Google inspires Otsego technology educators
“We are creating a classroom without walls, a global classroom, and it’s not costing anything,” said Michelle Triemstra.
Triemstra is the director of technology for Otsego Public Schools and one of the district’s two Google Certified Teachers. The other is elementary technology teacher Michael Miller.
“It changed a lot of the tools I used,” Miller said. “Collaborating through the use of Google Docs; I didn’t realize the power of collaboration.”
In order to become a Google Certified Teacher, educators must attend a two-day training session called Google Teacher Academy where they work and learn with other educators around the world.
“It expanded my learning network incredibly in just two days,” Triemstra said. “We still help each other, that’s what is amazing.”
She said the sessions are very competitive, with only 50 educators being accepted to each out of thousands of applicants with approximately 850 Google Certified Teachers in total, currently in the United States.
Miller said every day he receives several emails from other instructors either asking for help or sharing ideas.
“It’s like being able to go to 850 experts when you have an issue,” he said. “Someone is going to be able to help.”
Triemstra participated in a July 2014 session in Mountain View, Calif., at Google headquarters while Miller attended an April 2012 session in London.
Both said they paid their own way to the academy, as it was something they wanted to experience and learn from.
“I never expected to use (Google) in this way,” Miller said. “There are a bunch of apps for education that are free—email, portfolio suite, Google Class(room) and other apps specifically for education.
“We used to use Microsoft Office so we’d have Word and PowerPoint and other separate programs. Now everything is on the same platform and it’s fairly easy to share.”
The district is making the switch to Google Classroom as the online learning platform. Within classrooms, students are able to receive assignments, complete the work, turn their work in and receive feedback and grades in a single streamlined process, Triemstra said.
Prior to Google Classroom, the district used Moodle as the online learning platform.
Miller said, “Versus Moodle, it is way, way easier; very simple.”
Triemstra said Google Classroom does not require as much work as Moodle.
“You used to have to attach and open and reattach each document or file. This is all encompassing and it helps teachers stay organized by creating auto folders for different projects,” she said.
Miller said his main focus is teaching his students how to use the programs so they know how it works when it is seen in other classes.
“Other teachers worry about content; I make sure the students understand the technology,” he said.
Miller said he uses Google Apps for every grade, particularly for assessments.
Miller also shows students how they can explore the Internet.
He used Google Earth to take his classes on a tour of the White House.
“I let them explore and they are engaged,” Miller said. “Mastery versus exploration is a hard balance.
“I want them to learn skills like typing, but I want them to explore too.”
Looking to the future, both Miller and Triemstra have ideas to further incorporate technology into the district.
“I want to edit curriculum so it is a natural progression from elementary to middle school to high school,” Triemstra said. “Students don’t need as much keyboarding in middle school because they are already learning it in third grade.”
She said she also wants to plan a technology conference in the district.
“We don’t really have anything like that in Allegan County,” she said. “We would host and invite educators from the area schools.”
Triemstra said the conference will have keynote speakers and sessions about technology integration throughout the classroom but will include programs other than Google.
Triemstra said Google is trying to create the best possible product for educational purposes.
“They are very education oriented,” she said. “They ask for and really listen to our feedback.”
For more information on Google’s education programs, visit www.google.com/edu.
For full story, pick up a copy of the Sept. 22 issue of The Union Enterprise or subscribe to the e-edition.