Monday, March 15, 2010

Gettin' Googley

I woke up, went to the gym and headed to the Marriott Plaza Hotel - a beautiful place and our meeting rooms were easily identifiable with the unmistakable GOOGLE signs. We signed in, received our nametags and lanyards and headed in to find our groups, supposedly randomly assigned.

My group was the Ruth Wakefield group, and Sarah Rolle, one of our Lead Learners explained that she chose that name because Wakefield was the inventor of chocolate chip cookies. Which is perfect, because I love baking chocolate chip cookies! :)

Google was providing breakfast and they had a wonderful spread - I was particularly grateful for the coffee. On our seats were canvas tote bags filled with Google swag.

Our first session began with a dynamic overview and welcome from the lead learners. While similarly structured to the Google Workshop I had previously attended, this was faster paced with more energy – it was a safe and open place to be our geeky, curious, educational, kid-loving and idealistic-thinking selves.

We flew through a variety of Google Apps – search, docs, sites, calendar, spreadsheets, gadgets, forms, groups, talk, video, moderator, chrome. We also covered legality issues and heard three inspiring stories about how Google Apps were used in schools, how they were rolled out and the impact that it had on kids. One thing that stayed central in each and every presentation and incidental conversation, was the impact and importance this could have for our students. There was a hearty group of us that were tweeting on the backchannel and I’ll own that I puffed up a little when Mark Wagner retweeted my “I feel like a dolphin in the ocean who’s found her pod” tweet.

There were brief moments when I had to pause and try to think about what the best approach would be for this new-found inspiration – who could I tell? How could I explain? What was the best way for my situation? I decided to e-mail Jerome Burg, a type of myth for me as an English Teacher – the maker of Google LitTrips – the coolest thing made for English teachers who were techie, too. Jerome also, serendipitously, recently retired from the school at which I am now the Vice Principal. I knew he knew the culture of my school and district and I wanted to pick his brain. I e-mailed him, and even though he was at his own conference (C.U.E. in Palm Springs), he wrote me back within the hour and said he would connect with me.

Somewhere in there, we also had lunch and dinner. All meals were excellent and the key lime cheesecake for dessert was pretty heavenly. I was one of the last 15 or so to leave, and had connected with Connie White to see if she wanted to toss ideas back and forth the following day, since we were both staying for the ASCD Conference (among many others, as well – Google had also planned an evening reception for us to be held Saturday night).

As I left the Marriott around 8:00pm, my adrenaline was still pumping. The evening was pleasant, so I walked along the Riverwalk, enjoying the sights and sounds and vibrancy of San Antonio. I felt alive.

I ultimately made it back to my hotel, at which point I paced my room, thinking, thinking, thinking. I called my mom and then Jerome called me. I spoke with Jerome for nearly an hour, and it was so comforting and thrilling to know that I had this whole new group of collaborators at my fingertips. He helped center my thoughts and focus (some of) my energy. I spoke with my mom again. And then I got the chance to communicate with Kyle Brumbaugh again (he was, naturally, interested in how the experience had gone since he was unable to attend, due to the same conference Jerome was attending). I finally crashed, with a little bit more focus, but still excited. I had a hard time sleeping that night, because of all the new ideas, applications and implications. But I was okay with that.

Around 5:00pm on Saturday, March 6, I headed back to the hotel from the ASCD Conference to change and go to the GTAdmin Reception at Acenar’s. Mark, the bellboy at St. Anthony highly recommended Acenar’s, and while I don’t know if I would trust Mark, I would trust Google – they probably did their research, but I’m just guessing. It. Was. Wonderful.

There was a room designated for us, with an outside partitioned area, so we could go wherever we chose. Each table had little light-up balls in all the primary colors, of course. If you push the button on the bottom of the ball enough times, it will eventually circle through the colors. The waiters and waitresses were fantastic and they started the party off by bringing out platters of margaritas with (of course) Google light-up stir sticks (which also change colors). There was a table of Google socks, which were also fantastic, but I do regret to report that I was too slow and when I finally went to get my socks before leaving, they were all gone. BUT, I could have done without all of the swag for the experience alone (and I’m a big fan of swag, so that’s saying a lot).

We had a wonderful dinner and Danny Silva and I watched Melinda Miller try her first tamale – I’m sure Melinda is still grateful for Danny ordering some milk for her. As the night wore on, we talked about different ideas of how different applications can be used in the classrooms and systematically. We got to know about each other’s families and stories and it was absolutely fabulous. By the end of the night, Danny, Mark, Donna, Melinda and I were left, happy and chatty. Once again, I went back to my hotel room and this time, I really did crash.