They came from all over – from Roseville, from Fresno, from Santa Maria. From everywhere in between.
Most came by car – by Ford, by Toyota, by Honda.
One even flew in from Texas to be at Roseville High School last weekend – another flew down from British Columbia.
Ironically, none of them showed up in school buses.
Ironic, because those people who huddled under awnings and crowded into classrooms during last weekend’s storm were all educators – people used to seeing and being in the hulking yellow mammoths.
They were at RHS for one of the biggest things to ever hit education in Northern California: the Roseville Google Festival.
The event, which is the first of its kind in the latitudinally higher part of the state, brought together 480 teachers and administrators from throughout the area – as well as a professional team of Google specialists from a contractor company known as the Google EdTechTeam – in the name of moving the region into the 21st-century era of learning.
“We show teachers examples of how [technology] can be used for instruction to tap into the higher-order thinking skills … to help teachers to prepare for the shift from the traditional classroom as [students] probably now know it – the same classroom I went through many years ago – to one that actually leverages technology effectively to impact student learning,” said Chris Bell, director of online learning for the EdTechTeam and lead Google organizer of the event.
Attendees filled the campus throughout Saturday and Sunday and each was able to participate in a total of eight workshops, all revolving around the use of Google technology in student instruction, particularly the tech company’s Apps for Education. There were also three pre-festival workshops on Friday for select teachers, administrators and technicians.
Each workshop featured a representative from the EdTechTeam, and all festival participants carried some kind of mobile device – with Google’s Chromebook being a favorite – in order to get a truly hands-on experience.
Of the 480 attendees, 110 were from the Roseville Joint Union High School District, 40 of which were from RHS. Several teachers from each department, along with various administrators and other faculty members, were able to participate, including RHS technology coordinator Marie Criste.
Criste, who initially reached out to the EdTechTeam looking for some professional development help after RHS purchased its first wave of 272 Chromebooks in August, organized the event from the district side and was ultimately responsible for its placement at the school.
“When I look back at it now, I never thought it would turn into this,” Criste said. “When I [contacted the EdTechTeam] in August, never did I think we would be so [successful].”
Though Criste initially only sought minor support from the company, after hearing of Criste’s – and RJUHSD’s – plans to modernize student instruction using Google technology, the EdTechTeam asked to hold a larger event.
The conference was initially to be labeled a “Google Summit” – a moniker the EdTechTeam uses to identify its global educational forums – but was then called a “Google Festival” in order to differentiate it from its earlier peers. 28 such summits were held worldwide last year, and the EdTechTeam will host six in California this year alone, but the Roseville Fest remains the first in the region.
“It’s almost a coup that we were able to land [the festival], and I think a lot of that goes with the hard work that [Criste] has been doing, and her vision for use of instructional technology on our campuses,” RHS principal Brad Basham said.
Though the festival ended just two days ago, that vision began taking shape long before the EdTechTeam set foot on campus.
Since RHS’ first purchase of Chromebooks back in August, the school has leaped forward in terms of its technological capacity. More than 800 Chromebooks, along with hundreds of Apple iPads, now sit within the school’s walls, and its tech department increased the number of Wi-Fi access points from a beginning-of-the-year 20 to 64 by the end of winter break.
The first carts were purchased using Title I funds and were intended for use in programs that fall under that designation – Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID), English Language Development (ELD) and Positive Power.
However, with the state’s release of funds meant to get school districts up to speed with the new Common Core-based Smarter Balance testing, RJUHSD was able to provide the money to expand Chromebook access to far more students.
“The switch to the Common Core and the new Smarter Balance testing was kind of the impetus for wanting to improve our technology … but that shouldn’t be the only reason we’re making the changes we’ve made,” Basham said. “There are teachers on this campus who understand the importance of instructional technology and understand that putting this tool in the hands of our students, as well as our teachers, could be just transformational.”
The additional upgrades made to the RHS – including the increased Wi-Fi coverage – were done to comply with the EdTechTeam’s infrastructural requirements for the festival, and now position RHS – which also currently has the most mobile devices of any district site – as the district’s technology leader.
However, Criste stressed that competition did not drive her push for the upgrades.
“Even teaching my students – you’re so much stronger working together than you are alone,” Criste said. “Two brains are more powerful than one. That’s that sort of idea I took in getting this to roll.”
That mindset of collaboration and discovery is really what drove the entire festival, according to Basham.
“You got to see how it’s being used in the classroom and how it’s being used instructionally,” Basham said. “You don’t know what you don’t know, so when we sit down and we have this festival, you see the potential, and you start to generate ideas of ‘How can I use it in my classroom? How can I use it at my school? What are the next steps?’”
Many sessions allowed teachers the opportunity to hear from or about others who had made instructional technology work in their classrooms, giving examples for them to work with when they return to their classes.
RHS English teacher Amy Mowrer, who currently uses a cart of Chromebooks in her classes, was particularly impressed by the sheer scope of Google’s tools.
“I wouldn’t consider myself to be particularly tech-y exactly, but I’m interested in new things, and I thought I sort of had a clear sense of what Google was,” Mowrer said. “I was really not aware of the scale of what we’re talking about here and what they have available and the types of things that students can do. It’s kind of mind-blowing.”
Bell said that reaction is typical.
“What we have seen in locations we’ve gone into, what often happens is – especially when you have a large contingency of teachers – it gets teachers excited,” Bell said. “They see the possibility of what can actually happen, and they have the resources available to them to also then take that and apply it to their own classrooms. It’s almost like starting a fire.”
Though Criste has worked over the last few months to train other teachers on campus to use the devices, her main issue has been getting her peers to be confident about integrating them into their classes.
She hopes that Google Fest will help start that fire.
“I think it’s going to create, as of this week, this momentum, and teachers are going to want to say, ‘How do I use it here? How do I use it here? What can I do here?,’” Criste said. “It will be interesting to see how it will all come out.”