LIVE@CoSN2024: Exclusive Coverage

Teacher innovation gets royal treatment

Seventeen teams of educators gathered in Washington, D.C., for Microsoft's 2010 Innovative Educators Forum.
Seventeen teams of educators gathered in Washington, D.C., for Microsoft's 2010 Innovative Educators Forum.

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.

• “I am…” from St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Ala., had high school students become curators for the Museum of Culture and Society. Students were asked to create a museum exhibit that educates their peers about the influence of epics in society. Student read excerpts from ancient and medieval epics, then analyzed how the epics influenced societal values of the youth of that age and how those ethics relate to modern life. Student groups also created a video virtual tour of an epic hero using Microsoft OneNote, VoiceThread, and community-generated video clips. Students learned about copyright law and digital citizenship and gained mastery of many digital technologies. They also gained critical analysis skills.

• “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.”

Besides the professional joy of having students interested in learning, and the achievement of having students become technologically proficient for classroom learning, teachers also were asked, “What are you most proud of?”

“I’m so proud that students were able to come up with questions on their own, questions that really stretched their ways of thinking and included examples from current events,” said Leanne Wyatt from St. John’s Episcopal School in Dallas, whose project examined World War II perspectives. “The organic conversations that took place between students gave me shivers!”

“The fact that the students ‘got it’ and knew that they had learned to master a pretty tough mathematics concept made me proud,” said Thomas Gaffey, math teacher at the School of the Future in Philadelphia, whose project familiarized first-year high school students with Algebra I and technology-related concepts. “Their growth in self-confidence and their continued interest in learning about subjects that aren’t typically considered ‘fun’ subjects is inspiring.”

The winning team, Rawya Shatila and Cheryl Arnett from Sunset Elementary School in Craig, Colo., was announced at an awards dinner at the Newseum on July 30.

Shatila and Arnett also were the IEF’s Educator’s Choice Award winners—meaning they were chosen by their peer participants at IEF as having the most innovative and effective teacher project.

Watch Microsoft’s video on Shatila and Arnett’s project

[field name=iframe]

Their project, “Digital Stories: A Celebration of Learning and Culture,” involved two classes of children—one in Colorado and the other in Beirut, Lebanon. These two first and second grade classes used technology from ePals to share stories, learning, and activities throughout the year.

In addition, Shatila and Arnett, who had never met, collaborated and learned from each other. The students in Colorado were all English-speaking, while the students in Beirut were English-language learners. Students posted messages and drawings on a wiki, exchanged bookmarks on World Book Day, shared the holidays they celebrate on a wiki and VoiceThread, and also shared their digital stories on a blog.

Both teachers said students’ technology skills grew as they became experts at manipulating their wiki postings. Students also learned about geography through online mapping tools and time and weather sites, and math concepts from calculating time zone differences and graphing temperatures. The most significant learning, they said, was an increased awareness of similarities and differences between similarly aged children from other countries.

Both teachers agreed that without support from their school systems and without the technology applications, the project wouldn’t have been possible.

“The parents also were so happy about the collaboration, because it was authentic,” said Shatila. “We used to say ‘Imagine that you have a friend in the U.S. or in Africa, and write a letter to them.’ Now we have real friends, and learning becomes authentic; they can’t wait to receive the messages!”

Shatila and Arnett said they are proud not only of their students making friends from other cultures, but proud of themselves as well, for finding a friend and colleague thousands of miles away.

Shatila and Arnett will participate in Microsoft’s WorldWide Innovative Teachers Program in October.

While the winners receive no monetary compensation, they are internationally recognized and have the opportunity to spread their project’s concept on a global scale.

“As a teacher, it feels like we are always criticized—and here we were celebrated and uplifted and recognized at the IEF,” said Arnett. “The IEF is also wonderful for teachers because there are so many wonderful ideas to take back and share with my colleagues and enrich the teaching and learning as well as the technology in my entire district. These ideas will be put into practice.”

Shatila agreed that the IEF provides an opportunity to network with colleagues and helps “… to meet new friends and extend the conversation beyond the forum.”

“Even though the economy is terrible and education funding is seeing cutbacks, we’ve also been seeing these pockets of innovation from resourceful teachers and schools across the country,” said Keith Hobson, a representative from Microsoft’s U.S. Public Sector.

“What this program does is give the education community a chance to hear about these innovations and connect with each other to replicate these ideas.”


Microsoft Innovative Education Forum

Worldwide Innovative Teachers Program

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Measuring 21st-century skills resource center. Graduates who enter the workplace with a solid grasp of 21st-century skills bring value to both the workplace and global marketplace. Go to:

Measuring 21st-century skills

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Meris Stansbury

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.