Weekly Reflection: Google Teacher Academy #GTASYD

Turns our the golden tickets were actually white.
Turns our the golden tickets were actually white. (picture by the author)

The Google Teacher Academy.

I’m sure I’m not the only person to compare receiving the acceptance email to two days in a Googleplex with 50 other passionate educators to finding a golden ticket in your inbox.

After all, the competition for spots for the 50 spots open in the bi-annual programme is pretty fierce. I know there are many fabulous teachers who missed out on coveted spots and there participants in Sydney who travelled great distances for the event. Moreover besides being an Internet juggernaut, what glimpses I’d had of Google offices looked more like the fantasy of Willy Wonka’s chocolate room than a sterile working environment.

While I didn’t spot any Oompa Loompas during the two days I spent in Google’s Sydney office, I certainly spent time with my mouth open in awe of my surroundings like Charlie however I’d be lying if said there wasn’t some Augustus Gloop gluttony going on during the many meal breaks.

Chocolate Unicorn in action (note wagon wheels were all eaten)
Chocolate Unicorn in action (note wagon wheels were all eaten)

The pace of the two-day programme was nothing short of frantic and subject to rapid change. After we were placed in teams by the sorting hat it was straight down to work. I remember thinking early on in the event it must be close to lunch given the amount of content covered only to find that we had barely made it to morning tea. Unlike many teacher sessions, there was very little sit and listen. Instead most group sessions focused on fast-paced creative challenges which showcased how to use google tools to enhance student learning.

What surprised me event was how much I don’t know about the services google offers. I’ve been using google since 1999 and considered myself a pretty knowledge about the suite of products available. But even I was amazed at the variety of online tools in google’s toolbox: newspaper archive, Google Moderator, Google crisis map, the world wonders project to name just a few.

Not a bad place to eat lunch (view from Google's sydney office)
Not a bad place to eat lunch (view from Google’s sydney office)

What I really found fascinating was a deeply unsexy topic, scripts. For me it’s exhilarating watching a google script do its thing. No more do I need to beholden to clunky learning management systems that don’t do what I want them to do. Scripts give me the freedom to manage my online learning environment a lot more effectively. What’s more it is easy for me to collaborate with other teachers as I can share my decisions and students work a lot more easily with my colleagues.

Google indulged any serious internet geek’s request for a tour of the facility. Unfortunately I can’t go into great depths about all the things I saw. However as I walked around the alcoves and colourful breakout spaces, I couldn’t help but feel that our schools need an infusion of some of google’s company principles.

I want a library like that!
I want a school library like that!

Shouldn’t there be places in schools for kids to eat high-quality food whenever they are hungry?

Why do playgrounds only ever seem to exist outside school buildings?

Why are so many online student learning spaces closed off from the world?

Yes I know finite cash resources, breakages and administration are all cold hard realities to these ideas. That’s impossible and/or irresponsible you say. However in order to make something a reality, you must dream it first.

Confession time.

The true value of the Google Teacher Academy isn’t actually about the technology or the glorious environment, it’s the connections you make with other teachers. There’s nothing quite like being in a room filled with passionate educators, you can almost see waves of energy pulsing as new solutions to old problems are found and exciting possibilities unfurl during the conversations we had over those two days.

Googles Kiwi contingent
Google Teacher Academy’s Sydney Kiwi contingent

One of the most surreal aspects of attending the Google Teacher Academy is meeting people that you admire and respect online in person for the first time. It was really cool to meet people like Jay Attwood and Chris Betcher in person as what they’ve shared online has helped me so much in the classroom. I would remiss in my post if I did not do a huge shout out to the lead learners, Googlers as well as Allison and Danny from CUE for producing such an amazing event.

What was particularly cool was the strong New Zealand presence at this international event. Nine New Zealanders were selected for Sydney and our contingent was bolstered by the awesome Dorothy Burt and Fiona Grant who lead some of the sessions at the academy. There really are fantastic things happening in New Zealand classrooms and I felt incredibly humbled to be accepted into the Google Certified Teacher community alongside these awesome educators.

So for anyone reading this thinking to yourself,” nah there’s plenty of rad educators out there and I’ve got no chance of getting in.”

Apply.

The worst that could happen is you get a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email and you can try again.

But maybe you’ll get a nod and get to spend an incredible two days at the Google learning with and from an amazing group of educators. But don’t just take my word for it, read reflections from other teachers who attended the event.

The obligatory pose in front of the google sign.
The obligatory pose in front of the google sign.
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