Google Summit focuses on equitable learning

March 24, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

Jeff Heil, a digital content innovator for the San Diego County Office of Education, delivers his keynote speech Thursday morning at Grand Canyon University.

Story and photos by Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau  

Part of being an educator is understanding that students enter the classroom with their own specific learning needs, abilities, backgrounds and personal histories.

But Jeff Heil, a digital content innovator for the San Diego County Office of Education and an educator for more than two decades, wanted to talk Thursday morning about what it means to create positive learning outcomes for all students and the creative ways technology can support that.

“If Google can do it, why can’t we?” he asked more than 400 education teachers, specialists and students from across the state who gathered at Grand Canyon University for the two-day Arizona Google EdTechTeam Summit

Sessions challenged participants to think outside the box.

He told the story of joining the Air Force after high school, moving to San Diego to work at a new hotel and being surprised when his mother told him, “Son, we ain’t school people.” 

It was that conversation that inspired him to go to the University of California, San Diego at the age of 28, where he studied philosophy, and he said that although the future was uncertain his only goal was to obtain a degree. But as time went on, he came to find out about a homeless shelter for youths near where he lived. It was then he knew what he wanted to do.

He invested in those youths; they became a part of him. And when the old school clam shell iBook was introduced in 1999, he was eager to bring the technology into the classroom. That moment in time was empowering.

“When you think about them, who tells their stories? Society — and it’s an even bleaker picture,” Heil said. “These kids started making movies — movie after movie — and that’s how they started telling their stories.

“When I left, I knew the power of relationships. I am friends with probably 300 to 400 of them on Facebook now, and it brings me great joy to see their success … it is a huge win.”

To cap off his keynote, Heil shared video clips created by some of those individuals, including a video of Ryan Hudson, a snowboarder and North Face brand ambassador who grew up in and out of the homeless shelter and still calls him “Pops.”

Participants exchange ideas while learning a new Google application.

“It’s that idea of paying it forward that I think is a direct result of the empathy and relationships that we have in the classroom,” Heil said.


In the College of Education classrooms, participants had a choice of more than 50 sessions, including coding and marketing, the seven ingredients of a highly effective leader, Google Geo apps and research in the 21st century.

Heather Breedlove, technology integration coordinator for the Flagstaff Unified School District, took participants through a coding session using Made with Code from Google and designing a one-of-a-kind emoji of themselves.

“You didn’t have to know anything about coding before stepping into my session and having fun,” Breedlove said. “I’ve helped students with coding, and now my goal is to just get teachers get comfortable with coding to help them get to the next level.”

Mark Hammons, director of innovation at EdTechTeam from Fresno, Calif., explored a myriad of options available with Google Geo apps and hosted two Breakout EDU sessions in which, as a group, users worked together to solve a series of locks and puzzles to open a Breakout EDU box while learning valuable content.

There were more than 50 workshops to choose from at the two-day event.

“The goal is to utilize the Google tools in a more curricular-focused environment,” Hammons said. “I come from a very rural population, and most of the kids that come there never get out and explore other parts of the world. With Google Geo apps, I can take kids anywhere around the world and immerse them into a great learning environment.” 

Shacely Quiroz from Alta Vista High School in Tucson said she felt inspired after her first session in leadership.

“Being honest, being humble — those characteristics are ones we want to teach our students to be leaders in our community,” she said. “We are here because we want to create leaders.”

Kathryn Scott, director of educational development and support at GCU, acknowledged how technology has been woven into the fabric of 21st-century culture, adding that “it makes for a seamless way to teach.”

“It’s not so much about being able to use Google to search for knowledge,” she said. “We’re way beyond that. It’s about being able to create new content and to teach our students to be producers of technology. Why is this summit important? We want our teachers to be engaged, inspired and energized to take what they’ve learned and immediately apply it in the classroom.”

Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or

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