28 May 2014

Going to the GTA!

One of my unwritten goals for the past year has been to make it into the Google Teacher Academy.  I missed the December deadline for NYC because I chickened out at the last minute over making my one minute video.  When the application opened this spring for Mountain View (Google HQ!) I knew I couldn't wait another year.

To be honest, it was one of the most stressful things I have ever done, probably because I wanted it so badly.  Not only was the application stressful, but the day I knew I would be receiving my email of acceptance (or denial, but I was staying positive) was horrible.  I must checked my email at least 100 times even though my phone would have alerted me to the received message.  Everything stopped in my life whenever my pocket vibrated thinking that this could be it.

  • At about 4pm, the email telling me I was accepted arrived and I literally jumped up and down and started screaming.  Luckily I was alone in the school cafeteria waiting for my Relay For Life meeting to start so it wasn't that embarrassing.  I wanted to share two things I learned from this experience.Make sure you read the directions!!  I was asked to answer 2 questions.  One on hardships that I have faced and how I overcame them.  The other on why I wanted to attend the GTA.  I read the question and noticed that underneath it said 'Maximum 800 words."  I remember thinking 'wow, there are at least 1000 people going to apply and they are going to read all of these essays in a week.  That's impressive!'  So I wrote out this page and half essay and when I was finally ready, pasted the text into the box on the Google form.  That's when the little red error popped up and said "800 characters exceeded."  You read that right:  CHARACTERS not WORDS.  I had to take an essay that was nearly 800 words (779 to be exact) and turn it into 800 characters including spaces!  On the day it was due!  While I was teaching classes!!  Here is my submission as to why I wanted to attend the GTA:

School needs to be transformed; GTA will lead to this. I long to be part of something transformative, something cutting edge, something elite, to be part of a community of educators redesigning education; the concept of GTA excites & energizes me. As a GCT, I will draw on connections to the people most passionate about achieving the best for students while I do the same for mine. I am excited about the opportunity to work closely with like-minded educators innovating, shaking up the system, daring to fail. Every teacher should be fighting for a chance to attend a GTA. I’m geeking out about the opportunity to just apply, that I stand a chance of getting to explore the Google offices & get to talk about the great things other excited educators are doing! Plus, I hear the food is awesome.
  • You need to create a one minute video about how you are innovating education and having an impact in your school.  A couple of students and I had worked on a project for the White House Film festival a few months ago so I tapped their talents to help me again.  We found clips I had recorded from various activities, filmed a short intro, and edited over the course of a couple of hours in the video production lab.  One of the students is very talented with Garage Band so while 2 of us were editing clips (and dealing with my OCD/perfectionist tendencies), he was creating an original score for the piece.  It is not the best video that I have seen submitted, but we were pretty proud of it when we were done.  Below is my video submission.
The students in the video were so embarrassed at first, but then were showing their friends that they made it in the video.  People from all over the world were seeing it and that gave them a sense of pride.  Plus my son loved being there at the end.

I think my biggest takeaway and best advice for anyone thinking of applying is to just go for it.  I panicked at the first one because I felt I wasn't good enough.  But afterwards, and after watching a colleague get in, I realized I was selling myself short.  We all do awesome things in our classrooms.  We need to be positive and promote that.  Sell the the awesome however and wherever we can.  

24 May 2014

Girls (and boys) just want to have fun!

Sometimes you need to stop what you are doing and just have some fun in class.  We are working in solutions so what better time to play with a non-Newtonian fluid!  Basically, you need a kiddie pool, 100lbs of cornstarch, 10 gallons of warm water, a bunch of really enthusiastic students, and you have one helluva day.

19 May 2014


I was at Edcamp Philly this weekend and after making one of my typically crazy ideas I was met with the usual 'well I can't do that in my building.  My principal will never go for it.'
Here's what I know: education is in a weird downward spiral. Those that are controlling the system have forgotten what learning is and what school could be. We are focused on the wrong type of student outcomes. And it is not going to get better.


Unless someone like you cares an awful lot. Cares about kids more than tests. Cares about learning more than grades. Cares more about making a change than the status quo. Cares more about doing what's right for kids than what others think about them.

Nothing is going to change. Nothing is going to get better.


Unless we make it happen ourselves.

--Thank you, Dr. Seuss, for the inspiration!

07 May 2014

Google Prep Classes

Every class that I teach is designed to prepare students for college.  If a student enrolls in this course, does that mean they should be going to college?  But, which college am I preparing them for:  Harvard or Community College?

What if instead of College Prep courses, we designed Google Prep courses?

 I came across this article on Twitter today about the hiring process at Google and I wanted to highlight a couple of key points.
  1. GPA doesn't matter--Google has found that GPA is not an indicator of any success in the company nor does where you went to college or if you even went to college.
  2. Informal leadership is more important than elected positions.  Leaders are people who step up and take the lead when part of a team, but also know how to be part of the team and let others take the lead when necessary.
  3. Expertise will hurt you. They don't want someone who has done a task a hundred times. They want people who will take a novel approach to solve the problem. Even if the solution to the problem is the same as what has always been done, it has been seen with a fresh set of eyes.
Google, one of the most successful companies in the world, cares more about employees who are passionate, are resourceful, and are imaginative in their solutions.  Shouldn't we be teaching these skills to our students instead of simply preparing them for college, especially when the best companies don't even care about having a degree?

Just food for thought.

01 May 2014

It's All About the Benjamins

That's a Cheeto on fire!
I realized on my drive yesterday that I now have the mist dangerous classroom in the school. We have eliminated all shop classes so there are no more saws and drills presses to potentially remove an appendage.  Therefore the chemistry lab is one of the few places left where the students can be seriously injured. We use chemicals that can't be purchased except through special chemical companies.  We have acids, flammable substances, broken glass, hot metals, scalding water, poisonous chemicals and sharp objects.  And, I have labs in which I freely let the students mix these substances in whatever quantities they wish and I call it inquiry

And yet I really don't have discipline or safety problems. I don't have students misbehaving and running a muck in my room. And I have not written up a student for inappropriate behavior in over 10 years.  This doesn't mean my class is perfect, but I take a slightly different perspective on classroom management than a lot of teachers.

You see, my class is all about the Benjamins. And the Christinas. And the Jaimes and the Roberts and the Mohammeds and the Ericas and the Jordans and the Alexs.  Our class is all about the relationships.  Our class is about the mutual respect we have for each other.  Our classroom is where risk taking is rewarded and failure is learning.

Sometimes, as teachers, we get so wrapped up in lesson plans, state tests, and completing our curriculum that we lose sight of what who is most important in our classroom.