Friday, January 10, 2014

Google Teacher Academy, or "The Two Days That Keep Me Inspired EVERY Day"

This post has been a long time coming- over a month already! Coming back to New Jersey and getting back into the swing of things here at school, with progress reports and benchmark testing, followed immediately by the holiday season, it's nice to be able to sit down and reflect back on what was truly a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. 

Back when I was first accepted to the Google Teacher Academy, I thought I was being Punk'd. I couldn't believe that I had actually been selected! But nothing was as surreal as walking into Google headquarters in London, surrounded by such intelligent, savvy, and inspiring educators from around the globe. That first morning, we all met in the lobby of 123 Buckingham Palace Road and you could tell right away we were all teachers from the way we lined up, one behind the other, waiting for our "golden ticket" and entrance into the Google headquarters. Google occupies two floors in the building and we got to visit both daily. 

The first morning, we were handed our ID badges and headed up the elevators to our first meal of the day. This would be the first of many! Most people know that Google has a reputation for treating their employees well, and we got to experience some of the perks firsthand. There was always food and beverages available while you were working. The environment itself was very inviting, and there were many rooms and areas with couches and tables to foster collaboration among employees. 

There was a section of the office that was reserved for our use for our two days at Google. We sat with our teams and began introductions, 'Miss America Style'. "Hi, I'm Melissa Murphy from Belmar, New Jersey!" 

After some introductions, we saw a video that would set-up our thinking for the next two days- Moonshot Thinking. The video begins with a quote- "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."- Margaret Mead. This quote, and all the sentiments expressed in this video, got us energized and ready to take on the rest of our day with open minds.

We heard from Liz Sproat, Google's Head of Education for Europe, Middle East, and Asia, who challenged us to prepare our students for the jobs that don't exist yet. A very overwhelming task when you think about it! Next we heard from +Danny Silva, who explained to us our responsibilities as Google Certified Teachers, and threw in some of his favorite Dr. Seuss quotes as well! He challenged us to become ambassadors for change, by innovating, inspiring others, leading the way and changing OUR worlds. 

Then we began out break-out sessions led by our team leaders; Automating Your World using Google Spreadsheets showed us some nifty tools (my favorite being inserting a map) from +Warren Apel , Collaborating With Your World that showcased some inspiring Project Based Learning led by +Steph Ladbrooke , The Web and Your World led by +Mark Allen  who helped us organize our collective knowledge to create a "Survival Skills" table with our favorite tools and websites, Creating Your World with the bubbly and self-proclaimed "Geek Girl" +Carrie Anne Philbin and Discover Your World featuring some awesome map making tools from +Wendy Gorton. Each session exposed me to new ideas, and got me thinking about how I could bring all these awesome tools back to my classroom and school community. 

Between our sessions, we learned about the Google Cultural Institute- featuring Google Art Project, World Wonders, and Historic Moments. Although I had been introduced to Cultural Institute by +Rich Kiker earlier in the year, I hadn't tried making my own gallery until GTA. My students were working on a biography project on the life of Muhammad Ali, and I created a gallery of photos from Time Magazine that included photos of Ali and other influential people and events of his time. It was a real hit back at school!

Did I mention the food?? THE. FOOD.  I couldn't resist taking a few "food photos" while I was there, and I was definitely not ashamed to do so (because everyone was taking pictures of the food). I mean, rack of lamb for lunch? I felt like a rockstar.

After a few more rotations, it was time for some fun and games! At each table, one person was sitting in a chair with an Android sticker. If you were sitting in said chair, you were selected to play "Minute to Win It". And guess who had a sticker on her chair- yes, that would be me! My game- Face the Cookie. My mission- get a cookie from my forehead into my mouth using only my facial muscles. In 60 seconds. Did I do it? No. Did I even get close? No. Are there ridiculous pictures of me making strange faces? Absolutely. 

My typical awkward face after watching the video describing my task. I clearly do not have faith in my face-mouth coordination.

It started out well....

...and I ended up with cookie crumbs in my hair and eyes for day. But I had fun embarrassing myself!

Embarrassing? Slightly. Fun? Heck yes. 

After "Minute to Win It", it was time to become official Google Certified Teachers. Each group went to the front of the room, and we each had our name called as we received our certificates and pins, Pomp and Circumstance playing in the background. We ended the evening with, you guessed it, food!

The next morning, we came back together to for an "unconference" day, with very little on the agenda, the rest up to us and what we wanted to learn or share. We started by learning about Google Science Fair. Then we used Google Moderator to suggest sessions that we would be interested in.  Many of us wanted to learn more about basic scripts in Spreadsheets, as well as using Sites and creating student portfolios. Smaller sessions were held in conference rooms, or just started organically by a few people sitting together in the couch area.

Between our breakout sessions, six people were chosen from the group to share an "Inspiring Idea" with the group. I was lucky enough to be chosen, and talked about how I use Google Forms to formatively assess my students, and let my students reflect on their own learning. Thanks to +Afzal Shaikh for the photo!

We ended our day with working on our Action Plans- thinking about how we are going to Change Our Worlds, on whatever level we choose. I had so many ideas running through my head, and I'm still not sure I know exactly what I will end up doing over this next year with all my training. However, I know that I am going to try and share my knowledge and experience with as many people as possible.

This was a once in a lifetime experience that I will honestly never forget. I met so many inspiring people, and I am honored to be called a Google Certified Teacher.

Team Sax- we don't need no leader!


What's next for me? Who knows! The sky is the limit I suppose. All I know is that whatever I do, I never want to stop learning. Life-long learner is a title I wear proudly.

Until next time (which I promise won't be as long as it took to get this post!)

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