Tag Archives: Google Teacher Academy

Reflecting on #GTAUK 2014

Well I should have done this sooner, but as ever life has taken over! Google Teacher Academy #gtauk 2014 was two weeks ago, and was thoroughly enjoyable though equally challenging. Led by No Tosh and Ewan McIntosh the purpose of the event, as outlined in the previous post, was not to be a ‘tools training’ session but a ‘moonshot making’ hotpot of educators from all over the globe coming together to share ideas, delve deeply into problems, and try to find solutions. It was mind blowing in many ways!

In the first place I felt honoured to be selected for the event bearing in mind that I don’t feel I have proven myself yet or stepped out of any shadows or footsteps. In the build up I was admittedly pretty nervous – I’m never that good at meeting people for the first time and don’t naturally ‘talk the talk’ or spout pedagogy. I’m just average Jo 😉 But we were in very safe hands.

I should say that since we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement for this it might be one of those cases where ‘I can tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you’ kind of things…but I’m not going to be breaking any giant Google secrets for you, or explaining how you can break into the amazing cafeteria (the food was amazing by the way). Sorry about that!

Day 1 was introductions and getting briefed on what we were in for. We had the loan of a Samsung Chromebook for the two days which was a really enjoyable device to use – quick, clean, intuitive, and a good size screen and keyboard. Very tempted. Ewan and the mentors and Googlers made it clear from the outset that this was to be pedagogy focused, on solving real issues in schools not on tech. Which I liked. And that it was to lead to something sustainable and tangible, not just your typical CPD event where you go back to school and forget you ever attended. Which I also like.

We were introduced the No Tosh system of ‘design thinking’, akin to project management for problem solving and creation. In our teams we were coming up with issues that schools face that can lead to a ‘moonshoot’ – so not a simple issue, but something that can be broad in scope and require more ‘out of box thinking’ (not that we were allowed to use such cliches). The structure for guiding this design thinking was excellent, with delegates being guided through a series of steps from discussing education issues, whittling down to our ‘moonshot’, then coming up with as many ideas as physically possible and ‘ideation’ and then actually trying to create a prototype to share. Throughout all of this we had input from mentors, other GTA participants, Googlers and designers to give suggestions and share how this works in practise. You can see the whole process and structure in Ewan’s book and on the No Tosh website. We were challenged to not think small scale but to think 10x – that we should be aiming to change the world, and reminded that if we are dissatisfied with something then that should be our driving force to change it. Don’t just be the person who complains but never tries anything else.

We were reminded that although the tools used in daily life have changed leaps and bounds in the last 50 years, classrooms have not. Anything we do should be focused on empowering the student, the teacher and the school. Always keep your target audience in mind and do for greater good.

Day two saw us mostly working in groups to try to prototype our suggested solutions. My group was led by Dai Barnes (of the barefoot running fame) and was a good mix of educators from UK and USA, and across all phases and subjects. It was really interesting to see that despite their being a variety of schools represented in the arena when it came down to it there were only really three main issues that groups chose to tackle: those of risk, curiosity, and collaboration. Our team decided to work on this moonshot question:

“How might we build a culture of confidence where everyone embraces risk, uncertainty and fear, in order to develop courageous individuals?”

By this we meant that teachers often feel nervous or afraid of taking a risk and trying something different, for fear that if it goes wrong they may be judged, lose face, or not help students to make progress. SLT may not encourage risk taking for fear of results (which are, at the end of the day, the important thing!) taking a hit. And more and more I’m seeing students who are nervous of taking a risk, of being independent, of being curious, because they have been drilled for so long to think a certain way, to expect a certain result, to be given answers, and are feeling so pressured about results themselves that they are worried about failing. So how can we encourage a culture where failure is acceptable (even celebrated perhaps), and where we feel supported enough to embrace something new even if it might go wrong?

Our prototype as a group was essentially a website (or a school display if you were in a more analogue environment) that is for showcasing, suggesting and celebrating risk taking. This is all in progress and no doubt will change immensely, but we needed to come up with something that would be user friendly enough in most schools. So the idea is:

– website (or a risk box if going for non-digital) that has suggestions for ‘risks to take’ (think risk / chance cards like you get in board games) that are written by teachers and students that each can take, e.g. ‘no pens lesson’, ‘give your answers in a different language’, ‘don’t use the internet for 24hours’, ‘flip classroom’, etc,.

– website (or display board / life tv) then showcases examples of teachers and students having a go to celebrate. It can be tied into a reward system in school for students so they get house points for trying, whereas students can nominate a ‘teacher of the week’ or something to celebrate teachers who have tried something new.

– the website can connect classrooms globally, so you can see examples of what students and teachers are doing worldwide not just in your school

– tools like Hangouts/connected classrooms can be used to link schools up across the world to share their stories and celebrate trying something new

– create a RAG type app that suggests activities to do

– it can be run by digital leaders in school with teacher moderation if wanted

Anyway, as I said, it is a work in progress based on only a very very brief time of planning. Having said that, my headteacher is happy to trial this linked to our new school website in the next couple of months so even if it just encourages a bit more risk and curiosity in one school that is still something.

The whole two days were exhausting, but stimulating and exciting. We made good partnerships with others and got to work with people from across the world who were like-minded and all wanted to change the world. My takeaway from it? That we should replace fear, with curiosity. And that we should have a healthy disregard for the impossible. I hope I can keep that mindset going through the year.

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Looking ahead to Google Teacher Academy

So this week I am off to the Google Teacher Academy UK #gtauk for two days of educational geekery, sharing, learning and problem solving.

If you want to see my terribly cheesy and not brilliantly made application video it is here:

GTA application video

The event is being organised by Ewan Mcintosh of No Tosh and there is a focus on this being not a one-off event but a sustainable CPD opportunity where educators / technologists / innovators get together and try to thrash out some of the problems faced by teachers and learners in schools, to come up with solutions, and to then go back to our schools and trial these, adapt, improve and keep working with our teams and mentors.

I am excited and nervous in equal measure! I always find it hard meeting new people, and generally feel very inadequate when hearing stories of what other very innovative and inspiring people are doing. As I have only recently changed schools I feel it is difficult to share stories of success since I’ve not had an impact yet: other than ruffling some feathers and changing the decor of the rooms 🙂 But I’m hopeful that I will have something useful to say and something to share, and can’t wait to hear what people are up to worldwide when facing the same issues and same goals.

Part of the pre-work was a set of three immersion tasks, that required us to delve deeper and look carefully at our learning environment. We had to sketch out an area, interview others (staff/student/parent/other) about how they and we felt about the place (positive and negative), and create and ideas & bug list.

Being in a new school made me wonder whether the problems I have been experiencing are real or if it is just a case of getting to grips with a new vibe and way of doing things. Equally when you first start somewhere as a fresh pair of eyes perhaps it is easier to assess things and suggest change. The process of conversations with others has been really interesting, and not just in the school itself.

This lunchtime was a family meal back home in Kent. Parents and siblings (my brother-in-law is just another older brother) plus dogs having a good catch up. My family are awesome and I owe who I am and where I am to them. What is great is that nobody takes themselves too seriously, and that we are forever ribbing each other and making jokes – including the necessary black humour required when ‘telling off’ your dad for always getting ‘top marks’ when you find out his latest cancer check up shows his scores are tripling, and not in a good way. The conversation got onto what I’d be up to at GTA and we ended up having a real deep and meaningful chat about everyone’s experience at schools. Such variety. I consider all of us well educated, well rounded, full of the ‘right kind of stuff’, with good jobs and good relationships, and yet we all had such diverse and discordant experiences of school and education.

It was really eye opening. We talked about aspirations, commitment, resilience, bullying, results, pressure, ability, teachers, etc,. I hadn’t realised that one of us had been bullied badly and hated every moment of school, and when asked what could be done to improve the school experience they couldn’t think of a way to fix it short of being one-to-one with a teacher and no other students. This person being someone whom I look up to, who is a lifelong learner, very smart, very capable, and still collecting post-grad qualifications. The phrase that struck was that ‘going to school actually interfered with the learning process’. And this will be true of so many of our students. Anyone who is slightly different, who maybe wants to do better, who is considered smarter, maybe is less sporty or just doesn’t want to get involved in other social areas of young life. Fortunately this hasn’t stopped them from wanting to succeed and from wanting to learn – but this won’t be the case for many who lack that resilience.

So what can we do in schools to make them more appealing? To improve engagement in every aspect of youthful development? How can we ensure we are bringing out the best in every child in every way, and that we are not driven by the accountability and results machine to forget other ‘softer’ aspects that are equally if not more important?

So some questions I’ve had buzzing round this week following conversations with staff, family and friends, and students:

– How can we make education a fully social and interactive experience that benefits all?
– How do we ensure all kids are reading and writing at their appropriate age?
– How can you encourage independence, especially in able children, in those who want to succeed but are nervous of independent work in case they ‘get it wrong’?
– Is leadership more about intelligence or emotion?
– How do we raise kids to be entrepreneurs whilst still valuing education and nothing thinking ‘others became millionaires after leaving school with nothing’?
-How do we get kids to sleep, exercise, eat healthy and to explore the real outdoors, rather than being up til 3 on social media and computer games?
-Is endless access to information at your fingertips a good thing for young people? How can we ensure information consumption is productive and beneficial?
-How do we encourage independent learners in an atmosphere of worry that they must pass exams, where they have been cushioned at home and school and just want to be given the answers?
-How can we make the most of the hall at break times so that it’s not a venue of depression / nerves / fear associated with exams and assembly?
-How do we ensure technology is used for more than just consumption?
-How can we break the mindset (in students and in teachers) of ‘this is your target’ when it’s tied to accountability, and break that invisible ceiling of ambition / aspiration / ability?

Some pretty big questions in there! Certainly ones to grapple with. I’m hoping the next two days will give some food for thought and some strategies for some of these. Let’s break the ceiling, stop limiting ourselves and others, and have more #moonshot thinking.

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