Sunday, July 28, 2013

GTACHI Reflections

It's hard to know where to begin in describing the Google Teacher Academy experience. As is often said, the two-day experience moves incredibly quickly, and you can be sure that all of our heads were already spinning from scripting, extensions, and maps by our first lunch. But the experience was incredible, largely thanks to the exceptional academy participants and lead learners, and without doubt I'll be reflecting on it for quite some time.


+Becky Evans and +Danny Silva began the academy by making the point that a Google Certified Teacher is an "ambassador for change" in the educational community, which is the most important quality of a GCT. That's to say, a GCT is about community.

Before we moved along to our breakout sessions, +Cory Pavicich reiterated that "You don’t know what you want to learn," underscoring the fact that learning is a process.

In the "Life of a Googler" session, Brian Fitzpatrick, a technology evangelist, founder of Google Chicago, and author of Team Geek, had some interesting insights to share about technology and education. When it comes to Google's celebrated 20% time, “creativity loves constraint,” which is an idea that we should keep in mind when doing passion-based learning.

Discussing what Google looks for when hiring engineers, Fitzpatrick noted that “really good engineers are attracted to companies that have really hard problems.” To my mind, this attraction is based in the "flow" from working on a good problem, since we're happiest when we're doing productive work (cf. my thoughts on Csikszentmihalyi's "flow"). To put it simply, we need to find more flow for our students in our classrooms and make learning fun.

Most interestingly, Fitzpatrick said that, when evaluating ideas to pursue, Google tends to evaluate the ease of reversal for a particular idea, not whether it’s good or bad. Such an attitude toward innovation stands in sharp contrast to the way education works today. To many schools are so afraid of failure that innovation tends to be labored and painfully slow, rather than fun and exciting, and this is something we need to work on changing.

The breakout sessions, unconference, and other presentations, including the session on Google culture, were all fantastic, but I'll avoid allowing this post to grow too long, I'll leave them aside for now.


Looking back, I wish I had talked with more people in the academy, and I think that several others feel the same way. Between learning from lead learners, working in our sessions, and recording ideas down, it was practically impossible to work the room and interact with others. But that's part of the GTA experience, I think, in that the academy serves to create connections that will outlast the academy itself.

During our closing reflections, Team Goodyear was in agreement about our ultimate take-away from the experience, namely, that "it's not about the tools we've learned about. It's about the connections and conversations that we're going to have as a part of this community." I'm very excited to join the GCT community and discover what I don't yet know and continue to explore new ideas.

Fortunately, much of our conversations were recorded on Twitter and can be found in the #gtachi Twitter archive#gtachi tag map, and session notes (thanks to +Ben Wilkoff for putting these together!), and +David Theriault's photoblog captured some of images of #gtachi. My GTACHI notes, however brief, are also open to be shared.


I left GTACHI more resolved than ever to try two ideas this coming fall:

• First, based on the successes of 20% time in both the corporate and educational worlds, I intend to give my 7th-grade Latin IA students regular time to explore Roman culture, including anything from architecture and geography, to social customs, to literature. Because "creativity loves constraint", I'll need to put boundaries on the projects. I'm eager to try "crowdsourcing" grading of the projects in some capacity that I'll report on later in the year.

I'll also give my 9th-grade Latin III class 20% time to explore topics in Greek and Latin literature, linguistics, and, perhaps most valuable of all, modern Classical reception. I'll ask them to record their 20% work in their blogs (on which cf. here), with the hopes that we can share them with wider audiences.

• Secondly, I'll experiment with the gamification of Latin IA, thanks to some help from +Catherine Flippen. In addition to Google Apps, our school uses the Canvas LMS, which is structured around modules and also offers a number of LTI apps to add to courses, including Mozilla's Open Badges.

Each module can be organized around a thematic unit like direct object marking, indirect-object marking, verb person/number, etc. As a hook to for each new module, we can offer some kind of puzzle or project to solve that will lead us to the next objective, including figuring out what an inscription says, finding a specific location on a map, and more. As students progress through each module, they can earn badges as they acquire necessary skills with grammar, vocabulary, culture, etc.

Action Plan

The final piece of the GTA is the action plan project for which we're supposed to "innovate, inspire, and lead" with the goal of "changing our world". Our action plans are intended to be collaboration pieces with other GCTs and encourage us to think big. I'll admit that I still don't have a clear idea for mine. Based on the community-first role of the GCT, though, I'm excited to use my action plan for community development.

I'm especially interested in independent-school community and some of the challenges they face, including professional development, and may design my action plan with this group in mind. However, I'm also involved in the Classics community and the #latinlangchat Twtter chat, and given the challenges that teaching Latin poses, I am interested in working with within this community to help connect Latin teachers, classrooms, and resources from around the world.

I'd love to trade ideas for action plans with anyone who's also thinking through them or offer whatever peer review I can for other action plans. Feel free to get in touch with me to start brainstorming.


The GTACHI experience will stay with me for quite some time, and I hope to have the chance to pay it forward to others who want to take part in the kind of community that GTA creates. Thanks to all of the amazing educators who made GTACHI even better than advertised. I'm excited and eager to continue our conversations, and I look forward to the opportunity to meet you all again!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Csikszentmihalyi's "Flow" and PD

Over the past couple months I've been reading a selection of nonfiction that has applications for education (cf. some reading notes). In just about every single book, including those by Cathy Davidson, Daniel Kahneman, Jane McGonigal, Daniel Pink, and now Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come FromMihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist famous for the study of happiness but underappreciated until relatively recently, and his idea of "flow" is cited, playing no small part in defence of the author's thesis. I suggest watching his TED talk on the idea to get a sense of the concept, if unfamiliar with it.

Simply put, "flow" is that rare state in which one is wholly absorbed in the moment, with a heightened clarity and focus on the task at hand, and it, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is when we are happiest and having the most fun. Flow is precisely what draws us to gather at conferences, converse on Twitter chats, in addition to teaching in the first place.

At ISTE, where I found myself pooled together with 13,000 other invested educators, I thought quite a bit about why some of us are so compellingly drawn to technology (cf. my thoughts), and I can't help but think that flow plays a significant role in the story. I think that one answer to the question of why we should be taking steps to use more technology in the classroom, however difficult and challenging it may be, is that technology can allow us to have more creative fun during the learning process by helping both teachers and students to find flow.

Based on the way our brains work, as a variety of authors have concluded for different reasons, being in the flow includes socializing and collaborating while helping each other, doing meaningful work, and receiving prompt and quality feedback, and this is precisely what technology does for us. Flow is simply having productive fun, when we're intrinsically motivated to tackle a task, and it's becoming more and more clear that we learn best when we're having fun. If used correctly, then, technology (which is only one piece if the puzzle!) can help us find flow because it makes it easier to collaborate, do meaningful work, and receive feedback, among other things.

No one could claim that we need technology to do these things or that it alone is the secret to flow, given that there are plenty of successful teachers who are able to engage their students in the flow without it. But ask yourself if you would rather have one awesome way of having fun and finding happiness in class or five different ways? We need to work to increase the amount of time we spend in the flow.

As we emphasize professional development to a greater extent than ever in education, it could prove to be constructive to consider when we feel like we're in the flow in the classroom. A few days ago, a colleague asked me when I feel like I'm "kicking ass", and to my mind, that's exactly what flow is for me. When we're having a great discussion, with students leading the way by making connections, that's when I feel like we're all in the flow. But one person's individual concept of flow can be very different from another's.

With that, I think it's a great idea to do some reflection this summer, while we're thinking about professional development, and consider what "kicking ass" means to each of us, expecting that we'll likely have different answers (which is ok!) that could help us to better define our own ideas of flow and find more ways of achieving it in class. At some point before the next academic year begins, we should sit down and share our reflections, while having a conversation about what flow means to us and how the use of technology could facilitate finding it. Who's interested?