Monday, September 5, 2016

On Summer and Google

As the middle of August approached and I began working in my new district, collaborating with new team, and planning professional learning experiences for my new faculty colleagues I was struck by what my family began calling "the summer of change." Summer of 2016 was packed with adventures both personal and professional. Needless to say, resigning from my social studies position at the school where I had been teaching for eight years was bittersweet. The library opportunity I had been offered was extraordinary: a high-powered district with a talented faculty and a nationally-recognized mentor wanted me! But, change is always hard and parting ways with other respected and valued colleagues is not easy. Bridging the gap between these two phases of my professional life was one child getting her license, another child leaving for college for the first time, and a wedding. In addition, back in May, I was accepted to attend the Google Geography Teachers Institute (#CAGTI16) in Mountain View which was held this past July. Needless to say, the experience was invigorating and inspiring because the love and respect Google has for educators is tremendous.

Before I dive into unpacking that experience, let me provide a quick history on my love affair with Google. I have already been fortunate to attend a teachers institute hosted by EdTechTeacher and Google at the Boston Google headquarters as well as participate in a design sprint hosted by Google in New York where eight teachers from North America collaborated with the Classroom team on educational tool design. Living and teaching within commuting distance from Manhattan has afforded me the opportunity to bring classes of students to the New York headquarters on two occasions so we could teach and learn in their model classroom while Googlers studied how worked and used the GAFE tools. So, suffice it say, going to Mountain View was my version of going to Mecca!

So, I returned from a honeymoon to Vancouver and Victoria, BC in time to do laundry, repack, and head back to the West Coast. I was nervous about this trip. I worried I wouldn't measure up to the other people who had been accepted to this institute. When I applied to the program I was a social studies teacher who was going to be teaching four sections of World Geography, now I was a library media specialist and had not yet met any of my colleagues. How was I going to bring to them all that Google would teach me?

The thread that connects all of  my experiences with Google is this: what matters most are your habits of mind; everything else can be learned. As long as I am willing to take risks trying new things, fail forward, and do so in thoughtful collaboration with other willing risk-takers from an array of backgrounds and disciplines, everything else will work itself out. #CAGTI16 was no different -- and neither is my new job. Participants in the institute came from points all around the world, all different kinds of schools, and walks of life. We worked in collaboration with each other and a team of Googlers and Google partners unpacking the learning potential in an array of tools from MyMaps to Earth to the Cultural Institute to 3D images in Street View and more.

Day 1, Session 1 I chose to attend a session  with Jeff Crews (@crewsertech) on using Google Street View with students. First we considered AMAZING ways that a tool like Maps has changed people lives. Meet Saroo Brierley. After some quick instruction to calibrate our use of Maps we were off and running around the Google campus with Ricoh Theta S cameras snapping 360 images and uploading them to maps. Then began the brainstorming of how to use this technology with students. I started to think about my lessons on art analysis and unpacking images, how paintings differ from photos, on the importance of considering the role of the photographer in staging, cropping, and editing a photo -- even in the days way before Photoshop! Those considerations of purpose and control are changed dramatically by a 360 degree image. Certainly maps have a purpose in geography instruction, and I had used StreetView in the past to help students develop setting when writing historical fiction, but the 3D element adds all new aspects of image analysis and historical record to the conversations!

Day 1, Session 2 I explored issues of graphicacy, teaching students to unpack, understand, and create graphical presentations of information, with Richard Treves (@trevesy). Richard packed the basics of a semester-long college course into a 2-hour session. This was a map-making course akin to a visual arts course where we examined use of color in all layers, types of symbols, and the impact of map-maker decisions on map reader literacy. Not only did this inform how I would ask students to make a map or other data display but also how I will go about select maps and other graphical resources for students to consume.

I hesitate to call the next experience the highlight of the institute because every session, talk, and experience had such value to different parts of teaching and professional learning, but Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop's (@jamie_bd) key note address the morning of day two resonated emotionally so intensely that it continues to linger with me even now, more than a month later. Developing student empathy for a global community empowers their sense of agency to effect meaningful change and invigorates their desire to learn the skills and content necessary to be a positive change-maker.

I returned to work with Richard Treves on Google Earth and while practicing the basics of building layers to create Google Earth Tours began discussing different contexts for such projects which ultimately we determined have purpose in most disciplines for documenting the movement of goods or people, for telling stories, for contextualizing data, and so on.

Phew. There was much more packed into my time in Mountain View. These are just some highlights that I am bringing to my new students and my new colleagues. Obviously geography literacy matters in all disciplines in that it can support the learning of so much interdisciplinary content and requires critical thinking and reading skills that are relevant in so many aspects of learning and functioning in the world. My new home is the library and from there these new skills and enhanced pedagogy can reach even more teachers and students.

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