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Jess Loucks (left) of Illing gave four presentations. Chris Pattacini and Superintendent Matt Geary sat in on a session with James Sanders (right), who also delivered the kickoff keynote.

At Google Summit, It’s ‘Full Speed Ahead’

James Sanders talks a lot about dung beetles.

Sanders is the Chief Innovation Officer for Google’s EdTechTeam and on Saturday, Sept. 26 he gave the keynote speech kicking off a weekend Google summit for educators at Manchester High school.

“Life is a series of mystery boxes,” he told a crowd of 330 educators from throughout the northeast who were gathered in Bailey Auditorium, adding. “We don’t know what’s coming next.”

For three days, though, educators explored the possibilities.

The summit include more than 60 hour-long sessions on a wide range of topics – everything from “Become a Gmail Jedi” to “Keeping Them Appy in Math Class” to “Asynchronous Teaching.”

“There is no end to how we can use technology to enhance instruction,” said Jess Loucks, an Illing Middle School library media specialist, who presented four sessions. “We are exploring an incredibly exciting frontier in education today.”

Loucks, a rising star in the Google universe, gave presentations called:  “They’re Map-tacular! Gearing Up with Google Maps”; “Packing a Punch with Podcasts”; "+1 for Google+! - Not Just Another Social Media Site”; and “Google Hangouts & Google Hangouts on Air.”

But back to the dung beetles:

In his introductory session, Sanders shared his backstory, saying that he was incredibly frustrated when he first became a teacher because he was told that “success looks like students sitting in rows.” Sanders enjoyed the liberating messiness that technology brought to his classroom, saying “Google saved me from this life of purgatory.”

Sanders took a new job overseeing innovation for KIPP Schools in the San Francisco Area, and later began working for Google, along the way becoming a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the White House working on education open data initiatives.

During his presentation he boasted that his resume is cluttered with failure and missteps – and as he did so he spliced in images of a dung beetle rolling balls of you-know-what – but he says that he has discovered the occasional unicorn.

For example, Sanders is the co-founder of Future Ready Schools and is also helping launch a new platform for “immersive learning games” called Breakout EDU.

Reflecting on his mindset since joining Google, Sanders said he decided to “forget all the norms” and go “full speed ahead” in an effort to find new ways to make education unprecedentedly engaging for students.

Loucks has the same sorts of dreams.

Three years ago, she was an eighth-language arts teacher at Illing who was intrigued by the possibilities available through Google Apps for Education; she even piloted a Google program with her students during the 2012-13 school year.

Loucks was studying at the time to be a library media specialist, and during the 2013-14 school year worked in the MHS media center – a perfect fit because MHS rolled out Chromebooks to all of its students that year.

In October 2013, Loucks traveled to North Carolina with colleagues Kerri Kearney and Pam Fontaine to a Google Summit. She went to another one in spring 2014 (in Boston) and was heavily involved when MHS hosted its first Summit in September 2014.

In the past year, Loucks has traveled to New York and to Las Vegas for Google events and she is heading to San Diego in a few weeks to another Summit. She has also earned her Google Educator Certificate and become a Google Certified Trainer– distinctions that put her in select company.

““Her expertise, connections and experiences are very important to our district, as we work to ensure learning is enhanced for all students through the use of technology,” Superintendent Matt Geary said.

More than 100 educators from Manchester attended the weekend summit -- which was one of 102 such events that is being held throughout the world this year -- drawing about 50,000 educators.

“We are thrilled to have been able to host this event for two years now,” said Fontaine, who is the senior member of the MHS library/media team. “We hope to continue to do this and build on our status as one of the most progressive, ambitious, effective technology-savvy school districts in New England.”

Kearney, now the district’s IT director, had a similar perspective. “It is absolutely critical that our students have the best possible 21st Century tools and skills, and our affiliation with Google is making that a reality.”

As for Loucks, she said she is excited and flattered by the chance to be growing professionally because she knows that there are important benefits for Manchester students.

“I want our kids – and our teachers – to be on the cutting edge when it comes to technology,” she said. “And I will do everything I can to make sure that’s the case.”

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