Monthly Archives: April 2011

Back from Google Teacher Academy, Sydney. Time to debrief.

So I’m back from Google Teacher Academy in Sydney, conducted in the Google offices located in gorgeous Pyrmont.

I suppose you’ve noticed my Google Certified Teacher badge taking pride of place in my blog’s sidebar. I hope that’s more a sign of what I’m going to share than any attempt at self promotion. So, you say, how was it? After the hype (which I half joking referred to on Twitter in Wonkian terms), it’s definitely time to share the experience.

For me, it was a little like T.S.Eliot said in The Dry Salvages –  ‘We had the experience but missed the meaning’, that is to say, it was such a big experience, I had to come away from it to understand its impact. One and a half days in the Google offices but many weeks of suspense, attempts at imagined scenarios leading up to the much awaited day had put us all into an emotional state which delivered us to the Google headquarters as children at a birthday party. The mystery shrouding the event and Google interior wound up the intensity even tighter. It was fun spotting the large Google sign in the foyer of the building, spotting real people whose faces matched their tiny avatars on Twitter or Facebook, meeting for breakfast and become initiates by wearing the Google Teacher Academy name tags.

So, you’re saying, stop dragging out the preamble, get to the point: what was it like? What did you do?

Short answer: It was full on!! The Magic Hat had sorted us into teams; I was in Silverbrook. We sat at brightly google-coloured tables and, shortly after breakfast, were treated to Google Educators giving us an overview of the enormous range of Google tools: Search (web, specialised, multimedia, language, custom), Google Apps Education edition, Docs, Sites, Calendar, Blogger, BooksScholar, News, Blog Search, Alerts, Maps, Earth, Gmail, Chat, Talk, Mobile, and more. Added to these sessions, some of our 55 strong cohort had offered to present Inspiring Ideas. We were treated to Google Spreadsheets (Pat Wagner), Sites for student e-portolios (Joe Donahue), creating an augmented reality school tour (Chris Betcher), e-portfolios using Blogger and Apps (Rob Clarke), using Blogger and Video Chat for minimally invasive education (Tara Taylor-Jorgensen), and an inside view of Google Apps for Education in a school (Dorothy Burt).  At 6pm, in the last session: reflection and review, we shared our ‘Aha’ moments for the day with our group, and at 6.30pm we were treated to a lovely celebratory dinner.

You can breathe now.

How do I do justice to such an intensive day and from all angles? I can’t.  Obviously the breadth and depth of the material was overwhelming, and at times it was challenging to keep up and remain focussed. I really enjoyed what the members of our cohort had to share, and I wish we could have seen more of how the Google apps could be used in creative and innovative ways in the classroom. We really needed more time and I suppose that was the biggest drawback – cramming so much in so little time.

Was it what I expected? I’m not sure. It’s not that Google apps/Apps are not out there for everyone to see and learn about. In that sense, we learned nothing new. But seeing everything in one and a half days, we probably saw more than we would have if left to our own devices. In between we struggled to make a dent in activities which gave us the opportunity to put some of the Google tools to use.

Most of us agreed that meeting up, connecting, collaborating and sharing was the most valuable part of the experience. So many interesting, passionate and innovative people, and we would continue to collaborate on Twitter (#gtasyd and #gct) and the GCT Group (sorry, closed community). I am grateful for new friendships and acquaintances. Thankyou so much to our GTA leaders, Dana Nguyen, Dr Mark Wagner, Wendy Gorton, Kern Kelley, Danny Silva and Lisa Thumann, for your expertise and passion.

Next on the agenda is formulating an action plan – how we will share what we have learned, either through presentations or in the classroom. It’s difficult to decide where to start.

As a teacher librarian, I’d like to say to my colleagues – you are already well skilled in many of the Google tools. We are experts in Search, News, Scholar, Google Books,  and there are experts among us with things like Google Lit Trips. What we don’t know, we can learn from the excellent Google help and crib sheets.

So, having said that, here is my initial idea for a Google action plan – to create a community for Google PD either in Google Groups or Sites specifically for teacher librarians. This would be a place to share knowledge, ideas and material. There are experts amongst us, and it would be good to pool our collective talents to present professional development either face to face, or through slideshows and webinars. Glenda Morris and I are both GCT  TLs in Victoria, and when I spoke to Glenda about this idea, she was happy to take part. There is already so much prepared by Google, for example, take a look at all the material in Google Web Search: Classroom lessons and resources.

What do you think? I would love to receive feedback for this idea. And please, if I’ve missed something you wanted to know about the Google Academy experience, please ask.

(A big thankyou, also, to Lisa Perez (TL in Chicago) who initiated meeting Glenda and me before the conference, and encouraged us to join forces as TLs).

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Why I play

Art by Lena Torikov

Before I bought my iPad, people would ask me what I planned to do with it. Why was I spending so much money? Was I certain it was worth it? How was the iPad going to be different from a notebook? Should I buy an iPhone instead?

I couldn’t answer any of these questions with any certainty. That’s why I was buying an iPad – to play, to gain an understanding of what an iPad enabled me to do, to figure out if iPads played a role in the changing face of learning in schools.

There’s nothing wrong with putting forward a suggestion before you have all the answers. I didn’t and don’t have all the answers for iPads in education, but I don’t want to wait until the time when it’s safe, when the majority of educators have understood the value of iPads and accepted their place in schools. If I wait that long, I’ll be on the tail end of a movement that doesn’t stay still. I won’t be a forward thinking educator but a safe follower who calls out for others to wait up.

If I waited until I was sure, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Where am I now? I’m on the road to finding out. The iPad apps session I recently did with staff at school was a way in – despite the best advice to hold off because I only had one iPad to pass around, to hold off because iPad education wasn’t a realistic option at my school, because people weren’t ready, because because…

Play is an essential part of being a teacher – it’s the learning part of teaching. Play is experimenting, discovery, it’s creative, it’s action, it moves into a new space. Wouldn’t it be great if play was compulsory at school? Instead of instruction from teachers to students, play would put everyone on the same playing field. Risk would be a prerequisite.

If we wait until it’s safe to do something, we’ve been left behind.

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Filed under 21st century learning, play

21 signs you’re a 21st century teacher

Yes, the phrase (is it a definition?) 21st century teacher has been bandied about and annoys some people, but whatever you want to call it, shouldn’t we all, as educators, use this checklist to check our relevance? Or at the very least, we could evaluate these checkpoints to determine whether we judge them to be important in the scheme of our work as educators.

As a teacher librarian I can only do these things if I find a willing teacher with a class. Not much you can do without a class – a one-off lesson doesn’t make a great deal of difference. Some of the things I have done with classes include:

  • Your students work on collaborative projects…with students in Finland/USA.
  • You share lesson plans with your teacher friends…from around the globe. Most teachers don’t see the point of sharing. Sorry, I don’t want to sound critical, but I’m talking about those I know both in my own school and colleagues in my city. I say, try it, and see how much more satisfying teaching becomes. What you get back is amazing. Not to mention valuable connections with other educators. Start a PLN!!
  • Your classroom budget is tight…but it doesn’t matter because there are so many free resources on the web you can use. Yes, there is so much out there. I collect it, share it, promote it, but don’t often have any takers. What’s the problem? Teachers are too busy, too content-driven, too VCE-focused (not their fault), too afraid, too put off by technology not working. All valid reasons, I’m not knocking teachers, but from my perspective, I’m always thinking about how I can make a difference here.
  • You realize the importance of professional development…and you read blogs, join online communities, and tweet for self development. Oh yes, definitely, perhaps compulsively. Love it. Highly recommend it. Does it eat into you personal life? It becomes your life.
  • Your students share stories of their summer vacation…through an online photo repository. Yes, one of my classes used Flickr to share aspects of their life with classes in Finland/USA
  • You showcase your students’ original work…to the world.  This is something I feel strongly about. Authentic audience, global sharing. Students love receiving comments from people outside the school. Whatever I create, I make sure it’s out there for everyone. I’m proud of what I/we do.
  • You have your morning coffee…while checking your RSS feed. What do you think I did before writing this post. The rest of my family are still asleep. Yes, I know, I’m nuts.

Some of these have given me ideas –

  • You give weekly class updates to parents…via your blog (I have documented class activity in blogs, but haven’t gone the step further to sharing with parents. What a great idea.
  • Your students participate in class…by tweeting their questions and comments. (I would love to do this but I’m not sure about permissions. Fear of social media is still prevalent at school. I think this needs education.
  • You ask your students to study and create reports on a controversial topic…and you grade their video submissions. (Teachers have begun to offer videos as presentation options, but a consistent assessment rubric would be a good idea, and there is still the feeling that writing is most important as this is what is assessed in year 12. Videos are okay in middle years but after that teachers start to get nervous, understandably. We need an assessment revolution.
  • You prepare substitutes with detailed directions…via Podcasts. What a great idea! Yesterday I was talking to a teacher from another school who records his corrections as podcasts. I love that. And I think it would be less laborious than squeezing everything you want to say in the margins.
  • Your students create a study guide…working together on a group wiki. Another great idea! I’ve seen nings allow students to discuss essay topics and texts so that ideas and content are developed collaboratively. I might search for examples of study guide wikis to see what these look like. Any suggestions?
  • You visit the Louvre with your students…and don’t spend a dime. Must do this with an art class. Or any class.
  • You teach your students not to be bullies…or cyberbullies. How do I convince teachers that taking the time to teach responsible and productive online behaviour is just as important as a content lesson? Again, I blame the system
  • You make your students turn in their cell phones before class starts…because you plan on using them in class.  Bit of a sore point at school; we still ban many things. I am required to chastise students who play games on their notebooks, but at the same time, I show them problem-solving games on my iPad. We need a mindshift.

The last point: You tweet this page, blog about it, “like” it, or email it to someone else…

Yes, I write a blog post, tweet it, and add it to Facebook. I’m not writing this for myself…

What about you?

Read the full list here.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, teaching