Celebrating innovative educators
Photos by Chelo Banal-Formoso
THE THREE-DAY E2-Educator Exchange, which was held very recently in beautiful Budapest, confirmed the rumor that had been going around the instruction industry for years: Microsoft does dote on teachers.
Three Filipinos—Glenny E. Laping of Punta Engaño High School in Lapu-Lapu City, Erliza A. Leosala of Dasmariñas East National High School and Mary Anthony C. Sieras of Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan Junior High School in Cagayan de Oro—were among the Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Experts who gathered together in the capital city of Hungary to share the exemplary ways they had been using technology to transform education.
They were teachers for whom Microsoft did not scrimp on expenses. First, the global technology leader paid for the trip to Budapest for 300 teachers and thought leaders from 75 countries across all continents. It also appropriated the historic, five-star Corinthia Hotel as home for all E2 participants, as well as venue for all the productive interactions among teachers and technology experts. Throughout the sessions, food and drinks were served almost nonstop. A group of Hungarian dancers opened the event with an energetic performance. And the closing ceremonies were held at the National Gallery where the teachers had a chance to privately view the largest collection in the world of Hungarian arts and artifacts.
Where in their home countries they might be treated with much less importance, teachers are considered by Microsoft partners in its mission of helping “every student on the planet achieve more.” Microsoft vice president for worldwide education Anthony Salcito went to the extent of calling them “heroes.”
The delegates came from different backgrounds culturally and different infrastructures technologically. “They also have different tenures—some are brand-new teachers, others have been teaching for 30, 40 years,” observed Salcito.
Salcito’s hope was that E2 would show the participants and their colleagues around the world examples of teachers who were leading the way and saying, “It’s possible. You can do amazing things. You don’t have to be a computer teacher or be fluent in computerese to use technology thoughtfully across subjects.”
You don’t have to be geeky either. In fact, the E2 crowd looked, by and large, quite trendy, not to mention that they mixed and mingled socially with ease, including Leosala whose extreme shyness somewhat worried Clarissa Segismundo, Microsoft Philippines’ education lead.
They also absorbed instructions with zero difficulty, and comported themselves as decently and good-naturedly as teachers often do. “No one was complaining,” Salcito noted in an E2 vlog series created by Canadian teacher Brian Aspinall, who was on the all-male panel that discussed Minecraft in Education on Day One.
A heightened sense of camaraderie pervaded the conference but the teachers never lost sight of their purpose in being in Budapest, which was to collaborate, create and share so as to advance learning, improve student outcomes, transform education and empower every student to achieve more by integrating technology in the classroom.
In his keynote, which was streamed live to educators in all parts of the world, Salcito briefed the teachers on how their suggestions had helped keep Microsoft honest and responsive in innovating and upgrading its products.
A perfect example is One Note, which now features an add-in called Classroom Notebook that, thanks to teacher feedback, features a content library, student notebooks and collaboration space (go to www.onenote.com/classnotebook).
Salcito packed the second day’s morning session with videos that encouraged interest in coding and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) path among girls, examples of classroom hacks shared by teachers randomly picked from the audience, as well as demonstrations of new resources.
Using Skype, he demonstrated a virtual field trip to the Arctic where Jamie Dunlop was doing research on climate change. He showed how a Skype-based lesson could become a more meaningful experience through connecting with a scientist like Jamie who was actually in the Arctic. He gave a few teachers a chance to ask questions, in simulation of a classroom situation where students would be doing the asking. He added that pretty soon, Microsoft teams of experts and engineers would be connected with classrooms through Skype as part of the offerings in the Microsoft Educator Community.
One of the most interesting tools highlighted at E2 was digital ink, which is used with Microsoft’s Surface tablet. According to research, students’ science scores were 25- to 36-percent higher when they used a pen to draw out diagrams before solving a problem. Using the Surface digital pen allows a student to write equations, create simulations and draw graphics. It is also an excellent tool in music and art class. Handwriting also improves memory retention.
Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) and Microsoft Office Specialist Certification Exams were also given free at E2. One of only three MIE Experts in Mindanao, Sieras took and passed the exam, becoming thus the first certified MCE of the Philippines.
Following the theme #Hacktheclassroom, the educators were asked to come up with innovative solutions to common classroom problems for the greater part of the conference.
To meet the challenge, the participants were grouped into teams of five or six “hackers” plus an MIE Fellow who served as a coach. They were asked to reflect on their struggles as teachers. After sharing their problems, they had to zero in on one problem and work creatively and collaboratively to find a solution. Whatever classroom hack they arrived at had to be doable in schools across the globe. Be creative, they were reminded. Think out of the box, they were told.
On the final day of E2, the MIE Experts were given the opportunity to share and display a learning activity that they had done with their students back home during what was called the Learning Marketplace.
In giving there is receiving. As the teachers showed other educators how they integrated Microsoft technologies into their classrooms, they also had a chance to see the presentations of their colleagues, gather new lesson ideas and make connections. The learning activities or lessons are posted on the Educator Community as lesson plans for easy access by any Microsoft teacher.
Salcito headed the Microsoft executives and employees who visited the Learning Marketplace. The Filipino teachers were only too thrilled to show him what they had done in their classrooms.
Leosala prepared a trifold presentation on her English class students’ experiences in interconnecting with classrooms across the country—Zamboanga for instance—and across the globe as they compared Christmas celebrations with students in Korea and Germany. Laping used the app Sway to create an online brochure on Philippine education. And Sieras highlighted the selfie and the very personal way people use social media, hacking the famous “What I Learned in Kindergarten” list so it would apply to digital citizenship.
During the closing ceremonies, the groups with the best hacks were cheered and honored but, in the end, every teacher felt like a winner.
After three days of being exposed to a fresh arsenal of learning tools, not to mention being feted as heroes, with purple capes and all, the delegates went home inspired to try new things to create classrooms where, as Salcito put it, students could walk in and deliver on expectations.
The Filipino teachers, like many others at E2, were most excited to try the game Minecraft to hack classroom learning back home. They are all English teachers but none of them had imagined before E2 that Minecraft could make storytelling a more enjoyable experience, specifically for recreating settings.
But the best takeaway, if you asked the Filipino teachers, was that they were able to bond in person with old Facebook friends and make new friends, kindred spirits all, with whom they can share more classroom hacks in the future.