Last night I attended an unconference at the new Google building here in Kitchener. The evening began with a tour of the building and then we spent two hours conversing with other participants in engaging and dynamic conversations.

The Google building is amazing! I love how they have re-imagined the working space for their employees and that they have well being at the heart of the space design. They want to encourage people to be creative and innovative, but also know that it is impossible to concentrate for eight hours a day and have built in means for their employees to unwind, de-stress, and exercise. They want their “Googlers” to be healthy and have a variety of kitchenettes that are well stocked with nutritious foods. I really appreciate with this mentality as when people feel cared for, I think they are naturally more productive and creative.

The atmosphere and conceptual design also spoke to me as I appreciated the strategic lighting, exposed duct and beam work, as well as how they tried to maintain the character of the building while updating it with ultra modern conveniences. I felt creative and I was just touring the space. I commented to my colleagues that it would be interesting to observe what students would do if you put them in that kind of environment.

The tour was engaging, but what I appreciated more was the deep discussions I had with the attendees of the event. During my first conversation, one of the “Googlers” sat in on the conversation and I found his point of view fascinating as it aligned with much of my thinking about how the current model of education should evolve.

His main ideas are that he wants students to love learning, have confidence in their abilities to problem solve, and that teachers need to help students on their individual paths by providing them with support and guidance. These ideas resonate with my view of education and role as the teacher. I often worry (as mentioned in previous blog posts) that students see school as only a place for assessment and that the real learning in their lives takes place after 3pm. We really need to reconsider how we make school more engaging and fun. I think we need to let go of the idea that fun = not learning. It’s such a backwards idea as learning is fun and exciting.

I found his language choice surrounding confidence and trusting their problem solving skills interesting. If you ask many students if they feel confident while at school, I think very few would use that word to describe how they feel about school. I also liked the idea of problem solving as I’ve been doing some research into Fullan’s New Pedagogies for Deep Learning which has a major focus on developing skills through problem-based learning. Students can demonstrate many skills when you give them a problem and it’s a style of learning that I find fascinating. I think what makes teachers uncomfortable, however, is that then all the products will look different. As Chris Lehmann has observed, teachers are excellent recipe designers…

Finally, I completely agree with the changing role of the teacher from content deliverer to being there for support and guidance through a personalized path. In many ways, I feel (and hope my students would agree) that this is something I am doing already in my classroom. We are experimenting with the idea of personalizing learning and as they are working on their passion projects, they are getting copious amounts of feedback. In the course of two day cycles, I am trying to have a couple face to face conversations with each student, but also write one to two comments on their working documents. It’s a focus on the process rather than the end product as the learning journey is where the deep thinking happens. I’m so interested to see what my students will create when they are exposed to a feedback loop. It’s A LOT of work on my end, (27 students X 2 conversations + 1-2 written comments for each student every two days) but I feel the journeys are deeper and more reflective and that the final products will be the best work yet. The feedback from my students about this process has been overwhelmingly positive and many have commented that they feel that their skills are getting stronger and they’re feeling more comfortable about sharing their thinking.

After a night like that, all I can say is thank you to the Googlers who organized the event. I really appreciate that they are willing to provide such an inspiring place to talk with other passionate educators from around the region.

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