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Can Our Classrooms Be More Collaborative

I recently had the privilege of attending the Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California. Wow! What a cool place! Lava lamps! Foosball tables! Who wouldn't want to bring their dog to work, play a quick game of beach volleyball, or hop on a bike to take a ride across campus for lunch? I'm not implying they don't work hard at Google because it is quite obvious that is not the case. But man, what a COOL place to work! I found the teacher in me asking, "How can those two guys playing pool be working? I wonder if they are going to get in trouble?"

Ah, teachers. We've been programmed (yes, pun intended) to have a very specific view of what "work" looks and sounds like. In my short series of blogs, together, we will examine the relationship between Google's headquarters and the classroom, opportunities for collaboration among Computer Science teachers, and suggestions for collaboration between students.

I should come clean now. I am not a Computer Science teacher. I've taught in Phoenix public schools for thirteen years, during which time I was a Special Education teacher and a fifth grade teacher. The last few years of my teaching career, I spent coaching teachers as a Collaborative Peer Teacher. Therefore, I write to you from the perspective of a person whose job it was to increase the collaborative atmosphere at her school: not only between teachers, but also between students, as well as the collaboration between students and teachers.

As I moved through the day at Google, enjoying the speakers' various perspectives, it was very evident that the message of "collaboration" was a thread connecting each presentation. Virtually every speaker I saw made some mention of CS teachers needing to collaborate or giving students an opportunity to collaborate. But the thread of collaboration was really exemplified through the setting at Google Headquarters. The atmosphere at Google, combined with the speakers' emphasis on collaboration made me ask the question, "How can the setting at Google translate into a classroom setting?" I'm not asking you to get a foosball table for your room, although you'd probably win the "Most Popular Teacher" contest. Rather, how is learning incorporated into social interactions between students? How are social interactions between students supporting learning in the classroom?

One of my favorite speakers of the day, Owen Astrachan, asked a question of the audience. "What should our next president be able to do?" What a powerful question for teachers to ask themselves as they reflect on their practice. This question made me think about what we, as teachers, want for our students and how that influences literally every decision we make in the classroom. When I think about the typical classroom, I picture the teacher centered as the Distributor of Pearls of Wisdom, with eager students working diligently (and quietly) to gobble up the pearls doled out by the teacher. In looking at our future, Google can provide us with a way to examine how we are accomplishing our goals in the classroom. One lesson I believe we can take from Google is that learning must occur within and through social interactions. And yes, learning should be fun. Students must be allowed to talk to each other, to problem solve together, and learn with and from one another.

Another lesson we can take from Google is how the atmosphere challenges the typical stereotype of the lone computer programmer, sitting in a dark room, his pasty white skin glowing only by the light of a computer screen. Aside from the two Googlers playing pool and talking shop, I saw teams of people working everywhere. Pairs of people were walking through the halls, carrying laptops, and looking at each other's screens. Even those who had offices shared that space with one or two other people. If we make technology classrooms reflective of Google's workplace, I believe a more diverse population of computer programmers would emerge. Specifically, girls would be able to potentially see themselves as computer programmers.

So now it's your turn. What do you want for your students? How have you set up interactions in your classroom to cultivate the characteristics you desire for them? What are some other lessons we might draw from Google?

Cynthia Mruczek
Doctoral Student
Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Arizona State University

Comments

Having also been to the google plex it is amazing to see what people are doing but what you don't see is 80% of the people who work until 3am (at least that is what I was told). Also they might take 2 hours off to play basketball but then they go back and work a solid 5 hours. It did open my eyes that not all of us IT people are freaks with eyes staring at a computer monitor for 23 hours per day. I'm glad you enjoyed your trip, I loved it and I share my experiences with my students.

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