When Jaime Casap was growing up in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, he saw two ways to get out – the NBA and education.
Casap chose education. Now, he is Google’s education evangelist spreading the word about the potential of the web, technology and Google tools to help create powerful learning models.
“Why are we involved so deeply in education?” Casap asked public school leaders at an event in Flagstaff hosted by the Arizona School Boards Association in July.
“It’s because we understand that education is a silver bullet. That education can disrupt poverty. That education can change a family’s destiny,” Casap said.
Casap’s teenage son and daughter in her twenties assumed they would attend college, because everyone they know has.
“Their expectations of what life has in store for them – what is possible for them – are so fundamentally different than they were for me, and that’s really what education is about,” Casap said.
As part of Google’s education team for the past eight years, Casap works with universities and K-12 districts using Google Apps and Chromebooks and works across teams to integrate technology into the classroom and ensure the tools the company builds are easy to use and manage.
Technology use in the classroom is changing because of research on how students learn and the way technology has “wrapped itself around the core of our lives,” Casap said.
Teachers are using Chromebooks and apps to make lessons engaging and relevant, appeal to students’ interests, involve problem-solving skills, and guide students to go deeper into topics, Casap said.
“What we’re really doing is preparing students for jobs that don’t exist and to use technologies, sciences and methods that we haven’t even discovered yet to solve problems that we haven’t identified yet,” Casap said.
Casap asserts that classrooms should reflect today’s tech-infused world in both access and utility.
Most people use their phones, tablets or computers before their feet touch the ground in the morning, Casap said.
While technology is just part of young people’s lives, how they think about learning is different than we do, Casap said.
When Casap’s daughter wanted to learn how to play a ukulele, she didn’t pick up a book, she watched YouTube videos, Casap said
“Yet we’re blocking it from schools,” Casap said. “The idea that these kids learn in a different way than we learned is something that we have to take advantage of and not fight.”
Casap’s son didn’t like some available Minecraft mods, changes in videogame program code that make it operate differently, so he taught himself to code in Java and created his own. Now he collaborates with teens in other countries to create new mods, Casap said.
“Gaming is a lot like education,” Casap said. “You have levels to go through, you have to accomplish things, you have learning objectives, and you have to do things before you move on.”
Instead of asking what students want to be when they grow up, Casap asks, “What problem do you want to solve?”
Then he challenges students to think about the knowledge and skills they need to solve that problem and research where they can develop those abilities.
“Who can you follow on online? What blogs should you read? What newsletters can you get? What books can you read?” Casap asks. “If the world is at your fingertips take advantage of it.”
Creating a generation of problem solvers engages students, encourages autonomy, instills purpose and develops mastery – “the things we need as humans to carry on,” Casap said.
Educators should talk to students about iteration – the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result.
“Whether things go well or things go poorly we’re constantly iterating,” Casap said. “We have to teach our kids how to iterate.”
While educators “talk about collaboration a lot, we don’t really mean it,” Casap said.
“Education is a single player sport, but we live in a team-based world,” Casap said.
Imagine a teacher’s reaction if two kids handed in one test and said, “We decided to combine our skills sets and do this together,” Casap said. Yet, that collaboration is expected in the workplace, Casap said.
“We need to talk about real collaboration, where you feel that your part is only part of a greater sum,” Casap said.
Casap also talks to students about being digital leaders in what they create, build and share on the Internet and not just be consumers of what’s already there.
While technology is a tool to support and enable great teachers, it will never replace them, because teachers help “students link information and turn it into intelligence,” Casap said.
Administrators need to provide teachers with time to create new learning models that “teach kids how to problem solve and critically think,” Casap said.
“We’re starting to see some of this in education, whether it’s blended learning models, inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and hybrid models of blended learning,” Casap said.
Educators and administrators should meet regionally more often to network and collaborate on what works, Casap said.
“There are school districts in Arizona that are doing amazing things with technology in education that we don’t take advantage of,” Casap said.
Administrators should also provide teachers with professional development on important skills to help students like how to facilitate a room, get kids to think about problems and do real collaboration, Casap said.
Investment in Internet access is a key part of infrastructure, and should be done at a pace that makes sense, Casap said.
“We would never build a school and say, hey, we’re only going to put electricity on the first and second floor not on the third and fourth floor,” Casap said. “Broadband is the new electricity.”
A board member from a Coconino County school asked Casap for Google’s help at the Arizona Legislature to bring Internet access to rural areas.
“We’re a rural K-8 district – 100 students. We have an A rating. We have everything that we want, and yet we don’t have broadband capacity,” the board member said. “What do you think Google’s role is in a public-private partnership?”
While Google finances Google Fiber in metropolitan areas like Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe that “creates competition, but also provides access for as close to free as possible,” it’s trying other things in remote areas like Project Loon, which provides Internet connectivity through high-altitude balloons floating in space, Casap said.
“If you are in a rural community it’s a lot harder to get Internet access,” Casap said. “We need to solve that problem, and there’s a team at Google that just focuses on it.”