A couple of years ago we were lucky enough to get to work with Google at The Sunday Times/ Wellington College Festival of Education to design a unit of work in English.
They were a delight to work with because, fundamentally, they clearly cared about education. And one key element of their interest in our Education Festival was that they wanted to do something which would involve our children. There were several questions that needed answering: most obviously, what would interest (and challenge) them? And perhaps just as importantly, what could they work on which could be linked to a set of core skills, as well as be transferred to other subjects?
We took a risk: three 3rd Form MYP classes were studying The Road, the dystopian novel by the American novelist Cormac McCarthy. It’s a difficult, sometimes unbearably moving novel, and it does not flinch from scrutinizing many of life’s most fundamental moral choices in stripped-down, brutal language. For this group of 13 year olds this is the most complex novel most of them will have read.
We went to Google and said that we wanted to work with them on a project which would be focused on The Road, and which would bring in new technology, but only if that technology extended the students’ learning: in other words, if it was gratuitous, or done for the sake of promoting a brand, we wouldn’t use it. The learning was the priority, the technology secondary. It was with a little trepidation that we emailed this message to Google. Their response was immediate: ‘we’re completely cool with that’ they said.
And so we set to work. One important decision we made was to bring in @tombarrett, a Google-certified teacher, who could show us the real potential of Google tools. We then asked all the pupils to write letters of application for this role outlining why they should be part of the team (a useful exercise in itself). We chose 14 pupils and over a whole day mapped out ideas for the project with Tom. Several trips to Google HQ in London followed so that our pupils could get a sense of the ethos of the company, as well as their high expectations of the project.
Through close collaborative planning, using tools such as Google Maps, Google Plus, Docs, Sketch Up, Google Sites, embedded clips from YouTube, as well as other tools (such as Skitch and Garage Band) the pupils were able to construct a diverse, interactive website which explored McCarthy’s novel in a number of different ways, but each extended their learning, and each approach developed skills which could be transferred to other subjects.
When the Education Festival kicked off our pupils were installed in the Google classroom and it was clear that for many of those attending they were one of the highlights of the two days: they explained clearly and perceptively the choices they had made in designing the site to the many adults who wanted to know more. And in so doing they made crucial transition: they were no longer students but, through their learning, had become teachers.