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Creating an Atmosphere of Innovation? Just Google It!

One of the benefits of this job are the people that I meet and the places that I go.  I’ve met Sir Ken Robinson, Levar Burton, Karen Cator and even most recently, a contestant on the Amazing Race.  I’ve visited many cities to attend various conferences and meet-ups, but when it comes to technology, there are only a few meccas.  Last week I got to visit one of those meccas when I visited the Google campus in Mt. View, California.

The “Googleplex” is Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory for techies. It’s the ultimate geek playground and a fountain of both innovative ideas (Google Hangouts!) and some epic failures (Google Wave?).  Despite the amazing array of technology tools, I was most interested in what kind of environment Google puts in place to create an atmosphere that truly fosters innovation.  What I discovered was surprising in both complexity and simplicity.

Google prides itself in collaboration (obviously) and realized that while digital communication is important, one of the best ways to have spontaneous collaboration was by proximity.  To prove their point, cubicles at Google are almost uncomfortably close to each other and very wide open.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available to employees (and visitors in my case) for free.  When I asked Google’s”People Operations” department about this (what we would

A Bacon-maple cupcake at Google

call Human Resources), they discovered that prior to this change, employees would take lunch breaks with the same group or team and travel an 1 and 1/2 hours round trip to go into town for lunch.  The cafeteria at Google has an almost biergarten-style with lots of long tables set up throughout.  This set-up insists people from various groups sit together and hopefully strike up a conversation about a project that could revolutionize the industry, or just make life simple.  They have several “micro-kitchens” set up throughout the complex to extend the old-school water cooler conversation to something a little more modern.  This micro-kitchens have all the

amenities of home with an almost college dorm-like feel to them. Inside these you’ll find a large cappuccino machine, a cooler full of exotic waters and energy drinks, and even a ping pong and/or foosball table for a quick break.  The basis of all of these Googly locations throughout the building is to force collaboration in a gentle way.  I have to say, education could stand to learn a thing or two from their rationale too.

When asked about Google’s value-based hiring practices, they stated these key points:

  1. Hire innovative people (intrinsically motivated, more knowledgeable than you)
  2. Create and maintain a culture and workplace for innovation
  3. Design an effective organizational structure
  4. Reward employees

In short their philosophy is: “Hire them, grow them, keep them.” Google goes to great lengths to keep their employees happy and returning to work looking to inspire on a daily basis.  One of their most powerful tools to open up lines of communication with their staff is their GoogleGeist  survey which gathers ideas and areas they can improve.  Through these surveys, they realized that  daily chores like getting your hair cut or having your oil changed took away from your day at work. As a result, Google now has these services available for employees.  And it doesn’t stop there. Some other employee-centric ideas are:

  • You can bring your dog to work
  • Onsite child care
  • Laundry and dry-cleaning services
  • Free food and drink (already mentioned)
  • Nap pods (exactly what you think – little pods you can rest in)
  • Massages & massage chairs
  • Heated toilet seats
  • Amazing work-out facilities
  • An actual living garden you can tend
  • Google bikes to take you from one end of the expansive complex to the other

Riding with our Tech Director on a Google Bike…sort of

These were only a few conveniences they gave to their employees after hearing their concerns.  They also having weekly “TGIF” meetings in the cafeteria commons to celebrate new ideas and share top-secret projects with all staff.  The founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, often mingle at these events that may or may not involve alcoholic beverages (that would never fly in K-12).

One final innovative practice that I’ve heard about for years but wanted to see in action was Google’s “80/20” Rule.  The idea is that as long as you are taking care of your main job 80% of the time, you get 20% of your work week to spend on a passion project or idea for Google labs.  In fact, I was surprised to discover that Gmail was born out of this “20% time”.  I know in education, we are bound by time in the classroom, but how great would it be to spend at least one planning time a week working on something completely different than your field?

Needless to say, after hearing all of these ideas bombarded at me for several hours, I was ready to find a nap pod myself and download all that was discovered.  We may have talked a little bit about technology, Google Apps for Education, and some other ways K-12 can get involved, but it was the idea that an atmosphere like this exists in the world that intrigued me the most.  So much so, I returned ready to start implementing as many of these as I could in my district. While we all my be confined to the limitations of a public institution, the spirit of these concepts could easily transfer to some areas of our field.  TGIF days, “forced” lunch areas to foster conversation, free food and coffee, and maybe even a comfortable coach in a dark room to catch a power nap could be easily added to our buildings.

And if all else fails, you could always just make a cappuccino and find someone to play ping pong with your dog.  Who wouldn’t want to google that?


Expanding Horizons? Depends on Your View (ISTE2012 Recap)

An Attendee Recap of the ISTE 2012 Conference

June 24-27 – San Diego, California

Part 1

Any conference that has Sir Ken Robinson open as a keynote, has a great chance to be a winner.  I wrote a few months ago about Sir Ken serving as keynote at the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and how while the rest of the conference lacked the muster, he more than made up for it.  With that in mind, I was excited to see Sir Ken take the stage, albeit for only 45 minutes or so at ISTE this week.  However, I was disappointed when it slowly evolved from his elegance and wit to a semi-sales pitch.  We are all aware of the importance of vendors, but when you have the opportunity to start a conference of this magnitude off with a bang and you elect to let vendors speak to open, it sets the wrong tone.

City View from harbor cruise Monday night

Unlike NASSP, this conference was not as dependent on a strong Keynote to promote it’s value as an international event.  This was mostly due to the level of top-level talent that attends and speaks at ISTE.  Combine that with the level of pertinent, up-to-date topics and one quickly realizes that the mix of talent and relevance can make this a one-of-a-kind event.

Assuming you choose the right path.

This was my 4th ISTE conference and I’ve gone from a wide-eyed computer teacher to a seasoned administrator in that time, but I still hold a level of curiosity to learn from great minds in the field.  That said, I focused my attention on who was presenting more than what sessions were being presented.

Day 1 Session Recaps – 

Tony Vincent’s “Mobilize for Personal Productivity” session was a great way to start of the conference sessions.  Tony is always an engaging and fun presenter, not afraid to poke fun at himself.  In this session he went over a variety of ways to clean up your digital and personal lives, from zeroing your inbox to organizing your laundry.  He had a few quotes from David Allen, one of which really rings true – “The mind is for creating tasks, not for holding them.”  A very useful tool he showcased that I’ve started to us is the website.  It uses a series of “If This Then That” scenarios to link up all of your social media accounts and save you time in your day.

USS MIdway

I followed Tony’s session with “Becoming a Mobile Learner” by Travis Allen.  Travis and his crew have been touring the country literally as a mobile conference on wheels.  This bright college student started the iSchool Initiative when he was 17 in the hopes to get his own high school on board with allowing mobile devices and promoting digital learning.  His main point was that the “industrial model” of education is the Titanic trying to set sail into the information age.  Unfortunately, there is an iceberg of government bureaucracy that is in between us and where we need to go.  One stat that stood out regarding mobile learning in higher education was that if a college student buys a tablet his first year of college, he’ll save an average of $3100 over the course of the four years due to paper savings, eBooks, calculators, etc.

Will Richardson’s “Eight Ways to Start Conversations around Change” was an interesting dialogue about how we initiate change on our campuses and how we sustain that change (although it was more like six ways).   He and co-author Rob Mancabelli discussed some strategies for how to start change via “Tech Nights” with parents, book clubs set at parents’ homes and online posting and dialogue.  When it comes to sustaining that change, we need to address the emotional side as well as the rational.  We also have to pave the road so that people can see where they are going and have as smooth a travel as possible.  While Will and Rob were good story tellers, I felt a lot of their information was already stated in some form or fashion and that they were mostly putting that together to present to us.  Still, I walked away with a sense of gauging our own level of change at Eanes and realize we are past the initiating phase and now need to figure out how to sustain it.

Coronado bridge

I finished off the day with EduTecher founder Adam Bellow. His session was aptly titled “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future.” I met Adam at ISTE last year and had never seen him present, but I was absolutely floored by his presentation.  He started off saying he would be presenting 400 slides in his hour with the room, and he wasn’t joking.  While he bashed industrial-age teaching like other presenters, his speed and wit to which he made parallels were un-matched.  He and I share a common agreement that we need to develop Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for every student, not just those with special needs. The other thing we hold in common is that kids need to be more than engaged, they need to be empowered.  He literally put his money where his mouth is during this presentation too.  When we entered the room, each attendee was given a QR code and a crisp dollar bill.  During the presentation, we were directed to go to the QR code and vote (via on a charity to donate.  He then gave us the option of walking out with the dollar, returning it, or returning it with more money.  All money collected would be donated to those charities.  It was a unique way to show how we all are socially-motivated in some nature and we also crave to control our path of learning.  What a great way to end a great first day of sessions. It left me walking with a buzz of motivation to change the world that I hope would carry on through the rest of the conference.

I ended the first day on a wonderful harbor cruise hosted by Atomic Learning.  You’ll notice pictures in this post from that trip out to the harbor and back. My mom actually came down from LA to watch the kids as this was also a family trip.  The wife and I spent likely the longest amount of time together in a while without the kids, and although it was a work-related event, she and I enjoyed the time together.  It made me realize with all this change and motivation in my work life, some things in life are too precious to overlook.

Sun setting on day one

5 Apps That I’d Like Invented in 2012

I’m always running across people saying, “don’t you wish there was an app for that”.  Sometimes I’m surprised to find that actually is an app for “that”.  With over 500,000 apps in the iOS marketplace, it’s hard to imagine that we could even need any more.  So as the new year begins, here are some I think should be created this year.  Some of these are very pie-in-the-sky and require quite a bit of other things to happen in order to be used effectively, but hey! It’s the New Year!  Anything is possible right?
1.  RefriderMinder – Just in time for those New Year’s weight-loss resolutions out there! Ever wonder what’s in your fridge but your at the store already?  Ever get surprised by that old tub of sour cream that’s gone green earlier than you thought?  That’s where “RefridgerMinder” app comes in handy. This app can actually detect what’s in your fridge! (Note: “SmartFridge” and optional bar code scanner readers and weight sensors not included) Imagine it, when you put food in your fridge it instantly scans it and let’s you know the expiration date. Enable push notifications to warn you when something is reaching expiration or running out (via weight sensors). With an optional upgrade, you could even have the nutritional information fed to your favorite weight-loss app. If you purchase accompanying  tupperware with an electric date/time diode on the lid, your left-overs could communicate to you as well.  Finally, if you really wanted to go all out, mini-cams could be installed on fridge shelves that let you actually look at what’s in your fridge via this app.  There will also be a companion app called “PantryMinder” coming out not too long after this.

2. BreadCrumbs – During our recent visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, my wife commented to me while we were driving by landmarks, “wouldn’t it be nice if we could have an audio tour happening right now that tells us what significant stuff is around us?”.  With the geo-location feature on iDevices, it would be easy enough to enable audio to come on based on your location and the direction your are facing. In fact, there are already a couple apps out there already that already do that. This app would take it even a step further.  Users could input their own images, videos, and audio based and geo-tag the location where they are for other users to experience what they experienced.  Volcano not erupting the day your are there? No problem! Click on a user-video from the exact spot your are standing and experience an augmented reality version of the volcano erupting.

3. YouTube Ed Edition – This one is exactly what it sounds like.  There are a lot of “filtered” apps out there like Kideos, which will categorize some YouTube videos by age level.  However, with the recent release of, I hope it’s only a matter of time before a separate YouTube Ed Edition app appears on our devices.

4. GreenLightGo – I know we are not supposed to check email or text in our cars.  In fact, many states are outlawing the use of any cell phone while the car is in motion.  Playing by the rules means we are stuck reading or responding to as much as we can in the 2 minutes it takes for a traffic light to cycle through.  Often times, I’m so into my response or research that I don’t notice the light has changed until I’m gently reminded via a driver’s honk to my rear.  This app solves that problem.  Simply run this app in the background of your device, then when the light you are facing turns green, the screen flashes and sends a small audio alert letting you know it’s time to move.  Sounds simple enough right?  The trick would be getting the highway department to let this app access their traffic signal cycles.

5. URL in a Flash – The one GIANT roadblock/question I get when talking about iDevices in school or anywhere else is the “yeah, but it doesn’t run flash” response.  There are currently several apps that claim to enable some sort of flash integration on the iPad. (Photon being the best, albeit a little clunky and not cheap.  Rover is a more limited free option.)  With the recent openess of Adobe towards Apple I think a true everything app that runs flash will be out there soon, only in all reality it likely won’t look like this.  It will probably be blue with a compass on it and be called “Safari”.

So there you have it.  Just enough to wet your appetite to the possibilities. I know I might be giving away a ton of money in free ideas, but the reality is I just want to see these apps invented.  (I also didn’t share my top 3 ideas as I do actually hope to invent those :-)  The scary thing is, I think we all have these rattling around in our heads.  I just chose to create fake app icons and put them on a blog.  What app have you thought of?  Please share via comments below or invent it and share it with me!

My “APPendix” of App Lists

I’ve been gathering several lists of “Must Have” apps for various educational levels and subject areas.  These come from all sorts of different blogs, websites and sources that I’ve found useful and used on our district iPads at some point this year.  One of the things I love about many of these sites is that they give you some ideas as to how to use and integrate them too. So feel free to bookmark this and add more lists to the comments below.  Enjoy!

WeAreTeachers Blog of Educational iPad, iPod and iPhone Apps that You and Your Kids Will Love

Top Ten iPad interactive Book apps

Top iPad Apps to Keep You Organized

15 Essential iOS Apps for Students

Best Free iPad apps of all time

iPad Apps for Music Education 

100 iPad Apps Perfect for Middle School

25 Essential Apps for Your New iPhone 4s 

An Educator’s Guide to Apps A-Z

Must-Have iPad Apps, 2011 Edition 

Thousands of apps. Endless potential 

2o Apps for Librarians

Kristie Johnson’s Apps Apps Apps Slideshare

25 Best iPad Apps for Kids

1300+ Educational Apps

35 Best iPad Apps Creative and Useful 

Kerrville’s Appy Hour list

Lisa Johnson’s site 

Eanes Wifi Blog App Clearinghouse

70 Free Apps for Special Ed

Kathy Schrock’s iPads in the Classroom

iPad Sammy’s Symbaloo of 45 apps in 45 minutes

TCEA’s Ginormous list of iPad Apps broken into grade levels and subject areas

So, this is a start.  All told there are over 3200 Apps listed above (not including Apple’s education site which lists all 20,000+ Edu Apps) and hopefully some tools and ideas for integrating them.

Adding more here:

15 Photo Collage Apps


Fighting Perception

In the past couple of months I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a great many community members, teachers, students and parents about the role of technology in education.  The one commonality that continues to amaze me in all of those interactions is the perception that technology either “isn’t necessary” or that we shouldn’t become to “technology dependent” in education.  We are all becoming too “plugged in” to everything.  The immense amount of information and access is overwhelming, we have to unplug ourselves and just go back to the basics of education, the nay-sayers would suggest.

While I understand the worry with funding in the current climate, I hold that these beliefs are a direct result of everyone’s remembrance of public education when they attended.  I find it hard to believe that other professions would avoid technology innovation like some do in education.  I’m sure folks in medical field weren’t at all excited to discover the recent announcement by Surgeon Anthony Atala and the ability to actually “print” human organs.  Lawyers that can now access documents digitally by keyword searches rather than piling through hours of papers probably aren’t at all pleased about the time they save on their cases.  (ok, so maybe lawyers really aren’t happy about that)

Despite the advances in digital information, the K-12 institution still shows reluctance in some parts of embracing this change, even though public education is the largest entity for delivering information literacy. Teachers will exclaim, “Why do we keep having to learn new stuff?” to which my response is, “Did you just hear what you said?”  I wonder if a teacher in 1800 was really worried that the chalkboard would replace his/her need to be a teacher.  After all, couldn’t we just hire a bunch of chalkboard writers?

While parent support for technology is great in my community, there are still a few that feel that the chalk and slate would get just as much accomplished as a Smartboard and iPad.  While content and instruction are still extremely important in education, the mode with which they are delivered has changed.  The mode with which the world receives information has changed in advance of this.  I recently had the pleasure of hearing Scott McLeod from the CASTLE Institute speak about the trends in education and the national job market.  Manufacturing and Agriculture in serious decline while jobs based on services and creativity continue to sky-rocket.

Yet we continue to present a model that prepares kids for the latter rather than former.  The Kaiser M2 Generation study shows that kids are spending 31 minutes getting access to technology at school vs. 429 minutes of access at home.  Of course, the stats are reversed when it comes to print media.  Is this disparity not disturbing to anyone? We are quickly becoming irrelevant, yet we continue to dig in our claws when change is staring us right in the face.

So how do you fight this perception that more technology and access is bad?  I for one am using all of the tools available to me.  Twitter, Facebook, my blog, list-servs, community forums, and generally anyone I can stop in the hall and talk to about it.  I’m fortunate to have a very supportive administrative team that knows and accepts that we have reached a tipping point in terms of what information literacy looks like.  In order for this to work, in order for this change to truly happen, we ALL need to be on board.

So for now, I’ll continue to forge ahead with their support and the support of many who believe and are embracing this change. I’ll continue to try and convince one person at a time that education is not what it was 20 years ago.  I’ll continue to open their eyes to the changes in our world and the instant access we now all have for better or worse. (see: Sheen’s Korner on UStream)

I’ll continue until there is no fight left in me, and when that moment comes, I’ll pull my own plug.


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