Google Teacher Academy UK

Those of you who know me or who have been following my blog for a while know that I was invited to participate in the Google Teacher Academy (#GTAUK) held last spring in London. This news seemed to set off a whirlwind of movement and opportunity in my professional and personal life that has just begun to settle down long enough for me to blog about it all. With the next GTA coming up in a few weeks, I thought it would be a good time to share what I learned for those who are looking forward to attending or applying for the next cycle.

How I did it
At this point I have several teacher-friends who have applied to attend the academy and did not get accepted. This makes me feel honored and lucky to have been chosen. I have also been asked about my application, and the all-important video. My advice for the app is simple: answer the questions. Period. I know that this seems pretty obvious, but it can be very easy to get off topic or on your soapbox, so be sure to go back and check that you have directly addressed each question as thoroughly and succinctly as possible. I also saved my answers to a Google Doc and shared them with friends to proofread and revise. When it comes to the video, be bold, have fun, and most importantly, do something different. Lots of teachers are doing great things in their classrooms–how can you present what you do in an unforgettable way in only one minute?

What I learned
One interesting idea that I picked up from Google was their “80/20 rule”: Googlers (Google employees) are expected to spend 80% of their time at work “on-task” while they get 20% to use however they want–sleeping, playing video games, whatever. The idea is that when you give people time to do their own thing, they are more creative and ultimately more productive. I would love to see how this would play out in a classroom–I may try it this year! The best thing about the Google Teacher Academy is the networking, which I anticipated, but had no idea how awesome it would be. I was so inspired by the educators I met and attending overseas gave me the added bonus of being surrounded by teachers from around the world. I met YouTube guru James Sanders, who has an extensive library of videos that he has created for his own students. He also curates the YouTube EDU page where tons of free educational content is available for teachers and students. Hanging out with James and my team leader Jim Sill, another videographer extraordinaire, was a crash course in video inspiration. I was also enthralled by Tom Barrett, one of the first British Google Certified Teachers (GCT), who wowed us with a “transmedia” presentation, using a broad variety of Google tools to tell a story about his son. I had never seen anyone seamlessly integrate so many web tools in such a short time in a way that seemed so natural and effortless.

Everything that I learned and was inspired to do manifested itself in the math rap video I completed with my students and peers when I returned from London. Like Tom, I used a broad variety of tools to teach and entertain: Google Docs to collaboratively write the lyrics, Final Cut Pro to produce the video, Google Sketchup to create the 3D graphics, Keynote and GeoGebra for the slides and animations, and Garage Band to produce the song. I also enlisted many teachers and students to participate in this project, realizing that collaboration makes good ideas great. The video turned out to be a culmination of most of my knowledge about video production, presentation tools, collaboration and of course, teaching mathematics. It was greatly enhanced by the people I met and the things I learned at GTAUK.

This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t tell you about how much I enjoyed my trip to London. It was a life-changing experience that I will never forget. This was my first trip out of the country with the exception of a cruise to Mexico. It was also the first time I traveled solo–no family, friends or co-workers to fly, share a room or just hang out with. If I had to do this trip all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Since I didn’t know when I would get to go to London again, I scheduled my trip several days before the Google event to give myself some time to enjoy the city. I was even able to find a relatively cheap train ticket online a few weeks before I left, so I took a day trip to Paris, too! I spent quite a bit of time taking in the great museums of London, which are all FREE! I saw the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, bringing to life something that I’d only seen in history books. I also enjoyed the Egyptian exhibit there, where I spent hours gawking at scores of beautiful, ancient sculptures. I began my visit with a photo tour that I scheduled with Photo Walks of London, owned and operated by Ian Hardy. Setting this tour up on the first day of my trip was a real treat. As a new owner of a real camera, it was well worth it to not only learn how to use it from an expert, but to also get some amazing postcard-worthy photos of two of the most beautiful cities in the world! I will leave you with a collection of videos that I made for my students while I was abroad…they include updates math, and lots of photos that I cannot believe I took myself! Enjoy!

“Show Me” how to do math!

My students recently created video tutorials on the iPads (our 1st iPad project!) using a FREE app called ShowMe. According to its description on iTunes, “ShowMe allows you to record voice-over whiteboard tutorials and share them online. It’s a radically intuitive app that anyone will find extremely easy to use, regardless of age or background.” I found this to be pretty true as my students started working on their projects immediately without needing any assistance in learning how to use the app. Continue reading “Show Me” how to do math!

I’m back! (and going to LONDON!!!)

I know it has been a super-long time since I’ve written a post, but I plan to make up for it.
So much has happened in the last few months that I just have not had the chance to sit down and blog about it!
A few days ago, I found out that I was one of the lucky few who got selected to attend the Google Teacher Academy in London in April. Attendees are dubbed “Google Certified Teachers”. Continue reading I’m back! (and going to LONDON!!!)

“Math Minute” video project

Above is a slideshow of a project my students just completed- the math minute video. I listed the requirements and students uploaded their completed projects to a Moodle assignment. It was fun to watch the kids react to the videos. They really had fun with it–lots of singing, dancing, and math! We have decided to enter the state tech conference’s video contest creating a math music video much in the style of Westerville South in Ohio. My kids are in LOVE with the “Quad Solve” (see below), and want to make a video of their own! I just got a cool new camera, (did you see the awesome pics in the slideshow???) and I am really excited to see how the video turns out!

A cool chat with the “Cool Cat”

Reader’s Note: this post is about my reactions and impressions from my interview with Vicki Davis, the “Cool Cat Teacher”. To watch the full interview, visit the Vimeo channel at

I recently interviewed Vicki Davis, global collaboration guru and bonafide social media superstar with nearly 22,000 Twitter followers, and over 23,000 blog subscribers to date. Best of all, she’s a teacher, just like me! Her followers know her as the “Cool Cat Teacher” and co-founder of the Flat Classroom™ project. To promote her upcoming book release, Vicki graciously agreed to an interview with me at ISTE 2011. A family emergency prevented us from meeting up at ISTE, but we were able to video-chat using Facetime soon after. Besides being totally starstuck, I truly enjoyed our conversation and found Vicki to be be more than anything, inspirational.

I met Vicki for the first time at our state technology conference in December 2010, where she was the keynote speaker. At the time, I was so impressed by her keynote, that I wanted to attend her session on the Flat Classroom™ Project. I was not the only one! I waited in line for 30 minutes just to get in to the session. Then I sat on the floor in what were literally “standing room only” conditions. I wanted a chance to talk to her then, but it just was not going to happen! At the time, I knew that the best I could do was snap a quick pic for my blog, and make it my mission to reconnect later…and, so, here we are!

About Vicki
I prepared a few questions for our interview, and of course, we chatted about unplanned topics as well. To start, I asked how her journey as the “Cool Cat Teacher” began. Interestingly enough, she went all the way back to when she was 8 and her dad bought a TRS-80 computer that she figured out how to use. I had to Google this, since I had no idea what a TRS-80 was, and found out that TRS = Tandy Radio Shack, which I totally remember! I think a Tandy was the first computer in my house, too! She also shared how her students came up with her name: “..we’re the Westwood Wildcats, and you’re pretty cool, so why don’t you be the Cool Cat Teacher?” …and the rest, as they say, is history. I love it!

“Flattening” Classrooms
As our conversation progressed, Vicki began to talk about the Flat Classroom™ Project and how her upcoming book became a reality. She defines a “flat classroom” as a classroom that can “work and co-create with anybody, anywhere, anytime” using synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication. Since our first encounter, I wondered how I could “flatten” my own secondary math classroom. Here’s what Vicki offered:

In this segment, Vicki suggests several ideas for flattening the math classroom, some I’ve thought of and tried, and many that I never even considered. I have had several professionals who use math visit my classes over the years, but never thought to compare and contrast problem solving-techniques across countries!!! I was recently offered a membership to the Math Forum Problems of the Week site in exchange for my tweeting and blogging about how I use it. I am now very excited about trying some of Vicki’s ideas with these problems!

The Book
Here is another part of the interview in which Vicki discusses her upcoming Flat Classroom™ book:

I particularly like this segment because you can really see how passionate Vicki is about the work she’s doing. Here she also talks about how the Flat Classroom™ project has helped “unleash excellence” and “break cycles” for students with mental and physical disabilities, and low socioeconomic status. At one point, she even tears up while talking about a particular student who cited the project as the catalyst for his attending college (on a full scholarship), as the first in his family to do so. In this video, Vicki also talks about how the book is written, full of QR codes the reader can scan to connect with online interactive content right away. I am intrigued and curious to see a book written like this, as it is definitely a break from the norm, to say the least! At a time when many book publishers are fearful of all things technological, I am impressed that Vicki and her co-author were able to get these cutting-edge techie tools included in their text.

Final Thoughts
I will not include the entire interview in this post, since I chopped it up into 7 videos which are about 5 minutes apiece. I think the vids speak for themselves. I did a lot of listening and absorbing throughout the interview and came away from it inspired and energized to do more in the coming school year. Here are a few more memorable things that Vicki said during our talk:

  • “You can’t do everything, but you can do something.”
  • “Principle of Transference: If they (students) love chocolate cake, and everyday they go to math class, and you have a chocolate cake in the front of math class, what’s gonna happen when the bell rings and it’s time to go to math? They will be running, because they have transferred their love of chocolate cake to math! …now what do they enjoy? They enjoy social media…they love to connect with each other.”
  • “Blogging is first person-‘I’ is in there, blogg-ING…we’re hungry for a real person. It’s OK to say I think _______.”

When I think about how Vicki and I met at a time when she was literally untouchable, it really underlines the beauty of online communication and collaboration. Someone who was impossible for me to get to in person was in my living room just a few days ago! This is truly powerful, and I have to share this power with my students and peers! Vicki and I have decided to continue having these conversations, so stay tuned for the next time we get together. For more info about Vicki and her book, visit I’ll leave you with my favorite video from our chat, which I’m calling “1-minute inspiration”.