Ever have that feeling like you are living a dream; a surreal experience that seems to transcend the bounds of reality? For 2 days in early December, at the Google Teacher Academy in Austin, Texas, this is EXACTLY how I felt! Picture this: 2 days in Google offices surrounded by passionate, talented, motivated educators learning about ways to innovate in the classroom. For this educator, this was like going to Teacher Disney World!
If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Internship,” you have a pretty good idea of what a Google office might look like. If not, let me paint a picture for you. The outside of the building could pass for any office building in any city in the country. However, looks can be deceiving. As you step off the elevator into the Google floors, you are immediately thrust into a world of energy and innovation: vibrant colors; interesting decorations; and unique names for every conference room. The Googlers (yes, that is what they actually call themselves!) personalize their work areas, which only adds to the relaxed but creative vibe around the office. The design of the work environment calls you to think BIG, which is exactly what Google Teacher Academy had in-store for our group.
Over the course of the next 2 days, our group was challenged in every sense of the word. At times, it was like drinking out of a firehose. A little over one week has passed since this amazing experience and I am still trying to “unpack” all the information, ideas, and concepts that I learned at #GTAATX (what the cohort called itself; stands for Google Teacher Academy Austin Texas.) Even with all of this information, three things made a significant and lasting impact.
Think 10x, aka Moonshot Thinking
You don’t get into education unless you feel called, even compelled, to think big about changing the world. Every day, teachers walk into their classrooms hoping to change the world by developing young people’s minds to show curiosity, creativity, and a natural love of learning. The “how” of accomplishing these results is the real challenge of teaching. I’ve often heard this challenge describe as follows, ”How might we redesign the way we teach our students so that they can develop the skills necessary to succeed at job that don’t even exist yet?” It’s an amazingly powerful question that requires an innovative answer. But how do you generate an innovative answer? Bigger picture, is there a consistent process for innovation? As if reading our minds, our Googlers introduced us to the process that Google uses to foster innovation, Design Thinking. MIND….BLOWN!
While the entire Design Thinking process is much more detailed, the core innovation philosophies of Google were described as:
- Know your user
- Think 10x
- Be prototype driven
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win...”
-President John F. Kennedy at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962
From a 2013 Wired article about Moonshot Thinking:
“When you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about...But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and creativity — the kind that, literally and metaphorically, can put a man on the moon.”
-Teller, Astro. "Google X Head on Moonshots: 10X Is Easier Than 10 Percent." Wired. N.p., 11 Feb. 2013. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.
This philosophy was driven home during an amazing video that is shown at all Google Teacher Academies, “Moonshot Thinking.” To put this in coaching terms, this is a hype video for teachers. After watching it for the first time, I was ready to metaphorically tackle the huge problems in education and literally run through walls to get it done!
Google applies this same spirit of innovation and discovery to all of it’s products, including the Google Teacher Academy. While we are not looking to put a person on the moon, our job as educators is no less important. As educators, our job is to help create the innovators and thinkers of the future, who will solve the really big problems. With this level of responsibility, we cannot afford 10% improvement; we must shoot for 10x improvement. That type of massive innovation requires us to forget past pedagogy and lean upon bravery and creativity to create an environment that will foster the growth of people who innovate! Not going to lie, I just got pretty jacked up writing about that! With that level of excitement built up, we were sent out into the Google offices to learn about various Google tools to use in our classrooms.
#GTAATX managed to walk the line between higher order Design Thinking philosophy and practical Google tips to use in our schools. Our Lead Learners, Google Certified teachers who came back to share their experiences, presented on a variety of Google tools to use in the classroom. Chris Aviles, an amazing Google Certified Teacher from New Jersey, presented about how he uses NGram Viewer to facilitate data-based storytelling.
NGram Viewer is a graphing tool that allows users to trace the usage of a word or phrase in over 5.2 million books originally published between 1500 and 2008, that have been digitized as part of the Google Books project. After typing the terms into Ngram Viewer’s search bar, the user is presented a line graph plotting the frequency of that term or phrase in these books over time.
Teaching students to research why trends in data happen is a mainstay of science education. The power of Ngram Viewer lies in the fact that students get to experience that science does not exist in a vacuum. Science overlaps with social science, religion, politics, history, literature, and math.
I recently used NGram Viewer for my students to research The Search for Antibiotics. Using a Google Form allowed me to create a guided research project about the discovery, use, over-use, and resulting resistancy of antibiotics. When coupled with a recent showing of Jurassic Park, this assignments triggered a unique discussion in my class about the ethics of science and how human action can upset the natural course of evolution. Powerful discussions and critical thinking made science education real and relevant for my kids. Thank you Chris!
While the change in thinking and tools affect how I think about teaching, the real power of #GTAATX is the people. #GTAATX ranks as one of the top 5 professional experiences of my life thanks to the intelligent, passionate educators that were selected to attend #GTAATX. Thanks to Google Hangouts, the conversations did not stop when we returned home to our schools. With members located in Canada, Mexico, and all over the United States, #GTAATX provided me with a worldwide professional learning network of other passionate, motivated, and innovative educators. This is not even mentioning the larger Google Certified Teacher network that I am now a part of!
#GTAATX transformed me as an educator. I highly recommend this experience for any teacher interested in challenging yourself as a person and as a professional.