In what could be called a 21st-century teachers’ fair, Microsoft chose a select group of educators to participate in the company’s annual Innovative Education Forum (IEF)—a showcase of the best teacher-created projects that incorporate 21st-century skills and effective uses of education technology.
Now in its sixth year, the IEF was held in Washington, D.C., last week and hosted 17 teacher teams from 10 states.
In an ironic twist from the usual student-centered fair, teachers were the ones who lined the walls of a room crawling with judges, standing anxiously by their billboards, scotch-taped visuals, and laptop screens.
“Just relax, and try to tell us about your project as if we were having a normal conversation,” said one judge to the first presenter.
IEF is part of Microsoft’s Innovative Teachers program, a global community of educators sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning. The forums are annual events that recognize and reward innovative teachers who “practice the elements of 21st-century learning in their own classrooms, and then incorporate these skills into the student learning environment,” says Microsoft.
Every year, teachers who exhibit the greatest innovation are selected by their schools to attend a regional forum. Next, the most innovative teachers from each region are selected to participate in the forum for their country (in this instance, the United States). Finally, the teachers who demonstrate the greatest innovation at the country-wide forum are selected to attend the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum, which this year is being hosted in Cape Town, South Africa, during the last week of October. Previous destinations included Brazil and Hong Kong.
The theme for the this year’s U.S. IEF was “Inspire More,” says Microsoft—inspire more collaboration, inspire more ways to build community, and inspire more technology-rich content.
Projects demonstrated innovative uses of education technology that inspire collaboration, community, exploration, and service by educators with peers and students while developing 21st-century skills.
While the use of Microsoft technology tools was required, participants were allowed to incorporate as many technology tools as they wanted, regardless of the company behind them.
In addition to exhibiting their classroom projects, the educators also heard from keynote speaker Stephanie Hirsh, executive director of the National Staff Development Council. Teams also engaged in hands-on learning activities at Smithsonian museums.
Examples of some of the teacher projects included:
• “Project Phone Zone” from Byng Junior High School in Ada, Okla., had ninth graders research cell phone radiation as a global problem to address in their school community. Students created online surveys, measured radiation through custom-designed experiments, and used Microsoft Office products to implement their ideas and research. As a result of the project, more than 70 percent of all students at the school reported they will take steps to reduce cell phone radiation and spread the word to the community.
• “2010 Astronomy Interdisciplinary Unit Project with WorldWide Telescope,” from Jonas Clarke Middle School in Lexington, Mass., had sixth grade students use Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope to study astronomy and explore the universe. Students worked in groups on projects that incorporated technology, research, math, ancient civilizations, and science. Seventy-eight percent of student groups created WW Telescope Tours as part of their presentation; others used PowerPoint. Groups gave presentations to their peers as well.
Judges for the IEF included the K-12 and STEM coordinator for the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Learn and Serve America, Scott Richardson; last year’s IEF U.S. winner, Autumne Streeval; Microsoft Academic Program Manager and WorldWide Innovative Teachers Program Manager David Walddon; Microsoft Academic Program Manager Allyson Knox; the director of educational innovation at Peer-Ed, Les Foltos; and 2008’s IEF winner, Matinga Ragatz.
“We want to know not just how the class as a whole did, but we want to know if teachers also monitored individual student progress, because that’s just as important,” said Knox. “We’re also interested in how the project is applicable to not just one class, but the entire school or district, as well as whether or not students are ‘thinking about their thinking,’ which is critical for 21st-century development.”