It’s been 72 hours, and my mind is still trying to come to grips with accomplishing one of my bucket list-level goals—becoming a Google Certified Teacher! In the last few days, I’ve been asked a lot of times, “So… how was it?”, and it’s been such a challenge to put the entire experience into a “tweetable” summary. Rather than try to limit myself to one or two sentences that invariably end up underplaying how awesome it truly was, I decided to share a couple of observations from my couple of days at Google:
- I know so much… and so little. I’m not going to lie—I fancied myself a pretty smart feller before getting out to GTACHI. 1 I’m not a programmer or an app-designer (yet), but when it comes to digital solutions, especially in the educational realm, I’m very inventive, knowledgable, and capable of building simple-yet-sophisticated solutions to better teachers their students. In fact, I occasionally got frustrated by usually being the one sharing the idea, tool, or technique, and rarely getting any sort of trip or trick for myself. I wondered about how GTACHI would benefit me and my school.
Before attending, I had heard the Google Teacher Academy experienced described as “like drinking from a firehose.” Yes, YES, and YES!!! In each of the sessions I attended, I came away with a few new tools and tricks to use; in a few, I came out with a bucket of questions; and in one particular, I came out with nothing but an overwhelming desire to sit in a quiet room with my laptop and try to wrap my head around using scripts. From my initial feeling of confidence, I gained a humble appreciation of the amazing work being done by other educators to help their students learn more effectively. And that’s not even touching on my colleagues…
- Hands down, the smartest room I’ve ever been in. I imagined that the star of Google Teacher Academy would be Google, and for the most part, it was always at least related to the subject of our conversations; however, what I’ll take away from the is experience is connections to 62 incredibly talented educators from around the world. 2 Having only been a teacher for 4 years, and having spent those 4 years at a very small school, I had never attended any form of formal professional development seminar—now, I think I just attended the one that all others will be judged against for the rest of my life, and to a large part, it’s due to those learning alongside myself.
In the month preceding GTACHI, I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know this incredible cohort, through Twitter chats and Google Hangouts and blogs and comments, so when it actually came time to be there, I knew who was there. My wife drove me over to the Google office, and as we passed the large herd of nerdy teachers, I cheesed and realized “Holy cow… that’s Jessica Johnston… that’s Lee Green… that’s Jo-ann FREAKING Fox!” It was so strange to, in person, talk to people who existed only on my TweetDeck hours before. As I sat next to them in various meetings and conversations, I was definitely intimidated by all the knowledge and wisdom and experience in the room; however, I am certain that I’ve never been around such a kind, humble, supportive, and caring crew in my life. In spite of my crippling nerves, the rooms contained absolutely no ego whatsoever—just inquisitive colleagues trying to take in everything they could, too. In the course of those crazy 36 hours, I made some great friends, friends that I look forward to working with and learning from more in the future!
- YES for tech talk! The stuff we talked about… man… at this point, I don’t even know where to start. I’ll try to do more of a piece-by-piece rundown later, but for now, you should know that there were 5 main sections to our first day—Creating your world (Blogger and YouTube Creator), Discovering your world (Google Maps), Automating your world (Scripts, scripts, get your scripts here!), Collaborating with your world (Using Google Sites for ePortfolios), and The Web and your world (Chrome, extensions, Google Search). Each section was an intense 45ish minute rundown of things we knew and things that we didn’t. My only (very small) complaint over the entire event was that we hustled from one section to the next without much time to let what we’d just learned sink in—just Go! Go! Go! I ended up with a huge Evernote notebook (Shhh…) 3 of fleeting thoughts and ideas that I’ll have to truly dive into later to fully appreciate.
The second day was a planned “unconference,” ala an EdCamp. If you haven’t attended one before (as I hadn’t), the day begins with absolutely no agenda. I mean, there’s no to-do list, no official speaker, no list of topics to discuss—everyone shows up and shares one thing they would like to learn that day. With the help of a few scripts, ideas are bunched together and then voted on. From 63 different requests, we settled on closer to a dozen topics to discuss in 45-minute blocks. The only real rule is to go to what you want and to leave what you’re not interested in. For example, I sat throughout a couple of great workshops about Gamifying a Classroom (by Philip Vinogradov and Cat Flippen), Making HTML5 Apps (by my man Christopher Kauter and Sean O’Neil), and Blogging in the Classroom (by my eduhero, David Theirault). It was a great opportunity to pick what exactly I wanted to learn about and binge on that subject.
- Now I get what Charlie Bucket felt like. As I wandered around Google’s facility, I couldn’t help but feel like I had won the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory:
As far, then, as I was concerned, my only job was to soak it all in, take in as much as I could, and avoid drinking the soda. A lot of the areas were off-limits to photography, but in common areas, I practically had my iPhone glued to my face, recording everything that I possibly could. For areas, though, I couldn’t photograph, I can say that they were spacious, colorful, and easy to imagine myself working in. We got to take a peek at a couple of the programmers’ play rooms (with XBoxes, Legos, musical instruments, and PingPong tables available for breaks) and micro-kitchens (more on this later), and working spaces were right in line with Fielding Nair’s concept of Caves, Campfires, and Watering Holes. There were tech support areas, gigantic meeting areas, and small office-areas for private conversations. Coolest of all—every room that I saw was equipped with state-of-the-art HD Webcams, LED TVs, and/or projectors. You know how in Google or Apple commercials, people are always using FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangouts to talk instead of just a regular-old-phone? I can’t tell you how many offices I walked by where I saw that exact thing happening organically! I feel like seeing technology in action like that inspired me to be better about using the tech tools to better connect with those around me!
- Remember the “Freshman 15”? Well, there’s a “Google 15”, too. At Google, eating is a sport. The main cafeteria at Google Chicago is larger than my entire school building, with delicious (healthy!) meals, salad bars, smoothie machines and juicers, and just about anything else one would want to munch on.
Additionally, mini-kitchens scattered throughout Google’s couple of floors are well-stocked with juice, cereal, nuts, and other snacks to keep the geniuses powered throughout the day. There’s a famous rule that Google employees must always be within 150 feet of food, and in the couple of hours of hanging around, I never was more than a few steps away from some form of snackulation. So why all the emphasis on dining? 3 reasons:
- Morale! 2 free meals a day for each employee keeps workers happy and motivated;
- Time-saving. Occasionally during my own work day, I’ll run over to 7-Eleven or Starbucks and pick up a drink or munchy, which doesn’t take me a lot of time; however, if my school invested in an espresso machine, I could grab my brew and her right back to work quickly. By bringing everything to their campus, they cut out extraneous interruptions.
- Serendipitous bumps. Programmers and management and advertisers bumping into each other in the cafeteria or mini-kitchens mean more opportunities to share problems and solutions. 4
I could go on and on and on with all that I picked up, but I’ve truly been working on this blogpost for 3 days, and with less than 12 hours until I board my flight to Taiwan, I want to send this post out into the world. The point is that GTACHI was a phenomenal experience that I’ll never forget, for so many reasons, and I still feel so grateful for being accepted into this cohort. I’ve got a lot of work to do now—learning and relearning a lot, connecting with my fellow learners, and finding ways to apply these tools into my actual life—but I’m pumped and energized at the prospect of doing exactly that!
- Apparently, unbeknownst to me, this is pronounced “jee-TAH-chee”, like one world. The whole time, I had been calling it “GTA Chi”, as in “shy”, as in “I’m entirely out of me element around all these amazing minds, so I’m going to act very shy.” ↩
- In our meetings, we were told that 63 people were chosen to attend GTACHI, and judging by some of the amazing minds I came into contact with, I was #63. ↩
- One of the first questions I got about this event was “Is it just Google brainwashing? Are you only allowed to use Chromebooks? Is your MacBook Air going to get you intro trouble!?” Not ever an issue. Although they occasionally refused to mention their largest cmpetitor by name (“…that fruit company…”), I saw many Chromebooks, MacBooks, Androids, iPhones, and even an occasional Windows machine. (Strangely, though, aside from myself, no iPads…). ↩
- I read about this in Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine (in regards to Pixar), but the idea was the same at Google. ↩