Garreth Wigg, Student Innovation, ICT and Administration Coordinator at St Gregory's Primary School, Queanbeyan, provides personal insights into the Google for Education Innovation Academy in Sydney and shares his emerging Innovation Project.
The Google for Education Certified Innovator program
The Google for Education Certified Innovator program promotes itself as a unique and highly engaging experience for educators to take their teaching practice to new heights. Successful applicants are 'ambassadors for change who empower other educators and students through a thriving innovation culture within their own classrooms, schools and organisations' (Google for Education Certified Innovator program, 2018). With our school 'going Google' over the last four years - adopting 1:1 Chromebooks in Years 4-6 and transitioning to the Google Cloud Platform - I applied for the Sydney intake in August last year.
The Innovation Academy: Sydney
The program opens with a 3 day Innovation Academy (held, in my case, at the Google headquarters at Pyrmont) where participants undertake an intensive program to plan their Innovation Projects. Over the following year, innovators work alongside a dedicated mentor (a past participant - now Google Certified Innovator), a team coach, and the wider Google community to make their project a reality. Academies are offered by Google in various cities around the world each year. To gain entry into a 2018 intake, teachers must:
- undertake Google Certified Educator Level 2 certification (online training and exam)
- complete an online application form
- film a 90 second innovation video, outlining a meaningful challenge in education and explaining why they are suited to tackling it
- submit a vision video demonstrating their commitment to the program values: 'transform, advocate and grow'.
At the Innovation Academy, time was spent developing our own Innovation Projects, undertaking team tasks, participating in 'spark' sessions, and learning about Google products. Project planning used aspects of design thinking (which I have continued to use with staff in professional learning workshops and students in my STEM class). The facilitators for this task were engaging, inspirational and knew their craft. Most importantly, they contextualised the design thinking process for teachers. The focus here was to empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test. This allowed participants' projects to evolve with careful consideration through various feedback approaches, robust questioning techniques and careful consideration. The strong focus on failure and its importance was motivating. There were broad opportunities to collaborate and seek feedback from peers, team mentors and the session facilitators.
Working on our Innovation Projects using the design thinking process: discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation and evolution
The facilitators included Google and non-Google staff, with strong teaching experience from around the world. Each presented a tightly crafted 20 minute 'spark' session, outlining an innovative aspect of their professional career that highlighted student, staff or community engagement. The stories, tips and resources they shared were funny, salient, challenging, inspiring and uplifting.
There were also creative team-building exercises. The Breakout EDU session was my first experience with the resource, which has now become a go-to for staff meetings and class activities within my school. There was even a 'greatest race' around parts of the Sydney CBD that helped bring people together in a fun, shared experience. We worked in different groups, collaborating with new people and developing our professional network, while enjoying the camaraderie of working with like-minded educators.
Exploration and collaboration with Breakout EDU
The Innovation Project
Emerging from the Innovation Academy are participants' Innovation Projects, which are intended to 'drive change in education, impact educators and students, and be documented for other educators to follow' (Google for Education Certified Innovator program, 2018). The Innovation Project Directory contains examples of projects that participants are currently developing.
Since participating in the Sydney Academy 8 months ago, my original Innovation Project has evolved into something completely different. Initially, my idea was to create a web-based outreach program to connect school communities and classrooms that would allow students separated by vast distances to learn and work together. Teachers would also devise, prepare and teach together. The collaborative potential of G Suite products, such as Hangouts, Docs and Slides, Classroom and YouTube, would have made this possible. To produce something worthwhile, I envisaged developing free, multi-modal resource templates and sample units of work linked to the curriculum. With advice and feedback from peers, these resources would contain detailed information and support differentiation, inquiry and project-based learning.
However, as the Certified Innovator program emphasises, the ability to 'pivot' with an idea is crucial. Not long after the Innovation Academy, I began finding resources that matched my vision. After a small period of deflation, an alternative approach surfaced - with an opportunity to facilitate meaningful, accessible, high quality professional learning experiences for teachers. This is how The INNovators Network was born: a platform for enjoyable, affordable and engaging professional development, comprising an online community and a podcast, co-hosted with Luke Mooney. While the project is still in its early stages, our mission includes a strong focus on positive participant experiences and utilising technology to share ideas and resources freely.
Overall, what is so refreshing about the Google for Education Certified Innovator program is the emphasis on thinking differently, collaborating, and disrupting learning. The program models many of the approaches and mindsets which teachers seek to foster within their classrooms and schools. By giving teachers creative space, within a culture of open and constructive feedback, the Innovation Academy provides a rare opportunity for teachers to redefine and transform learning for their students. I feel extremely privileged to have attended this event and to be supported by a network of educators who continue to help me innovate and grow professionally. Interested teachers and educational leaders can view the remaining Innovation Academies for 2018 or register for updates regarding future intakes.
How to cite this article – Wigg, G. (2018). Inside the Google for Education Certified Innovator program. Scan, 37(4).