Google – The Disney for Geeks

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I had high expectations for Google.  You hear all these rumours about this magical place, almost like a Disney World for geeks like me.  A place where dreams come true and your imagination runs wild.  I can tell you this, I was NOT disappointed.  My experience here exceeded my expectations.  As the cool kids would say…I can’t even…

Our wonderful guide, Amanda, immediately engages us with the ideas students have come up with through their ‘Doodle for Google’ programme.  You know those different Google designs that pop up everyday? you guessed it, all designed by school aged students.  Ideas such as: The Cloud Plough, The Imagination Transporter and Optimistic Binoculars were presented to us.  Each and every one of those ideas, brilliant.  Giving us a glimpse into what could very much be a possibility in the future.

She got us all thinking by asking us a fairly simple but perplexing question:

What is the important event that is going to be happening in the year 2030?

Incase you didn’t know, it is the year that 2016’s kindergarten kids will graduate.  Why is this important? Because by the time 2030 comes around, it is estimated that 60% of jobs that these students will be working in, do not currently exist.  But it is our job to prepare them for it.  How do I prepare someone to be a Cloud Plough operator?

How do we do it?


This is a question that will burden educators world wide, today, and for years to come.  But where we can start is by teaching skills rather than knowledge.  Rather than delivering the ‘what’ of education, we need to focus on the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.

In matter of fact Google, one of the most desirable places on Earth to work, uses four indicators to help decide which applicants to hire (people applying for jobs at Google average between 2 and 3 million per year).  These four indicators are:

  • Role Related Knowledge
  • Leadership Qualities
  • Flexibility
  • ‘Google-iness’

As you can see, content knowledge only accounts for one of those indicators.   The fact that ‘Google-iness’ (how well you can fit into the company and its beliefs and culture) is just as important and should be an eye opener for many educators.  If we are only teaching them content, we are not developing the student as a whole.  We are not giving them the chance to develop their ‘Google-iness’…which I have a lot of…just incase the magical Google hiring fairy is reading this…


Amanda points out to us that a student’s Grade Point Average (G.P.A) is NOT an indicator of how well a student will succeed two years after graduation.  Rather it is their General Cognitive Ability (G.C.A) that is the greatest indicator…essentially their ability to collaborate and solve problems.

Her notion of being able to fail well is good thing.  This is something that we need to teach.  To fail well, and do it quickly.  Because if we fail, and if we fail fast, it just means that we can find solutions quicker.  Isn’t that just a brilliant notion? Fail, and fail well!!

But perhaps what inspired me the most was Google’s view on education.  The fact that it is not technology that is the engager and the drive behind a students learning.  But, rather the teacher as a source of inspiration.  Technology should not take the place of good practice.  This is best summed up by Ben Grey, Assistant Superintendent for Innovative Learning and Communication for Community Consolidated School District 59:

Technology amplifies human potential through empowerment, connectivity, innovation, digital resources and access.

Who knows what Google has cooking in their Googleplex, the geek’s version of Cinderella’s Castle.  Maybe they are working on that Cloud Plough, or that Imagination Transporter…but mostly, I hope they are working on those Optimistic Binoculars…because ‘everybody needs a bit of optimism in their lives’


A photobombing Android



Inspired Ideas

IMG_2275California Academy of Sciences is somewhere everyone should go to be inspired. A lot of ideas. A lot of resources.  A lot of fun!

We had the privilege of having two excellent experts, Katie and Lyn, to help us understand the concepts of Citizen Science and how it applies to teachers and its implications on students.  When it comes down to it, it is about students conducting and participating in real life scientific research in collaboration with professionals.

As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless.


Students who work in the constraints of the real world are forced to be creative.  These constraints breed creativity.  Having to solve real problems in the tangible world making the most of what they have.  It is a skill that not only important, but desired.  However, what was most inspiring was Katie’s passion for community involvement.

If you want to achieve success, you have to involve everyone.  Not just the teachers, not just the students, but the whole global community.

Her notion of digital story telling through science was an excellent idea.  Having students set up exhibits, or creating learning programmes for other students are all things applicable to the everyday classroom.  It even works beyond the science room too.


This all lends naturally into STEM education.  It is not something that is forced, but happens because of the nature of the project.  Because of the community involvement, real life problem solving and the presentation of knowledge students are not only more engaged, but connected to their work.

I would highly recommend that everyone visit the California Academy of Sciences. If not for inspiration, then at for the very least for the sheer amount of fun that could be had…and also to see claw the albino alligator.


Claw – The Albino Alligator

The Urban School – Where Innovation is Tradition


Like every school we are visiting, The Urban School is set in sunny San Francisco.  A city that is famous for its rolling hills, awesome architecture and even more more awesome food.  It is perhaps most famously known for its landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the notorious Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.

It is a city that holds a rich cultural history in the arts, but also a place that has been greatly impacted by the constant innovation of the brilliant minds who flock to Silicon Valley; the home of many tech companies that have changed the world as we know it.

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It is perhaps fitting then, that the Urban School is an institution that is symbolic of everything that is San Francisco.  It is a place where innovation is indeed the tradition of the school.  Where the forward thinking philosophies of the founders in 1966 continue to shape the school as it continues to grow.

It is a school that is exemplary in its use of technology.  Whether it is the implementation of Blend-Ed techniques or the development of the current Urban X Labs, technology has a genuine purpose at The Urban School.  Where every decision is carefully crafted to benefit the student.

However, it is not the use of technology that has impressed me.  Rather, it is their unique teaching culture that I was most interested in.  I found myself taking more notes on how they approach education and their philosophy of education itself.  Not how they have implemented technology, which was the main purpose of my visit…or so I thought.


One of the many collaborative learning spaces at The Urban School

Geoff Ruth, The Urban School’s Academic Dean, described their teachers as ‘relational leaders’ and not the traditional ‘seminar leader’.  Incase you didn’t already know, this is brilliant.  A teacher that has a personal connection to their student will work harder for their students and vice versa.  He tells us that:

The Pedagogy has to be different, it needs to be different to make it work

An example of this is their use of a ‘Digital Innovators Group’.  This group is made of people involved in the school community including: teachers, administrators and most importantly, students.  This group has a variety of roles such as creating assessments that are engaging and relevant to the students, whilst covering all necessary curriculum outcomes.  An idea that I will be adopting in my own personal journey in education.

From this, the use of technology arises.  It becomes relevant. It becomes purposeful. It becomes organic.

I myself am envious of the teaching culture that is so easily found throughout The Urban School.  It is something that I will be taking back with me to reflect on.  But until then, I will continue to enjoy the sunny days of San Francisco and marvel at everything this wonderful city has to offer.