Thursday, November 09, 2006

Day at the 'Googleplex': Google Teacher's Academy

What an awesome day! I was fortunate enough to be one of the fifty teachers selected to take part in the first Google Teacher's Academy on November 7. It was a long day, filled with a lot of learning, sharing and food! One of the first things you notice when you get to the 'Googleplex,' is that there is food everywhere. On our tour in the middle of the day, I believe I heard our guide say that there are 17 restaurants and NO cash registers.

So, the day started with them giving us... Food. We had a continental breakfast in one room, while they showed some of the videos that participants had submitted to become part of the Google Teacher's Academy. Each of our name badges had a color in the upper left hand corner to signify which group we were to be in for the day. We were then taken into the Kiev training room in Building 43. It is a college style lecture hall, with tables and they provided IBM ThinkPads for us to use during the day. For those of you who are a little geeky... Our wired connection on the ThinkPads was 1.0 Gbps. Woo Hoo! I was fortunate enough to be a member of the 'Black Group' which meant that my seat was front and center. We were introduced to the leaders of the day; Cristin Frodella, our 'Google Host,' Chris Walsh from WestEd and Mike Lawrence from CUE. I had met Mike Lawrence previously, but Chris Walsh must have been a little taken aback having a meanacing 6'2" guy with a shaved head in the front row staring at him. Those of you who know me personally, know that I am VERY hard to miss.

After an introduction to the day, we were put into our groups and asked to take part in some team building activities centered around 'innovation.' The next hour was broken up into three segments. The group was divided into thirds and assigned to attend one of three application spotlights: Docs and Spreadsheets, Specialized / Advanced Search and Google Earth with United Streaming. The groups rotated every 20 minutes. I was very impressed with all three of the presentations. I think the new Docs and Spreadsheets is going to be a huge hit in schools for many reasons, but the most important one is that it allows the student to store their documents online and share them with others. This makes student collaborative work and teacher comments on digital documents quick and easy. The Advanced Search was a good segment, but for me it was full of all of the things we are already teaching in our Global Communications course. I really like Google Earth and I finally saw some educational uses that are doable in a classroom. We did a short de-brief back in the Kiev training room and then a quick tour of the main 'Google Quad.'

Next was lunch. Yeah! They fed us again. The restuarant had 10 different food choices and you could mix and match everything. I ended up having lunch with a few people I hadn't met previously, Mark Wagner and Ben Chun. Mark, Ben and myself had a great conversation about blogging and how it could assist in changing the educational process. After lunch, we did a panel discussion about information literacy and whether the 'Big 6' information strategies were still valid for today's students. We were also fortunate to have David Warlick involved via teleconference.

The next group to work with us was a group of Google engineers working on improving 'search functions.' I was really amazed by the fact that they were all young women of color, definitely breaking the stereotype of the 'coding geek.' The group seemed very receptive to the suggestions that the teachers had regarding search.

The afternoon three application rotation was next with Sketch Up, Picasa / iPhoto and Blogger. All three applications have some great educational uses and are all free, as was everything else we saw with the exception of the United Streaming material in the morning session. Mark Wagner, whom I had lunch with was the Blogger presenter and Mike Lawrence of CUE was the Picasa/iPhoto presenter.

Are you tired, yet? A lot of us were! We then had two additional sessions back in the Kiev training room dealing with instructional design and using technology to support diverse learners. Both sessions were good, but I wished they were more interactive with the group. I felt like there was a lot of talented teachers in the room and the dialogue could have strengthened the presentations. At this point, its about 5:00 PM, the leaders want us to start working on our post academy goals. As part of the process, each teacher is expected to give back to the edtech community in three ways. There were many different options given to us, including: blogging, conference presentations, professional development activities, one on one coaching with teachers, weekly podcasts, etc. So, one of my activities will be posting on this blog at least weekly. I will also be working with teachers in the SMUHSD and elsewhere and I will be doing some large group presentations, like I will be doing this coming week in Monterey, CA at the CLHS Technology Conference.

As we were working on our plans for the rest of the year, Chris Walsh entered the room and asked for our attention. Earlier in the day, when Chris introduced the Infinite Thinking Machine (Google Education Blog), he showed us video posted on the site with Vint Cerf. Vint has been one of the early Internet pioneers and is currently working for Google. Vint spent about 30 minutes with us discussing the Internet and how education will change because of it. It was a fascinating 30 minutes and I think it was one of the best parts of the day.

After our time with Vint Cerf, members of the group were able to share some of the things they are doing at their own sites in relation to educational technology and classroom implementation. It was nice to see some of the things people are working on and how the implementation process works differently in different schools and districts.

And, at the end of our day... They fed us ... again! The leaders of the group walked us to another, nicer restaurant on the other side of the Google campus where we were treated to a fantastic dinner (which I had to leave for... teaching my night class called!) and a short talk by Udi Manber, Google's Vice President for Engineering.

Now, for more good stuff.... Google Swag! We all received Google Backpacks, that are pretty cool. Inside the backpacks, we received a David Warlick book, a Google light-up pen, a Google Flash Drive, A Google Notebook and a Google Baseball Cap.


Anonymous said...


I just found your blog from David Warlick's blog -- and am truly enjoying your writings.

I am envious of your google visit -- for a myriad of reasons -- but am so glad you got to spend time with Mike Lawrence and Mark Wagner (both are Cue buddies of mine).

Grins -- SOOO -- can you post a picture of your Google Stuff?? Sounds terrific.

Jennifer Wagner

Kevin Jarrett said...

Wow! Thank you for this highly detailed writeup, it really gave me a sense of what it was like for you to attend the Academy!

I'm thinking of applying for the one coming up in New York.

Any advice about the application?

How about the video - any advice there? Would you be willing to share yours with me, for inspiration? I've managed to find several on YouTube and elsewhere. They've been helpful.


Kevin Jarrett

p.s. Hi, Jennifer! :)