Friday, October 31, 2014

Augmented Reality App Brings History Alive at Kansas City's Union Station

I can't wait to try this out - augmented reality brings Kansas City's Union Station to live.  Beginning today (October 31, 2014) visitors to Union Station can make history come live with their smart phone using augmented reality.

Here is an article which describes the project but I also suggest watching the video below to get a grasp of how awesome this will be at Union Station.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MOREnet 2014 Conference Session - Make Something! Maker Revolution in Education

Today I am presenting at the 2014 MOREnet Conference in Columbia, Missouri on the topic of the maker revolution in education.  It is a collection of ideas, gadgets and resources for using maker ideas in education.

Here is the link to my resources for this session : Make Something! Maker Revolution in Education

Monday, October 27, 2014

MOREnet 2014 Google Tools to Make Geography More Exciting Resources

Today I am attending and presenting at the 2014 MOREnet Conference in Columbia, Missouri.

My session today is describing the many applications and uses of Google Geo Tools with your students.

Here is a link to the resources from my session : Google Tools to Make Geography Exciting Presentation Resources

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Images from 2014 Mount Vernon Missouri Teacher Weekend

I had an incredible several days as a participant in the 2014 Mount Vernon Missouri Teacher Workshop this past week. I will be adding some blog posts about the experience but wanted to share some of my favorite photos for the workshop in this blog post.

I love to take pictures at workshops such as this and I have posted over 750 of my images from the Mount Vernon workshop on Flickr.  You can view them here.

Mount Vernon in the morning

Reading Room at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon

View of sunrise from the porch at Mount Vernon

Washington's original books

Flower on the grounds at Mount Vernon

Vegetable garden at Mount Vernon

Reenactors at Mount Vernon Colonial Faire

Bakery at the MountVernon Colonial Faire

View from window of Washington's gristmill

Posed contemplation while in the manuscript room of Washington Library

Monday, September 22, 2014

Creating Videos to Keep in Touch with Students While Away

So this is nothing revolutionary (pun intended, please read on) but I have used video a couple of times this year to touch base with my students while out of the classroom a couple of times and it has really helped.  Early in the school year I was out of state for a couple of days as my wife and I attended a funeral and last week I was at Mount Vernon for a couple of days attending the 2014 Mount Vernon Missouri Teachers Workshop.  

I have a great sub who consistently covers my classes while I am away so I feel fortunate to have someone who knows the content (retired 8th grade American history teacher) and is great with the students but I also want to help keep them updated on the assignment, give a little extra instruction while I am gone, etc.

I have two examples below of videos that I used while gone last week.  

The first is an example of the video that I posted and shared as a sort of "introduction, here is what I would like you to accomplish today" video.  I try to keep these short, informational and have a little fun so that students will them interesting.  A laundry list of things to do while I am gone is not exciting.  I have used props or put on sunglasses in the past to make them more fun. This first video was for last Friday when I was attending the Mount Vernon workshop.

The second video is one that I created on Thursday night at Mount Vernon, posted on my classroom site and then had the students watch in class on Friday.  We arrived at Mount Vernon on Wednesday afternoon and attended a couple of lectures and did some guided tours of the outer buildings at Mount Vernon so I decided to share a little about "rustication" - the type of wooden siding that is on the exterior of many buildings at Mount Vernon.  

I used my own pictures taken just a couple of hours before and used ScreenCast-O-Matic and my MacBook Air to record a quick video.  It was one take, I didn't worry about stumbling over my words a couple of times and I knew it was not going to be nominated for an Oscar.  The purpose of the video was to touch base with my students, tell them about what I was learning while away from class and sharing a story.  The sub showed it to my class on Friday and said that the students did respond when I asked the question and they were engaged.

Again, nothing about these two videos were revolutionary - you record a video, post it to YouTube and share it - but it did create a connection and helped the students understand that I was thinking of them and wanted them to stay on point for the sub.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Device Rollout Day 2014 at Discovery Middle School

Today we distributed 680 devices to students at Discovery Middle School - 6th and 7th graders received Chromebooks and 8th graders received MacBook Air laptops.  There were a couple of network issues but overall it went very smoothly due to the hard work of many in the technology department over the past several months.  In addition to handing out the devices, students received a day of training on the new devices and lessons in digital citizenship.

Here are some pictures from an exciting day at Discovery Middle School:

Taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - That Was Refreshing!

Over the weekend I was challenged by JD Dalrymple of Nebraska along with some other educators on Twitter to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  I accepted the challenge and in addition to donating to the ALS Association I also allowed my wife to drop a bucket of ice water on me Sunday.  

I decided to put a GoPro camera on a selfie stick to record the moment.  My kids thought it was pretty funny too.  Here is the video:

I then challenged two fellow teachers who I consider to be great friends - William Chamberlain of Noel, Missouri and Lance Huebner of Liberty - to the Ice Bucket Challenge. To date the Ice Bucket Challenge has been a huge success for the ALS Association.

The story of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is definitely worth 7 minutes of your day - check out this video from ESPN.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Tech Teardown Thursday - Getting Geeky in Technology Class

NOTE : This blog post describes taking apart some electronic devices in class.  I shared with my students, and should note here, that tearing into a computer power supply could have risks as explained in this story.

Groups working on different objects in Teardown Tech Thursday
Taking apart a TV on Tech Teardown Thursday
This week in my 8th grade technology class we tried something that I thought about doing last year but never accomplished.  The vibe this year is all about taking some chances and learning from your attempts.  Yesterday we did "Tech Teardown Thursday" in which we took apart several electronics to see what is inside.

Our technology class is a combination of learning how to use Google Apps, editing video and audio, using MakeyMakey kits, coding, etc.  The more I have researched and studied the maker movement has emphasized that students should know a little more about the nuts and bolts of computers and electronics.  They are not all going to go home and built their own computer but there is a sense of wonder when they see the circuit board inside a TV.

Tech Teardown Thursday - working on a speaker
I didn't want students to just tear into a TV or a radio without a purpose so I created a sheet for the students to complete as they did the teardown.  First recording what the object is, when it was made, etc.  As the take apart the object they are writing down observations about what they see and what questions they have about the things they are discovering. The lab sheet concludes with thoughts on what questions they still have and what they learned during the teardown.

Earlier in the week I had bought several sets of screwdrivers from the Dollar Store (but now know that I also need to bring some pliers and probably some needle-nose pliers as well).  I needed to get some electronics to be torn down and had one old CD player/radio at home that didn't work anymore but wanted to get at least 4 items so that students could break up into groups and work on an object in a small group.  I visited Savers, a local thrift store, and asked if there was any way I could get some electronics that people had donated but didn't work.  They cheerfully said I could come in every couple of weeks and they would save some items for me to pick up and use in class.  If it doesn't work they just throw it away so they seemed happy to help out knowing someone would get good out of it.

Tech Teardown Thursday - taking apart a CD player / radio
The objects we had this first week were a CD/radio, a small TV, a car stereo and a speaker.  The students loved opening them up and seeing what was inside.  They didn't know what most of it was but they were intrigued to find out more later.  Some good topics started in various groups - Why is there a really strong magnet at the center of the speaker? Interest in the how the tuner used gears to move inside the radio.  How the LCD screen on the car stereo is connected to the microchip? There was a lot of interest and the next day one of the students said he went home and took apart an old X-Box because he wanted to see inside after our activity in class.

We have a glass display case in the hallway by our classroom and this year we will be displaying the parts and components of the things we teardown in tech class.  It will help generate an interest among students walking by in the hall and share what we find.

Working with a car stereo on Tech Teardown Thursday
I would like to do this activity in class every couple of weeks and see if we can identify and understand more of the components later in the semester. Lessons learned include having students slow down and observe more as they work on the teardown.  They want to just rip into it.  Also, remind them to be very careful as they use the screwdrivers and work with sharp pieces of metal inside these objects.

If you have experience in doing teardown activities please add a comment to this blog post.  I would love to learn from others doing similar things in their class. Thanks.

Classroom Walkthrough 2014

My friend William Chamberlain this week recorded a video walkthrough of his classroom and shared it on his blog.  It was great to see how he set up his classroom and he challenged other teachers to create and share a video tour of their own classroom.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about space and how to create classroom environments which encourage student learning.  Last year I did a blog post that eventually led to my shift from individual student desks to tables. This year our building will be 1:1 and I have made some slight modifications to my room in order to help facilitate that new opportunity.  

Here is the video walkthrough I took today of my own classroom.  Please let me know if you have any questions or comments via the comments with this post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

One word that comes to mind when you think "History"

I wanted to gauge my students' feelings about history today on our first day so I asked each of them to write the first word which came to their mind when they heard the word "History".  Here was the white board at the end of the day.

I thought it was interesting we had some "timelines" and "dates" up on the board.  A couple students wrote "boring".  Had several "past" and "long".  One did say "awesome" and "interesting" made it as well.

Opening Day - Let's get started!

Ready for opening day! Let's get this year started!

Room 106 at the start of the day

2nd Period Broadcasting Class Selfie

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My 1:1 Journey - Video #2 - Delivering Content

Today's video in the 1:1 Journey is a somewhat reflective look back at how I have delivered content in my history classroom over the past 20 years - from writing in VisaVia markers to PowerPoint to what will hopefully be a transformation change as we start 1:1 at Discovery Middle School.

Please feel free to add a comment or leave a question. Thanks.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Opportunity to Visit Mount Vernon for Missouri Teachers

Missouri teachers (grades 3-12) have an incredible opportunity to visit Mount Vernon this fall at no expense for outstanding professional development on the life of George Washington.  A Weekend with George Washington will take place September 18 - 21, 2014.  

The deadline for application has recently been moved back to August 22.

You can find the application and additional information at the Mount Vernon site here. 
Mount Vernon - Picture by Eric Langhorst

In the interest of promoting this opportunity to as many Missouri teachers as possible I have also copied and pasted the basic information below from the Mount Vernon site:

Through the generous support of the Paul M. Shatz and Deane Lee Shatz Charitable Foundation, Missouri teachers (grades 3-12) are invited to apply for a FREE residential experience at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.
A Weekend With George Washington is a four-day, immersive residential program in which accepted teachers participate in an intensive study of George Washington and his world. The curriculum includes discussions led by noted Washington scholars, and hands-on workshops exploring Washington’s life and interests at Mount Vernon. Through study, discussion, tours, and projects, participants will gain a new and deeper understanding of the life and character of George Washington and his unique legacy in creating and shaping the principles of America’s democracy.
Past sessions have included:
•    The Leadership of George Washington
•    Teaching with Place
•    George Washington’s Book Club
•    Teaching Slavery in the Classroom
•    Patron of Learning: The Intellectual George Washington
All teachers accepted into the program will reside on the grounds of Washington’s home. A travel stipend, as well as all lodging, meals, workshops, and materials are included in the program.
Participants are required to perform an in-service session for colleagues in their home district or state, or create an original lesson plan for dissemination to teachers across the nation via the Mount Vernon website.
Please email completed applications to Danie Schallom Herbst at with “MO Residential Weekend” in the subject line.

My 1:1 Journey - Video #1 - What is This?

In one week my classroom will be 1:1 when all of my 8th grade students at Discovery Middle School will be given a MacBook Air.  This year I will be recording short video reflections on everything from philosophy, how it will impact my teaching and miscellaneous thoughts. I predict there will be mix of successes and failures. Come along for the ride and please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions.

Here is video #1:

Friday, August 08, 2014

Inspired by a 4th Grader - Take a Risk

Today we had convocation at Liberty Public Schools. This is my 13th year in the district and Liberty always does a great job of getting everyone together and starting off the school year right.  We are a growing district and today we had around 1,200 district employees gather at Liberty North High School for a combination of presentations by administrators, board members and plaques provided for employees celebrating milestone years of service with the district - 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years, etc. There is plenty of music and energy pumping through the gym.

We started the program with a 4th grader in the district - Gabrielle Frierson from Lewis and Clark Elementary - singing the national anthem.  Pretty daunting task for anyone but I can't even imagine doing it as 4th grader in front of a packed gym.  She started to sing and you could have heard a pin drop.  She was awesome and you could tell right away. After about 15 seconds you could hear people throughout the crowd softly saying "wow" as she sang.

Picture by Susan Maynor :
Gabrielle got to a portion of the anthem, about three quarters of the way through, where she swung for the fences and tried to a hit a note that most of us couldn't reach with a ladder.  I don't know Gabrielle but I image she was probably pushing herself to the limit, going for it all.  She has probably hit it a thousand times but today it kind of missed the mark.  It could have been deflating.  It could have been disappointing. What happened next was the thing I will remember the most from her performance.

She laughed it off and smiled. No problem.

When she laughed it off everyone in the stands followed her lead. Over a thousand teachers, administrators, staff members - started to clap.  She laughed it off with everyone and then started right where she left off. She never missed a beat or a word. She cooly rocked the rest of the anthem.  She received a long standing ovation and everyone there will remember the day she sang the anthem at convocation for a long, long time.

As a district a lot of us are taking some chances this year.  The middle schools and upper elementary grades are going 1:1.  We have many new district administrators, including superintendent Dr. Jeremy Tucker. We are opening a new elementary school with a focus on maker spaces and innovative strategies.  Lots of changes.  Lots of opportunities.  We could play it safe, stay in our comfort zone.  But we also have an amazing opportunity to put ourselves out there and try to stretch it out a little.  Get uncomfortable. Take a risk and know that we might make a mistake, in fact we probably will make a mistake at some point if we take these risks.

Gabrielle took a risk to push the envelope a little.  It didn't turn out exactly as she hoped but she didn't let it get her down.  Everyone in the gym got behind her and she moved on, and finished strong.  I left the convocation ready to start the school year and I hope I have the guts this year to take Gabby's lead when things don't go exactly as I had hoped and finish it half as well as she did today.

Thanks Gabrielle.  You inspired me to take more risks this year and how to react when things don't go exactly as I had planned.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Editing Photos in Snapseed

I love taking digital pictures.  I don't have a DLR camera, just a point and shoot but I do love taking pictures and then editing them in different ways on my laptop and iPad.  Perhaps my favorite photo editing app is Snapseed.  Snapseed in my opinion is the best free app you can put on your iPad.  The number of filters and effects you can add is amazing.  Their newest feature - HDR Scape - is my favorite. You can pull out different shades, colors, shadows, etc.

If you haven't tried Snapseed give it a spin on your iPad.  It is the perfect iPad app because you can manipulate and changed filters by touching the screen and sliding the options. 

Below are some of the images that I have taken and modified in Snapseed over the past couple of days.

Kansas City from World War I Memorial - by Eric Langhorst

Google Campus - by Eric Langhorst

World War I Museum in Kansas City - by Eric Langhorst
Discovery Middle School in Liberty, Missouri - by Eric Langhorst

Computer History Museum Visit - Hey, That's My Commodore 64!

Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California
It had been so long since I saw a Commodore 64 in person and there is was last week in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.  I worked pulling weeds in Nebraska soybean fields all summer to save enough money to buy one.  I hooked it up to an old 13 inch black and white TV and wrote programs in BASIC that I saved on cassette tapes because I couldn't afford a disk drive. But the old Commodore was only one of the devices from my youth that took me back on my visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Here is a link to my Flickr set of my pictures from the Computer History Museum

Here is a link to 360 degree photosphere from the Computer History Museum

Mainframe at Computer History Museum
Commodore 64 at the Computer History Museum
I was in Mountain View attending a teacher institute at Google and wanted to see a museum in person that I had heard great things about from others.  It did not disappoint.  I was able to spend around 2 hours at the museum and could have easily spend 4 or 5 if catching a flight out of town would not have been an issue.  This is a must stop for anyone who enjoys technology or computers.

Google Driverless Car at Computer History Museum
One part of the museum includes an exhibit on Google's driverless car.  You can sit in the car and see a screen which shows what the car "sees" as it processing all the information around it.  There was a lot of material and description explaining why driverless cars are closer to being a reality than most people think.

It was fun to see the evolution from computers the side of entire rooms, punch cards and mainframes.  One of my favorite items was an authentic German Enigma coding machine from World War II.  The British broke the code of the Enigma and some historians estimate this sped up the end of the war by at least two years.

German Enigma coding machine at Computer History Museum
Other highlights include seeing original Atari game consoles, an original Apple computer signed by Woz, the Apple II that I first used to learn BASIC programing and the Mac that my parents bought in the mid 1980's to modernize the Howells Journal newspaper office.  I spent a lot of time on the weekends printing pages with numerous fonts. It was crazy though seeing items like microfiche and a card catalog in the museum - items that were essential for my work on both my undergrad and masters degree.

Original Apple Computer from 1976, signed by Woz
While in the Bay area I would highly recommend a trip to the Computer History Museum.  It is a beautiful and well organized collection of artifacts that any geek will appreciate. Please note that the museum is closed on both Monday and Tuesday each week.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Visiting Google and Being the CEO of My Own Classroom

Earlier this week I was fortunate to be a participant in the 2014 Google Geo Teacher Institute.  It is basically two intense days of geeking out on Google geo tools and thinking up ways of to use them in education. It is an opportunity I highly suggest for any educator.

One of the fringe benefits of this particular institute (they also have one in 2014 in Pittsburg) was the location – Googleheadquarters in Mountain View, California.  The Mothership.  The Googleplex.  Geekapoloza.

This was actually my second time attending a Google sponsored workshop at the Googleplex.  I attended the Google Teacher Academy here in 2012. Prior to my first visit I was afraid that all of the hype I had read about the Googleplex was destined to set me up for disappointment.  How could all of the descriptions of colorful offices and abundant creativity really exist?  But alas, it was true.  I left my first visit blown away by the prevalent culture of collaboration.  I could go on about the food (amazing) and the perks (things such as being able to bring your dog to work and climbing walls in offices) but I want to focus on one thing in this blog post – collaboration.

The Google campus is abuzz.  It is tangible as you walk around.  As non-Googlers we weren’t allowed in certain places (and we weren't allowed to take pictures inside buildings on campus) but when we did walk past an office space on the way to a session you could see people working in close proximity. I didn’t see long hallways with doors that open to individual offices. Instead I saw work spaces where 3 or 4 people worked next to each other in a relatively small space (and quite a few standing desks from what I could see).

There are many areas where small groups – 4 or 6 people – can get together to work.  Some of these areas are collaboration rooms with a door. Inside is a table where about 4 people can sit with a large screen on the wall for Hangouts.  I did notice a lot of Hangouts taking place.  I should also mention these places to collaborate and not your standard room with white walls.  They are all astronomically cool with themes and colors.

The place on campus where I could really see the collaboration was the cafeteria (again I wasn’t allowed to go many places within the office spaces). The food that Google provides for it’s employees – breakfast, lunch and dinner – is legendary.  It is provided free as a perk to employees and it is delicious, think five star restaurant.  In a nutshell it is part of Google’s original DNA : give your employees amazing free food on campus and they won’t want to leave campus to eat elsewhere.  Thus, they eat together, socialize together and talk about what they are doing at work – collaborating.

Walking through a Google cafeteria you notice the sound of many people talking.  It is busy and the ones I walked through were full of people socializing with co-workers.  I’m not na├»ve enough to believe all of these conversations taking place are meetings working on a way to improve your ability to share a Doc on Google Drive, but it sure seemed like along with the socializing there was a lot of “work” type conversations happening with the numerous laptops and body language.

During our lunch on the second day of the institute many of us teachers had gone outside in the courtyard/plaza area on a beautiful Northern California day to eat our lunch.  There were people everywhere. In addition to the three cafeterias within a 200 yard radius that all served amazing food, Google had brought in three food trucks to serve BBQ and ice cream right in the middle of the courtyard and flower garden.  (I swear I am not making any of this up.)

Click here to view a 360 degree photosphere of the Google campus right before the lunch rush.  You can see the food trucks!

While eating our lunch several of us discussed how cool it would be if our schools could have the same type of environment for lunch – time to eat, a relaxed atmosphere and time to talk to a collegue about a lesson plan or an activity. There are millions, if not billions, of reasons why this would never work in a public school setting to the degree it does at Google (time, money, supervision, money, money) but hey you can dream right?

I was thinking about it the next day and then it hit me.  I should focus on the things I can control instead of worrying about the ones I can’t control.  I am the CEO of my classroom.  I know all teachers have varying degrees of control of the manner in which they set up their classroom and some of the design elements but I bet there are things you can do in your own room that can really change the way your students learn in your space.

All of the collaborative spaces at Google that I mentioned did not just organically appear out of nowhere.  They are there by design.  Those spaces and environments were designed with the intent to help nurture collaboration.  There is a lot that I can do to attempt to create a similar vibe in my own classroom because I am the CEO of my space.

When I want to work on my dissertation I often go to coffee shops or places that have free wifi and lack the distraction of other things I could be working on instead.  Last fall while working at a newly remodeled Mc Donald’s – chairs and tables which could be moved in different arrangements, tables where small groups of people could comfortably sit, etc. – I began to wonder why a fast food restaurant had abetter nicer place to collaborate than my classroom.  My classroom had 33 individual student desks.  I had arranged them in different ways so they weren’t all in a line all the time but there are only so many ways you can arrange 33 desks.  They also don’t encourage collaboration or group work in any way.

I asked if I could trade in my individual student desks for tables.  Fortunately the district at that time had some tables in storage and I traded in my 33 student desks for 6 tables that had 33 chairs. It is probably the most impactful physical change I have made in my 20 year teaching career. Students were able to talk to each other (of course some had to be reminded on appropriate times to collaborate) and doing any type of group activity or lesson was much easier.  There was more space in the room for me to walk around and talk to students.  I don’t think I could ever go back to desks after having tables in my classroom. Designing with intent, result = increased collaboration.

There were other simple things at Google this week that I want to incorporate into my classroom. In the halls there are glass walls on which people write messages, notes and quotes with dry erase markers.  I have several nice white boards in my classroom that I have traditionally underutilized in the past 10 years.  This year I want students to take ownership of those boards.  What will they use them for? I don’t know.  I want to ask them how they want to use them.

This year our classrooms at Discovery Middle School with be 1:1 for the first time.  I want to encourage more group work and collaboration on projects with students.  I need to reprogram myself to allow groups to work on a project in the hallway or the commons without my shadowing them the entire time.   I need to give them more ownership over their spaces.  It truly is their space, not MY classroom.

I can’t recreate the Google campus in my classroom and I certainly can’t feed them gourmet style food for lunch (although I do sometimes have hot chocolate available for them on cold winter days) but I can start to increase the collaboration with intentional choices in design.

I am the CEO of my classroom, but I want my students to run the company.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Big Takeaways From 2014 Google Geo Teachers Institute in Mountain View, California

This week I was one of roughly 70 teachers fortunate enough to attend the 2014Google Geo Teacher Institute in Mountain View, California.  The event was two days (July 22-23) of sessions and workshops focusing on how teachers can use the array of Google geo tools with their students (Maps, Earth, Views, Street View, Maps Engine, Tour Builder and Time Lapse to name a few). The format for the institute is similar to a Google Teacher Academy except with an emphasis on the geo tools. John Bailey, Program Manager for Geo Education at Google is the organizer and he did a great job of creating two days of high level professional development. There will be a similar institute held in a couple of weeks (August 5-6) at theGoogle offices in Pittsburgh.

A combination of elements made this an amazing professional development opportunity.  First of all the participating teachers are a diverse group.  Not only were participants from a combination of K-12, higher education and administrative roles, they all came from all over the United States as well as abroad - one participant traveled from Australia to attend this week.

Me standing in front of a Google Street View Car on Google Campus
The second interesting aspect is the quality of the presenters.  Some of the presenters are teachers with a strong background in Google Geo Tools who have presented at Google Summits and past institutes.  The remainder of the staff for the institute is made up for Googlers - project managers and members of the Google Edu team.  It is a rare opportunity to sit in a session about Google Tour Builder and have a conversation with the individual who created it!  

The final element is, appropriately enough for a geo workshop, its location.  I have spent the last two days on the campus of the Googleplex, the mother ship for an edu geek like me.  It provides just a small slice of the Google workplace atmosphere.

Google Campus

The resources for the individual sessions, along with the names of the presenters,is available online here.  It was tough for me to decide which sessions to attend.  I wanted to attend them all and over the next couple of weeks I will spend time going back to this site and checking out the links and tools included on each page.

So what did I walk away with after two days in Mountain View?  Here are my “30,000 feet view” takeaways - appropriate as I type this aboard a plane flying back to Kansas City. I hope to post more specific blogs in the future on specific tools and how to use them in the classroom.

Getting past the sizzle and making it real in the classroom

Several times this week while exploring these amazing tools and apps I had to get myself past the “whiz-bang” aspect of the tool and think about how my students can use this in class.  I felt there was a conscious effort, many times vocalized in sessions, to think about building real world activities that maximize the tool.  We also have to realize that you can’t force a tool into a classroom, no matter how amazing, if it doesn’t fit.  Sometimes it is OK to let a tool soak in and someday in the future a way in which to use it your classroom will make sense.

Google is listening to teachers

Often during the week Googlers asked us, the teachers, how we use the geo tools with our students and then asked us for suggestions on how to make it better.  I give Google a ton of credit for taking the time to listen.  The project leads for Google Earth spent an hour asking us about how we use Earth and what features we would love to see added in the future.  For example, there was quite a bit of discussion on the desire to have Google Earth available in the web browser to allow users of Chromebooks to use the tool.  They said they are truly working hard on solving issues like this and I felt a vibe that in the future issues like this will be resolved to help the millions of students who are now using Chromebooks in their school.

Google Campus

Maps can be an important part of the story

It is impossible to separate geography from physical experience.  Events happen in places and sometimes the physical environment of a place helps shape the event itself.  It is great to see tools and resources like Google Lit Trips and Tour Builder being utilized to add geography to books, trips and stories. One of the new things I will introduce to the my 8th grade American History class this year is the “Big Map”.  Students will create their own custom map in Maps and then add the locations of the events we discuss throughout the year as we explore the colonization of America through the end of the Civil War.  I will also allow students to create their own personal layer on the map - places they have visited, want to visit, lived, favorite team, etc.  I want to blog more about this later but I want to create a connection for my students between the geography of the places we study throughout the year with their own experiences.

Maps can democratize data and be a powerful force

Rebecca Moore - Engineering Manager of Google Earth Engine & Earth Outreach - shared several stories with us describing how Google maps have been used to help educate communities on potential developments, removal of landmines in war torn countries, slow the deforestation of the Amazon and track bear sightings in a California neighborhood.  Here is a link to avideo of her giving a similar presentation. I think that the most powerful aspect of making maps which display data is that it ultimately translates the data into a different language - a visual language that generally more people can ingest and understand.  She describes numerous ways that Google maps have impacted world leaders, politics and environmental issues - all using tools which Google has made free and accessible.  Now my challenge as a teacher is to explore ways I can use these tools to turn the data and content I teach into maps which will help my students understand what I am teaching in new ways.
Example in Geo for Good presentation by Rebecca Moore

Google Maps are social and we are contributing content, are your students?

Back in the day, and I speak as a roughly 40 year old man, we had our maps handed to us.  Rand McNally and National Geographic created the maps and we just bought them and used them. Today we are contributing to the map.  We can create maps with our directions, our own place marks, our own images and links attached to a pin.  This summer I have played a lot with one of Google’s new geo tools - Views.  Views allows you to post 360 degree pictures, commonly referred to as “photospheres”, and publicly share them on Google Maps.  I have added almost 100 views to the Google Map this summer.  Some are of my own community and some are from vacation.  I even took some out here in Mountain View.  Here is a photosphere taken on the Google Campus this week during lunch.  I have had a blast taking and sharing these views but I also want my students to be taking these photos and being the contributors to the Google Map.  I am working on a project that will help students take photospheres of all the locations in our county listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.  I also want to help my students create maps that could be of value in our own community.  How about students collaboratively creating a Google Map which shows all the locations in Liberty which provide free wifi access.  That is a map that students, and people in the community, could really use in their daily lives.  

Google Views - See Geography in 360 degree Images

Give a man a fish, teach a man to fish…

The previous point is a good bridge to this point - don’t just hand students this content, have THEM create it.  I could make a lot of cool maps and visualizations and just show them to my students but I need to fight the urge to do this and instead try to create it with them.  Without getting too far off the intended path of this blog post, there are a lot of connections on this topic to the maker movement in education.  Students not only will find more value in a map they helped to create, they are also learning about the process which can then be applied later in different ways.  As someone who typically likes to “control” my classroom this is sometimes a struggle.  Giving the tools to the students and having them create is often messy, loud and in general scary to a lot of teachers but something we need to do more.

So there you have it - my big picture reflections from an incredible week at the 2014 Google Geo Teachers Institute in Mountain View.  Thanks again to John Bailey and everyone who made this a truly memorable week.  I leave the Googleplex with more tools to empower my students and a lot of new friends that I can add to my personal learning network and share ideas.

"Tonight, we ride!" - Taking a G-Bike for a spin around the Google Campus