REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 16, 2005 – For many, the teaching profession is a year-round endeavor. In fact, for nearly 100 educators from all corners of the globe, the summer included a journey to Seattle to attend a forum focused on innovative technology and teaching practices – and how the two can be joined in support of a classroom that prepares students for a lifetime of learning.
The Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum, held July 18 and 19, included keynote addresses from leading educators, small group discussions, question and answer sessions, and several opportunities to network with teachers and Microsoft team members from around the world.
The forum was sponsored by Microsoft’s Innovative Teachers Program, which was launched in the U.S. in 2002. The program has since expanded beyond the original charter and is up and running in 35 countries.
Kristen Weatherby, academic program manager with Microsoft’s Worldwide Public Sector Group, currently shepherds the program. “It’s easy to feel isolated in the classroom,” says Weatherby, a former teacher. “In response to that, in order to provide quality content and a forum where teachers can share their experience and inspire one another, Microsoft launched this program.”
Learning from Each Other
Many attendees said one of the forum’s biggest draws were the presentations made by teachers such as Kate Norman from Llanhilleth, Wales, Eric Langhorst from Liberty, Mo., a suburb of Kansas City, and Chua Guat Kheng of Singapore. All three demonstrated to attendees how Microsoft technology has given them the ability to teach in new, improved ways.
“Technology has had a huge impact on my teaching,” Norman says. “Rather than teaching technology as a separate subject, we use technology skills to teach other areas, which gives the students the opportunity to see how it works in the real world.”
Kheng says that by incorporating technology into mathematics lessons, she’s preparing her students to be lifelong learners. “The lessons create an environment for practicing how to take an analytical approach to learning, which goes beyond mathematics,” she says.
Langhorst, an avid podcaster, says that technology has benefited him and his students. “I think we need to move away from just having students view and regurgitate information,” he says. “I think technology is helping our students become producers of information, not just consumers.”
Norman, winner of Microsoft’s UK Teacher of the Year for 2005, teaches “year-two” students – six and seven years old – at St. Illtyds Primary School. In addition to her trip to Redmond last month, Norman also attended a regional forum in May that was held in Sweden.
Her project, Animation Antics, brings children together in teams, which create ‘movie stars’ from clay, design and write a basic script or storyboard, and then bring their characters to life with Microsoft Windows Movie Maker 2. The students create short animated films by taking a series of photographs with a Webcam, then film them with Movie Maker 2, which she downloaded from Microsoft’s Web site.
Once the filming is complete, Norman’s students have the option to add music, commentary, titles and credits.
“Young students can do more with technology than people give them credit for,” she says. “They’re not technophobic and they have no inhibitions about it.”
In terms of attending events like the recent forums, Norman encourages her peers to take advantage of opportunities to interact face-to-face. “Having innovative teachers from around the world in one room gave me so many ideas about what I want to do next year,” she says. “The opportunity has been fantastic.”
In terms of partnering with her, Norman says that Microsoft truly understands the equal significance of people and technology in the education realm. “Microsoft strikes a good balance, offering support but not telling us what to do,” she says. “It’s having human interactions alongside technology that really works.”
Halfway around the world, in Nebraska, Eric Langhorst drew on resources available through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to teach his 8th grade students about their state’s geography. Langhorst, who has since relocated to Missouri, was inspired by a workshop he attended, where he learned about the “Earth from Space” database that NASA maintains. The database offers images of earth taken from space that teachers are free to use, provided they give credit.
Langhorst incorporated images of Nebraska into Microsoft PowerPoint. With minimal guidance, the students identified landmarks from a list Langhorst had compiled. “The kids loved it,” he says. “Most went above and identified more than what was assigned.”
The initial project, Langhorst says, served as a springboard for him to teach other subjects, including history and the more cultural aspects of geography.
His attendance at this summer’s forum has already yielded results.
“I’ve been exchanging e-mail with people from Denmark and Canada, and I met a teacher in Sacramento with whom I plan to do some team teaching,” he says. “My students are going to tour a local Oregon Trail museum and make a video. The students in California are touring a Gold Rush museum and also creating a video. We’ll use those as the basis for our team teaching.”
Langhorst says that technology has definitely helped propel the field of education – but that there’s a long way to go. “Information is so plentiful today,” he says. “It’s very important that students know how to access the right information and then use it to create something of value. Today’s students are doing a lot more than just papers.”
For Kheng, attending the forum provided an opportunity to share ideas and experiences with educators who have a passion for teaching and learning that’s similar to her own. “Fellow participants were very encouraging,” she says. “At the same time, the forum included a lot of networking that will lead to future collaboration among countries.”
Her project, which teaches congruency, draws on training she received from Microsoft Singapore and uses Microsoft Windows Movie Maker and Microsoft Producer, a tool that allows video and Microsoft PowerPoint slides to appear side by side.
The lesson, an inquiry-based activity, includes a video of two boys trying to determine the width of a canal. After the video, Kheng’s students paired up to discuss reflect and reason on the video and the observations they’d made.
“The purpose of the lesson was to bring a real-world application into the classroom for students to analyze,” Kheng says. “Technology helped create an environment for students to make a connection with previous lessons on trigonometry and to prepare them for the next lesson.”
Like Norman and Langhorst, Kheng says she sees technology playing an increasingly important role in education. “Effective learning with technology can take place if more educators are able to integrate the pedagogy of thinking and learning into the use of technology,” she says. “In other words, technology has to work hand in hand with the pedagogy of thinking and learning based on the teaching experiences and research conducted by educators.”