Category Archives: Microsoft PIL

Partners in Learning

All it takes is a little imagination

Last week at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum I had the opportunity to meet Steven Ronsijn from Ghent, Belgium. clip_image002Here is Steven as he is awarded First Runner-Up in the Cutting Edge Use of Microsoft Technology for Learning category. Steven and I were partnered together on a Learning Excursion team that was visiting the Smithsonian Green Houses. During the bus ride over he commented on how lucky we Americans were with access to all this technology. I looked at him and said: “Having technology is not always the answer. Having the imagination to use the technology is.”

Well, I began thinking about that throw away sentence and the more I thought about it the more I really believed that is what we were celebrating at the Partners in Learning Global Forum. As a participant I could walk up and down every isle of displays and see amazing imagination used to bring life to classrooms all around the world.

Projects like Steven’s where he allowed the students to take the role of educator, designer and developer of movies and games designed to teach concepts and technologies to younger students. Or, like Gareth Ritter’s project from Wales whose students used Photostory, Screen Recorder, AutoCollage and the Kinect to create video tutorials to support learning of others at the school. These recordings also supported production of the school’s podcast station and resulted in an album being recorded in the school studio. clip_image004Here’s a picture of Gareth accepting his First Runner-Up award in the Innovation in Challenging Contexts category. What these two projects, like all the others, at the Global Forum have in common is the imaginative use of technology and having students using that technology to create something of worth.

I cannot begin to tell you how many classrooms I visit where a teacher claims to use technology but is really just substituting it for tired old methods. How many of you reading this can point to an educator that uses their brand new SMART Board (good grief I hate those things) as nothing more than a 21st Century blackboard. They hook up their laptop to a projector and hook that to the SMART Board (usually with your help) and then throw PowerPoint slides up and expect the students to take notes. Or, call it interactive by asking the student to come up and supply an answer using the notebook function. Yeah, they spent thousands of dollars to replace a blackboard and are doing the same tired old thing. No imagination!

While the Partners in Learning Global Forum and all the associated regional forums focus on technology and the use of it in education, what they really celebrate and encourage is imagination. Best practices that transcend borders and countries and language. Projects that can be plucked from a classroom in South Africa and dropped into a classroom in Tampa, FL and still have relevance. So when I am asked what I learned in Washington last week, it’s that. That the world’s best educators all have the imagination to use the technological tools at their disposal to create something that engages their students and allows them to be an integral part in their own education.

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Looking from the outside in

The Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum is over and the barrage of Tweets, emails, Facebook posts and text messages have slowed to a trickle; which should please my wife since we were getting overage notices from AT&T on the text messages. Yet I find myself missing the constant ‘ding’ that let me know there was something important, relevant, informative or funny to be read and responded too. I know today, which marked the official return to the ‘real world’ was… different. I was different today.  I was disconnected.

I had been away for a week wrapped in a cocoon of creativity and an environment of encouragement. I spent a week in an educators dream; sharing ideas, methods, projects, anecdotes and outcomes.  I was treated royally and looked on as a professional and not “just a teacher”. In short, I was celebrated as much for what I do and listened to because of what I know.  

So nothing got done today.  In between fielding congratulations from my colleagues and conducting interviews with our school news show and newspaper I was sharing the week with my students. I showed them all the videos and pictures. They reveled in the diversity of the attendees and creative projects on display.  They listened to my replay of the awards night and got excited when they saw me onstage. Reliving the week each period I found myself missing my USA teammates more and more. These young men and women (and I can say that because I’m older than all of them) are the most creative, dynamic individuals I have ever had the pleasure to know.  Rest assured if you are reading this and you have a child as one of their students, that child is getting the best education you can hope for!  Team USA at the American History Museum

Team USA at the Partners in Learning Global Forum reception held at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

So, I am disconnected. Not because what I experienced or learned or shared with the attendees; that was a highlight. It is not because of the awards I won; that was humbling.  No, it is because it took 34 years for me to experience this.  In those years I have been forced to endure professional development courses, seminars and meetings that claimed I would grow as an educator.  What they were really set up to do was justify the continued employment of the individuals running the sessions. For the life of me I can’t remember a single bit of information that I could effectively use when I was in the classroom or helped me discover the key that would unlock learning in my students. So I developed my own theories and practices, my own methods and ignored what the professional development teams were telling me to do.  You see, what they were trying to sell never once called for real student engagement. What they called for was micro management and control and that only leads to teachers going through the motions and students unwilling to try.  It leads to over inflated grades and fear of failure. It leads to what is exactly wrong in so many classrooms today.

Do I have a solution for this… no. Except to point to the common themes and success and individuals that I met last week and to tell you to talk to them.  Find out what they are doing and before you know it you will begin to hear the same story and the same theme. You will hear stories of student engagement and high level learning. You will hear joy and excitement and most of all, you will hear pride at being a teacher.