REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 2, 2000 — Imagine that U.S. presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush offered to let you quiz them on their ideas for improving public education, with your questions and their answers beamed to a worldwide audience. What would you ask the nation’s next chief executive?
Kathy Adkins, a teacher and instructional technology specialist at Midway Elementary School in Alpharetta, Ga., got that opportunity this summer through a project organized by the Microsoft Education Solutions Group to create innovative teaching materials focusing on the presidential election. Microsoft invited Adkins and nine other educators from around the country to submit a question about an education issue, and then sent the list to the Bush and Gore campaigns.
Adkins, whose school has a large Hispanic population, asked Republican nominee Bush and Democratic nominee Gore how they plan to lower the dropout rate among minority and special education students. The responses — including Bush’s call for larger investments in reading programs and Gore’s proposal of financial rewards for states that raise their graduation rates — meshed with Adkins’ own belief that
“we need more incentives for these students to stay in school and for teachers to work in programs that address these students’ special needs.”
Candidates’ Views Become Teaching Resource
The entire list of questions and answers is available for voters to compare on the Microsoft Classroom Teacher Network (MCTN) Web site ( http://www.microsoft.com/education/mctn/ ) as part of
“Campaign 2000: The Education Debate,”
a set of teaching resources focusing on the electoral process. The materials include three new lesson plans that use Microsoft Office and related software to help students at every grade level identify key campaign issues, research the candidates’ views and ultimately form their own political opinions.
“We wanted to provide a ‘virtual town hall’ where the candidates could explain their stances on education, which is one of the most important topics on the minds of voters this fall,”
said Sue Spezza, manager of professional development programs for the Microsoft Education Solutions Group.
“What’s more, we are sure that teachers throughout this country and in other nations will be able to turn the candidates’ responses into exciting lessons that make the political process real for students.”
Several other educational Web sites and online publications, including Teaching K-8 and T.H.E. Journal, will link to the MCTN election resources. There is also a two-way link between MCTN and Youth-e-Vote.com, a Web site co-sponsored by Microsoft where students can study a wide range of candidates and political issues, as well as register to cast a mock online ballot one week prior to the November election.
Connected Learning Community
Spezza noted that the Candidates Forum and other election-related lesson plans debuting on MCTN this month further support the Microsoft Connected Learning Community, a concept that Bill Gates first introduced in 1995.
“That vision begins with physically connecting schools to technology resources,”
“and extends from there into helping schools create more dynamic, interactive learning experiences for their students.”
Adkins said she was impressed that Microsoft took the initiative to create such a comprehensive package of election resources for teachers, especially going so far as to solicit Bush’s and Gore’s answers to real educators’ questions.
“These materials are extremely valuable and will be very easy to weave into our lessons,”
said Adkins, whose school district is piloting a national program called Kids Voting USA that involves students going to the polls in November and casting a mock ballot alongside their parents.
“Microsoft has created some great tools to help teachers make the electoral process more interesting for students as well as their parents and voters in general.”
Real Issues From Real Educators
Microsoft hatched the idea of staging an online debate about educational issues between the presidential candidates last spring, while Spezza’s group was developing curriculum ideas for the fall quarter.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be incredible if we could get Bush and Gore to reply to actual questions from all different types of educators on some of the most pressing educational issues that these people face in their jobs daily?”
she said. Microsoft arranged for an independent organization to contact school districts in various regions and invite their staff members to submit questions.
“We wanted to ensure an even balance between Republicans and Democrats, rural and urban residents, and different types of educational professionals,”
The final group included a high school history teacher from Los Angeles, a Texas elementary school vice principal, the superintendent of a school district in Massachusetts, an administrator from the University of California at Los Angeles and several technology specialists such as Adkins. Their questions delved into the candidates’ strategies for promoting technology in the classroom, linking teachers’ pay to students’ academic performance, recruiting and retaining qualified educators, reducing the student-to-teacher ratio in overcrowded schools and other issues.
“The educators asked some very challenging questions, and we were absolutely thrilled with the thorough responses from both candidates,”
said Marcia Kuszmaul, group manager of industry relations and communications for the Microsoft Education Solutions Group.
“Using the MCTN Web site and other technology tools from Microsoft, students can easily combine the Candidates Forum with other resources on the Internet or elsewhere to learn about real issues that are shaping the elections.”
Election Lessons Challenge Students to Get Involved, Form Opinions
The new election-oriented lesson plans on MCTN summarize the key learning objectives, required software, suggested activities, Web links to background materials and a list of national curriculum standards that the lessons satisfy. While the lesson plans follow a step-by-step framework, Kuszmaul said teachers can easily adapt the activities to fit their unique classroom goals and student interests.
the lesson plan for kindergarten through fourth grade, encourages students to write letters to each presidential hopeful describing what they most want their next president to do on behalf of the nation’s children. Teachers can download a Microsoft Word template called Wish List for students to use in composing their letters, and the lesson plan also suggests several Web sites that are suitable for young children to search for information on the candidates. Finally, students can use Microsoft Outlook to email their finished letters to the Bush and Gore campaign headquarters.
lesson plan challenges fifth- through eighth-graders to take on the role of journalists on the campaign trail. Activities include using the
template in Word to identify a target audience, doing research on Web sites, posting online news stories to a class Web site created in Microsoft FrontPage, and printing articles in a school newsletter using Microsoft Publisher.
“Creating a Campaign Scorecard”
provides a blueprint for high school students to identify key political issues and the candidates’ positions on those issues, then evaluate that information and form their own opinions. Internet Explorer helps them locate information about where the candidates stand on each issue, and an
template in Word provides a place to summarize their findings.
“These are fun, well-developed lessons that use Microsoft technology to help students understand the election issues through real-world experiences,”
said Kuszmaul, a former high school teacher.
“All of the teaching resources we offer on MCTN follow this model of actively involving students in the learning process, rather than having them memorize facts by rote.”
MCTN Promotes Best Teaching Practices, Creative Lessons
Launched last October, the MCTN Web site provides lesson plans, teacher training materials, professional development activities, online seminars, Microsoft product tutorials and other resources to help educators effectively integrate technology into the classroom. For example, a monthly feature called
spotlights original lessons involving Microsoft technology, submitted by teachers who are using technology to enhance learning in their classrooms. While anyone can visit the site and freely use its entire contents, MCTN has more than 12,000 registered members from 110 countries, who receive a monthly email newsletter highlighting new resources and upcoming events on the site.
“We work closely with some of the leading educational publishing companies to make sure all of the content on MCTN is based on solid teaching practices, and that the lesson plans use technology to enrich the learning process rather than just automate it,”
“We also strive to update the Web site with new content weekly so that everyone involved with education — from teachers and administrators to school board members and individual parents — can find something of value within a few clicks of the mouse.”
In addition to maintaining MCTN, the Microsoft Education Solutions Group provides a wide array of other programs that support the best uses of technology in the classroom. These resources include hands-on training institutes for teachers, software grants to college of education and state department of education training sites, and a mentor program that helps educators teach their colleagues about using technology to improve students’ learning experiences.
Another example of Microsoft’s support for innovative, student-centered educational programs is the Washington2Washington (W2W) project involving students at Sequoia Junior High School in Kent, Wash., and SEED Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Microsoft equipped both classrooms with computers, Windows-powered Pocket PCs, video and digital still cameras, and other technology tools for a yearlong collaborative learning project. Students will interact online and share documents using a custom Web site on MSN. Their teachers have created a curriculum called
that challenges the students to collaborate on plans to populate an uninhabited island, build a system of government and monitor the environmental impact of their imaginary settlement.
“Our primary goal for the Microsoft Education Solutions Group is to promote rich instructional resources and the best teaching practices that help educators better understand how they can integrate technology into their lessons in meaningful ways,”
“We strongly believe in the potential of computers and software, combined with teachers’ abundant creativity, to make learning even more personalized and dynamic for students.”