Saturday, July 16, 2011

Getting into the Google Teacher Academy

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time now. I’ve been travelling quite a bit and used that as an excuse to not sit down and write. Reading Brad Wilson's post about not getting accepted to the GTA in Seattle and others posting on their experiences leading up to GTA, I decided it was time to put fingers to keyboard and output my thoughts on my process to getting accepted to GTA.
I knew that thousands of people applied world-wide and resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t get in. I wasn’t so much concerned about putting together a good application. Moreso, it was the fact that as a second career, I’ve only been teaching for 5 years now. My school is small and really doesn’t have a reputation for being innovative. My principal, however, allows me a great deal of freedom, so I have done a significant amount of technology integration and cloud computing in my classroom. So, while encouraging other teachers to join me (it pains me to walk the halls and see posters and dioramas littering the walls and eventually the trash), I haven’t had a lot of success in that regards. I participate actively in National and Local professional organizations (NCTE, ISTE, NWP, etc.), but I was concerned Google wouldn’t see me as enough of an educational leader yet.
I mentioned that teaching is my second career. Well, my first career was as a television commercial writer and producer. So, the video part of the application didn’t concern me at all. Many GTAers complained about having to condense into 1 minutes. Well, for a man who spent 10 years writing 30 second commercials, 1 minute was about 30 seconds longer than I needed. I put the video part off until last. I also consider myself a pretty good writer (kind of comes with being an English teacher) and therefore attacked the application as I teach my students to do!
My first steps were to pre-write. So, in true Google fashion, I created a Google Doc and copied all the questions into it. Then I began listing everything I wanted to incorporate into the answer. I decided the best approach was to just be honest. Now, when I say honest, I’m not saying I considered being untruthful. I just felt a lot of people would get into the trap of trying to write what Google wanted to hear. If I did that, I might leave out some of my assets. I also chose to write in a somewhat informal tone as though I was speaking to someone at Google personally. I will admit, the word restriction was a bit difficult. I could have probably used about 50 more words per question. But, remember, I used to write 30 second commercials for a living, so being concise has never been much of a problem when necessary.
Like I said before, I wasn’t concerned at all about the video. I was most concerned about writing an application that made Google realize I was worthy of this opportunity. After I wrote my answers and edited, I shared my Doc with a co-worker and asked her to do one thing: read my answers and make sure I answered the question. How many times have we as teachers read answers to questions on a test or assignment that are well written, contain a lot of information, may even be entertaining, but doesn’t really answer the question? With that step complete, I moved on to the video.
I would speculate that most applications (and probably most video producers) start with a script of what they wanted to say or at least an idea. And, on some projects, I would to. On this project, I treated it like a commercial and went for an image or a single message I wanted my viewer to come away with. I knew it would be impossible to “say” a whole lot in one minute and also make it engaging and memorable. From my television experience, many local commercials are bad simply because the product or store owner wanted to get too much information into the spot. Thus, you are left with a talking head or voice over boringly droning on about this or that. National commercials focus on an image or an impression they want you to walk away with. Think of soft drink commercials or car commercials. The goal is to get you to recall their product and investigate more when it comes time to purchase those items. Not to get you up off your couch to go to Ed’s Mufflers because they offer this and that and those, etc, etc. I hope I don’t insult some of my cohorts, but I wanted Pepsi, not Ed’s Mufflers. My message being: in my classroom, motivation is created by the kids being allowed to experience innovative and creative means (ie technology).
I took a different approach to this video. I decided to do the music first. For two days, I listened to music on my ipod, on my sirrius radio, I asked kids what some popular songs were and listened some more. One song kept catching my attention and that was “You Just Can’t Get Enough” by the Black-Eyed Peas. I really liked the intro female’s voice in the song. So, I downloaded to my ipod and went for a run. I put my ipod on repeat and ran for about 45 minutes. I focused on what images came to me as I heard the song over and over. Eventually, it hit me that stop motion fits well to the beat of this song. Long story short, I decided to use a series of “scenes” in which a student is so engaged in using technology the world goes on around them without them even noticing. Note: if I had a more time, I probably would have done a day into night into day kind of thing, but I was working with free talent and I didn’t want to take up too much of their time.
To make the video, I didn’t even use a video camera. I used a Nikon D-40 that I use for our school’s yearbook, put it on a high shutter speed, and took a series of high quality images. I then edited the music bed to include the intro to the chosen song, but only play the music the rest of the time. I experimented with a few different edits, but couldn’t smooth them out enough for my liking.
Last, I needed some audio to fill the void left by taking out the lyrics. In a moment of inspiration, I decided to have several of my students read some lines about being addicted to innovation, technology, etc. Then, I planned this big cameo appearance at the end in using stop motion to reveal my message on our school marquee. That failed miserably, but was salvageable enough to keep in the video (mainly because I had nothing else and no time to create anything else).
For those curious, I edited this in Video Pad. It is a free download program that does some simple video editing.
Here is my video:

Then, it was time to wait. Fortunately, I had two conferences to keep me occupied. I attended the flipped class conference in Woodland Park, Colorado and then almost immediately turned around and attended ISTE in Philadelphia. I was eating my lunch at ISTE sitting on the patio outside the convention center when I heard a woman at the table next to me say, “I got an email from Google saying I didn’t get accepted.” I immediately took out my phone and checked my email. There it was, the email I’d been waiting for. And, I was in. I’m still finding it hard to believe I was accepted. I’m getting to know many of the people via Twitter and now Google Plus. I’m sure at the end of #GTAWA, I’ll be singing the chorus from my video song….”I just can’t get enough.”


  1. Thank you so much for this post. I could go on and on about my cogitations and yes, I had no expectations about getting in. It was a shot in the dark and just good experience to apply. I was also at ISTE when the email came in and I actually gasped so loudly in a session everyone stopped and looked at me.
    Can't wait to go to Seattle and share the whole experience. I am intimidated but so thrilled to meet everyone.

  2. Thanks for the comments. Yeah, I'm thrilled to be meeting and learning from so many creative people.