Inside the Google Innovator Academy-Day 1

“The impossible is possible.”
“Fail fast.”
“Innovation is a way of life.”
“Solving big problems is not going to happen over night.”

These were just a few of the key messages delivered to me and 33 other educators during the two and half day Google Innovator Academy.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.35.11 PMI honestly didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in Mountain View. However, from the moment I stepped foot on the Google campus, I predicted I was in for a challenging, yet inspiring professional learning experience (full disclosure I was a bit scared and nervous too!). I predicted I would be pushed to think in new ways and asked to step way outside of my comfort zone. Now that I’ve had some time to digest the past two and a half days, I can confidently say that my predictions were accurate.

I’m leaving Mountain View with optimism. I’m energized to continue to transform education no matter how long it takes or how difficult it might be. I’m leaving realizing that this is only the beginning. I think my fellow Innovators will agree! Through this post, the first in what will be a three part series, I will share what the experience was like and why I feel incredibly lucky to have been selected to be a Google for Education Certified Innovator.

Day 1- Thinking Way Outside of the Box

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.43.19 PMThe Innovator Academy was full of challenges. Several of these challenges began weeks before arriving in Mountain View. The biggest challenge for me wasn’t completing the Innovator application (that’s a separate post) it was preparing a BreakoutEDU game for other Innovators to play on the first day of the Academy. Considering I had never even heard of or experienced the concept of BreakoutEDU (see how it works here) I was rather skeptical about my ability to meet this challenge. Fortunately I was partnered with fellow Innovator Nate Ubowski of Denver, Colorado, who had experience with creating and implementing BreakoutEDU games with his students. Through a few meetings via Hangouts, Nate guided me through this foreign concept and I felt somewhat more comfortable heading into the first official day of the Innovator Academy.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.36.59 PMAfter the opening welcome remarks, and introductions of the Innovator team members and coaches, we were broken into groups and our first collaborative activity of the Academy, the BreakoutEDU challenge, began. Nate and I were paired with another team of Innovators and we had the chance to play each others’ games. As much as I wanted to take on a leadership role, as I often do when working in groups, I functioned more so as a follower.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.38.50 PM I followed Nate’s lead when he asked me to scan a QR code or search clues via Google. I tried my best to keep up and contribute as each clue was revealed, but struggled to wrap my brain around what was still a pretty abstract concept. Although it was unchartered territory for me to be a follower versus a leader in a collaborative setting, it was exciting at the same time. I was exposed to something completely new. Through the process, I kept thinking about how exciting BreakoutEDU could be for students. If I as an adult felt motivated to learn how to solve the puzzles, imagine how students would feel? Imagine…students being challenged, yet motivated to learn?! I was sold!

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.37.56 PMOnce we were finished playing BreakoutEDU in small groups, we were paired in a larger group. Here I observed more Innovators with previous BreakoutEDU experience collaborate to solve an even more difficult puzzle. In this larger group, several leaders emerged almost immediately. Despite their experience, confidence, and leadership, they too experienced failure after failure as they attempted to solve the puzzles. Ultimately though, our group persevered and thanks to the hints from our coach Kevin Brookhouser, author of The 20time Project and my coach throughout the Innovator Academy, we unlocked all three locks of our BreakoutEDU box and were victorious. During this round of BreakoutEDU, I felt slightly more confident. In fact, I made several suggestions to the group. Some of my suggestions were successful, while some resulted in failure. But I was ok with that. I started to realize that over the next few days, “failing fast” might actually be ok…

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.37.39 PM

Now that I’ve had the chance to experience BreakoutEDU, I truly understand its potential across grade levels and disciplines. I can think of several colleagues in my district who would love to purchase a BreakoutEDU kit and use it to bring engaging, game-based learning experiences to their students; whether it be for a lesson in social studies, science, foreign language, math, or elective courses. I learned that BreakoutEDU is the ultimate way to incorporate communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving into the curriculum. It was the perfect way to start the Innovator Academy. It instantly challenged everyone in the group to think differently and this was a consistent theme throughout the entire Academy.

BreakoutEDU founders James Sanders and Mark Hammons, who were both present at the Innovator Academy, have developed an incredible, creative, open sourced platform for educators that I highly recommend investigating and bringing to your classroom. I am inspired to bring the concept of BreakoutEDU back to my own students in Burlington to see what kinds of games they could design (what they could teach me!) and how difficult it would be for them to think outside of the box. I am also inspired because BreakoutEDU isn’t about technology. It’s about creating meaningful, collaborative learning experiences for students. Experiences that incorporate high levels of creative thinking. And yes, they will use technology to some degree in a BreakoutEDU game, but they can’t just simply Google the answers. Students will rely heavily on their ability to communicate and to think critically in order to solve a BreakoutEDU puzzle. In short, it’s an excellent way to integrate both tech, nontech, and gaming into a learning experience.

So that was day 1 of the Innovator Academy. The first of many “sparks” and “sprints” that I wanted to share. Stay tuned for my day 2 reflection and thank you for taking the time to read about my experience!  Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.36.00 PM


  • Thank you for sharing your experience. Your honesty and your journey through the experience are inspiring. Congratulations and I look forward to hearing more as you continue with your vision. Exciting. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post Joanne! I intended to write one post about the whole experience but because we learned so much over the two and a half days I decided to split it up. Hope to have my day 2 published by the end of the weekend! Happy to hear you were inspired!

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