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

My Visit to High Tech High in San Diego

(Sorry in advance for the long post. For the tl;dr see the photos at the end!)

I’ve promised a few that I’ve talked to that I would blog about my experiences last week at High Tech High in San Diego. The idea of adding a San Diego sojourn started when I came across this video while preparing a presentation on the changing nature of technology:


When I did some more research on High Tech High and its beliefs and culture it was a place I just had to see. Knowing I was coming on this trip I checked the calendar, travel details and HTH available tour dates. It all fell into place. I sent a few emails back and forth and before I knew it I was going!


It was an amazing professional experience. I got more out of the experience than I ever thought I would. The tour of HTH was unorthodox – in keeping with most everything they do. The tour I took was a little unique and not like their other tours. The week I visited was their last week of the academic calendar. The place wasn’t much different, I daresay, to any of our schools in Australia during the last week of the year. High School students were out on a park green between buildings playing soccer, firing up a grill and making hotdogs, and singing classic Green Day!

The students of High Tech High were also participating in something they call Presentation of Learning (POL) and, in a nutshell, this is the way students demonstrate what they have learnt over the course of the school year in any format they desire. They present to a panel of teachers and peers that they’ve personally invited to attend. I think this creates a culture of reflective, critical thinking. It was great to see these presentations going on around the campus. Even the kindergarten classes had a form of this, with parents invited on the final day to walk around classes and witness their child’s learning.

High Tech High’s organisational structure and demographics of student (and staff) population is really interesting. The school is a public charter school, and the campus I visited is made up of seven schools all with a slightly different ‘flavour’. There are two Elementary schools, two Middle Schools (one with a Media Arts flavour), and three High Schools (another with a Media Arts flavour and one with an International flavour). Each school is run by a ‘Director’ who is responsible for hiring and firing, budgets and general management. Pastoral care, student wellbeing and day-to-day operations are managed by the Dean of Students. Overseeing all seven schools is the CEO of the campus. Beyond that there are no more layers of management. No heads of department or learning areas, no curriculum leaders, deputies, etc. Very flat org structure!

The school has a high level of school provided lunches (which translates into about 50% of students living at or below the poverty line). This is significant, and when you look at the statistics of students that actually get accepted into college and university, most often as the first in their family to do so, it is impressive to see what they are achieving.

To attend High Tech High students complete an application process, and a lottery system is used based on postcode. There are also other factors such as whether an applicant has siblings attending. On the rare occasion students are asked to leave if they don’t fit the HTH ‘model’ or are unwilling to try and fit.

Part of my time at HTH involved a student tour. A fantastic Year 9 student named Blake took me around the campus, and talked about his experiences. He would light up talking about the change from a traditional private school to the HTH public charter model. He felt empowered by the college style of responsibility placed on students, and really felt like he was being encouraged to develop his passions in the sciences as well as creative outlets such as photography and videography. HTH also doesn’t use exams or tests to assess students, and Blake loved that part of HTH (who wouldn’t!) but felt a lot less pressure in the lead up to the end of the year. Once I’d had the tour from Blake they let me loose (called the ‘rule of two feet’ – follow your feet to where you think you might learn something) and I was able to talk to teachers around the campus and take lots of photos!

The big ‘thing’ that HTH does really well is Project Based Learning (PBL). Each teacher is responsible for coming up with their own ‘project’, and they’d normally run about four projects per class per year. The teachers work hard to ensure that the projects they craft addresses curriculum requirements as well as receiving the HTH treatment through a process called ‘Project Tuning’ which is basically a way for colleagues to give planned projects feedback (HTH loves reflection and feedback).

I could keep going on and on! I’ve got some great resources on PBL and there’s heaps of other really interesting tidbits (no PE department, no/minimal libraries, intensive staff hiring day including student panels, simple timetables with 2-3 subjects per day, no final grade on projects, presentation evenings to engage parents and families, displays of student work EVERYWHERE, students requiring learning support aren’t pulled from class, no explicit homework, no textbooks)

If you’d like to hear more come and ask me. I’d highly recommend a visit/tour in the future and I’ll provide contact information to anyone interested.













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.




UrbanX a bit like our T&E Depts

The STEM lab at The Urban School seemed to be based on principles very close to what good T&E teachers in Australia have been doing for a long time –

  • giving students well-structured design briefs within which students have freedom to pursue their own choice of projects
  • mentoring students as they work independently on their own projects
  • insisting on students maintaining comprehensive journals/logs/portfolios of investigations, planning documents, sketches, photos, diagrams and time management procedures – both paper and digital
  • including aspects of the tasks involving group work, cooperation, discussion and justifying decisions and choices of tools and materials
  • providing opportunities for ongoing reflection, self assessment, peer assessment and showcasing work
  • including and valuing (often even in-task assessing) skills from other subject areas – english, maths, science, social science, history
  • supporting students to build and create – the “head+hands+heart” Learning Area!

Way to go T&E!! Mixing the theory with the practical application and then getting right “in the thick of it” to work on projects with the kids has always been such a great way to teach, assess and understand your students! UrbanX kids will thrive on it.


STEM project ideas from exhibits

While listening to Katie and Lyn describe the Academy’s “citizenship science” (crowd-sourced contributions to scientific data collection) as a way of engaging children in real-world problem-solving, I started thinking about other ways that museums and exhibits could work as STEM “rich project” idea springboards. Perhaps challenging students to design and build (engineer) functional models to explain science concepts? Or create animations to describe processes? Or code a program to do it? Maybe some investigations into different ways interactive displays are actually made interactive? What math, scientific, digital or social engagement and learning principals need to be considered? What about a survey on which kinds of interactive exhibits people like best to collect some data – then “visualise”it? I reckon a visit to SciTech, viewing the exhibits through a design task lens, might be a great start!

Day 1 – The Urban School


urban_xlabs_color_200pxThis morning, after a short briefing, we headed just down the road to The Urban School. It is a relatively small school based right in the heart of the suburbs. It is for 14 – 17 year olds and is academically selective and costs around $42,000 USD a year to attend. There are 55 staff (approx half are 0.5 FTE) and average class size is 14.

After a short tour by the Dean of Academics, Geoff Ruth, we were led to a Maths (Math) classroom  and we had a talk / chat session with both Geoff and the Dean of Faculty, Jonathan Howland, joined later by Bethany who is a teacher but also helps teachers integrate IT into their courses, later we met Igor, IT Support Manager, and the website designer (whose name I didn’t catch). They are a mac school, with teachers and students using the same 13 inch retina pro on a 4 year cycle, the school purchases the laptop and then after 4 years students can keep them. The machines are all imaged to be identical and students have admin rights, in order to keep this updated etc. Before the start of the school year students return their laptop, it gets re-imaged ready for the year ahead.

We are all coming to this tour from various backgrounds, primary, secondary, teachers, managers, Headmistress, Chief Knowledge offer and many other areas of expertise and interest so we all have different queries and questions. Every question was answered thoroughly, although that tended to lead to more questions.

They run a very different timetable to most of us, with just 4 subjects at most per day and that is something they are looking to reduce. The teachers don’t teach the same class all year but rather teach a class for 12 weeks (1 trimester) and then they get a new class.

Interestingly to me was the lack of parental control that was being given. The parents don’t have access to the LMS, don’t have access to student grades, in fact they never get a percentage, only a final grade. The reports are done twice a trimester and involve a written comment from teacher but also student which I’ve never seen before.

The school offers a good range of academic subject but their most innovative courses come from their Urban X courses. These include many subjects you’d consider STEM and many are multi-disciplinary. They are currently renovating a room so that they have a dedicated space that can be utilised more easily. They will kit this room out with a wide variety of tools, 3D printers, laser cutters etc. The course is assessed with regular skills tests and the last 3/5 weeks of the trimester is spent creating a project, which offer the students a lot of freedom.

Urban x

They may seem like a forward thinking school, but they describe themselves as conservative and refused to jump on the STEM makerspace & fab lab bandwagon just so they could say they do it. Instead they waited and built a syllabus first and then thought what to build after that. They have run the courses the last few years and now they know their success, they are investing more into infrastructure. The also acknowledge that not every subject or course is suited to project based learning but they do think many more could use it than currently does. They feel a number of staff have the opinion that the older ways are working fine so why would they bother doing anything different.

The time flew by and we had to rush away to our next activity but it was fantastic and I’d like to thank everyone at The Urban School, who took time off from their holidays, to talk to us and answer all our questions.

I’d recommend their website The Urban School for futher information.