to find resources to support teaching contexts or a new idea to implement in the classroom and I’ll jump into action.
With ignition even though I was tired after a busy and long first term, I was well aware I had given up my time and money to be there. There was no slacking off, there was engagement.
I can’t help but wonder how we expect teachers to create an individualized programme for our students when there is often little choice about how, who and what we learn about as teachers.
Should more time and money be freed up for teachers to make their own decisions about their professional learning?
How do we do this?
Secondary schools are a mystery.
The more I talk to secondary teachers, the more I realise I have no idea what goes on in schools after year 8. All I have to go on are my own memories which are well out of date. If I was to identify a weakness in the education sector, it’s that teachers and schools don’t talk to each other enough. This is particularly the case with the primary/secondary divide.
Are we short-changing our students by not communicating?
Do teachers collectively put too many problems in the too hard basket figuring next year’s teacher/s can handle it?
Moving out of the education sector
There’s always a risk when you bring a group of like minded people together that you get people agreeing with each other. As ignition matures, I think a challenge for the unconference is how to engage with people interested in education (which is a lot of people) and the people working in the sector. Again, I see a disconnect between the people charged with making educational policy and the people charged with implementing it. Having creative industries come in would for me be fascinating however there’s always that risk that this dilutes the purpose of the event.
Be the change you wish to see in your school
You might want to change your school or even New Zealand education as a whole. The easiest place to start is in your classroom. Perhaps I’m lucky that I teach at a school that encourages people to try new things. But at the same time it’s really easy to go back home and keep doing what you’ve always done especially when the inevitable obstacles come your way. You don’t have the facilities, cash, your leadership doesn’t get you. Obstacles aren’t there to keep you from doing something, they are there to show you how much you want something.
Lets get to it.
At the beginning of the year, I introduced my class to the concept of lollypop moments. The concept comes from an awesome TED talk by a guy called Drew Dudley, who argued that true leadership was in the little every day things that we do to make each others lives better which he called lollypop moments.
I bought a huge bag of lollypops from Moore Wilsons and over the course of the term, the kids have taken it upon themselves to nominate each other for acts of random kindness. The challenge has been to get the kids to move away from nominating their immediate circle of friends and to seeing the good in everyone.
Sharing has been a common theme this week. Before easter a group of my students approached my team leader about the possibility of our syndicate (that’s a group of 3 classes) running a talent show. And this week it was the big event. We hadn’t given over much class time in the preparation for this event. Nevertheless it was to see most of the kids step up.
Were all the acts a polished performance?
But a huge amount of kids got up and gave it their best shot. In an era where we many expect to be passively entertained it was fantastic to see kids willing to create and share with their peers. The event was such a success that we will be doing another one later in the term.
This week was a bit bittersweet as we farewelled our principal to a new position. I will always owe a huge debt of gratitude to my outgoing principal as she was the one who gave me the nod 18 or so months ago and has had to put up with having me on staff ever since.
I’m not sure many principals would be happy to let a first year teacher oversee a group of 11 and 12 year olds making a submission to parliament, not bat an eyelid when finding out I placed half my classroom furniture in storage via twitter, or take the time to facebook you two days before Christmas to let you know you’d gotten into the Apple Distinguished Educator programme.
As I was sitting at my principal’s farewell, it struck me that we often wait until people are leaving to say nice things about people. What has been nice about this term is that through lollypop moments we are taking more time to notice the every the little actions that make life more interesting.
Just before the class headed out for their final PE slot, there was a plea for a few last-moment lollypop moments. What started off as a quick thank you for helping move furniture quickly began to snowball and before we knew it everyone in the class had something nice said about them by another member of the class.
It was a nice moment and a good way to end the term.
Not all kids like hearing the last bell of the day.
Not all kids have food in the pantry when they go home from school.
Not all kids are safe in their homes.
Not all kids know where they will sleep that night.
We don’t like to talk about the lives of kids who come from the other “New Zealand.”
I teach in what is considered, by government measurements, to be a wealthy area. However there are kids in my class I worry about when I send them home at the end of the day. They are the ones I give a few dollars to for a sausage at sausage sizzle and the ones who often arrive very early at school and hang around the ground after the bell goes.
One child, who arrived in my class this year, already viewed school as a negative place, somewhere to run away from at 11 years old.
Violence at home and meant that normal school confrontations over who gets to go first in PE or who gets sits where on the bench at lunch were solved with fists, not talking.
It’s been a term but slowly we’ve been making progress.
I’m lucky that my older boys, although boisterous, aren’t violent at all. In fact those boys were on a secret mission to teach the student to not immediately to lash out confrontations. I’m also very lucky that I have another student in class who has a shared obsession with engines and has access to tools and a small piece of machinery.
This Friday as part of passion project hour this student had the time of his life taking apart a weed blower engine out the back of my classroom. The goal of this endeavour being to put it back together again once they are done and hopefully write an iBook on how engines work. Yes I want this student to do well academically but the broader goal is to keep this student engaged and, dare I say it, enjoying school before we can work on all that over stuff.
But I can’t help but worry next week is the final week of school.
And not all kids look forward to the holidays.
My moment of notoriety at the Apple Institute so it seemed fitting that the first new thing I would implement in the classroom was improv. I had fun during the sessions and decided that most of my kids would enjoy it too so decided to give it a go.
We started in pairs with the 1,2,3 game followed by the actions. Because there was an odd number of kids in the class, I ended up buddying up with a student which made it hard to record moments but was great to use bonding with the class.
Next up we tried the yes, and game. I put myself right into the firing line by modelling this improv line with one of my students dying a gruesome death over the course of the story.
We had a go at yes, but as a try at shutting down conversations before finally hitting the story time.
The students were thrilled and even my shy kids were having fun taking risks and playing the games. What impressed me most was how quickly the students wanted to adapt the number of players and even the spine of the story to make up a new game.
As part of the reflection on the activity I had the kids think about how improv could be used to help with their learning. Immediately could link it through to literacy and that they could tell better stories. It was disappointing how many of the students didn’t recognise that we were in the Arts and that creative expression was a valid learning area in and of itself moreover the activity helped develop their team skills through working with different members of the class.
It’s amazing how trying something new can shine a light on the shortcomings of previous practices.
In the middle of last year in an attempt to kids enthused about learning about Korean I showed my kids a music video by a Korean singer called Psy by the end of the year every kid in the school had heard the song.
That song was Gangnam Style.
Through dumb luck my students knew before the song went viral that Gangman is suburb in Seoul and that there is more to Korea than a guy pretending to ride a horse but I knew that wouldn’t always be the case.
And sure enough the latest internet meme struck in February, the Harlem Shake.
Where is Harlem?
How do the people in Harlem feel about the meme?
I posed those questions to the class and then challenged them to find out. I didn’t even know Harlem was a place one of the students remarked.
Sometimes we don’t know how much we don’t know.
As teachers we make a choice. Sure we might roll our eyeballs at some of the crazy internet fads that seemingly come and go with ever increasing frequency . We might even have a go by participating in the memes as a fun project to do on a Friday afternoon. But surely we need to start teaching our kids to be critical of those memes as well.
At the end of the week I jetted away to Bali for the Apple Distinguished Educator Institue in Bali. I was pretty stoked when I learned of my selection back in December. Since then I’ve crossed days off my calendar and been doing the happy dance with increased frequency but the realities of the trip didn’t really hit until Thursday afternoon when all of a sudden I was struck by a terrifying thought; ZOMG someone else is teaching my class for a week.
Sure I’ve had the odd day of release here and there for various bits of PD and working on the Teachers & Social Media reference group last year but this is the first time I’ve left my class for an extended period of time. All up the trip encompasses three weeks due to Easter and I will be missing an important school event, the annual Fun Run. So on Thursday I had a sudden attack of the guilts and panic attacks and spent way too long at school dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts for my absence.
As I wrote up instructions about my class and its personality for the reliever, I wondered if primary teachers by virtue of teaching the same group of kids for the year are susceptible to shouldering the burden of thinking: ‘I am the only one who knows how to teach this class.’ While the result can be an empowering sense of mama bear “RAWR! YES I AM THE TEACHER” it seems like it comes with a heavy tax.
By casting yourself in the role of the superhero teacher you risk burning yourself out. You don’t sick days because it seems like more work to prepare for a reliever than to battle on with the flu. You say no to PD opportunities because you worry that your plans won’t be covered to the T and the kids might be unsettled by your absence. And all of sudden there you are; frazzled, isolated and probably battling a lengthy flu because you didn’t take any time off to recuperate.
So once I sent off my plans I decided to enjoy my week ahead and stop stressing about my absence from school.
Does the reliever teach concepts differently than me? Meh, who cares: as long as the kids get exposure to the concept I’m happy. Did the reliever get the kids to put the markers back in the right place? Eh, as long as the kids know where to find them, then no problem. Did the reliever follow my plans exactly? Bah. As long is the class is happy and learning, it’s all probably fine.
Phew another teaching milestone reached.
Last year I lamented the process of making my first set of Overall Teacher Judgments. I would like to say with a year of experience that I would be a lot more at ease of the process but instead find myself more uncomfortable assessing students as being ‘up to standard.’
The problem is that while National Standards deal in absolutes learning does not. Two different reading tests showing a clear mismatch in data on a number of students while I also had the displeasure of sitting through a learning conference where the National Standards judgements of the previous school didn’t match that data I had in front of me. Does my experience show that teachers and schools judgements are just ‘ropey’ and we need to spend millions of dollars and countless hours on moderation or even worse move to a system of national testing.
Ultimately too many variables that effect students performance on standardized tests. They could have had a bad night’s sleep, a disagreement with a friend and just being in an unfamiliar classroom which might throw kids off their best. Ultimately I found the most effective assessment I conducted over the course of this year was when I sat down and did a GLOSS or PROBE on the students. I could hear them thinking and see them struggle. There was no guess work, and the observation aids how I approach teaching the child far more than having them fill in multichoice bubbles.
Because in the end I’m more interested in where to from here than where the kids are now. However as has pointed out on twitter more and more the levels do matter. Reporting to the Boards and the Ministry demands robust data however in the search for robust data there comes a point the kids’ disappear into numbers.
Yet we know each child is different.
When children learn to walk, we accept that they do so at their own pace and might not crawl before they learn to walk. As adults we can model, guide and encourage but in the end it’s up to an individual child. Some are walking at 9 months while others might take up to 18 months to master this physical skill. We accept this as a difference which has nothing to do with a child’s future yet when it comes to complex mental tasks like reading, writing doing maths, we now demand that our kids progress uniformly.
To counter some of this standardization I’m getting the kids to document their year on video. Twice a term I’m getting the kids to interview each other and the story gained from this will tell a far deeper story than any report. Instead of worrying about tests and where they are the first few weeks were about getting to make friends and worrying about their teacher.
As the term wears on I’ve been moving my class on from culture-building through to getting learning programmes started. Our unit of inquiry for the first half of the year is on globalization
Globalization there’s so many ways the class could go with this concept. At the start of the term I had lots of mad ideas and in the process of trying to get some sort of unit plan together I kept back to this idea of being less helpful.
Was it up to me to tell the kids what roads to go down? Were the roads I was missing?
So I started loosely.
A simple provocation, the overview effect.
What 10 things would you send out into space to represent ‘spaceship earth.’
It’s a question the class will return to at the end of this unit.
As I looked around the class some groups took to the open question with relish, others needed support and a few were floundering. They were waiting for some to tell them what to do and what to think. As a teacher I wanted to make it easier, but I kept back wanting to embrace the mess.
The class will probably spend a few weeks floating above our planet before delving down into different layers.
It wil be hard work both mentally and physically. Perhaps a worksheet or the typical route of finding out about country or designing their own flag might have been easier but not nearly so rewarding both for me but more importantly for my students.