Tullia Urschitz: Inspiring Italy’s youth through the power of imagination

Awful, boring, dull, joyless, sad and sluggish.

These are just some of the words to describe a world without creativity. A world without dreams, without music, without culture, without science – without, well anything. It is an environment Tullia Urschitz, a maths and science teacher at a secondary school near Verona in Italy, works tirelessly to keep out of her classroom.

“The world has changed so much in the past 100 years, yet there are still classrooms set-up as they were centuries ago; a teacher stands in front, delivers instructions and students are expect to simply sit, absorb and remember. There’s no creativity, little collaboration and certainly no guarantee the kids will engage.”

“Creativity is first and foremost about imagination. The ability to imagine something – no matter how abstract – then experiment to bring an idea to life is what we as educators strive to impart on all of our students.”

Part of Microsoft’s Innovative Educator Program, Tullia believes computer science especially fails to engage students because of the heavy emphasis on reciting coding concepts rather than having it creatively embedded in the learning process.

“Traditional methods of teaching code are mundane even for me – so why should I expect my students to be inspired? We need to ignite their imagination and foster their creativity through tools that allow them to express themselves, discover new things and retain information.”

Creative core to any career
In recent years, creativity has become one of the most sought-after skills from employers. In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts creativity will be the third most important work skill by 2020 – meaning students who have honed this talent will become desirable in the eyes of future employers.

From her own experience, Tullia understands the importance of computer science and creativity in workforce – with her and her colleagues needing to improve their own digital literacy before they could develop ways to set their students up for long-term success.

“When I finished university, my professor recognized how technology was changing the world and encouraged me to learn the basic skills. This was difficult initially, as I was using an old computer and there was no formal training,” says Tullia. “But once I developed these skills, I had an ‘aha’ moment where I realized how many opportunities were now open – both at home and in the classroom – and that creativity was how I was going to spark my students interest in technology.”

“Books about technology, physics and maths are boring and unrelatable for students, especially girls, so my job turned to finding more creative avenues to teach these subjects.”

Tullia now encourages her students to bring their own device and revises her lesson plans so technology can remain present in her class. From learning code to using educational robots and experimenting with 3D printing, Tullia’s creative-centric classroom has improved the engagement levels and learning outcomes of her students more than ever before.

Tailoring technology for purpose
Tullia firmly believes technology is not a one-size fits all solution. Noting that different approaches are required in primary schools compared to secondary schools and across various age groups.

“It’s important teachers don’t use technology simply for the sake of it. While tools like Minecraft: Education Edition enhance collaboration, coding and creative critical thinking, if introduced in a high school without the appropriate context, students might not take the game seriously as a learning tool. But if these are introduced earlier on, and students grow-up with this way of working, then the possibilities become near-limitless – stimulating their young minds while teaching them code in the process.”

Participating and leveraging resources from Microsoft’s Hacking STEM program, Tullia customized her lesson plans to ensure tools like Skype, Office, Minecraft and the built-in Code Builder had a practical purpose in her classroom before giving her students the freedom to create their own activities and lessons: “We regularly use Skype to connect with classes abroad and collaborate,” she says. “We also use Excel in our maths lessons, and create presentations and assignments with Office.”

From designing circuits to building sensors measuring moisture levels in soil, Tullia’s hands-on and purpose driven approach when it comes to technology has proven more engaging than simply reading from a text book.

Coding as a journey, not a destination
Tullia has seen first-hand how rapid technological change takes place – using an IBM computer running on a disk operating system less than thirty years ago – and believes it’s the area where educators must focus the most when it comes to keeping up-to-date.

“Whether it’s new scientific discoveries, mathematical theories or developments in history, all aspects of education inevitably change – but none happen quite as often as technology. The devices we use today, as well as the supporting coding languages, start to become obsolete already after a year or two.”

To combat this challenge, Tullia regularly hosts an Hour of Code and uses the free Minecraft Tutorial to introduce her students to updated coding basics before progressing to one-to-two lessons a week using code or educational robotics: “Hour of Code is a great way for students to start their coding journey. What’s more, it’s designed for people of all ages; not only benefiting students but teachers and parents as well.”

“Hour of Code also helps me upskill and familiarise myself with new techniques and technologies, which I then try and incorporate in my teaching. But I still need the help of my students to improve my skills with Minecraft!”

As for her advice to other teachers who are curious about hosting their own Hour of Code activities: “Use the resources on the Hour of Code website to introduce coding and incorporate it in your lessons on a regular basis. I would also suggest creating classes and lesson plans using the teacher dashboard, and include student results to recognise their work – you can also use it to give credits on their skills.”

“If creativity is the recipe for getting students engaged and interested in computer science, then from my experience, initiatives like the Hour of Code are the secret ingredients.”

Inspired by Tullia Urschitz educating Italy’s new generation of coders? Why not try an Hour of Code this Computer Science Education Week 4th – 10th December 2017. For more information on how Microsoft is helping today’s youth get ready for the future, visit our new Digital Skills website.